Posted by arrangement with Think Progress
The New York Times, in an editorial timed to coincide with this week’s meeting of the United Nations’ General Aseembly, asserted that the U.N. Security Council must impose “tougher punishments” in order to dissuade Iran’s nuclear ambitions and “[get] Tehran’s attention.” The editorial read:
- The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency is a chilling reminder of both the scale of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the lengths it will go to cover up the truth. The agency expressed strong concern about Iran’s “past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities” with “possible military dimensions.”
Indeed, the IAEA did report those findings but the Times editorial board, it would seem, is also interested in maximizing its readership’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. An Atlantic Council report released one day before the Times published its editorial, found that Iran is pushing forward with its nuclear program but that progress has been slow. Report author Babara Slavin pointed out, “Iran used to be able to exploit loopholes, but now they’re running into brick walls. [The U.N. sanctions] are difficult to implement, but they’re slowly being implemented”.
The report weighs the possible Iranian intentions for its nuclear program and, although reasonably good intelligence on Iranian capabilities and nuclear facilities development exists, the report concludes that it is unclear whether Tehran plans to build a weapon or stop short at an earlier stage. Regardless, the report emphasizes that Iran is still in a very early stage if, as the New York Times suggests, it intends to build a nuclear weapon.
Slavin put these questions to Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the IAEA. She writes:
- Heinonen speaks of a “nuclear ladder” with three steps: producing sufficient fissile material for a weapon; making a nuclear device; and finally, developing the means to deliver it. It is still possible, he believes, to stop Iran on the first rung.
“The genie is out of the bottle but it is not yet wandering around,” he said. In other words, it may be a duck, but it’s not certain that it will ever fly.
While the Atlantic Council’s report acknowledges that sanctions are serving a valuable role, it doesn’t endorse additional sanctions and, unlike the NYT’s editorial board, Slavin has a different emphasis on what U.S. policymakers should do to maximize the potential for Iranian cooperation with the non-proliferation treaty and the IAEA. It reads:
- To produce an atmosphere more conducive to a diplomatic solution, the United States and other NPT-recognized nuclear powers must keep their own commitments to ban nuclear testing and accelerate nuclear disarmament. They should also try harder to convince India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel to curb their programs—although Israel, which does not acknowledge its arsenal, should not be expected to do so until Iran takes the suggested steps to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
The hawkish NYT editorial asserts that “tougher punishments” are “the only chance of getting Tehran’s attention,” but it might be useful to examine the Atlantic Council’s report for a more nuanced discussion of the various diplomatic levers available to the U.S. and its allies.