Thursday, January 24, 2008
Third Round Of Iran Sanctions
I didn't notice much discussion of them, but there were a couple of major developments on the Iran nuclear dossier yesterday. To begin with, representatives of the 5+1 (the permanent UNSC members and Germany) who met in Berlin announced that they'd agreed on a text for a third round of UN sanctions against Iran. The new sanctions themselves are largely watered down from what the US and the EU 3 had been hoping for before the release of the NIE in December. But the fact that despite the NIE's findings, Russia and China were willing to keep the matter before the Security Council -- instead of referring it back to the IAEA as Iran has demanded -- sends a signal to Tehran that there's a price to pay, albeit a symbolic one, for its strategy of confrontation (with the EU) and delay (with the IAEA). It also strengthens the credibility of an American/EU sanctions threat by providing multi-lateral cover to the assertion that Iran is still not in compliance with its NPT obligations.
Meanwhile, for the first time Iran allowed IAEA inspectors to visit its advanced centrifuge laboratory, where it is developing a new generation of more dependable enrichment technology. The visit is the first of a series of outstanding compliance issues that Iran has promised to resolve with the IAEA within the next four weeks. In the past Tehran has used Security Council sanctions as an excuse to cease cooperating with the IAEA. Should it adopt the same approach this time, look for a strong push from Washington (with a major assist from Paris) for a US-EU round of sanctions. That could be determinant, since the actual sanctions to be included in the UN resolution will have little coercive effect. The risk is that such a push could threaten the fragile support of Russia and China at the UN.
Ironically, Iran has been using the NIE as proof of the civilian nature of its program, instead of fully satisfying the IAEA's inspection regime and thereby removing the legal basis for sanctions. Given that the West was able to get this round of sanctions in spite of the NIE, that strategy might prove to be shortsighted.