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Reining in Iran

December 26, 2005|Bill Frist | BILL FRIST (R-Tenn.) is Senate majority leader.

IRAN'S RULING mullahs have waged a 26-year campaign to suppress dissent, support terror and pursue a nuclear weapons program. In recent weeks, it has become clear that international efforts to stop Iran's atomic program have failed to bear fruit. Unless we act quickly, the United States will have a nuclear crisis on its hands.

Today's Iran presents a sharp contrast between a ruling class hostile to the world and a populace ready to rejoin the global community. The Iranian people's desire for freedom, however, hasn't stopped the nation's leaders from trying to build a fearsome arsenal.

Iran already has missiles capable of striking Israel, parts of Europe and American forces in the Middle East. It also appears that rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan has given Tehran's ruling clerics the blueprints for a nuclear warhead. Veteran Iran-watchers believe that the nation could soon use its supposedly civilian nuclear program to produce weapons-grade fissile material.

The world's democracies largely agree that a nuclear-armed Iran presents a threat to Middle East stability and world peace. Meetings between the United States and the other 34 members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board have produced resolutions but no final agreement to end Tehran's illicit nuclear program. Several IAEA board members have blocked serious action out of fear that Iran will pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, suspend international energy sales or even lash out militarily.

Late last month, the Bush administration went along with a European recommendation to delay asking the IAEA board members to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for action. The nonproliferation treaty calls for such referrals when countries violate their international obligations, and Iran has violated them more than a dozen times.

In this case, there may be a good reason to wait: Permanent Security Council members Russia and China have significant commercial and strategic interests in Iran and would probably block U.N. action against the regime. Going ahead with a referral now could drive away allies whose help we will need to stop Iran's nuclear program.

Although we should continue IAEA discussions with Iran -- a process that has given us insights into its nuclear program -- we need to explore other measures. In particular, we should ask allies who trade with Iran to join a sanctions campaign against Tehran.

For years, the U.S. has maintained sanctions on Iran that prohibit most trade, investment and assistance. And because Iran is on our list of state sponsors of terrorism, U.S. law requires the president to oppose all multilateral assistance to Iran in international forums and impose sanctions on those who aidits weapons programs or invest in its energy sector. Now, we should persuade other countries to follow our lead. Aside from those covering food and medicine, we shouldn't rule out any type of sanction.

A multinational sanctions regime might begin with an embargo on technologies that Iran can use in its nuclear program. If these initial sanctions prove ineffective, the program might escalate in stages to include a ban on arms sales and penalties for suppliers.

Further sanctions could include limits on the export of civilian technologies, such as machine tools, that have military applications, and, eventually, the full spectrum of measures the U.S. has in place to isolate Iran and persuade its rulers to give up their nuclear ambitions.

If we let Tehran develop nuclear weapons covertly while IAEA negotiations slog forward, Iran's theocrats will have little reason to negotiate with anyone. The U.S. needs to act before a regime that has denied the real Holocaust unleashes another.

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