President Obama is about to have a hot potato land in his lap. On Friday the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved a strong censure on Iran's nuclear cooperation and suggested there were more secret nuclear enrichment facilities still undiscovered.
The 35-nation IAEA board approved by a 25-3 vote a resolution rebuking Iran for its continued defiance of U.N resolutions that demand they cease enriching uranium and attempting to develop nuclear weapons. The board was very critical of Iran's secret construction of another enrichment facility inside mountain bunkers near the ancient city of Qom. This is located southwest of Tehran.
The censure was actually supported by China and Russia. Those two countries have long stood on the side if Iran and refused to allow and serious sanctions to be levied against Iran. Both conduct a lot of business with Iran and do not want to jeopardize their relationship. They said Iran's failure to disclose the secret project was a breach of its obligations under existing U.N. treaties. Cuba, Malaysia and Venezuela opposed the measure, six countries abstained, and one was not present
The resolution will now be referred to the U.N. Security Council in hopes of getting additional sanctions against Iran. The Bush administration fought many times to get sanctions passed only to be blocked by China or Russia. Just having those two countries vote on the censure is still no guarantee that they won't block sanctions in the Security Council.
Iran bellowed that the IAEA resolution is a "historic mistake" and threatened to cease cooperation with the agency. Since they don't disclose locations and don't allow inspections of existing locations without weeks of prior notice I don't see how halting cooperation would be any worse.
President Obama started his term saying that he would sit down with Iran and discuss this on a rational level. Once he realized that there was no rational behavior to be expected from Iran's leaders he has avoided any comments in the press but that luxury is rapidly coming to an end. The President is going to have to toughen his stance and press for real sanctions or Iran will continue to do as it wants and could have a nuclear weapon before the end of Obama's first term. There is a fight brewing and only one side will play fair.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs hailed the vote as underscoring a commitment by the international community "to enforce the rules of the road, and to hold Iran accountable to those rules." U.S. officials had lobbied other countries intensively to support the resolution. "If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences."
Gibbs also said on Friday "Nothing that we contemplate or that we would consider is aimed at causing greater harm for the Iranian people, who have suffered enough. When President Obama took office, he said that he would seek to engage Iran -- and that Tehran would have until the end of this year to demonstrate it would respond seriously."
President Obama reached out in speeches and issued a video message to the Iranian people. He sent two private letters to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's key decision maker in matters of security and foreign policy, and joined with Russia and France in offering to help supply new fuel for an aging medical reactor in Tehran. But the missives have gone largely unanswered -- apart from public scorn from Iranian leaders -- and the reactor deal has not won government approval. There is a palpable sense of disappointment within the administration that Iran has not responded more affirmatively.
Bushehr and delaying missile deliveries, but China continues to build economic links with the country. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao this year declared that his government would seek "close coordination in international affairs" with Iran and that "cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened."
Still, China decided to back the IAEA resolution -- and helped draft it -- after two senior White House officials recently traveled to Beijing and warned that Israel could bomb Iran, leading to a crisis in the Persian Gulf region and almost inevitably problems over the very oil China needs to fuel its economic juggernaut.
Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who until recently was a senior adviser on Iran policy in the State Department, said "there is a certain degree of impatience in American diplomacy. We have elevated Iran to a level of extreme danger, which it is not, and created a crisis atmosphere, which is unwise." When President Richard Nixon first reached out to China, it took that country a year and half to respond positively, he noted.
"The Iranians may come back in March with a counterproposal," he said. "No deal ever dies in Tehran. The Iranians never say yes or no." Talk is cheap and they are masters at delaying any confrontation.
Iran 's representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, suggested that Tehran's would stop some of its voluntary cooperation with the agency, according to a report by the semi-official Fars news agency. "This resolution is a historic mistake by those who designed it," Soltanieh was quoted as saying.
It was unclear what specific steps, if any, the government would take in response. Iranian analysts said it would probably not withdraw completely from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires states to submit to international inspections, or shut down cameras that allow the IAEA to monitor activities at nuclear
facilities in Iran. The analysts said Iran might stop providing certain technical information about plans for new nuclear sites, or make it more difficult for IAEA inspectors to obtain visas.
"I don't believe they will go as far as taking down the cameras. It is not in our interest to stop cooperation on critical trust building issues," said an Iranian analyst who is close to former nuclear negotiators, speaking on condition of anonymity.