On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that his country would begin enriching its uranium stockpiles beyond the 3.5 percent threshold necessary for electricity generation. Ostensibly, the move is designed to allow for the production of medical isotopes. But many nuclear security experts note that the announced plan for 20 percent enrichment enables Iran to perform 90 percent of the process necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium under the guise of medical research. As such, the United States must take a very strong stance against further Iranian enrichment on both the domestic and international fronts.
Iran’s current enrichment activities are in direct contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1696 and 1737, which demanded that Tehran halt enrichment and slapped sanctions on the Islamic Republic. In light of recent developments, new sanctions have been proposed, but China’s refusal to approve any additional penalties for Iran has stymied hopes that coordinated international action might stop Iran’s rulers from pursuing a bomb. The United States must make it clear to China that its actions are absolutely unacceptable and constitute an irresponsible policy for a nation so committed to its own “peaceful rise.”
Similarly, despite extant federal legislation, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, many U.S. companies continue to do business with Iran, providing dual-use technology and capital that allow the regime in Tehran to continue what could be the pursuit of an atomic arsenal. The Obama administration must crack down on all companies that violate currently existing regulations and propose more stringent and targeted restrictions on trade with Iran. Its latest move—imposing more sanctions on front companies for the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard—is a good start. Washington should also reach out to other countries, urging them to adopt similar stringent bans on the export of all dual-use technology, especially equipment that could be used to facilitate further enrichment.
Iran claims that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes like power generation and medical research. If so, then it needs to show its commitment to said purposes by returning to the negotiating table and adopting one of the compromise plans drafted by the international community. Last month, President Ahmadinejad publicly rejected a reasonable proposal to have Iran export the vast majority of its uranium stockpiles to Russia, to be processed under international safeguards. Without even considering these options, the Iranian government cannot claim that the international community is somehow denying its sovereign rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
If Iran continues on its present course, the Middle East—already one of the most unstable regions of the world—could face the threat of nuclear war. The United States must continue to seek a compromise that all parties can follow, while also conveying to Tehran that its current actions will not be tolerated. Strong international sanctions, a firm export policy, and effective international diplomacy will be necessary in order to address the danger of uranium enrichment in Iran.