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Iran: Military Options Considered As Nuclear Crisis Escalates

By Bill Samii and Fatemeh Aman President Ahmadinejad has taken a hard-line stance on his country's nuclear program (file photo) (epa) Foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, have agreed that Iran should be reported to the council for its nuclear activities. Effective action will not be possible until after the March meeting of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, it has created a new atmosphere of confrontation between Iran and a number of its previous allies -- now apparently siding with the United States. While there are increasing threats heard from Tehran, Western pundits are mentioning the use of force more frequently.

The Iranian response was swift, ranging from defiant to threatening. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 31 January that if Iran is either reported to or referred to the Security Council it will cease its cooperation with the IAEA, state television reported. He added that voluntary Iranian compliance with the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty, which allows for intrusive inspections by the nuclear watchdog, would be the first victim.

"What I am most worried about is that Iran and the West, particularly the United States, may be getting now on to a track which will take them one step after another, unless one side backs down, in the direction of war."

Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, also adopted a threatening tone. He said on 31 January that although this is not a "referral" to the Security Council, "I believe they should be more careful in what they do," state television reported. Larijani went on to call on the Europeans to continue their negotiations with Iran, because a Security Council referral marks the end of diplomacy.

Previously, Larijani warned during a Moscow press conference on 25 January that Iran would resume industrial-scale uranium enrichment if it is referred to the Security Council, Interfax reported.

Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on 31 January that the grounds for referring Iran to the Security Council do not exist, ISNA reported.

Reporting Iran to the Security Council is a "tyrannical act," Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi- Rafsanjani said on 31 January, and trying to restrict Iranian access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is a "vice." He continued, according to ISNA, "We must not allow bullying powers to use sacred terms such as freedom, people's rights, and combating terrorism to attain their illegitimate aims."

Tehran University professors gathered at the Allameh Amini Hall on 31 January and protested against Western propaganda about the nuclear program, IRNA reported. One of the speakers, Dr. Karami of Allameh Tabatabai University, claimed that the West objects to Iranian nuclear pursuits because it wants to retard the country's development. A statement released after the event called on the IAEA to help developing nations.

In the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province scholars gathered at Shahid Chamran University to participate in a similar protest, provincial television reported. In a letter to IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, they said all countries should have equal access to nuclear technology and criticized "Western double standards."

The Oil Weapon

Regional oil exports would be attacked if sanctions are imposed, Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, a member of the Iranian legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in the 24 January "Aftab-i Yazd." "Oil is exported from Iran and the Persian Gulf territorial states to Europe, America, and East Asia; the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf and, in the case of a referral or an air or economic embargo, not even one drop of oil will be exported from this region," Rudaki said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is able to hinder oil exportation from the coasts of the Persian Gulf and our own oil if Europe fails to handle the nuclear case wisely and imposes unfair or economic sanctions on Iran."

But speaking at a 31 January OPEC meeting in Vienna, Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh sought to assuage concerns about such a threat. He said Iran would not cut its exports, AFP reported, as OPEC decided to maintain a production ceiling of 28 million barrels a day. "There is no link between the oil and the nuclear issue," Vaziri-Hamaneh said. "We have no reason to stop our exports." OPEC President Edmund Daukoru added that the Iranian official reassured him that oil production will not be shut down.

A Military Solution?

The international community has made it clear, through its actions, that it wants to continue pursuing a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Pundits and commentators in many Western newspapers and news magazines, meanwhile, are saying that it is time to consider using military means to eliminate the perceived threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Other pundits are warning that the Iranian nuclear problem does not have a military solution and argue that the consequences of military strikes would be far-reaching. They add, furthermore, that U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq preclude another one in Iran.

The White House wants to stay the diplomatic course, but it also refuses to rule out the use of force. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 30 January: "Going to the [UN] Security Council is not the end of diplomacy [with Iran]. It is just diplomacy in a different, more robust context. But, the president of the United States doesn't take his options (eds: including military action) off the table and, frankly, I don't think people should want the president of the United States to take his options off the table," RFE/RL reported.

Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is the coauthor of "Deadly Arsenals." He challenged the military option in a recent article in which he concurred with U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's assertion that this is a test for the Security Council. A failure by the council to stop Iran, he continued, would weaken the nonproliferation regime and the UN system. Military action, he wrote, could backfire.

Cirincione explained his stance in a 25 January interview with Radio Farda: "President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's government is very unpopular at the moment. The Islamic regime has had problems for years now, but the new hard line president's actions, for example trying to ban Western music and crack down on how people behave, what they listen to, and what they watch has made him an unpopular figure inside Iran except for this issue of the nuclear problem. This is a nationalist cause for the Iranian people."

Cirincione continued: "If the U.S. or Israel would attack Iran -- even a limited strike on facilities such as the uranium- conversion plant at Isfahan -- it would inflame the Iranian public, it would inflame the anger throughout the entire Muslim world. [It is] the one thing that could turn this government from an unpopular government into a highly successful government."

Robert Hunter, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp. and U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998, also argues against the use of force. He told Radio Farda on 24 January that the Iranian government must be made aware of the danger it faces. Hunter added that Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and calls for Israel's eradication were not only "the height of stupidity" but were "extremely dangerous" as well.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (epa file photo)

Hunter went on to tell Radio Farda: "Having said that, what I am most worried about is that Iran and the West, particularly the United States, may be getting now on to a track which will take them one step after another, unless one side backs down, in the direction of war. And I don't think anybody really wants that to happen and can imagine that. So we need to find some means to step back from that particular brink and I think that takes both sides to do it."

American Public Unsure

Public perceptions are likely to affect the course of action Western governments choose, and at this point more and more people are willing to back military action against Iran. A "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg survey found that 57 percent of the 1,555 adult Americans polled "favor military intervention" if the Iranian government pursues a program that could be used for the manufacturing of nuclear arms, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 27 January. Most respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the course of the conflict in Iraq, but this does not seem to have affected their enthusiasm for other regional commitments. Some respondents told the "Los Angeles Times" that they see Iran as a bigger threat than Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Responding to a similar question one year ago, only 50 percent of respondents favored using the military in Iran.

A "Washington Post"-ABC News poll, on the other hand, found that only 42 percent of Americans favor bombing Iranian nuclear sites, "The Washington Post" reported on 31 January. Some 54 percent oppose this course of action and 70 percent of respondents said they back international economic sanctions in an effort to stop Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Iran's Nuclear Program

Iran's Nuclear Program

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.