U.S. and German officials have said hauling Tehran before the Security Council would not necessarily lead to sanctions or other punitive measures against Iran.
U.S. Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice said on 12 January that the IAEA board of governors must go forward with a report to the Security Council so that the council can throw its weight behind the ongoing IAEA investigation into Iran's nuclear activities.
Rice spoke of "a menu of possibilities" for diplomatic action against Iran, and she stressed that the United States does not "at this point" have military action in mind.
A Strong Opponent Of Sanctions
The Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) sees things differently. It has warned that IAEA referral to the UN Security Council would escalate tension. The group also says it could trigger a series of events that lead beyond "a point of no return." CASMII was founded in December (2005) with the aim of "opposing sanctions, foreign state interference, and military intervention in Iran."
Abbas Edalat is a professor of computer science and mathematics at London's Imperial College and a co-founder of CASMII. He calls a Security Council referral a prelude to war -- in the same way that a Security Council resolution ultimately served to usher in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"This is the start of a process that will take us to basic sanctions, then to larger sanctions, and finally it will pave the way toward conditions that will allow Israel and the U.S. to use Iran's isolation and UN Security Council resolutions against Iran, [just] as Iraq was attacked," Edalat says. "Here also, the U.S. will say that we have to defend our interests and [for the sake of] international peace with our European allies, we have to act against Iran, which is producing nuclear weapons."
Edalat cites an article in "The New Yorker" in January 2005in which reporter Seymour Hersh claimed U.S. Special Forces were already helping identify potential targets for military strikes. The White House criticized that article as being "riddled with inaccuracies."
Edalat accuses neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration of pursuing "regime change" in Iran. He says those same people are using the nuclear issue as an excuse to isolate Iran and justify further action. He also says Washington's assurances that it is not planning any military intervention is aimed at enlisting Russian and Chinese support for action on the Security Council.
'A New War'
Edalat warns that any military action against Iran would have disastrous consequences.
"Any military action against Iran will be the preamble of a full-scale war in the region, a new war that will be much worse that the U.S. military action against Iraq," Edalat says. "Because, first of all, Iran is much larger than Iraq in terms of area and population. And then Iran has a lot of influence in other countries, like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and in the Palestinian territories."
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has similarly warned that a military attack on Iran would inflame nationalist sentiments and set democratic efforts back.
Edalat says he still believes the current crisis over Iran's nuclear activities can be resolved through direct negotiations between the United States and Iran.
He cites Iranians public support for the continuation of the peaceful nuclear activities, adding that many Iranians consider that effort a matter of national pride.
"If the U.S. really respects the will of the Iranian people, it should enter direct negotiations with Iran," Edalat says. "Western and U.S. companies that have been invited by Iran should come to Iran and cooperate with Iran on its peaceful nuclear program and monitor it and create such conditions that would not allow Iran to deviate from peaceful nuclear activities and go toward producing nuclear bombs."
IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 2 February that the standoff over Iran's nuclear work is at a "critical phase," but he stressed that it is not yet a full-blown "crisis."
El-Baradei, whose organization has criticized Iranian failure to disclose nuclear activities in the past, said Tehran still has a chance to regain international trust.