Susan E. Rice [op-ed, Dec. 30] urges the Bush administration to become seriously engaged in preventing nuclear proliferation in Iran. President Bush has said that we have no leverage with Iran, hardly a surprising conclusion since he once declared that nation, Iraq and North Korea to be an "axis of evil."
While Ms. Rice's recommendations to address this matter are for the most part reasonable, Iranians find themselves flanked by elements of the most powerful army in the world, one that was dedicated to regime change in Iraq. It should be no surprise that the Iranians distrust the president's contention that we only want nuclear disarmament from them. If the United States initiates airfield construction or expansion in, for example, Uzbekistan, the Iranians may consider the die to be cast against them. Such actions could make matters worse for Americans in Iraq.
Second, Iran has at least two nuclear powers as near neighbors and possibly a third, Israel. Thus it feels the need for an equalizer. However unpalatable it may seem, the concept of spheres of influence still operates geopolitically.
The problem of nuclear proliferation worldwide has complexities that require broader considerations.
George Bush and Susan E. Rice are wrong about the room left for imposing sanctions on Iran.
First, under the current sanctions regime, imports of Iranian agricultural products and carpets are permitted. Cutting off imports of Iranian agricultural products would be a small sting, but it would have an effect on rural Iran, where the mullahs get much of their support.
Second, unlike the embargo against Cuba, the Iranian sanctions leave a lot of leeway for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to continue to do business -- as long as the transactions do not involve U.S.-origin products or the foreign-made products of U.S. technology. These loopholes blunt the effect of sanctions.
Extending the embargo on Iran to foreign affiliates of U.S. companies and boycotting imports from foreign companies that do business with Iran would isolate Iran politically and economically and impede its ability to acquire weapons technology. True, European governments probably would condemn such a move as an assertion of extraterritorial jurisdiction impinging on their sovereignty. But such a protest would be duplicitous at best: Most of the European countries make no effort to thwart compliance by European firms with the Arab boycott of Israel, letting principle take a back seat to economic advantage.
Let Europe choose between the United States and Iran. If making that choice discomforts Europe, that will be half the fun.