Back to the Security Council

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

THE UNITED STATES will begin a long, difficult and possibly unsuccessful campaign this week to persuade the U.N. Security Council to order an end to Iran's nuclear program -- even though Iran's president has already said the regime does "not give a damn about such resolutions." While the diplomacy drags on, Iran's race for a bomb will continue: The International Atomic Energy Agency reported Friday that Tehran's work on enriching uranium was accelerating even as it continued to stonewall inspectors' attempts to learn about still more troubling parts of its program. The Bush administration's pursuit of a resolution at the United Nations is nonetheless a necessary step -- in part because of what it may reveal about the international coalition it has tried to build against Iran.

A debate on a legally binding resolution should set the United States and its European allies more firmly on a course toward adopting specific sanctions against Iran. It should also force China and Russia to decide whether they wish to be partners of the West in addressing such threats to global security. Russian President Vladimir Putin has skillfully exploited the growing crisis with Iran, cooperating with the West just enough to forestall a response to his increasingly belligerent policies in other parts of the world, while also reaping the benefit of rising oil prices -- and retaining the option of selling advanced weapons to Tehran. By the time of this summer's Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin should be obliged either to stand with the democratic governments he will host in supporting Security Council action or to demonstrate that he does not belong in their company. China, too, will show whether it is interested in taking up the role of global "stakeholder" urged on it by the Bush administration.

Russian and Chinese diplomats say their resistance to sanctions stems from concern that they will lead to more defiance by Iran, military action by the United States, or both. The same worries prompt the growing chorus of calls in Europe and in Washington for the Bush administration to offer the mullahs a "strategic dialogue." If there is to be a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, some such negotiations will eventually be needed. But the United States has already spent most of the past year supporting negotiations with Iran by Britain, France, Germany and Russia; their offers were crudely rejected. Iran's leaders evidently have concluded that they need not respond to offers of carrots because the coalition they face is incapable of producing a stick. The United States and its allies must now prove that thinking wrong -- ideally within the Security Council, but if necessary outside of it.

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