Another Iran Resolution

Saturday, January 26, 2008

AFTER U.S. intelligence agencies reported last month that Iran had suspended a covert nuclear weapons program, it seemed possible that the principal impact would be to kill the Bush administration's diplomatic campaign to stop Tehran's accelerating -- and only nominally civilian -- work on uranium enrichment. For that reason, this week's announcement of an agreement by the United States, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on a new sanctions resolution was important. The punitive measures in the draft are weak: an extension of travel restrictions on some senior Iranian officials and a mandate for monitoring transactions by Iranian banks are the main elements. But passage of the resolution in the coming weeks could send the message to Iran that the international coalition against its nuclear program remains intact and that the pressure to comply with a U.N. order to suspend uranium enrichment will continue.

Iran has stood in defiance of that order for more than 18 months, even as it has rapidly built up an enrichment facility capable of producing the raw material for a bomb in about a year. But the good news is that the sanctions passed in two previous Security Council resolutions and augmented by unilateral steps by the U.S. Treasury appear to be having an impact. Imported consumer goods are getting scarcer and more expensive in Iranian cities; thanks in part to disinvestment caused by the sanctions, a natural gas shortage has intensified a battle between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliament. There's a decent chance that Iranian voters will punish the hard-line faction Mr. Ahmadinejad represents in parliamentary elections scheduled for March.

None of this means that Iran will soon suspend its nuclear work or even deliver on the cooperation it has promised the International Atomic Energy Agency in clearing up unanswered questions about its program. But it does suggest that if sustained and strengthened, sanctions could eventually force the regime to choose between a nuclear weapons capacity and a viable economy. The National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran would be guided by "a cost-benefit approach" in deciding about its nuclear program. We can only hope that this assessment is correct -- and that the Security Council will ensure that the costs are made manifest.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company