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Countering Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

Andrew Grotto argues that U.N. sanctions are a good first step, but the U.S. must maintain this international unity to end the Iran nuclear crisis.

The U.N. Security Council enacted Resolution 1747 over the weekend, which imposes an export embargo on arms from Iran, an encouraging sign that the Council is unified over the goal of convincing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

The embargo will block an important source of revenue for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a key advocate for the nuclear program in Iran, and require all countries to freeze the assets of its key senior officials. The resolution also requires countries to block several Iranian business institutions—including Bank Sepah, a financier of various illicit Iranian activities—from the international financial system, building on the laudable efforts of the U.S. Treasury. These measures further ratchet up the pressure on Iran.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Banking Committee will hold hearings this week to hear testimony on these developments and discuss possible next steps in Iran.

In a Center for American Progress report released last month, “Contain and Engage: A New Strategy for Resolving the Nuclear Crisis with Iran,” Joe Cirincione and I assess the basic policy options for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program and identify a policy of “contain and engage” as the strategy most likely to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. We argue that United States must remind Iran of the potential benefits of cooperation as well as the escalating costs of failure to comply with its nonproliferation obligations. Rather than pursue the faint hope that coercive measures will force Iran’s capitulation, the contain-and-engage strategy couples the pressures created by sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and investment freezes with practical compromises and realizable security assurances to encourage Iran onto a verifiable, non-nuclear weapons path.

Containing Iran requires the United States to sustain the unity of the Security Council in the face of Iranian defiance. The United States must also work with its partners to continue to put the squeeze on Iran as long as it enriches uranium, restrict Iran’s access to nuclear and missile technologies, and invest in new and existing security and nonproliferation initiatives. The United States must prepare smart military options to thwart any offensive Iranian military activities, reassure allies in the region that the United States remains committed to their security, and lay the diplomatic groundwork for a long-term strategy of containing Iran should negotiations totally break down.

Iran must comply with the Security Council’s demand to suspend enrichment. The United States must be prepared to leverage such a suspension to maximize the chances of a negotiated settlement. Key elements of a strategy to engage Iran should include talking to Iran without preconditions, being willing to address Iran’s security concerns in exchange for Iran addressing ours, and identifying economic “carrots” that will spark a debate among the Iranian people over the choice being presented to their leaders. The report identifies one such carrot as U.S. support for foreign investment in Iran’s gasoline refinery sector.

The report focuses on rolling back Iran’s enrichment program, but it is not a comprehensive long-term strategy for dealing with all aspects of Iranian foreign policy. Yet the contain-and-engage strategy would position the United States to more effectively tackle a broader range of issues with Iran and shore up global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Contain-and-engage also lays the groundwork for a long-term containment strategy in case diplomacy fails.

For more information on this strategy, see:

Additional Resources:

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