Iran Sanctions May Be Too Little, Too Late

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, in a move the President heralded as a “strong resolution” and “the most comprehensive sanctions that the Iranian government has faced.”   But the New York Times reported that “the measures did little to overcome widespread doubts that they - or even the additional steps pledged by American and European officials - would accomplish the Council’s longstanding goal: halting Iran’s production of nuclear fuel.”

The Wall Street Journal reported today that while the “international community” dithers, Iran inches closer and closer to becoming a nuclear power: “While previous resolutions appear to have slowed Iran’s nuclear pursuit, the country has moved its program forward, building new centrifuges and enriching uranium to a 20% level. Uranium must be enriched to above 90% to produce fuel for a nuclear weapon, which the West, as well as Russia and China, fear Tehran is pursing.”  In fact, Iran may already possess enough nuclear fuel for two weapons, according to a recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Moreover, despite the President’s crowing that the latest round of sanctions send “an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons,” the “international community” is less unified today than it was 16 months ago.  As the Washington Post’s news analysis noted, “How could an administration that first tried reaching out to Iran and then spent months working with its allies end up with less international unity than when George W. Bush was president?“  The Post story continued:

The administration did have to pay a price to win Russian and Chinese cooperation.  U.S. sanctions were ended against Russian firms that had been linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, and China’s economic interests in Iran were walled off from the sanctions….Nevertheless, it took the administration 16 months to reach this point, during which time Iran added to its stockpile of enriched uranium and even began to enrich at higher levels.  In the meantime, Obama wrote two letters to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and tried hard to win Tehran’s agreement on a confidence-building measure….

None of that seemed to matter to the dissenters at the council.  Turkey and Brazil, in fact, took the administration’s confidence-building measure — a swap of nuclear material for an Iranian medical research reactor — and revived it last month over U.S. objections.  So in this case, one of the administration’s efforts at engagement may have backfired.

Moreover, the latest sanctions may even have the perverse effect of lulling the “international community” into a false sense of security, as the Jerusalem Post pointed out today:

Breaking and evading these sanctions ought to be a breeze for Ahmedinejad.  A full year after Iran’s deceptive elections, which spurred countrywide demonstrations, he may be less popular but his position is stable.  After the regime brutally quashed his opposition, it is very doubtful that stunted sanctions will destabilize his hold on power….Wednesday’s sanctions….are not the antidote to the Iranian nuclear threat that Israel had hoped for and that the free world so badly needs. In some ways, they may even exacerbate Israel’s predicament. They will lend the appearance of an international mobilization to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, but in actuality will achieve nothing - the worst of all worlds.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said yesterday:

Today’s action by the United Nations Security Council is long overdue but unfortunately doesn’t go far enough.  What’s most disappointing is that the President’s 16-month ‘engagement strategy’ on this issue has simply given the Iranians 16 more months to work on acquiring a nuclear capability, and this sanctions resolution does nothing to stop that.  At the request of the Administration, Congress has repeatedly delayed mandatory bilateral sanctions legislation.  Any justification for delay is now at an end, and the Congress must act immediately.

Iran possessing nuclear weapons is a thought too terrible to contemplate - yet it may be a reality unless the United States and our allies stand firm against the regime in Tehran, and that starts with Congress taking action on long-delayed bilateral sanctions legislation immediately.