France--with the backing of the United States--has rejected Iran's request for more talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice summed it up best, saying "there's not much to talk about," in terms of additional negotiations with Iran.
The EU-3 are now pressing ahead to develop "the greatest possible consensus" in dealing with Iran, whatever that means. The international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already agreed to hold an emergency meeting of its board of governors, on 2 February in Vienna. At that meeting, the EU-3 and the United States are expected to press the IAEA to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. However, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, on a diplomatic mission to South Asia, told reporters that "differences remain" in coordinating an Iranian strategy with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Let's assume for a moment that the world powers can overcome their differences, create a united front and persuade the IAEA to refer Tehran to the UNSC. Then what? At that point, the policy track seems to get a little murky. As we pointed out previously, China is now a major consumer of Iranian energy, and has indicated it might veto any security council resolution that imposes harsh sanctions on Iran. And even the Europeans--for all their new-found forcefulness on the Iranian issue--seem a little squishy. In a draft resolution now being circulated, the Europeans ask the UNSC to press Tehran to "extend full and prompt cooperation" to the IAEA. However, the resolution stops short of asking the UN to impose sanctions against Iran. Other reports indicate that Russia is seeking an option that stops short of an actual referral.
Is it any surprise, then, that Tehran shows so little concern about the current round of diplomatic maneuvering? Tehran's foreign minister described the case for a UNSC referral as "weak." Iranian President Ahmadinejad shrugged off the proposed resolution entirely, calling it "politically motivated."
With the threat of a meaningless resolution hanging over their heads, the Iranians can remain indifferent to the diplomatic process. At some point, they will probably express interest in a new or modified proposal, but only for the sake of sustaining the diplomatic sideshow and avoiding real sanctions or military action. And that will probably be enough to keep the Europeans and U.S. engaged diplomatically, while Iran's nuclear program keeps marching along.
For some clear-headed thinking on the Iranian problem, I highly recommend the U.S. Army Institute's recently-published book, "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran." In one particularly illuminating section of the book, Kenneth Timmerman highlights the fallacies associated with the idea that we can "negotiate" with Tehran. In his conclusion, Timmerman believes we have only two options with Iran, capitulation or war. In a recent posting, I took Timmerman to task for some faulty assumptions about the Iranian military and reported sales of military hardware from Russian to Iran. However, in this case, I believe Timmerman is correct. A nuclear-armed Iran cannot be allowed to emerge (as long as the country is ruled by a radical clerical regime) and the U.S. must be prepared to take military action to prevent Tehran from joining the nuclear club.
As an alternative, Michael Ledeen suggests increased support for Iranians who want to overthrow their repressive government. I second that notion, but with a cautionary note. Since the Iranian student movement fizzled a few years back, the domestic opposition has been in relative disarray. Meanwhile, the mullahs have shown no hesitation to do whatever it takes to secure their hold on power. True, spontaneous revolutions have occurred recently in Lebanon and the Ukraine, surprising everyone. But those uprisings succeeded because the existing governments were weak, and potential spoilers (Syria, Russia) were unable or unwilling to intervene. That is not the case in Tehran. But Ledeen's idea of a "people's revolt" makes more sense that pointless diplomacy, or a military coup that might lead to a civil war.