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Nuclear Iran: What Will America Do Next?

Tuesday, 11 April 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With Tuesday's announcement that Iran has joined the "nuclear club" following its successful uranium enrichment, the volatile country immediately becomes a nuclear threat to the rest of the world - especially Israel and the United States.

While hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists his country does not have plans to develop nuclear weapons, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the United States and Israeli governments who actually believes that statement.

Two security experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies forecast significant difficulties in enforcing economic sanctions against Iran as a tool to deter that nation from its nuclear designs.

Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. Al-Rodhan of the Washington-based think tank just released a first draft of "Iranian Nuclear Weapons - The Options if Diplomacy Fails," which also exhaustively critiques the military options open to both the United States and Israel.

The key difficulty with enforcing sanctions, says the pair, is that Iran's economy is more of a command economy than a free market. Some estimate that the government controls nearly 80 percent of the total economy.

The experts argue that the absence of a vibrant private sector creates the lack of a business class that could pressure the government to comply with United Nations Security Council demands and lift any sanctions.

Then there is the diversity consideration of Iran's trading partners including exporting partners Japan, China, Italy, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the Netherlands - with the key importing partners of Germany, France, Italy, China, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, and Russia.

"Enforcing economic sanctions means ensuring that all of these key trading partners stop trading with Iran," say the experts in the 57-page draft report.

Considering other variables, the experts opine that if the sanctions target Iranian imports of good and services, that means removing key markets for many of these economies and that may complicate the dynamics of enforcing such sanctions.

If sanctions target Iranian energy exports, for instance, China imports roughly 5 percent of its oil needs from Iran.

China stopped the passing of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Sudan due to China's oil interest. China has been unwilling to agree to any economic sanctions that impact Iran's energy exports as well.

The same applies for other Security Council members such as Russia, although Russia's motivation is not energy security per se. Russia has maintained long-term commercial and military relationships with Tehran.

Moscow has also been in negotiations to build Iran's Bushehr reactor. Losing that contract would mean a loss to Russia's economy. Other European powers are heavily invested in Iran's energy sector.

The United States has maintained sanctions against Iran since the revolution and the seizure of hostages on November 4, 1979. The authors note that the United States has extended and strengthened these sanctions several times since.

President Bill Clinton signed two executive orders in March and May 1995 that banned U.S. companies and their foreign subsidiaries from doing business with the Iranians or financing projects in Iran's petroleum sector.

The Clinton administration reinforced the sanctions further in 1997 by prohibited all U.S. nationals from investing in Iran. These sanctions were extended by President George W. Bush in March 2003 citing Iran's support for international terrorism.

Finally, U.S. economic sanctions against Iran were further strengthened in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) that was passed by Congress in August 1996, and extended for five years in July 2001.

While U.S. imposed sanctions have stopped U.S. companies from investing in Iran's energy industry, many multinational companies since the passing of the Sanctions Act have invested in Iran's gas and oil sectors.

In fact, since the passing of ILSA, it is estimated that Iran has attracted $30 billion worth of foreign direct investment in its oil and gas sectors, note the experts.

The United States has investigated Italian, Russian, Japanese, Canadian, French, and Malaysian companies regarding their investment in Iran's energy sector. It is, however, believed that the penalties under ILSA have not been imposed on any foreign or American company since its passing in the summer of 1996.

Cordesman and Al-Rodhan emphasize that a quarter century later, the U.S. sanctions have not achieved any of their goals.

This is due, in part, to the lack of meaningful enforcement mechanisms and, in part, to sanctions not being universal: "It is one thing to impose an oil embargo; it is, however, another thing to enforce it ... The government in Tehran can violate sanctions with smuggling, use the money to advance its military and nuclear programs, and blame the world for the economic suffering of its population."

The experts illustrate a first-level category of military responses they call "demonstrative, coercive, or deterrent strikes":

"A truly serious strike may be enough of a deterrent to change Iranian behavior, particularly if coupled with the threat of follow-on strikes in the future," say the authors. "It still, however, could as easily produce only a cosmetic Iranian change in behavior at best. Iran might still disperse its program even more, and shift to multiple, small, deep underground facilities."

Even with this relatively minor demonstrative attack, the experts suggest the international reaction would be a serious problem.

On the other end of an array of alternatives presented by the authors is the ultimate "big-stick" plan - major U.S. attacks not only on the offending nuclear sites but on a host of military and related civilian targets:

The authors note that much has been made of Israel's purchase of 500 BLU-109 "bunker busters," but that considerable caution is needed about such reports:

"These are 2,000-pound weapons that are far less effective against deeply buried targets than the much larger U.S. weapons ... The standard version is a ‘dumb bomb' with a maximum penetration capability of 4 to 6 feet of reinforced concrete. An aircraft must over-fly the target and launch the weapon with great precision to achieve serious penetration capability."

The experts suggest that it is possible to fit the weapon with precision guidance and convert it to a guided glide bomb and the United States may have sold such a version or Israel may have modified them.

Then there is the most dramatic scenario: "It is also possible that Israel actually purchased the BLU-116 Advanced Unitary Penetrator ...," suggest the experts. But even with these ultimate conventional explosive bunker-busters at least limited refueling would be required, and back-up refueling and recovery would be an issue, says the team.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With Tuesday's announcement that Iran has joined the "nuclear club" following its successful uranium enrichment, the volatile country immediately becomes a nuclear threat to the rest of the world - especially Israel and the United States. While...
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Tuesday, 11 April 2006 12:00 AM
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