Well, this ought to do the trick!  The IAEA, apparently angry at Iran’s refusal to stop doing what everyone knows damned well they’ve been doing for more than a decade, finally lost patience with Iran yesterday.  In what the New York Times hilariously describes as “an overwhelming display of disapproval,” the UN’s nuclear-control agency has … wait for it … sent Iran a strongly worded letter:

One day after the director general of the United Nations nuclear watchdog castigated Iran for blocking inquiries into its nuclear program, the organization’s governing body added a further rebuke Friday, demanding that the country freeze operations “immediately” at a once-secret uranium enrichment plant.

In an overwhelming display of disapproval, the governing body also expressed “serious concern” about potential military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.

The resolution censuring Iran was approved overwhelmingly by 25 votes to 3. It came after Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, declared in unusually blunt language on Thursday that Iran had stonewalled investigators about evidence that the country had worked on nuclear weapons design, and that his efforts to reveal the truth had “effectively reached a dead end.”

Are you overwhelmed by this display of disapproval?  Jazz Shaw is decidedly underwhelmed, but sees reason for optimism:

This comes close on the heels of the IAEA report stating that Iran was not cooperating with their inspections of Iran’s secret uranium enrichment plant. Despite the somewhat snarky title of this column, there is some tentative good news in this report. Both Russia and China signed on this time, which comes as something of a shock compared to their past attitudes. Some are attributing China’s apparent change of heart to Obama’s recent visit to that nation along with warnings from U.S. representatives to the Chinese that the escalating situation could result in threats to their oil supply from Iran.

Still, while there’s some reason to be hopeful, a “strongly worded letter” is far short of real action. The question is, will the Russians and the Chinese sign on for serious additional sanctions against Iran. A bit of lip service is one thing. Building a coalition of the worlds greatest powers to hit them in the pocketbook would be something else entirely. And if you are serious about wanting to avoid war with Iran, preferring a diplomatic resolution to the tensions there, sanctions from a unified front of Tehran’s biggest customers is likely the only tool we have in the bag.

China may be more likely to damage their own economic interests than Russia, considering the relative strength of their economies, but in truth neither will be at all likely to go beyond the strongly-worded letter.  As Jazz notes, the Chinese rely on Iranian oil, and even if they were willing to isolate Iran, the rest of the global supply probably couldn’t make it up.  Russia’s economy has cratered, and they need the exports to Iran to keep them afloat.

Besides, this isn’t the first time that the IAEA has taken this action. They did it in 2006 as well, with similar results. A year later, the US intelligence community would produce a National Intelligence Estimate that completely undermined the IAEA action, and would turn out to be completely wrong, as the revelation of Irans’ Qom facility would embarrassingly demonstrate.

If we want Russia and China on board, we have to be able to show that failing to contain Iran would be more dangerous to their interests than letting them proceed. So far, neither Obama nor Bush has been able to make that case, and not for lack of trying. Bush tried pressure, Obama tried sweet talk, and neither succeeded because China and Russia don’t really care all that much about Iranian nuclear ambitions — at least, they don’t care about that more than they do their own pocketbooks. And that’s not likely to change.

The boys at South Park Studios lampooned the New York Times’ hyperbole years before in their movie,Team America: World Police.  In the following not-safe-for-work (and I mean really NSFW) clip, Hans Blix tries the strongly-worded letter approach: