When Iran announced yesterday that it would accelerate enrichment of uranium as it made an agreement with the West and the UN all but impossible, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have expected its opponents to rush to make yet another counteroffer. Certainly, given the weakness demonstrated over the past couple of years, he had every reason to expect another round of the Nuclear Hokey Pokey. Today, though, one of its closest trading partners has called for “serious measures” after Ahmadinejad’s announcement — and it’s one that has been mainly protective of Iran:
Officials from the United States, France and Russia called Monday for stronger measures against Tehran after Iran told the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency that it would begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to power a medical reactor in Tehran. In Paris, the visiting United States defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, told a news conference that “the only path that is left to us at this point” was to exert greater pressure on the Iranian authorities, Reuters reported.
Separately, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said “the only thing we can do, alas, is apply sanctions given that negotiations are impossible.” In Moscow, Konstantin I. Kosachyov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as urging the international community to prepare “serious measures.”
How serious is Russia? They have already suspended missile shipments to Tehran, until now somewhat quietly:
Iran had been attempting to buy S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia, apparently to protect its nuclear facilities from airstrikes. Despite strong Western pressure not to supply the missiles, Russia has not given a clear indication of its intentions.
The official IRNA news agency quoted the Air Force commander, Heshmatollah Kassiri, as saying that, since Russia had for “unacceptable reasons” not delivered the missiles, “in the near future, a new locally made air defense system will be unveiled by the country’s experts and scientists which is as powerful as the S-300 missile defense system, or even stronger.”
Iran needs the SAMs to keep the Israelis from bombing their nuclear-development sites. Their own native systems are not adequate for the job, and the continued risk-taking on Ahmadinejad’s part means that he needs the defensive systems more than ever now. Russia had held its cards close to the vest until now on the S-300s, but the cat seems out of the bag now. If Moscow is as upset over this announcement as their statement appears, those missiles will not make it to Iran, and the sites will be left more exposed to air raids as a result.
Iran has one more trump card: China. China has joined Russia in blocking the more “serious measures” that Russia seems ready to support now. Without China on board, the UN won’t be able to authorize any new sanctions against Tehran, let alone actually enforce them — at which, as we saw with the Oil for Food fiasco, the UN doesn’t do particularly well anyway.
Other than cutting off all trade with Iran, sanctions will probably not do much good at this point, as the mullahs now need the weapon to justify all of the pain they have inflicted on the country in their pursuit of nukes. A complete embargo might be enough to spur a movement to depose the mullahs for wrecking Iranian standing in the world; the Iranian people seem on the verge of conducting a counterrevolution anyway, and it won’t take much to catalyze the nascent anger in the general population. In the end, only regime change will give a chance of eliminating the nuclear threat posed by the Iranian mullahcracy — and Western policies should have that in mind as the ultimate goal.