Defined Threat

February 7, 2005

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Near East Report

In the months since Iran promised three European countries (EU-3) that it would temporarily halt illicit nuclear work in return for possible economic incentives, it has become clear that the Islamic republic views the suspension as little more than a short-lived pause in its quest for nuclear weapons.

Hassan Rowhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said recently that Iran may resume nuclear activity whenever it becomes dissatisfied with the level of trade and technological incentives the EU-3 offer it. At the longest, Rowhani said, the suspension would last until August.

Moreover, no matter what incentives Tehran extracts from the EU-3, Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that they will never give up efforts to enrich uranium, a key step in assembling atomic arms.

Coupled with its long-standing status as the world's chief state sponsor of terrorism, Iran's determination to acquire nuclear arms presents the international community with a well-defined threat, and time is running short. Meir Dagan, the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, estimated that the Islamic republic would have all the technology it needs to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year.

Under that timetable, Tehran would be able to construct a nuclear weapon within three to four years. According to top Iranian diplomat Sirius Naseri, once Iran completes the nuclear fuel cycle, it intends to be an international "player" by becoming a distributor of nuclear material. Given Iran's sponsorship of such terror organizations as Hizballah, the world cannot afford that risk.

With American support, the EU-3 have held firm against Iran's nuclear ambitions, continuing to insist that Tehran permanently surrender its enrichment capabilities. However, it appears highly unlikely Iran will foreswear its nuclear programs absent a significant increase in international pressure. As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield said, Iran has a record that is "quite negative in terms of willingness to abide by commitments regarding its nuclear program."

The United States has held open the option of referring Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions to slow its quest for atomic weapons. With Iran demonstrating no intent to comply with the international community under present conditions, it is a step that merits serious consideration.