The Threat from Iran: Options for the U.N., E.U., and the U.S.

Statement by Professor Raymond Tanter, President of the Iran Policy Committee
March 20, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


Iran Policy Committee

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the press and interested observers. My presentation is in three parts: 1) the threat from Iran regarding Iraq and nuclear weapons development; 2) the diplomatic state of play; and 3) options for the international community in view of the Iranian threat.

The Threat from Iran

Iranian Efforts to Build Infrastructure and to Destabilize Postwar Iraq

The focus of the diplomacy at the United Nations is on the threat Iran poses because of its covert nuclear weapons program. But on the third anniversary of the Iraq War, it is also useful to review the role of Iran in facilitating the insurgency in Iraq.

Iran's interests in Iraq are long standing. Consider the political will of Ayatollah Khomeini. He urged "liberating Qods [Jerusalem] via Karbala [in southern Iraq]." With the fall of Baghdad and capture of Saddam, the successors of Khomeini assume that Tehran is on the road to Baghdad and then on to Jerusalem.

Iran sits unchallenged at the apex of a terrorism and proliferation pyramid and regards post-Saddam Iraq as the most important battleground in a quest to dominate the Persian Gulf. Iran, four times as large and three times as populated as Iraq, has a long history of interference in Iraq's internal affairs with the goal of setting up a sister Islamic Republic in ancient Mesopotamia.

Iran remains home to the largest Iraqi expatriate community in the world, Iraq shares its longest border with Iran and has a majority Shiite Muslim population with strong religious and historical bonds with fellow-Shiites in Iran.

Many members of the Iraqi Government have spent long years in Iran or have enjoyed Tehran's political patronage. Indeed, many of them have made a trek to Tehran in search of an Islamic alternative to American support.

Defeat of the United States and its allies in Iraq and destruction of the Iranian regime's opposition are vital to the survival of clerical rule in Iran. The ayatollahs in Tehran consider Lebanon and Somalia as templates for post-Saddam Iraq: Locals compel a U.S. withdrawal because Washington is fearful of further casualties; Islamists obligingly fill the resulting power vacuum.

To avoid the fate of the Taliban and Saddam, Tehran pursues a strategy of building up a covert political-military infrastructure in Iraq with a capability to inflict sustained casualties on American forces over time, without leaving the regime's fingerprints on the triggers.

Even as early as January 2004, over 2,000 Iranian-sponsored clerics crossed into Iraq from Iran since cessation of major combat operations during May 2003. Many of them carry books, compact discs, and audiotapes that promote militant Islam.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods (Jerusalem) Force established armed underground cells across the Shi'i southern region of Iraq, often using the Iranian Red Crescent as a front. The Jerusalem Force founded medical centers and local charities in Najaf, Baghdad, Hillah, Basra, and al-Amarah to gain support from the local population.

IRGC agents deployed to Najaf to gather intelligence on U.S. forces. Tehran has also permitted members of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist faction with close links to al-Qaeda, to cross back into Iraq and join the anti-American resistance.

Even as Tehran began to send Iranian operatives into postwar Iraq, members of Hizballah infiltrated the country as well. Because most of Hizballah's members are Arab, they may constitute an even more effective Iranian proxy in Iraq than Iranian agents trained in Arabic. Tehran tasked Hizballah with sending agents and clerics across a major portion of southern Iraq.

Once major combat operations came to an end, Hizballah agents crossed into Iraq, not only from Syria, but from Iran as well. Initially, these operatives numbered nearly 100, but this relatively small figure belies their potential impact on behalf of Tehran. Hizballah has established charitable organizations in Iraq in order to create a favorable environment for recruiting, a tactic that the organization had previously tested in southern Lebanon with Iranian assistance.

Moreover, according to Mohammed al-Alawi, Hizballah's chief spokesman in Iraq, the organization's agents act as local police forces in many southern cities (e.g., Nasiriya, Ummara), ignoring an official U.S. ban on militias.

Overall, Tehran seems to be using Hizballah to supplement its own penetration of local Iraqi governing offices and judiciaries. Tehran has used Hizballah to smuggle Iraqis living in Iran back into their native country. A significant number of Iraqis have dual nationalities and have resided in Iran for many years; some have even served as IRGC commanders. Hizballah can help conceal their long association with Iran; indeed, some of these individuals have apparently joined Iraqi police forces since the end of major combat.

Hizballah is casing coalition assembly centers in Iraq and tracking the timing and order of movements by coalition vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and motorcades. Hizballah agents are videotaping various locations in two-person teams, often using public transportation such as taxis. Footage of targets is sometimes concealed between banal imagery (e.g., wedding festivities) to avoid detection by coalition forces. Such reports echo Hizballah's own public statements, voiced as early as mid-April 2003, regarding its willingness to attack U.S. forces in Iraq and its increasing ability to do so.

I attended President Bush's address at George Washington University on 13 March 2006, in which he stated that, "Our Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, told the Congress Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militia with the capability to build improvised explosive devices in Iraq. Coalition forces have seized IED's and components that were clearly produced in Iran."

The President's comments followed tough words about Iran during March 2006 from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who accused Iran of not only sending bomb technology into Iraq, but also of sending members of an elite force of its Republican Guards into Iraq. Moreover, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States faces "no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," a statement repeated in the Bush administration's National Security Strategy document of March 2006.

The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Threat: Lavizan II

A template for the way the Iranian regime practices deceives the international community about its nuclear weapons program is embodied in the appearance and disappearance of a nuclear weapons site. In March 2003, National Council of Resistance of Iran disclosed intelligence about a secret site used by the Defense Ministry-Lavizan Shian or Lavizan I.

Following the disclosure, the Ministry of Defense moved the equipment out of the site and razed the premises to foreclose further information of the secret nuclear activities from leaking. It is easier for the regime to prevent leaks of radioactive particles than to deter dissidents from leaking nuclear weapons R&D.

In March 2004, a series of satellite images taken from Bagh Shian area in Lavizan District revealed that Iran's Ministry of Defense completely demolished the area and the roads leading to the site in an attempt to eliminate every trace of its secret activities.

A reason for razing Lavizan I and building tunnels at Lavizan II between November 2004 and February 2005 was that Iran had promised the European Union on November 14, 2004 to halt all activities related to uranium enrichment. Hence, Tehran had a motivation to hide its suspect actions underground.

And in February 2005, the National Council of Resistance of Iran disclosed that Tehran was producing Polonium-210 at the Lavizan II military site, which the NCRI first revealed in November 2004. Polonium-210 emits an Alfa source, which in conjunction with Beryllium metal, produces a neutron source that serves as the trigger for fission chain reaction in a nuclear bomb explosion. So a reason to demolish Lavizan I and to construct secret tunnels at Lavizan II was because the regime was producing Polonium-210 at the Lavizan II military site.

In seeking to explain why the Lavizan Shian site disappeared, the regime stated that there was a dispute between the municipality and the Defense Ministry over land use and the City won the bureaucratic battle, resulting in a park being built instead of a nuclear site run by the Defense Ministry. While the demolition derby was underway, moreover, the municipality of Tehran's officials could not gain access to the land that was to become a park because the military would not allow such access.

Iran admitted to the West that a project is being carried out at the Lavizan-Shian site, which it alleged was aimed at researching anti-nuclear defensive measures. At some point, however, it became clear that the Iranian Defense Ministry had sold the facility to a private company, but control was transferred back to the ministry. IAEA officials who asked to meet the facility's director were introduced to a university professor.

BOTTOM LINE: Delays in permitting international inspection + razing of nuclear sites = nuclear weapons research and development

In light of the Iranian threat to Iraq and its efforts to deceive the international community en route to developing nuclear weapons, consider the state of play at the United Nations.

Diplomatic State of Play

The United States and its coalition partners want to increase pressure on Iran slowly, first setting timetables and deadlines. Only later would measures like targeted sanctions be considered by the UN Security Council.

But Tehran is engaged in a full court press at the United Nations to delay action against the regime.

Accepting a long-standing offer from the United States for talks about Iraq is a ploy to buy time at the UN.

Engaging in a cycle accepting and rejecting the Russian offer to allow enrichment of Iranian nuclear fuel to take place in Russia is another gambit to buy time. Tehran attempts to pocket concessions in a proposal-counterproposal negotiating sequence.

The UN Security Council Draft Statement on the Iranian nuclear program circulating among Council Members requires Iran to resolve outstanding questions by fully complying with the requirements set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. Indeed, the Iran Policy Committee and Strategic Policy Consulting called this press conference to reveal new intelligence relevant to this crucial diplomatic activity.

Elements of the revised draft said the International Atomic Energy Agency would report "to the Security Council as well as to the IAEA board of governors, in (14) days on Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA board."

These requirements include suspending immediately all uranium enrichment activities and resuming implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol, which permits wider inspections of a country's nuclear facilities.

Consistent with Iran's preferences, both Russia and China, however, said the 14-day deadline was too short. China's ambassador to the UN called for at least four weeks to six weeks. American Ambassador John Bolton acknowledged some flexibility regarding time but not much beyond a month.

Both China and Russia see the reporting requirement in the draft statement as shifting the focus of the Iran file from the IAEA to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions. Beijing and Moscow would like any report on Iran's compliance to go directly to the 35-nation IAEA Governing Board rather than back to the Security Council.

While the Security Council Statement would be an official document, with approximately the same legal weight as a resolution, a resolution would be a stronger tool in the Security Council arsenal.

If divisions within the Security Council persist, Britain, France, and the United States (along with Germany, which is not on the Security Council but a partner in the coalition) might forego the idea of a joint Security Council statement that would require the approval of all 15 members.

Rather, the four powers could proceed with a draft resolution that requires a simple majority, nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the permanent members. So, the downside of the draft resolution option, however, is that it could be vetoed by any of the five permanent Council members, e.g., by China or Russia. But neither would like to be in a position of having to veto a resolution.

There is to be a meeting of the P-5 (five permanent members of the Security Council) and Germany in New York today, Monday, 20 March 2006, to consider the next steps by the UN and IAEA.

The 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council, which rotate for two-year terms, are Argentina, Congo Republic, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia, and Tanzania.

Options for the International Community

In the event that negotiations about a Security Council Statement fail and there is a consideration of sanctions, below are some sanctions that might be considered under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which makes them binding on Member states.

Economic and Trade sanctions
• Ban on oil purchases
• Ban on oil pipeline transport or use
• Revocation of airline landing and/or overflight rights through International Civil Aviation Organization
• Revocation of shipping privileges: transit of national waters, docking, port calls via the International Maritime Organization
• Prohibition of all or some financial transactions by member states
• Freezing of government assets in member states' banks
• Withdrawal of all/some support for participation in international lending organizations
• Suspension of World Trade Organization (WTO) membership privileges

U.S. Unilateral Measures
White House
• Support from American officials in favor of imprisoned Iranian political leaders, journalists, students, bloggers-by name
• Condemnation for irresponsibility in failing to meet its obligations to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and for putting country in perilous situation vis-à-vis the international community
• Condemnation of nuclear weapons program
• Warnings about U.S. military options
• Declaration of regime change as U.S. official policy

Department of State
• Continue to solidify diplomatic support for strong action at the UN Security Council
• Refuse to permit Iran's UN representatives to travel beyond usual 25-mile NYC radius
• Refuse visas for Iran's UN representatives to enter the country
• Revocation of visas of Iran's UN representatives
• Declare Iran's U.N. representatives Persona Non Grata (PNG)
• Permit Iran's U.N. representatives 48-hours to leave the country
• Deploy Bureau of Public Diplomacy staff to mount global offensive with friends, allies, and others to expose Iranian regime duplicity on nuclear issues, support for terrorism, involvement in narcotics, and prostitution trafficking


• Issue a Finding or Presidential Directive authorizing all appropriate measures to effect regime change in Iran
• Remove the Mujahedin e-Khalq MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list
• If State does not remove the MEK, table a bill for the Congress to remove the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list
• Launch propaganda covert action inside Iran to sow doubt within regime
• Encourage opposition to take action
• Attempt unification of opposition factions
• Incite infighting within regime by setting various figures, factions against one another
• Inform the population about Iran's nuclear weapons program
• Demonstrate to Iranian population existence of outside support for regime change
• Organize covert action propaganda, press placements, demonstrations, vs. Iranian diplomatic, military and commercial representations abroad
• Perform surreptitious entry operations against Iranian diplomatic, other representatives' homes and offices abroad
• Mount harassing surveillance of Iranian diplomatic, MOIS representatives serving abroad

Coercive diplomacy, military action, and regime change for Iran are three options for the international community

Rather than sliding into military action as diplomacy fails, it is time to consider regime change for Iran.

To avoid having to choose between failing diplomacy and difficult military action, the international community should place regime change in Tehran on the diplomatic table. But the regime change clock cannot begin to tick so long as the main Iranian opposition group is on the State Department Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

While the U.S. government considers Iran the top state sponsor of terrorism, the $64,000 question is why Iran's main opposition is on the American terrorist list.

To reinforce an incoming "moderate" president of Iran, the Clinton Administration placed the MEK on the list in 1997. False allegations keep them on the list.

Charges include killing Americans, supporting the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, and engaging in terrorist actions.

But the Iran Policy Committee, dedicated to researching political alternatives to reinforce diplomacy, finds that other Iranians killed the Americans; the MEK did not support the embassy takeover; and it has no history of targeting Iranian civilians. IPC research also finds that the regime only pays attention to the MEK and ignores other opposition groups-acknowledging fear of the MEK as a regime change agent.

Since the fall of Saddam, the MEK has been under the protection of U.S. forces in Iraq and does not conduct any operations, much less terrorist actions. While the President extols the virtues of the MEK, the State Department labels the organization as terrorist, and the Pentagon protects their members from harm.

By delisting the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table against Tehran.

With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.