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December 22, 2006
But Will He Wait 120 Days?

The UN will finally address the failure of Iran to comply with the UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to its uranium-enrichment activity. The UNSC will pass limited sanctions on Iran, which has pledged to retaliate:

The United Nations security council is finally expected to pass a resolution today to impose international sanctions on Iran for the first time since the 1979 revolution, a punitive move that will heighten diplomatic tensions and risks a military confrontation in the Gulf.

Iran has threatened immediate retaliation, even though the proposed sanctions have been significantly watered down this week. Tehran's options include withdrawal from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, which would mean Iran would conduct its nuclear programme free from international monitoring, and possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the channel for 20% of the world's oil supplies.

Western diplomats think that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his colleagues are bluffing but, just in case, the US announced this week it is reinforcing its fleet in the Gulf.

The British government is also increasing its naval presence. Two minehunters arrived in Bahrain on Tuesday but the Ministry of Defence said their deployment was mainly for training with Gulf states and "not to counter any increased threat". Tony Blair, on a visit to the Middle East this week, portrayed Iran as a major threat.

The Iranians can hardly afford to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, as much as they'd like to threaten it. They already have a collapsing economy, and a blockade in the Straits would mean the end of their own oil revenues. It might also provoke a military reaction from the US, which has suddenly sounded much less interested in diplomacy of late.

They can, however, withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, officially as well as in fact, and they almost certainly will do so. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will then lose the need for IAEA inspections and any restrictions on nuclear development, except for the reaction of the US and UK. Realistically, this changes nothing for Iran except that the sanctions will damage an already sinking economy and raise the level of restiveness among the Iranians. They may support nuclear power, but they already have tired of Ahmadinejad's unnecessary provocations and his isolation of the Iranian people on the world stage.

No one doubts that Ahmadinejad will react quickly to this decision, certainly faster than the foot-dragging the UNSC has done in the face of the Iranian refusal this summer of the compromise package offered to them by the US and the EU. However, the sanctions themselves got watered down enough at the insistence of Russia to temper the Iranian reaction. Likely it will remain limited to the withdrawal from the NPT, and when the sanctions fail to move the Iranians, the US and UK will have to up the ante outside of the UN -- which was always the only method available to really push the Iranians away from their nuclear pursuit.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 22, 2006 4:59 AM

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