The Magazine

Stopping the Iran Bomb

It's time to go to the U.N. Security Council.

Sep 29, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 03 • By HENRY SOKOLSKI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Were Iran to admit to or be found in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its hopes of ever getting the Russians to complete or fuel the large power reactor they are working on at Bushehr would be in vain. As President Vladimir Putin pronounced in June, Russia must be certain Iran is not developing nuclear weapons before it completes the machine. This means Iran must give IAEA inspectors unhindered access and agree to send back to Russia whatever spent fuel the reactor generates. So far, Tehran has refused to do either. Yet, without this reactor, Iran would lose any peaceful justification for its uranium mining, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and chemical plutonium separation programs. Continuing any of these efforts, then, would only further implicate Iran as a violator.

As for North Korea, the most popular diplomatic plan still seems to be to kick the can down the road. After refusing to negotiate further, Pyongyang reversed course in early September. A second round of six-way talks is slated for this fall. Meanwhile, South Korea has pleaded that nothing be done to suspend construction of the two U.S.-designed power reactors (each capable of making over 50 bombs worth of near weapons-grade plutonium during the first 15 months of operation) that Washington promised Pyongyang in 1994 in exchange for its eventually complying with the nonproliferation treaty. More important, no action has been taken on the IAEA's February violations report. North Korea formally withdrew from the treaty earlier this year but is still legally accountable for previously blocking the IAEA from inspecting its nuclear weapons material production-related sites.

Iran and North Korea, of course, want to postpone Security Council proceedings, and we have complied with their wishes (in North Korea's case, for over a decade). This must end. Rather than continue to delay applying the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty rules until some new deal might be cut, the United States and other treaty supporters should push now to enforce the rules. The game for our diplomats then would be the more productive one of figuring out how to get both regimes to come into full compliance with the treaty.

Toward this end, we should not just have the Security Council identify Pyongyang and Tehran as treaty violators, but get the council to call on all states to block nuclear-related imports and exports to and from these nations at least until both come back into full compliance with both the spirit and letter of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This would require irreversible, verifiable dismantlement of these nations' nuclear programs, which were never intended for peaceful purposes in the first place.

Such a resolution would not just complement President Bush's own Proliferation Security Initiative, which is still being formulated, but show that the United States and other supporters of the NPT are finally serious about applying the rules that already exist.

Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, D.C., and is co-editor with Patrick Clawson of "Nuclear Iran: Devising A Strategy Beyond Denial" (U.S. Army War College, forthcoming).