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As the interntional community watches, transfixed, Iran advances towards its nuclear goal

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Here we go again.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned that the Islamic Republic of Iran is developing the scientific technology needed to create a nuclear weapon.  The UN watchdog agency presented an incriminating report at the organization’s Vienna headquarters which clearly states that Teheran appears to have conducted research “specific to nuclear weapons development”  such as work on miniaturized warheads as well as running computer simulations on atomic explosions.

The IAEA report has reached laudable levels of realism given that the agency is no longer run by Muhammad El-Baradai the super-cautious Egyptian, but a former Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, admired for his professionalism and candor.

While the IAEA’s findings are not exactly news to anyone following the Islamic Republic’s patient nuclear weapons research trajectory, the report is the first and most specific coming from the cautious and usually circumspect UN agency. The findings challenge the international community, and especially the Obama Administration, whose desultory diplomacy towards Tehran has drifted from naive “engagement,” to selective sanctions, to didactic finger-pointing, but has nonetheless allowed the Islamic regime the crucial time to keep the clandestine program going.

A Wall Street Journal article states, “The 25 page report represents the loudest alarm yet sounded by the agency in a decade long standoff with Iran over its nuclear program,” and comes to the background of regional concerns especially in Israel concerning the regional ramifications of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Part of Iran’s atomic bomb effort comes from a web of foreign nuclear weapons scientists from North Korea and especially Pakistan’s notorious AQ Khan network. The report reflects the findings and concerns of a dozen UN member states over what appears to be military research.

The winder ramifications of this blockbuster document may be felt in Washington as Republicans, Democrats and the Obama Administration could be pulled into a political vortex one year ahead of the USA’s presidential elections. While only a fool would doubt the ultimate intent of Iran’s nuclear research, what to do about it becomes the challenge if not the dilemma. One may expect rhetorical star shells from both sides arching over the Potomac in a bid to sound tough in the upcoming election cycle.

Only in December 2006 did the UN Security Council pass a first set of sanctions on Iran; by June 2010 the Council put a tighter squeeze on Tehran with a fourth set of sanctions. Still, getting a serious and meaningful sanctions resolution through the Council is nearly impossible as Russia, a cozy commercial nuclear partner with Iran, will veto and likely so too would Mainland China.

In the wake of the “alarming” IAEA report, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle admonished, “The international community cannot simply return to business as usual.”

While Britain, France, Germany and the USA are pressing for non-proliferation, Russia likely will slam any serious sanctions draft resolution with a resounding veto, NYET!  Given the clear and present danger Islamic Iran’s nuclear program poses, and the likely sanctions impasse, are states, especially Israel seriously considering preemptive military options?

There’s much more Washington must do politically beyond trying to isolate Tehran through the usual players, namely Canada, Japan and the Europeans. For example, both Brazil and India are mid-level powers who currently sit on the Security Council and should be actively lobbied to press the non-proliferation case to the international community. So should South Korea and Australia. And what about soliciting the support of moderate Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Morocco?  Gaining support from Turkey or South Africa would be increasingly problematic however.

Besides nationalism and political hubris, much of Iran’s nuclear development rests with the percolating domestic power struggle inside the Islamic Republic. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, whose authority rests on a rigged election in 2009, is facing-off with the powerful clerical Ayatollahs. Unquestionably both factions view the nuclear weapons program as a valuable  political chess piece in this unfolding drama.

While there’s little doubt that Tehran is on the nuclear proliferation path and probably will achieve the goal post of developing the atomic bomb, the world looks on in transfixed horror but with tragic inaction.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for

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