Since the Bush administration changed policy on Iran at the start of the second term, we have seen two years of negotiations that have accomplished nothing. Iran has continued to defy the EU and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, continuing to enrich uranium despite endless pleas and incentives offered to stop.

Now, Haaretz in Israel reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called a meeting of top government officials to discuss what Israel’s policy should be on the Iranian nuclear threat. According to Haaretz, the attending officials will include Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, as well as the heads of Israeli intelligence agencies including Mossad.

The problem is that talk only buys the Iranians more time. Now with North Korea having successfully tested missiles as well as detonating a nuclear device, we should realize that more time only allows rogue regimes to advance their nuclear weapons programs without suffering any meaningful penalty.

Even the Security Council is stalled with Russia and China resisting tough sanctions in their effort to support what is becoming their Iranian client-state. The Persians invented the game of chess, and they are negotiation masters whose religious beliefs justify lying and deception, much as chess masters are praised for skillful gambits.

Rapidly, dealing with Iran is getting framed as a choice between more ineffectual talks and military action. Should the choices get framed as only these two alternatives, everyone will lose, including Israel and the United States. A war against Iran could be catastrophic. We have thousands of troops in the region and even a conventional Shahab-3 missile attack would assuredly kill hundreds.

In writing “Showdown with Nuclear Iran” with long-time Middle Eastern expert Michael Evans, we identified a series of steps the United States could take to get Iran’s attention. We specified the following:

  • The U.S. government could press for public disclosure of all corporations around the world that are doing business with Iran’s nuclear industries, to see if any U.S. corporations have ties that would violate applicable laws. Given its oil venture with China in Iran, ExxonMobil might be a good place to start.

  • Despite having no diplomatic relations with the United States, Iran operates a mission in New York as part of their United Nations membership. Why not order Iran to close their New York mission? How about a motion to expel Iran from the United Nations if it refuses to comply with IAEA inspection requirements?

  • The mullahs and various Iranian government officials might be denied travel permits. Iranian airplanes could be denied landing rights.

  • International credit cards held by the mullahs or regime officials could be revoked, including their Visa, MasterCard or American Express privileges.

  • Iranian sports teams could be denied access to international competitions, including all world games events and the Olympics.

  • Photographs of the mullahs could be published, along with their involvement in the multiple human rights violations that international organizations have amply documented over the past 26 years.

We should also consider using pressure to convince Russia that working with us to contain Iran would have advantages even for Russia.

  • Using the leverage of the U.S.-Russia 1998 “Joint Statement,” the U.S. can induce Russia to refuse to complete the Bushehr reactor and supply it with fuel. Instead of being portrayed as Iran’s nuclear arms provider, Russia could act as a bridge between the Islamic Republic and the West and thereby defuse the nuclear crisis. Keep Safarov’s analysis in mind. Washington would offer Moscow a payoff of prestige in exchange for Russian influence over Iran.

  • The U.S. could change its approach and encourage nonproliferation assistance to Russia, including Russian imports of Western spent nuclear fuel for potentially lucrative storage contracts with foreign governments.

  • The U.S. should stress that it is in Russia’s own strategic interest to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons or abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would mean shifting the U.S. approach to Russia from the economic realm to seeking ways to help Russia, and ultimately the IAEA, to deal with Iran.

  • The U.S. should act to change the way its policy on Iran is perceived in Russia; i.e., as not being against Iran’s nuclear proliferation so much as being opposed to the Iranian regime and favoring regime change, as in Iraq. The U.S. should reinforce Russia’s own clear opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

  • The U.S. could induce Russia to join a demand for Iran to immediately cease its enrichment activities by acknowledging that by doing so it would be following its own economic and security interests and be taking a world leadership role on nonproliferation. By doing so, Russia would avoid the U.N. sanctions and U.S. military action it opposes and at the same time protect its economic and political interests with Iran.

With North Korea openly pursuing a nuclear weapons agenda, even China has to realize that rogue client-states are like mad dogs who can turn on their masters as easily as they can attack strangers.

More talk will not resolve the Iranian nuclear problem. What is needed is creative thought. Otherwise, the only alternative left is the worst alternative possible. We should do everything possible to encourage both the Bush administration and the Olmert government to resist any thought that a pre-emptive war against Iran will solve anything.

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