Projected Range Of Iran's Shahab-3 Missile
The U.S. says Iran won't get anywhere by copying North Korea's pattern of provocative actions, but it's not clear whether Tehran's latest missile tests or the revelations about its secret nuclear enrichment facility will draw tougher international sanctions.
Iran showed its military prowess with two days of missile tests that culminated Monday with the launch of a rocket said to be capable of reaching Israel or U.S. bases in the Middle East.
The show of force comes just days before Iranian negotiators are scheduled to sit down for talks Thursday in Geneva with some of the most powerful nations in the world.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley suggested to reporters Monday that the Iranians "perhaps are drawing a page from the North Korea playbook that hasn't worked out terribly well for North Korea." Crowley was referring to a nuclear bomb test and a series of missile launches by North Korea earlier this year. He said those actions triggered "the most significant sanctions ever against North Korea."
Yet while isolated internationally, North Korea has managed to proceed with its nuclear program while multinational talks on nuclear disarmament have stalled.
The U.S. is warning that it will push for tighter economic sanctions against Iran, unless Tehran opens its nuclear program to international inspections and proves that it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have insisted that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Missile Tests, Then Talks?
Advocates of tougher sanctions got more fuel for their arguments late last week, with the revelation that Iran has secretly been building a second nuclear enrichment facility in the mountains south of Tehran, near the ancient city of Qum. U.S. officials have said the underground complex could be ready to start producing weapons-grade nuclear material by next year.
The missile tests come just days before Iran is set to discuss its nuclear program with representatives of the "5 + 1" group, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France — plus Germany.
The U.S., France, Britain and Germany have threatened tougher action to force Iran to comply with U.N. demands to fully disclose its nuclear program. Russia and China, which have strong trade ties with Iran, have been far less willing to support sanctions.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration believes that disclosure of the secret nuclear enrichment facility was one of several factors that are changing Russia's position. "I think Russia has begun to see many more indications that Iran is engaging in threatening behavior," she said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Iran's latest missile tests were "worrisome," adding, "I am convinced restraint is needed."
Analyst Robert Malley, of the International Crisis Group, says he doesn't think that Russia is ready for a change of heart about Iran's nuclear program. "The Russians know everything we know, and perhaps more," Malley says. "But they have different interests toward Iran. They've made the calculation that they have more time, that a nuclear weapon is not imminent."
Russia and China have consistently argued that sanctions rarely change the behavior of recalcitrant regimes, but last week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said "sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable."
Patrick Clawson, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees that the record of sanctions hasn't always been good. But he says Russia and China should be challenged to offer a better plan. "I would suggest that the political unity of our great powers offers our best opportunity," he says, "rather than getting Russia or China to sign on to a specific tactic."
Some of Iran's Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, have been seeking to convince Russia and China that they need to take a tougher line against Iran.
Sami al-Faraj, an adviser to the Gulf Cooperation Council, told the British newspaper The Guardian last week that the Arab states can offer incentives to Russia and China to convince them that their long-term economic interests lie with them, rather than Iran.
Faraj said Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have much to offer, including oil exploration contracts for Russian and Chinese companies.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are reported to be negotiating deals to buy Russian military equipment. The Guardian report says all the Gulf nations are considering issuing work visas to Chinese migrants, to ease the burden of China's growing unemployment.