Iran Standoff Near Boiling Point

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad i

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will build 10 new uranium processing sites. Andre Penner/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Andre Penner/AP
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his country will build 10 new uranium processing sites.

Andre Penner/AP

During most of his 12 years as head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei has striven to police Iran's atomic installations. Along the way, he won a Nobel Peace Prize. But when he recently stepped down, it was with the frustrated statement that he had reached a dead end.

Iran has already been subjected to three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions. And, for denying access to a secret nuclear site, there may soon be a fourth, this time with Russian and Chinese support. But now the long-festering dispute seems to be heading toward measures beyond economic pressures.

President Obama's invitation to Iran to join in friendly engagement seems forgotten now. The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency has rebuked Iran and demanded that it freeze uranium enrichment, expressing "serious concern" about potential military applications.

Iran has figuratively thumbed its nose at the world body. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the launching of 10 new uranium processing sites. Iran probably lacks the capacity to build anything like that, but the announcement seems designed to evoke nationalist feeling.

Backstage discussions have started at the United Nations, looking toward some kind of punitive resolution. But economic sanctions seem not to do the trick anymore.

Israel has served notice that it may feel obliged to use force if other measures fail. Obama persuaded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow time until the end of the year to work out a solution. But after that, all bets are off. And the Iran crisis may be entering a new and more threatening phase.

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