Getting Tough with Iran, Softening Up on Oil

Efforts to take coercive action against Iran are not likely to succeed, says Daniel Schorr, NPR senior news analyst. The United States does not have the support it needs from Russia and China to impose economic sanctions — and Iran's oil minister is warning that punishing Iran would send oil prices higher.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

The standoff with Iran over its nuclear program is also on the Bush administration's list of concerns. Today Iran called on the United Nations to stop what it called the illegal and reckless threats being made by the United States. While the U.S. has never threatened Iran directly with military action, President Bush has repeatedly said that all options are on the table.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been listening to the rhetoric and thinking about past conflicts.

DANIEL SCHORR: Fifteen years ago, as the western world rejoiced in the collapse of the Soviet Union, former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger remarked, "You'll see, one of these days you will be nostalgic for the Cold War."

That day may be soon upon us as Iran continues enriching uranium and the International Atomic Energy Agency says the government in Tehran has ignored a deadline for freezing nuclear fuel development.

In the days of unilateralism, preemption and prevention, President Bush might have summoned up a coalition of the willing and threatened everything up to a forceful regime change. But although the military may be working on contingency plans, although the president may say that force is never off the table, it is not where the Bush administration seems headed as it prepares for a show-down in the United Nations Security Council this week.

Iran's fiery president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said, we don't give a damn about such resolutions and Iran's deputy oil minister says that punishing Iran would send oil prices higher.

The prospect for any kind of coercive action seems not very bright. The United States may be able to unite with Britain, France and Germany around some program of economic sanctions, but that faces a likely Russian and/or Chinese veto. Mr. Bush talked on the telephone today with Russian president Vladimir Putin, seeking his support. The White House didn't say whether he got any.

Iran may be as irritating as North Korea in the way it plays its hand against the international world. The Iranian government has offered to allow inspections if the issue is sent back to the Atomic Energy Agency, meaning that the idea of sanctions would be dropped. I think they're playing games, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and they undoubtedly are, but the day when a superpower could bend a misbehaving country to its will, that day appears to be over.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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