The impending visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the
opening of the U.N. General Assembly dramatically underscores the weakness of
the U.N. in confronting one of the most dangerous security threats in the world
today. Ahmadinejad's radical regime continues to defy U.N. Security Council
resolutions regarding its nuclear program and seeks to destabilize fragile
democracies that the U.N. supports in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Moreover,
Ahmadinejad has--in statements that can be construed as incitement for
genocide--repeatedly called for the destruction of the state of Israel, a
member in good standing of the U.N. Despite Ahmadinejad's aggressive foreign
policy and repression of Iranian human rights at home, the president of U.N.
General Assembly has regrettably seen fit to honor the Iranian leader by
attending a dinner for him later this week.
Ahmadinejad's Parting Shots
Before leaving Tehran and traveling to the opening of the General Assembly
in New York, President Ahmadinejad ratcheted up his bellicose rhetoric. He
provocatively asserted that the holocaust was a "fake" and proclaimed
that Israel was perpetrating a holocaust against Palestinians. This cynical
Israel-bashing was accompanied by continued defiance on the nuclear front. Not
only did Ahmadinejad boast that Iran had no fear of another round of U.N.
sanctions, but in a speech at a military parade--which included missiles
capable of hitting the Jewish state and a truck that bore a banner with the
message "Israel should be eliminated from the universe"--he warned
that Iran would "break the hand" of any power that tried to strike at
its nuclear facilities.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad's regime is accelerating efforts to attain a nuclear
weapon that potentially threatens Israel with another holocaust. The International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on September 15 noting that Iran
has expanded its uranium enrichment program and now operates about 3,800
centrifuges--up from 3,300 in May--and is busy installing approximately 2,000
more. Although Tehran claims that its uranium enrichment program is designed
solely to manufacture fuel for nuclear reactors, this program can also produce
the fissile material necessary to arm a nuclear weapon. The September 15 IAEA
report also noted that Tehran has failed to answer longstanding questions about
documents indicating Iran has tried to develop a nuclear warhead and modify the
nose cones of some of its missiles to carry a nuclear payload.
The U.N.'s Failure to Curb Iran's Nuclear Program
Iranian stonewalling on the nuclear issue has led the IAEA investigation to
a dead end. The United States has sought to coax another sanctions resolution
out of the U.N. Security Council, which has previously passed three rounds of
limited sanctions on Iran due to that nation's failure to halt its uranium
enrichment program and fulfill its obligations under the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. But past American and European efforts to ratchet up
sanctions against Iran have been frustrated by Russia and China, both of which have
lucrative trade relationships and strategic ties to Tehran. Both countries have
delayed and diluted efforts to impose sanctions at the Security Council.
The United States hosted a meeting on the Iranian nuclear issue with senior
diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany at the State
Department last Friday, but reportedly no agreement was reached. Nor is one
likely to emerge in the immediate future. Russia's relations with the West have
been severely strained by its invasion of Georgia, and Moscow has threatened to
retaliate for Western criticism by taking action on other fronts. On September
18, Russia announced plans to sell more military equipment to Iran, including
new anti-aircraft missiles that Iran could deploy to protect its illicit
nuclear weapons program. Russia has already delivered Tor-M1 anti-aircraft
missiles under a deal made with Iran in 2005 and continues work on Iran's
Bushehr reactor, which will soon become operational. Given Moscow's
increasingly confrontational behavior, the U.N. Security Council is likely to
remain ineffective in addressing the Iranian nuclear issue because of the
threat of the Russian veto.
Given Iran's brazen defiance of three U.N. Security Council resolutions, it
is disturbing that Ahmadinejad will be allowed to parade before the U.N.
General Assembly and smugly hector a global audience. Ahmadinejad seeks to
shore up his flagging political support at home by lambasting the United States
and engaging in a chest-thumping lecture on the superiority of Iran's radical
Islamist regime. Ahmadinejad's motivation for strutting on the U.N. stage is
understandable, but much less comprehensible is the unseemly action taken by
the newly installed president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto
Brockmann. Mr. d'Escoto, the leftist Nicaraguan official who is close to
President Daniel Ortega, has agreed to speak alongside Ahmadinejad at a
September 25 dinner.
It is a dangerous hypocrisy that such a high-level U.N. official consorts
with the Iranian leader during a tense standoff in which Iran continues to defy
the U.N. Security Council. This joint appearance only makes a bad situation
worse and confirms that the U.N. is doomed to do too little too late to address
the growing security threat posed by Iran. The U.N. Security Council has missed
many opportunities to apply strong and effective sanctions against Iran. If
concerted action had been taken five years ago--shortly after Iran's
concealment of its uranium enrichment activities had been revealed--the rising
economic and international costs of its nuclear defiance might have led Tehran
to reconsider its drive for nuclear weapons. Such action is more unlikely at
the Security Council now than ever before.
Working Outside the U.N.
The United States should try to ramp up further sanctions against Iran
outside the U.N. framework by working directly with its Japanese and European
allies to impose the strongest possible bans on investment, loans, and trade
with Iran. But the tight world oil market reduces the prospects that effective
sanctions will ultimately be applied. The bottom line is that the failure of
the U.N. to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and advance the
collective security of its members has increased the chances of war in the near