Last July, I blogged about a Ha’aretz article: “Obama: World Won’t Allow Iran to Develop Nukes.”
At the time, Obama was trying to engage Iran — the right move — to see if it could be persuaded to give up its weapons, in response to carrots from the international community. Obama gave Iran a deadline — the end of 2009 — to meet its nuclear nonproliferation responsibilities. When that deadline passed, it became clear Iran was not serious. (Iran first lauded, and then scorned, a U.S. plan to exchange most of its low-enriched uranium fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.) So Obama has moved on to Plan B. He’s working diplomatically to entice China and Russia to join an international sanctions regime against the rogue Republic.
While there have been encouraging signs from both Russia and China, the jury is still out on whether those countries will join the effort. Without them, sanctions are not likely to have a serious impact.
Which is why it was extremely heartening to read in the Times this morning a senior administration official has said, as the newspaper puts it, “there was a clear line Iran would not be permitted to cross.”
The official said that the United States would ensure that Iran would not “acquire a nuclear capability,” a step Tehran could get to well before it developed a sophisticated weapon. “That includes the ability to have a breakout,” he said, using the term nuclear specialists apply to a country that suddenly renounces the nonproliferation treaty and uses its technology to build a small arsenal.
In other words, this official — on the front page of the Times — is going even beyond what Obama said last July. Not only will the U.S. stop Iran from acquiring a bomb. It will not let Iran get to the point where it has all the parts it needs (fuel, designs, and detonators) — i.e., becoming a “virtual” nuclear state.
This is the right line to drawn. The only question left is how best to draw it.