Pressure on Iran Continues Over Disputed Nuclear Program

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said Iran does not have and will not gain the capacity to build a nuclear weapon for at least another year, although the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and now possibly Russia and China, are considering a 4th round of international sanctions on that country. Iran has long said its disputed nuclear program is for peaceful nuclear energy, but the U.S. and many of its allies are not convinced.

On Sunday, Secretary Gates said he believed Iran was moving slower than expected on its nuclear program and that he believed the country had still not obtained nuclear weapons capacity. Speaking last week during a visit to Latin America and the Caribbean, Gates said, “I think that most estimates that I’ve seen haven’t changed since the last time we talked about it, which is probably at least a year, maybe more.”

Last week, Iran announced the successful testing of third generation centrifuges reportedly capable of enriching uranium six times faster than the ones Iran is currently using at its Natanz enrichment facility.

After much persuasion, Russia and now China seem more willing to accept sanctions on their trading partner. On Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told an audience at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution that Iran was ignoring questions from the international community about its nuclear program, using “small phrases” to make “small suggestions.” The Russian president said he does not support crippling sanctions that can hurt the people of Iran, “but if nothing happens, we will have to use sanctions.” Medvedev added that any possible sanctions should be “smart” and “universal,” aimed at one result, and should be discussed with the main countries that will take part in them.

China remains the most resistant of the five veto-wielding UN Security Council members. In a meeting between Beijing and Washington on Monday, President Obama secured a verbal promise from President Hu Jintao of China to join negotiations on a new round of sanctions in Iran. Some analysts believe that China is now ready to sign onto targeted sanctions as relations between the two countries warm. Others believe that China is merely agreeing verbally to the possibility of sanctions to give Washington the impression that it may change its stance on sanctions on Iran, but that when it comes down to it, the energy hungry country will not agree to sanctions on Iran—from whom it gets nearly12 percent of its oil. Still others realize that the only way to get China onboard is to ensure the country an alternative source of energy.

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