The United States Stands with Israel in Confronting the Iranian Threat

Published December 9, 2011 in the Musaf Shabbat (political supplement) of Maariv, p. 14

By Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro
The recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency made clear for the world what we already knew. It said that Iran had an active and structured effort to develop nuclear weapon technologies until 2003, and that “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device may still be ongoing.” The facts are now undeniable. Under the guise of a purely civil nuclear program, the government of Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

President Obama has always been clear about the danger of Iran’s nuclear program: It is a grave threat to the security of the United States, our allies, and the world, and we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States is not sitting idly by as Iran threatens the security of Israel and the wider region, schemes to acquire nuclear weapons, suppresses its own people, and spreads terror. With the broad support of the international community, we have increased the pressure on the Iranian regime and sharply raised the price of its intransigence. Our approach has focused on five distinct, yet mutually reinforcing lines of action.

First, the United States led the world in imposing the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. Last year, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which imposed the most comprehensive multilateral sanctions yet on Iran. Countries around the world – including the European Union’s 27 member states, Japan, South Korea, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Australia, and Norway – followed America’s lead and implemented additional strong measures. As a result of tough sanctions and export control efforts, it is more difficult and costly for Iran to acquire materials and equipment for its enrichment program, including items that Iran cannot produce itself. Indeed, the May 2011 report of the UN Panel of Experts on Iran concluded that sanctions are slowing Iran’s nuclear program. Coupled with mistakes and difficulties in Iran, these measures have imposed steep costs on the regime and slowed Iran’s nuclear efforts.

Second, we have led a concerted effort to isolate Iran diplomatically as never before. Just last month, in the wake of the Director General’s report, the IAEA Board of Governors voted overwhelmingly to demand that Iran fulfill its obligations; 32 countries, including Russia and China, voted against Iran and only two sided with Iran – Cuba and Ecuador. Iran has also been further isolated by the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to deplore Iran’s behavior, with 106 nations voting against Iran, and just eight voting with Iran. Not a single Muslim or Arab nation voted with Iran. U.N. member states also last month voted by an historic margin to condemn Iran’s appalling human rights record.

Third, we have worked with partners to counter Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region. Iran has failed in its cynical attempts to take advantage of the change sweeping the region, and the Iranian regime’s hypocrisy has been exposed as it purports to celebrate uprisings abroad while continuing to crush dissent at home. Not surprisingly, Iran’s image in the region has plummeted. Whereas in 2006 Iran’s favorability in Arab countries stood at nearly 80 percent, today it is down to an average of under 30 percent. Rather than looking to Iran, people in these countries are looking towards universal rights and democracy.

Next door in Iraq, Iran has failed in its effort to shape a client state in its own image. In fact, Iraqis are moving in the opposite direction, building a sovereign, democratic state opposed to outside interference. One recent poll found that just 14 percent of Iraqis have a favorable opinion of Iran. We are committed to a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, including robust security cooperation that will deter outside meddling. Iran has also failed in its efforts to intimidate the Gulf states. Reassured by the strong regional defense and security architecture we have built, Gulf states are more united than ever and more willing to challenge Tehran. The Assad regime, Tehran’s most important remaining ally, is thoroughly isolated and universally condemned. The end of the Assad regime would constitute Iran’s greatest setback in the region yet – a strategic blow that will further shift the regional balance of power against Iran. Iran’s isolation from the Arab world will have deepened. And Tehran’s ability to project violence and instability in the Levant through its violent proxies—Hezbollah and Hamas—will be diminished.

Fourth, we have strengthened our defense partnerships in the region and built a robust regional security architecture that blunts Iran’s ability to threaten and coerce its neighbors. Our security partnership with Israel is stronger than it has ever been, including great advances in missile defense technology. We have enhanced our enduring U.S. force presence in the region and worked with partners to build their capacity, improve defenses, and protect critical infrastructure. Our efforts have reassured our partners, and demonstrate unmistakably to Tehran that any attempt to dominate the region will be futile. And they show that the United States is prepared for any contingency.

Fifth, as President Obama has said many times, we are not taking any options off the table in pursuit of our basic objective. Our Defense Department conducts planning for all contingencies, to provide the President with a wide range of military options should they became necessary. At present, our approach is focused on diplomacy, including organizing unprecedented sanctions and strengthening our security partnerships with key partners in the Gulf and in the broader Middle East. Taken together, our approach has put us in a position where we can employ any option – or the full range of options – as we continue to ratchet up the pressure and price for Iran’s intransigence. The Iranian regime has not yet fundamentally altered its behavior, but we have succeeded in slowing and degrading its nuclear program. The international community has the time, space and means to affect the calculus of Iran’s leaders, who must know that they cannot evade the choice we have laid before them.

Going forward, we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to increase the pressure on the regime and sharpen the choice Tehran must make. First and foremost, we will continue to be vigilant. We will work aggressively to detect and expose any new nuclear-related efforts by Iran, denying Iran the option of secretly producing highly enriched uranium. With IAEA inspectors still on the ground in Natanz and Qom, any effort to divert safeguarded nuclear material would likely be quickly detected before Iran could use that material to produce a significant quantity of highly enriched uranium.

We will also further intensify sanctions, as Secretary of State Clinton and Treasury Secretary Geithner announced just last month. For the first time, we are prohibiting the provision of goods, services, and technology to Iran’s petrochemical sector, which generates about half of Iran’s non-crude oil exports. We are expanding energy sanctions, making it more difficult for Iran to operate, maintain, and modernize its oil and gas sector. We designated the entire Iranian banking sector as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern, detailing deceptive and illicit financial practices across the Iranian financial sector—including by the Central Bank of Iran—and making clear the grave risk faced by governments or financial institutions that continue to do business with Iranian banks. And we are considering additional steps against Iran’s banking sector, including against the Central Bank.

International pressure continues to grow. Working with allies and partners, we will continue to increase sanctions. With our Gulf Cooperation Council partners, we will continue to build a regional defense architecture that prevents Iran from threatening its neighbors. We will further deepen Iran’s isolation, regionally and globally. Our focus and purpose are clear. As President Obama has said, there should be no doubt that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.