A lot has been written about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York City this week and very little of it has been positive. The Iranian leader's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly were defiant and exhibited his trademark stubbornness. The case against Iran's nuclear program was "closed," he declared. The message: don't waste your time passing another sanctions resolution against us because we've not only ignored the two the Security Council already has passed but would do the same with a third.
Not so fast, was the reply from the Bush administration. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters "if Mr. Ahmadinejad thinks somehow he's been given a pass, he's mistaken about that."
While the Iranian leader loves to spar with the United States and often singles it out as the only country opposed to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Burns was quick to point out opposition to Iran is by no means limited to Washington. "The case is not closed," Burns said, "the Iranian president is completely mistaken and the international community is not going to allow him to forget about the fact that his country is operating against the wishes of the Security Council."
The U.S. and its European allies - Britain, France and Germany - continue to work on finding a formula which China and Russia could support, one which would squeeze Iran enough so they respond to international pressure and stop their drive to gain nuclear weapons technology. So far it's been slow going and Burns indicated there wouldn't be a vote on a resolution this week. The previous resolutions followed a similar pattern of long, drawn-out negotiations and it is impossible to find a senior American official who will make a prediction on when another resolution might be agreed to, even though they all insist one will be adopted.
In the meantime, Burns and other officials stress the Security Council is not the only place where pressure is being applied. The Bush administration supports sanctions by individual countries or groups of like-minded countries outside the Security Council format and there is a continuing push to have banks and other international financial institutions refrain from lending money to Iran.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, expressed his concerns about Iran being a threat to the region and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heard from the Turkish foreign minister that Ankara is pressing Iran not to further isolate itself, according to spokesman Sean McCormack.
McCormack added that Washington thinks Tehran's current leadership can be "squeezed" with the aim of "having the reasonables (sic) within the Iranian leadership do a new cost-benefit analysis," one the Bush administration hopes will produce someone besides Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the public face of Iran.
This September, however, it was Ahmadinejad who made the headlines, from his controversial appearance at Columbia University, to appearances on 60 Minutes and "The Charlie Rose Show," among others. While the Iranian leader's plan to appear at Ground Zero was prevented this year the city and the Bush administration can start planning now on how to thwart his plan to try again next September.
By Charles M. Wolfson