Iran, the IAEA, and the U.S. Presidential Race

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has sent special representatives to Tehran. The senior team will be there through tomorrow to discuss with Iranian officials outstanding questions related to a possible military dimension in the country’s nuclear program.

Also this week, on Tuesday the Republican presidential candidates will face a primary in Florida. This political season has focused almost entirely on domestic issues related to the beleaguered economy, although Iran’s nuclear program has managed to squeeze onto the agenda. With a few exceptions, rhetoric on Iran has been light on recommending consultations and dialogue, and heavier on arguing that an Iranian nuclear threat may be imminent, with emphasis on the U.S. option of using military force as the means for prevention.

During a campaign speech covered by the Des Moines Register at the end of December in Iowa shortly before the caucuses, Republican candidate Mitt Romney (former governor of Massachusetts) said that, “Right now, the greatest danger that America faces and the world faces is a nuclear Iran.” In a Republican presidential candidate debate sponsored by Fox News and the Republican Party of Iowa on December 15, Michele Bachmann (Rep. from Minnesota who has since dropped out of the race) warned, “we have an IAEA report that recently came out that said literally, Iran is within just months from being able to obtain that weapon.” Although opponent Ron Paul (Rep. from Texas) pointed out that the November report did not contain this assertion, he was then booed by the audience.

In January, during an interview on “Meet the Press”, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania) described how he would handle the situation, “I would be saying to the Iranis [sic], you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes.” Of course, IAEA inspectors have been in Iran monitoring nuclear facilities, which has enabled them to provide the kind of information available in the regular safeguards reports like the one to which Rep. Bachmann referred.

Also in campaign mode, President Barack Obama emphasized in his State of the Union address last week that to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, he “will take no options off the table.” Senators and Representatives of all stripes gave him a raucous ovation in support of the statement. However, he received only a smattering of applause when he said right afterward that he believes a “peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible.” It remains to be seen whether the IAEA’s special visit can contribute to moving further down this path, and whether signs of progress would be actively welcomed on the campaign trail.

The author’s opinions are her own.

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