Pariah Iran defies world with nuclear ambition

The United Nations is worried that Iran has advanced its plans to acquire nuclear weapons. But international pressure to stop could fail: this is a nation that's happy to make enemies.

After years of suspecting that Iran has been actively trying to put together a nuclear weapons capability, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) is poised to publish a report confirming that it believes the regime in Tehran is closer than ever to building a bomb.

In 2003, massive international pressure seemed to result in the Iranian government deciding to halt its nuclear programme, but now the IAEA believes it continued, possibly with help from foreign scientists.

Details have always been hard to come by, even for the Agency, which effectively acts as the world’s nuclear inspectorate – this is because the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has very limited relations with the outside world, and refuses to co-operate or fully share information with the UN. In recent years, the inspectors have been forced to admit they had ‘no concrete proof’ of a weapons development programme that was active or moving forward.

This week’s report, therefore, marks a turning point, and has been widely reported even before it is published. One Western diplomat told Reuters: ‘There are bits of it which clearly can only be for clandestine nuclear purposes. It is a compelling case.’

Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium under the terms of the international treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons – but the same processes are used to equip nuclear power stations as to make the ingredients for a bomb, and the Iranians insist they enrich only for civilian energy purposes. The details in the new IAEA report suggest alternative routes to becoming a nuclear power.

War of words

The major world powers are divided on the best way to deal with the threat posed by Iran. Russia and China want to avoid confrontation, even verbally. But the French and Americans are discussing whether it is possible to increase the sanctions already in place against the government in Tehran.

Israel, meanwhile, has repeated threats to use military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites, fearing that it would be the first target of any Iranian nuclear aggression, because President Ahmadinejad energetically refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist.

With Iran’s government seemingly indifferent to how it is viewed by the outside world, what is the best diplomatic route to tackle Tehran: threats of force, sanctions or both?

You Decide

  1. If sanctions haven't worked so far, what is the next step? Is escalation to military action inevitable? Make the case for and against.
  2. What do you think of the description of Iran as a 'rogue state'? Can you name any other rogue states and describe how the international community deals with the threat they pose?


  1. Research internal resistance to the Iranian regime from the Green Movement: plan a campaign to support them and investigate ways to organise in your school or college.
  2. A famous speech in 2002 by US President George W Bush named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an 'axis of evil': research the different approaches to Iran taken by the USA, the UN, the EU and Israel. Can you assess which approaches are more likely to meet with (even limited) cooperation? Thisreaction to the Bush speechcould help.

Some People Say...

“It's better to go in fighting and ask questions later.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is Iran seen as apariah state?
In 1979 there was a revolution against the brutal and corrupt rule of the Shah or King. It established the Islamic Republic, a radical state based on Islamic law. There was a long war with Saddam Hussein of Iran during the 1980s, which was bloody, and relations with most of the rest of the region are cool or frosty.
Is there no movement for change?
For a while during the 1990s and early 2000s, reformist politicians were in charge, but the current President is a hardliner, and the Green Movement for democracy and human rights has suffered brutal crackdowns at the hands of the authorities. Executions and civil rights abuses continue to be widespread, and women's lives are severely restricted.

Word Watch

Outcast, separate from the rest. The word originally comes from the Tamil language, and was brought to Britain during the days of the British Empire.
Rogue state
A term used to describe countries that pose a threat to world peace because they behave in such a way that they can't be pressured by the rest: for example through disapproval, censure, and diplomatic efforts. Controversial because some analysts say the term is used to label those who challenge the dominance of the West and particularly the US.
The capital of Iran, used in this case to signify the Iranian regime.


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