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Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, was slightly more sanguine about the prospects for diplomacy, noting that political, technological, cultural, and economic isolation can doom recalcitrant regimes. As he put it, "you cannot eat bombs." The precipitous fall in world oil prices coupled with Iran's deep economic problems makes it particularly susceptible to strong sanctions. But, like Bolton, he noted that Europe and the United States would have to accept the costs associated with an effective set of sanctions without what he calls "cost avoidance"--something that has yet to happen. The failure of diplomacy leaves only the possibility, apart from doing nothing, of a missile strike against Iran's nuclear program. But there are two seemingly implacable obstacles to this: First, as Bolton argued, neither George W. Bush nor, after he is inaugurated, Barack Obama is likely to call for a strike. And although Israel is most directly threatened by a nuclear Iran, its domestic political standoff complicates matters. Second, there is no guarantee a military strike would be successful--and, likely, no mechanism of verifying it had been successful. Additionally, as Milhollin noted, destroying nuclear facilities by targeted strikes has a mixed record. Milhollin cautioned time is running out. He estimates Iran will have enough low-enriched uranium for three nuclear weapons by the end of 2009. Soon thereafter, he expects Iran to have the capability to assemble several weapons quickly. While additional technological obstacles--such as building an implosion device and fitting a warhead to a missile--remain, Iran will probably be able to navigate around them given the progress it has made thus far on more difficult tasks.
According to Bolton, all this means there is "essentially nothing standing between Iran and a nuclear weapon." Consequently, he argues the United States should begin devoting serious thought to how to deal with a nuclear Iran: Can Iran be contained and deterred? How can the United States minimize Iran's leverage? And can it dissuade other regional powers from pursuing nuclear weapons in response? As the final chapter of the Bush administration and the opening chapters of the Obama administration are written, these are the questions that should be foremost in the minds of decision-makers. --PHIL ALITO
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Moscow says Iran has no capability to build nuclear bomb
MOSCOW (AFP) – Iran does not currently have the capability to build a nuclear weapon, a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying by Interfax and ITAR-TASS news agencies Tuesday. "One cannot say today that Iran can create nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them," Vladimir Voronkov, head of the Russian foreign ministry's department of European cooperation, was quoted as saying. "This information is confirmed by all the services responsible for the collection and analysis of information," he added, in an apparent allusion to Russian intelligence agencies. Contrasting the stances of Russia and the West on Iran's nuclear programme, he said that "the difference is that our partners want to use instruments of pressure. We do not consider such instruments to be always effective."