WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, on Tuesday indicated that any resolution to the long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear program must require that nation to halt all uranium enrichment (see GSN, July 24).
Enrichment has been at the heart of the decade-old standoff with Tehran, which today operates two known plants refining uranium up to 20 percent. The process can be used to produce atomic reactor fuel but also nuclear-weapon material, which has an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.
While Washington and other capitals fear Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, the Persian Gulf power says its atomic operations are intended only for energy production, manufacturing of medical isotopes and other civilian purposes. It has maintained that enrichment remains an inviolable right amid a series of talks this year with the United States and five other world powers.
"The Iranian regime claims the right to enrich nuclear material for supposedly peaceful purposes. This claim is discredited by years of deception. A clear line must be drawn: There must be a full suspension of any enrichment, period," Romney said in a foreign policy address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., where President Obama spoke one day earlier.
The six states in talks with Iran -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- have pressed for suspension of uranium refinement to 20 percent, which is seen as a key step toward potential production of weapon-usable material. They have not, though, ruled out a deal under which Tehran is allowed to continue some level of enrichment.
Romney said "there is no greater danger in the world today than the prospect of the ayatollahs in Tehran possessing nuclear weapons capability." He derided Obama's handling of the matter.
"For all the talks and conferences, all of the extensions and assurances, can anyone say we are farther from this danger now than four years ago?" the former Massachusetts governor said. "The same ayatollahs who each year mark a holiday by leading chants of “Death to America” are not going to be talked out of their pursuit of nuclear weapons. What’s needed is all the firmness, clarity, and moral courage that we and our allies can gather. Sanctions must be enforced without exception, cutting off the regime’s sources of wealth."
The Obama camp responded by Twitter that existing economic penalties are "the toughest sanctions in Iran’s history … and they’re working," the National Journal reported.
The Bush and Obama administrations enacted a host of sanctions aimed at undercutting Iran's nuclear efforts. Those measures have been complemented by four sanctions resolutions from the U.N. Security Council and unilateral action by various countries.
The United States in July began implementing penalties set by Congress against national purchasers of Iranian petroleum. However, China and a number of other countries have already received six-month exemptions to the sanctions (see GSN, June 29).
In a foreign policy fact sheet, the Romney campaign said the GOP candidate's steps against Iran if elected president would include fully enacting all economic measures against the Iranian Central Bank and oil sector, with no exemptions. Romney would "make clear" that the use of armed force remains an option and would deploy separate aircraft carriers and accompanying naval vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.
The Obama administration has often said it reserves the right to use military power against Iran and is keeping two aircraft carrier groups in the region.
Romney attacked Obama on a number of other foreign policy fronts, from relations with Israel to the management of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He lashed the decision to eliminate a Bush administration missile defense plan that called for deploying long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic. The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach," announced in 2009, calls for deploying increasingly sophisticated land- and sea-based Standard Missile 3 systems in Poland and other locations around Europe to counter ballistic missiles threats from the Middle East. The U.S. system would form the core of a broader NATO missile shield.
The White House three years ago said the change was based on a "comprehensive" assessment of missile threats and technological advances and recommended by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Romney, though, suggested the Obama administration move was a sop to Russia as part of the highly touted "reset" in relations between the former Cold War rivals. Moscow strenuously objected to the Bush-era plan and has remained skeptical of the U.S.-NATO project.
Poland and the Czech Republic "had courageously agreed to provide sites for our antimissile systems, only to be told, at the last hour, that the agreement was off," Romney said. "As part of the so-called reset in policy, missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian government."
Romney on Wednesday was on a foreign policy trip that includes stops in the United Kingdom and Israel.