Ted Deutch

The West must lead now to curb a nuclear-poised Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency can take a crucial step, but the world's safety depends on a forceful US and European strategy
A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. A decorative sign on the missiles reads: 'Allah' (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. A decorative sign on the missiles reads: 'Allah' (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The world has become increasingly perilous in recent years. First, Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine shook European and global security. Then, the horrific attacks by Iran-backed Hamas on October 7 against innocent Israeli civilians marked not only a new level of antisemitic and terrorist horror but also opened a seven-front war of survival for the Jewish state.

As these wars continue, the threat posed by the growing alignment and boldness of autocratic regimes, including Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea, becomes more evident. They are converging despite their differences, threatening and attacking countries at the margins, destabilizing our democracies, and testing the robustness of the international order.

One of the most dangerous forces in this alliance is the Islamic Republic of Iran. This was most recently demonstrated when the regime unleashed an unprecedented attack against Israel on the night of April 13-14: a barrage of 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles. Remarkably, Israel and its allies – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Jordan – intercepted 99% of them. But the situation could worsen dramatically if the Islamic Republic were to finally acquire a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s uranium enrichment program has reached perilous levels. Iran is enriching uranium close to weapons-grade at a steady pace while discussions aimed at improving its cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog are ineffective.

In this context, the International Atomic Energy Agency is holding a quarterly Board of Governors meeting in Vienna this week, where Tehran’s compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is under review. The meeting occurs in the wake of two confidential reports submitted on May 27, one of which indicates that the Islamic Republic could more quickly produce weapons-grade uranium (WGU) – uranium enriched to 90 percent purity.

The regime can now make WGU for up to 13 nuclear weapons in four months, nearly four of which could be made using the regime’s growing stock of 60 percent highly enriched uranium.

This means that Iran has moved dramatically closer to weaponizing its nuclear program while refusing greater IAEA monitoring of its activities and cooperation.

In response, the Western approach must be unequivocal and decisive. Just imagine what the world would look like if the Islamic Republic had a nuclear weapon. Israel’s very existence would be threatened, Iran’s hegemonic ambitions would be emboldened, its partnership with other autocrats heightened, European security threatened, and Arab states would pursue their own nuclear programs – putting the world’s most volatile region on a hair trigger.

The IAEA Board of Governors meeting presents an opportunity to send a strong message to the Iranian regime that its behavior will no longer be tolerated and that Europeans and Americans are united in their will to confront it. To those who are afraid of Iran escalating in response to sanctions, the answer should be that Iran has been escalating for a long time and trying not to escalate only leads to escalation by the enemy on its terms.

The first step, therefore, should be to adopt a censure resolution at the Board of Governors meeting, which would certainly get a majority of votes if the E3 (France, the United Kingdom and Germany) and the US work together. But this is just one element in what needs to be a wider, more consistent US and European strategy.

This should include the reinstatement of UN “snapback” sanctions, the EU finally designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and clear and strong support for the people of Iran who continue to defy the regime with utmost bravery as well as unequivocal support for Israel as it defends itself against Iran and its proxies.

Additionally, there needs to be unwavering support for Israel as it defends itself from Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. There should be no daylight between Europe and the US on our shared strategic interests.

Only firmness, consistency, and unity will prevent the mullahs from pursuing regional hegemony, and Russia, North Korea, and China from strengthening their ties with Iran and further weakening the West and its allies.

The world as we know it depends on it.


Ted Deutch is CEO of American Jewish Committee. This column was written with AJC Europe Managing Director Simone Rodan-Benzaquen.

About the Author
Ted Deutch is the CEO of American Jewish Committee (AJC), the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people, and a former Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives for Florida's 22nd congressional district.