- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The Iran Nuclear Challenge: Asian Interests and U.S. Policy Options

George Perkovich


This chapter summarizes how major Asian powers see the Iranian nuclear crisis and outlines options for the U.S. to reverse or contain the Iranian nuclear threat.

Main Argument

The U.S. alone cannot stop Tehran from continuing to expand Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and, ultimately perhaps, to produce nuclear weapons. The cooperation of the major Asian powers is necessary to cause Iranian leaders to reconsider the costs and benefits of continuing not to comply with IAEA and UN Security Council demands.

Policy Implications

All major Asian states would oppose U.S. policies of coercive regime change or military strikes against Iran. This leaves three basic alternative policies:

  • Accepting uranium enrichment in Iran, under negotiated limits, conditioned on Iranian steps to reassure Israel and other regional states. This option may appeal most to Asian states, given that it would reduce prospects of further sanctions.
  • Acknowledging Iran’s refusal to comply with UN Security Council demands, withdrawing the positive inducements that have been offered for Iran to cease enrichment, building support among partners for longterm sanctions, and “fortifying” a red line that holds Iran to its commitment not to build nuclear weapons.
  • Inviting Iran to engage the U.S. on non-nuclear issues in hopes of building the political will later to comply with a temporary nuclear suspension.
  • To shape the environment for any of these policies, the U.S. could work with Asian powers and Iran’s neighbors either to create a forum for regional cooperation if Iran moves to comply with IAEA and UN resolutions or to coordinate containment if Iran is belligerent.