NEW YORK – When Barack Obama takes office in January, he will be greeted by many difficult challenges, beginning with the acute economic crisis. But he will not have the luxury of focusing on this exclusively. He will also have to contend with an array of foreign policy challenges. Of these, Iran and its nuclear program may well constitute the Obama administration’s first foreign policy crisis.
The reason is simple. Iran is well down the path to being able to enrich uranium on a large enough scale to produce a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency just reported that Iran may well reach this point in 2009.
An Iran with a nuclear weapon or the ability to produce one or more bombs in short order poses a true danger. Still, one path for the new American administration would be to adopt the “North Korea” option and live with the threat. The risk is that doing so would make an already unstable and conflict-prone Middle East even more so.
In a crisis, Israel or Iran could be tempted to use nuclear weapons out of fear that the other would if they did not. There is also the chance that other countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia would develop or acquire nuclear weapons of their own.ampnbsp; The United States could take steps to reduce these risks, including providing missile defense and security guarantees to selective countries, but it is far from clear that such efforts would succeed.ampnbsp;