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Dr. Patrick Clawson

"Putting More Muscle into the International Effort to Stop an Iranian Nuclear Bomb"

My main theme today is that at the moment we are not in a good position to deal with the challenge from Iran and the best thing that we can accomplish is to delay for another day. Let me say a few words about Iran's strange government system. We need to remember that the institutions, which matter in decision making in Iran are not the formal institutions of government. The Iranian foreign ministry is probably the eight most important institutions in Iran for deciding foreign policy. What matters is instead, the revolutionary institutions, and that is true in every field in Iranian society, whether we are talking about the military, the economy, the court system or foreign affairs, and so therefore we must always ask the question what is it that the revolutionaries are prepared to do, not concern ourselves particularly about the formal government, that government is losing power, it's losing credibility in the eyes of its people, the reformers in the government are fading, the institutions that are properly chosen, such as the parliament and the president are losing power, the Islamic republic is becoming much less of a republican regime, and we should not therefore be particularly concerned about what do the institutions of formal government say on the questions that we are interested in, if you really want to do a deal you have to talk to the revolutionaries, so when the international community wanted to do a deal about Iran's nuclear program the foreign minister was not even consulted or informed, what counts is the revolutionaries, not the formal government.

And this, in many ways, reflects an evolution of Iran to becoming in some ways a more normal state, one, which is less about zeal and more about power.
The revolutionaries are increasingly prepared to deal with the United States, they are setting aside their revolutionary concerns about this, and I would suggest that Iran's future might look more and more like that of Syria, which is to say: theoretically an ideological regime, but in practice concerned about holding on to power, and the people, not interested in politics, resigned to their faith and the country slowly slipping backwards each year. That's a depressing prospect and I hope I am wrong. I hope that in fact, that the situation we have at the moment in Iran proves to be unstable, we know full well that the people of Iran hate the revolutionary government.

We know that right now the revolutionaries believe that God is with them and they don’t care about the people. Let us hope that there will be yet another Iranian revolution. It is sobering to think of how many revolutions Iran has had in the last 100 years, after all, it was some 96 years ago that the Iranian people rose in a civil war demanding a constitution. It's worth remembering that in some 96 years ago that we saw a Muslim people of the Middle East fighting in a civil war for 4 years for a constitution, and I hope that they make yet another revolution, but we can not count on that. And so for at least the foreseeable future we have to count on a multipart threat from Iran: we have to be concerned about the nuclear program nuclear program, and that's the main issue I wish to discuss today, but also about undermining the US in Iraq and about terrorism on several fronts. Let me start with the nuclear threat. The recent deal with the IAEA addressed the Iranian rout to a nuclear weapon. The IAEA deal blocks that rout so long as Iran continues in fact to suspend enrichment activities. However, there is an entirely alternative rout to a nuclear weapon, and that is the plutonium rout, and indeed, I would say that the recent IAEA deal by essentially blessing the completion of Bushehr is in Many ways blessing the plutonium rout to a nuclear weapon in Iran. Since 1993 the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration that followed it, repeatedly refused to consider the kind of deal that the IAEA just made, which is a deal which says that if Iran gives up all of its other nuclear activities then Bushehr could be completed, because the United States saw that as too great a risk. What we have dealt with in the most recent deal with Iran is essentially dealing with the problem of the enrichment capabilities that we discovered earlier this year. We are back to where we were a year ago, where Iran is well on a rout towards a nuclear weapon through the plutonium rout, all we have dealt with is the crisis that spring up this year. Because Bushehr is essentially a bomb making machine, and that is why Clinton refused a deal to accept Bushehr. The US nuclear laboratories estimate that building a reprocessing facility to extract the plutonium from the reactor fuel would cost less than 10 million dollars, take something less than a 100 meter sq. and could be built in less than 6 months, using commercially available materials and technology, and the reactor would have in it at any given time the fuel for more than 50 bombs, so even assuming that we successfully address the problem of spent fuel, still, the Bushehr reactor would have the capability, would give Iran the capability to build some 50 bombs. It is sobering to realize that it was only after Iran had completed the experiments which showed that it had the technology to extract plutonium from reactor fuel did Iran then turn around and order the Bushehr plant.

And that is the best case for the IAEA deal. The worst case is that Iran finds ways to chip away at the deal, it cooperates just enough to avoid a crisis, meanwhile Europe and the IAEA are so proud about this deal that they stick to it, emphasizing process over substance, and not admitting its shortcomings, so the deal becomes a shield for Iran which in … advances towards the bomb while the Europeans and the international consensus impede forcal action on this front. Just to remind you that Iran also remains a challenge about Iraq, Iran would be threatened either by an Iraqian chaos or prosperous and democratic Iraq, they'd like to see the United States bogged down. Some scope there for limited cooperation, not much, I am afraid. And, of course, terror. Support for anti-Israel anti-US terrorism has been an effective power multiplier for Iran – low cost, high reward and I think we therefore should anticipate that it will continue. What then are the options for US-Iran policy? For many years our policy was to wait, because we were confident that the reformers were gaining, that the threat from Iran, especially from its nuclear program, was not so urgent. That has changed.

Now we face a series of bad options. It is easy to criticize any one those options for they are all bad. The question is – which of the options are the least bad? We recently sponsored a conference of looking at these options and the results from that would be up on the internet, hopefully the end of this week. The first option we considered was a grand bargain. A grand bargain resolving the outstanding issues which have been well identified by the European Union, namely, the WMD problem, the problem of terrorism, the problem of the threat for the Middle East peace process and the problem of human rights. Such a deal would be undesirable. It's be undesirable because it would be entered into by the Iranian government only because they would be convinced that we would be selling out democratic movement in Iran. That we will be doing what we have done so often in the past and what has been so well criticized by President Bush, namely, we will be entering into an agreement with corrupt autocratic regime for temporary geo-strategic advantage. That was not a winner when we've done it in the past, we should not do it in the future. Furthermore, it's unlikely Iran would implement this deal.
Even if such a deal were desirable, it's almost certainly unachievable. Both sides have great suspicions that the other side does not carry through on deals and it will be extremely difficult to reach a bargain on all of these matters and I see little prospect that either side would move very much unless we did reach a bargain on all of these issues. I certainly can not see the US congress agreeing to any improvement in US-Iranian relations unless there is improvement on all of these issues and congresses' approval would be required. Regime change. Well, the time frame for changing the regime is entirely unclear, in part because the sad news is that there are no signs that this generation of Iranian youth are prepared to shed blood in order to bring about a change in regime, and I do not see any way in which the regime change can occur peacefully. I do not see much that the outsiders can do to impact the situation, but I certainly think that there are some limited things that we can do, and I would hope that we do in fact go down that rout. Third – military preemption. Military preemption can clearly not stop Iran's progress but it can slow Iran down. It can slow Iran somewhere between two and ten years and perhaps that would be considered worth the price. If there is a decision to go with military preemption the rout that could be taken need not be the Osirak bombing rout, it could be the kind of rout that Israel used to stop Egypt's missile and nuclear programs at the early 1960's namely a series of untimely accidents which hit the scientists working on the program. There would also be the question of whether or not it would be better to have the United States or Israel do this, that would depend in good part upon what kind of reaction there would be from Russia, because any military preemption would have to include attack on Bushehr, Russians will die, and the question is what price would that … in relations of the act with the Russians.
We also would have to assume Iranian retaliation, I frankly think that all of this makes this option quite unattractive at the moment, we should proceed with other options first. We could press diplomatically, that is to say let Europe take the lead, they are the ones who have the influence with Iran. If we would go down this rout I would say that what we should do is to emphasize improvements in the global non-proliferation treaty, IAEA Director Al-Baraday, for instance, has been making some suggestions about how to strengthen and update the NPT, a host of other suggestions that have been put forward from the Administration's proliferation security initiative to other measures that would update the safeguard's mechanisms, I think there's much that we can do in these areas that would provide some incremental progress.

Lastly, we could delay and deter, and I would suggest this is probably most appropriate at the moment, this is not a good moment for another Gulf crisis over WMD, we need to wait until Iraq stabilizes, the transatlantic rift heals and at the moment we should focus therefore on broadening and deepening the international consensus on what to do about Iran's programs, if al goes badly that would at the very least give us an easier environment in which to take military actions against that program, and we should concentrate on preventing further destabilization.
My great concern is that as Iran makes progress towards a nuclear weapon, without necessarily openly acknowledging it has a nuclear weapon, but just as it achieve strategic ambiguity about whether or not it has the weapon, that would change the strategic environment in the region and other states in the area will decide that they too must begin more active program for nuclear weapons. We could see Egypt, for instance, reaffirming its commitment to the NPT, but beginning large scale research and construction programs that would put it in a position to do a break out if it wanted to. We could see Saudi-Pakistani cooperation advancing, and there is great many people in the Persian gulf who believe that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have … agreements that Pakistan would be prepared to store some of its nuclear warheads on Saudi soil if necessary.

So, let me conclude by saying that at the moment the US priority is Iraq, not Iran. The United States is in a war, it is not clear if the United States is winning that war, and that fact has to be first and foremost on the minds of any policy maker in Washington. A loss in that war would be a strategic disaster for the people of Iraq, for the people of the Middle East and the people of the world, and therefore our priority has to be on winning that war in Iraq. Winning the war in Iraq would do more than anything else to persuade Iran that it really doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the United States, and so at the moment I would say our best approach towards the challenges from Iran is to find ways to delay those challenges so that we can deal with them on another day.

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