TRANSCRIPT AVAILABLE: Iran 2013: Making Diplomacy Work
Arms Control Association and National Iranian American Council present
Iran 2013: Making Diplomacy Work
Featuring Zbigniew Brzezinski and a panel discussion
with Rolf Ekéus, Ahmad Sadri, and James Walsh
Monday, November 26
Time: 9am to 12pm
101 Constitution Ave., N.W.
The coming year will present critical opportunities to resolve the decade-long Iranian nuclear standoff. With sanctions escalating, Iranian nuclear capabilities increasing, a soft war simmering and the threat of a full blown military conflict on the horizon, it has never been more vital that the United States and Iran find a diplomatic off ramp to prevent disaster.
With the conclusion of the U.S. presidential election behind us and a brief window before Iran enters its own election season, it is essential that the key parties renew stalled diplomatic efforts to prevent war and prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. There are strong indications that a new round of P5+1 negotiations will commence before the end of this year.
Critical questions remain unanswered: how do the parties finally make diplomacy work? What does an agreement look like? And what is the best path the parties must take to get there?
You can see video coverage of the event here at CSPAN.
Panel on Diplomacy and Iran's Nuclear Amitions: Former head of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq Rolf Ekéus; Dr. Ahmad Sadri, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology and James P. Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College, and Dr. James Walsh, Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program.
Keynote Speaker: Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Panel on Diplomacy and Iran's Nuclear Amitions
TRITA PARSI: Good morning. If I can ask everyone to take their seats. Welcome to the Arms Control Association and the National Iranian American Council’s conference titled “Iran 2013: Making Diplomacy Work.” My name is Trita Parsi, I’m the president of the National Iranian-American Council, and welcome to all our viewers on C-SPAN as well.
It’s been almost exactly four years since President Obama so famously extended his hand of friendship in the hope that the Iranians would unclench their fists. Yet today, after a few rounds of diplomacy, plenty of more sanctions and centrifuges, there are plenty of clenched fists on both sides and very little talk about friendship. There’s been timid attempts at diplomacy, but political constraints on both sides have been difficult to bend, and old habits of enmity difficult to break. Obama’s window for diplomacy in 2009 was quickly closed by the human rights abuses in Iran following the fraudulent elections there, and as well as a growing pressure from Congress as well as some U.S. allies in the region against diplomacy. Focus shifted to sanctions and Tehran responded by further expanding its nuclear program, leaving both sides worse off today than they were a few years ago.
In the meantime, sanctions have helped (disintegrate ?) the Iranian middle class and further impoverish the population while the regime’s repression and human rights abuses have continued to intensify and its nuclear program has continued to expand. But a new window for – opportunity for diplomacy has opened through Obama’s convincing re-election, and in the next few months, up until the Iranian new year, both sides enjoy maximum political space and maneuverability to negotiate effectively. The logic of diplomacy is obvious. It’s the only option that can truly resolve this issue. Sanctions can cripple Iran’s economy at the expense of decimating the pro-democracy movement there, but sanctions alone cannot resolve this issue.
The military option can set back the program for a year or two, but only at the expense of insuring that a vengeful Iran eventually gets the nuclear weapon. Only diplomacy can provide a real and sustainable solution. This is no mystery to President Obama, who, at his November 14th press conference, declared his dedication to a diplomatic solution. I quote him, “there should be a way in which, they, the Iranians, can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And so, yes, I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue with – between Iran and not just the United States, but the international community to see if we can get this thing resolved,” end quote.
Diplomacy is the obvious option, but it’s not obvious how diplomacy can succeed. Today, we have some of the foremost experts on this issue with us to help cast light on this question and help find a way to make diplomacy succeed in 2013. And later, after the panel discussion, we will hear from former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose lucid analysis never fails to impress or enlighten. Before I hand it over to Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, let me also thank our sponsors, whose generous support for our work has made this conference possible. They are the Ploughshares Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Daryl, the floor is yours.
DARYL G. KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Trita, and thank the National Iranian American Council for working with the Arms Control Association on this event. I’m Daryl Kimball; I’m the executive director of ACA. It’s a pleasure to be here, and as Trita said, this issue has been lingering with us for some time, even before President Obama came into office. The United States, China, France, Germany, Russia – known as the P5+1 – and the United Kingdom – have tried to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program. Both sides have fumbled the fleeting opportunities to reduce the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, and to prevent the risk of war – to reduce the risk of war over that nuclear program.
Since 2007, U.S. and Western intelligence agencies have assessed that Iran is nuclear-capable, meaning that Iran has a scientific, technical and industrial capacity, eventually, to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so, and those intelligence agencies continue, to this day, to assess that Iran has not yet made a decision to do so. The intelligence agencies and independent experts also believe that, starting from today, Iran would require several months to acquire enough fissile material for just one bomb and still more time to build a deliverable nuclear weapon. Secretary of Defense Panetta recently estimated that it would take two to three years to do so, and the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, based on its ongoing inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities – particularly the Fordow and the Natanz enrichment facilities – find that Iran continues to expand its enrichment capacity – uranium enrichment capacity; it’s enriching more uranium, including to 20 percent levels, which is closer to the 90 percent for weapons-grade, and Iran continues to refuse to address the IAEA’s questions about the potential military dimensions of its nuclear program, and it continues to resist tougher international inspections known as the IAEA Additional Protocol.
So we believe that there is time, and clearly there is an interest from all parties to reach a diplomatic solution, and after several rounds of negotiations between the P5+1 group and Iran, it looks as though there will be a new round of talks in the next month or perhaps early in 2011. It’s also clear that the two sides have put forward specific, concrete proposals, but those proposals have some different ideas, particularly about the sequencing of the steps necessary to assure the international community that Iran’s program is peaceful and to, from the Iranian perspective, start to roll back the very tough national and international sanctions that are in place.
So we’ve organized today’s session just about a month after the U.S. presidential election to focus – have a focused discussion on the options now for the P5+1 group and Iran in this next round of talks, which could provide the best opportunity in a long time to resolve this long-running impasse to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran, a potential military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities over its program, or both. So we’re very honored today to have three of the world’s top experts on these issues – on nuclear non-proliferation and the Middle East region; we have with us, to my immediate left, the former head of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, Ambassador Rolf Ekéus, who is here with us from Sweden. We have Dr. Ahmad Sadri, who is professor of sociology and anthropology and the James P. Gorter chair of Islamic world studies at Lake Forest College, and we have Dr. Jim Walsh, research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and security studies program.
And we’ve asked each of them to take about five to seven minutes to provide their perspectives on three basic questions. With the new window of opportunity open for diplomacy, what are the next steps that each side can and should take to resolve the proliferation concerns and reduce the risk of war? How might each side adjust their respective proposals to get to a win-win situation for both sides, and what are the best – what’s the best path for both parties to take to get there? Could, for instance, additional direct U.S.-Iran talks help advance progress? And so, we’re going to hear from each of them for about five to seven minutes; afterwards, we’re going to be taking questions from reporters first, and then from our audience on the three-by-five cards in your folder. So as questions occurs to you, you might jot those down and someone will take the cards and pass them forward in just a few minutes.
So with that introduction, welcome, everyone, and Ambassador Ekéus, if you could start us off, to give us your perspectives on those key questions for the next phase.
ROLF EKÉUS: Yeah, thank you. I must say that if we don’t do much, we continue – and there is a high risk that landscape would look the same, you know, if – quite – while Iran will continue, of course, its enrichment, acquire reactor fuel. It may improve its capabilities, even (order ?) the robust capability to go up to 20 percent – Israel and U.S. will build their case for a military action. Low-level violence will continue against – you know, against Iran in various forms, and Iran and Israel will plan to escalate, prepare an attack on the reactors considering the – you know, potential success of the Syria – operation against the facility in Syria, and this will all remove Iran’s constraints to acquire nuclear weapons.
So we are in really concern situation, and let me add – the people of Iran will continue to suffer under very tough sanctions. So there are two things which must change: diplomacy and the inspections. First diplomacy – you asked if it was 5 plus one has served, I think, the purpose of a united front. 5 plus 1 – United Nations Security Council-related global responsibility there. Europeans like to prefer 3 plus 3, which means that the European Union is a major player. I’m a little nervous about that, but if you are in Europe, you had better to say 3 plus 3, otherwise you will not be served dinner. (Laughter.)
But I think it is – 5 plus one, of course – it is important to keep on, but I think U.S. shall not do as it has done – hide inside this group. U.S. has now time to take a responsibility and to change – to start with its relations with Iran. Isn’t it time now to – so they gave up on the occupation of the U.S. embassy in connection with the Islamic Revolution, 1979. And should it also – the Iranians tried to forget the shooting down in the Gulf of Iranian airliner, and we have – I think Americans will remember, Iran was not part of 9/11.
It is very difficult to me – what’s a problem to being a diplomatic relations with Iran? There was no problem for the U.S. to have – I think, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower had relations with Stalin. My God, Stalin is something much worse, but these leaders are – there is a sort of nervousness to be in touch with something which is not totally wonderful, and I – what I think is interesting, though, that U.S. and Iran must recognize that they have serious common interests in the region. It is, first of all, the Afghanistan – 2014, the NATO military presence will be terminated, and something must replace that, and there is a special situation, I must say, where the U.S. and Iran – a common interest that the Talibans – that al-Qaida – and they’ll take over that country, and I think there is a very, very important possibility. Iraq, the same thing – where is Iraq going? It’s – I think it is high time that U.S. and Iran start a dialogue on these two strategically important issues – totally neglected; I’m a little upset about that.
Of course, what U.S. must swallow is, it has to eliminate all talking about regime change in Iran. It is up to the Iranian people – the reformists, the people who like to change the society. It’s not United States which should make a regime change, and, of course, therefore, I think, to establish diplomatic relations, send an – why run the dialogue with Iran via Switzerland or – I mean, wonderful diplomat, wonderful people, but still – (laughter) – you have to have – why not take on – have the courage to talk to the other guy and try to establish a relations? And do not send information through newspapers or Brussels or other places. It is – U.S. should establish its own direct dialogue. So that’s one thing.
And the other – the inspections – and I think they’re – it is almost too simple to be true. I mean, one should recognize Iran’s right to enrichment technology, but one should also start the gradual process of lifting the sanctions – economic and other. Of course, this wouldn’t be for free. That must be an intrusive, permanent monitoring system, including an early warning system, inside Iran’s nuclear establishment. This – I will talk later about how it shall be done, because we have examples. This, of course, would also to prevent a breakout program or evidence would immediately give signals to the international community and be the cause – a breakout program should meet with tough – with tough sanctions. So – well, I think I’ll stop here. I come back to – (inaudible).
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much. Ambassador Sadri – (laughs) – Professor Sadri –
JIM WALSH: Just been promoted.
MR. KIMBALL: You’ve been promoted.
AHMAD SADRI: I accept the promotion. (Laughter.)
MR. KIMBALL: Your perspectives on the next steps in the next round?
MR. SADRI: What a wonderful basis to start with. Indeed, 34 years hiatus in Iran-U.S. relations, subsuming the last 10 years of nuclear negotiations, provides a ground for pessimism. So people will say, well, no time is a good time to start negotiating with Iran. A perfect time will never come, and I think right now is the right time, right after the American elections and right before the Iranian elections start. Do you remember back in 2008, when we were in the same point in the same, except right now, on the ground, the situation is much worse. There is more fissile material, there is more ill will and there is less of an optimism.
So I would say this is the perfect time to start the negotiations. In 2008, the Obama administration didn’t go for it, calculating rationally that probably a settlement of the issue at the time would benefit President Ahmadinejad and help him in his bid for a second round. Well, we all know what happened; that election didn’t work, there was unrest in the streets, and the turmoil completely consumed the rest of the – that year, and so basically, I think, this is as good as any time to start the negotiations. So what is the starting – what is stopping us from doing this? Of course, there is a synergy of inaction on both sides, and there is vested political interests to generate a kind of in-group solidarity from the image of a demonized other on the other side, but there is only one way to break this logjam, and that is boldly.
I think the two sides should come at this block of marble and see this statue inside the block, apply two things – apply pressure, force, but also perspective to bring out a new compromise out of this situation, and there are risks and there are rewards in this; any politician who openly says, I’m going to make peace with the other side and resolve this issue would be pilloried for suggesting it and probably hanged if they didn’t succeed, but there are also great rewards, because we all know the politician, to cut this 10-year-old Gordian knot, will have a place in history.
So what is keeping the supreme leader of Iran, Khamenei, from coming forward? I had an occasion, 27 years ago – maybe I’ll talk about it later in question-answer – to – that persuaded me that Ayatollah Khamenei has a very conspiratorial, if not paranoid mind about Americans. To say that he is weary of American (wires ?) and negotiators is really to understate the problem. But of course, we all know that just because you’re paranoid that the crocodile might be hiding under your bed doesn’t mean that there is no crocodile under your bed. (Laughter.) In order to get an insight of how Iranians are looking at this, there’s a new book by the Iranian chief negotiator that’s on Amazon. It’s called “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir,” by Hossein Mousavian, and it gives you a very good insight of how Iranians are looking at this.
There is a scene in this book where Mousavian walks in and there is a new delegation, and they are saying, well, let’s start the negotiations and our proposals; one of the items is, while the negotiations are going on, please don’t enrich uranium. So Mousavian asks, well, how long do you think it’s going to go on? They say, well, about 10 years. (Laughter.) So I mean, Americans – some suspect Iranians of running the clock; that is running the clock. And when he goes to the Khamenei and says, well, this is what they say, Khamenei says, I told you so. And I’m absolutely sure he had. So this is like – there is this paranoia and distrust on this side that is kind of – if there is no relationship, of course these kinds of negative feelings are reinforced.
Now, how do we break out of this? Well, as the ambassador has already said, it is very easy to imagine. It’s kind of unbelievable that people have not resolved this. Well, of course Iran’s international rights should be recognized under the articles of NPT. And also a very good warning system and intrusive inspections should be established in Iran to prevent Iran from weaponizing. A no-brainer; why isn’t it working? It’s because of the mistrust on both sides.
And so there has been this trope of confidence-building measures; people have to come up with these confidence-building measures. Iran – it’s, again, easy to imagine what that would be. You know, stop the enriching at 3.5 (percent) or 5 percent and put all the 20 percent enriched material under IAEA very direct and very good monitoring systems.
What can Americans do to build confidence? I think that’s a good question to ask as well. What can Americans do? And the beauty of it is that Americans don’t need to do anything within these negotiations. In my view, the thing to do for the president of the United States is to revive the discourse of nuclear disarmament, the clarion call from Prague that he’s – he started his presidency with. It’s bold; it is universal; it is very attractive. And I believe he got the Nobel Peace Prize for broaching that issue. He may not have earned it yet. And this is a perfect opportunity for President Obama to revive that discourse. And if he does, of course, I would venture to guess that the globe would be a better place to live, and I think everybody would be safer if there is – there are less nuclear weapons in the world.
But this also, curiously, would act as a catalyst in this particular Iran-United States relations, because if the nuclear powers in the world are not coming to non-nuclear powers and saying, do as we say, and not as we did and continue to do – if the nuclear powers say, we are going to take a step back, and you don’t develop – this puts a spine in the nonproliferation discourse. And it puts – it will put logical legs on it. And it would be much more effective, and I would venture to say that would be a good confidence-building measure that would not be, actually, even confidence building within this particular framework. It would operate in a lot – much larger level and would be the catalyst to bring Iranians and Americans maybe in a one-plus-one setting – and I hope it happens – and hopefully help resolve this issue.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you.
Jim Walsh, your perspectives on what the two sides can do in this next phase.
MR. WALSH: Well, first I want to thank NIAC and the Arms Control Association for putting together this terrific event and allowing me to be on this panel with my distinguished colleagues. I don’t know that I’m going to say something that’s entirely different than what’s been said so far; I’ll try to make it spicy, though.
Let’s begin with context. You know, it is déjà vu all over again. We’ve been here before, where we thought that there would be opportunities to advance a resolution of this problem, and then one side or another – and believe me, it’s been both sides, off and on, over time – have failed to follow through. Most recently was in the fall of 2009, when there looked like there might be a small deal around the 20 percent, and Iran just never came back to the table. They had their own internal political problems. And so you can only have a negotiation if two – if there are two sides to negotiate with, and they went away. Similarly, the U.S., some years ago and for some time, missed several opportunities.
So here we are, and we have to ask ourselves the question – we’ve got a good opportunity now, but what do we have to do that’s different? Since we’ve tried before and failed, what are we going to do that’s different than last time? Now, let me remind you, we have had success. In 2003 there was an agreement that suspended Iran’s enrichment program for two years. People forget that. Now – so success is possible. But you’re not going to have success if you continue to simply repeat the things you did before that didn’t work. So I think we have to think about this differently.
I – my sense – I’ve read both an Iranian proposal that was circulated in September around the time of President Ahmadinejad’s visit, and I’ve spoken to U.S. policymakers about this. You know, to echo the comments of my colleagues, there is a real lack of trust on both sides. There are those in the Iranian government who think the U.S. is simply about regime change. And the evidence they see is they see scientists being assassinated; they see sabotage against the nuclear plants; they see covert operations of one kind or another and the sanctions. And to all of – when you’re sitting in Tehran, that looks a lot like pressure towards regime change, if you’re inclined to think that. And the U.S. – there are people in the U.S. who think, despite Iran having stopped its program in 2003, that Iran is determined to get the bomb no matter what. They believe it in their heart to be true.
And so these talks are simply, again, a smokescreen. And so it’s hard to have a real negotiation when one side thinks the other side’s determined to cheat, and the other side thinks they’re trying to knock them out of – (chuckles) – well, you know, knock them out of office and depose them. So I think we have to grapple with this issue of, is the other side serious or not? How do we demonstrate to the other side – and I mean this for both sides – that they are serious?
Now, as I understand the current set of proposals from both sides, both want to get a deal around the issue of 20 percent enrichment, right? I won’t go into a lot of details about that. But they want to play small ball, get something and then push the can down the road. I think that’s a mistake. I think that is a mistake. First of all, you’re shrinking the negotiation space. If all you’re going to talk about is 20 percent, then you can’t talk about other – and you run into disagreements, there’s no other sort of set of topics you can begin to trade against to expand and sort of get an agreement. So –
MR. KIMBALL: Jim, could I just –
MR. WALSH: Sure.
MR. KIMBALL: Could you elaborate on why the 20 percent is of interest? I mean, what is technically significant about that?
MR. WALSH: Sure, yeah. So let me say, you know, four years ago there was no 20 percent issue. There was no 20 percent. So this is – what has now risen to the top of the agenda ironically is something that was originally started out – (chuckles) – as a confidence-building measure. So what happens? You enrich to 3 (percent) – you enrich uranium 3 (percent) to 5 percent. You can’t make a nuclear weapon with 3 (percent) to 5 percent enriched uranium; you need about 90 percent enriched uranium. And 3 (percent) to 5 percent is what is used for power reactors like Bushehr.
Well, there are some reactors – research reactors that produce medical isotopes and other things that require 20 percent enriched uranium. And when you enrich to 20 percent, yes, you’re going towards 90 (percent), but it’s – you’re not part of the way; you’ve gone a – substantially far down the path towards 90 percent, because the hard part is when you first start enriching. And the more you enrich, the easier it becomes to get to higher and higher levels.
So 20 percent is what has the nonproliferation community freaked out. They don’t like the fact that Iran is enriching to 20 percent, and they certainly don’t like the fact that Iran is accumulating quantities of 20 percent that might be quickly enriched to 90 percent. Interestingly, if you look at the last several IAEA reports – let’s say the last three; they’re issued every three months – Iran had started enriching at 20 percent but has imposed self-restraint on it. They know that the West and others are freaked out about the 20 percent, and so they’ve produced some. But the more they’ve produced, they’ve found other ways to deal with it so that the total level has not increased in a way that would alarm the other side. So the Iranians are aware of this as well.
When Ahmadinejad was in – and of course, he’s not the real – he’s not the person who calls the shots. He’s on the outside, if anything, right now. At a minimum he’s a lame duck; it’s all about the supreme leader. But he’s still part of the government. And when he was in New York in September, I asked him, you know, I know you’re a lame duck – I didn’t put it that way – (laughter) – but do you think we might get something done here? And he said – he – his response was around 20 percent issue.
So the Iranians want to do it – something, and the Americans and the P-5 plus one want something. But I’m afraid they’re so narrowly focused, they’ll get caught up in their old mistakes. And this won’t be the sort of thing that overcomes the deep mistrust that both sides have. I don’t think we can continue to kick the ball – kick the can down the road because there’s a risk of war. There’s a risk the Israelis will strike. There’s a risk of accidental war in the Persian Gulf between the navies. If – the longer we extend this, the greater the opportunity that someone’s going to mess up and shots are going to be fired.
So as it relates to the specifics here going forward – I’m going as fast as I can to wrap up in my six minutes – I think there are issues of substance and process. Process: We can’t have one meeting, you know, every six months and – in front of television cameras, and no – my apologies to you, C-SPAN – and expect that there’s going to be a deal here. You know, you look at Yugoslavia – the negotiations on Yugoslavia – any real negotiation, you got to meet all the time, bang bang bang, every week, all the time. And you have to meet behind closed doors. Eventually the cameras get tired, they stop coming to the meetings, and then you can get something done. As a process matter, we can’t have sort of just speeches that are for show. There has to be serious negotiation on a constant basis.
Content-wide, both sides have presented proposals where they are asking a lot and offering very little. And I’ve – you know, I’ve seen both sides. And this is classic; everyone does this. But in this particular circumstance in which neither side trusts one another, they take that proposal as evidence – aha! The other side isn’t serious. So I think both sides need to change those proposals.
For the Iranians – the Iranians are saying, well, once we get rid of the 20 percent issue and we get Parchin a clean bill of health, we’re done, and all the sanctions should be gone. Well, that’s not going to happen, right, because we had sanctions in negotiations in – starting in 2003, and concerns prior to that, that have nothing to do with 20 percent. You know, Iran has to adopt the additional protocol. It has to follow through on its current safeguards arrangements and do so in a way that’s forward-leaning rather than reluctant. That’s not happening. So the core issues are not going to go away even if we solve 20 percent, and the Iranians need to recognize that.
The P-5 plus one – they have to get in the game too. Again, they’ve – they’re playing small ball. The things they’re offering Iran are very limited, very small. And in fact, some of them are outdated. You know, we’ve been at this so long, offering spare parts for planes really doesn’t cut it anymore.
So I’ll stop there. I can expand later. But the process has to change, we have to get serious and meet constantly, and the content of the proposals – something has to be introduced that gives them space for an agreement and that can demonstrate to the other side that, despite the doubts in their heart, something can get done and progress can be made.
MR. KIMBALL: All right, well, thank you all for your very rich comments. We’re going to drill down a little bit more now with the help of some questions from the audience. You might want to pass your 3-by-5 cards with your questions off to the side.
And just to get going, let me – let me just ask Ambassador Ekéus a little bit more about your personal experience and what you learned from the Iraq experience and what that tells us about what could be done, what should be done and what might not be done in the case of Iran. I mean, what could we be doing here to give – and you talked about this a little bit – Iran a face-saving off ramp and to give – to avoid creating artificial deadlines that trigger some sort of conflict? Ekéus.
MR. EKÉUS: Well, and Iraq was a special case, of course. But it was not an IAEA inspection, to start with. It was the Security Council which established a subsidiary organ, which was UNSCOM. And in addition to UNSCOM, it was a IAEA-affiliated action team which was tasked to focus especially on the nuclear dimension, especially on declared capabilities of Iraq. Iraq had been praised by the IAEA, of course, as you recall, as a wonderful contributor to a perfect safeguard and so on. They turned out that they had been cheated very effective – cheating very effectively all the time. So that’s why one had to create another arrangement.
But it was very – done in that way that it contained a very important element, the U.N. dimension, respect for the territorial integrity and independence of Iraq. So that meant that the action team could not go to nondeclared facilities. Only declared facilities could be inspected. But that one – then the Security Council farmed out that right to, I would say, break the idea of integrity to the UNSCOM. So the UNSCOM was charged with identifying nondeclared facilities and activities. And then it worked in a very good cooperation. Of course, then it was obviously chemical, biological – (inaudible).
But the beauty of this was that by – it worked the – it’s – tough sanction system was in place. We have to have this – that also. But immediately when the inspection started, the sanction system was gradually released. So this was – this was a functioning system. Good behavior led also to easing of sanctions. Bad behavior, which happened, of course, quite frequently – some blockages and refusals – was met by – met by some tough language from the Security Council, not from individual governments, Israel or anyone. It was the Security Council, under the charter of United Nations, that put that pressure.
So of course we know that this system worked extremely well. It was a hundred percent performance, as a matter of fact. It’s not bad for any U.N. organization to get the task. And then I think it’s probably the only one which succeeded to make a hundred percent performance. So the – that means that both destruction of capability is prohibited and the monitoring of capabilities were forcefully – (inaudible).
So everything looked shiny and fine until the U.S. government – it was in spring ’97, through Madeleine Albright – made a statement at Georgetown University to say, well, it looks like, you know, sanctions are – that the disarmament going well; and if it goes well, we can still not lift the sanctions – which was a condition under Security Council, sanctions and – so we can’t lift the sanctions until Saddam Hussein is removed. So that came my obsession with the regime change. That of course destroyed, in a sense, the institution and operations.
So I think that is experience – (inaudible) – Kofi Annan to lead a little group to see if one could re-establish something similar. And this report, unfortunately, has not been very much observed. But I think there we have ideas for – I – because that will give real intrusive inspections. It will give the right to the international community to go where there is concern, not where Iran is declaring. And – but the pay for that is lift sanctions. And certainly a gradual lift – you don’t need to do it in one spell. But ease it up in the cooperative work, and then we can have a, so to say, positive outcome. And I also say, let regime change – let the Iranian people take care of it. It’s not for the outside to do the regime change.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you.
Well, we’ll take a question or two from the reporters in the front row, and then we’ll go to the questions from the audience. If you could just identify yourself and direct your question to a particular person.
Q: Sure. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and Al-Monitor.com. Jim, I want to get you to talk a little bit more about what would not be small-ball, because the conventional wisdom has been that if you can resolve the 20 percent issue, that calms the Israelis down. They’re most worried about 20 percent, and they’re most worried about Fordow. So why is that not a good area to begin in return for some sanctions relief, that the Iranians would get something better than what’s been put on the table so far? Thanks.
MR. WALSH: Yeah, it’s a great question, and it’s absolutely right; that is where the conventional wisdom is. And I agree with the conventional wisdom. Twenty percent is the most urgent near-term priority from a nonproliferation standpoint; no doubt about it. And you’re right to say that it’s part of the whole red-line talk – shifting and vague red-line talk of the Israelis, that they’re focused on Fordow.
But since you raised Fordow, the U.S. position, as I understand it, going into the talks is they want Fordow disabled – not simply frozen or not operating but disabled. I think that’s going to be a tough pill for the Iranians to accept up front, right? And if you read the Iranian foreign policy statements on this coming out of the government, they say, yeah, I – we know you want – we know you want us to close Fordow. But we’re not saying it’s a commercial facility; we built it because you’ve been threatening to attack us. (Chuckles.) You know, and we have. So they do have a point there.
So can they be persuaded to disable Fordow in a way that just leaves Natanz an open target for bombing? Will they feel comfortable doing that? Maybe they will, but I doubt it. I doubt it. So the question is do you go into a negotiation and lead with a poisoned pill that the other side can’t accept, and then you end up nowhere, or you end up worse than you were before because now everyone’s even more embittered and more suspicious about your intentions?
So, I do think something can be done in Fordow. I think the Iranians are willing to talk about it. They realize it’s the thing that we’re most concerned about. And I think that we can do – let us remind ourselves that it is under IAEA inspection and the 20 percent is also under IAEA inspection, the 20 percent they produced.
But I think there’s more that the Iranians can do to assure the West and Israel, and maybe that’s a freeze, not disablement. Maybe it’s only 3 (percent) to 5 percent, not 20 percent. There are – there are ways to massage this. But one of the things that makes it easier to get a deal, I think – and I defer to the diplomats and the professionals in this – but if we’re only talking Fordow and not a single other issue, not Iraq and not Afghanistan, and not the Persian Gulf or their dangers of inadvertent war, then how do you – when you hit an impasse, what do you trade off on? Now if you hit an impasse and you’re talking about Fordow and a couple of other issues, you can say, OK, fine. I’ll give in on this if you give in on that, or you can begin to put a package together where people can find common ground and where they feel like they’re getting something out of it that they can take back and sell to their own people. Some folks think diplomacy is about you go in and you get everything you want and the other side gets nothing. There’s no such diplomacy. You know, you may not like Iran, Iran has lots of problems, but this is not about Iran. This is about achieving our diplomatic objectives and making sure they don’t become a nuclear weapon state and they abide by their other obligations. So whether you like Iran or not, doesn’t really matter. The question is, can you find a deal that works.
So that’s why I think – there’s not going to be any grand bargain here, right? People aren’t in the mood for a grand bargain. But I don’t think we should go for the smallest possible bargain either, that there’s something in between. And part of that, again, is doing something that demonstrates seriousness, that is something that the other side isn’t even expecting, as a way to break this psychological impasse as well as the diplomatic impasse.
MR. KIMBALL: All right, well, let’s switch over to a couple of questions that have come in here about the –
MR. SADRI: Can I ask a question?
MR. KIMBALL: Of course. Go ahead.
MR. SADRI: How would you go about selling that to the Congress? Given the hard position that Congress is taking regarding U.S.-Iran relations, how does the legislative accept such a step and such a proposal?
MR. WALSH: Dude, you’re not supposed to ask questions. (Laughter.)
Well, first of all, I think a lot of this falls more within the executive than Congress. I really don’t know what bill Congress could – would be required to pass in order for there to be an agreement on Fordow. So you know, obviously whoever negotiates with Iran is going to take some lumps, just like the Iranians – remember, they have a presidential election coming up. And if there’s a deal cut and it’s associated with someone who might be running for president, you better believe that their opponents are going to attack it and try to undermine them. You’ve seen that before. But I think the president has enough discretion – and this is an executive issue. It’s also a United Nations issue and a P-5 plus one. So I think if the president of the United States comes and says, look, we have the leaders of France and Britain and China and Russia and the – (inaudible) – of the U.N. and we’re trying to prevent nuclear weapons, you know, you should probably not mettle in this, that that’s a winnable argument, I think particularly for an Obama that’s coming out of this with – you know, out of a strong election. No one liked Gadhafi, no one liked Libya, but we got a deal on Libya. No one liked the Soviets. We got a deal with the Soviets. So I think it’s doable.
MR. KIMBALL: And I think – to partially answer the same question, I think one of the issues for many in Congress is going to be whether this negotiation, quote, unquote, allows Iran to continue enriching at the 3.5 percent level or not. The historical position of the United States going back to the early 2000s has been that there should be a suspension of all enrichment as a confidence-building measure. But from what you’re saying, Jim, we’re well past that point, and Iran has a lot of (truth ?) on the ground in terms of additional centrifuges, and they want their so-called right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to be recognized. The question is, at what level do they continue?
MR. WALSH: I think there’s also – I agree with that, and I don’t want to go on here. I think there’s a debate about whether countries have a right to enrich. They certainly have a right to peaceful activities, and so then there’s some ambiguity about that. People disagree.
But I think that, you know, both Iranians have said – offered this as a principle. And I think it’s important to have principles that allow the negotiation to proceed. One is, Iran should enrich as much as they need. You know, what Iranian could disagree with enriching as much as you need? But what that really means is not very much enrichment, because they only have one nuclear power plant this year. The Russians are supplying fuel for that. We’re willing to supply fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. So one of the problems here is I think that Iran’s nuclear program is outsized to its needs. It has way more centrifuges and way more capacity than it can actually use on the ground. And so I think if we have a principle of an appropriately sized program, then that helps us get part of the way there.
MR. KIMBALL: OK.
By the way, we have a couple of questions from the audience about the internal Iranian and the regional politics. So Professor Sadri and Ambassador Ekéus, maybe you guys can handle these.
One question is, with the Iranian presidential election coming up in June, how is that going to affect Iran’s negotiating strategy in the next several months? Who is calling the shots in Iran during this period? And related to this is, you know, as we all know, there is a war – a civil war happening in Syria. Iran is a close ally of the Assad regime. How is that affecting Iran’s security calculations? Are they going to want to insert some of those issues into the P-5 plus one dialogue? I mean, how would you answer those questions?
MR. SADRI: Well, of course the Middle East has changed. It has a couple of great flip-flops, Arab Spring, the Syria war and now this confrontation between Israel and Hamas that somehow kind of brought us back to the Middle East that we used to know, the Arabs and Israelis going at it and Egypt being a big player there. But right before that, Iran saw its fortunes decline, its popularity in the Arab street decline because of the Arab Spring. And then the Syrian situation introduced a very, very important element, almost sectarian element, that eroded Iranian influence in the region, and the projection of Iranian power hit a brick wall with that.
So, all of this of course goes into the mix of what Iran is thinking, and this is one of the reasons this is a good time to start negotiating with Iran as its reach in the Middle East seems to be – not it used to be – it’s not a soft power super power, nor is it a hard power super power in the region because of the situation in Lebanon and in Syria. I mean, Lebanon is really the coming disaster and Syria is a disaster that we’re dealing with right now. So of course all of this – (inaudible).
And if I were an American, one of the American negotiators, I would say this is exactly the right time to go into this. The presidential elections are coming and – but still, as always, it’s sort of – (inaudible) – calling the shots. And we have to wait and see who he appoints as the point person for the upcoming negotiations – we hope that they’re upcoming. If he chooses somebody who is of some stature rather than a regular bureaucrat, obviously that means that he’s more serious. But if he sends back Mr. Jalili, probably he would not be serious. So there are – we can read the tea leaves there. And I think that, you know, the presidential election really is not that important. What’s really important is Iran’s place in the Middle East in the equations.
MR. KIMBALL: All right.
Ambassador Ekéus, what are your thoughts about the situation in Syria, how that affects Iran’s calculations? Jim, jump in on this too if you wish.
MR. EKÉUS Well, it is clear that Iran expanding – I mean, we almost – Iran is now as expanded as it was during 5(00), 600 years ago when the Persian Empire was struggling with the Ottomans, and I think we have a little of that now. Of course, Iran’s influence in Syria has grown. It has – of course, it’s situation in Gaza was – (inaudible) – missiles to Hamas, but now Egypt is sort of jumping in – (inaudible) – Hezbollah is still, you know – (inaudible) – Lebanon is still a very strong Iranian presence. Of course, in the Gulf especially, poor Bahrain is in a deep – (inaudible) – under tremendous pressure from Iran, but – and of course, Afghanistan, that’s a big prize coming up, where Iran can influence a play, maybe what’s a constructive role, but there it has to partner with the U.S.
So if I can say, the Persian influence is enormous. It hasn’t been that big, but every – it’s very touchy everywhere, including in Iran itself – (inaudible) – reform forces. We are not sure that the – (inaudible) – we have to recall that the revolutionary in the Islamic Revolution of ’79, these are mature, I guess, mostly men, but they are start to run into the pension age, and it is another generation there which is not at all of that sort to say style and direction. You may correct me, but that’s my reading of the – (inaudible).
So Iran is huge now, large but shaky all over. But it has an influence – Iraq, I mean, of course, as I mentioned also. But that’s why it’s so important to – (inaudible) – I must congratulate Jim for his – for his diplomatic skill, because that’s exactly – (inaudible) – conclusion from that also. That still – (inaudible) – because he talked about 5 plus one, everything should be done in the 5 plus one. But a 5 plus one are not appropriate player if you deal with the future security in Iraq, if you deal with the situation, the reform in Afghanistan, to save Afghanistan into sort of say a country of decency and progress. There is – only U.S. must step up and, as I said in my first statement, not hide inside (the fact ?). It is nice to be modest and polite. (Laughter.) But the U.S. is – has a responsibility, which I think it should take on, and therefore I still insist that we have to look very closely to other – modifying the role set up of a dialogue with Iran.
MR. WALSH: Very briefly, super briefly. On Syria, what strikes me and is surprising is the Iranian talk that they want to talk to the U.S. about Syria, when I’ve seen several Iranian officials and Iranian pieces of paper where they say the U.S. should be out of the Middle East, it should do this, it should do that, oh, and we should be talking about Syria. So I think that’s interesting and worth noting.
MR. EKÉUS: And with – about Afghanistan – (inaudible).
MR. WALSH: And about Afghanistan. And I want to agree with both my colleagues but also point out that there’s a continuum here, and it’s a delicate walk. You want your – the person you’re bargaining with to feel an incentive to bargain, right, which means they’re probably feeling a little ping or they’re worried about their situation so they want to get a deal to settle something up so they can deal with their other problems. But you don’t want them to feel so threatened that what they do is they pull back, that they are – they feel – they say to themselves we are in too weak a position to negotiate. You know, the world is surrounding us, and we’ll be taken advantage of if we negotiate from weakness. So the problems in Syria and elsewhere are real, and I think the Arab Spring has undercut their ability to be a voice for the Arabs. But it’s going to require some finesse in how you deal with that so that they don’t simply pull back and withdraw.
MR. KIMBALL: Now, one of the questions from the floor about the role of Congress, that came up a little bit earlier, and the possibility of further sanctions, U.S. sanctions against Iran. And across the street on Capitol Hill, there are some members who are suggesting that there should be further sanctions against Iran, including black listing the entire energy sector. What do each of you think that – what effect might that have? And in particular, how might that affect the international coalition that’s negotiating with the Iranians and also participating in the U.N. Security Council-imposed sanctions? Because part of the success, I think, here over the last couple or three years is that there is – there does appear to be greater unity amongst the P-5 plus one, including the Russians and the Chinese, about the approach. So how might that affect the dynamics here if Congress were to go forward with that in a lame duck session?
MR. EKÉUS: I had the question – (inaudible) – International Herald Tribune in Europe also saw – and I hope it is wrong – but I saw they were moving the Congress, that one should also try to block, I will say, nongovernmental dialogue – you know, track one-and-a-half, track-two talks and that – I mean, it’s extremely destructive and harmful approach – catastrophe, I would say, if it is implemented. But maybe he may – (inaudible).
MR. WALSH: Well, I think – I think – and what you said earlier, Rolf, was so important, about the Iraq experience and Madeline Albright. And so what’s the story you’re telling? You’re telling the story of, we sanctioned a country, they start to do what we want them to do, and then someone announces, well, it really doesn’t matter what you do because we’re going to keep the sanctions regardless, and then the thing falls apart. That’s the scenario I fear with the U.S. We love sanctions. You know, I work on North Korea, Iran; we love sanctions. Sanctions are helpful, but they’re not the be all and end all. We’re not going to squish Iran down until they cry uncle and then all our problems are going to go away. Sanctions are an instrument that are part of a broader diplomatic and military and other approach that is in support of diplomacy. But if we impose sanctions, as we did in 2003, and had previously, but in 2003 and subsequently, saying, we want you to stop your nuclear program, and then they start to take the steps we want them to take on their nuclear program, and then we say we’re going to keep sanctions, well, you know, that’s not going to work, and it will be a step backwards. So I understand the politics of sanctions – you know, toughness, toughness, toughness. But as the U.S. government, the executive, is correctly – I think correctly perceived, what Iran is looking for is a test of our seriousness, as we look for a test of their seriousness, is are we – are we going to follow through on our – on our promises to give sanctions relief? And if we don’t, I don’t think we’re going anywhere.
MR. KIMBALL: All right.
Now we have a couple questions that go back to this issue of a deal on stopping enrichment of 20 percent, and so one question is, from the panelists’ perspective, why would it be necessary to ask the Iranians to shut down the Fordow facility – that’s the second underground enrichment facility that now has some 2,800 centrifuges – if Iran were to agree to stop all 20 percent enrichment and to ship out whatever 20 percent enrichment stockpile it has?
And the other – another question is – this person says deja vu all over again, this 20 percent proposal has come up before. Why did it fail before? Three years ago the Obama administration – you mentioned this, Jim – suggested a swap of the TRR, the Tehran Research Reactor fuel, in exchange for stopping enrichment. So why didn’t that work? So perspectives from the panelists on is it necessary to shut down Fordo, and why didn’t the 20 percent fuel swap deal work before, and I guess why – how do we make it work this time?
MR. EKÉUS: Turkey and Brazil had another proposal which I think was a very constructive proposal. It has only one fault, and we come back to diplomacy: its timing was disastrous because it came the day or day before when U.S. had lost – (inaudible) – China and Russia to endorse tough sanctions on Iran. So I think in Washington, they – what are these guys doing? They’re sabotaging our successful sanctions policy, and this terrible, you know, difficult – (inaudible) – we have, China, Russia are on board, and then they come maybe something which, you know, makes the whole thing to capsize. So the – you know, the Turks and Brazil got, you know – (inaudible).
MR. KIMBALL: So the timing wasn’t right before?
MR. EKÉUS: (Inaudible) – I think it’s very interesting proposal. It may be modified, but I think it had to do also with the – (inaudible) – low-enriched uranium. I will come back to the – (inaudible).
MR. WALSH: I think we have to be honest about this. There’s no difference between a centrifuge that’s running in Fordow and a centrifuge that’s running in Natanz. The only difference is, it’s easy to bomb Natanz and it’s much harder to bomb Fordow. I mean, that’s the difference, right? And so it’s technically not really different. It’s politically different because this has been an issue for Israel, communicated to the United States, and it would be difficult for Israel to take out Fordo, and it’s buried under a couple hundred feet of granite or rock. The U.S. could do it; it would be much more difficult for Israel to pull that off, and so they worry that Iran’s going to kick out the inspectors like North Korea kicked out the inspectors and make a dash for the bomb. And that’s why they don’t want them either enriching at 20 percent, nor do they want them stockpiling 20 percent on the ground.
You know, if they ship everything out – which they said they don’t want to do, but I think that’s negotiable – if they ship everything out or they just stop producing 20 percent and all the centrifuges in Fordow are producing three to five, you know, that doesn’t really – that’s not a deal breaker for me, but it’s not where the U.S. government’s at, it’s not where Israel is at, so I think it’s – that’s why I think – I’m a little worried about the upcoming negotiations – unless the Iranians are willing to disable it – because we’re just going to deal with that, and already, just on that one issue – (laughs) – there seem to be significant disagreements, so that’s why I’m a little nervous.
MR. EKÉUS: Can I – I would also echo the importance of the – (clears throat) – excuse me – taking every opportunity we get to come to an agreement. We had the Turkey-Brazil deal that was broken because of this accident that just – it came, like, a couple of days too late; we had another occasion that Jim referred to when there was a proposal on the – on the table, and it looked like the Iranians took it, they take it back to Tehran – it is scuttled because of the internal politics in Iran. It’s kind of a – very childish in a way; many politicians tend to be very childish in these situations where, you know, the – actually, mostly reformist – (laughter) – colleagues of Ahmadinejad said, how come, when we make a deal, you come out and you say you sold out this store – you made a deal, and now we are going to scuttle your efforts.
So actually, it didn’t work out for these kinds of childish and silly reasons, which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try; it means that we should try again, because we have to try and see when we can get a deal through that is not scuttled by those accidents, and I think this is a good time, because we have been through a lot, the situation is getting very – getting very tough on the Iranians. Also, the worries of the outside forces are heightened, so I think it’s really a good time right now to give it another chance with good faith and with confidence-building. Another confidence-building measure, I think, would be an Iran-United States cooperation on the drug trade, which is – what they have in common is a lot of drugs produced in Afghanistan – Iran is the first line of defense, and Americans can completely forget about all the nuclear issues and say, on that issue of fighting drug trade, we are going to give Iran some equipment. I mean, so that thing that’s kind of completely outside of this negotiation can work as a confidence-building measure.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Thank you for those answers – and another question we have has to do with the IAEA’s ongoing investigation on Iran, which I understand is not technically a part of the P5+1 dialogue with Iran; it’s an issue between IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and the Iranians; this has been going on for some time. There was news reports just in the last month that the IAEA and Iran were going to meet again in December – in mid-December to discuss what’s referred to as the structured approach for investigating past activities. What – so the question here is, you know, how can Iran and the IAEA resolve those issues, especially when there are serious concerns about potential military dimensions? How does Iran get out of that without further criticism, further sanctions, but at the same time, clean its file? Your thoughts – and Ambassador Ekéus, I mean, this is – this is an issue that the U.N. has dealt with with other countries before. I mean, what thoughts do you have about what the agency and Iran need to do in this next meeting to start to clear this up?
MR. EKÉUS: Well, I – I mean, there are some – I have written on this, and also in some critical terms, but I’ve also been responded from IAEA side. It’s not public, but they indicate that they have some competence. I have questioned the competence of the military dimension. I go with that, from, of course, my long experience in Iraq. My judgment is that Iraq has – IAEA has not the competence to deal with a military sanction of the issue – that, of course, goes back to – (inaudible) – McGeorge Bundy’s proposal to the secretary, and I think one must – there are ideas floating around in Vienna that one should, sort of, say – see if one can build with the specific competence. This is highly sensitive, because it’s a proliferation dimension. How do you – (inaudible) – build the weapon?
And that is – but I think it’s very important that one – in the end, and that’s why I think that the Security Council should take responsibility because of the dangers, the threat to international peace and security involved in this, so something more similar to something associated and controlled on the Security Council to build competence there, but when I – I’m skeptical – and I don’t say it’s wrong, if he has competence, but as I say, I’m on the record questioning the competence of this group and this initiative.
MR. KIMBALL: OK.
MR. WALSH: Let me jump in on it and come at it from a different angle in a way that is cynical and blunt, but practical, I hope. You know, I accept the – although I have no evidentiary basis for this, I’m going to accept the head of U.S. intelligence – the DNI’s statements that Iran had a structured weapons program prior to 2003. Right? So they’re not – they’re not an angel in this regard. I am willing to accept that they had a structured nuclear program that was halted in 2003, and then maybe some unstructured activities have continued since then. Now, as a guy who spends all his time studying nuclear weapons programs, the key word in that phrase is “structured.” If you’re serious about having a nuclear weapon, you have a structured program; you don’t have people going off doing stuff on their own.
So I think they had a weapons program; they shut it down. I think part of what was happening was at Parchin, this gigantic military base that the IAEA visited, but because it’s so large, they went to this building and not that building and that sort of thing. Then they get – IAEA gets some intel that says, well, we think the explosives work was being done in this building, and, you know, all this time, Iran’s being – Parchin’s being watched by satellites continuously, and there’s no activity there. Nothing for five years, right? And then – or – not five years, but some period of time – years.
So then, the IAEA says, well, we want to go to that building, and then suddenly, there’s a whole lot of activity. You know, there’s cartons put up and shoveling and scalping of soil and all that sort of thing. So I read this as – that was a facility involved in the bomb program, and they’re cleaning it up, and IAEA is not going to get on the ground until it’s cleaned up. Now here’s the part where I’m practical and blunt – I don’t care. Right? This is part of a program from the past. And I wish they didn’t have the program from the past, but I’m more worried about Iran’s nuclear status in the future than the past, and so, you know, if it’s dead, and all they’re doing is cleaning it up so there’s no evidence of what they did before, I – you know, it’s regretful and blah, blah, but I don’t care. I would rather get a deal that prevents Iran from moving forward towards a nuclear weapon or moving forward so that we don’t have a military engagement that leads to a nuclear weapons decision by Iran. So I think they’re – I think Parchin’s probably dirty. They sure looks like it’s cleaning it up to me, and the IAEA is not going to get in until it’s cleaned up. Now, I will say, though, that I am troubled by – you know, this is not your father’s IAEA, right? ElBaradei, like him, don’t like – Amano’s a different guy, and I’m troubled by the nature of the relationship that the agency seems to have with Iran.
That said, you know, the history here is, every time you try to negotiate with Iran, you walk away angry and distrustful. (Laughter.) I mean, the Europeans did it in 2003, the agency’s going through it now, but that’s a relationship where there will also have to be a refurbishing of trust, or it’s going to be difficult down the line. At the end of the day, it’s the big powers – if the U.S. and France and Russia, whatever, decide to get a deal, they’ll get a deal, but IAEA is an independent agency, and that relationship has to be addressed as well, I think.
MR. KIMBALL: And just very quickly, Jim, I mean, is – do you think that the IAEA and Iran are going to resolve these issues before the P5+1 and Iran work out a broader framework for resolving this, or is it dependent on that? Are the Iranians going to stonewall the agency until they see –
MR. WALSH: My true answer is, I have no idea, and then, my guess is, the IAEA is going to come at the end of the line rather than the beginning of the line. I think we’re going to see negotiations with the P5+1 before we see a resolution of Parchin and military dimensions.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. All right, well, we have a couple more, I think, concluding questions here. I’m going to ask the panelists before we shift over to the second part of our program, and the questions have to do with the – kind of the longer-range scenarios here, and one question is, what happens if these P5+1 negotiations with Iran fail to produce either a confidence-building measure or some broader framework in the next few months, and on the flipside, where would we like to be five years from today? If we were to gather, once again, on a lovely morning in Washington, D.C., what would we like to have seen happen before?
How do we – what do we – what needs to be done to reach a sustainable deal on Iran’s nuclear program? Each of you, please take one of those two big questions.
MR. EKÉUS: Yeah, on the first question, I think, it’s quite simple. There will be an Israeli attack on a couple – Natanz – there will be – not on everything – certainly not, but it will be an action which – the Israeli will say, look, it worked so well in Syria; we attacked this facility and blew it up. So what happened? It was – without any, so – to say – United Nations or U.N. Charter; it was an attack, but the Security Council didn’t meet, Syria didn’t complain because it didn’t want inspectors to see that they’d been cheating, and no one else complained. I mean, this is a really shocking reaction by the international – that was a violation of the fundamental international law.
I think it is quite clear to me, if that scenario comes, that the breakdown of the talks – that Israel will take a step, maybe supported by President Obama, who is (no good ?) on drones and so on, so I am very pessimistic about that.
MR. KIMBALL: And what’s the result of that strike? What does that lead to from there – briefly?
MR. EKÉUS: Well, it won’t – we had Osirak; some of us are old enough to remember the complaints. NPT had big problems in the review conference, talks of a delays and blockages and no agreements; it was a lot of mess, and of course, General Assembly was – U.N. reacted very heavily at that time, and – but the problem is that the lack of leadership is that – would tolerate this. I’m concerned. I mean, I hope it won’t happen; I hope there is leadership and dialogue enough, including Israel also. On the future – there, I see something much more – more and more – much more optimistic. I see a U.S.-Iranian cooperation in – (inaudible) – before the regional dimensions. On Iraq, on Afghanistan, they common interest, and that may be helpful for the people, and it will be peaceful and stable – Afghanistan, including taking – struggling with the drugs trafficking, which, of course, is a very important – key component in the Afghanistan scenario for Iran, but also for the whole Europe.
Where I also see and hope – five years that Israel and Iran will detect that they are “de facto” strategic partners in that region – they were, once, and there were smart people on both sides which understood. I can’t see how stupid these two are now when they – the “de facto” should have a very common interest to – (inaudible) – the complex Arabic world, and the – Israel – as I said these two are natural partners, strategic partners; they shouldn’t fall down to tactical games to play each other and to gain points by tacticality steps. And the – on the Iran’s nuclear – I hope that one take the – enrich the – there is a wonderful initiative by NTI here in this town about a nuclear fuel bank, and NTI raised $50 million – U.S. Congress raised $50 million, Europeans, E.U. finally have coughed up something – 20 million (dollars) and then some others. And I think it’s a good place for the Iranian reactor fuel if they don’t need it for the Bushehr to – that should be a base for the international fuel bank under international control, and the – in the context of IAEA.
MR. KIMBALL: Professor Sadri, your thoughts on what happens if these talks fail and where we ought to be – where we want to be five years from now?
MR. SADRI: Well, five years from now, I would like to see a non-nuclear Iran, but also I would like to see a less nuclear Middle East and a less nuclear world. Disarmament – obviously, I’m not optimistic enough to think that it’s going to succeed to a hundred percent, but mostly, if nuclear countries start taking steps in reducing their stockpiles, that will create the environment for the negotiations that is necessary in Iran.
The eventuality of an attack on Iran – I think it is not likely, because these powers, Israel and United States, know that Iran is not Syria, is not Iraq, Iran is not Afghanistan – Iran is not a tribal country. Most diplomats who have been in Iran – I don’t know whether Jim will share this view – talk about the Iranians having a very strong sense of national identity. This is a country that has the oldest national flag in the world. The Iranian Derafsh Kavian that is mentioned in the Shahnameh was not a mythological thing; it was a real artifact captured by the Arabs and sold for 300,000 dirhams. And this flag represented not – it was not the coat of arm of some king; it represented the Iranian nation. The kings had their own coat of arms, but the Derafsh Kavian was in front of the troops. So Iranians have a very old sense of national identity that transcends various linguistic and ethnic groups, and we saw that in action – that spring to action in the invasion of – by Iraq.
So Iran is not only bigger and better-armed, probably, and more populous than these other countries; it has a very strong sense of national identity that one cannot find in any of those other cases, and the people who are talking about bombing or invading Iran, there are – you know, they are aware of this. So I hope that there is no steps taken towards invasion, but I would not want to risk it, and I would like to see these negotiations succeed, because if they don’t succeed, we are basically playing Russian roulette with the national – with the regional security and world security.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. Jim.
MR. WALSH: Before I answer that, I want to say that yesterday was my birthday, and my brother Patrick gave me this tie to wear today.
MR. KIMBALL: It’s very nice, too.
MR. WALSH: So, thank you, Patrick. (Laughter.) It is a nice tie; I call – I consider this a TV tie. That’s my – (laughter) – all right. Good future, bad future – let’s start with the good future. The good future is better, but it’s not perfect. We’re still going to have, five years out, the Arab – regionally, the Arab Spring is still going to be working itself out; there will probably still be animosity between the Palestinians and the Israelis. There will be competition between Iran and the Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, but I can imagine a future – a positive future in which Iran is a member of the Additional Protocol and is fully adhering to its safeguards agreements in a way that is affirmative, not defensive. I can imagine – Rolf suggested – and I’m an advocate of this – multilateralization of some piece or pieces of the Iranian program, where Iran is an owner, but others are owners and managers as well on the ground in Iran.
I see the U.N. Security Council sanctions going away – a lot of the unilateral sanctions, but probably not all the unilateral sanctions. You know, my guess – being realistic – or trying to be realistic – is that some sanctions will persist but enough will come down, and certainly the ones from the U.N. – presuming a positive outcome – that they’ll be able to move forward. Maybe a little better crisis communication between – set up between the U.S. and Iran. I’d like to see, maybe, an adult relationship where – you know, like the U.S. has with Russia or with China – with their “frenemies”, you know, where they’re not necessarily buddies but there’s diplomatic relations and you don’t like each other, but you talk to each other. I think if that – if we could get all of that, I’d be a happy camper.
The downside – if it doesn’t go well – well, I think – you know, these things are probabilistic. I think, on average, you know, we’ll probably just get more of the same. There will be more centrifuges, more material produced, more reactors built, more threats of military strike, but not quite there. That’s the average, but – you know, the way you get an average – if you put your foot on a block of ice and your foot on a fire, the average is comfortable, and so averages aren’t necessarily a good predictor here.
I’m thinking that it’s less likely the more likely that there’ll be conflict, but there would be a nontrivial possibility of conflict. I think the Israelis could tell themselves a story where they would strike. I am disheartened and sobered by this report that in 2010, Netanyahu went to his Cabinet and tried to persuade them to put Israel on high alert as a way to get Iran to respond that would drag the U.S. into a conflict. Now, I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it has the look and feel of something that could be true. That’s very risk-accepted behavior by a state leader. That’s – so it just takes one of those mistakes or mistake between two naval ships in the Gulf where we get a war. So I don’t – I’m not predicting a war, but if it’s a 10 percent or a 15 percent chance, that’s – given the consequences, that’s huge. That’s huge. So I would worry about that going forward over time.
And you asked the question, what do we get if we get a war? We get an Iran with nuclear weapons, because they stopped the program in 2003. If they’re attacked, I am – I would bet a sizable amount of money that the first consequence is a meeting the next day where they say, oh yeah? Fine, we’re going to build a nuclear weapon. And I think Osirak – which you referred to – there’s strong, scholarly evidence that that was the respond of – response of Saddam. That prior to the Osirak bombing, Saddam’s nuclear program was one of several exotic weapons programs. They got bombed, he made it job one. So I’m afraid a war, whatever its, you know, implications for the region, as a nonproliferation guy, the most important consequence is a decision by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you.
And as we prepare for the next segment here, I’m going to take one more question from the audience. We can’t deny the Voice of America question for our panelists here. So if you could just bring the microphone over please, so that we can hear it all. All right, please go ahead.
Q: The talks so far for the 10 years, and so last 10 years has been negotiation with no fruitful, you know, result. But all these years and the actors in the region have been the same, but recently, there has been some changes which might be a new solution, and that is Mohammed Morsi and the Egyptian president, while he took care of unexpected action yesterday and last week. But yesterday, Senator – Democrat Senator Carl Levin suggested that the biggest challenge is to bringing Mohammed Morsi to the West side, and perhaps that is something that has to be looked into. What do you see in this prospect? How do you see this might work, and what the West can do with regards to Egypt?
MR. WALSH: Well, that’s a big question. I have actually written about Egypt’s nuclear weapons program. They had a weapons program under Nasser, so it’s a country I’ve spent time in – not in a while.
You know, I hope that – this is a question that comes at a point of great confusion and no clarity about the future of Egypt, is, are Morsi’s decrees the beginning of the Muslim Brotherhood down a path towards a power grab, or is this a temporary set of arrangements that help husband or nurture an Egyptian polity that becomes democratic and strong, and more legitimate, because Mubarak was not legitimate at the end?
You know, I hope that it is a strong – that Egypt returns to its rightful place as the leader of the Arab world, as the most popular Arab country, that it goes down that path towards democracy, that it’s seen as legitimate, and – which means it’s going to have different policies, and it’s going to, you know, disagree with the U.S. on some things and agree with others – but if it goes down that path, then I think it will be very important for the U.S. and for Israel and for others to embrace that Egypt in a way that they’re able to be a working partner.
I don’t know how much impact they’re going to have on the Iranian issue, but insofar as Iran is part of southwest Asia and the Middle East region, a strong and useful and wise Egypt would be helpful overall, you know, whether – regardless. But I think the jury is still out on this one.
MR. KIMBALL: Professor Sadri, do you have any thoughts about this question?
MR. SADRI: Well I think – I think Iran is happier with Egypt at the helm of the Arab world than the alternative, which would be an augmented Saudi Arabia, the Salafist movement that is very anti-Shiite. The Muslim Brotherhood is basically – it’s not hostile to the idea of an Islamic republic. There are very deep ideological connections between the Iranian revolution and the writings of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is also my hope that this move by Mohammed Morsi is just a tactical move to get over certain problems. And I doubt that this would be a power grab, because the Muslim Brotherhood of today is not the Muslim Brotherhood of 30 years ago. So there has been a transubstantiation there.
We have to note that – and of course, I don’t know for sure – but I think Egypt on its way – is on its way back, and there is a possibility that Egypt and Iran might renew their relationship. That is very turbulent right now, especially with the Ahmadinejad government, but the aligning of their basic interests, national interests, suggest that there is a possibility that one day, that Khalid Islamboli Street in Iran would get a new name.
MR. KIMBALL: If you wish – (inaudible).
MR. EKÉUS: Well, I had a very authoritative friend, Tariq Aziz, and he – his assessment of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was that they were a rather moderate type. He said Mubarak made a big strategic mistake by oppressing them, and don’t give them a play into the Egyptian society. So of course, I was reflecting – poor man is sentenced to death, but he’s still not executed – but he had a deep and very wise understanding of Egypt and of the situation in Arabic world in general.
But of course, the – I – Saudi Arabia is there, and I have great difficulties to be – to imagine that Morsi will divide himself – which – (inaudible) – from those two optimists – from the Saudi Arabians – how to say – significance. Mecca and Medina is – they are important elements of the custodians of the holy sites. And Iran is challenging that, as we all know, and I think this is a sectarian problem or a strategic problem with religious connotations, which I think we should be – we should not run into too much optimistic; actually we should be very, very careful in our judgments, and watch closely the Hamas – the initiative, you know? Morsi acted in the Gaza operation – rightly so, Egypt is there – but without in any way dealing with the Palestinian Authority, keep them out. I don’t know what that indicates. He set a new type of strategy Egypt has toward the Palestinian issue. Well, I’m a little more concerned than my friends.
MR. KIMBALL: Well, we’re – we’ve run out of time for this segment of our program. I want to just very quickly sum up some of the key points that I heard our three great panelists make during the course of the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program, and about avoiding a war over Iran’s nuclear program. And that is that we’re moving into a very important period with respect to the P-5 plus one in Iran talks. There’s a very important opportunity coming up in the next few weeks that’s going to require strong U.S. and better Iranian leadership, a broader deal that ties Iran’s enrichment activities to its actual nuclear power needs – which are minimal, as Jim Walsh said – combined with much more extensive IAEA safeguards, can help guard against a nuclear-armed Iran, and that we need to look at sanctions as a tool, not necessarily as the end goal, a tool in those negotiations in that we need to avoid making regime change appear to be the goal of U.S. policy, to make it clear that the Iranians have an exit ramp from this very difficult situation they’ve gotten themselves into with the nuclear program, and that the two sides are going to have to be much more creative in the next round of talks, and not simply put forward the same proposals that have met – been met with resistance in previous rounds. It’s going to be tough, but it sounds like diplomacy is the best option on the table.
So with that, please join me in thanking Rolf Ekéus, Ahmad Sadri and James Walsh for their comments. (Applause.) We’re going to be taking about a two-minute break as we – a one-minute break as we adjust some of the backdrop here, and hear from National Security Adviser Brzezinski.
MR. PARSI: Our next speaker, of course, does not need any introduction in any setting, one of the greatest statesmen – American statesmen alive. Dr. Brzezinski served as national security adviser from 1977 to 1980. In his long and distinguished career, he had to deal with Iran extensively – from the – managing the relationship with the Shah, to the hostage crisis, to the 1979 revolution itself and, of course, to the ongoing conversation about how to deal with the nuclear challenge that Iran poses.
Dr. Brzezinski’s voice and opinions have been decisive. President Obama referred to him as one of our most outstanding thinkers and President Carter presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. On a personal note, I have been tremendously grateful for being able to benefit from his insights, since I was lucky enough to have Dr. Brzezinski on my Ph.D. committee at SAIS a couple years ago. A strong opponent of the invasion of Iraq, Dr. Brzezinski has also been a vocal opponent of any military adventurism with Iran, referring to it as a disaster.
In March, 2009, Dr. Brzezinski gave a very important testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offering both words of caution as well as advice on how to make diplomacy succeed. And since there is now a new opportunity for diplomacy, we thought it would be very fitting to bring Dr. Brzezinski here so that we can listen and benefit from his insights and his advice on how we can make it more successful this time around than it was last time around.
So without any further ado, please join me in welcoming Dr. Brzezinski. (Applause.)
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Thank you very much, Trita. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here, and to be here particularly in connection with this organization which Trita has organized and which is rendering such an important contribution to our ongoing dialogue about the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Let me also comment very, very briefly on your introduction.
I just want to add that while you did refer to my long-standing interest in the U.S.-Iranian relationship, you don’t really realize how much long-standing it has been. It goes back to the days when I was a young child. And I will not go into any great detail, but at that moment for a while my now deceased mother had a rather interesting flirtation with an Iranian ambassador. (Laughter.)
At one point, he even suggested to her that I be enrolled in a school in Switzerland called La Rozier (sp), I think, which he pointed out was then being attended by the next Shah. He suggested to her that one never knows what might happen, and perhaps your son might end up being the foreign minister of Iran. (Laughter.) That’s the end of the story. Nothing more happened. (Laughs.) No much happened, but it seemed full of promise. Well, my interest therefore goes back a long time.
I just dropped this device here. I hope it doesn’t interfere with recording.
What I would like to do very informally is to think out loud, what are our options in the event that the negotiations of the 5 plus one with Iran failed to produce an agreement, either because one or another of the negotiating parties insists on the capitulation of the other side or because some deliberately disruptive events are set in motion by one or another of the parties. And that certainly is a possibility on both sides.
Then, what really are our options in that setting? My bottom line answer to the question which I have just posed is that there are no good options. But there are, of course, still options, but they range from the worst to the least bad. But at least, there’s a choice. The least attractive – the worst, in fact, would be if the United States and/or Israel, or jointly, attacked Iran. I think that is a fact. I have spoken to that many times.
So let me merely say in brief that this would produce a regional crisis and widespread hatred, particularly for the United States because the United States would be seen as the deciding partner in such an undertaking, whether jointly with Israel or subsequent to Israel or by the United States alone. The United States would be drawn into, therefore, a protracted conflict in the region, first of all with the Iranians and perhaps the Iranian people as well.
For while the attitudes of the Iranians by and large, to the extent that we can tell, towards the United States are not hostile and on the whole, in the larger cities, quite benign, a conflict in which the United States was acting as, in their perspective, an aggressor and engaging in military action would certainly precipitate long lasting hatred for the United States. And that would be a fact of life in that part of the country, and not an insignificant one since it would involve some 85 million people.
In the more immediate perspective, of course, there would be regional disruption. The region would be literally set aflame with the conflict probably spreading through Iraq to Syria, creating one large belt of conflict, complicating our withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly in the western parts of Afghanistan where Iran has the capacity to make life miserable for us. It would be disruptive of course in terms of the security of oil flowing through the Strait of Hormuz, even if it was kept open by the United States. But still, even then the price of insurance for the flow of oil would dramatically increase.
And there is a further uncertainty involved in that kind of an operation, namely how successful would it be. In fact, in estimates by Israeli experts regarding Israel’s potential to be decisively effective, are pessimistic. And American estimates depend on the scale of the American attack. Even a relatively modest attack by the United States would inflict in any case serious casualties on the Iranians, precipitating the death of a large number of Iranian scientists and probably, in some cases given the location of the facilities, also civilians.
And there is still the unknown factor of what happens if radiation is released as a consequence of these attacks. And that could be a significant factor in terms of civilian casualties, particularly in places that are larger, semi-metropolitan. And of course, some facilities that would be destroyed are located – for example, Isfahan.
All of that, I think makes an attack not a very attractive remedy for dealing with the problem, a problem which then would pale in insignificance compared to the consequences of the attack once the dynamic consequences were set in motion. So I dismiss that as a serious alternative. I think it would be an act of utter irresponsibility and potentially a very significant immorality if the United States was part of it.
A second alternative, not either very good – neither are very good is a campaign of covert subversion – ranging from sabotage through assassinations, maybe even to cyberwarfare – directed at Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring an effective nuclear weapon. I think the result of that is troublesome, not in terms of its immediate outcome because the asymmetry of capabilities between the United States and Iran is so wide that obviously Iran would be much more negatively affected.
But in the longer run, we cannot entirely dismiss the fact that inherent in such a strategy one sets in motion a degradation of the international system, a degradation of the international rules of the game, which could prove, in the longer run, very damaging to American national interests, if one assumes that the United States wishes to be essentially a status-quo power, not one that precipitates massive disruptions of the international order, but has a national interest in consolidating the international order and, indeed, even in expanding its international effectiveness.
So the losses in that sense to American national interests of such a campaign would be significant. And it is not clear that they would necessarily lead to the desired – otherwise desired outcome, namely deprivation of Iran of capability to have a militarily significant nuclear potential. Indeed, implicit perhaps in that second strategy would be an eventual outcome very similar to the first strategy, that the United States would find it necessary, would find itself compelled or driven by others into undertaking option one, but making it even in a more negative context.
The third not desirable option, but perhaps somewhat less immediately destructive, is of course a policy of the continuous imposition of sanctions on Iran that would range from painful to strangulating. That is to say, a policy in which one assumes that at some point Iran would accommodate and accept an outcome which otherwise was not achieved in the process of negotiations.
This is a complicated undertaking because it’s very difficult in that context to clearly distinguish between what sanctions are designed to achieve the nuclear objective, and which ones are designed to achieve other objectives on the grounds of which they were initially imposed. For example, support for Hezbollah and for other so-called terrorist organizations.
In other words, will we be trying to change the behavior of the regime? Would we be trying to force it to comply with our position on the nuclear issue? Or would we be trying to change the regime? Careful discrimination of this context is very difficult to achieve and, hence, it is also very difficult to envisage an outcome in advance that would be clearly productive insofar as the original point of departure for the sanctions is concerned.
And that brings me to the fourth and least – the least objectionable of the bad options, all of that being based on the assumption that we’re not able to achieve our desired outcome by serious negotiations. And that is to combine continued painful, but not strangulating sanctions – and be very careful in that distinction – with clear political support for the emergence of eventual democracy in Iran, an objective with which I think many Iranians would associate themselves.
And at the same time an explicit security guarantee for U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern states, including Israel, modeled on the very successful, decade-lasting protection of our European allies from an overwhelming Soviet nuclear threat, and also modeled on the successful protection of South Korea and Japan from the recently emerged North Korean threat, and perhaps earlier on, implicitly but not explicitly, from possible Chinese intimidation.
We succeeded in that policy over many decades and with good result for all concerned, including the Soviet Union and us, including the Russian people and the American people, and certainly to the benefit of those whom we were protecting. We now know, for example, from secret Soviet war plans, that the Soviets were contemplating, even in the case of the conventional war in which they were moving westward, the use of nuclear weapons against cities.
For example, on the third day of a Soviet offensive, according to Soviet war plans, tactical nuclear weapons, several of them, were designed or were targeted for use against Hamburg – a very large urban center. And there were others in Western Europe, depending on how the offensive was moving forward. All of that was avoided by a policy of deterrence that was credible.
This is then the fourth option, which is not the same as the achievement of our objective, but it is an option which creates a condition which might endure for quite a while, because it is difficult to imagine any Iranian regime embarking on a nuclear adventure if it simply has the bomb. What does that mean, it simply has the bomb? Has it really been tested? Is it already related to delivery system? Does one use it when one has only one? Does one wait until one has 10?
One has to consider in these circumstances the consequences of their use. And given an explicit commitment by an overwhelmingly stronger nuclear power, which has demonstrated a willingness to protect with others with credibility and commitment, I think that at least is some degree of assurance that we are gaining time in a very turbulent setting, in a very turbulent time. And that in itself is an advantage.
This is not an argument for it to be the central focus of our policy. Obviously a negotiated outcome that meets to some extent the principle desires of our negotiating side but doesn’t necessarily humiliate the Iranians and forces them into an unconditional surrender, so to speak, is still preferable.
But short of that, if in fact the negotiations do not succeed in the near term, I think a shift by the United States to a combination of sanctions, but oriented specifically to the promotion of internal democratizing change and at the same time to serve as a deterrent and involves all of our friends in the Middle East, is the best option – or it’s the least objectionable options of the options that have failed otherwise in the achievement of their ultimate objective.
So that is the perspective that I share and I think the sooner we get off the notion that at some point we may strike Iran the better – the better the chances for the negotiations that are ongoing and the better the change for stability if we couple it with a clear commitment to the security of the region, designed to neutralize any potential longer-range Iranian nuclear threat. And I think that’s about all I want to say at this moment. And perhaps we can then continue our discussion.
MR. PARSI: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Bring the mic with you, if you could. Thank you so much, Dr. Brzezinski. I think it’s a very realistic assessment of the situation. It reminds me of the testimony that you gave in the Senate, because there you talked also about how we could make diplomacy succeed. And here you said that diplomacy would still be the preferable option, but you didn’t go deeper into that.
In the testimony, you laid out a couple of things that you recommended that the administration do and you cautioned about a couple of things that you felt would be unproductive. On the positive side, you talked about accepting, at least nominally, the idea that the Iranians are saying that they don’t want a nuclear weapon, and as a result use that as an argument to say, OK, how can we then find a common objective and mechanism that ensures that what you’re saying is something we can trust?
On the negative side, you pointed out that if we pursue sanctions if diplomacy fails, or we threaten that – if we assess that the military option is still on the table, if we talk about a regime change, then we’re pursuing something that may help shift the blame of the failure of negotiations to the other side, but it will help ensure that negotiations fail.
Within all of that, how would you now say where the U.S. is, four years after experiencing some combination of these two? Where would you say that the U.S. – what can the U.S. do now in order to make sure that the preferable option is actually successful, so that we don’t have the fall back on the other effective option that you talked about of containment, but actually making the preferable option a success?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: I’m not sure that I have a prescription that really meets the high standards that you have set for it, but I do think that at some point a parallel dialogue – probably conducted in some degree of deliberate secrecy, although that is difficult on the American side – a parallel dialogue between the United States and Iran might be desirable, in addition to the more formal negotiations.
A great deal depends here, also, on what are the long-range motives that drive the participation of the Chinese and the Russians in the negotiating process. They might not be the same. I think the Chinese are obviously more interested in maintaining general stability from an international economic point of view, for obviously reasons given their dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
In the Russian case, there may be some ambivalence among Russian decision makers as they assess the long-range significance of this issue for the American-Russian strategic balance, and for that matter, for Russia’s geopolitical role. One can at least make the theoretical case – and I’m not making it – in terms of the Russian leadership as a whole, but I can envisage some Russian strategists saying, is it really bad for us if America gets into another major and protracted conflict in the region? America will not suffer very much because of the revolution in American energy supplies, but the region will be affected adversely. If the region is affected adversely, the dependence of Europe on Russia energy supplies dramatically increases. Is that necessarily bad from the Russian point of view?
Secondly, if the region erupts into violence, ongoing arrangements generated over the last two or three decades largely by an American strategy designed to diminish European dependence on Russian energy –I have in mind particularly Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, and the general role of Azerbaijan and Georgia in providing access in the near future to (Turkmen ?) energy to Europe directly, and not via Russia – is something that I’m sure some Russians would like in some fashion to undercut. So even without the massive outbreak of violence in the region, but real tension in the regions and escalating collisions or explosions, might give the Russians some strategies, and Russia might argue, a freer hand to deal with Georgia and Azerbaijan. That would have geostrategic consequences, very adverse to Europe and to the United States.
So I think that we don’t have a very clear sense of delivery to which these partners in the negotiating process are motivated to the same degree as we, by the desire to avoid an explosion in the region. At least one of those two that I’ve mentioned might have, at least on the part of some individuals – I want to repeat that, because I’m not saying that this is the official Russian point of view, or the official Russian strategy – but some individuals in Russia who are hard-nosed strategists might say to themselves, well, are we really sure that it’s in our interest to resolve this problem?
MR. PARSI: It’s an interesting point, but let me play devil’s advocate for a second here. If the policy’s a shift towards containment, containment in essence is to sit on the brink of war in the hope that you avoid it. Wouldn’t the Russians, or those who may have different interests, still be able to achieve some of those objectives when it comes to European energy independence?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well European energy independence is not a question of a state of mind; it’s a question of the state of access, availability of these sources. The Europeans obviously prefer to have the Baku-Ceyhan line open. It would be very (happy ?) when Turkmen gas and oil begins to flow by new pipelines through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to Europe. So it depends really on what happens. It’s not a state of mind; it’s a question of real options.
MR. PARSI: You mentioned in your talk also about that within the containment option, there would be an opportunity to target the sanctions in such a way that they actually could facilitate pro-democracy change. I have a couple of questions on that. The first one is that the current sanctions are criticized by the (entire ?) green movement, saying that this is decimating the backbone of the pro-democracy movement, because it is hitting so hard the general population, rather than hitting the regime harder.
But secondly, within a diplomatic option, your tenure in government was one in which we saw a very successful effort at being able to negotiate while pushing for human rights simultaneously through the Helsinki process. Do you envision such a process being possible in the context of Iran, in which there can be negotiations, but we don’t turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses, instead, we actually proactively utilize the dialogue in order to be able to push forward for a better human rights situation?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, that depends on the extent to which I think the Iranian regime itself is inclined to favor a more stable relationship with us, in the knowledge that it does entail inevitably, openings for that kind of a policy. The Soviet government, in the long run, wrongly from the standpoint of its interest, concluded that it could do that, and started a dialogue in part because they thought that Nixon and Kissinger, in initiating it for the American side, were prepared to accept the status quo, which to some extent, largely so, they actually were. But they were then in effect unpleasantly surprised by the fact that the subsequent Carter and Reagan administrations both favored such a dialogue for the purpose of upsetting the status quo and not for perpetuating it. And that was the great difference between Nixon on the one side and Carter and Reagan on the other, with few people still in this country realizing the extent of which on that issue, the Carter policy was the predecessor for the Reagan policy. And Reagan continued and then expanded many of the things that Carter started, using human rights as a lever for change.
I think the Iranian regime at this stage is still in a rather dogged fanatical regime, and it probably would be very, very restrictive in any accommodation, which would entail some greater openings. So we have to do it from the outside, but we do have the advantage today which didn’t exist then, mainly of the new means of communications, which are permeable, they penetrate. And we know from the events of March two years ago, that the Iranian people do have that access, and that’s a very important new aspect of this very complicated game.
MR. PARSI: But there are new sanctions being discussed in Congress right now that actually would cut off the entire Iranian telecom system, which then also obviously would affect the population as a whole. Which brings us to the point of, where do you see the correct balance of sanctions? You mentioned that it shouldn’t be strangulating, so where should it be?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think you’ve raised the right issue, namely, how do we draw the difference between strangulating and painful up to a point, creating openings for other options? I do fear that some of the energy for sanctions is driven simply by a kind of almost fanatical commitment to a showdown with the Iranians, perhaps in the innocent hope that they will back down and yield, perhaps in some cases, in the hidden hope that it leads to option number one, which I dismiss as the least attractive from our point of view.
MR. PARSI: Interesting.
I’m going to take some questions from the media. If you’re not part of the media, please fill out those cards, and we will collect them and send them over. Barbara, do you have a question?
Q: Yeah, I have a question. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council and al-monitor.com. Always a privilege to see you, Dr. Brzezinski.
I want to pursue this a little bit more, because you are talking about a long-term containment strategy. Does that mean that you have given up entirely on the notion of some sort of breakthrough? We’ve all been talking about a brief window of opportunity after our elections and before the Iranian elections. Do you think that’s simply just not in the cards?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: No, I haven’t given up on it at all. But what I want to be more clear in terms of our stand on the issues, that in certain other options in the event that the negotiating process is not successful, are not a solution for that problem, and in fact, can make the situation much worse. And this is what leads me then to look critically at what other options do we really have if the negotiating process is not successful, and to assess them in terms of their political, strategic and even moral compatibility, with what it is that should determine the nature of our own conduct. And I would like to avoid a situation in which someone comes to us and says, well, look, a year has passed, there is no achievement, we want new red lines, these red lines now have to be very short term because we are now in the danger zone, and do what you have to do.
And I’m not sure we have to do it, and I think it would be desirable to avoid it, and that’s more likely if we have some meaningful alternative, other than simply saying our options – all options are on the table. And I think a meaningful alternative is a combination of a kind of, if you will, like the sort of human rights policy towards the Soviet Union in the mid-’70s, with at the same time, an effort to reassure those in the region that they are not therefore more vulnerable to Iranian intimidation, aggression or even attack, and to convince the Iranians that, if they tried to do that, they would precipitate implementation of all of the military resources that the United States possesses to make such an attack futile and extremely costly.
Q: And just a brief follow-up: I mean, this is containment, and is this the policy that you would pursue even if Iran actually did build and test a nuclear weapon?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: But that’s the whole point of what I was saying.
Q: OK, so why don’t you use the C-word? (Laughter.)
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Because the situation is more complicated. Containment involves a lot of other arrangements at the time, such as the existence of NATO and so forth. This is not that kind of a situation, so we have to address it in a somewhat different fashion, but there is an underlying similarity between the two, namely, that deterrence has worked. Again, it’s a far more powerful, far more dangerous and indeed objectively, far more aggressive opponent in years past, and therefore, in that sense, provides a point of departure for something modeled on it, even if not identical to it.
MR. PARSI: L.A. Times, in the back.
Q: Doyle McManus from the Los Angeles Times.
In fact, Barbara asked the first half of my question, why not use the word containment –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, go ahead and use it. I’m not going to launch a protest against it. (Laughs.) Or rebut it.
Q: Let me – let me ask – let me ask you to go back to an old question that any use of the word containment brings up, which is that some in this country have assiduously worked to convince Americans that Iran is undeterrable or uncontainable because of the nature of the regime. I know you’ve had to deal with that question before, but it might be worth taking 60 seconds to deal with it now.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don’t find that argument very credible. I’m not sure that people who make it really believe in it, but it’s a good argument to make if you have no other argument to make. (Scattered laughter.) The fact of the matter is Iran has been around for 3,000 years, and that is not a symptom of a suicidal instinct. In fact, it’s the contrary. And so, you know, I don’t find that argument even worthy of a serious discussion. And the fact of the matter is if the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon, they think they’ll have more influence, and that they have a right to it. All right, but if they have more influence, it doesn’t mean they have a free hand, and they still have to calculate what happens when they try to use it. The notion that some way or other, they’ll put it in a picnic basket and hand it over to some terrorist group is merely an argument that maybe some – it may be convincing to some people who know nothing about nuclear weapons. But in fact, nuclear weapons are pretty complicated things to operate, and they require tender love and care from those who handle it, otherwise it will kill them rather than the intended victims of the weapon.
So you know, it’s not a really serious argument. You have to have a delivery system. You have to have multiplicity. You have to have things to back it up with, and especially if you’re dealing, as the argument assumes, with an opponent who has himself lots of nuclear weapons. The Israelis do have a nuclear capability, and if attacked by the Iranians, they certainly would be entitled to react, and they would react furiously if the Iranians used a nuclear weapon. And the Iranians would be in a far worse position than the North Koreans are, who already have – it is assumed – five, six, seven, maybe eight weapons. But even that doesn’t give them sufficient assurance that the attack would work. Some of them might not go off, and in any case, the opponent would have far greater opportunity for inflating – inflicting massive destruction on North Korea. The same is true here. You know, if the Israelis were victimized by the Iranians, they would be justified, and they certainly would feel justified to react in a very, very severe fashion. I don’t know many Iranians who view that as a serious option.
MR. PARSI: Questions from the audience that I’ve got here, very good questions: The first one is, if we look deeper into the actual structure of a possible diplomatic solution, do you think it is necessary and achievable to reduce Iran’s enrichment activity to zero? Or could a solution still be acceptable with Iran having limited enrichment, I assume below 5 percent, or would that still necessitate the C-word argument?
And secondly, if I could just add this one to it, there is an argument saying that the Iranians are only using the talks in order to gain time. Their program has advanced over the last couple of years. What is your response to those who argue against diplomacy because this would only be giving the Iranians a freebie, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, the presumption is, it’s not all that explicit in the NPT, but the presumption is that countries that are signatories to it have their entitlement – I won’t use the word right – have entitlement to enrich to about 5 or so percent. And I do know that the discussions have involved what to do with the amount that has been enriched to be on that, and presumably to somewhere around 20 percent. And some or other imaginative ideas have been aired regarding how that excess can be handled.
But I don’t think it’s realistic to demand that Iran accept an arrangement for itself that is fundamentally different from the arrangement that other subscribers to the NPT have undertaken. So here, I think we have to be realistic and also fair in our effort, because otherwise, we’re really not trying to seek an agreement as such, we’re trying to engage in a double humiliation and capitulation with a large and significant country. And that is something that one should not undertake unless one felt that there was a mortal danger, literally a mortal danger, emanating from that country. And even the most dire prognoses right now suggest that it will be some years before Iran, assuming it can keep pursuing a surreptitious nuclear weapons program, will have a significant nuclear military capability. And that’s what we have to be concerned about is a significant nuclear military capability, and not a totally hypothetical, imaginary, noncredible notion at the moment they have one or two bombs, they’ll, you know, eagerly rush into national suicide.
Now, what was the second part?
MR. PARSI: Second part is, what if the Iranians are just using the talks in order to reach exactly that level?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: That, they may be doing. It’s conceivable. And this is why I do think that my fourth, not fully-satisfactory option, but the least objectionable of the realistic options, or would-be realistic, or pseudo-realistic options, is the one that we have to seriously contemplate. We cannot keep saying indefinitely all options are on the table, implying that we’re going to bomb them one day, and not actually do it. I think that undermines our credibility. It’s much more to take a position that is explicit, clear and credible because of our past record. We have succeeded in deterring not only the Soviet Union, led by Stalin at one point, not only China at a time when its top leader was saying, nuclear war, big deal, 300 million people will be dead, so what? And nothing happened, and China today has a minimum nuclear deterrent, because the Chinese are a rational, calculating people, and they feel that this meets their defense needs. And we have, in a more tenuous fashion, succeeded in deterring North Korea, even though it is occasionally threatening and volatile, and is a serious problem. But I think the North Koreans know that we are committed to the security of our partners, and what’s even more important, the Chinese know that we are, and the Chinese don’t want a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.
MR. PARSI: We only have time for one last question, so I’m going to give you perhaps one of the hardest ones, because not everyone is as clear-eyed as you are. Some are much more alarmist. How would you advise President Obama in the event that Israel attacks Iran before Iran crosses the U.S.’ red line?
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Well, I wouldn’t advise him in that stage, I would advise him before – (laughter) – I would advise him before.
MR. PARSI: Well, this is before.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: And – you’re changing the question. (Laughter.) I think it’s very important for clarity to exist in a relationship between friends. And I don’t think there is any implicit obligation of the United States to follow like, you know, a stupid mule, whatever the Israelis do. If they decide to start a war simply on the assumption that we’ll automatically be drawn into it, I think it is the obligation of friendship to say, well, you’re not going to be making national decisions for us. And I think that the United States has the right to have its own national security policy. I think most Americans would agree with that, and therefore I think clarity on this issue is important, and especially if we commit ourselves explicitly and bindingly to Israel’s security as part of the formula that I advocate. That is, for me, a design to freeze any threat into a nonthreat, unless one can convincingly argue that a country of 85 million people has no higher priority than an act of collective suicide. And I don’t think that is sustained by any evidence whatsoever.
MR. PARSI: Very good.
Thank you so much. Please join me in thanking Dr. Brzezinski. This has been a wonderful conversation. (Scattered applause.) Let me also take the opportunity to thank our partners in this Arms Control Association, very proud to team up with them, the viewers on C-SPAN and our funders, sponsor for this program, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
Thank you all so much for coming. (Applause.)
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