Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wilson Center holds forum on prospects for an Iranian nuclear deal

The Woodrow Wilson Center held a forum on January 11 entitled, “Prospects for an Iranian Nuclear Deal,” with an expert on the subject, Gary Samore, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, serving as the main speaker

Iran is still a few years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons, Samore said. He doesn’t expect that it could happen until somewhere between 2010 and 2015.

Regarding the political dimension of the situation, Samore, said this comes down to a clash of international interests rather than simply good versus evil is not about good or evil. Balance of power is usually how such a clash is solved, he maintained. Samore said that when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Iran became fearful, but now the balance of power has shifted and Iran realizes that it holds a good position in the region. Now, with oil at such a high price, Tehran has the ability to absorb its domestic support.

Nether Russia or China wants Iran to build nuclear weapons, Samore said, but he argues that since they have come to terms with the fact that Pakistan has nuclear capabilities they can do the same with Iran. However, Samore argued that the Western powers have another view, and do not trust Iran. As the situation stands now, though, China and Russia will continue to buy oil and trade with Iran, he stated.

On the topic of resolving the predicament with Iran, Samore stressed the importance of correctly packaging the deal. All suggestions are going to be read in Tehran, which will make it more difficult and weaken the U.S. position, he said. Furthermore, any talks with Tehran, will be viewed by American allies as weakening the US position, and indicating an acceptance of Iran. In addition, Samore maintained that it is not even certain that a deal is possible, saying that Iran will not settle for less then what they started with. Given these potential outcomes, there are different ways of approaching the deal, with the removal of sanctions one option. However, if the U.S. chooses to move in the other direction, anti-American hostility could increase.

Samore stressed that the U.S. must collaborate with other nations to apply pressure on Tehran, but added that this will be difficult as Iran is privy to this strategy. He also cautioned that with negotiations going forward, Iran will make promises that it will not keep. According to Samore, a large burden rests on the administration of the next American president, with the Bush administration now in its “lame duck” period.

Explaining Iran’s view of the situation, Samore said that Tehran asserts that it needs nuclear power programs for regional security. However, he stated that the country must not be allowed to develop these programs. “We can not trust their intentions,” Samore cautioned. Additionally, if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt would want to do the same. This sentiment might even extend to countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, Samore added.

Samore also explained that Israel feels the most threatened by Iran’s nuclear programs and are in favor of U.S. intervention. As of today, an Israeli attack on Iran is more likely than an U.S. one, he said.

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