What Should the World Do with Nuclear Iran?
CAS prof says regime is calculating, not crazy
In the video above, scientists hunt foratomic fingerprints at a Seibersdorf, Austria, contamination-free laboratory. They are looking fortelltale signs of uranium or plutonium that can reveal illegal nuclearactivities. Video by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Photo below by Frank Curran
In October Iran promised the United Nations Security Council that it would ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be further processed, packaged in fuel rods, and returned. Last month Iran rejected parts of the deal, which would have given international observers a better look at Iran’s use of uranium. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has suggested that Turkey — a country with closer cultural and economic ties to Iran — would make a better processing partner than Russia
Ahmadinejad, a former transportation engineer and tunneling expert, also declared that Iran would build 10 more uranium enrichment plants similar to its Qum site, an underground facility whose existence was revealed in late September, and would raise the enrichment levels of its uranium.
All that from a man who says he doesn’t want to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
BU Today spoke with Augustus Richard Norton, a College of Arts & Sciences international relations and anthropology professor, for some insight on Iran, its leaders’ intentions, and how the international community is responding to the dilemma.
BU Today: How does President Obama compare to former President George W. Bush in his dealing with Iran’s uranium enrichment?
Norton: I suppose there isn’t a categorical difference. The Bush administration certainly understood the difficulties of dealing with this topic militarily. I think the people in the Pentagon who were advising President Bush were acutely aware that a military solution was not likely to lead to any long-term success and could be counterproductive. I think there’s a similar understanding in the Obama administration.
The problem is you don’t have a lot of other options that are likely to change Iran’s current course. Even focused sanctions are not likely to be effective in terms of changing Iranian behavior. So really, what you’re left with is diplomacy. That’s a path that’s being pursued. The Obama administration is more patient on the diplomatic track.
There needs to be some adjustment in approach not just to Iran, but to the region. It’s striking that there’s been no discussion of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, which includes 100 weapons according to reliable estimates.
The Obama administration has talked much more clearly about the long-term goal of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Still, that hasn’t been a major priority of the administration.
You have to ask yourself, why might these countries want nuclear weapons capabilities? Because one of their major adversaries has nuclear weapons.
Given the political realities in the United States, it’s going to be very difficult to deter the Iranians from what they’re doing. They’re acquiring the know-how to move along the path to the production of irradiated fuel and nuclear explosive devices. Even if you destroy the machinery that makes that possible, that knowledge will not be erased.
Is there any indication that the international community would support an enriched uranium swap between Iran and Turkey?
Last I heard, the Turkey proposal was still being considered by the United States. Turkey is seen as less problematic than Russia. It’s another Muslim country. The Turks and Iranians are significant trading partners. They have cultural links. In some areas of Iran, Turkish is the first language. Diplomatically, the Turkish government’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has talked a lot about double standards among members of the NPT.
Of U.N. Security Council members, the United States favors sanctions against Iran, while Russia and China oppose them. Would sanctions force Iran to change?
If I were advising the president on this topic, I would allow the situation in Iran to continue to unfold, pursue and facilitate the swap of enriched uranium vis-à-vis Turkey, and pursue limited sanctions with a view to targeting Iranian officials rather than the Iranian public in general.
Iran is in a situation where the regime is increasingly isolated. It’s important that we move forward in a deliberate, but not foolhardy, manner in order to keep the Russians and the Chinese on board.
Is a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities a viable option? Would Israel consider going it alone?
Most people that I know that follow Iran closely are certainly persuaded that a military attack on Iran is unlikely to solve the problem.
From the technical military standpoint, it would be difficult for Israel to do it without some U.S. assistance. Even if Israel could do it on its own, the United States would be blamed for helping Israel. Israel would have to fly across Iraq, but the United States controls that air space. So Israel needs permission from Iraq and the United States, and it is unlikely both would occur.
Ahmadinejad says he doesn’t want to withdraw from the NPT, yet he plans to build another 10 uranium enrichment plants. What do you make of these mixed messages?
It’s impossible for them to rapidly expand to 10 plants. So that is more in the fantasy realm. It seems to me that it’s a posturing more than something likely to happen anytime soon. Iran certainly cannot claim to have adhered to the NPT, because it has clearly cheated and hidden developments from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran really can’t claim clean hands.
The Iranians have learned from the Iraqi experience. Iraq had all its nuclear development at one site. What the Iranians have done is spread the thing all over the country. Any attack is marginal in effect. You might knock off a hubcap, but the wheels and the bumper are someplace else.
France gets more than 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, but no one suggests shutting down its plants. Why does the international community demand control over Iran’s uranium enrichment?
I think the answer simply has to do with the relationship in the world today and the fact that Iran is seen as a major challenger to the status quo. I think that Iran is certainly pursuing roles as the major rival to the United States in the Middle East.
The Iranian regime, however distasteful it may be, is not crazy. It’s not a regime likely to commit suicide. Despite things about the regime people may not like, I still think their behavior is rational and they are deterrable. Ultimately, it’s likely that Iran is going to be able to develop its own alternative nuclear program and will be able to develop nuclear weapons.
Still, the regime in Iran is in big trouble. There’s a lot of popular discontent. The legitimacy of the regime is very much in question. If that continues, I think that’s going to be an increasing limitation on the regime.
Leslie Friday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments