POMED Notes: High Stakes and Hard Choices: U.S. Policy on Iran
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on U.S. foreign policy options pertaining to Iran. The speakers were the Honorable Thomas R. Pickering, former under Secretary of State for political affairs and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, General James E. Cartwright,
former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr. Karim Sadjadpour, senior associate at the Middle East Program Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) presided.
For the full text of notes, continue reading below or click here for the PDF
John Kerry opened the hearing saying that Iran presents the biggest foreign policy challenge to the U.S. at present. An ongoing mutual antagonism between the countries, Iran support of terrorist organizations, and a Middle East region rivalry between Iran and its neighbors, are reasons Kerry cited for the difficulties in establishing a dialogue over Iran’s nuclear program – the chief perceived threat to the U.S. and its allies. The sanctions that have been imposed on Iran by the U.S., E.U. and SWIFT have been effective in making activities increasing difficult inside the country, but these have not stopped the nuclear program, and sanctions alone will not curtail Iran’s nuclear ambition. The Senator believes the U.S. should engage in “hard nose diplomacy,” and present Iran a choice in moving forward; either Iran can remain an outlier crippled by sanctions, or it can embrace a new Middle East, one which would include comprehensive inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Kerry does not view the P5+1 talks overly optimistically, as “three decades of hostility will not be alleviated by one meeting,” but he does believe diplomacy needs to be given “space.” Overall, Kerry believes a solution needs to be found that accommodates both sides, but also ensures the international community that Iran cannot make a “mad dash” for a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so.
Dick Lugar (R-IN) said that the direct threat Iran presents to the U.S., Israel, and other allies still persists, and Iran’s progression with a nuclear program could lead to a nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East. Lugar wanted to know if there were a range of sanctions that could be imposed that would stop Iran’s nuclear program, and as sanctions are the cornerstone of U.S. policy towards Iran, whether they are working to stop the program.
Thomas R. Pickering gave an in-depth overview of the diplomatic situation concerning Iran, and provided multiple suggestions that could aid in the diplomatic process. While Pickering expressed concern of Iran’s upgraded equipment, that could lead to a “break out” if it decides to progress with a nuclear weapon, he views the P5+1 talks as a straight forward way to improve diplomacy. In this regard, Pickering believes Iran has already shown its willingness to cooperate in the upcoming talks, as it has improved its cooperation with the IAEA, and the Fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against nuclear weapons. In Pickering’s opinion, the previous talks with Iran have failed because they all amount to “one night stands,” meaning once the talks are concluded, both parties go their separate ways.
There are two courses of actions the U.S. can take towards the Iranian nuclear program. Either the U.S. can do nothing and allow Iran to continue its program unmolested – which Pickering does not feel is a good option – or the U.S. can respond with military action – something where the risks far outweigh the advantages. Therefore, it is necessary to incorporate diplomacy, and take advantage of the sanctions before the leverage is exhausted. Pickering proposed that if Iran ceased enriching to 20 percent the P5+1 should help Iran obtain fuel for medical isotopes; moreover, if Iran traded all its 20 percent enriched uranium they would be given 100 kilos of fuel. After these conciliatory measures, sanctions should be lifted on Iran’s central bank and crude exports to coincide with the embedding of IAEA inspectors throughout Iran. The end game to the Iranian nuclear program should have them acquiesce to no “bomb making,” inspectors to control and prevent such action with enrichment at 5 percent, and for the international community to stop the sanctions against Iran.
James E. Cartwright agreed with everything Pickering previously stated, but stressed that all military options must remain on the table. Whereas nation states seek nuclear weapons for a shield, terrorist use nuclear weapons as a sword; in this regard Iran is troubling. If Iran is afforded the opportunity to create nuclear weapons, Cartwright does not feel they will use them themselves, but it is conceivable the weapons could be “franchised” out to terrorist organizations. If a nuclear weapons program progresses to the later stages, such as the creation of delivery systems, the program will become more visible to monitor in the progressing stages, but outside sources could interrupt the timeline and speed up the process.
Karim Sadjadpour said that Iran’s opposition to the U.S. has metastasized to become a central point of the regime. As Khamenei has moved Iran to a one party system that favors the status quo, Sadjadpour stated that recent events will not convince Khamenei to readily give up a nuclear weapons program. Where Muammar Gaddaf gave up his nuclear program and made himself an easy target for intervention in 2011, Pakistan’s development and detonation of a nuclear weapon caused the international community to lessen its pressure. It is imperative the U.S. provide Khamenei an exit path, and through dialogue establish well known “red-lines.” The U.S. needs to focus on supporting independent media and communication freedoms of the Iranian, attempting to provide that as a catalyst for change, such as how Al-Jazeera was instrumental in the Arab Spring.
In the question and answer session, Kerry asked Sadjadpour if Israel would allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon; regardless the stance of the U.S. Sadjadpour said Iran offers conciliatory gestures to stave off aggression, with the overarching goal of self-preservation. A limited strike from Israel could be considered a “net positive” for Iran, as it could strengthen nationalistic desires and garner sympathy from the international community. Sadjadpour responded to Lugar about the Voice of America (VOA), stating that it should transition to a public private entity, such as the BBC. The goal of the VOA should be to provide information to Iranians about U.S. policy and limit the Regime’s control on information. Pickering added that the U.S. should not tell what Iranians to think, but instead the U.S. should focus on opening up Internet access and allow Iranians to create their own opinions.
Sadjadpour extrapolated on the “net positive” Iran could receive from an Israeli strike to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Whereas some in Israel feel that bombing Iran to keep their nuclear weapons program at bay, i.e. “mowing the grass,” is an agreeable situation this could harden Iran’s resolve to develop weapons capability, while expediting the process. Cartwright responded to Bob Corker (R-TN) that the lesson Iran learned from Libya is that nuclear weapons guarantees sovereignty; and while Iran will not win in an outright nuclear war, “franchising” weapons allows for blackmailing and undermining global peace. Sadjadpour said that Khameni is in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Khameni feels the U.S. is determined to not only end the nuclear program but also to end the regime the Obama Administration views that the only way to make headway in ceasing the nuclear program is for a change in the regime. Cartwright closed on the importance of dialogue, and making sure that “redlines” are clearly established and maintained for credibility.