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Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the West has struggled to understand the Islamic Republic and how to deal with it. The authors of a new primer on Iran’s history, politics, economy, military and foreign policy say the stakes — and consequences — are now greater than ever. Fifty seasoned experts – half from iran and half from the west – describe how Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, disputed 2009 election, increasing violations of basic human rights, and angry rhetoric are generating deeper hostilities with the outside world than at any time since the revolution’s early days. Three of them join Diane to discuss what lies ahead in light of recent Wikileaked documents.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. The European Union says Iran has agreed to resume negotiations with Western powers over its nuclear program in Geneva next week. The announcement comes on the heels of secret memos released by Wikileaks citing deep concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions by its neighbors.
MS. DIANE REHMA new "Primer" published by the U.S. Institute of Peace offers context and analysis of the Islamic Republic's relationship with the West. Three of the contributing experts join me in the studio, editor Robin Wright from the USIP and the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security. Do join us 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning.
MR. KARIM SADJADPOURGood morning.
MR. DAVID ALBRIGHTGood morning.
REHMRobin Wright, what do you make of this announcement that in fact Iran is going back to the table next week?
WRIGHTWell, this is the first time in more than a year that the European Union and the United States will sit down with Iran, so it's a very important juncture. It also comes amidst a lot of talk about Iran's progress in uranium enrichment and where its nuclear program may be headed. And this is a moment at which they have to sort out if they can come up with an agreement that will give the international community a sense of confidence that Iran is not weaponizing or is taking steps to assure and convince or prove to the world that it isn't? And if not, then we're headed for a real challenge in terms of what will we do and does that mean that the U.S. moves for more sanctions at the United Nations and what might Israel do in terms of the so-called military option?
REHMKarim Sadjadpour, do you see any connection between the Wikileaks release and Iran's agreement to go back to the table which was just announced this morning?
SADJADPOURI don't think there's a connection between the two. They've long been quibbling -- the various sides have long been quibbling about the dates of when these negotiations should happen and the location, but I think that certainly it further complicates the atmosphere of negotiations. And I think also the midterm elections -- the results of the midterm elections in the United States also somewhat I would argue curtailed the likelihood of successful negotiations because you now have the Obama administration with arguably less diplomatic room to maneuver on one side.
SADJADPOURSo I think the United States is going to be limited in terms of what it can offer Iran and I think Iran's modus operandi is always that you -- you never compromise when you're under pressure and they see these Wikileaks as an example of American psychological pressure. So I think, you know, unfortunately, the likelihood of some type of a major diplomatic breakthrough, I would put as pretty slim.
REHMDavid Albright, what's your view? Is there likely to be anything significant to come out of these new negotiations?
ALBRIGHTI think it's significant that they'll talk. I don't expect very much. One hopes that there isn't a one-day meeting, that they will set up a process similar to what's been done in North Asia, a sort of set of negotiations some of which can be conducted in secret. Some of which would be more formal, but that the process itself would start and last and then in that longer process maybe some of these problems can be dealt with, but in the short run, I'm not very optimistic.
REHMDavid Albright, he is a physicist, a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector and the president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Robin Wright, in what ways is "The Iran Primer" a living project?
WRIGHTWell, it's very innovative in terms of what we've tried to do with it. Half the project is a book, for which we brought together 50 of the world's top experts on Iran and deliberately tried to get a cross section of opinions. Now, the book is all fact and analysis, no opinions, but we wanted to bring together 20 foreign think tanks and eight universities. We have either the national security advisor or the senior Iran official in the last six administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
WRIGHTSo we bring everyone together to write about these critical issues. The second half of the project is actually online. The whole book we've put online free, available because we felt it was so important to be able to educate Americans in the run-up to a crisis not after the fact. And the website is updating almost every day with a new contribution, a new piece of analysis by one of the 50 authors, so it's organic. We're like the universe, we're constantly expanding.
REHMGive me the website that people can go to.
WRIGHTIt is iranprimer.com
REHMGood, simple, easy, straightforward. Karim Sadjadpour, the book talks about the fact that Iran represents a far more complex challenge than almost any other that the U.S. faces. How so?
SADJADPOURWell, when you look at Iran from the White House, you see that, for example, if you look at major U.S. foreign policy challenges, half a dozen things immediately come to mind, Afghanistan, Iraq, nuclear proliferation, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, terrorism and energy security. You look at these six issues individually and what binds them is the fact that Iran is integral to every single one of them given Iran's long borders with Afghanistan and Iraq. It's going to be very difficult to stabilize those two countries absent and more cooperative, given Iran's vast energy resources, it's integral to energy security given its leverage over groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. It's made itself integral to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
SADJADPOURSo I think that you no longer can, from the vantage point of U.S. foreign policy, we no longer have the luxury of simply ignoring Iran and I think the Obama administration quickly realized that military engagement with Iran would exacerbate every single one of those issues. And the option they were left with is trying to engage, try to talk to Iran, but even that hasn't proved terribly successful.
REHMAnd of course, President Obama came into office saying he would be willing to sit down with the leaders of Iran and yet politically, that has been a very difficult thing to have happen. David.
ALBRIGHTYeah, no, it is and I think the, I would lay the blame more on Iran than the United States. I think Obama has shown an openness and he has made it clear that he's pursuing a dual track approach and he's going to engage, negotiate, but he also promised to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and I think that's happening. And certainly, that complicates negotiations, but I think the idea is that if Iran isn't willing to compromise and solve this problem to the satisfaction of the international community, then the pressure...
ALBRIGHT...well the pressure will increase and the risk of...
REHMWell, what kind of pressure is there left to bring to bear?
ALBRIGHTWell, there's many more sanctions. I mean, I would expect there'll be, there may not. The emphasis will not be on military strikes, but there could be other kinds of strikes against Iran. I mean the Stuxnet's Worm could very well be...
REHMTell me about that?
ALBRIGHT...foreshadowing the future where you -- I know in the U.S. government, a lot of effort is being made to, in essence, delay the Iranian nuclear program particularly its centrifuge program. And I imagine that there'll be even more actions that would try to interfere in the operations of these plants. I mean, everyone does want to avoid military options and -- but what does that leave then if Iran doesn't want to negotiate? You have to increase the efforts that are going to delay the program.
ALBRIGHTAnd another example would be sabotaging equipment. I mean, we've seen examples of that already. The Iranians have talked about at least one case of sabotage and you now have the world much more united against Iran. They clearly see that the Iranian program is in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Iran goes around the world shopping illegally in many countries to buy things for its Gas Centrifuge Program and the barriers among companies and other governments to cooperate in trying to essence sabotage the program, I think, are going to be coming down.
WRIGHTOne of the biggest problems for the United States is that for Iran, the nuclear issue is no longer just about the nuclear issue. It's become totally wrapped up in domestic politics that in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election and the split inside that the nuclear program and what the regime does about it has become a political football. It's a means of not only the opposition, but even conservatives in the regime who don't like President Ahmadinejad to lash out and disagree with any step he might take.
WRIGHTFor example, the last time we sat down at the table with the Iranians in October last year, the president's delegation agreed with the package offered by the United States and the European Union only to have a few days later, the regime turn around and say, well, in fact, we don't accept it. And that reflected the split even then. And since then, the split has only gotten deeper and so the Iranian nuclear program has become enmeshed in what is happening internally inside Iran.
REHMRobin Wright is a former Washington Post diplomatic correspondent. She's a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Karim Sadjadpour is at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, David Albright is the president of the Institute for Science and International Security. We're talking about "The Iran Primer," a new living publication. You can go to drshow.org and find the link to "The Iran Primer." And when we come back, we'll talk about the challenges facing the U.S.
REHMWe're talking about a new publication and Robin Wright, who is the editor of the book, has called it a living document. It is being posted on the web at iranprimer.org. You...
REHM.Com, okay. Sorry, but you can go to drshow.org and link to it. It is, as she calls it, a living document designed to change, to update as new information becomes available. Want to ask you about, because one of our callers is concerned if the assassination of some of Iran's physicists has had an effect on Iran's willingness to talk.
SADJADPOURWell, I think, Diane, we still don't have enough information about why these assassinations have happened and who was behind them. Last year, there was an assassination of Iranian physicists and immediately, people jumped up and blamed the United States and Israel. But 24 hours later, it was revealed that that physicist had a lot of sympathy and close ties with the Iranian opposition, so I think before we know information about the background of these physicists and the political proclivities we can only speculate.
REHMWhat do you think, Robin?
WRIGHTWell, look, the information we've had in the last 24 hours since the attack on two physicists in Tehran, one who was killed and one who was injured indicate that they are, according to U.S. government officials, involved in Iran's nuclear program in some capacity. We don't know what capacity, but what's really striking is that they were such brazen attacks in broad daylight involving motorcycles, putting explosives on cars as they were driving. I mean, this is something that for anyone who's been to Tehran knows is not the -- is a -- this is a place with a lot of security and so the ability to carry out these attacks is in some ways stunning.
REHMHow deeply affected would the nuclear power program be by the deaths or the assassination of these individuals, David?
ALBRIGHTIt's hard to judge. I mean, the two -- one that was killed yesterday and the one that was wounded, I mean, were, according to the Iranians, key officials. One is a guy name of Dr. Abbasi-Davani was a very senior official in the nuclear program that's linked to the nuclear weaponization program. He's been listed under U.N. Security Council sanctions. And he is listed there as close to a man named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who is kind of a poster child for Iran's work on nuclear weapons. And the international specters have wanted to speak to him for several years and Iran's denied it.
ALBRIGHTAnd in fact, if Iran does build nuclear weapons, Fakhrizadeh may be viewed as the father of the Iranian atomic bomb. One thing that's interesting about Dr. Abasi-Davani is that in his publications he's linked to work -- certain types of work that is part of the nuclear -- could be linked to a nuclear weapons component, that some countries in the last couple of years has said has been a bottleneck in Iran's effort to actually build and deploy a nuclear weapon.
REHMI wonder if you were surprised to learn of U.S. assessments that Iran was getting materials from North Korea to help construct this nuclear power program?
ALBRIGHTWell, they're getting help on missiles, there's no doubt about that. The links on nuclear are a little more tenuous and certainly to worry about a great deal, particularly now that North Korea has been seen building a gas centrifuge plant. And so there's a lot of technology transfer or cooperation that could happen now and you have to worry about that. The Wikileaks are mostly about missile transfers. Troubling, very troubling. And also showing that China is just not doing its job. It's not fulfilling its obligations to enforce its own laws to stop these kinds of retransfers through its country or to stop the purchase by Iran of missile related goods inside China. And China is a signatory to the U.N. sanctions...
ALBRIGHT...and it's simply not enforcing them.
REHM...so from your point of view, there is significant new information about Iran and its relationships to other countries that's come through these Wikileaks releases?
ALBRIGHTPossibly. I mean, on the complete missiles that were -- U.S. claims were transferred from North Korea to Iran, yeah, that could be very significant. I mean, Russia denies the missile exists, so there's some controversy over it. But there's certainly a lot of new detail about how North Korea's helping Iran.
SADJADPOUROne thing that struck me, Diane, by the Wikileaks is how Iranian diplomacy under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been so terribly mismanaged. When you read the various cables that are coming through from American political conversations with Europeans, Chinese, Russians, Turks, certainly Arab countries, you see how few friends Iran has in the world apart from North Korea and perhaps Syria. It's a country which has really alienated much of the world and there's been a lot of talk about the United States fanning the military flames towards Iran, but when you read these cables, you see that Arab concerns about Iran are far more acute than not only the United States, but also Israel.
SADJADPOURWell, the king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for many years has been imploring the United States to attack Iran. That was something that many people, I think, thought was an open secret, but I think there were other revelations, which I found quite striking. The smaller Persian Gulf (word?), the King of Bahrain, for example, also encouraging the U.S. military attack on Iran. Some of the smaller Gulf countries like Qatar, the Qatari prime minister describes Qatar's relationship with Iran as one in which, they lie to us and we lie to them. So you see this that is a country which really unsettles its neighbors and has almost gratuitously created adversaries for itself throughout the world.
REHMBut who is creating those adversaries? Is it Ahmadinejad or is it Rafsanjani or is it -- who is it?
SADJADPOURI would put the (word?) as predominantly on President Ahmadinejad. I think that if we rewind 10 years to the era of the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, whose mantra was calling for a dialogue of civilizations and wanting to push for cultural and political reforms, it would've been much more difficult for the United States to isolate Iran in the world the way it is now. But I think that right now, I would argue that the best ally the American government has in isolating Iran is President Ahmadinejad because he has an uncanny ability to lose friends and alienate people.
REHMWell, losing friends and alienating people is also worrying a great deal of the world. So what alternatives does the U.S. have, Robin Wright?
WRIGHTWell, I think the Obama Administration has made it clear that it is not interested in a military option and I think President Obama is likely to do everything he can to avoid it, including trying to convince the Israelis not to engage. The timeframe or the ticking clock, as they call it, is set in different numbers for the Israelis and the United States. We have a longer timeline in terms of when Iran may cross a threshold than the Israelis do. And the problem is they also -- Iran also has enough knowledge that even if there were a military strike, they still have enough knowledge that they could reconstruct. And that's the old saying about, you can't bomb knowledge.
WRIGHTBut if these talks don't produce something, and they're not likely to, then the U.S. does have to look at what sanctions -- and then we get into the very messy issue of gas and oil and that's something that the Chinese particularly are not interested in. They now get at least 12 percent of their oil from Iran. That's important to their industrialization development and it's one of the fastest growing economies in the world. That this is something that we may have gone almost as far as we can in getting consensus among the five permanent members of the Security Council.
REHMCan it be argued that sanctions would help the situation, Karim?
SADJADPOURI don't think so, Diane. I think that the way I look at sanctions is that the way the United States government has framed sanctions is to say that we're trying to pressure Iran, coerce Iran into making certain nuclear compromises, moderating its foreign policy. I don't see that as a strong likelihood, not because sanctions aren't hurting Iran, but because this Iranian government has long shown itself willing to subject its population to severe economic hardship rather than compromise on its political and ideological aims.
SADJADPOURBut one thing you can't argue about sanctions is that it can play a role in slowing down Iran's nuclear progress. And I think that if you compare where Iran is now in terms of its nuclear program to last year, one could argue they haven't made a whole lot of forward progress and that's partly attributed to the effectiveness of sanctions.
WRIGHTI think the area where Iran is most vulnerable is its economy. And it's not sanctions, per say, that's going to make any difference, at least what we've got in place so far, but where Iran is vulnerable, the kind of banking restrictions we've put on. It's really hard to do business for Iranians, whether it's the government or just the business community. Now, the government has more resources with which to go around the rules, deal with small banks, pay a higher price and so forth, but the financial restrictions for the first time we've ever experimented with this over the last two years has been extremely effective.
WRIGHTAnd the thing that's so interesting is Iran has been in the midst of this year trying to impose new economic reforms. The boldest thing they've done in 30 years to remove subsidies that actually give the average family more income than the income they make from their own jobs. In subsidies for fuel, food stuffs and so forth. They've been pledging to start the removal of these for months now, but they haven't for fear of a political backlash. And this given inflation and all the kind of other economic volatilities in Iran have made the regime particularly vulnerable. And so while Karim's right on sanctions, per say, the economic issue is the one where down the road this is likely to be the biggest combustible element inside Iran.
REHMCombustible as far as Ahmadinejad is concerned. His irrationality would seem to ignore that kind of sanction, that kind of pressure. How do you think it might work, David?
ALBRIGHTWell, what is -- we have lessons of other countries. I mean, sanctions to be effective, they're really more like a tax on the system politically and economically and it takes time for them to add. I think one difference in the case of Iran and the Wikileaks are going to help this is that there are countries that aren't enforcing the sanctions. And Iran's going to those, but the number of those countries is diminishing. And that's different than in other cases. And now China's the big issue and China may still want the oil, but does it want the continuing embarrassment of things in the Wikileaks about helping Iran get missiles that could threaten Europe and Russia potentially. Does it want to have its companies helping Iran get the equipment it needs to build its secret nuclear sites?
REHMDavid Albright, he's a physicist, former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now. First to Detroit, Mich. Good morning, John. Thanks for joining us.
JOHNThank you for your show. Just a -- I'm trying to understand the targeting of the one or two or three missiles that they may have. They point out various places in Europe, southern Italy or even Russia, I've heard mentioned given the radius of the potential of the rockets or their missiles. Why would they bomb any particular target except -- I understand the antagonism between Israel, the United States and Britain and Iran, but the other places in Europe, I don't understand the motivation for their thought of doing that.
ALBRIGHTI think the only motivation they could have is just to keep those countries under some kind of threat to try to reduce their political willingness to confront Iran. And I don't think Iran's thought through all this. I think right now, it's in a phase of kind of gathering its capabilities and trying to expand its capabilities. I mean, one possibility, let's say it doesn't wanna target Germany, but it may want the missile that could target Germany from North Korea in order to reverse engineer the parts to give it a more advanced missile that may be better -- more useful in the Middle East context.
WRIGHTOne of the important things to understand about Iran's missile program -- and we have a whole chapter in the book about it, it's riveting -- is that Iran basically has a very limited air force and hasn't been able to buy parts for some of the American warplanes they bought dating back to the '70s during the Shah's era and so it has turned to missiles as its alternative to an air force. And so that's one of the reasons its focus is so much on missiles, but the current estimate is that it couldn't attack the United States and some of the longer ranges for another decade. And that's the best case scenario for Iran. But again, I'm not convinced that they actually intend to attack anyone. It's largely for defensive purposes as that looming threat.
REHMAll right. To Columbia, Mo. Good morning, Melinda.
MELINDAGood morning, Diane. I appreciate this conversation because I have been attuned to Iran and the problem, and I find that every time Hillary Clinton opens her mouth, she is threatening Iran. Everyone is threatening Iran. How would we feel if we were threatened? We might want to have a defense system. I mean, Pakistan is -- has nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, the United States is in. Iraq is not friendly and as far as the Arab people and the Shiites there, they are dictators, they're in our pockets and they also are afraid. If you listen to the people, 77 percent feel is real and the United States are a danger to them. And they're Sunni and they essentially are afraid of losing their power. They think the Shiites may take over, but Iran has never been an expansionist country.
REHMAll right. Karim.
SADJADPOUROne thing I did find interesting about the Wikileaks, Diane, is that if you came from outer space and you read these cables, you would think that there are two super powers on the planet earth today. One is the United States and the other is Iran. And a little perspective is useful here, too. When you look at military expenditures, for example, Iran's military expenditures are about $9 billion. The United States is about $650 billion, so less than 2 percent that of the United States.
SADJADPOUREven if you look at it in a regional context, Iran's military expenditures are about a quarter of that of Saudi Arabia. So certainly, it's not a superpower. It doesn't pose the same type of threat that the Soviet Union poses, but in the context of domestic U.S. politics, Iran and in particular President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pushes the worst possible buttons with denial of the holocaust, blaming America for September 11, calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. And it presents a -- it's a political conundrum domestically for the United States.
REHMKarim Sadjadpour, he's at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We'll take a short break. More of your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAs we talk about Iran and the challenges it poses to the U.S., here's an e-mail from Brattleboro, Vt. from Lesik who says, "Does your panel believe that having the EU involved in these negotiations with Iran is just a way for all parties to pretend that there is some real negotiating going on when in fact, it's just theatre, specifically EU's purported foreign policy arm, the EAS, does not speak for any of its 27 member states, each of whom has its own diplomatic service and accompanying foreign policy interests and policies. In short, how legitimate are these EU U.S. Iran talks?" Karim.
SADJADPOURWell, Diane, I think the EU can be a useful political barometer. Let me give you a personal example. A few years ago, when I would travel to Europe and speak to European officials about U.S. policy and Iran policy, they would oftentimes complain more about Washington's unwillingness to engage Iran, rather than Iran intransigents. This was during the Bush administration. And I just came back now from a 10-day trip to Europe and I've noticed that EU popular opinion, but also official opinion, I think, has changed significantly.
SADJADPOURThere's far more criticism of Iranian intransigents, Iran's unwillingness to reciprocate the Obama administration's overtures and at a popular level, in the aftermath of the contested Iranian presidential elections last year and popular uprisings in Iran, some of the brutality, which Europeans witness on the television screens, there's far less sympathy for Iran's position than, say, there was three years ago.
REHMWhat about our own elections, our own Republican move back into power, how is that likely to affect even preliminary talks with Iran? Robin.
WRIGHTWell, it's going to certainly impact the latitude the Obama administration will have in offering a kind of package that would create that win/win scenario that Karim has talked about as the only way the Iranians are likely to buy into a formula, to be able to take it home and get the support from a very divided political community. And so there's already pressure for tougher action from the hill, so I think that with a Republican -- more Republican Congress coming in, that we're likely to see calls for limits on what the Obama administration and then followed by tougher action.
WRIGHTBut in terms of the European community, I think you have to remember that the talks on Monday and Tuesday are back not just by the European Union. This has the endorsement of the six world powers. We're talking China, Russian, the United States and the three major European powers. This is not just the European Union stepping in and saying, you know, we'll engage with U.S. diplomats. And everyone knows that the real talks that are going on in the -- looming on the sidelines in the background is between the Unites States and Iran. This is really the context to get these two countries that have not dealt with each other seriously or managed to make any progress for 30 years.
REHMLet's go now to Turique in Fairfax, Va. Good morning, you're on the air. Turique.
REHMYes, go right ahead, sir.
TURIQUEGood morning, Diane. What I'm -- I have a point here. President Ahmadinejad is 85 percent (word?) Arabs street and Arabs street, this important Iran nuclear, of course, because of Israel and there was a big question mark, why Israel get the nuclear, why is not the Iran? I think this war is a White House war, it's not American war. I don't think Iranian, if they have the nuclear, they trade to American, they just trade to Israel.
SADJADPOURWell, a friend of mine, Diane, (word?) always likes to say that, those who love Ahmadinejad the most have one thing in common and that is they don't live in Iran. And as Turique pointed out, he's far more popular on the Arab street than he is the Iranian street. But I think -- I always go back to something that one of President Bush's former speech writers, David Frum, once told me, he said that, you can enrich uranium and you can for Israel to be wiped off the map, but you can't do both at the same time. And in the context of domestic American politics, Turique is right that Iran would be able to get away with its nuclear ambitions much easier if it simply changed it approach toward Israel, but it's unwilling to do that.
ALBRIGHTWell, the -- let me pass (unintelligible).
REHMAll right. Go ahead, Robin.
WRIGHTI -- the -- one of the things that Turique talked about was 85 percent of the streets. One of the things we...
WRIGHT...learned from the Wikileaks is that sentiment is not shared by probably the majority of Arab leaders, be it Hasni Mubarak in Egypt or the Gulf leaders who face Iran across a small waterway and one of the interesting dynamics is to what degree is there a serious divide among the regimes and their own people and that puts pressure on -- that's one of the reasons you haven't seen a lot of these leaders take public position and why these cables actually gave us greater insight on where they really stand.
REHMHere's and e-mail from Jonathon here in Washington, who says, "Why can't the U.S., Israeli and NATO coordinated forces hit Iranian security forces so hard militarily and financially that the government is weak enough for revolt from within? What do we lose all at once that isn't being lost over years as Iran creeps closer, ever closer to nuclear weaponization?" David.
ALBRIGHTWell, one is lots -- thousands of civilians killed. I mean, it's a -- it would be a costly endeavor to do what that person is -- or Jonathon is talking about. There's no easy way to take out Iran's nuclear program. We don't even know where all the sites are, Israel doesn't know where all the sites are and unfortunately, a Gas Centrifuge Program is not a nuclear reactor. Iran can build them by the thousands and it may have already built many just as a back-up, stored someplace that we don't know about. And if bombed, you could actually have the unfortunate consequence, you could speed up the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran if you miss these sites and it's almost guaranteed, based on other experiences, that they will be missed.
REHMAnd here's a connecting question, "Do your guests believe Iran would be quite the problem it is today if the U.S. had not removed Saddam Hussein from Iraq as counterweight?" Robin.
WRIGHTIt's a very good question. And of course, the U.S. policy was always based on balancing Iran and Iraq. And in fact, the United States bettered relations with Saddam Hussein in the '80s when Iran was doing better in the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, in part to make sure that that balance was sustained. And once Saddam Hussein was gone, that automatically improved Iran's security and of course, Afghanistan as well, removing the Taliban, whom the Iranians hated more than they hate us -- or the regime hated.
WRIGHTAnd the danger of a military strike, frankly, is that because we have a strong military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, we put American troops at risk and you'd have to take out not just nuclear -- suspected nuclear facilities, you'd actually have to probably hit forward military bases on either of those borders, you'd have to engage in a much, much larger military operation than simply dealing with a nuclear program in order to ensure that there wasn't retaliation against American deployments in Iran's two neighboring countries.
REHMAnd now to Haverhill, Mass. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning, Diane.
RICHARDWhat a great -- what a great panel. Let me ask you -- the panel, if Iran had a secular government right now, do you think they would still want to have -- be a nuclear power? You know, if memory serves me well, I go back to Kissinger and Nixon when the Shah was in power. I think they kind of encouraged him to maybe develop nuclear weapons? Also, when did the animosity between Israel and Iran develop? Was it after the revolution? 'Cause I think they always had fairly good relationships.
SADJADPOURIt's a great question. I think one could argue that if Iran had a secular government today, they would also be considering the nuclear option. They live in a dangerous neighborhood. You look -- especially, I think, Pakistan is a country which isn't often mentioned as a threat to Iran, but it's a country on their border with many nuclear weapons and it's unstable. It's a Sunni country, which you read about almost on a weekly basis, there's massacres against Shiites. Iran is a Shiite country. So I think that certainly if Iran had a secular government, they would probably be considering the nuclear option as well.
SADJADPOURAnd the question about Israel is also an interesting one because the caller is right, that before the Revolution, Iran had a very close relationship, strategic relationship with Israel. There was Iranian diplomats in Tel Aviv, there was Israeli diplomats in Tel Aviv, there was Israeli diplomats in Iran. And after the Revolution, Iran has really kind of carried the banner of popular Muslim enmity toward Israel and I would argue that if you look at the world view of Iran's current leadership, there's three symbolic pillars left of the 1979 Revolution. One is enmity towards the United States, another is enmity toward Israel and the third is the hijab, the symbol of Islamic piety. And I think of those three symbolic pillars, the one that's probably going to be the last to go is this animosity toward Israel.
WRIGHTOne of the interesting things about Iran is that it actually has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East, outside of Israel. And I've actually been to synagogues, kosher butchers, a Jewish school. It's very much involved in...
WRIGHT...in Iran and there's still a very important economic component in the carpet industry and so -- and one of the members of Iran's parliament is Jewish, allocated by the "Constitution," just as there are for three Christians and one's (word?) name for the religious minorities.
REHMBut do these Jewish individuals live comfortably or do they live with worries?
WRIGHTAbsolutely with worries. And the majority of them have left since the Revolution because they feel a real -- you know, dangers to their personal safety. What's striking is that so many of them have actually stayed, but this goes back to a question about secular and nuclear intentions. I often say that if you wanna understand Persian nationalism, think of the most chauvinistic Texan you've ever met and then add 5,000 years. There is a sense of very strong nationalism and in a neighborhood where we have five of the nuclear powers, this is the Persians, the Iranians feel tremendously threatened to their national identity and so one of the reasons whoever is in power has an interest in any kind of weapon that will defend the nation or threaten other who might threaten them is to look at a nuclear program.
REHMThanks for your call, Richard. To Delray Beach, Fla. Hi, Tim.
TIMThank you, Diane. Thank you for inviting me on the show.
TIMI just have a question, here in America, we tend to take the comments of Arab leaders who support military strikes on Iran by either the United States or Israel as widespread support throughout other Arab countries for what we're doing, however, we leave out the conversation is that there's a disconnect. Arab leaders say one thing and do one thing, but Arab citizens are completely different. So this I will pose to a (word?) resource center report that was issued earlier this year, cannot recall the date or the title of it at this time, however, it goes completely different.
TIMI mean, the sentiments are completely different. Whereas here in America, we -- I'll put it this way. The citizens -- Arab citizens view the U.S. and Israel as enemies, not Iran, whereas Arab leaders, on the other hand, who have the best interest of staying in power view Iran as an enemy.
REHMAll right. Tim, thanks for your call. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Karim.
SADJADPOURWell, that's a valid point, that there is a disconnect between Arab public opinion toward Iran and Iran's nuclear program and Arab official opinion now, which is much, much more concerned. I oftentimes think that Iran is to the Middle East what the Tea Party is to the United States in the sense that Iran's stock in the region goes the highest when people feel most outrage. Arabs feel most politically marginalized, economically disenfranchised and outrage especially towards the policies of the United States and Israel, that's when Iran's ideology resonates the loudest.
SADJADPOURSo one could argue that Iran doesn't have real incentive in seeing the Middle East and the Arab world improve its economic prospects and improve the prospects of peace and stability 'cause it's not necessarily in their interest. Their ideology doesn't resonate in that type of atmosphere as much.
REHMWe've talked a fair amount about sanctions, what kinds of sanctions. The question becomes to what extent could Iran endure or withstand the kinds of sanctions, monetary or otherwise, that are being proposed. Robin.
WRIGHTWell, Iran has done fairly well in surviving economically so far and I remember when I was in Iran last year, I was struck by that the economy was in some ways better shape than it was in Dubai, where I went after Iran. Course, Iran was in the middle -- I mean, Dubai was in the middle of a tremendous economic slump, so it has managed to survive. But the question is how long will the average person endure?
WRIGHTThere has been long standing frustration over economic conditions, the fact that people work two, in some cases three jobs just to make ends meet and at what point -- particularly because of the people power demonstration last year that, you know, hundreds of thousands turned out on this -- on streets of cities throughout Iran sporadically for a period of six months. This demonstrated that there is bubbling underneath the surface a strong opposition dynamic. It has been quelled brutally by the regime almost for a year now, but with the kind of economic hardships down the road, because of the subsidies issue, how vulnerable will Iran be? And that's the biggest question, actually.
SADJADPOURRobin is absolutely right and I think that's it's useful to point out that Iranian popular opinion is different than Cubic -- Cuban public opinion, for example. If you go to Cuba, you talk to Cubans, they oftentimes will site sanctions, American sanctions, the U.S. embargo as a reason for their economic malaise. And when you talk to Iranians, the years I spent in Iran talking to people about this issue, the vast majority of Iranians will sight economic malaise and lack of economic dignity as the chief problem they face. And when you ask them why, it's very rare that people will say, it's because of U.S. sanctions. Overwhelmingly, they sight corruption and governmental mismanagement.
REHMInteresting, interesting. Well, I'm glad yours is a living document, Robin. Good luck with it. Robin Wright, she's a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center, Karim Sadjadpour is a regular contributor to the BBC, CNN, NPR, PPS News Hour, David Albright is former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. We've been talking about "The Iran Primer." You can go to iranprimer.com and see it online. Thank you all.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.
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