Iran: Steady Policy Amid Rhetoric

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Iran: Steady Policy Amid Rhetoric

With Iran’s controversial outgoing President Ahmadinejad appearing at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week, a public discussion about “redlines” for a military strike and a recent meeting between international negotiators, the debate on Iran’s controversial nuclear program has intensified. Behind the rhetoric, two things are clear:  the U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and national security experts, including senior military leaders, diplomats, intelligence officers, and regional experts continue to say that the best way to achieve this is through a negotiated solution, while the effects of a military strike would likely run counter to the stated goal.

America’s determination and policy goals toward Iran are clear. As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently explained, “The fact is, look, presidents of the United States, prime ministers of Israel or any other country — leaders of these countries don’t have, you know, a bunch of little red lines that determine their decisions…What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action is needed to be taken in order to deal with that situation. I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner.”

In fact, President Obama has a clear goal, which Governor Romney has endorsed. As President Obama stated in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” This month while interviewing Romney, George Stephanopoulos pointed out “President Obama also says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and asked Romney if he therefore has the same ‘red line’ as Obama?” Romney’s answer was “Yes.” [Leon Panetta, 9/17/12. Barack Obama, 4/4/12. Mitt Romney, 9/14/12]

Iran looks for a way to relieve economic and political pressure, avoid conflict. Yesterday, Catherine Ashton, the Western lead on negotiations, met with her Iranian counterpart. Laura Rozen reports for al Monitor’s Back Channel, “European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held a ‘useful and constructive’ four hour dinner meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul Tuesday, at which he stressed Iran’s interest in continuing negotiations, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor. Jalili made clear at the dinner, which stretched from 7:30pm until almost midnight, that the Iranians would like negotiations to continue, diplomats said. Ashton, for her part, would also like to move the process forward, but stressed to the Iranians that it’s time for them to get serious… Ashton heads to New York Saturday, where she will hold meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly opening session with senior envoys from the P5+1 negotiating group–the United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China–on how to proceed.” [al Monitor, 9/19/12]

Diplomacy offers the only real solution, and there remains time to achieve it. A recent report by a bipartisan cadre of former senior national security officials, including Zbigiew Brzezinski, General Anthony Zinni, Ellen Laipson, Leslie Gelb, and Brent Scowcroft  make clear that even after a military strike, Iran would still retain the scientific capacity and the experience to start its nuclear program again if it chose to do so.” The authors add that, “In fact, we believe that a U.S. attack on Iran would increase Iran’s motivation to build a bomb, because 1) the Iranian leadership would become more convinced than ever that regime change is the goal of U.S. policy, and 2) building a bomb would be seen as a way to inhibit future attacks and redress the humiliation of being attacked.” For these reasons, the authors urge that “the use of military force should be a last resort.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told 60 Minutes, “The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.” As David Albright, president and founder of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, told an audience at the Atlantic Council in May, “the technical clock is not ticking as fast” as the “political clock.” [Iran Project, 9/13/12. Leon Panetta, 6/10/12. David Albright via al Monitor, 5/29/12]

What We’re Reading

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In an apparent spillover from anti-Japanese protests, demonstrators in China surrounded the car of the U.S. ambassador in an attempt to block him from entering the embassy.

Secretary of Defense Panetta met with Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jingping, who just reappeared publicly after a two-week absence.

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Commentary of the Day

Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller describes on what he calls a “dynamic” moment for American foreign policy.

Mircea Geoana explains why U.S.-European cooperation is more important than ever before.

Joe Cirincione discusses Mitt Romney’s statements about nuclear weapons.

David Rohde explores the evolution of foreign policy in politics.


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