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THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL OF THE UNITED STATES
IRAN TASK FORCE ISSUE BRIEF LAUNCH:
“THE IRAN STALEMATE AND THE NEED FOR
PRESIDENT AND CEO,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
SOUTH ASIA CENTER,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
ATLANTIC COUNCIL IRAN TASK FORCE,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
“THE IRAN STALEMATE AND THE NEED FOR
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 2010
Federal News Service
FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you and welcome to the Atlantic Council. I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO. And I’d like to particularly acknowledge and thank our esteemed colleagues and co-chairs of this task force: Sen. Chuck Hagel – also chairman of the Atlantic Council – and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat.
The South Asia Center was launched last year at the council under director Shuja Nawaz – actually now almost going on two years, two years now. And we launched it because we saw that a focus of U.S.-European relations would be dealing not just with Afghanistan and Pakistan, which people usually connect with South Asia in this town, but also Iran.
And this has become a central forum and point of contact for policy members, members of Congress, as well as European and regional leaders. We’ve had a long string of European officials dealing with these issues, coming through and meeting with us as well.
And we do focus on the wider South Asia, which does mean the geographical subcontinent as well as Afghanistan, Central Asia and Iran. And we see this as a whole. You can’t just look at the Iran issue without looking at Pakistan. You can’t look at Pakistan without looking at Central Asia, and you certainly can’t look at it all without looking at Iran. So Iran is of special importance to the center and the council because of the U.S. role with its government – the difficulties that we all know about.
But we are also very interested not just looking at how the U.S. is looking at Iran but also how Iran is looking at the U.S. and how Iran is looking at itself, and looking at its role in the region. Very often, we get so caught up in our own conversation here that we’re not putting ourself enough in the shoes of others.
So we’ve been asking through the taskforce, are the U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran working? Are there any other negotiating options left for the United States? If a reformist regime were in power in Iran, would it actually make any difference to the U.S.-Iran relationship? And more importantly, I suppose, is how does Iran see itself in this world? And then, who is Iran? Is it Ahmadinejad? Is it Khamenei – Ayatollah Khamenei? Is it the Revolutionary Guards?
So Mark Brzezinski and Shuja Nawaz have done an excellent job in pulling together experts and bringing them together to have frank discussions in this room on the current situation and the way forward. And so the issue brief that’s released today to you all and prepared by our friend Barbara Slavin, one of the great experts on Iran in this town, is a culmination of all those meetings. I hope you’ll think it’s a good read. And it will be the first of several briefs that we’ll write on these subjects, you know, looking into different pieces of this brief in more detail, and other parts.
We want to thank the Ploughshares Fund for making this project possible through their support. And before I pass the event to Shuja, who will introduce Barbara and moderate the session, I just want to invite Sen. Hagel and Ambassador Eizenstat to say a few words as well. Sen. Hagel.
CHUCK HAGEL: Fred, thank you and thank you each for giving us some time today. I, on behalf of the Atlantic Council and our board and our members, want to thank Fred, of course, as well as our leaders of this effort – in particular, my much-esteemed co-chairman, the all-knowing public servant Ambassador Eizenstat, a man who’s had almost every job in government. Stu, thank you very, very much for your personal involvement and commitment of time as you have given this effort.
As you will hear today from, in particular, Shuja and Barbara, the essence of this first report, which will culminate in a larger taskforce product. But we think these kinds of briefs are important for many reasons. But it takes people through, we hope, an informed and educated analysis as to not only the complications of this issue – which there are many, as you all understand – but there are very serious consequences for whatever is the outcome on this particular issue, and this issue being the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
As Fred had noted – and I think this is in particularly important, and I think is one of the most valuable results of this first report and, I anticipate, of our taskforce final report, is the emphasis on wise and comprehensive focus by the United States and its allies on this issue of Iran. When I say comprehensive, I refer to not only addressing the Iranian nuclear issue, but all the other dimensions of this relationship.
That would include, of course, what Fred just talked about: Who is Iran? Who is in charge of Iran? We know those who occasionally will take some time to study a little history and culture, that – (audio break) – is a part of a great product of the – (audio break) – that is, the Persian heritage and the history that, that heritage has brought forth. That is not to be minimized, diminished or dismissed, as any of these historical factors are, when we are trying to analyze policy and how we approach countries and people.
And I say “people” in particular because governments don’t always represent the people. There are policies of government, and then there are the citizens of that country. And we reflect on that point when I use the term “wise.” We need to be wise and judicious, and particularly judicious in how we use all our instruments of power.
Military is but one instrument of power, and sometimes it is not the most effective. It’s important. And using all of a nation’s instruments of power in coordination and combination of a purpose that’s worthy of that nation’s efforts is what we try to get at in this study.
I also want to note a great work that Mark Brzezinski has done, as Fred has mentioned. Mark – I think he’s in Europe or –
BARBARA SLAVIN: China.
MR. HAGEL: China. He went a little further than Europe. And that – that’s important to note Mark’s contributions because he will continue to play a significant role. So thank you again, and to thank once again Shuja and Barbara and all the participants that helped form and write this brief. We had many very, very informed and experienced experts in this area who took their time to come before this group and give us the benefit of their background and experience and expertise. So we thank them as well.
Now, let me introduce my co-chairman, Ambassador Eizenstat.
STUART EIZENSTAT: Thank you, Senator. The senator and I developed a very close relationship during the Clinton administration and I really found him to be one of the most knowledgeable and wise people in the country on foreign and defense policy. And it’s been a privilege to work with him on this project.
This project is another example of how Fred Kempe has infused a sense of energy and direction to the Atlantic Council since he’s taken over. And Fred, I congratulate you on setting this taskforce up and on Mark Brzezinski’s and Shuja’s work on it. And of course – (audio break).
Let me try to – in just literally a sentence or two because I want to leave time for the actual presentation, of why we decided to get into this area. I mean, hadn’t everything about Iran already been explored? Wasn’t everybody in town and elsewhere focusing on Iran? We think that this taskforce has done something that’s unique and will continue to be unique.
We start from the proposition that we believe this will be the defining foreign policy challenge of the Obama administration and for the United States in the years ahead. But we also started from the proposition that while many had looked at Iran from different perspectives, no one had actually looked at their domestic reality: what was happening internally; how that affects their view of what the United States and others are doing; how it affects their policy and therefore what we can learn in terms of addressing our own policy to that reality, trying to mold it in ways that are acceptable to the United States but ultimately take into account that domestic reality. And I think that’s what’s new, and that’s what’s novel.
And Barbara has done a superb job in her study of doing the first initial rollout for the taskforce. We appreciate it. And I think without any further ado, I’d like to turn it over to her. And again, thank Shuja and Barbara for their work, and Fred for initiating this and the senator for leading it.
SHUJA NAWAZ: Thank you, Ambassador Eizenstat. Let me just give you a quick background on what the taskforce has done in the first nine months since we started. Our first meeting took place in May, and we had a presentation by Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund. We looked at the interests and the views of concerned powers, which included the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, India and Pakistan. And he tried to crystallize how each of these countries envisages Iran’s role and their own real interest in Iran.
And then Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations provided a briefing on what kind of regional role the present Iranian leadership is seeking for itself and for their country and talked about the strategic and geopolitical aspirations of Iran’s current leadership. Ted Koppel, the producer of Discovery Channel’s special, “Iran, The most Dangerous Nation?” served as the discussant and provided observations and led the question-and-answer session.
Then in July, we had another session of the taskforce which focused on foreign policy, looking on the opposition movement in Iran, its similarities and contrasts with the current regime, on nuclear issues, its views on – the views of allies and enemies, and on Iranian foreign policy. And this was a presentation by Dr. Gary Sick of Columbia University.
And then we had a presentation on prospects for nuclear diplomacy by Andrew Parasiliti, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. And that exchange was moderated by Barbara Slavin.
Then last month, we looked at nuclear capabilities and strategic goals. And we were very lucky to get Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman who was at the time when he met them – at the end of 2009, when he met the Iranian government – the senior-most U.S. official to have met them face to face.
And we also were lucky to have Olli Heinonen, the former head of the safeguards department of the IAEA. And indeed, in today’s issue brief we have a very useful summation of where we stand on the nuclear issue by Olli Heinonen, who’s a friend and who’s a former colleague at the IAEA.
As the senator said, we will continue our work on Iran, making it as unique as possible and as comprehensive as possible. And we’ll be periodically issuing these briefs, and then we’ll come up with a final policy – a set of policy recommendations in due course.
The first brief is being released today, and its author, Barbara Slavin, is a well-known journalist and an editor. She’s also the author of a great book on Iran called, “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.”
Before I give the floor to Barbara to talk about the brief, I just wanted to remind everyone that after she finishes – and if you wish to speak or have a question, if you wouldn’t mind turning your name-tent on its side so that I can recognize you. Then please wait for the microphone to be brought to you so that you can announce who you are, and it can be captured for our audiences.
So thank you for coming, and over to Barbara.
MS. SLAVIN: Okay. Thanks, Shuja. Thank you all for coming. This is my maiden effort for the Atlantic Council, and I want to thank Sen. Hagel and Ambassador Eizenstat, Fred Kempe, Shuja Nawaz, Mark Brzezinski in China and also Shikha and Alex on the staff here at the Atlantic Council.
We did this rather quickly. I think you can all, perhaps, understand why Iran has been much in the news of late. And a lot of people have been giving their opinions about what U.S. policy toward Iran should be. So we thought that it was important to begin to express our ideas and also give some context for the discussion.
I’ve tried to do four basic things in the report: first, look at Iranian domestic politics and the divisions that have deepened in the elites since the 2009 presidential elections. Second, I’ve looked at the impact of those divisions on the nuclear issue and U.S.-Iran relations. Third, I’ve looked at sanctions and the impact that they’re having on the Iranian economy – (audio break) – Iran’s foreign policy. And lastly, I make a few very modest suggestions. These are just very preliminary. As Shuja mentioned, there will be much more fleshed out and detailed recommendations at the end of this process.
The bulk of the report is about the Iranian domestic scene. And here, the word is factionalization and factionalism. As any student of Iran knows, the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been unified – not before, during or after the revolution of 1979 – when it comes to politics, economics, views on society.
And those who call it a totalitarian state really don’t know the country at all. This is not a country where the elite are all forced to belong to one political party as in China or the old Soviet Union. And whenever one faction appears to have completely vanquished its opponents, as seemed to occur last summer after the elections, then that faction immediately splinters.
And we have seen, certainly in the last few months, that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had a lot of problems, a lot of clashes with the parliament of the country, with other branches of government and even, on occasion, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
He has alienated traditional conservatives, members of the old Islamic coalition, Heyate Mo’talefeh. This is a very significant group that – (audio break) – the bazaars and has a hold over a lot of very important Islamic charities, members who are very prominent in the Islamic Revolution and were very important members of the government afterwards.
Ahmadinejad is on poor terms with Ali Larijani, who is the former nuclear negotiator and is the speaker – (audio break) – parliament. He’s a member of an old clerical family and his brother, Sadegh, is head of the judiciary; was appointed by the supreme leader.
Ahmadinejad has also irritated Khamenei and ultraconservative clerics by promoting a kind of folk Shiite Islam – it’s full of superstition – and by giving wide powers to a member of his family, an in-law named Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has made a number of controversial comments about Israelis, about Iranian nationalism and about so-called Iranian Islam.
And there have even been indications now of some friction with members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is, of course, the institution upon which the survival of the regime rests. There was an article in an IRGC publication that criticized Ahmadinejad for contending that the Majlis, the parliament, was not the most important institution in government. And it said that this contradicted the views of the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, who passed away in 1989.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Khamenei, the successor of Khomeini, is about to jettison Ahmadinejad. I don’t think that’s possible. He called his reelection “a divine assessment” and he has really stuck with him, I think, for the time being. But there is a lot of friction. There’s a lot of tension.
And I think the outlook is for more of this factionalism, especially as Iran now is phasing out consumer subsidies in the economy. And it’s also approaching yet more elections. It will have parliamentary elections in 2012 and new presidential elections in 2013.
Now, the factionalism is intensifying, in part, because of the economic situation, which is quite poor. This is partly due to sanctions, which have tightened considerably this year. But they’re also partly due to Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the economy. He squandered oil revenues when the price of oil was high. He handed money out to the poor, to numerous people, but without any kind of real plan. As a result, no jobs – or very few jobs have resulted from this, and inflation was quite high for a number of years.
Now revenues are much reduced and the IMF estimates that the Iranian economy grew by only a little over 2 percent last year and that growth in the current Iranian fiscal year, which ends March 31st, will be between 1.5 and 2 percent. And that’s simply not enough to provide the sorts of jobs that Iran’s youthful population needs. The unemployment rate among Iranians under 30 is estimated to be about 30 percent. And 70 percent of the population is under 30.
Sanctions are having an impact. They are making it more difficult for Iran to both sell and buy petroleum products. And they’re also frightening away investment in the oil and gas sector.
And I contrast this – actually, Ambassador Eizenstat remembers well – when in the mid-’90s, when the Clinton administration approved of so-called secondary sanctions, which were meant to penalize oil companies that invested, I believe $20 million in the energy sector of Iran – (audio break) – sanctions.
All of these sanctions were waived because at that time, or shortly thereafter, Iran got a reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. And the Europeans were very interested in engagement with Iran at that time. They didn’t want to confront the country.
Now the situation is very different and this is because of what happened in 2009. It’s because of the elections. It’s because of the crackdown. The Europeans are even more exercised about human rights, it seems, sometimes, than the United States is. And so the Europeans have gotten on board and so have the Japanese.
Nomura International, which is a unit of the Japanese brokerage firm, estimates that because of Japanese withdrawal from the Iranian oil sector, Iran’s oil production will drop 15 percent by 2015 and exports will decline from about 2 million barrels a day currently to 1.5 million barrels, which is really a significant drop.
Now, how does all of this factor into the nuclear negotiations? We are likely to have some talks in the next few weeks. The Iranians announced over the weekend that they’d like to meet in Turkey. But they’re dancing around each other. I think eventually we will have some kinds of discussions.
I think the problem is that the political divisions within Iran are such that it’s going to make it difficult for the government to reach a deal that will stick. We all saw what happened a year ago. There was a proposal for Iran to – two-thirds of its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a research – (audio break) – which the United States actually provided in the 1960s. This is a reactor that produces medical isotopes.
Ahmadinejad brought this deal – (audio break) – and he was immediately attacked by every faction, from reformists to ultraconservative. Ali Larijani, who had suffered a great deal when he was the nuclear negotiator of Iran was the one to cast the first stone. And then others followed and the supreme leader did not, in the end, back it up. The deal fell apart.
Now, since then, as I mentioned, we’ve had more sanctions. The U.S. proceeded to sanctions. And the Obama administration pivoted, from the engagement track to the pressure track. There’s a sense that I get from talking to U.S. officials that for the first time since 2003, when the U.S. military was feeling most successful in the Middle East – for the first since 2003, the Obama administration, the United States feels that it has some leverage over Iran because of sanctions, because of the economic situation.
Another factor is that the nuclear clock, so called, while it’s still ticking, is ticking a little bit more slowly than a lot of people had feared. And here, I direct you to Olli Heinonen’s excellent summary of the status of the Iranian nuclear program. He writes that although Iran has managed to produce about 3 tons of low-enriched uranium, theoretically enough for a bomb or maybe two bombs, the IAEA would be able to detect any diversion of this material very quickly.
And also, Iran is having a lot of difficulty producing more advanced centrifuges. The centrifuges that it uses are an antiquated model that Pakistan provided it with in the late 1980s. And Olli Heinonen writes that Iran is having design problems and also, it’s having difficulty because of sanctions in procuring the maraging steel and carbon fiber that it needs to make these more advanced centrifuges. So this suggests that there is time for diplomacy to work – time for sanctions and engagement to work – without having to resort to other sorts of measures.
Now, it’s hard to be optimistic about engagement, about diplomacy, given the history of U.S.-Iran relations, which John Limbert and many others here know painfully well. The pattern has been that when one side was ready for engagement, the other was not and vice versa. The 2009 elections have complicated diplomacy for both sides.
For Europe and also for the United States, the vicious crackdown on peaceful protestors that followed the elections last year have made human rights a priority. I know that President Bush talked about the freedom agenda and so on, but for the first time, there is a freedom movement to support in Iran. This is no longer a fiction. And for Iran – (audio break) – once again looms large as a scapegoat for internal unrest. They can accuse the United States of promoting a velvet overthrow, soft revolution, soft war, whatever you want to call it. So we have a stalemate.
And I think, still, it’s important that the United States continue to try to engage, if only to put the Iranians on the defensive and to show that it actually is interested in diplomacy. And here, I have a few very modest suggestions. These are very preliminary and, as I mentioned, they’ll be fleshed out when the taskforce – some of them, frankly, I think are no-brainers. Some of them are things that the Obama administration is already doing but perhaps could do a better job at.
One of the things that the administration is doing – my understanding from conversations with U.S. officials. The U.S. and its allies are updating the offer that was made last year concerning the Tehran research reactor to take into account the fact that Iran has increased its stockpile of LEU over the past year.
We don’t have all the details. There have been some accounts in the press. I think it’s still a bit preliminary and we won’t know, obviously, until there is a time and place fixed for another meeting of either the Vienna group and Iran or the P-5-plus-1.
At the same time that the U.S. – (audio break) – offer, I think it would be wise to update a very comprehensive – (audio break) – that was made in 2008. This was presented to the Iranians in Geneva in the summer of 2008 and it looked at possible areas of economic cooperation, easing of sanctions and so on.
This offer needs to be looked at again. I think it needs to be refreshed, particularly in light of what’s happened to Iran’s oil sector over the last couple of years. I’m not saying the U.S. should necessarily publicize it or present it. That might be negotiating with ourselves, but if the Iranians do show up and if they look like they’re actually serious, then this is something the U.S. and its allies should have ready.
At the same time, the U.S. needs to intensify its outreach to the Iranian people. Sen. Hagel mentioned this. This is very important. Just because we have a fight with the Iranian government doesn’t mean we should not be promoting educational exchanges, trying to get as many Iranian students as possible to study in the United States and offering help to Iran in areas such as earthquake prediction and treatment of drug addiction and HIV/AIDS, where the United States and its NGOs have something to offer. Now, I don’t know if the Iranians will accept it. In the past, they have. And this is certainly still a possible area for discussion.
Another area which I highlight in the report and I think is very important is Afghanistan. This is, perhaps, the one area where the U.S. and Iran are largely on the same page. And certainly, they should be talking to each other.
I don’t know if the Iranians will help the U.S. They certainly haven’t always been of assistance, although they were after 9/11 in getting rid of the Taliban at that time. They have a common interest with the United States in stability in Afghanistan, drug interdiction and preventing the total return to power of the Taliban.
There was a recent meeting in Rome where an Iranian official participated and he got a briefing from Gen. Petraeus and he was very impressed, I understand – from my Iranian sources. I think this sort of meeting certainly should be repeated and the Iranians should be made to feel that we understand that they have a huge stake in what happens in Afghanistan. After all, they’ve had the largest number of Afghan refugees in their country for many years and they suffer from the drug problem.
Finally, the area of human rights. This is something that the Obama administration got a bit of a slow start on, but I think they’re moving on a bit more. U.S. advocacy here is very important. Senior officials from President Obama on down should continue to condemn Iranian human rights abuses.
And they should urge Iran to release some 500 political prisoners – (audio break) – are being held in that country, be it students, journalists, women’s rights advocates and lawyers who were jailed for defending these people. Iran is not living up to its international commitments, let alone its own laws on human rights. This should be pointed out. And there’s been a suggestion, also, that the – (audio break) – the U.N. could name a special representative – (audio break) – human rights. I think that would be a very good idea.
There needs to be pressure put on Iran. We’ve noticed that Iran does respond to pressure. The incident of the woman who was sentenced to stoning for adultery – there was a huge cry and she has not been stoned. She’s not been executed. So Iran does react when pressure is put on this issue.
And finally, the U.S. should continue its efforts to help Iranians access the Internet and satellite television so they can get unbiased news and they can communicate more easily with each other.
Ultimately, I believe that history, demography and the educational level of Iranians means that this country will have a more democratic and less onerous form of government in the future. But this is up to Iranians to lead this movement. We can’t do it for them.
Iran has been struggling to achieve a representative government for more than a century. And it’s frankly, I think, better equipped – even now with all the repression that has occurred since last year’s elections, it’s better equipped to have this sort of government than countries that the United States has promoted regime-change in.
I think that in the interim, while this process goes forward in Iran, Washington needs to exercise strategic patience. This is in the title of my – (audio break). We need to do nothing that is going to get in the way of this political evolution. Ultimately, Iran is going to reassume its rightful place as a major regional power that contributes to the peace and prosperity of its citizens and the wider world. And I’ll leave it there.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Barbara. I’m going to let you take a little breather and ask the first question, if I may, but I’m going to pose it to our co-chairs.
MS. SLAVIN: Okay.
MR. NAWAZ: Senator and Ambassador Eizenstat, as opposed to strategic patience, there appears to have been, within the last week or so, some signs of strategic impatience within the corridors of power in Washington. A column in The Washington Post by David Broder appeared to suggest that ramping up for war, if not actually going to war might be a good – (audio break) – President Obama to undertake in order to help the economy.
And then Sen. Graham has been talking also about the need to perhaps punish Iran in a military maneuver. What do you think are the – (audio break) – of something like this becoming viable? And it is even advisable at this stage to be throwing out these ideas?
MR. KEMPE: And let me put a question on top of that because I think it’s related and that is, those who argue against strategic patience would argue that what you’re saying is, give Iran the time and space it needs to fully develop its nuclear-weapons capability. So is that a potential outcome from strategic patience and is it an outcome we can live with? Ambassador?
MR. EIZENSTAT: Let me answer in a couple of ways. The first is, I think that so long as we can demonstrate that the sanctions are really biting – and here, the EU’s efforts to really engage in significant sanctions beyond that which most thought they would on the financial sector are having a really significant impact. It’s much more costly to ship goods, to import oil. And this is an area where we need to do a lot of work with China and see that China doesn’t fill that gap.
But I think that Iran is not North Korea. It recognizes that – (audio break) – integrated into the world economy. And to the extent that – (audio break) – a real show and demonstration of global solidarity on sanctions, I think it will bring them back to the table – number one.
Number two, this is a time when if there ever was a need for it, Sen. Vandenberg’s admonition of politics ending at the water is really crucial because this is a time when we’ve got to make sure that we have a bipartisan effort. There’s a lot of polarization that’s going to occur and I think that this is a time when we need to have and show a united front.
Number three, I don’t think that Barbara is suggesting – and I certainly wouldn’t – that by strategic impatience, we mean indefinite patience. Because we recognize that each day, even with the centrifuges not operating as efficiently as they can, that more and more enriched uranium is occurring. It’s being enriched up to a 20-degree level. There is work going on, on weaponizations, of miniaturization, of increased missile capacity. And so patience is important but it’s not something that is infinite and the Iranians have to see that.
I think we’ll be in a much better position to know what path to take when we see how these negotiations, which are certain to occur, and probably this month, really – (audio break) – are the Iranians serious? Are they willing to go back to a sort of Geneva-plus, Vienna-plus proposal, taking into account the additional amounts of enriched uranium, or is this going to be a long and indefinite stall?
And I guess the last point is in terms of military options. That has to be on the table. The administration has kept it on the table. The Israelis have kept it on the table. But it is on the table at this point because it is recognized that there are profound fallouts from that and that the military option can’t be done with a single isolated strike as could occur with the Syrian reactor or the Iraqi reactor 20 years ago; that they’ve diffused their system, they’ve put it underground and that it would take considerable effort over a prolonged period of time to do great detriment to it.
So that is not to take it off the table. Quite the contrary. But it is to suggest that before one leaps to that, one has to look at all the other ramifications. And I would say to give sanctions a chance to work. They are working. They will continue to bite. And we have to hope that at some point, the leadership, as diffused as it is in Barbara’s excellent analysis, will come together to recognize that the costs of pursuing militarization and a military capacity are greater than what the effort is worth at this point.
And I think this – (audio break) – that the administration and others haven’t quite come to. And that is, what is our goal? Is the goal to stop all enrichment? Is the goal to simply stop a military capability? Or is the goal to stop total weaponization? Those are very different checkpoints. And I think it’s very clear that we try to achieve a bipartisan agreement on what the actual realistic goal is.
MR. HAGEL: Well, as usual, Ambassador Eizenstat has framed it up exactly right, at least, I subscribe to everything Stu has just noted and as he has presented it.
I would add only this: As to the use of military force, whether it’s for a political motive or not, I don’t think I have to remind the public that the United States of America is currently in two wars – two of the longest we’ve ever been in. And before we finally wind our way out of each, they will be the longest wars we’ve ever engaged in.
That has come at a very significant cost to this country. I think it’s undermined our interest in the world. You don’t need to go much beyond asking any general who’s in charge of men and women in the Pentagon, their families, or any metric that you want to apply – record suicides, record divorces, record homeless and all the rest – as to but one consequence of taking the nation to war.
So I think talking about going to war with Iran in fairly specific terms should be carefully reviewed. And that’s pretty dangerous talk. It’s easy to get a nation into war; not so easy to get a nation out of war, as we are finding out. I’m not sure that the American people are ready to go into a third war.
Second, if you subscribe to what Barbara has laid out – at least, what our taskforce has found – in particular, the internal dynamics that are occurring in Iran, then why in the world would you, as Barbara has noted, want to get in the way of that?
We do have some rather significant evidence that sanctions are working. And they’re working because we – our government, our policies; imperfect, flawed problems; every policy has those. But nonetheless, it has accomplished something even bigger than sanctions. And that is they have brought a consensus together of most countries – the European Union, the Chinese are involved, Russians are involved. We have a rather significant consensus on this issue up to a point. And I think all you need to do is reflect on the United Nations’ vote on this as a pretty good indicator.
Now, that alone won’t change the dynamics. But as Barbara – (audio break) – if you subscribe to what our taskforce has come up with, then aren’t we wiser to let this play out? Aren’t we – (audio break) – wiser, rather to get ourselves into another very difficult predicament because – (audio break) – we do also know that wars have – (audio break) – most of the time and especially – (audio break) – where we live in a day they have unintended consequences. They have uncontrollable consequences. We live in an interconnected global – (audio break) – and I think, again, we should factor that in.
Last point I would make: as to the question of, well, but aren’t we just allowing the Iranians to buy time? Maybe. We have to recognize that the real world is about risks. You calibrate your decisions and your policymaking based on that risk analysis.
Is it riskier to go to war right now or is it riskier to pursue the policies that we are pursuing? Policymakers have to decide that. They have to sort their way through that and then they come to a decision. It’s my analysis – and answering your question, Shuja – that it is far riskier to talk of war and to go to war.
As the ambassador has noted, we are the mightiest military force on Earth. The world has never seen such military power. But that military power must always be tempered with a purpose. And the military option is always on the table – of course it is – for any sovereign nation. But at the same time we recognize that, that option is there.
The leaders of our country, the leaders of the world are not living in an “Alice in Wonderland” type of a world. They are living in a real world and they have to make real decisions based on what they calculate to be the dynamics and the facts as they are today. But probably more importantly, what they think they will be. That’s leadership
So that’s how I would add to the ambassador’s comments. Thank you.
MR. KEMPE: Let me add two sentences, just for the record, about the Atlantic Council. Sen. Hagel, a Republican; Ambassador Eizenstat, a Democrat. It’s not the reason they were picked and not the reason they decided to do it but it just reflects that we’re after a centrist, consistent policy not only on Iran but really on all American foreign policy with our allies.
And when we don’t do that – when we do get into the partisan bickering over matters of national interest where it’s hard to debate what the national – it’s hard to debate what outcome one would want in the national interest – our enemies take solace from our partisan bickering over matters of national interest and our friends get frustrated. And we don’t have inconsistent – so this is one area where we’re working on this. But the Atlantic Council works on achieving this across the board. We call it “radical centrism”. (Laughter.)
MS. SLAVIN: I like that.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Fred, for clarifying that. And Senator, you mentioned “Alice in Wonderland” and on picking up on Ambassador Eizenstat’s very useful suggestions, particularly the one about defining ones goals, that there is one of my favorite quotes from “Alice in Wonderland” – that when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. (Laughter.) So I think we do need to decide which road to take.
And so my first question to Barbara before the audience joins us in the questions, is: Is Afghanistan going to offer that first opening, perhaps? Because in the end you have to deal directly with the government. You can’t negotiate with the people of Iran. You have to deal with the government that’s in power. So do you see Afghanistan as offering that opening?
MS. SLAVIN: Well, as I was preparing this, I had some conversations with administration officials and one said that, you know, they don’t see Afghanistan, somehow, as the silver bullet that solves our problems with Iran. But I think they do see it as an area where Iran and the United States not only have common interests but really do need to cooperate.
If Afghanistan is going to be stabilized it’s going to need all of its neighbors to sign onto whatever, say, coalition government may emerge or whatever peace talks may emerge. So I think it is one area where the U.S. and Iran can talk to each other without a lot of baggage, without a lot of difficult history.
Although it’s a different government, a different president that’s in power now in Iran than in 2001; if you look back at that period not only was Iran supporting the Northern Alliance, which was so pivotal in getting rid of the Taliban in 200, but the U.S. and Iran actually had, fairly, senior diplomatic talks from the fall of 2001 through May of 2003 in Europe. They were led by deputy assistant secretaries of state and so on.
And this was a period that now a number of people, like Ryan Crocker, look back on as, sort of, the golden age – Jim Dobbins. You know, when these were very productive talks. Members of al-Qaida were turned over, were extradited, understandings were reached and it’s sort of a pity that, that ended with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I don’t know if you can get back to that but certainly you can include Iran in all the various multilateral discussions that are going to be held and we should do that.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Barbara. And now we open the floor to questions. So who would like to start? Please wait for the microphone and please identify yourself for the record. Thank you.
Q: Richard Sawaya with the National Foreign Trade Council. You mentioned Afghanistan. That’s one of the two wars that we are embroiled in. What about extending – I’d be interested in your views relative to the crisis, the political crisis in Iraq where we have more blood, treasure and unintended consequences, arguably, than in Afghanistan.
MR. NAWAZ: Barbara, if I may just repeat the question for our television viewers. What about the war in Iraq?
MS. SLAVIN: Sure. I went – (audio break) – Iraq in this brief. That might be a topic for a second one. Iraq is – it’s interesting and everyone has always said well, of course, the Iranians got a lot of influence when we got rid of Saddam and that’s true. But I think the Iranians are tearing their hair out about Iraq, too, right now.
I remember getting an e-mail from an acquaintance of mine in Tehran predicting that Maliki would be reconfirmed as prime minister right after Ramadan. Now, that was when? Back in the end of August, September? (Chuckles.) And we still, of course, don’t have a new Iraqi government.
This is more ticklish because, although, there have been reports that Iran is giving some support to the Taliban now, the reports of Iranian involvement in Iraq are much more serious. And we know that American servicemen and women have died because of IED technology and special groups and others that have been supported by Iran since 2010.
So the U.S. and Iran have not really been able to cooperate in anyway on Iraq – (audio break). Will that change? I don’t know. That’s why I suggest Afghanistan because we have the history of cooperation there.
You know, it’s ironic in – I mentioned these talks that were going on from 2001 to 2003. They’re actually – they were Iranians offering to help the United States and Iraq as well, when it became clear that the U.S. was going to be invading that country as well. And the Bush administration said, no thank you, we can manage this on our own.
So one has to think what – how history might have been different if we had decided to cooperate with the Iranians in 2003 and Iraq.
MR. NAWAZ: If you could just wait for the microphone, please.
Q: Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service. I’d like to get the comments of all three if possible. But how exactly does saying that all options are on the table help the U.S. case in human rights or anything else or even with respect to the nuclear program? (Audio break.)
Assuming what Sen. Hagel was saying is correct, that attacking Iran will have unforeseeable consequences – (audio break) – any observer would conclude might involve – or very much could involve the necessity for ground troops. How, at this point, can – (audio break) – threat on the part – (audio break) – states and give – (audio break) – two wars?
So, again, my question is – (audio break) – repeatedly saying all options are on the table – (audio break) – help any of the causes that have been laid out or that are of concern to the taskforce?
MS. SLAVIN: Well, my personal view is that, you know, the United States has to say it but it’s an option that should not be exercised at this point. I take my cue from, actually, Iranians, particularly members of the Green movement, who say that the one thing that could destroy the chances for democracy in that country for another generation would be a U.S. attack on Iran.
I think perhaps Ambassador Eizenstat and Sen. Hagel will be able to respond better as to why you have to say that, that option remains on the table.
MR. : And Ambassador and Senator, if either of you want to comment on the Iraq question as well.
MR. EIZENSTAT: I guess, I would say that if you really don’t mean it and they know you don’t mean it, it’s not significant. But from my standpoint, while I agree with everything that’s been said with and emphasized, that we need to give sanctions a chance to work. We need to give the increasing isolation that Iran is facing a chance to change their policies. We need to avoid, in effect, driving the opposition into the hands of the more radical elements.
We also have to send a very clear message, in my opinion, that what is most unacceptable is Iran having a nuclear bomb. And if they don’t understand that we think that, that is, indeed, unacceptable, then they have, perhaps, no incentive to change. (Audio break.) There’s always an escalating sense and you know there things short of bombing.
We’ve seen already news reports of worms in – you know, in some of the machines, the seamless machines that drive the centrifuges. I mean, there are a whole range of actions that can be taken to slow down and even cripple the process short of this imagery of having 100,000 troops invading and waves and waves of bombers. We have a lot of options.
But, to me, it really is critical to make it clear to Iran that we’re giving them this extra time. We’re going to keep the sanctions pressure on. We have the strategic patience but that, at the end of the day, it is not acceptable for Iran, as it is currently led, to have a nuclear bomb and, in my opinion, a nuclear capability. And if we don’t send that signal then I think we’re in serious trouble.
MR. HAGEL: Well, I would add this: I’m not so sure it is necessary to continue to say all options are on the table. I believe that the leadership in Iran, regardless of the five power centers that you’re referring to – whether it’s the ayatollah or the president or the Republican Guard, the commissions – have some pretty clear understanding of the reality of this issue and where we are.
I think the point that your question really brings out – which is a very good one. If you were going to threaten on any kind of consistent basis, whether it’s from leadership or the Congress or the administration or anyone who generally speaks for this country in anyway, than you better be prepared to follow through with that.
Now, Stuart noted putting 100,000 troops in Iran – I mean, just as a number as far as if to play this thing out. The fact is, I would guess that we would all – I would be the one to start the questioning – would ask where you’re going to get 100,000 troops. (Laughter.) So your point is a very good one, I think.
I don’t think there’s anybody in Iran that does not question the seriousness of America, our allies or Israel on this for all the reasons we made very clear. And I do think there does become a time when you start to minimize the legitimacy of a threat. When you threaten people or you threaten sovereign nations, you better be very careful and you better understand, again, consequences because you may be required to employ that threat and activate that threat in some way.
So I don’t mind people always, as we have laid out, and I think every president and every administration, anybody of any consequence who’s talked about this can say – does say. But I think it’s implied that the military threat is always there. Stu made an important point about, there are a lot of ways to come at this.
But once you begin a military operation – I mean, you ask any sergeant – and it’s the sergeants and the guys at the bottom, not the policymakers that have to fight the war – (audio break) – there the ones who have to do all the dying and all the fighting – (audio break) – sacrifices, not the policymakers.
But my point is, once you start that, you’d better be prepared to find 100,000 troops because it may take that or, eventually, where you’re going – my earlier point: You don’t know. And you can’t just – (audio break) – concept of, well, we’re going to do this but it’ll be marginalized, it’ll be a limited warfare. I don’t think any nation can ever go into that way. So that would be what I would just add to the rest of the other conversations.
MR. EIZENSTAT: Yeah, I would just again emphasize, number one, that we need to give, as Barbara is suggesting, sanctions and a potential outreach on a more positive and broader initiative a chance to work. But if it’s rejected, we have to consider ramping up sanctions more. But we also, again, have to make it clear, in my opinion, that it’s not acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
There are a lot of things that go along with that, that are short. And that’s my point. Not that we put 100,000 troops in but there are a lot of things short of that that can be taken against Iran that can be very disruptive. I hope we don’t have to get to that. But I don’t think the option is sending 100,000 troops in or doing nothing. That’s not the option.
We have a whole range of options and we have a little bit of time more, as the report indicates, than we thought we did six months or so ago.
MR. : I’m sorry, I forgot to –
MR. KEMPE: We’re excusing Ambassador Eizenstat who had a previous appointment. Thanks very much. We really appreciate it.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Ambassador.
Q: Hi, my name is – (inaudible) – from the Brazilian Embassy. Just a quick question. Iran has been under U.S. sanction for the past 30 years. So why do you think it’s going to work now? Why is it easier to negotiate? Why do you think it’s easier to negotiate with Iran on the sanctions?
MS. SLAVIN: Yeah. I mean, Iran has been under one form of sanction or another from the U.S. What’s different, of course, is that these are now multilateral sanctions. As I pointed out, in the mid-’90s when the U.S. had a policy of dual containment; Europeans, Asians were all blindly going on their way signing agreements with Iran. There was a lot of business. That has changed.
And actually, the report – you know, we have seen a shift. European trade is coming down. China, for a time, seemed like it was going to fill the gap, but even Chinese imports of Iranian oil are going down now. And also, Chinese investment in the Iranian oil sector is going down now, according to a report that I cite in the issues brief.
I think the world is getting the message that this is a government that is not behaving well. And the U.S. has never had this kind of consensus behind this policy. So I think it has a much greater chance of working; unilateral – (audio break) – also work but multilateral sanctions – (audio break) – do.
And you see where – (audio break) – the Iranian officials. The former president, Rafsanjani, said recently that these sanctions are no joke and that Ahmadinejad should pay attention to them. There’s lots of commentary even in the very controlled Iranian press about the impact that sanctions are having. So I think that it is a different situation now.
And the other aspect is the human rights aspect; the revulsion that so many people feel over the human rights abuses that have been committed by the government. And this is really –
MS. SLAVIN: – you know, we all knew before, that this regime could, on occasion, be very brutal and that people were executed and assassinated and so on. But we never saw it before the way we have seen it now on YouTube and Facebook and so on.
And it’s – we also have a new crop of Iranian émigrés, people who were part of the reform movement who’ve been forced to leave the country since last year. And they are very outspoken. And you know, they have fresh information and knowledge about the society that perhaps we didn’t have before.
MR. HAGEL: If I may, I’d like to add just one thing – one point of perspective because it rarely gets brought up for obvious reasons. The whole nuclear issue did not begin with this administration, this being in the Iranian administration or previous administrations after the revolution in 1979.
The nuclear program started under the shah, who was our puppet, essentially. We financed him. We liked him. We set him up – well, “like,” maybe too strong a word, but it was clearly in America’s interest to have a strongman dictator. When you talk about revulsions of human rights, history is instructive here.
And so I think – and not to defend anything or anyone, or certainly not this current government in Iran, but when we’re looking at this – and this is why taskforces are important and taking time to hear from experts. Let’s open up the aperture here and get the entire vision and understanding of history.
That wasn’t that long ago – 1979. The people of Iran remember that, not all of them. As Barbara said, they have one of the youngest demographies in the world, which is hopeful and good for freedom. But we’ve got to also factor in the frame of reference and the framework of thinking of a lot of the Iranians and the brutality that came as a result of the shah’s actions that we supported, that we propped up. And it goes back a few years before 1979.
So again, that doesn’t change the dimension or the dynamics or the risks or the threats. But it is instructive to go back a little bit and understand why certain countries think the way they do, certain people think the way they do. It was noted here earlier and I really do believe this and in fact, I was with some people last week who are currently leaders in that part of the world and there were two Iranians in the group.
And they said one of the things that would fasten that society back together – quicker than anything else – would be in a military attack and that would bring the Iranians back together for cultural reasons, for historic reasons. Now, maybe a military option eventually will be the only thing that’s left. I don’t know that. But again, like we have said, we better be careful and we’d better think through that and employ every other option before we have to make that decision, if we have to make it.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Senator. We have a question here.
Q: Hi. I just wanted to make a comment on –
MR. NAWAZ: Identify yourself, please.
Q: Benjamin Raff (ph) from the Heritage Foundation. The ambassador said unacceptable and I had a question – what that exactly means when there’s five countries or six countries that keep on saying this, that it’s unacceptable and Iran keeps on enriching uranium. And we have the example of North Korea. And at that time, those same countries said it was unacceptable and it actually happened. So what does that actually mean?
And the other question is with the word “democracy.” When you say you want a democratic Iran, we’ve already said that Iran is not a totalitarian regime. There’s many different centers of power. So I guess what you mean is you want a country with more human rights. And how does that exactly serve American interests? It serves the interests of the Iranian people, but is that something that we should take risks for as American policymakers?
MR. NAWAZ: Barbara?
MS. SLAVIN: Well, it was Ambassador Eizenstat who said it was unacceptable. I didn’t say that. (Chuckles.) You know, my personal view – and this is just my personal view is that the United States could probably contain, deter, live with a nuclear – (audio break) – a nuclear Pakistan, a nuclear India, a nuclear Israel, a nuclear North Korea.
There are a lot of – (audio break) – I’m not sure they would ever actually go all the way to a weapon. I think it frankly doesn’t serve their strategic interest to actually have the weapon. I think it serves their interest to have the world think that they might have the weapon and they would go beyond that.
But that’s something that we can address, certainly, as we work our way through this – (audio break). I think the United States should – (audio break) – their definition of what it means by nuclear capability, nuclear-weapons capability, should decide whether it can put up with some limited uranium enrichment or it’s opposed to all enrichment. These things all have to still be clarified.
On the question of democracy, vis-à-vis human rights, I think what Iran – what Iranians want is a more representative and less brutal government that will be focused on their national interests. And frankly, if Iran had a different sort of government, I don’t think the world would have such a problem with Iran having nuclear weapons.
It’s the nature of the regime that makes it, quote, unquote, “unacceptable” because Iran, as we know, doesn’t act as a very constructive player in a number of areas in the Middle East. And it treats its own people very poorly. So whether you call it democracy or you call it human rights, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the country over the last 14 years and I think I have a sense of what Iranians would like, ideally, if they could get it.
I’m not sure that they would a complete transformation, but they certainly open to a freer system where people will not be thrown in prison for demonstrating peacefully on the streets, certainly won’t be shot to death for demonstrating peacefully on the streets.
MR. NAWAZ: And that’s what you appear to be suggesting with your various other measures such as greater access to the Internet, greater freedom of communication inside the country, that the U.S. and other countries can help. We have a question from Ambassador Limbert.
Q: Thank you. John Limbert, university professor. Barbara, first of all, I want to thank you for a very memorable phrase you’ve used about Iranians, which I have stolen on numerous occasions, which is the Iranians consider themselves the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East. (Laughter.) They just don’t get no respect.
And in so many areas, including the – (audio break) – this issue of respect, of being dictated to, it comes up over and over again. And we hear it – we hear it from President Ahmadinejad. We hear it from many others. We hear it in the context of the nuclear program. We heard it in the context of the Tehran research reactor deal.
What is your view – and Sen. Hagel, yours, is what is behind this statement? How does one deal with something like this? Is this a smokescreen for other things? Or is there some way of dealing with it and how you view this constant refrain in the Iranian position?
MS. SLAVIN: (Chuckles.) Well, John, you’re much more than a university professor as everybody knows. John was most recently deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran. And your – one of your contributions was to help change the language that the U.S. government uses toward Iran so that it is more respectful.
I think “respect” is a very important word and President Obama, when he refers to Iran, always talks about mutual interest, mutual respect and I think this is key to have an understanding of where they’re coming from when we approach any kind of talks with them, any kind of negotiations.
You know, we’ve gotten beyond the, you know, Condi Rice formulation of you know what you need to do. We don’t wag our finger at them quite so much as we used to, although every now and then, it slips into the State Department briefings, a little bit of that.
Respect is important but so is power and so – particularly the power to inflict economic pain on Iran and I think that the Iranians have shown that when their national interests really are at stake, they can make decisions, whether you’re respectful toward them or not. So I would hope our diplomats would use appropriate language.
Iran has very skillful diplomats. Even now, after the purge that Ahmadinejad has inflicted on the foreign ministry, there are still some pretty savvy people. And one would hope that they will approach talks in a respectful manner toward the United States. Iran doesn’t help its case when Ahmadinejad comes to the U.N. General Assembly and alleges that the U.S. might have been 9/11. (Chuckles.) So you know, respect is a two-way street and I think they understand that.
MR. NAWAZ: Senator, you want to add something?
MR. HAGEL: Only this. I think Barbara said it very well. I could connect Benjamin’s question into your question because I think they do present an integration here of interests and ultimate outcomes. When you connect what Benjamin, what he asked, regarding what does this mean, when you say these things like “unacceptable,” “weapons,” what is acceptable?
Enrichment, uranium, what rights do countries have to possess nuclear power and nuclear capability? Which we have stated that all nations have that right. Where is that line and it blurs over, it seems to me, into what you’re talking about. And you are as knowledgeable about this, John, as anybody, certainly anybody in this room.
It blurs into your point because if we have any hope of making any progress through the diplomatic channels and all the other influences that we are using and coordinating to influence an outcome, that is all going to be framed and partially part of whatever acceptance there is to what will we accept? What will Iran accept?
And I go back to this real example. The Turkish-Brazilian so-called compromise, which essentially, basically, we laid that on the table a year ago. And then we walked away from it. It wasn’t only our fault. The Iranians blew it up too. That’s not a new assessment. So my point in bringing that up, the Brazilian-Turkish point is because it goes back into Benjamin’s point because it starts to get to the issue which we’re all going to have to get at and get to at some point. What are you willing to accept? How much and how do you do that?
The Russians, if you remember, put that deal on the table a couple years ago, that we’ll enrich it, return it and so on and so on and so on. So this also gets into the technicalities and the depth of this, that I don’t think you can pull apart. It is all woven in that same fabric and this is part of the – the real complexity, as you know, especially, John, and many in this room, is trying to find some resolution here.
And I think what we can – what we need to do, as much as anything else, and it goes back to what Stu was talking about, what we all have referred to, Barbara, purpose, so on, is just try to continue to put this issue, not unlike the Middle East peace process, on a continuation of high ground. I don’t think you’re going to solve the Iranian piece.
And I don’t think it’ll be solved in six months. Maybe it will be, but all these questions. It’s like the Middle East issue. If we continue to keep moving it up on higher ground, higher ground and get it to some point where there is a confluence that will dictate a settlement, that will be in the interest of all countries.
The last point I’d make, we should not underestimate, again, and Barbara’s brought this – Fred talked about it initially, the regional aspect of this. This is critical and it’s something that I have always thought we made huge mistakes when we went into Iraq and Afghanistan the way we did it, that we didn’t regionalize the strategic concepts, the geopolitical strategic dynamic of all those – of all those movements and decisions and actions that we took. We’re now trying to do that. We’re going to have to do that, but it seems to me that Iran is a clear case of that.
MR. NAWAZ: Fred?
MR. KEMPE: Yeah, just two sentences. Let me underscore what Sen. Hagel just said. If you just take a look at the way Turkey looks at missile defense versus the way Poland looks at missile defense, geography makes a difference. And we will have an agreement in Lisbon in the NATO summit in a couple of weeks, but it will be a very careful agreement that takes into account Turkey’s sensitivities, which I think is very important to say.
The other thing is just for clarity, for the Atlantic Council, you’ve heard one task member say it’s unacceptable to have nuclear weapons in Iran, another one say that one could contain, deter, live with. The Atlantic Council itself doesn’t take positions, taskforce does, do. As you can see, this taskforce hasn’t really decided that point. But I don’t think it really has to.
I think the – I think the questions that we need to get at is what should we be willing to accept? What levers do we have to actually determine that? And then how do we determine what we should be willing to accept? For example, it’s not just could we contain Iran? It’s what do we do about proliferation in the wider region?
It’s not just, you know, are they going to carry through on threats to you know, push Israel into the sea. It’s also what’s the impact on Hamas, Hezbollah, et cetera, et cetera. So I think what Barbara said about the nature of the regime would have been Ambassador Eizenstat’s answer, almost certainly.
MR. NAWAZ: And also that strategic patience doesn’t equal infinite patience. I think that’s the message. We have a question from Benjamin and then Sean (ph).
Q: Thanks. Benjamin Loehrke from Ploughshares Fund. Thank you for convening this great group of radical centrists. (Laughter.) My question, I’ll offer to Barbara. Now that we’re hearing reports that sanctions are beginning to bite, from a domestic political standpoint, how do Iranians view the enrichment program? And how will this affect Iranians as they go to the negotiating tables over the next couple weeks?
MS. SLAVIN: Well, you know, it’s hard, of course, to do proper polls in Iran. There have been some and there, you know, this is just really from anecdotal – my own sense of it from having traveled a long time and I don’t think Iranians really – they care about the notion that Iran should have advanced technology. They don’t want to be deprived of that. They think it is their right. But if they were able to trade that for a better economy, I think they’d do it in a minute.
This is, you know, it’s – there’s so many slogans that are tossed around in that country and people repeat them, pro forma because they have to. They’re drummed into them ad nauseam. In the book that I wrote about the U.S. in Iran, I titled the first chapter, “Death to America and Can I Have Your Autograph?”
Going to one of their celebrations of the – I think it was the 29th anniversary of the revolution and you know, everybody’s chanting, death to America, death to America. And there were a group of kids. They all placards on them saying, nuclear is our natural right and you know, all of this stuff.
And there were a bunch of young kids who spotted me in the crowd and saw that I was a foreigner and asked where I was from. And I said I was an American. And Ahmadinejad is up on the platform, you know, blah, blah, blah about Israel and the Holocaust and so on. And I swear, 50 kids, young girls, all came up and asked for my autograph. You know – (chuckles) – just because I was from the States. So you figure it.
I mean, I think that it’s just – it’s an issue that the government uses for nationalism. It’s something that they try to build up to unite the people because there isn’t much, frankly, to unite Iranians anymore. It’s – the Islamic Republic lost its religious fervor a long time ago. So they portray this as Iran’s right, but it’s – it’s certainly not the first priority for most Iranians in my view.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. We have a question here.
Q: Right, so my question is for Ms. Slavin, also.
MR. NAWAZ: If you wouldn’t mind identifying yourself, Sean.
Q: Yeah, yeah. Sorry. My name is Sean Ruda (ph). I guess that – well, first, thank you for your report and thank you to the Atlantic Council for having me. But my question’s really related to the last two, namely, you know, you cite the current political instability as potentially a good thing because the follow-on regime could be more open, maybe more democratic is a good way to put it and more respectful of human rights.
And then you go on to say, and more likely to cooperate or at least not be so violently confrontational with Israel and/or the West. So my question is why? I mean I feel like we often conflate this idea that you know, a more democratic regime would be more like us in a lot of ways. And I feel, you know, I think you would acknowledge, democratic peace theory has about as many caveats as evidentiary points.
MS. SLAVIN: Sure, sure.
Q: And Ahmadinejad was elected. I mean maybe the most recent election was called a little early, but ultimately, it’s not clear that he would not have won given big support in rural areas. And you, yourself, cite that a lot of his internal opposition is from hardline reactionary elements, right?
MS. SLAVIN: That’s true.
Q: So even if we assume that you’re right and a follow-on regime, if we’re patient, comes in with more respect for these human rights and whatnot, why would we – why would we assume that they would not pursue as aggressive a Shiite-crescent extending foreign policy? I mean I don’t know how you’d characterize the influence of Lebanon as anything but destabilizing? What evidence do you have from your study?
MS. SLAVIN: Well, I think the evidence really comes from the policies that were in effect when Mohammad Khatami was president. Iran was a lot less confrontational. It sought better relations with Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf. Khatami went to Lebanon, but he gave a speech in Beirut. He didn’t go to the border, you know, with Israel and make a lot of threats about wiping Israel off the map. It was a different tone.
The nuclear program, the enrichment program was suspended for two years when Khatami was president while the Europeans negotiated with the United States. So we already have an example of what a more constructive Iranian administration can look like.
I take – I make this statement because of the comments that have been made by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the Green movement have repeatedly talked about the fact that they would have a different – (audio break). I take it from my experiences visiting Iran over the last 14 years that they would have a different approach.
The economy is very important and if you will recall, one of the slogans in one of the demonstrations that took place after the elections last year was, let’s see, no to Lebanon, no to Gaza, my life only for Iran. Iranians resent the fact that so much of their money is wasted, in their view, on supporting Hezbollah, Hamas and so on. And I think they would take a very different view. I don’t think they would devote those kinds of resources to these kinds of radical movements.
Khatami also used to say that if the Palestinians reached an agreement with the Israelis, that Iran would not stand in the way of that. It was a different perspective. So we have to hope, I think, that a future Iranian government would be more nationalistic in the sense of dealing with Iranian interests.
Would it give up its claims to influence in the region? No. I mean the shah was the one who started in meddling in Lebanon. The shah was the one who had the nuclear program. It was under his government that three small islands were seized from the United Arab Emirates. So I don’t think you would see an end to Persian nationalism by any means. But the tactics, I think, would be different. And certainly, there would be less of a confrontation, hopefully, with the United States and the West.
MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Barbara. I’m going to ask Sen. Hagel and Fred if they’d like to say anything before I wrap up this discussion with my thanks?
MR. HAGEL: Only to thank you, again, Shuja, for your good work and of course, you, Barbara, and all who have participated over those last nine months and will continue. Thank you all for joining us and to Fred and his leadership. The job of chairman is to stay out of the way and not screw anything up. (Laughter.) So ladies and gentleman, the president. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: I actually have nothing to add.
MR. HAGEL: It’s too easy.
(Cross talk, laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: Uncharacteristically. (Laughter.)
MR. NAWAZ: In that case – in that case, it’s up to me to thank the audience for coming and to thank the members of our taskforce, many of whom will be watching this on television or listening to it on our website or reading the transcript for their invaluable work in supporting what we are doing. I also want to thank, again, the Ploughshares Fund for having given us the initial grant to get this going and we hope to carry it forward.
Picking up on some of the themes that have been raised today, some regional issues that need to be discussed on a broader level because this is the South Asia Center. We want to look at what India’s view is, what Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf States are thinking about Iran and how they can help this relationship and the engagement the West and Iran.
I also want to thank, again, the project director for the Iran Task Force, Mark Brzezinski, who had to be in China, unfortunately, and missed this first launch. So we want to thank you and my colleagues, Shikha Bhatnagar, Alexandra Bellay and Roy Baran. So thank you all for coming. We’ll see you again.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. Good. (Applause.)