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U.S. Urged to Press Case Against Iranian Nukes

(Jun. 7) -Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment complex, shown in 2007. A RAND study released on Tuesday advises the United States to pursue an Iran strategy aimed at persuading the Middle Eastern nation not to produce nuclear weapons (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images). (Jun. 7) -Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment complex, shown in 2007. A RAND study released on Tuesday advises the United States to pursue an Iran strategy aimed at persuading the Middle Eastern nation not to produce nuclear weapons (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).

The United States must focus on convincing Iran not to establish a nuclear deterrent, as the Middle Eastern nation is now for the most part equipped to do so, according to a RAND assessment made public on Tuesday (see GSN, June 6).

In addition, Washington must develop a plan to contain Iran's influence if the country does acquire nuclear weapons, the report says. The document marks a change in approach among U.S. strategy advisers, according to AFP; the United States and its allies have sought for years to end Iranian activities that could contribute to nuclear weapons development, in part by adopting economic penalties against the Persian Gulf state and offering political and economic incentives for its cooperation. Tehran has insisted its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful while consistently refusing to curb disputed elements of its nuclear work.

"There is still time to dissuade Iran from weaponizing its program," said Alireza Nader, one contributor to the report, "Iran's Nuclear Future: Critical U.S. Policy Choices."

The nation now possesses many of the necessary systems and resources for building nuclear bombs, according to the assessment.

"International efforts to control exports and interdict trade can now only hope to slow Iran's progress and possibly deny it the specific technologies needed, for example, for nuclear warhead miniaturization and for mating a warhead on a missile," the document states. "Thus, the Iranian action that the United States will wish to dissuade in the future will be nuclear weaponization."

Iran's leadership is internally divided over potentially tapping the nation's nuclear capabilities for military use, and actions by the United States and other countries could still play a role in shaping Iranian atomic policy, said the experts who prepared the analysis.

"We see such a goal as facing really serious obstacles but believe it is too soon to give up trying," former Undersecretary of State Lynn Davis, the report's head author, said in a telephone conference call. "It is still possible in our view to influence the outcome of the internal political debate in Iran."

"The bottom line from our point of view is -- shared by the intelligence community -- that Iran has yet to make a decision with respect to its nuclear program," Davis said.

The former official reiterated the assessment's call for a forward-looking U.S. strategy toward Iran, in place of approaches "we see today arising primarily from the art of the possible."

Without advising particular actions, the document assesses the advantages and drawbacks of several potential efforts to prevent Iran from "weaponizing," including military steps and the imposition of additional economic penalties. It also explores options for responding to a nuclear-armed Iran.

"Because there is the prospect that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, either a virtual capability or a declared capability, it is now time for the United States and others to begin to think about how deterrence might be achieved, again influencing Iran in the potential use of its nuclear weapons," Davis said. "I would suspect there is some planning going on, but our value here is helping planners not only here in the United States but around the world to think about the future" (Jim Mannion, Agence France-Presse/Google News, June 7).

Analyst Gregory Jones suggested the Persian Gulf state would need roughly two months to enrich enough weapon-grade uranium for a bomb, the London Daily Mail reported on Tuesday. Ground troops would be necessary to prevent the nation from building a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so, he said (London Daily Mail, June 7).

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official is expected to call for the strict enforcement of multilateral economic penalties against Iran during visits to South Korea and Japan this week, Reuters reported on Monday.

Acting Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen "will emphasize the importance of continuing robust implementation of international sanctions to prevent Iran from accessing the international financial system to facilitate its illicit nuclear and weapons program," says a Treasury Department press release.

Cohen, who was set to begin his four-day trip on Tuesday, "will also consult with our partners on next steps to increase pressure by redoubling efforts to target those entities facilitating Iran's illicit activities, especially Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard," the statement adds (Doug Palmer, Reuters, June 6).

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh in a recent article in the New Yorker said the Obama administration has significantly exaggerated indications that Iran is pressing ahead a bid to build nuclear weapons.

"If the fear is based on the notion that somehow Iran has the bomb or is going to get a bomb soon, that is ridiculous because every bit of evidence they have from their own intelligence community -- the people at the top of the American government -- know there are no weapons there," Hersh told Russia Today in remarks published on Tuesday.

"We have known that for years. We have been looking for years after years after years. We support a sanctions program that is designed to stop the punishment it has aimed at stopping the Iranians from doing something we know they are not doing.

"The analogy between what Obama is doing in Iran is very close to what Bush and Dick Cheney, vice president, did to Iraq. They wanted to punish, they wanted to make a case against Iraq, and they did not like the politics, so we made a case against nuclear weapons. If you remember they were talking about mushroom clouds -- they made a case to go to war. I am not suggesting they want to go to war, there are elements in America and certainly elements in Israel that would love to see us attack Iran, but that would be suicidal.

"There is no evidence at all of weaponization. There was no evidence anywhere I went. You go to London, you go to the French, you go to the Germans, and they all say the same thing. We thought, we still think they might want to go but we do not have anything. It should be open and shut. We should move on, but we are not," he said (Russia Today, June 7).

Two Obama administration officials voiced disagreement with Hersh, Politico reported last week. The journalist's article prompted “a collective eye roll” at the White House, according to one of the sources.

“(A)ll you need to read to be deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program is the substantial body of information already in the public domain, including the most recent [International Atomic Energy Agency] report,” a high-level administration official said (see GSN, May 25).

“There is a clear, ongoing pattern of deception, and Iran has repeatedly refused to respond to the IAEA’s questions about the military dimensions of (its) nuclear program, including those about the covert site at Qom,” the source said. “These examples and more make us deeply skeptical of Iran’s nuclear intentions.”

A high-level intelligence official called Hersh's article “a slanted book report on a long narrative that’s already been told many times over.”

“We’ve been clear with the world about what we know about the Iranian nuclear program: Tehran is keeping its options open despite the fact that the community of nations demands otherwise,” the official said (Jennifer Epstein, Politico, May 31).

NTI Analysis

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    March 13, 2014

    On Friday, March 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Five statesmen from Germany, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States call for the urgent formation of a Contact Group of Foreign Ministers to address the crisis and more broadly, create a new approach to building mutual security in the Euro-Atlantic region.

  • U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget: An Overview

    Sept. 27, 2013

    A fact sheet on current and projected costs of maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, produced by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

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