Thomas R. Pickering
Former Undersecretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, and Israel
President, National Iranian American Council; author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States
Middle East specialist, Congressional Research Service; author of Warriors of Islam: Iran's Revolutionary Guard
Thomas R. Mattair
Consultant to government, business and media; author of Global Security Watch – Iran: A Reference Handbook
William L. Nash
President, Middle East Policy Council
The Capitol Building
Thursday, April 16, 2009
WILLIAM L. NASH: Good morning, and welcome to our conference. I'm Bill Nash, the new president of the Middle East Policy Council, and this is my first Capitol Hill conference. As you may know, I recently replaced Ambassador Chas Freeman, and I want to begin by paying tribute to Chas for his 12 years' work with the Middle East Policy Council and a lifetime of service to our Nation.
And I realize that for me to step into his big shoes is going to be a challenge, but I'm very happy to be joining the council, for two reasons. First, it's a great organization and the people who work there and the members of the board of directors are super folks who are dedicated to our work. My second reason is that I'm happy to be back, focused on a part of the world for which I have great admiration and respect.
The Middle East Policy Council is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization. Founded in 1981, the mission of the council is to foster public discussion of the political, economic, security and cultural issues that affect the policies of the United States in the Middle East. We do this in three ways. Our quarterly journal, Middle East Policy, is the flagship of the council's efforts to broaden the debate on critical issues and U.S. interests in the region. These Capitol Hill conferences, are quarterly public forums - this is our 56th - in which a panel of experts discuss critical policy issues. Video and text of the conferences are posted immediately on our Web site, www.mepc.org, and an edited version will be published in the next edition of Middle East Policy.
Our third program, the Public Outreach and Education Program, is intended for a broad range of citizens outside the beltway of Washington, D.C. We want to help American citizens better understand the Middle East. Workshops for elementary, secondary and post-secondary educators are held regularly across the United States. Barbara Petzen, our director of outreach, is on her way to Portland, Oregon this morning to start a series of workshops on the West Coast. In addition, the council speaks to media outlets and civic organizations, and also to corporations who are interested in doing business in the Middle East.
And now to today's discussion, "The United States and Iran: Prospects for Engagement." All bilateral relationships have a history. Some of that history is good; some of that history is bad. Certain relationships have too much history, mostly bad, and unfortunately I think the U.S.-Iran relationship may well fall into that category. But the hard issues facing the two countries are much more than bilateral. There are many invested participants, and even the observers to the relationship have important, sometimes vital, interest in what takes place between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today we want to discuss these hard issues and address the policy options that the United States might take to improve the political and security circumstance, and I suspect economic and cultural factors will come into play as well.
We'll begin our work with a distinguished panel that is well experienced with and informed about these issues. First is Ambassador Tom Pickering, currently the vice chairman of Hills and Company, an international consulting firm, and a former undersecretary of state and U.S. ambassador to, amongst other places, the United Nations, the Russian Federation and Israel. Trita Parsi, right here beside me, is president of the National Iranian American Council, author of "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States." Kenneth Katzman is at the far left. He is a Middle East specialist with the Congressional Research Service and author of "The Warriors of Islam: Iran's Revolutionary Guard." And, finally, Tom Mattair , who is a consultant to government, business and media and, by the way, editor of the book review section of Middle East Policy. He is also the author of "Global Security Watch - Iran: A Reference Handbook." So as you can see, we have a great group gathered together to talk with us.
I will ask each panelist to begin with a 10-minute or so introductory statement. I will then ask a series of follow-up questions, which will facilitate a broader discussion amongst the five of us. After a bit over an hour, I will invite all of you to join us in asking questions or make short, specific comments about our topic. Remember, as always, we are here to shed light, not heat. Thank you very much and let's begin with Tom Pickering.
THOMAS R. PICKERING: Thank you, Bill. It's a pleasure to be here this morning. Let me welcome you in Chas.'s big shoes. I'm certain that Chas. is Chas., as we all know, and no one is an exact clone, but, Bill, I think you're so well placed and so well experienced that we will see, in fact, the Policy Council move from strength to strength under your leadership, and it's a pleasure for me to be here.
I'd like to set the stage - and I have to tell you, truth in advertising, at Bill's request - by doing two things that are very much on my mind. One is, if I can, take a look at the world context very, very briefly for our consideration of Iran and the Middle East, and then take a look at Iran itself and the nature of the differences, if I can, between the United States and Iran, and then allow others to move on.
To begin with, I think the world situation has changed in so many obvious ways. We've had a go with unilateralism and now we understand that multilateralism is indeed an important facet of being effective as a country. We've had a go with the use of military force and now we understand, perhaps more than ever, that diplomacy has a very significant and important role to play in our national progress, prosperity and survival. We've had a go, obviously, at a number of other facets of dealing with problems. It may be too strong to say diktat, but we've had a go in saying watch what we say, not what we do, as an important way of proceeding, and I think we have moved away from that and the leadership in the new administration seems thoroughly to understand those problems.
There are a couple of other features of the landscape that may be a little less obvious but I think they're very important. One of those is - and I will talk about six major issues facing the administration - that the bulk of the issues that now face this administration and indeed the world at large are defined in global terms, in - speaking diplomatic speak - functional as opposed to geographic terms. And so there is a shift, if I can call it that, in the world attention, which affects, indeed, much of how we think and operate with issues but is also a reflection of how the world shifts, and I think this will be obvious as I lay out very briefly for you the six major issues.
And the second point is it will also, I think, be apparent in the six major issues that it is no longer sufficient to think about issues in traditional narrow stovepipes. One example, obviously, is energy. Energy is intimately related to what we do on climate change, and they're both intimately related to our policies as a country on the environment.
They are indeed a cluster of issues. You could carry this to the ridiculous extreme and say everything is related internationally, and that's probably true, but this cluster is a very important point. I think we need to be thinking about issues grouped together rather that in narrow stovepipes, even if we seek to treat them narrowly, and I would say there are two obvious implications of this.
One is that there are synergies in ways in which we treat issues which can help us in dealing with the policies, if we do not write the policy prescriptions too narrowly, if we continue to think broadly about the set of issues. And the other is the old, obvious and very debilitating problem that political leaders and diplomats have felt for centuries: unintended consequences. If in fact there is a cluster, then the consequences need to be made apparent, if not obvious, between the sets of issues, and we need to think about the consequences in this cluster of issues rather than merely think about the narrow stovepipe, if I could put it this way, to go back to the example of energy.
So what are these six issues and how and in what way do I think the functional questions predominate? I would say obviously at the top of the list is the international financial crisis, and it involves banking, international regulation. It involves, obviously, now nations are going to treat, in the future, with everything from investment to mortgages, and that set of cluster of issues is no longer easily parsed or readily dealt with, with any single question.
And, indeed, throughout the financial crisis we have found our governments running hard to stay even. And indeed, I think the Obama administration has made a major effort to try to deal with the future for the first time, and the future to me is the serious and very difficult problem of how are we going to fund it all? And, clearly, we do not want, at the end, to put our last hold card at risk, which is the U.S. Treasury, but we all are going to see that battle right here in this building on that particular question.
Happily, we are trying to design budgets that at least take into account and factor that critically important question, but that is only one facet, obviously, of a terribly complex and difficult set of relations - complex and difficult set of relations where even the most articulate observers have trouble telling us what the major points will be to solve the problem. We are still cutting and trying a little bit on this issue.
The second set of issues I would define - and it's immediate for us in this meeting - geographically is the Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. These are interrelated issues. They are not resolvable by solving one issue and all the others will fall into place, but how we deal with any one of these issues is going to be very important for the others. The issues that I see in this congeries are the three "I"-word countries - Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Arab-Israel peace settlement - and the new "A" word, AfPak, the joint issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Since we're going to go into this in detail, I will only say the following: I think that diplomacy is still woefully underutilized in Iraq. We are still a militarily dominated policy, which is absolutely necessary but totally insufficient, in my view, for finding an exit strategy. And we will have to get people to begin to look at the fact that diplomacy has a role to play in two simple aspects, both of which, one way or another, intimately involve Iran.
One of those aspects is what will be the settlement inside Iraq between majority rule and minority rights; between division of oil income; between an 18-province, a three-region, or some other federation, and so on? And the second set of issues, which is extremely important: What will be the role and place of Iraq and Iran in a future Middle East, and is it important and useful to think about regional security and regional cooperation moving toward institutional terms? And I think that's important but we can talk more about that later. But Iran is a major player there, just as it is in AfPak, and Iran is a significant player in the Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
Let me go on to define a couple of other of these issues so at least you see where the panoply takes us. One of those is what I would call nuclear weapons - everything from major disarmament, to moving to zero, to dealing with nonproliferation, to conventional disarmament, and indeed the nature of potential conflict and how it is affected by these issues - another large congeries of questions that is preoccupying - and, indeed, nonproliferation is not totally absent from the considerations we'll be discussing this morning with respect to Iran.
Another set of issues in my view which is extremely important, which also plays off into the Middle East, is what I call rivals and partners: For the United States, the role it plays in the future international relationship of China, Russia, India. The EU - which is halfway toward being a partner but still obviously needs to be treated in part as the sum of all of its parts as well as the pieces, particularly Britain, France, Germany and so on, is another big player.
And the other two that I would put on my list, but you could add your own, are Japan and Brazil. These countries will be extremely important, Russia particularly on the nuclear weapons and nonproliferation side, China in international financial terms for us, indeed Europe as well and Japan, and we can see many ways to deal with them.
My view is the United States needs to have specific policies of finding common national interests with these potential rivals, so in fact we build partnership rather than stronger rival relationships with them as we go ahead. And I believe here, again, the administration has started off with Russia, which was perhaps, in terms of our relationship, at the nadir in a way that has been helpful to begin to open up the possibilities, whether they're nuclear disarmament, better trade relationships, or further understanding on the Middle East and the near abroad. And I would say there are two other pressing issues defined in functional terms that are out there that need to be considered.
Most important for me, particularly in the Middle East but in Africa and Latin America, is the taxing and difficult problem of poverty, growth and development. And here we are very closely linked up with critical questions of global health, food and water, with failed states, with problems of migration, and indeed with drugs and criminality, all of which have a nexus. And we have a critical question of trade, which is a bridge element back to the first issue of our international economic crisis. I won't say anything more except you can see how they affect the region we're talking about.
And then, finally, energy, climate change and the environment, which I started out with as an example but there is probably no region more important for energy than the one we're talking about. Having set that stage and used up most of my 10 minutes, let me very, very briefly discuss two or three things that come to mind, in my view, with respect to Iran.
First is - Trita may have the answer to this, but my view is that the future of our relationship with Iran will not depend on a totally accurate reading of Iranian internal politics. That remains something of a crapshoot.
And, indeed, I find many Iranian friends have such differing views on what is happening with respect to internal Iranian politics that I am led to believe that while it cannot be ignored, it will not be a sovereign answer to the problem; that Iranian actions as opposed to "internal-ology," if I can coin a phrase, will be much more important, in our views, and that it is significant to continue to keep that in mind and watch as much what is done as what is said and to recognize that there are no fewer factions in Iran than there are in this country, and to some extent the confusing welter of the swirl of politics in this town has an amplified mirror image in Tehran.
Secondly, I think, as a diplomat I always found an element of clarity in trying to figure out what the other side's issues and problems were. That's less difficult. I think fundamental - as I look at Iran and trying to put myself, if I could put it this way, in an ayatollah's slippers - is the question, obviously, of the existential issue. Regime survival, regime change, use of force, those kinds of issues have to be important if you sit in Tehran and you look at this overwhelming nuclear-armed behemoth in the United States.
The second set of issues I think equally important is regional stability and what is Iran's role and place in this? Is Iran going to continue, for one purpose or another, to be isolated and separated, or is it going to be brought in, and how and in what way can that issue be resolved in a way that meets the demands and needs of the region as well as Iran and that recognizes that Iran is a significant country with a strong and vital history that has a serious role to play? But that role, in my view, cannot be revolutionary proselytization so much as being a major contributor to stability, and that's a challenge.
I think, finally, there are many other issues from the Iranian side that are out there, whether it is the hangover from the USS Vincennes, the unresolved sets of issues at The Hague on the shah's money and how that gets divided, or a set of questions that may come out of, certainly, Iranian concerns as the United States engaged in covert action to destabilize the Iranian government and so on. They need to be dealt with.
On the United States' side we have equally strong and persuasive deep concerns. Some of those concerns obviously have to do with the nuclear program, which we'll get into and on which many of us have some policy ideas, but that cannot be the end-all and be-all of the relationship. The other sets of concerns from the United States' side have to do with support for terrorism, Middle East peace, and the question of how Iran treats its own citizens in human rights and civil rights terms. Those are significant and important out there.
Final point, Bill, and I'll get off your - I'll get out of your way here - objectives. For the United States and Iran, the objective ought to be to seek to find a normal relationship over a period of time, a relationship that involves, obviously, not just embassies and ambassadors but an ability for people on all sides to meet, talk with, know and work with each other. This is obviously a millennial description, but we ought to be informed on our side by millennial aspirations in the hopes that things will come together well enough for us to continue to move in that direction. We have a lot at stake and Iran has a lot at stake. I think the new administration has begun well but it has huge challenges ahead of it. Thank you.
MR. NASH: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. The overview and then looking at the specific issues of Iran - are very helpful to begin our discussion.
Now we're going to turn to Trita, who is going to look at Iran and Israel.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much. It's a great, great pleasure being here. And let me first off start by associating myself with a lot of what Under Secretary Pickering said and address one issue in particular in which I am in strong agreement with him.
Indeed, it would be much better for us to take a look at Iranian actions rather than to try to constantly decipher what they are trying to signal through their very many contradictory signals that they're sending. And this is important, particularly mindful of the fact that the Iranians actually do have a policy that they call "simulated irrationality," in which they are seeking to confuse the outside world about what their true intentions are by giving contradictory signals. And the best way of getting around that is to not ignore the rhetoric - you cannot ignore the rhetoric, particularly some of the rhetoric that is coming out of Tehran - but to assess the rhetoric by taking a look at the actions and see if they actually mesh with each other or if it seems to be part of the strategy of making sure that the outside world is confused.
And part of the reason why they're doing this is because if you are seen at times as an irrational actor, then you are less calculable. If you're less calculable, they think that that buys them security because you cannot calculate their next move. In the long run, of course, what it does is it reduces trust between Iran and the outside world, which inevitably is going to be the most important factor for Iranian security. So it is perhaps something that they think they can benefit from in the short run, but in the long run it is, in my view, a devastating approach by the Iranians.
Now, Iran and Israel, and the Israel factor in U.S.-Iran policy, is of course becoming increasingly important, increasingly open in discussions about this. It's a factor that has always been a rather critical factor but it's not until recently that perhaps we have understood it a little better and understood the dynamics and the motivations from the Israeli side.
The current dynamics, the current position actually dates back all the way back to the early 1990s, after the Cold War. It's at that point that the Israelis start to put pressure and argue with the United States that Iran needs to be contained, Iran needs to be sanctioned, and this was very much driven by an Israeli fear that after the Persian Gulf War and after the tensions that existed between the Bush, Sr. administration and Israel, that the United States would gravitate towards the Arab side, and if it also gravitated towards Iran and had a rapprochement with Iran, it could come at Israel's strategic expense, that much of Israel's position in the region would be of less value, particularly since Israel was no longer needed as a buffer against the Soviet Union that no longer existed.
And it's at that point that you see a remarkable shift in the Israeli position towards Iran, which first took the Clinton administration by surprise because only a couple of years earlier the Israelis had, in the middle of the Iran Contra scandal, argued with the Reagan administration that not only should the United States talk to Iran, it should also sell arms to Iran and it should not pay attention to anti-Israeli rhetoric coming out of Iran because that rhetoric was not reflective of the actual policy of Iran.
Five, six years later you had a completely different position, which took the administration in the United States first by surprise, but it was poorly understood. It was poorly understood why there was this significant shift, and it wasn't necessarily a factor that was very prominent in the debate. That dynamic has proceeded and it is now climaxing in many different ways. And the reasons for the Israeli fear or the hesitation in Israel about a U.S.-Iran dialogue that could lead to rapprochement are probably much better understood at this point, and I think also there is a much better assessment that it is actually not an unrealistic fear in Israel. There are significant reasons for Israel to be concerned about the course that the United States is going when it comes to diplomacy with Iran.
Now, we have to remind ourselves that Israel is not a monolith when it comes to this. There are many different views inside of Israel on how to deal with Iran and how to deal with America's policy towards Iran. You have a majority view, which is held currently by the prime minister, which is that a rapprochement or a dialogue that can lead to rapprochement between the United States and Iran can be very problematic for Israel because it can reduce Israel's maneuverability in the region, particularly if a deal between the United States and Iran leads to Iran keeping certain aspects of its nuclear program, having an acceptance of that by the United States, which you see a clear divergence between Israel and the United States when it comes to the red lines on the nuclear program.
Under those circumstances, in which the United States essentially would move towards having a more normal relationship Iran, the Israelis have a fear that this would lead to an abandonment of Israel in the region. Israel would be ending up rather alone facing some of the threats in the region without the United States because the United States would move in a different direction, have a different assessment of those threats, a different way of dealing with Iran. And it is not an unrealistic perspective from the Israeli side. I think the Israelis understood rather clearly. They're particularly mindful of Iran's aspirations to play a leadership role in the region, which means that Iran is very sensitive to public opinion in the Arab world, particularly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
That leads Iran into a situation in which it can make movement on the U.S. front and accommodate the United States on a lot of different issues, but it will have far less flexibility to change its position vis-à-vis Israel. And under those circumstances, then Israel would be faced with an Iran that may be more friendly, less problematic towards the United States, but not as much less problematic when it comes to Israel. And this is clearly a fear that is dominating the minds of many Israelis at this time and it's causing some of the rhetoric coming out of Israel at this time.
There is of course also a minority view that in many ways has been growing, partly because of necessity, in Israel, which is that at the end of the day, however much Israel has been seeking to use pressure and containment to face off the Iranian threat, Iran has become more powerful in the last 15 years, in spite of the sanctions, in spite of the containment policy. Clearly this is not leading to a better position for Israel. The Iranian nuclear program is far more advanced now than it was just a couple of years ago, in spite of all of these different policies.
And then an assessment that if Iran and the United States were to have a rapprochement, it is quite unlikely, at the end of the day, that the United States itself would accept a more normal relationship with Iran unless there is a significant shift in the posture, at a minimum, of Iran when it comes to the Jewish state.
And there are plenty of examples in which whenever the United States and Iran have been close, when they have been sending out feelers to each other, trying to find an opportunity to find some sort of an understanding between the two, that Iran's position and posture on Israel has been actually one of the cards that the Iranians have been willing to play with in order to make sure that they can have a better relationship with the United States.
One example is, of course, the 2003 proposal, which in many ways clearly indicated that the Iranians have understood, however grudgingly, that they cannot achieve a better relationship with the United States without changing their position on Israel. They cannot untangle U.S.-Iran relations from Iranian-Israeli relations, however much they would like to do so.
And from the Israeli side, an assessment then that even if it may not be a perfect situation, it seems to have a far greater likelihood of success in alleviating the threat that Israel is perceiving from Iran, rather than pursuing on the current path on which Iran actually has gained influence, is progressing towards a nuclear option, while even seeing the United States becoming probably a little bit more realistic in realizing that certain aspects of that program cannot be completely walked back. They cannot be completely reversed.
Now, the statements of military threat about attacking Iran's nuclear program that is coming regularly from Israel and Israeli officials should very much be understood in this context. These Israelis have, since the mid-1990s, felt that unless they were ringing the alarm bells about the nuclear program, the United States and the West would not be taking this program as seriously as they have.
There has been a contradiction in the way that the Israelis have approached this. On the one hand, there has been a fear that if Israel is very vocal about this, then Israel will put itself on the forefront of this issue. This would be viewed as an Israeli issue, it would be viewed as an Israeli concern, which would contradict the way that Israel has tried to frame this, that this program in Iran is a global concern.
This is not just Israel's problem; it's the entire international community's problem. But at the same time, if Israel is not on the forefront ringing the alarm bells about the Iranian program, the Israeli fear has been that the issue would be forgotten, that there wouldn't be enough pressure on the West to take a hard line on Iran in order to make sure that the program could be reversed.
It's important to understand this dynamic, and the Israeli fear that if the United States goes forward with diplomacy and cuts a deal with Iran that lets Iran keep some of its nuclear components, that this is part of the reason why you're seeing this militant rhetoric coming out of Israel, because just as much as the Obama administration is understanding that if it wants to improve relations with Iran, if it wants to give diplomacy a chance, it needs to first change the atmosphere, and I think we've seen some clear indications of that.
Many of the speeches and the comments by the president have, to a large extent, been aimed at creating a new atmosphere, injecting trust into the current atmosphere in order to give diplomacy a reasonable chance of success. But when you have talks about potential military attacks on Iran coming from Israel; when you have demands for time limits in diplomacy - and some people have even suggested as little as 12 weeks, essentially expecting that what sanctions and isolation and confrontation have not been able to achieve in 30 years, diplomacy would miraculously be able to achieve in 12 weeks - what that does is that it militarizes the atmosphere, and the more the atmosphere gets militarized, the more difficult it will be for the Obama administration to be able to pursue its path to diplomacy and be able to be successful at it.
I think it's important to understand that a lot of these comments of threat from Israel on taking out Iran's program should be understood in that context and not necessarily as a clear indication that Israel is on the verge of being able to take military action against Iran. Now, I'm not a military expert. I'm sure there are people here who would know much more about that. I would say, though, that this issue is not an issue about distance. It's not about whether Israel can reach Iran with its F-16s or not. It's far more complicated than that.
I'm personally curious as to if there is an Israeli military option that could successfully take that program out, why hasn't it been utilized so far? As time proceeds, the program proceeds. You have more centrifuges, more knowledge on Iran. There doesn't seem to be any value in waiting, if that option actually exists. I tend to believe that it does not exist, that it's more of a way of leveraging Israel's pressure on the United States and, as I mentioned, changing the atmosphere.
When it comes to the dynamics between the two camps in Israel in assessing how to deal with Iran, we have to keep in mind that of course Iran itself plays a significant role in this. The rhetoric coming out of President Ahmadinejad has made it very difficult for a real debate to take place in Israel in which one would have a more realistic assessment of how to deal with the Iranian problem.
Particularly the rhetoric about the Holocaust has been very traumatizing, polarizing in Israel, and made it much more difficult for those who have been arguing that diplomacy actually could be useful to advance Israeli interests in the region and not be seen as a threat to Israel's interest, has made it much more difficult for them to be able to make that case.
And here, again, Iran itself, particularly not using reckless rhetoric, is going to be a critical component to make sure that the atmospherics in the region change in a positive direction in order to make sure that diplomacy is successful. But for Israel itself, also, whichever side wins that debate, one thing that I think would be a clear conclusion is that Israel's interest in the region, particularly at this time when the United States needs to get out of Iraq, needs to stabilize Afghanistan - and it needs Iran in all of those different arenas - having additional points of tensions between the United States and Israel rather than being more supportive of the diplomatic process in the hopes that Israel's concerns would be included on the agenda, I think at the end of the day is going to be decisive. More tensions between Israel and the United States at this point, when this administration has one golden opportunity to really change the region, is not going to be helpful for Israeli-American relations in the long run. Thank you so much.
MR. NASH: We'll turn to Kenneth Katzman now to give us his preliminary views. And, Ken, I guess a question I would like to throw at you as you begin is, Trita said he was skeptical about the possibility of an Israeli attack, and my question to you is, can we afford to discount that possibility?
KENNETH KATZMAN: Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here. Chas. used to say that he would rush the stage if I exceeded my time. I don't know whether that policy is continuing. I'm glad to be under General Nash this time.
MR. NASH: I'm a much kinder, gentler moderator.
MR. KATZMAN: Much kinder and gentler, okay. (Laughter.) Let me just say at the outset I do work for the Congress but I'm here, you know, as an expert. I'm not reflecting the views of CRS or the Congress or the Library of Congress, or certainly not any member or committee of Congress.
You asked about an Israeli air strike. The Department of Defense, it is my understanding, has basically told the Israelis, you are not to do this - that is my understanding - yet we continue to hear rumblings of such considerations. I don't know if that's been - that guidance - and it's more than guidance. I don't know if DOD has updated that guidance to the Israelis, but that was - that has been my understanding. It is a complicated issue and we'll get into it a little bit more.
What I wanted to talk today about - a lot of what we're reading in the press is about process. You know, President Obama and his Nowruz Persian New Year speech, whether there should have been a letter to the Supreme Leader, whether to have outreach before or after the Iranian election - what I want to discuss today is if there are talks, what are the substantive differences? How difficult would these talks - to get to what Ambassador Pickering noted as a long-term, sustainable, normal diplomatic relationship.
The nuclear program is not the sum total of U.S. concerns about Iran. Let's not forget the U.S. and Iran were engaged in low-level warfare during the Iran-Iraq War, the latter stages, 1987, 1988, at a time when Iran's nuclear program was rudimentary at best.
Let's not forget that President Clinton imposed a complete ban on U.S. trade and investment in Iran in May 1995, and the Iran Sanctions Act - it was then called the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act; I had the privilege of working on that when I was assigned to a committee at the time - that was passed at a time when Iran's nuclear program was not on anybody's radar screen. And so the tensions are, you know, I think very substantive. Let's also not forget that President Khatami - he was president from 1997 to 2005 - there were two periods of suspension of uranium enrichment. Iran did suspend uranium enrichment twice during that time.
So the nuclear issue is certainly important, but it is not the sum total of U.S. differences, nor do we have any reason to suspect that Mir Hossein Mousavi, who is the chief contender to Ahmadinejad in the upcoming election, would suspend uranium enrichment. In fact, he just gave an interview to the Financial Times a few days ago saying he would not suspend uranium enrichment.
So even though a somewhat more moderate official might be elected that would not necessarily solve the nuclear program, although I would say that Mousavi, unlike the incumbent, has a much more healthy and more accurate respect for U.S. global influence and U.S. military power than Ahmadinejad does. And it is possible that Mousavi might be more amenable to a combination of incentives and disincentives to return to a period of uranium enrichment suspension.
But I want to talk a little bit about the fundamental U.S.-Iran differences. The two countries have fundamentally and diametrically opposed visions of what the Middle East should look like. Iran envisions a Middle East free of what Iran believes is domination by the United States and Israel. In Israel's view and in Iran's view, this condominium allows Israel to deprive the Palestinians of their rights and their land, prevents the emergence of any Arab or other power that can challenge Israel or the United States, and in concert with Iran's view, self-interested Sunni Muslim incumbent regimes, the U.S.-Israel alliance serves to suppress the deprived and underprivileged Shiite movements and parties from achieving their just rights as well.
Such fundamental differences make it difficult, if we do get to the table with Iran, to forge any type of grand bargain, such as it is. Iran's goal - its foreign policy goal, the assessment of many, is to fundamentally restructure the Middle East by reducing U.S. influence in the region and weakening Israel to the furthest extent possible.
This goal coincides with Iran's national interest, which is to force the United States to proceed cautiously in and around Iran's borders, and to be positioned to cause major harm to the United States, should the United States act against Iran militarily. These goals are very deep-seated. Iran has been invaded throughout its history, views itself as having been manipulated and still being manipulated, or attempted to be manipulated by great powers, and this I think motivates Iran's foreign policy, which is to be sort of liberated from that historical vulnerability that it has.
These foreign policy goals I think explain what we're observing in the Middle East, which is Iran's material - its arms and material support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Shiite militias in Iraq, some Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. I think this explains Iran's alliance, why it's trying to preserve the alliance with Syria, and even has supported Syria's WMD programs via - with some involvement of North Korea. These goals explain Iran's support for Shiite movements in the Gulf who are seeking to challenge or at least achieve respect from Sunni incumbent governments there, although this support has been much reduced since the mid to late 1990s.
Iran's support for these movements - which varies from consistent and large-scale support in the case of Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias to situational, sporadic and non-systematic in the case of, let's say, the Taliban and Afghanistan and Hamas, to some extent - have the net effect of undermining major U.S. foreign policy goals in the Middle East.
These movements that Iran is supporting in many cases are subverting the rule of law in the countries where they operate. They are operating outside official structures such as ministries of defense and interior, and these movements are upsetting or attempting to derail U.S. longstanding - 50-, 60-year-old U.S. efforts to broker an Arab-Israeli comprehensive settlement.
Of course, many in the region feel that these movements that Iran is supporting have legitimate grievances, and in some cases these movements have participated in and even prevailed in elections, electoral processes, in their respective countries. These groups sometimes - and as they participate in politics - are increasingly independent of Tehran. They have independent goals from Tehran.
The issue for U.S. policy, however, and why it's, I think, difficult for the U.S. and Iran to achieve a grand reconciliation is that many of these movements continue to field militias that go into action not only against governments or factions in their own countries, but sometimes against neighboring countries, and this was the case with the Hezbollah-Israeli War of 2006. These movements, with Iranian backing, want to, quote, "have it both ways," both gaining from the political process while retaining their option to fight against that process if politics do not go their way. These movements are also importing weaponry illicitly from Tehran and from other suppliers - not just Tehran but other suppliers as well.
Is it possible for the U.S. and Iran to reach some - to lower tensions? Absolutely, yes. That is possible. Certainly a resolution of the nuclear issue alone would go a long way toward lessening tensions and lessen the U.S. threat perception posed by Iran.
However, many experts believe Iran would not acquiesce to what it sees as a U.S.-Israeli joint hegemony by ending its support for these Shiite and other Islamist movements that it is supporting in the region. Rather, Iran's foreign policy potentially could be set back by promoting successful resolutions of the crisis within these countries and within the region, which would reduce Tehran's opportunity to promote these anti-establishment movements. Tehran's influence in Iraq, for example, was not reduced by U.S.-Iran negotiations in Baghdad - Ryan Crocker to the ambassador, Kazemi Qomi there, but rather by the calming of Iraq generally and the elections in Iraq, which generally rejected Iranian influence and militias.
Iran's influence among certain Pashtun groups, the Taliban and Afghanistan, will be reduced by successful U.S. counterinsurgency strategy and economic development of Afghanistan, not by any really U.S.-Iran deal on Afghanistan. Iran's support for Hamas would be reduced by an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, if there ever is one, not because Iran decides to decrease its support for Hamas to gain some reciprocal concession from the United States elsewhere. And the same goes for Hezbollah, which many believe will only distance itself from Iran when Hezbollah has more to gain from the politics in Lebanon than it has to lose by dismantling its armed wing. And I think I will stop there. Thank you very much.
MR. NASH: Well, we'll turn to Tom Mattair. First of all, Tom has done so much to put this whole panel together, I want to thank him before he speaks. He also agreed to bat cleanup this morning to address all the issues that haven't been addressed. And Ken just gave us a pretty hard look at a number of the factors with respect to Iran. Tom, I'd like you to look on the other side of that elephant a little bit for us to give us maybe an alternative interpretation.
THOMAS R. MATTAIR: Okay.
MR. NASH: But I also asked Tom - one thing we have not covered yet is the view from the other side of the Gulf - the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia as they look at the current circumstances. These are the other very interested parties. So, Tom, if you will pick that up as well.
MR. MATTAIR: Thank you. I think that - when I think about the title of this conference and the question of the prospects for engagement, I think the Obama administration is beginning to develop a non-ideological foreign policy - a foreign policy based on realism and pragmatism. And I also think that if you look carefully at Iranian foreign policy over the last two decades, you can find a lot of pragmatic foreign policy there. And in the case of the Obama administration, its pragmatism I think has been evidenced by its overtures to Iran, and in the case of Iran I think its pragmatism has been evidenced by the fact that Khamenei has, on several occasions since 9/11, been open to talks with the United States.
So I thought today that I would try to think about what kinds of agreements should be pursued when we negotiate with Iran, and I thought, how can we look at these - instead of looking at these in terms of who wins and who loses, is there a way to construct formulas that are win-win formulas for the United States and Iran? So I tried to think that through.
I think the near-term issues that we face with Iran are in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And I think we could both conceivably benefit at the global, regional and domestic levels. If we were to succeed in preventing the Taliban and al Qaeda from reasserting themselves in Afghanistan, and to succeed in setting up a stable central government that shares power with provincial governments, this would enable the United States and NATO forces to ultimately withdraw and ease all the strain and stress on them and our whole military and our budget.
It would reduce the threats to friendly Arab regimes in the region, and it would reduce the threat to the domestic American population. For Iran, it would reduce the potential threat of being attacked by a global superpower next door in a neighboring country, reduce the possibility that a hostile regime in Afghanistan would take actions against Iran, as the Taliban government did in the 1990s, and reduce the drug threat in Iran.
So, I think that what Iran said at the recent conference at The Hague about its willingness to help multilateral efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan is a very good step, and it's also Iran's stated willingness to help reduce the drug problem. To curb Afghanistan's drug trafficking could help because this is the economic activity that actually finances Taliban and al Qaeda operations. They run drugs from Afghanistan into Iran. And they also buy weapons in Iran on these missions. So if Iran can help stem the flow of weapons from Iran into Afghanistan, this would also be helpful.
But I would point out that this drug running and this arms running takes place across the border and in areas that Iran doesn't fully control. It's rugged area. There is a Sunni-Balochi resistance movement there that kills Iranian border guards and kills Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and if Iran is really going to help us in these two areas, we need to help them get control over that border.
As a matter of fact, Iran asked NATO in 2006 to help them get control over that border and NATO said no, so this would be a good time to say yes, I think, if we're really going to try to test their cooperation there and make sure their cooperation is successful. If Western powers are supporting Sunni-Balochi movements, this would be a good time to stop that.
On the question of Iraq, again I think both parties could look at Iraq in a way in which they would see global, regional and domestic benefits for both. Success would enable the United States to withdraw its forces again and relieve the strain I talked about before. It would leave behind an Iraqi government very unlikely to attack Kuwait or any other regime friendly to the U.S., and it would satisfy a weary American public.
For Iran, it can see the U.S.-Iraqi agreement on the gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces as a development that once again reduces the risk of being attacked by a global superpower next door, and reduces the risk of an Iraqi regime, such as the Saddam regime, attacking Iran again, and, if it's a stable Iraq, it reduces the possibility of sectarian and ethnic disturbances spilling over the border into Iran, into Khuzestan or Baluchistan or Kurdistan.
I think Iran could see the victory of al Maliki's list, and his followers, in the recent provincial elections as beneficial because it seems to have been a vote on behalf of a relatively strong central government, and that could help Iraq remain united and prevent the fragmentation and civil war that would be very damaging to Iran.
There is evidence that Iran has been willing to cooperate in the past year. It did respond to al Maliki's appeal to arrange ceasefires when al Maliki's armed forces marched south to deal with the Shia militias. It must have been easier for Iran to do that after the U.S. had surged forces and after the U.S. had co-opted the Sunni Awakening, the Sons of Iraq, and after that had resulted in the reduction of the bloodletting, such as what started when the Sunnis attacked the Shia Golden Dome shrine in Samarra and Shia militias began retaliating in early 2006. And it must have been easier for Iran to do that when it understood that Iraq was about to negotiate the withdrawal of - gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces.
So U.S. commanders who once complained about Iranian lethal aid to Shia militias in the south of Iraq don't complain about that anymore. They say they don't see evidence of it. They say it's stable. They say they think the gains are going to be lasting. And if Iran can continue to do that, if Iran can continue to help us stabilize Iraq, that will obviously facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
I think that means Iran has to persuade other Shia parties to accept the results of these elections because there were Shia parties that favored a weak central government and strong provinces. And I think it means that Iran has to help the United States persuade al Maliki's government to actually share power with disenfranchised Sunni elements such as the Sunni Awakening.
The Sunni Awakening expected to be brought into the Iraqi government and the Iraqi armed forces, and they haven't been in any significant numbers, and I see the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq in recent weeks as possibly flowing from their disenchantment and their anger about that because most of these attacks were taking place in Shia communities.
But when we ask Iran to help us with all of that, and we should, we shouldn't ask them to do more than they are capable of doing because we should try to remember that Iraqi Shias are Arabs, not Persians. They're not pawns of Iran. They have their own agenda. They're trying to establish their independence. And if, for example, Sunni insurgents are attacking Shia communities, Shia militias are going to have an incentive to react, whether Iran asks them to exercise restraint or not.
Now, that takes me to the Persian Gulf and the global, regional, and domestic issues at stake for the United States and Iran. There, of course, the increase in U.S. military forces really followed Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and it continued when Iran continued modernizing its armed forces after the end of its war with Iraq because the United States saw potential threats to the GCC states and saw potential threats to the flow of oil. Iran, on the other hand, has seen the presence of American forces in the Gulf as, once again, bringing up the possibility of a superpower's forces being used against them, also limiting what they see as their rightful role in the Persian Gulf, which has to be defined, and even seeing it as potentially supporting covert operations that destabilize Iran.
So if we can reach agreements and have cooperation with Iran in Afghanistan and in Iraq, then we need to move to the Persian Gulf and try to determine exactly what is Iran's rightful role? What kinds of conventional weapons do they need? What kinds of conventional military exercises ought they be engaging in for normal defensive considerations? Even the GCC states understand that Iran has some normal defensive concerns. And what level of American forces is actually required in the Gulf? Remember that we really have only been there in big numbers for about 18 years. How big does our force there have to be? How much of it could be taken over the horizon, ready for a rapid movement into the Gulf when necessary?
Iran has asked for the total withdrawal of American forces from the Gulf, the total abrogation of U.S. security relationships with the GCC states, and that's just not going to happen. But we can - we can possibly devise a formula whereby Iran's anxieties are reduced, because Iran's anxieties about American military forces in the region would be one reason why they might feel that they would need nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
I think that these developments could be good for GCC states that have been concerned about Iran's military acquisitions and exercises and its relationships with Shia-Arab elements within their own societies on the Arab side of the Gulf. They're very concerned, and yet they have complex relations with Iran. They have areas in which they cooperate with Iran. They engage in a lot of trade with Iran. There are differences among them about how close they can be to Iran.
And, generally speaking, they oppose the use of U.S. military force or Israeli military force to solve our problems with Iran because they fear that that would blow back on them because Iran has conventional military capabilities and particularly capabilities for asymmetric warfare that could prove very damaging to GCC states after an American or Israeli attack. Even though Iranian forces would ultimately be subdued, they could do a lot of damage before they were subdued.
So we are going to have to consult with GCC states very closely as we try to develop formulas for the Persian Gulf, because they are not only concerned about American-Iranian military confrontation, they're also concerned about U.S.-Iranian talks. They're concerned that the United States would actually recognize a dominant Iranian role in the Gulf and that they would be relegated to a secondary status in the Gulf.
And that concern has to be alleviated when we negotiate with Iran and talk to the GCC states too. But it seems to me that if, in our discussions, we are able to agree upon what Iranian military exercises should be and what Iranian access to oil and gas fields should be, and what maritime boundaries should be, and what kinds of agreements can be made about incidents at sea, particularly in the Straits of Hormuz, that might alleviate GCC concerns enough to allow them to get on board with these talks.
I'm not going to say much about nuclear issues except to say this: I did say that the presence of American military forces in the Gulf is a concern to Iran that might lead them to want a deterrent, and I think that ultimately in nuclear talks, if we are going to be satisfied that they are not moving toward the capability to build weapons, they are going to have to have some kinds of security assurances. The kinds of security assurances that they explicitly have asked for in the past, particularly when they offered a grand bargain to the United States in 2003 - assurances that they're not going to be attacked, assurances that their regime isn't going to be overthrown.
So I think for them to open up their nuclear programs to become more transparent, they're going to have to know that assurances are going to be forthcoming about their security. For me, we could talk about specifics of the nuclear program during Q&A, but it seems to me that what we really need more than anything - because Iran is not going to suspend its enrichment of uranium, so what we really need more than anything else is more intense inspections. We need Iran to really adhere to the Additional Protocol of the Nonproliferation Treaty so that IAEA inspectors can go anywhere, anytime.
So far we know that they have not diverted low-enriched uranium, so they cannot make high-enriched uranium, so they cannot have the fuel for a nuclear weapon. We don't know exactly what's happening at this facility in Arak because IAEA inspectors haven't been allowed there recently, and the last time they were there they said there's no reprocessing facility, so we know they were not separating plutonium, but they haven't been there in a while and they need to go again.
Finally, to close it up - and, again, we'll talk during the discussion - for me I think it will be harder for the United States to give security assurances to Iran as long as Iran has the attitudes it has toward Israel, which I think Trita said. It would be a lot easier for Iran to curb its military support to Hezbollah and Hamas if there are Arab-Israeli agreements. They might curb their support if there's progress toward Arab-Israeli agreements, but in the absence of Arab-Israeli agreements or progress, I'm not sure that they will curb their support, and if they don't, I'm not sure the United States is prepared to offer them the security guarantees that are necessary to make everything else hang together. Thank you.
MR. NASH: Thank you, Tom. I think so far we have established a couple of broad outlines: the interrelated nature of global as well as regional politics and security concerns. We've established that the three I's plus AfPak - and I'm sure there is something fancy we could come up with, an acronym for all of that - the three I's plus AfPak, the very important interrelated nature of relationships that have to be dealt with simultaneously as America faces that. We've also touched on the issues of the other players in the neighborhood, the Arab states primarily, and their concerns - the GCC states' concerns on a U.S.-Iranian relationship. And we've also talked about - about watching what the players do versus what they say.
And I want to get into policy options, but before we do that I want to ask a question that a couple of panelists may want to jump on. Ambassador Pickering was quoted in the New Yorker magazine last week saying that trying to figure out what was going on in Iran was a crapshoot, and I was sure he had been misquoted. I'm sure he meant to say, given the vicissitudes of the circumstances in Iran, it's very difficult to prognosticate what is going to happen. (Laughter.) But then he went ahead and used the same expression here this morning, so obviously the New Yorker had it right.
But my question to you, to all of you, is give us one or two key indictors of what you look for in Iran as you try to determine your thoughts on policy options, and then we'll get into the options themselves. So where do you want to roll the dice on that one, sir?
MR. PICKERING: I think it's important, obviously, to continue to look at what you see without taking into the policy thing too early. My feeling is that one of the next stages has to be, in effect, to open official contacts, and are they going to respond to that? It's very clear the easy way to do that is to have somebody like Bill Burns go to the P-5 plus one next meeting with Iran, and I suspect that's going to happen.
And we know in fact that Bill has previously attended one, so things like that will be helpful. So, are they going to respond there? The second set of issues is, what do they say in those meetings? The third set of issues is, what are they saying publicly, recognizing that it is a cacophony rather than harmonious noise? And I think we need to continue to keep our eye on it, but my own view would be the most important things are those things that count on the ground.
MR. NASH: Great. Trita, anything to add?
MR. PARSI: I'll just add a couple of things. We've seen that they have attended meetings that they've been invited to. What we have not seen is if anything in particular is coming out of that, if they're actually helping. And I think what they are waiting for on their end in Iran is to be confident that the United States is looking for a strategic deal, that whatever tactical collaboration could take place in Afghanistan is going to take place within the framework of a larger strategic effort to turn U.S.-Iran relations into something more positive.
And I think the administration has tried to signal it as clearly as they could, that that is the intention. The question is if the Iranians are convinced. When the Obama administration insists on using the term "Islamic Republic of Iran," trying to indicate that they're not looking for regime change; when in the Nowruz message the president says that he is looking for constructive ties with Iran, he's essentially painting out what the end game would be, at least the contours of it.
The question, are the Iranians being convinced, my sense is that just looking at how the rhetoric in Iran has changed over the last 10 days, how the dynamics of the internal debate between the presidential candidates has also changed is that they're starting to become convinced. They're starting to realize that this probably is a real opportunity and it would be a significant mistake from their end to miss it.
But that problem of confidence, that this is not just tactical, that this is not an effort to pretend that diplomacy was tried in order to be able to get more support for more confrontational measures down the road, that confidence is essential to make sure that they don't just show up but they actually deliver something, whether it is in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
MR. NASH: Let's turn to policy options, and I've asked Ken, from his perch in the Congressional Research Center, to look at and provide us some broad outlines of a few policy options the U.S. might adopt.
MR. KATZMAN: Well, obviously the administration has appointed Ambassador Dennis Ross as the point person on Iran, and he's done some writing in the past few years on Iran, although obviously he's more closely identified with the Arab-Israeli dispute, but he's done some writing on Iran and I think a lot of the options have been laid out pretty clearly in some of his writings and his discussions.
What he's interested in and what I think the administration is interested in are very clear incentives and disincentives. I think Ambassador Ross and others in the administration feel that the Bush administration approach was too heavily weighted towards disincentives, sanctions obviously, and the threat of military action hanging out in the balance, and I think Dennis's view and the administration's view is that there needs to be a much clearer sense of what's on offer to Iran, if it were to, you know, obviously be more cooperative on a resolution of the nuclear issue.
So these are some of the options that are out there. Now, you know, the incentives to offer Iran are very well laid out. I mean, in fact, the U.N. Resolution 1747, there's an annex to that resolution that gives the incentives that Iran could expect to receive if there were a resolution of the issue: entry into the World Trade Organization; spare parts and possibly sales of new passenger aircraft, lifting of, you know, some sanctions, more access to peaceful technology - medical technology, agricultural technology, energy technology - more assistance in these fields. So the incentives are pretty clear. These have been well laid out, you know.
The disincentives, you know - obviously, you know, there's a number of them that are bandied about town to continue, basically, the U.N. process of ratcheting up sanctions if Iran were not to cooperate. Obviously some of the discussion centers around trying to restrict sales of gasoline - refined gasoline to Iran. Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Britain has laid out the option of a worldwide ban on new investment in Iran's energy sector.
Some other ideas talk about worldwide restrictions to insurance to Iran's tanker fleet, shipping oil tanker fleet. Other options talk about, you know, banning investment or sales to Iran, for its attempts to improve its oil refinery sector. So these are some ideas that are floating around, you know, and I think clearly the Obama administration clearly, as Trita said, has taken regime change off the table, appears to have taken military action off the table, although that's not as clear, but, you know, these are some of the options that are out there.
MR. NASH: Thank you. Trita, what would you like to add to that, particularly with respect to Israel and Iran?
MR. PARSI: It was mentioned earlier on by several of the speakers that, clearly, making some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front would deprive Iran of some points of friction that it could take advantage of and utilize against the United States and against Israel. So you see a picture in which - I'm not saying that this wasn't necessarily what was intended, but in the past it has been clarified by others that in order to be able to deal with Iran you have to first make a peace between Israel and Palestine. You have to first peel off Syria from the Iran-Syria axis, and the reasoning behind that being that as long as those conflicts continue to exist, it provides Iran with leverage. And if those conflicts are resolved, Iran is left with no choice but to change its policies.
I think there is a perhaps reversed way of looking at this as well. The Iranians are utilizing these conflicts as pressure points precisely because of the fact that they are not being included in any of the regional diplomacy. When they are being excluded, when they are not being brought to the table, when they are not being considered for having a rapprochement with the United States, they retaliate by using those areas in order to be able to put pressure on the United States.
But in circumstances in which Iran has managed to improve its relations with the outside world - for instance, take the example of its profile during the Camp David II talks, the year 2000, which was a very different profile compared to the way that Iranians were involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict in 1994. In '94 you had very, very aggressive rhetoric against Israel, praise of the Hamas bombers. In 2000 it was very silent.
The Iranians were not active in their actions either against what was happening in Camp David II. And this is primarily because of two factors: one, Ehud Barak withdrew from Lebanon before going to Camp David, which limited Iran's ability to be able to use the Lebanese scene, but most importantly because Iran had improved its relations with the European Union, because it had significantly improved its relations with some of the key Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, and it did not feel that if there had been a successful Israeli-Palestinian deal at the time, it would lead to Iran's further isolation. So it didn't have incentives to go against that.
But every time we are presenting peacemaking between Israel and Palestine, or reaching out to Syria as an effort to further isolate Iran, it just fuels Iran's incentives to counter that by being problematic. So I think looking at it from a reverse angle may actually provide easier and better options to be able to deal with this issue, and recognizing that, as was mentioned earlier on, these problems cannot be resolved in isolation of each other.
There may not be a perfect harmony in which the administration can proceed with all of them at the same time, but if there is an effort to only deal with some of them first, with the explicit justification that this will lead to Iran's further isolation, then I think we can be pretty certain that, based on the pattern of their past behavior, they will do everything they can to make that as complicated as possible.
MR. NASH: Tom, what have we missed?
MR. MATTAIR: Well, I'm not sure we missed anything, but to summarize it, I would say that all of these issues are connected and we should be trying to move forward on every front at the same time, maybe not at exactly the same pace. But, again, I think Iran's concern is its security, and it is looking for some assurances there. And it has already in the past cooperated with the United States in Afghanistan after 9/11, and it really got nothing in return. So if it is being asked to cooperate in Afghanistan again, and in Iraq, it may ask itself if there is anything really there for Iran in the long run.
So as they are being asked to cooperate, we need to be moving forward on nuclear talks, and I don't think that setting a strict timeline for these talks is very sensible or that it will be very productive. I think they're going to take time because the issues are very complex. And I am actually heartened to know that there are some people on the National Security Council dealing with nonproliferation issues who think that Iran is several years away from a weapon and that we actually do have time to negotiate with them. They are not at the threshold of making a weapon or even having the capability of it.
And then again, to come back to Arab-Israeli issues, they're not only concerned about American military power; they're concerned about Israeli power and Israeli influence in the region, and so they need to have an understanding about how the Arab-Israeli issues are going to be resolved. I don't think they view Arab-Israeli issues in strictly tactical or strategic terms.
I don't think they support these movements only because it's a way of mobilizing support for Iran in the Arab street or embarrassing Sunni Arab regimes. I think they actually have some genuine sympathy for Shia Lebanese and for Palestinians. And so that's why I think it will be difficult for them to abandon these groups as long as these conflicts are unresolved, and, as a matter of fact, as long as there is violent conflict taking a lot of lives.
So I would expect that they would be looking for some progress in those areas as well as some understandings about what their role in the Gulf is going to be vis-à-vis the GCC states.
MR. NASH: Thank you, Tom. Before I turn it over to the ambassador to try to help me put all of this together, I would just add to the discussion that most of the academic research on these types of situations indicate that if policy change instead of regime change is your goal, and incentives as well as sanctions are part of your means, you have a much higher degree of success. And with that, sir, give us a broader look at the policy options.
MR. PICKERING: Let me try to start with the strategic pieces and then move to some of the tactical concerns.
Overall I think that the United States has a great deal of thinking to do. There is as yet no, I think, settled view in the United States on the critical question for Iran: What's the future role of Iran in the region? To some extent this can be bounded but not yet fully defined - bounded by the thought that the United States does not wish to see, nor do the Arabs of the region wish to see, Iran anointed as an absolute hegemon.
The United States would not - and I think the Arabs would not - wish to see intensive Iranian political and religious proselytization in their territories with the idea in mind of creating new clones of Iran in the region.
But, on the other side, the United States would not wish to see Iran in a position where it was threatened by the neighbors or by coalitions within the region as a whole. The United States would, I think, wish to see a free flow of commerce with Iran, and particularly Iran pumping sufficient quantities of oil to be a major contributor to the issue of energy. The United States has said, after having in fact tried to deny it for many years, that it is prepared to accept Iran's views about what it requires with respect to its future energy, including nuclear energy. So the United States has come around to supporting civil nuclear energy in Iran.
The United States, as a matter of its concern, has not yet resolved the question of whether no enrichment is the centerpiece of its nuclear policy, or as Tom said, and as I believe very strongly, that the centerpiece of our nuclear policy with respect to Iran has to be adequate inspection and monitoring. The two are obviously closely interlinked, but in my view the administration's policy of zero enrichment and, of necessity, standard IAEA safeguards - because I don't think you can get more - is a formula for a rather disastrous ability to understand whether in fact there is clandestine replication or preparation for breakout going on. And those are the reasons why Tom's point is certainly one that I strongly support.
That leads me to the tactical concern that it is, in my view, better to ring-fence enrichment in Iran with transparency and multinational participation, and then use that as the basis for getting adequate inspection. And I think the Additional Protocol, as a minimum I also think that some of the elements that were developed in inspections for Iraq, as well as some of the newer elements - the ability to monitor personnel and other things - are extremely important and not necessarily totally implied by the Additional Protocol. This will be very tough lifting.
I also think that, strategically, the nuclear question is important and cannot be denied, and will certainly have its own time-limited circumstances, Tom, not artificially placed but maybe placed by what has been the moving target of the intelligence community as we go ahead.
In strategic terms, I think the arrangements and discussions with Iran have to range across the widest possible set of questions and draw a lesson from Henry Kissinger's book - which is perhaps Henry's best recollection of how he dealt with China rather than actually what occurred - (laughter) - but, nevertheless, it has to be a discussion that begins in an important period of time with a discussion of world view and regional view as opposed to haggling about different points so that greater understanding comes out of that kind of conversation. I think it has to include respect for Iran, particularly with respect to or with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan and the solution of those issues, but it has to be firm.
My own feeling is that the process with Iran has to begin with engagement and that we should reserve a panoply of efforts, sanctions for a later period, to see if engagement can produce results, but I'm not one who says that we should forever totally abandon sanctions, because it's only sanctions that stand, for me, between engagement and use of force.
I don't think that the United States is, at this stage, ready, in the absence of an agreement, to abandon use of force, but I certainly would put both regime change and use of force on the table and be ready to agree to those in response to a nuclear deal that was acceptable to us and to our allies; that, in my view, putting regime change and use of force on the table gratuitously has some atmospheric value, less in Iran than elsewhere, in part because I think the Iranians won't believe it.
But the one way in which to make that a conclusive commitment is to do so in an agreement where we have a salient interest on our side to see the arrangement continued and accepted and the Iranians understand this so they know that it indeed is a real quid pro quo as opposed to a gratuitous gesture that can be reinterpreted the way the Algiers Accords have been over the years, since we got our hostages back.
The next important piece I think is that in a universal discussion, my view is that it is a canard and a snare to think about a grand bargain because that only means that everybody will attempt to get everything in before anything is done, but I totally agree on something I've called over the years a grand agenda; that is, the agenda has to include full discussion of everything. How it is parsed out and worked out by the diplomats is a different story that has to be dealt with, and it will be one of the tests of whether Iran really is prepared to work as to how much of that can be dealt with.
I think, finally, in the extreme tactical piece, as I said earlier, we need to establish, as soon as possible, continuing official contacts which can open up the broadest possible set of discussions, and we need to move those up the ladder, if I could put it this way, of authority so that more senior people can get involved as soon as possible in the kind of discussions that have to take place to give what I always call a note of authority to the discussions and an ability to venture widely in the arrangements. Secondly, my own view is that nuclear, as important as it is, needs to be raised in due course rather than as the only significant question that we will consider putting on the agenda.
I also believe that there are some small steps - the Chinese began with ping pong. It was unilateral. We should begin by thinking about at least two steps that we could take that don't require an absolute response on the part of the Iranians. One is the Iranian so-called consular officials who are being held in Iraq, and returning those. And the second is, in my view, a clear statement of the point that I think Tom or one of you made, that we are not undertaking covert actions to destabilize Iran politically or in security terms with, say, the Baloch or others. I would not certainly necessarily resile from all of the efforts that we have tried to make with suppliers and others to prevent the Iranian nuclear program from moving ahead on the military side. That's a different piece.
I would, finally, say that if we do take those unilateral steps, it would be nice to also put in the Iranians' hands a list of people who we think are unfairly and illegitimately imprisoned in Iran and in whom we have a natural interest for whatever they might choose to do.
I also think it is extremely important for us to recognize that at least there is a serious Iranian interest in direct air flights, and that can be accomplished through friendly Middle Eastern airlines in a very easy way. That opens the door. If you have direct flights, why not issue visas in Tehran? And that opens the door to the question of the utility of an interests section, which is what a main purpose of an interests section is, which indeed the Iranians have already accomplished with the interests section here in Georgetown as part of the Pakistani Embassy. That could help move things ahead.
Another step that people have mentioned is the value, in my view, of deconfliction of naval operations in the Persian Gulf. It's extremely important. We did it years ago with the Soviet Union. We know how to do that. It's a fairly simple procedure. The real problem is there are two navies in Iran: the IRGC navy and the real navy, or the Iranian navy, and one seems to be more amenable to deconfliction than the other, but it would be important, in my view, for us to recognize that the thing we need least at the present time is some military misunderstanding which leads to tragedy and disaster in the region, and that harassment of each other, if in fact we can agree to stay apart, is no longer a part of the picture.
And we can go ahead and think beyond there and the tactical side, but I would suggest and hope that shortly after the next exercise in Iran of electoral choice, we could not only have had the talks so advanced but we could be in a position then to begin to speak about nuclear issues. But that's only a hope and obviously that takes two to tango.
But that's sort of my feelings, Bill, and whether that rounds up anything or not, or just opens big holes for further discussion, I leave to you.
MR. NASH: Okay. Well, thank you very much, sir. I don't know about a grand bargain or a grand agenda, but that was certainly a grand view of the issues with respect to Iran.
What we want to do now is turn to questions. There is a microphone in the back of the room. If you'd like to ask a question I would ask you to go there. You're welcome to make a short statement, but, please, we're more interested in your questions, and I hope they will be short as well. As you begin, please tell us your name and affiliation and I will make sure we get to as many as possible. Sir, you're first.
Q: Thank you very much for a really thought-provoking event. My name is Jeff Steinberg with Executive Intelligence Review. I'd like to take up issues raised by Ambassador Pickering and Trita Parsi, and pursue further the nuclear question, because it seems to me, first of all, that the nuclear issue is one of those things where you've got a global breakdown of the whole nonproliferation system, which poses further problems for dealing with the immediate issue of Iran.
And so I guess my question is, how do we use these Iran negotiations as a means of repairing a system that can arguably be said to have completely broken down? And, as a corollary to that, taking up Trita Parsi's idea of simulated irrationalism, it seems to me that the Israelis are now surpassing Iran in the use of that measure. And how do we deal with the unavoidable issue that's going to come up in talks with Iran of Israel's arsenal of nuclear weapons, which seems to be outside the framework of any sort of regulatory system? Thank you.
MR. PICKERING: Maybe I could take a shot at the first part of your question, but also just mention that so far, I guess simulation hasn't been the hard problem. (Chuckles.) We have had kind of a natural background. But I'll let Trita take that further on.
I think that it's extremely important to look at Iran in the context of the whole nonproliferation effort and to find opportunities, if I could put it this way, because Iran wishes to be treated on a basis equal with others. So I feel very strongly - I've said this at previous conferences - that we need to begin by multilateralizing those elements of the civil nuclear fuel cycle that deal with sensitive technologies. I would first say it seems to me we ought to take a firm decision that reprocessing is out, and we ought to phase the Japanese and others out of that over a period of years.
And with respect to enrichment, we ought to - and banning reprocessing in fact takes plutonium out of the fuel cycle - but we ought to, with respect to enrichment, say we will multilateralize our civil nuclear enrichment facilities in this country, expect all the weapons states to do that; we expect everybody else to do that. That's the gold standard. That's the only international standard in which we'll proceed.
I would strongly also believe that we should go to the Russians and say, let's propose multinational enrichment to Iran. If the Iranians will accept the Russian proposal for Angarsk in this context, fine, but if not then we ought to at least hold the door open that some enrichment with real inspection is better than no enrichment with no inspection, or little inspection, or incomplete inspection. And I think that piece is important and ought to be part of it.
Now, I would just say, that helps us close the big loophole in the NPT, and we ought to do this with Brazil or anybody else that wants to enrich, and that there ought to be, with multinational enrichment, a very serious effort to make a high standard of inspection for everybody part of the answer to the problem rather than the other way around.
Of course, all the recognized nuclear powers have taken themselves out of the use of sensitive facilities for their weapons programs. So there is, by at least declared moratorium, no Russian enrichment for use in weapons programs, no U.S. reprocessing of plutonium for use in weapons programs. Indeed, we're all trying to figure out how to get rid of the overhang, which is the problem.
So this helps us, in effect, reinforce the move that the administration has said it's prepared to take toward a fissile material cutoff treaty, as well as close the loophole in the NPT, as well as provide a solution, if I could put it this way, which is universal for the Iran problem.
MR. NASH: Okay, Dr. Anthony.
Q: Yes, John Duke Anthony. My question has to do with the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Only one of the five of you even mentioned it in a passing phrase, and that was Ambassador Pickering. And so here we're talking about the room inside the 800-pound gorilla, which is this room and about 50 other rooms in this particular building.
So despite the wonderful cerebral massage we've had from all five of you - you've really covered the ground - how realistic is it that even a modicum percentage of your recommendations would be likely of passage with the United States Congress if we have two frames of reference here, the most recent one being that of the 535 members of Congress, only five voted against the resolution that accepted without qualification Israel's explanation of the invasion and occupation - re-occupation of Gaza late December for 23 days. And the earlier one, in February of 2007, where there was, in the draft resolution for the congressional resolution that there should be no U.S. attack against Iran without specific congressional authorization, that was taken out of the resolution by Nancy Pelosi after being lobbied and hammered by AIPAC.
Could you address the congressional prospects for any of these fine recommendations having a possibility of passage?
MR. PARSI: Thank you, John, for those kind words. (Laughter.) I think - well, you raise a lot of very important points but let's also remind ourselves of a couple of things. Last year there was another resolution, 362, that called for stringent inspections of every ship, person, plane going in and out of Iran, essentially calling for a naval blockade.
Initially it did have a significant amount of support on Capitol Hill, but because of efforts of bringing to the attention to the lawmakers as well as the Democratic leadership that a naval blockade not authorized by the Security Council, is an act of war, so essentially this would be a war resolution. In spite of the fact that it did have 280 cosponsors and was supported by some of the most important and powerful groups in Washington, this resolution did not pass. It was not permitted to reach the floor for a vote. That was a very, very significant deal. It really indicated that the atmospherics and realities and the political landscapes on Capitol Hill have also changed.
Beyond that, you have several pieces of sanctions legislation that are currently being introduced, some of them pushed for very hard, but nevertheless, they don't seem to have the greatest prospects of actually being able to be passed this year because there is a realization and there is a strong signal sent, I suspect, that sanctions prior to or in the middle of the diplomatic process would undermine the president's agenda to try to see what he can achieve diplomatically with Iran. And so far, as long as that agenda proceeds, in spite of some pressures, in spite of some efforts, we've not seen any indications that those sanctions bills are going to go out of committee and be voted on, as well as make sure that they have a similar resolution or bill on the Senate side.
Now, this reality, however, which I agree with you is a rather uncommon reality - this is not the way things usually are in this building - will probably not last for very, very long, and this gives some pressure on the administration that even though nothing can be resolved in three months or even 12 months, some progress needs to be made on the diplomatic front in order for the president to continue to have the confidence of the Congress so that the Congress does not step in itself with other types of measures. And Congress usually does not have many other tools to play with than sanctions.
But let me also point out a third positive - and Ambassador Pickering pointed out the utility of an incidents-at-sea agreement. That has now been put into a bill by Congressman Conyers and Congressman Geoff Davis, a bipartisan bill that is attracting cosponsors right now, that is calling on the administration that within the context of diplomacy with Iran, do also pursue an incidents-at-sea agreement with the many navies in Iran in order to protect U.S. servicemen and women that are patrolling the Persian Gulf.
MR. NASH: Let me have Ken jump in.
MR. KATZMAN: Thank you. John, I think your question implied that the administration might reach some deal with Iran that satisfies it on some things and that Congress might block that.
Q: Maybe block it before it's achieved.
MR. KATZMAN: Okay, well, a lot of the legislation Trita was mentioning and a lot of what has been brought to a vote in the House last Congress and is coming up again are what's called sort of Sense of Congress resolutions. They express the sense or thinking of Congress that something should be policy or something should happen.
They are not always binding, and I think it's been at least my experience that when an administration reaches an agreement with another country that it finds acceptable, even though some in Congress may not agree with that, the executive branch has quite a lot of legal authority to go through with that deal. It would only be in very extreme circumstances of a major disagreement.
For example, North Korea was taken off the U.S. list of terrorism states. Libya was taken off. There were - and there is congressional authority to oppose that by passage of a joint resolution with a veto-proof majority. Those were not achieved, so those countries did come off those lists, even though there were many in Congress that disagreed with that.
So I would say that there is a lot of latitude to reach a deal with Iran if the executive reaches a deal that Congress would not be able to or would not maneuver in such a way to prevent that.
MR. PICKERING: John, three quick points. And you will never let us get by with the mellifluous. I know that.
Point number one, to be binding, any push by Congress has to have the president's signature, and this president is in a strong position to deal with it. Secondly, there is no question in my mind that Prime Minister Netanyahu has an imperative to get along with President Obama, and this is quite important. It's not going to be totally determinative - they will be sending each other macho signals one way or another - but hopefully it will make a difference because I believe that given his experience as a very successful finance minister of Israel in which he was very successful and did very popular things, Prime Minister Netanyahu, over a period of time, can evince that he can also become a successful prime minister of Israel. To do that, he has to get along with President Obama. That's very important.
I think, finally, the other 800-pound gorilla I thought you were really going to throw out was the United States has no settled view on the use of force, and it probably won't until the end of the day. It has a settled view, I believe now, but only by implication that use of force is a last resort rather than the first or mid-term resort, and I think that's very important, and I hope it continues to persuade Israel that that's the case. I think in fact it has a double burden of persuading Israel that that's the case and doing everything it can to persuade Iran that any overt move toward a military capability is equally dangerous and equally difficult.
MR. NASH: Thank you. Ma'am?
Q: Thank you. Diane Perlman. I'm with the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, and also representing Psychologists for Social Responsibility at the Nuclear Nonproliferation conference coming up. And I've wanted maybe to change my question a little bit after the last one, but basically - well, the premise is the same for both, that as you've suggested tension reduction is preferable and positive inducements and security assurances, and that usually pressure and sanctions have the - as Trita especially was saying, have the opposite effect and are likely to induce fear, humiliation, provoke defiance and escalate tensions and create a volatile situation, and you just said use of force.
I think it's more clear to say the use of violence is not a last resort; I think it's the worst resort and there is probably almost nothing worse than that, and I think we have enough knowledge to have lots of other strategies and to be creative.
So a short question I was going to ask is, regarding dealing with Iran around the nuclear issue, wouldn't it help if we were more active in complying with Article VI of the NPT to negotiate to eliminate our nuclear weapons? I mean, I could also address -
MR. NASH: Thank you.
Q: - the Israel AIPAC, but -
MR. PICKERING: Let me just say that once again you brought up an issue which I think is critically important, and it helps to set the stage for being jihadi, if I could put it this way, on nonproliferation with respect to Iran. Happily, the president and President Medvedev have agreed to move ahead with not only a way to, if I could put it this way, preserve START and the verification mechanism, but also on a next stage of U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament, and hopefully that will move fairly well and move fairly strongly.
We don't yet know the full outcome of that, but that's a contribution I think of some significant value. I think that also working with the Russians on missile defense, which seems to be at least a more open proposition than it used to be, can be very, very helpful in helping to set the stage for the fact that we are determined to carry out our commitments under Article VI of the NPT, and of course the U.S. and Russia possess some 95 percent of these weapons and they have to take the lead and it will be very important.
Incidentally, it's not totally crazy that in fact working with the Russians on disarmament has been one of the ways in which the administration has begun to help to turn the U.S.-Russian relationship from a net negative over the past couple of years to one having some very significant positive elements. So I think it serves a number of very useful purposes, sets the stage for Iran, helps us to move toward a situation where we can make the 2010 NPT Review Conference into something of a success rather than the kind of disaster we have seen in the past, and also I think move us toward a goal at least, which I think is very much worthwhile having on the table and exploring, which the president spoke about in Prague of moving towards zero.
MR. NASH: Great. The next questioner.
Q: I am Steve Sniegoski, and I just wanted to especially ask a question to Dr. Parsi. And this relates to his book where he emphasizes that the Israelis have traditionally seen Iran as a fundamental - a natural ally of Israel's, and even were thinking in these terms after the beginning of the Islamic Republic.
I'm just wondering if there is any possibility of Israel and Iran doing a deal behind America's back in which Israel would concede Iranian dominance of the Persian Gulf in return for Iran giving up its support of the Palestinians and Hezbollah. I'm thinking of something on the order of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which certainly had the West fooled. It seems conceivable - you know, I mean, a way out thing, but is there any possibility of such an activity?
MR. PARSI: Thank you. Thanks for that question. Yes, you're quite right. From the Israeli perspective there has been a long-held view of viewing Iran as a natural ally, as a non-Arab state in the region, who also had had and continues to have significant problems with many of the Arab states, and as a result, my enemy's enemy is my friend. That was the logic of the "periphery doctrine" that Ben Gurion put together.
And it's a view, a doctrine that had come to determine and influence Israeli thinking on Iran almost to an ideological level, to the extent that during the 1980s, in spite of all the indications that Iran was moving in a different direction, in spite of its rhetoric, the Israelis kept on courting Iran, seeking to rebuild that relationship because they felt that the strategic logic for it remained in place because the common threats were still there.
And they had some limited success in that, and I think one of the lessons they learned in that process was that in this Iran, the Iran of the Islamic Republic, the Iranians may tactically dance with the Israelis in order to get access to Washington, but there were no strategic objectives on the Iranian side to actually have any relations with the Israelis themselves. This is one of the takeaways that they had from the Iran Contra dealings, in which as soon as the U.S. and Iran started to get a little bit closer together, the first thing the Iranians did was to try to cut the Israelis out from the equation.
Now, even Netanyahu, incidentally, back in 1996, was toying with the idea of seeing if he could rebuild that axis. When he first came into power for about nine months he was almost completely silent about Iran, avoiding the rhetoric that Rabin and Peres had been using against Iran. And part of it was because he was not very excited about the peace process.
He did not believe in the prospects of having - he was not in favor of the land-for-peace formula, felt that the Palestinians would eventually betray Israel, and as a result he wanted to keep the option open for having some sort of relationship with Tehran, and he sent feelers to the Iranians. He got nothing in return. The Iranians simply were not interested, and I suspect that that will continue to be the case, mindful of the perspective of this particular government in Iran in which they view that their ability to be recognized and accepted as a leader in the region necessitates that they create common denominators with the Arab populations. They're very sensitive to the sentiments on the Arab streets.
Which means, from their perspective, that they have to take a leadership role on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even though they may not necessarily be on the forefront taking action, but to move closer to Israel under these circumstances was not successful for the shah in getting Arab acceptance for Iranian leadership and it generally will not be successful with the current government.
So I don't see many prospects for the scenario that you painted out. I do believe, however, that there is some flexibility in Iran when it comes to changing their profile on Israel, meaning that they may continue to have rhetoric every once in a while criticizing the Israelis but couching that criticism in the context of Israeli treatment of Palestinians rather than, as it has been in the last couple of years, which is going towards an existential issue: Does Israel have the right to exist or not, and refrain from being a frontline state against Israel. But I suspect that that's probably as far as they can go without losing what they view as their street credibility in the larger Muslim world.
MR. PICKERING: Can I just make one point? The deal is obviously a horse for a rabbit. What does Israeli recognition of Iran's putative role in the Middle East really mean? It carries no weight with anybody, with all respect. I was ambassador to Israel for four years so I have some sense what that means.
MR. NASH: Thank you. More than a couple of people get to vote on this issue, right?
MR. PICKERING: Absolutely.
MR. NASH: Sir, please. Excuse me; before you start, we're starting to - because of the good questions and the great answers, we're starting to push time a little bit, so I'd like to shorten both questions and answers, panel, as we go forward. Sir?
Q: Yeah, Mustapha Malak is my name. I'm a journalist. One question did not get answered, probably a lot of things, that as far as I know, at every negotiation, Iran brings up the question of Israel's nuclear weapons, but it never gets discussed there or even here. Now, is it possible to not bring up Israel's nuclear weapons and have a discussion about nuclear, I mean, proliferation? And also, NPT signatories are committed to move toward this moment without a meaningful discussion. There can be a fruitful discussion with Iran.
And my second question is -
MR. NASH: I think we're going to stick with that one because that one's awfully good. Let me have my friend Tom Mattair here answer that question.
MR. MATTAIR: Oh, thank you. (Laughter.) Yeah, Iran is looking for security assurances, and that's an issue for Iran. I don't see that being within the realm of the possible in a negotiation with Iran. You know, the GCC states also propose a nuclear-free Middle East, which means that Israel would give up its nuclear weapons. As a realist I think we're going to have to find agreements that are doable, and I frankly don't see that as doable in any way, shape or form.
And may I just reply - one thing about Stephen Sniegoski's question - I agree with Ambassador Pickering that the Israeli recognition of Iran's role in the Gulf is not sufficient. There is the United States to think about. There is the United States and its relationships with Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries and how we view their role and our security relationship with them and our armed sales to them and our et cetera - all of our relationships with them. So Israel can't really overcome that.
MR. NASH: Okay.
Q: Thanks. Michelle Kellerman with National Public Radio. I wanted to ask just how you judge what the Obama administration has done so far. They've taken these series of gestures - the meeting at The Hague, agreeing to have Bill Burns take part in these future talks. Is that how the administration is likely to continue to roll out its Iran strategy, in these small gestures, or do you expect a bigger gesture down the road? And are there any prospects for this EU-3 plus three talks that Bill Burns would be a part of?
MR. PARSI: Thank you. I don't foresee any Iranian type of press conference with dancers and everything else that they usually have when they're announcing something major on the nuclear front. I don't foresee that happening with the State Department's review. On the contrary, I think the perspective of the review that is held at the State Department and in the administration is that this is an ongoing review. It may have - I think we're seeing it being rolled out. It's not a finished process. Even when it's going to be announced, or if it is going to be announced in that form, it's still going to continue. This is a major issue. I actually do believe that they do deserve to take some time to really think this over in great detail. But I think what the administration has succeeded in doing in the few months that that's been in place is to really change the atmospherics, and that is absolutely critical. It's absolutely critical to make sure that there is an injection of trust into this atmosphere because without that you're not going to get very far.
What I'm a little bit more concerned about is that there seems to be - I think the Iranians will probably see it this way, that there's going to be a lot of nice statements from the United States, there's going to be a lot of respectful talk, and in return there is going to be an expectation that Iran will do something, that it will take an action to reciprocate.
And I suspect that may not happen. Instead the Iranians will reciprocate by starting, as they have done, giving a lot of much more respectful rhetoric towards the United States, referring to the president of the United States as a noble person, et cetera. And I think perhaps the best way is to just get to the table quickly without demanding any significant actions before - and this is particularly important on the Iranian side in which there has been, recently, demands that there has to be some action from the Obama administration before they feel confident that this is actually a strategic endeavor that he is entering into. It would be a mistake, in my view, for Tehran to insist on that to the extent that it actually becomes similar to the Bush administration's precondition for negotiations.
MR. NASH: Ken, quickly please.
MR. KATZMAN: I think some of these additional gestures are probably going to wait until after the Iran election of June the 12th. It is no secret in this town - I don't think I'm saying anything that anybody here does not know - that the administration and official Washington would like to see a new face in the presidency of Iran.
It is not our decision, obviously, but that is obviously the hope, and I don't think that's news to anybody. Mr. Mousavi - he was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq War - he said officially that he would like to end Iran's isolation. And I think if he is elected, I think official Washington would view that as a signal from the Iranian public that the Iranian public would also like to end Iran's isolation, and I think that would then set the stage for additional roll-outs of the Obama administration follow up. Thank you.
MR. PICKERING: Could I just make a couple of quick points? The State Department is not a hotbed of inconsistency, so what you see is what you're going to get, I think. I think, secondly, the worst thing we could do in our interest that Mr. Katzman just laid out is to take a role in the Iranian election. We have, I think, so far - and I think wisely - scrupulously avoided engaging ourselves. I also said earlier on I think it's time to move things to official channels and see what can be delivered, which is basically what the Supreme Leader in Iran, Khamenei, has sort of said; we want to see what you're prepared to do, and that's where we ought to go.
I don't think that there is a huge role for what I would call theatrics and dancers and news spin, but I think the president, at critical times, could help to keep things on track, as he has, I think, done very, very well with first the Al Arabiya interview and then with the Nowruz message. But I think that has to be very carefully paced because you do not want what I would call the public piece to get well out ahead of where you're prepared to go in actuality with - to develop real steps.
MR. NASH: I was checking with the ambassador while another answer was being given on how long it took to work up the Nixon-goes-to-China process, and that was not the first 100 days of Mr. Nixon's administration. So even the dancing takes a while to set up, so we'll go with that.
Next question, please.
Q: Michele Steinberg from EIR Online. This is a military question, so maybe, General Nash, you're the person to answer, but -
MR. NASH: Nobody knew that until now. Come on.
Q: It's in the bio. You can't hide. But a few months ago another think tank in Washington, the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, published a paper - I think Dennis Ross was affiliated with them at the time at a very high level - about military action, and it had an alarming thesis, which is ignore all of these warnings that have been given by military people that says you're not going to take out the nuclear program.
And it seemed to intersect another concept which is floating around, which is effects-based outcomes in military doctrine, which is to say use military action to modify behavior, not necessarily to achieve a specific military result. And some voices - you know, senior flag-grade officers have said, no, this is really a bad idea. It didn't work in Gaza, for example, recently. Hamas is still there, and so forth.
But that aside, the question is there is this paper out there that says the United States military should, and the U.S. policy should, continue to live by what was the National Security Strategy document of 2002, preemptive or preventive warfare. And this is a concern I think that still remains. So please elaborate.
MR. NASH: I don't think we have any evidence in the last decade that that policy was particularly successful in advancing the interests of the United States. I see no reason why using that policy in the future would be any more successful.
Q: My name is Ekta Dari (ph), representing INF. I have a short comment. That is that at one time Rafsanjani mentioned that they lost opportunities, referring to Clinton's administration, some, you know, relationships that they developed during Khatami. There were some openings that they missed, and they actually seem to regret it.
The general population in Iran is mostly in support of normal relations with the United States in all fields, and therefore I think there is a pressure on the present government, and even Khamenei, to normalize relations. Maybe not, you know, to the full extent but, you know, just on that road.
Now, all of a sudden yesterday I think Ahmadinejad dropped a situation that they have a new package replacing that 2003 proposal that they had. Now, this new package that is going to be presented to the West, as he said, my question is for Trita, that he might have some knowledge from some old guards inside the country. Is this package going to be promising in such a way that it will normalize the relationship, maybe opening up an interest section in Iran, or something like that, as a tactical means, or it would be a harder line towards some, you know, worse situation? Thank you.
MR. PARSI: Thank you. I actually have absolutely no knowledge of what possibly would be in that package. The only one thing I've heard - and, again, I don't know if this is on good source or not - that if it is going to be publicized, if it's going to be made public instead of actually giving it to the P-5 plus one and give them the opportunity to review it before it's made public, I don't see that as a good sign. If this is a serious effort, it should be given to the P-5 plus one. It should not be revealed to the media, give the governments the opportunity to review this properly and not make this something that is negotiated in public.
MR. NASH: Okay, great. This will be our last question.
Q: Hi. Jacqueline Owens, no affiliation. I have three questions. First -
MR. NASH: (Chuckles.) This will be our last three questions, all right?
Q: Quick questions.
MR. NASH: Very quickly, please.
Q: Mr. Pickering, you mentioned that Iran is a significant player in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, if the Palestinians didn't feel the need to seek funding for their resistance in order to get Israel to comply with international law, like the ICJ, maybe Iran wouldn't be such a big player. How important do you think it is for all countries, and especially in this case Israel, to comply with international law?
Second question, for Mr. Mattair: You mentioned that in 2006 Iran went to NATO and was denied requests for helping in the Baluchistan area. Though I read in a New Yorker article in July of 2006, President Bush signed off on covert - I believe it was a $20 million covert action plan to fund resistance in Baluchistan so that they could somehow destabilize the theocratic government. I can send you that source by e-mail later if you like. And a Carnegie analyst just recently referenced that article as well, so I know it's there.
MR. NASH: And your third question is?
Q: My third question is for you, Mr. Nash. You mentioned that policy change instead of regime change as a goal would equal a higher success. How and what are the possibilities do you think that this policy, instead of regime change can lead to a more democratic or even a constitutional monarchal type of government in Iran? Thank you.
MR. PICKERING: If I can, I'll answer my question. I believe in international law and I believe in observing international law. I think the question specifically relates to settlements. The United States took the view, in my view very wisely, many years ago that settlements were illegal under the prevailing conventions. The Israelis have a different view. I'll allow you to have their explanation. I won't give it. I still believe that that's the case and I still believe in fact that we should continue to push Israel hard on the settlements issue. I think the settlements issue is significant, but it's not the end all, and we have to be careful not, in fact, to end up with some deal on settlements and no deal on two states.
MR. MATTAIR: Well, on that first question, just very, very briefly, I actually think that Iran's influence in the Palestinian areas will be diminished if there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. I think it's the best way to defuse extremism throughout the region and the best way to defuse Iran's influence there. And if there is no Arab-Israeli settlement, I think the Palestinian resistance may actually get more extreme than it already is because you have non-Palestinian, Sunni, Salafi jihadists trying to go to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to confront Israel.
On your question, yes, the Bush administration authorized numerous covert operations inside Iran, which were aimed at gathering information about Iran's nuclear programs and other activities and also possibly encouraging ethnic and separatist dissidents. You know, this new administration has an Iran review underway and I'm sure they'll look at that. But with respect to Iran's border with Afghanistan, that's where the Sunni Balochi live. That's one reason Iran doesn't control its border as well as it would need to in order to help stop the drug smuggling into Iran from Afghanistan, and in order to stop the flow of arms from Iran into Afghanistan.
So they would probably - someone asked earlier, what would Iran look for in terms of concrete gestures from the United States? The United States already just put a Kurdish group on the State Department's terrorist list - PJAK, the Kurdish Free Life Party. There were rumors that they had been supported by Western powers. Now they're on the State Department's terrorist list. If the United States takes the same attitude toward the Jondallah, Abdulmalak Rigi's Sunni Balochi group, and puts them on a terrorist list and encourages anyone to desist from supporting them, that will help Iran gain control over its border and help us in Afghanistan - if they want to.
MR. NASH: Ken, very quickly.
MR. KATZMAN: Yes, very quickly, on this issue of what was mentioned about covert operations to support separatist groups, ethnic, non-Persian minorities in Iran, I have a different understanding of that than was in that article.
MR. NASH: Okay, and for my part of the combined answers, the point I was making earlier is that as you try to deal with a country, if you deal on the interests and policies that you're trying to change as opposed to changing the country, you have a higher probability of success. And also the corollary is if you use positive reinforcement as well as coercion or sanctions, you have a higher degree of success. And so, as we look at policy options for dealing with Iran today and many other countries in the future, the fact of the matter is if you deal on interest and policies and not on the character of the organization that you're dealing with, you'll probably have a higher degree of - a higher probability of success.
Our time is up. I want to thank everyone for coming. I want to thank our C-SPAN audience for joining us. I want to thank Ken and Tom and Tom and Trita for being here. Your insights and wisdom have been very useful. I think we accomplished our objective of fostering discussion of important issues. And I would just remind you of www.mepc.org and Middle East Policy. Thank you very much.