The following is an edited transcript of a meeting convened by the Middle East Policy Council on May 25, 1995, in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Former Senator George McGovern, president of the council, introduced the panel; Thomas R. Mattair, the council’s director of research and policy analysis, was the organizer and moderator.
ELLEN LAIPSON, director of Near East and South Asian Affairs for the National Security Council:
It will come as no surprise that Iran has been a major challenge for the Clinton administration's foreign policy. Today's forum is well-timed, because it gives us a chance to review the recent debate over the policy and the changes that the president announced just about a month ago. I welcome the chance to discuss this important issue and hear your views as well, and to be able to bring those ideas back to the debate that we have within the government.
We all recognize the importance of Iran in the Middle East region--the complexity of its society, the richness of its cultural traditions, and the very troubled history of U.S.-Iran relations in recent years. I think no one would disagree with the proposition that the last decade and a half has been a difficult time in the relationship between Iran and the United States. But it is our view that the situation we're in today does derive from the conditions in the region and from our efforts to protect our critical interests there.
I will divide my remarks into three simple questions. First, what is the policy? Second, why did the president make the changes that were announced on April 30? And, lastly, where do we go from here?
To give you the current state of play in the policy, it's important to note that our approach focuses on Iran's actions-not the nature of the regime, not what they call themselves, not the Islamic character of the regime, but the specific actions that we have observed the Iranian government get involved in. These include, first and foremost, their involvement in terrorism, particularly that which undermines the peace process in the Middle East-and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, we focus a lot of our concern on their efforts to subvert friendly governments in the region, their unfortunate human-rights record, and their conventional arms buildup which could, if realized, pose real threats to small Persian Gulf states that are friends of the United States.
At the same time, we also have to focus on the long-term challenge from Iran-not just the actions of today, but the potential, the capability that Iran could have, if it were to fulfill its ambitions, particularly in the weapons area. We are not trying to argue that today Iran poses a major military threat to the United States, but we are working to prevent it from doing so. We are looking at Iran's ambitions and intentions, not just its current military capabilities.
The policy is trying to capture, on the one hand, our efforts to address Iran's behavior today and, on the other hand, to develop a strategy that tries to anticipate a future Iran that would be a stronger and more formidable player in the region. Our approach combines pressure with other measures. We are trying to give Iran's leadership a chance to make a strategic choice. They could change their policies in order to serve Iran's interests, which we believe are fundamentally, among other things, economic growth and political stability. We think that Iran's government has the chance to adapt its behavior in ways that would make it conform more with international norms.
There has been no change in our policy on the question of a dialogue. We are still willing to engage in a dialogue with authoritative representatives of the Iranian government. We believe that pressure and dialogue can go together. This would be normal. By the rules of diplomacy, it would be possible to have both.
Let me give you a little more detail on what the pressure tactics involve, since they have recently changed. The policy of containment, which was declared when the Clinton administration first came to office, involves a comprehensive series of unilateral measures and a series of multilateral efforts as well. Until recently, the dimensions of our economic policy towards Iran consisted of an arms ban, a ban on dual-use technologies, a total import ban on Iranian products coming into this country, controls on certain items for export to Iran, and a diplomatic position of blocking all lending to Iran from international financial institutions.
After four to five months of internal debate, the president announced on April 30, and signed on May 6, an executive order that is an important reinforcement or strengthening of our policy towards Iran. He announced that, from now on, we will prohibit all trade, trade financing, loans and financial services to Iran. We will ban U.S. companies from purchasing Iranian oil overseas, even if it is for resale overseas. And new investment by American companies in Iran is prohibited. The president's executive order also bans the re-export to Iran from third countries of those goods or technologies that are on controlled lists for direct export from the United States to Iran. In addition, it prohibits U.S. persons and companies from approving or facilitating transactions with Iran by their affiliates.
The executive order does not have extraterritorial application to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies. It does not ban the import of informational materials from Iran. And it does not block Iranian assets or ban private remittances to and from Iran by private Iranian nationals.
As you can see, these are very strong, but not total, economic measures. They form part, but not all, of our policy effort vis-a-vis Iran. The economic pressure, in a way, has to be seen in both the political and diplomatic context that is our overall policy. We are working and will continue to work hard multilaterally to make sure that the arms ban, the limits on credit and aid, the ban on support for Iran from international financial institutions, and cooperation with Iran in nuclear matters continue. We have enjoyed, up until now, what we consider to be good support from most of the advanced Western countries in these areas, and we would like to see more.
We initially worked within the G-7 context. But as you know, in the past year, we have expanded our diplomatic efforts to include Russia, China and all other potential suppliers to Iran of these high-technology and weapons-related items.
President Clinton and President Yeltsin last summer announced an agreement that would involve the future ban of all Russian arms sales to Iran. I think you will see more of these kinds of agreements with others of Iran's would-be suppliers.
We also have political talks with our major allies, both in the West and in the Middle East, about Iran. These political talks, in and of themselves, form a kind of pressure because Iran is very aware of these discussions, and that we are sharing information about our concerns over Iranian behavior in these discussions. We hold the talks with the European Union, with Canada, with Japan, with Russia, with most of our Middle Eastern allies.
In these talks, we discuss the merits of our approach-an approach of economic pressure, and the approach of our allies. Some of our allies prefer critical dialogue, which is the formula that the European Union uses. Some prefer constructive engagement, which is, I think, how the Japanese would characterize their policy. And others would use other formulas to describe their approach to Iran. It is true that we all continue to believe that there's room for some disagreement over what is the best approach to Iran. But we are of the view that the president's recent measures have very much caught the attention of our allies and will create a new dynamic in our discussion on this important topic.
We also share our concerns about the long-term threat that Iran could pose if it achieved both its conventional and its non-conventional military objectives-the threat that it would pose to the Persian Gulf countries, and to the region as a whole. I believe the Middle Eastern allies, in particular, see the American military presence in the Gulf-which most recently has been in response to Iraqi aggression-as helpful to sending a deterrent message to Iran.
Let me address why the change. The Clinton administration began a review in the fall of last year that, in some ways, was a very thoughtful assessment as we approached the midpoint of the presidential term. We thought it was a natural time to do an assessment of what has worked and what hasn't, where the policy can be refined, where it can be improved or enhanced.
We examined how Iran has responded to American policy until now and whether Iran's behavior had changed in the areas that we had expressed greatest concern about. We identified that, while in some areas Iran's behavior was more or less as it had been a few years ago, in certain areas, we thought it had worsened. In particular, we believe that the rise in terrorism against the Middle East peace process that began in the fall of 1994 has some links to Iran, and is deeply disturbing to one of our principal objectives, not only in the region, but worldwide: the achievement of a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors.
We also saw continuing and, in some ways, accelerating signs of Iran's efforts to procure the materials and technology needed for a weapons-of-mass-destruction program. So, in those two key areas, it was our judgment that the situation was in fact getting worse and required some new policy responses.
Second, I would cite, as a reason for the change, the increasing challenge from our allies. They saw and told us that they saw an inconsistency between our containment policy and the fact that we continue to trade with Iran. That charge--even if based on a misleading use of trade statistics-was harmful to our efforts to maximize the consensus among Western partners that we consider to be a key part of our overall policy success. We feel strongly that Iran should hear to the maximum extent possible, the same signal from the United States that it hears from its other Western trading partners. This would have the greatest impact on the calculation that Iran needs to make about how its economic interests are affected by its own policy choices.
Third, and more recently, we did witness some erosion in the domestic consensus that we have enjoyed over our Iran policy. We saw a domestic debate, initiated here in the halls of Congress, over the need to pursue a tougher policy towards Iran. Until now, I would say that we have enjoyed considerable domestic support for containment, and we wanted to restore that degree of support. It was our view that an unresolved debate, questioning whether the policy was effective enough, would limit our effectiveness in communicating with Iran.
The administration conducted a thorough review of the policy options, and they were debated with some vigor among both the national-security agencies and the economic-policy actors within the U.S. government. We tried to balance a complex and, I think, difficult set of considerations. We asked ourselves, how would new economic measures, new sanctions, affect Iran's behavior? Would they affect the Iranian government or the Iranian people? How would they affect American competitiveness and American jobs, and how would they affect the willingness of our allies to work with us in a coordinated fashion on the Iran problem?
It is true that no one of the options that we considered would maximize all of these factors. There were trade-offs. There were policy options that made some of these issues easier and some harder. But we took them all into account.
Let me just end with what we see as the next steps. We do not exaggerate our chances for any quick success on the dramatic announcement the president made on April 30. We don't have any illusions that, overnight, Iran will stand up and publicly say that it is changing its behavior. But we do see a number of important signs already. We know that the president's announcement has had an impact on Iran. And I think those of you who follow the currency market are well aware of the dramatic fall in the value of the rial since the president's announcement. We know that we have the attention of the Rafsanjani government witness his invitation to prominent American media to try to explain the government's side of the story, denying charges of terrorism, denying that there is a weapons program, etc. To me, this very much manifests the Iranian government's concern with the perception of its behavior that the president's announcement has evoked.
We think this is a process, an ongoing process that will require a lot of diplomatic engagement, a lot of hard work, and we are certainly aware that it has had some costs to various interests. We will have to measure our success in careful ways. We will continue to look for the supplier restraint that we have already created, to a certain extent, and for some other indicators. Will Iran need to think hard about the trade-offs between what it wants economically and its political behavior? We certainly hope so. Will the allies accept, now, the firmness of our resolve and our commitment to a containment policy? Will the allies join us in similar measures? We hope and expect to see more restraints in aid to Iran-loans, credits-and hopefully more political convergence in our overall approaches.
We are doing a number of things. There are intensive diplomatic efforts leading up to the Halifax meeting [of the G-7] that will take place next week, in addition to bilateral meetings in which the Iran question is almost inevitably raised. We are sharing more information with our allies about terrorism and their nuclear plans, since some countries have said that this will be a critical factor in determining whether they change their policies or not. We don't know whether this is a political posture for them or if they really mean it. But we will make the extra effort to share with them the information that we have found so compelling and so persuasive, and hope that they will agree to conduct an evaluation of their own policies and see what else is possible.
And immediately and within Washington, we are engaging with U.S. businesses to ensure a fair and prompt implementation of the president's executive order. We are aware that the policy has had some costs and has inflicted some short-term dislocations on some of our interests. The president made his decision because he believed it was commensurate with the threat-both in the short-term and the long-term-that Iran's behavior poses. We hope very much that this recent decision will enhance our ability to exercise leadership with our allies. It has already, in part, restored the domestic consensus over our Iran policy.
GARY SICK, director, Gulf 2000 Project and adjunct professor, Columbia University:
I agree with Ellen on many points. There are aspects of Iran's behavior that are indeed troubling and that we should try to change. Iran's record on human rights is deplorable. The bounty that the revolutionary organization has placed on the head of Salman Rushdie, which amounts to an incitement to murder, is detestable. Iran's opposition to the peace process is a complicating factor, and if that opposition takes the form of money, arms and training for terrorist operations, it is unacceptable.
The same holds true for the funding of terrorist operations in any other country. Iran's development of military capabilities that go beyond its legitimate needs for self-defense and which pose a potential threat to its neighbors is both destabilizing and unhealthy. No one wants to see Iran acquire nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
On these issues, there is agreement not only in this room, I think, and in Washington, but also in the capitals of virtually every country in the world. The question is how to pursue these objectives, and it is on that question that I disagree most vigorously with the policies that are being pursued by the Clinton administration.
There are two cardinal tests, it seems to me, that should be applied to any foreign policy initiative. First, is there a realistic prospect that the policy will accomplish its intended objective? Second, does it do more harm than good? Present U.S. policy fails both of these tests.
Economic sanctions are always problematic, as we've seen in the case of Iraq, where the entire international community is united. But unilateral sanctions do not work. The United States is a powerful country and arguably the sole superpower in the world. However, it cannot impose its will on Iran without the support of many other countries that maintain diplomatic and commercial relations with that country. At present, there are only two countries in the world that think the U.S. embargo strategy is a good idea: the United States and Israel. If you like, we can add Uzbekistan to that list. (Laughter.)
But not one of Iran's major trading partners has indicated a willingness to join in this embargo.
This was not a surprise. The U.S. government did not consult in advance with any other government before the signing of the executive order on May 6. We knew that no other government would support it, so we didn't bother. Although this is a form of economic warfare, we did not raise it at the U.N. Security Council because we knew our position would attract no support.
We took this very grave step for our own reasons in the certain knowledge that it would not have the kind of international support that would, in fact, make it successful.
The United States in the past has undertaken unilateral sanctions as a matter of principle, even when we were unable to forge an international consensus. One example is the grain embargo against the Soviet Union. However, in that case, there was a triggering event: The invasion of Afghanistan. In this case, as Ellen just pointed out, there was no triggering event.
We knew other nations would not follow our lead-in fact, we counted on it. Although we have chosen not to purchase any Iranian oil, we really do not want to have Iran's 2.6 million barrels a day of exports withdrawn from the world market. That would create chaos in the oil markets and a very substantial increase in price that could affect our own rate of inflation as well as that of the rest of the world.
In reality, we have been hurting Iran very, very severely over the past several years. Oil, as you know, is denominated in dollars, and the decline in the value of the dollar has substantially reduced Iran's purchasing power. To put it another way, in recent years, the real price of oil for Japan has declined by over 70 percent because of the dollar's decline against the yen. This has a real effect on the Iranian economy but is inadvertent and unrelated to the sanctions we are adopting.
One of the weaknesses of our policy is its disproportionality. We are in the process of adopting much more stringent sanctions against Iran than we imposed against the Soviet Union, which was a real threat to U.S. national security, even at the height of the Cold War.
Let me give you a couple of small examples. Against all odds, the Coca-Cola Company managed to reestablish itself in Iran some years ago. Local soft-drink producers in Iran were outraged. Many of them are owned by parasitic revolutionary so-called foundations. This, they said, was a reintroduction of the Great Satan into Iran. Even worse, it cut into their profits. They asked their leader for a fatwa prohibiting good Iranians from drinking Coca-Cola, but he refused. However, the Clinton fatwa will succeed where the hard-line revolutionaries failed, by forcing Coca-Cola to withdraw from the Iranian market.
Tehran is holding its annual book fair this month. Several American publishers withdrew from the exhibition after hearing of the executive order. Frankly, I wish Iranians had access to American books. I think that's our loss.
Federal Express and UPS have both terminated their service to Iran. I was planning to send some materials to a colleague of mine in Iran, a political scientist, about a conference that we have planned, and I'm now going to have to find some other way to do it.
Can I subscribe to an Iranian journal or newspaper, or is that trade with Iran? Although the executive order is not intended to interfere with normal academic contacts and freedom of expression, it's going to have a chilling effect in many little ways. It will impede or interrupt our few existing channels of reliable information about what is being said and thought and done in Iran, and we need that information. Our policy is also based on some false premises. I was struck by Secretary [of State Warren] Christopher's recent statement to an interviewer. He said, "We must isolate Iraq and Iran until there is a change in their government, a change in their leadership."
That statement recalls a very similar comment made by Defense Secretary [Casper] Weinberger some years ago, when he said, "There must be a totally different kind of government in Iran, because we cannot deal with the irrational, fanatical government of the kind they now have." These offhand comments, calling, in effect, for the overthrow of the government, seem more consistent with U.S. actions and the reality of U.S. policy than the repeated official assurances that we heard this morning that we accept the Iranian revolution as a fact and that it is not our objective to try to overthrow it. The voices of our leaders suggest otherwise, at least when they are caught off guard.
Our policies do make Iran's life more difficult in many ways, but the notion that we're going to drive it into bankruptcy and thereby bring down the Islamic government are romantic and infantile pipe dreams. The Iranian government is under great stress due to its own mismanagement of its economy. About one-third of Iran's oil revenues this year will go to pay off its creditors as a result of a consumer import binge following the end of the Iran-Iraq War.
Iranians are dissatisfied with the economy and they are not shy about making their views known. There will be change, but it will take the shape of reforms to the existing system, not of collapse or overthrow. There is no viable political alternative to the present system. We may not like this regime, but we're going to have to live with it. We are not going to bring it down by an act of self-flagellation.
Our policy of demonizing Iran has affected our own credibility in a number of areas. For example, the recent State Department report on international terrorism in 1994 states that Iran is still the most active state sponsor of international terrorism. But if you read the report-and I have read it now three or four times-it is remarkably silent on evidence.
When Secretary Christopher recently claimed that Iran was responsible for the bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association in Buenos Aires last July, the Argentine foreign minister immediately wrote a letter to Christopher asking him for any verification or evidence that he had, but he said to reporters at the same time that he wrote the letter, "We do not expect any news. There is no more information now than there was in December." There have been no arrests. The principal U.S. source, who was a paid informant of the CIA, has been discredited, and the Argentine government is resuming normal relations with Iran.
There are other major flaws in the terrorism report that, in some respects, make it more of a propaganda tract than a serious statement of fact. The United States is reportedly spending $4 million on a propaganda campaign designed to destabilize Iran. It's one thing to conduct propaganda against another state, but there is a real danger if we start believing it ourselves.
The nuclear issue is simple. We do not want Iran to get the bomb, and on that we are joined by virtually every government in the world, notably including Russia, which does not want to see the emergence of a nuclear-weapons state on its southern borders. Again, the question is not the goal, but, rather, how we get there from here.
The United States, in my view, has manufactured an unnecessary crisis by focusing its attention on the sale of nuclear power stations to Iran. Granted, all of us might prefer to see Iran completely devoid of any nuclear infrastructure, but we have diluted our moral and political authority by attempting to deny to Iran a right that is enshrined in the very terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] that we just recently fought so hard and successfully to sustain.
The NPT explicitly promises in Article IV that states in compliance with the treaty will have access to peaceful nuclear technology. Iran is in compliance. The power stations that Iran is buying from Russia and China are no different from those we are offering free to North Korea in order to gain their compliance with the NPT.
Our decision to focus on the sale of power stations is a case of superpower swagger. We suggest that the rules of international law apply only when we say they apply. That attitude is not popular even among those states which have good reason to fear Iran.
I believe that one of the reasons Iran is seeking nuclear power stations is as part of a broader effort to develop a nuclear infrastructure that would permit it to build a nuclear weapon. Iran fought a bloody eight-year war with Iraq, and I am sure that they were just as shocked as we were to discover how close Saddam Hussein had come to having a nuclear weapon, especially knowing that it most likely would have been used on them, just as chemical weapons were.
They may also have the mistaken notion that nuclear weapons will provide some form of insurance against superpower intervention, having watched Iraq go down to defeat with such apparent ease after they themselves had been beaten on the battlefield by that same army. The Iranians almost certainly wish to shorten the time required to build their own weapon if they see the threat again emerging on one of their borders.
It's worth noting in passing that we should be careful about using the argument that Iran does not need nuclear power because it has so much oil and gas. The two are really not mutually exclusive. Russia has the greatest gas reserves in the world. It also has the largest nuclear power industry in the world.
In reality, Iran is currently short of gas. Every bit of Iran's gas is being used domestically, and there is no surplus. It is also, increasingly, short of energy. Its domestic needs for electricity and heating are increasing faster than it can produce them.
In addition to nuclear power, which may be a silly solution, Iran is involved in major efforts to develop wind power, thermal power and hydroelectric power. I would note in passing that the Japanese loans that we are arguing so hard to try to stop are for a dam on the Karun River in the south that is designed to produce hydroelectric power. The Conoco deal that we were so outraged about and interfered with was an attempt to develop a gas field in the south that would increase their supply of gas. I argue that we are shooting ourselves in the foot repeatedly. Our recent policies have tended to thwart Iran's development of non-nuclear alternative energy sources.
But these facts, regardless of one's interpretation, are not an argument for complacency about the nuclear issue. Instead, in my view, our policy should focus on the central issue of nuclear-weapons development. A sensible U.S. policy should have the following objectives: First, we and our allies and all prospective nuclear suppliers should convince Iran to renounce technologies that provide direct access to weapons fuel, specifically enrichment. That, of course, includes centrifuge technology and reprocessing.
To that end, we should pressure Russia to reaffirm its adherence to the nuclear suppliers' guidelines, which go beyond the NPT in restricting export of these two dangerous technologies. We should also do everything in our power to tighten the international regime, the successor to COCOM, to prevent sale of long-range delivery systems which could be used with nuclear weapons. Second, any training of Iranians should be limited to what it takes to operate a reactor, rather than providing broad access to nuclear technology.
Third, we should insist on clear-cut agreements about the disposal of spent fuel from the reactors. Iran has said that it would return the nuclear waste to Russia, but we need to ensure that there are safeguards at every stage to ensure that both the fuel is returned and that Iran exercises no control over that fuel once it has been returned again, a crucial point, and something that can be done in the agreements that Russia is signing with Iran.
Finally, we should take Iran at its word that it will permit frequent and intrusive inspections by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] on demand and with little or no advance notice. That should be an absolute condition of any continuing nuclear power assistance which Iran will require for the next decade or more. I would also add that might be useful to explore this idea that's been raised recently by the United Nations Association of a nuclear rapporteur who would conduct independent investigations to explore evidence of nuclear-weapons development around the world and report directly to the Security Council.
All of these steps are things that we could do, and a negotiating package that is composed of these elements and perhaps others of a more technical nature would be greeted by understanding and sympathy by most if not all of our friends and allies. It is consistent with international law and is in the immediate national interests of potential nuclear suppliers themselves. In short, it offers what our present policy does not: a workable strategy to achieve our most important objectives.
Our present policy is not really a strategy, since it lacks a definable endgame. It rails against Iran's behavior, but really doesn't offer anything like a credible road map for changing it. And pious hopes that Iran is suddenly going to change its spots really don't suffice, especially when we're making such stringent efforts as we are.
So, in closing, let me suggest a five-point framework for U.S. policy. I do so in the full understanding that any such suggestions are probably fated to fall on deaf ears in the present political climate m Washington.
First, we should cool the rhetoric for a while. At times lately, we have sounded more shrill and ideological than the ayatollahs. Let's put the thesaurus aside for a while. We don't need any more synonyms for rogue, outlaw, or even backlash, whatever that means.
Second, let's take some time to get our priorities straight. Iran may be bad, but it's not all bad, and some of the actions are worse than others. If the nuclear issue is at the top of our agenda. and that's where I think it should be, let's put together a strategy that addresses the central issues, rather than painting everything with the same brush.
Third, let's begin to develop a strategy that engages our allies and lets us work with them, instead of bullying them and ignoring their own legitimate interests. Despite what Ellen said, I think that's what we've been doing.
Fourth, we should adopt a policy of selective neglect. When we disagree with Iran or find its behavior outrageous and unacceptable, we should say so, but where we see improvement in their policies-and there are, in fact, areas of improvement that we could talk about-we should not be afraid to acknowledge them or at least to remain silent. Distorting the truth in the pursuit of a policy is demeaning to us as a nation and ultimately self-defeating.
Finally, we should apply the Waco test. Yes, we have over there what we perceive as an encampment of religious extremists. They propound ideas that offend us. They are armed, and they may represent a danger to the neighborhood. But we should never forget that no matter how bad it is, our policies, if misconceived, can make it worse for everyone concerned.
RICHARD COTTAM, university professor of political science emeritus, University of Pittsburgh:
I want to talk about two things primarily: one, the long-run trends in Iran; two, Iranian intentions, as I see them.
I want to begin with something you all remember but I think need to be reminded of, and that is in December of 1978, on a religious holiday, eight million people, journalists tell us, demonstrated in Iran against the shah's regime. That would be one out of every five, even though they knew that attack helicopters could be used against them. Two months later, the revolution was successful. It was without question, I think, the greatest populist revolution in human history.
In days following that revolution it began to unravel, and the liberal element, which was very important in the directorship of the revolution itself, began to desert or to be regurgitated. A terrible process began to take place that we haven't noted enough: the development, wherever resurgent Islam appears, of a polarization of the populations with two sections of people, one religious and one secular, starting to dislike each other to a point of intensity that is almost genocidal. It takes place everywhere. In a better world, what we on the outside should want to do is to try to bring about some kind of reconciliation of these forces. Strangely enough, our policy in Algeria seems to show slight signs of doing exactly that.
Within a year of the revolution, the polarization was pretty well complete in Iran. There was a regime pole, which I would estimate, for what it's worth, at about 20 percent of the population. And that pole followed Khomeini's great leadership (that was their view of him). And within that group there were two major factions or tendencies, as they called them, one you could call reform and one revolutionary. Khomeini's decisional style was such that he didn't allow either of these factions really to win and consolidate.
The result was that within the bureaucracy itself, many bureaucrats reported to very different elements in the revolutionary elite. Although there has been some consolidation of control, this is still a phenomenon and probably has a lot to do with explaining the assassinations of Iranian dissidents abroad.
An intransigent oppos1tton developed that looked almost exclusively to the United States for salvation. And then there appeared the phenomenon of a substantial majority of the Iranians-a large acquiescing and accommodating majority of the country-who saw no alternative to the regime, accepted it and wanted to go on with their lives.
Fifteen years later, the change is very substantial. The radical leadership has been defeated. It was rather decisively defeated, although remnants, I believe, still are in the bureaucracy. Its support base has shrunk even further. I'm not allowed in Iran, one of the few Americans who is not acceptable there. But people whom I respect who go all the time have estimated that between 15 and 1.5 percent of the population really supports the regime. It's a very dangerously low level of support. I agree with Gary Sick that it's not likely that there will be any kind of revolution. But what is possible with this level of support is a spontaneous uprising against a miserable economic situation which could get out of control and go to something unpredictable.
I think the major failing, though, of the regime has been its failure to recruit a significant section of the intelligentsia. The revolution has lost its vitality. It is now a revolution striving to survive. [Ali] Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, is, a sincere advocate of the Islamic movement, but he did participate in the defeat of the radical element. And the president, [Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, is, I believe, a realistic individual who's very interested in reconciliation and would move far in the direction of bringing people together if he had the latitude to do that.
The intransigent opposition, I think, can be largely disregarded. It's important in the expatriate community, but it seems to have virtually no real meaning within Iran itself. Center stage today is held by the accommodationists and the acquiescers. This is now a huge majority that dominates the universities to a striking extent, both faculty and student body. It dominates the progressive element of the economic community. It's omnipresent even in the bureaucracy and in the professions. It therefore has created a picture that is very different from what we've seen in the past and one that we should take seriously into account.
This large majority grants the regime very little legitimacy and in the past has been unwilling even to explore the possibility of engaging it and becoming part of the system. It is right now showing signs of a willingness to do that. The Freedom Front, for instance, has openly told American reporters that it's thinking of running for parliament in the elections. They certainly believe the liberalization process and the growth of pluralism are a real possibility in Iran.
In foreign policy, this group is very different from the regime. It has no interest in messianic Islam. It isn't interested in the peace process or the Arab-Israeli dispute. There is very little support from this large majority of the Iranian people for an activist policy in support of what we think the Iranian government is up to. I think this is a fact that is extremely important.
This majority is, however, extremely nationalistic. And those barren islands [Abu Musa and the Tunbs] sitting in the Gulf are more important to it than any of these other issues I've mentioned. We could easily offend this very nationalistic element of the population. It yearns for rapprochement with the United States and for a return to the international system. It doesn't like to be a pariah state. It wants to interact. It wants to become prosperous. It's deeply disappointed in U.S. hostility, finding it increasingly bemusing.
To return to the question of the regime's intentions, first, I would say, is to position itself favorably in the global economic system. A good competitive position for its oil is vital for the survival of the regime itself. I believe it will make that its first priority in its foreign policy. Second, this regime believes that America, collaborating with Israel, is ineluctably hegemonic in its ambitions. The Iranian regime feels terribly threatened and believes that the danger is from us. When it thinks in terms of arming itself, it's almost pathetic. It can't seriously think in terms of deterring us if we took it on directly. It can only think in terms of deterring our puppets, as they see it, who might attack them. The most difficult part for me in making this case to you, I believe, is this point: that as far as Islam is concerned, the regime has stopped talking about becoming the great leaders of an Islamic state. The imam of the umah was the title for Khomeini, the leader of the entire community of believers. In its place there is a much more defensive concern.
I don't mean to understate the importance of Islam for this regime. There are four external communities that it is particularly interested in helping, Islamic communities that it sees as under attack. These are the Shia communities of Iraq and Lebanon, the Palestinians and the Bosnian Muslims. It sees its support for all four of these as an integral part of the same policy. It understands that some of these groups resort to the tactics of terror, but I have not seen evidence to indicate that Iran ever pinpoints any appropriations, any money that it gives, for that purpose. It would trivialize the communities we're talking about to assume so. Iran does not see itself as supporting terrorism. It sees itself as supporting regimes that are fighting for their lives or for the return of their property, of their territory. And it's a sincere belief. They are bemused, again, by our depicting all of this as support for terrorism.
I want to quickly give Iran's rationale for opposing the peace process because I think it is underestimated and misunderstood. It's not an irrational position. They argue thus: one, the Arab-Israeli conflict is obviously highly asymmetrical, and that asymmetry in Israel's favor is declining. The reason for this is the appearance of major popular movements. Hezbollah and the intifada in particular, have improved the overall power picture in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Given this favorable trend, this is the wrong time for peace negotiations.
Second, the negotiations are being mentored by Israel's protector, a country that promises the Israelis eternal superiority in dealing with the Arabs. This adds to the asymmetry and is not a format that the Iranians think they would like to participate in.
Third, there has been no effort in this major movement to deal explicitly with Islamic spokesmen in a process that affects their lives intensely. This seems to indicate that this large and vital movement is to be disregarded. Iran's position, therefore, I believe, is exactly the same as the position of resurgent Islam everywhere, and it isn't one they can just bargain away. That's not a possibility for them. They believe that even if there is a resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, it will not last, because too much of the population has been disregarded in the process.
At the same time, if you look in terms of man hours spent on diplomacy, Iran is expending extremely little effort in opposing the process. It has, in effect, said that if [Syrian president Hafiz al-] Asad makes an agreement with the Israelis, it will think it's a mistake, but it will go along with that agreement.
I need to spend also just a minute on a very big subject which Gary Sick has talked about: nuclear weaponry. I do not believe the United States has seriously addressed the problem of Iran, the Arab states and many other countries in the world on this issue. There are many states that believe they may someday be given a nuclear ultimatum with no possibility of support from another nuclear power.
In the Middle East, the nuclear power that they expect the ultimatum from is Israel. And no one in that area believes for one second that the United States or any other nuclear power would help them if Israel were to issue such an ultimatum.
Consequently, since they think this is a realistic scenario, they are going to try to defend themselves against it. I think they have done very, very little in that direction so far. They've made clear that they want a nuclear-free zone in the area, but I would assume that any Iranian government, including a future Iranian nationalist government, would have to develop nuclear weapons unless this point is dealt with by the international community. I do not believe we have been serious on this issue at its most fundamental level.
In summary, then, I'm arguing that the United States has misread Iran's intentions. Much more seriously, it has misread basic fundamental trends in Iran, most of which are favorable to American goals, and is taking actions that are likely to reverse those trends. The worst case in my view is for American policy ultimately to so anger Iranian nationalists that they will become as hostile to the United States as Iranian nationalists were under the shah's regime. Therefore, the policy that I would prefer is the policy Gary Sick calls "playing it cool." I don't think dialogue means much at all.
There are too many misperceptions of each other's intentions. To have people who totally misunderstand each other talking doesn't seem likely to produce much. But let's just stop punishing Iran gratuitously and allow trends that are moving in the direction of a real change in the area to proceed as they're proceeding.
DR. THOMAS MATTAIR: While Gary Sick noted that there would be a certain logic for Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, he also pointed out that the press has talked about a U.S. propaganda campaign against Iran. Ms. Laipson, can you amplify on the evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and giving support to terrorists and that it might have been involved in the Buenos Aires bombing? Can you make the case that Iran is actually engaging in these activities more strongly than the case has been made thus far?
MS. LAIPSON: I hope you'll appreciate that I'm under some constraints, because it is not possible in this forum to share the full details or all of the intelligence that is available to us. But let me just give you a couple of points, the trends that we see, without being able to cite chapter and verse for you.
On the nuclear side, we see a fairly aggressive procurement strategy that addresses both a plutonium production route and an enriched-uranium production route, similar to what we saw in Iraq's behavior, sort of putting out feelers in all directions without opting toward a single approach yet. It's the early stages of development of a weapons program. We believe that they are keeping all of their options open, looking at multiple routes. We see negotiations over scientists coming to Iran to consult and to participate in universities that have ties to the government, where some weapons R&D activities may be going on.
So we are persuaded, based on the evidence of the past few years, that, as I think Gary also mentioned, Iran was very much startled by what was learned about Iraq's program. To a certain extent, Iran may be learning from the lessons of the Iraq program and using some of the same techniques.
We are aware of the procurement of technologies, the availability of fuel and manpower-of course, Iran has considerable domestic manpower to draw on as well and possibly, although at the present time we have not seen anything recent that is worrisome to us here, even the importation of a device itself. "Loose nukes" was an issue we were very scared about two years ago, one year ago, and Secretary [of Defense] Perry has addressed this in some detail, the efforts that are being made to prevent any leakage of completed devices from the former Soviet Union. I'm not aware of any recent scares with respect to that, but that was always on our list of things to watch out for and things that were possible.
With respect to the terrorism, Iran has a very sophisticated infrastructure that is integrated with its overseas intelligence network to prepare for various kinds of terrorist activities that it doesn't always decide to go ahead and do, but that it makes contingency arrangements for. Iran is providing a kind of basic infrastructure and keeps its options open. So far, the events that we've seen occur are primarily addressed against Iranian dissidents overseas and not directed against Western targets.
In addition, of course, is the indirect route-and, this is the one that we've had trouble persuading other people to accept that Iran's financial training and political relations with, in particular, Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad and PFLP-GC [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command] (less so with Hamas)--constitute a form of Iranian support for their activities. We cannot, say, quantify for you that Iran's support was the determining factor in any particular one incident, although in a couple of cases, we believe we're getting closer to some direct evidence of a financial flow that was immediately timed before an act. We will continue to dig and put together the evidence as convincingly as we can. But it is our belief that the financial training and political support, including inviting the leaders of the radical Islamic groups to Tehran for various political discussions to boost their morale, to demonstrate support for fighting the good fight, etc., constitute an indirect Iranian role.
I said at the beginning we think Iran's infrastructure is sophisticated, and I believe the Iranians are careful to try to disguise their hand. They certainly can use non-Iranian nationals to participate in various types of activities, so it is always going to be difficult-because of their level of competence in this and because of the nature of international terrorism in general-to be able to present publicly all of the details and all of the facts. But we have committed considerable resources to this, and there is very strong consensus among the analysts within our government that this kind of linkage does exist.
DR. MATTAIR: My second question has to do with the impact of our policy on domestic Iranian politics. I had the opportunity to go to Tehran in December 1994. I talked to pragmatists, and I heard them express considerable bitterness about our intervention in 1953, our opposition to the revolution in 1978, considerable fear of Israel and of American military power. Yet, still, they have some interest in a dialogue. I'm wondering if our new policies will undermine pragmatists and give hard-liners additional reasons to call the United States an enemy and appeal to the growing nationalistic sentiment in the country.
MS. LAIPSON: I was intrigued by Dick Cottam's characterization of this middle group of people who are largely apolitical or not loyal in some ways to the ideology of the regime but that are still, nonetheless, Iranian nationalists. I think that is perhaps the group to be concerned about with respect to your question.
I can't predict how they're going to react. I am aware, of course, that there is a danger that actions of the United States have an exaggerated effect inside Iran because people in Iran are still very sensitive about the United States and have tended to have fairly emotional debates about the United States and have created a kind of mainstream thinking of what American intentions are and what the United States is.
We can't overcome that. It is certainly true that the current situation does not augur well for a rise in trust and confidence between our two societies, and that is disturbing. But I know that that issue was addressed when the policymakers considered the range of options, and it is a possible downside. We can only hope that Iranians will think first and foremost of their own interests and try to conduct a policy debate among themselves that gives them the chance of improving the circumstances under which Iran relates to the outside world.
There is, as Dick Cottam also mentioned, asymmetry in the peace process. There is an asymmetry between the United States and Iran. The United States has Jots of other things going on, has a leadership role in the world that Iran cannot directly compete with, so I think Iran probably perceives itself as in some ways disadvantaged in the bilateral relationship, such as it is. That may be something that will be difficult for them to overcome.
It is our position that we've identified areas where Iran is behaving in ways that are simply not acceptable by international standards, and Iran has the choice to address these issues in ways that would cement a better relationship. I appreciate that, given the legacy of the past, this will be difficult, but I can't predict exactly how it will play out inside Iran.
Q: Mr. Sick, one of the options that you suggested was to take the government's word. I'm not sure if I understood that. Do you mean that the United States should take the word of the Islamic government, the same government that has done nothing but terrorist acts the past 17 years, the same government that has taken U.S. hostages, the same government that has destroyed embassies, the same government that put bounties on foreign citizens? Should we just take their word for it, sir?
MR. SICK: I knew that by using that phrase I would be misunderstood. My fourth point with regard to what I saw as a sensible U.S. policy on the nuclear issue, I said, "Finally, we should take Iran at its word that it will permit frequent and intrusive inspections. That should be an absolute condition of any continuing nuclear power assistance which Iran will require for at least the next decade or more." Iran said it's going to do this; let's call them on it. Let's say, "Okay, you say you're going to do that." Let us then impose a very stringent regime of inspection with no advance notice, and so forth, on the grounds that they have already offered to do this. I think we're in a good negotiating position to say, "All right, you've said you're willing to do this. Let's see you do it."
We're not taking their word for anything. What I was actually saying was that we don't have to trust Iran, that if we impose this kind of inspection regime, then we are, in fact, verifying what Iran says it is doing, and that's the point that I was trying to make.
Q: Mr. Sick, you mentioned Iran has natural gas. Iran has 32 percent, according to the Gas Journal, of the proven gas reserves of the world. Only the Soviet Union has more gas than Iran, and the Iranian gas is in accessible places, such as the Gulf. Do you not feel that it is preposterous to develop nuclear power, which costs about five times as much as it costs to develop the gas resources that Iran has?
MR. SICK: I tried to be very clear about my position. First of all, I did point out that Iran, in fact, does have gas reserves but that, in fact, those gas reserves at the moment are fully committed and are being used up. There is no surplus gas available in Iran today.
If I were making those decisions, I would go for gas development. I think you're absolutely right, and I think I said that, in my view, although Iran has a rationale, which I tried to present, for why they might choose to go the nuclear route, I don't agree with it. I have no doubt that this is going to be used to develop an infrastructure for the ultimate development of a nuclear weapon, and I've said that over and over again. I continue to believe it. I oppose it. I think that this is something that we need to stop.
My point is, however, that if they decide to go this way, as the shah did, and take the investment that they've already put into nuclear power stations and build some more, it's very hard to stop them from buying nuclear power stations. What we need to do is focus on the weapons-development side, which involves centrifuge technology, enrichment and so forth, and the use of the waste products. Those nuclear power stations are of no value to them for building a nuclear weapon if the waste products, the irradiated products, go back to Russia or to China or wherever they came from and are not returned to Iran. You have to do something with them. The stations themselves do not produce materials that can be used to build a nuclear weapon, and we should be concerning ourselves about the actual use of those installations or anything else to build a nuclear weapon.
What I tried to suggest was a very specific political step that I think would go very far and that would also have the support of our allies in stopping a weapons program-writing this into the contract, pressuring Russia to go along with it.
Q: Mr. Sick, in your speech you did not mention two areas of Iranian behavior. One is the support of terrorism, and one is the abuse of human rights. How would you expect the Iranian government to reform in those two areas?
MR. SICK: There are, I think, a number of things that can be done with regard to terrorism. Rafsanjani has said that Iran is definitely opposed to the peace process, and Dick Cottam talked about that in detail, but that they will do nothing in a practical way to try to interfere with it, which is, in effect, to say that they will not provide support to groups for terrorist activities and so forth.
Now, no more than Ellen does, do I necessarily trust that that's happening, but all of these groups have complained that because of Iran's economic problems, its support for these groups is drying up. I would like to put that to a test. If we don't talk to Iran-and I agree with Dick that the chances of us having a serious conversation with Iran are not very good-there are other people that can say, "All right, Mr. Rafsanjani, you say that you are not doing anything concrete. How about this case and that case? Is there, in fact, any money? How about your private organizations? Are they being permitted to provide support to those groups?"
We know that other countries do permit private support, but I'd like to tie those things down. I don't believe that we have much of a chance to transform them overnight in terms of their support for Shia or Islamic opposition groups around the world. I think they're going to go ahead and do that, and they're going to say that they're justified in doing it.
But if we can separate what I see as legitimate political support for organizations that we may disagree with from what I would regard as criminal activity-providing arms and training and direct money to support terrorist activities-I think we should try to do that. It's not an easy job and I don't see any easy solution.
With regard to human rights, I pointed out in my remarks that I really feel that the Rushdie fatwa is a disaster for everybody concerned, not least of all Mr. Rushdie, but also for Islam and for the Iranian government. I would like to start a negotiating process-again, not necessarily by the United States; the Europeans have been pushing in this direction-to say, "All right. You say you can't do away with the fatwa. Then let's remove the criminal element from the fatwa, that is, the bounty on the head of Rushdie. You've got an organization there that says they're going to give $2 million and expenses to anyone who kills Rushdie." The government says, "Well, that's not us." That's not an adequate answer. The government should step in with that organization and should say, "Remove the bounty officially. We're having nothing to do with this incitement to murder." Although that wouldn't solve the problem entirely, I think Mr. Rushdie would regard it as a real step in the right direction.
I think that's the kind of thing that is, in fact, possible. I don't think that there's any magic bullet or magic solution that is going to resolve all of our problems with Iran. It's just not in the cards. But there are avenues that we can approach that are practical, sensible, and that might prove to be helpful.
Q: Dick, you mentioned nationalism and the peace process, or opposition to the peace process, two points that come up over and over. We've heard a lot about the negative impact of sanctions with the exchange rate affecting the common people, affecting the whole economy, that this could bring people closer to the government. Let's posit an opposite assumption. If it’s possible that you' re going to find a growing sense of nationalism, there's one issue that has nothing to do with Iranian nationalism at all, as far as I can see, and a great deal to do with this idea of the imam of the umah that's over for 99.5 percent of the people:
And it's not simply just money, it's language. Anything you read from practically anybody except perhaps Rafsanjani when he speaks to a foreign reporter is extremely vehement. You might find that people are going to start asking if, in fact, this opposition to the peace process is what's keeping us in trouble with the United States, if this is really the cause for our troubles, for God's sakes, change, because we really don't give a damn about it. Do you see a possibility that this could be a positive effect of sanctions?
DR. COTTAM: No, I don't see that as likely. I think that the regime takes its Islamic legitimacy very seriously. I believe that overwhelmingly the Iranian people do not care about this issue, and I believe that if Iran had free elections that its policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict generally would be about the same as Turkey's. The dislike of Arabs and the Arab dislike of Iranians is something I think most people recognize, and I believe that there's no question that the regime gains nothing and loses quite a lot from the public by its position on the peace process.
At the same time, I think its role in the peace process is negligible. Even its rhetoric is not very lethal. In fact, when the Oslo declaration was announced, Rafsanjani's immediate response was almost favorable. It took him two weeks to learn that his colleagues didn't like that, and then he came out with a very tough statement. If you ask the Iranian elite, the Islamic elite, to give up its position on the peace process, you're asking it to separate from the Islamic movement, and I don't believe it's ready to do that.
I think atrophy is what we should look for in any sophisticated approach of trying to change. If you compare the diplomatic activity of the United States, which is obviously very much in favor, and Iran, which is obviously opposed, how many times do you see Velayati going from one capital to another pushing against the peace process? He doesn't ever do that.
Iran's actual activity is so minor I find it very difficult to take seriously the charge that this is one of our great grievances against it. I think the great grievance is that the Israelis are terrified of the Islamic movement, and they see Iran as an abettor of that movement. The peace process is simply incidental.
Q: What mechanism or what scenario would the United States like to see for changes in Iran? ls it going to be elections? A violent overthrow? What do you expect?
DR. COTTAM: The only sensible thing I could see they're expecting with this particular policy is overthrow of the regime, because I think everything else that they're doing is likely to make the regime less vulnerable, not more.
But if they think that they' re taking a position that will set into motion a continuation of trends in the direction of, say, liberalism, an open society, the end of the violation of human rights and things like that, this is exactly the wrong way to do it. You strengthen the hands of those people who trust us least. You might even revive [Ali Akbar] Mohtashemi, who is in terrible disrepute right now, but he is predicting from American policy almost precisely what we're doing, and I would assume that this kind of policy will strengthen the hands of that kind of person, but it will also increase the sense of despair among the Iranian people, and I think it would make the possibility of a collapse greater. I do not rule out the possibility of a collapse, because I think the base of active support is too thin to rule it out.
Q: Mr. Cottam, no one here has mentioned the fact that the first thing the Iranians did after the president's newest order on Iran was to send a delegation to Baghdad. We are, in a sense, driving the two enemies together. Could you comment on the impact of that and also on the impact of our Gulf policy as a whole, unrelated to the Israeli factor?
DR. COTTAM: You've undoubtedly been following Iran's overtures to Iraq that have been taking place for over a year, and in terms of the rationale of Iranian foreign policy, there's no question that they think that a rapprochement with Iraq makes great sense.
In fact, in a moment of truth on the part of the delegation, they said that in their last meeting in Baghdad-this was about six months ago-they sensed that Saddam Hussein's government was torn between two alternatives. One, going along with this rapprochement with Iran and the other moving back to the old relationship with the United States, if he could possibly do it, and that he had chosen the latter.
I think that this was the Iranian reading of it, which you can read in their newspapers by the official involved. I believe that what's happened now has caused them to reconfirm their view that they have to think in terms of generating allies. The only possibility of their dealing with the threat that they see from us is gaining allies, and Iraq is a critically important possibility for them. I think that this is definitely what they will try to do.
In terms of the Gulf generally, they believe that if you look at the sudden response of the United Arab Emirates to Iran's activities in the islands which Iran believes is excessive, they think that was at U.S. command, probably via Saudi Arabia. This kind of attitude they think is an aspect of a negative policy that the United States has towards them and is part of the basis of U.S. hegemonic interests in the Gulf.
By the way, I think it's important for people to know that if the mullahs were really serious about the umah, it shouldn't make much difference to them which part of the umah controls these barren islands. The fact that these ayatollahs are terribly concerned about those islands tells me that Iranian nationalism is creeping and becoming much more important not only among the population, but even among the clergy.
MS. LAIPSON: Let me try to answer the scenario question, and I also wanted to comment on some of the things that have been said about the peace process.
This may disappoint you, but we really don't have a very precise scenario. We do believe that Iran has a very complex political situation domestically. There are many interest groups and factors. The economic situation obviously is going to affect the politics of the government considerably, and we do not believe that we're going to be the sole determinant of how Iran decides its policies for dealing with the outside world. So it is our belief that this government of Iran could modify its behavior if it wanted to, but maybe other things will happen.
We do not accept the analysis that says that the regime is on the verge of collapse. We think there are a lot of domestic pressures but that there is no clear alternative to this regime at this time, so I am not in the camp that says radical upheaval is likely any time soon.
I'd like to say a few words about the peace process. Dick Cottam has said that Rafsanjani doesn't say much about the peace process, and we're back to this problem of whether to take him at his word or not. I would say you have to be very careful in reading Iranian pronouncements on the peace process because Rafsanjani is sophisticated in speaking to Western audiences, but there's a whole official-publications world in Iran that writes for a different audience that uses a fundamentally different rhetoric, different vocabulary, and asserts a fundamentally different Iranian policy towards the peace process.
So everybody's hearing what they want to hear. The radicals are praised when they commit violent acts. There is sympathy and support for martyrs, for suicide bombs. There is a rhetoric for that audience that is also official Iranian publications and official Iranian publicity. I was struck that Dick said that he didn't think that Rafsanjani really cared that much about the peace process, that what he cared about was Islamic legitimacy. Well, I see the two as linked.
The fact that Iran has developed such an important relationship with Hezbollah, with Palestine Islamic Jihad, is part of the revalidation of the Islamic legitimacy of the Iranian regime, and I don't think you can separate the two. Perhaps excepting Bosnia, the peace process is the place where these issues are playing out in very dramatic form, and I think it is meaningful to the regime to that extent.
I also think that the regime must worry that if the peace process were truly successful and if Israel were to normalize its relations in the region, the economic potentialities between the Arabs and Israel could leave Iran out. Iran is potentially one of the strongest economic players in the region, but if Iran is odd-man-out in the restructuring of the economic relations in the region, this is threatening to the state interests of Iran, not just its Islamic interests.
I was also intrigued that you said that they see an asymmetry between Israel and the Arab side in the peace process and that with Hezbollah and Hamas getting stronger, Iran sees an opportunity to sort of close the gap, if you will. What I inferred from that is that if things were more symmetric between the Arab side and Israel, then you'd have a very different kind of peace process.
That's exactly the logic of why Syria didn't join the peace process for so long. They were committed to something they called strategic parity. The reason we got to this peace process is because Syria realized that strategic parity was unachievable. I would argue that strategic parity for Hamas is also unachievable. This is a genuine difference in worldview. The other side of what Dick Cottam was describing is our belief that it was Syria's decision that strategic parity was unachievable that led to a peace process that is a genuine negotiated settlement.
As for Iran and Iraq, we are aware that they occasionally do trade and try to exchange delegations back and forth. We see that as still a deeply troubled relationship. The grievances of the Iran-Iraq War are still very acute. The reason the two sides try to meet is still to settle things like prisoners of war, reparations, etc. It is true that while they both suffer sanctions, perhaps they need each other a little bit more, but neither really gives the other any kind of political boost internationally, so that's of really limited significance from a strategic perspective.
Q: You have seen in the regime's behavior some recent changes. Steve Rabin of The Jerusalem Post told me that in Israel they are debating whether or not they should have a strategic alliance with Iraq, because Saddam Hussein and Israel have been approaching each other for the last year or six months at least to create an alliance. Is this something that this administration is aware of and is there is any truth to it?
MS. LAIPSON: This is a story that's been out there for a number of months, and it keeps popping up in different forms. We have discussed it with the Israeli government, discussed the reports that Israel has been talking to Iraqis in various places and have been assured by Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin that it is not the policy of the Israeli government to initiate any kind of official contact with Iraq. We accept their assurances.
To put this in the Israeli context, my understanding is that the Israeli advocates of the peace process generally work with a rule of thumb that says. "We'll talk to any Arab country that will talk to us." They do see, eventually, that they would like to have contact with virtually anybody in the Arab world that would be willing to recognize them and have dealings with them. Having said that, I think the idea of Israeli-Iraqi contacts right now is extremely controversial within Israel. Iraq used military force against Israel, so, I think it's very unlikely. It's a story that keeps popping up, but we don't think there's anything serious to be concerned about right now.
Q: It seems that one of our major concerns with Iran has been the development of nuclear weapons. But I haven't heard anybody mention the possibility of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. It seems to me that the real problem in trying to enforce this is the fact that we're looking the other way while Israel refuses to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty and has obviously got nuclear weapons on its side. This gives the impression to the other people in the Middle East that what we're trying to do is maintain Israel's nuclear superiority in the area. But if we really came out now and advocated a nuclear-free zone, how would the Iranians react? Do you think they would be more willing to go along with this?
MR. SICK: All I can say is that Iran has officially announced that it is in favor of a nuclear-free zone. The interesting thing, to me, about their announcement is that they say, "We've been in favor of a nuclear-free zone since 1974. In fact, we introduced it into the United Nations." Of course, that was during the shah's day. This is actually something that reinforces a number of things Dick has mentioned-that there is no embarrassment at all about drawing a straight line of continuity between the shah's day and themselves, which was unheard of in the early days of the revolution. It is now really quite common.
I'll give you another very brief example. When they ordered the submarines and Rafsanjani was asked about it at an international press conference, he said, "This has nothing to do with the Islamic era. They were on order during the shah's day. When the revolution came along, those orders were cut off because we were buying them from the United States and from Germany. And so, now we are picking up in effect that same strategy and going on with it. And it has nothing to do with this regime." I thought this was an amazing response.
Also, there's this new newspaper called Iran, which has just appeared with Rafsanjani's backing. It's not Islamic Iran, or even the Republic of. It is just Iran. I think it is quite indicative of the fact that there is not only a readership, but there are also people that are prepared to talk about Iranian nationalism per se.
Let me just make two very brief comments. First, will the reconciliation with Iraq take place? I think the answer is no; these two countries hate each other far too much to actually get together. The relationship that I'm much more concerned about, in the longer term, is with Russia and China. If we manage, through the wisdom of the Congress, to completely alienate the Russian regime and we have a slight change of leadership there, this kind of a relationship could be far more dangerous.
Finally, let me say, just for myself and in thanks to Ellen, I wish that the U.S. government were speaking with her voice more often than it is. I thought her presentation was a marvelous description of U.S. policy in a balanced and judicious way, and I just wish that our leaders would say the same thing.
Q: Did this administration seriously consider using the IAEA in getting Iran to commit itself to all kinds of restrictions and intrusive inspections as a way of trying to get a handle on their nuclear program? I'm interested in this because, in the case of North Korea, we are depending very heavily on the IAEA to carry out an agreement we've made to try and freeze and dis mantle the North Korean program. Now, if the IAEA is so important to us in North Korea, why couldn't it be used in the case of Iran to carry out a similar type of program? It wouldn't be, obviously, dismantlement, but insurance that you could have inspection at any time, any place. In other words, if the IAEA is good for our policy in North Korea, why couldn't you use it in the case of Iran?
MS. LAIPSON: I'm not an expert on the North Korean case, so I'm loath to try to comment on your analogy. It's my understanding that the role that the IAEA was able to play in North Korea was a bit different because of the declared weapon sites. We already knew where the North Korean weapons facilities were. North Korea was much farther along in its program.
The problem in Iran is that it's at the very early stage of, presumably, a highly clandestine, protected program. The IAEA goes into declared research sites, and doesn't have free rein in sites that have not yet been identified. We do believe that the IAEA has a role to play in all of these circumstances, but they are not all-knowing when they go into a country. We have to collaborate and pool our resources to identify all the possible places where a program could be located.
We're trying to approach the Iranian program at a much earlier stage of its development, when it's possible that the activities that we' re concerned about are spread among a range of universities, military facilities or different sites. It is not directly analogous to the North Korean situation. We, of course, support that the IAEA has access to Iran and does the work that it does. But it's our judgment, because of the fundamental difference in the status of the programs, that it would not be sufficient. That's why our position is that we would like to see even the "peaceful" reactor program not go forward. But, in effect, our position is that the IAEA would not have all of the necessary reach to look into the kinds of things we're concerned about.
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