Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mr. President, Talk to Iran

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released yesterday that claims Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This is report represents the collective opinion of U.S. intelligence services.

Iran must still be viewed with a great deal of skepticism and we should retain a defensive posture. This can and should be done in a respectful way.

Nevertheless, this report is extremely encouraging to me for two reasons .

First, it demonstrates that Iran is not necessarily 100% determined to obtain nuclear weapons.

The belief that the Iranian leadership is fully committed to building 'the Bomb' was not merely the opinion of the Bush Administration. In the last few years, I have heard several panels of American and international experts (across the political spectrum) speak on this topic and almost all of them believed Tehran was moving ahead to develop nuclear weapons (after 2003 when they apparently stopped).

Second, it suggests that the leadership in Iran (and I am talking about the Supreme Ayatollah and his inner circle, not the provocative but relatively powerless President Ahmadinejad) does rationally respond to external pressure, at least to some degree.

This is an important point that could not previously be assumed because of the theocratic and highly mysterious nature of the Iranian regime. This made their acquisition of nuclear weapons especially scary (as opposed to the Soviet leaders who we KNEW valued their own survival).

President Bush responded today with the following statement:

"Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge
necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

"What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program?
Nothing's changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don't we just stop worrying
about it. Quite the contrary."

I would agree that no one should consider the matter closed or take our eye off of Tehran and their nuclear operations.

But this report undeniably changes the dynamic in two ways... and the President should respond accordingly.

Change 1. The urgency for decisive action has dramatically declined.

In my opinion, short of a reversal of these findings (or some provocative action by Iran in Iraq), there is nothing that could justify an attack on Iran before Bush leaves office. The NIE says that Iran could not have a nuclear weapon before 2010 (and that it may take until 2015) assuming they restarted their program today.

Therefore, we now have more time to engage diplomatically and consolidate a coalition to pressure Iran to allow for more transparency in their nuclear program.

Change 2. There is now undeniable evidence that some agreement to permanently cease Iran's nuclear weapons program is possible.

If Iranian leaders were determined to get a bomb, why would they suspend their program for four years - particularly when the United States has 150,000 soldiers right next door?

We have not had formal diplomatic relations with this country in almost 30 years. We have no idea what we could accomplish today if we engaged them face to face. It is entirely possible that the answer is...nothing.

But at this point, we have some newly discovered time to spare - so what else do we have to lose?

Mr President, there is new evidence that counters your assumptions about Iranian intentions and capabilities. I therefore ask you to do what you did with North Korea and Libya.

If you can sit down with Kim Jong Il's and Gadhafi's regime, you should have no qualms about doing so with Iran's.

Refusal to talk is not an admirable demonstration of principle. It is only a sign of fear or stubbornness.

Perhaps most importantly, we must realize that to those in the world who do not understand the sincerity of American values, not talking may actually look like a move to increase tension and the likelihood of conflict.

Have the courage to talk.

You will lose nothing if you do... but you will jeopardize our safety if you do not.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

How can the President not already know, via his innumerable briefings, everything that this report says and more? He has presumably been aware of it for some time now.