Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
The U.S. has long pursued what some call “diplomatic coercion” to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program. Economic sanctions and international isolation are centerpieces of that strategy. Now there’s talk that an Israeli airstrike targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities could be imminent. The U.S. has urged Israel not to attack. President Obama reiterated yesterday that diplomacy remains the preferred solution. Analysts fear Israel’s threat will unite the Iranian people and work against the regime change in Tehran that many desire. Diane and her guests will talk about the likelihood of an Israeli attack and the possible consequences.
- Aaron David Miller a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of State; author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?"
- Karim Sadjadpour associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- Robin Wright journalist, joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama says he's hopeful the standoff of Iran's nuclear ambitions will be resolved with diplomacy. In a television interview broadcast last night, the president also said the security of Israel remains a priority. We talk about rising tensions between Iran and Israel and the U.S. role. Joining me in the studio: Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us with your questions and comments throughout the hour, 800-433-8850, send us email to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERGood morning.
MR. KARIM SADJADPOURGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you here. Before we begin our discussion on Iran and Israel, let's turn for a moment to Syria. The U.S. announced this morning it has closed its embassy in Syria. Significance of that, Aaron?
MILLERWell, it was largely done for security reasons. I'm sure it was done with great reluctance, but we've reached a situation where there are too many variables to control. And no American president, no secretary of state would ever, under these circumstances, for whatever the benefit of keeping diplomatic representation, want to risk the security and wellbeing of Americans. So I think -- I know it was done, largely driven by security reasons. What it says, of course, is that we've entered a true terra incognita here.
MILLERWe're slipping slowly into confrontation. Whether it's civil war or not, more blood for sure, more innocent victims with little likelihood of any concrete steps to resolve this.
WRIGHTWell, this follows our vote at the United Nations where you had 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council in support of a resolution proposed by Morocco, an Arab country, to basically sanction Syria, and, of course, China and Russia used its veto. And this showed the real split there is internationally. And this is a result, in part, over what happened in Libya, the fact that the international community or NATO specifically justified its military intervention in Libya on the basis of a U.N. resolution.
WRIGHTAnd the Russians and the Chinese are afraid that this will replicate that situation and will lead to international intervention in Syria, so that's part of the veto. But what's interesting is that in this climate, a year after the Arab uprising, you're seeing a division in the world where you have most of the international community, the Arabs in the west together against what's becoming kind of an axis: China, Russia, Iran and Syria. And this is the kind of dividing line.
WRIGHTClearly, those four countries fear the kind of upheaval that is going to change the balance of power in what is the world's -- one of its most geostrategic regions and one of its most volatile regions.
REHMAnd, Karim, what do you see on the horizon?
SADJADPOURWell, Diane, the cellphone images we saw out of Syria over the weekend were absolutely horrific. Images and videos of children with their body parts blown off, women -- it was truly horrific to look at. And I think whenever I talk to folks who are based out in Syria or based in Lebanon who follow the situation closely, I don't know anyone who thinks that the Assad regime's long-term survival is viable. So it's not a matter of whether the Assad regime is going to fall, but when.
SADJADPOURAnd I think the big question for the Obama administration is, how are they able to expedite the fall of the Assad regime without some type of intervention, military intervention as we saw in Libya?
REHMDo you see that ahead, our U.S. military intervention, Aaron?
MILLERAaron, I don't. In fact, Syria is demonstrating its classic idiosyncratic pattern. The Assads were unique, and the evolution of the Arkan's change in Syria is going to be unique as well. I mean, we have two previous models, and only two for external intervention successfully. One is the NATO model, which worked in Libya. The other is covert diplomacy, which created a transition in Yemen that may or may not work out, but, clearly, it's resulted in reduction of the authoritarian power for Abdullah Saleh.
MILLERHere, you have a different situation. There is no military option, no good one, and diplomacy seems to me to be almost inconceivable right now. People are hoping for what they describe as an inside job. That is to say, somebody or some set of factions ultimately create circumstances where the Assads or part of them are removed, and a Sunni-Alawi coalition emerges to create a transition. But, again, that's serendipity, and it's dependent on factors beyond our capacity right now to control.
REHMIs it a dream, Robin?
WRIGHTI don't know anyone who believes that Assad can come out of this politically and survive. The question is how many die along the way. The United Nations concluded in January that 5,400 had died, but it can no longer keep up with how many have died. It says that the data is too difficult to verify, and so it's given up. And that was really an important barometer. This was the only country in which the United Nations actually kept a body count, and that's one of the things that was used against the regime to show just how brutal it was.
WRIGHTNow, when we look at the future, it's clear that we're counting on some kind of combination of economic pressure and the military cause of continuing this crackdown because you've already seen a huge number of defections in the creation of a free Syrian army that is now fighting. And that's where the dynamic of a civil war emerges. Do you find Syrian troops actually fighting Syrian troops? In the meantime, the cause, economically, are far greater on Syria than they are in Iran with the same kinds of sanctions.
REHMBut, Karim, why are Russia and China so dead set against further sanctions?
SADJADPOURWell, in a nutshell, Diane, I think those who live in glass houses don't want to throw stones. China and Russia are non-democratic countries. Russia, at the moment, has its own popular agitations. And I think that they worry this sets a precedent. Robin is correct. They don't want to get into a situation in which it leads to some type of an outside intervention as happened in Libya. And in the case of Russia, Syria has been an important ally, if not a client state, for them. But I think, certainly, they want to set a precedent here that we can't go around toppling countries which are non-democratic.
REHMBut at the same time, with all these bodies lying dead, Aaron David Miller, how can the U.N. not move forward?
MILLEREasily, I'm afraid. And we've seen many examples. Look, great powers -- forget the U.N. for a moment. Great powers behave in hypocritical and contradictory fashion. It's part of their job description. When, in fact, it suits their interests and an objective is achievable, they will move. When it doesn't, regardless of the degree of -- on loss of life, it's much more complex. And, frankly, I just don't see, in this particular situation, a coalition of the willing. You will see a contact group.
MILLERThe secretary of state signaled that in her comments over the last couple of days. You're going to see a contract -- contact group emerge, coalition of the willing. You may see clandestine military assistance, intelligence cooperation. Maybe they'll push the Turks to create some sort of corridor or humanitarian zone. But the notion, right now at least, of a concerted NATO-like military intervention, no-drive, no-fly zone to basically set the stage for the military end of this regime, I don't see it right now.
WRIGHTOne of the most important things to understand is Syria in context of Russia and where it stands right now. And the fact is that the Russians go to the polls next month. Vladimir Putin is up again for the president. And he has illusions or ambitions, anyway, of making Russia a superpower again. And so part of the jockeying over Syria really has to do with Russia's sense of itself and its place in the world and what it wants to be. And that plays out, unfortunately, in the fate of what happens next in Syria.
WRIGHTAnd this is likely to be something I think that, to the -- a certain extent China as well, as power players standing up to the West and saying there's a different balance of power in the early 21st century.
SADJADPOURLet's say, Diane, that Syria is a good segue to our conversation about Iran because Syria has been the only consistent ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1979 revolution, and it's a key kind of thoroughfare for Iran's patronage of Hezbollah. And Hezbollah has really been the crown jewel of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the one thing that the Islamic Republic has -- feels like it's -- has been a great success for it.
SADJADPOURSo when I talk to U.S. officials and Israeli officials, I said that, you know, the best way to weaken Iran, especially Iran's regional ambitions, is to try to expedite the demise of the Assad regime in Syria. That would be the single, biggest blow to Iran's regional ambitions.
REHMHas the U.S. -- going back for just one last moment to Syria -- sort of pushed Syria by virtue of Amb. Ford's traveling to see the opposition, by virtue of meeting with opposition leaders? Has the U.S. played a role there, Robin?
WRIGHTAbsolutely. In fact, in some ways, U.S. policy in Syria has been more creative, more imaginative than it has been any place else. In signaling what role -- where our heart is, where our -- where we think the future of Syria is at a critical juncture, I think that U.S. policy has been quite successful. And Robert Ford getting out and putting -- posting on Facebook and Twitter what U.S. position is, calling the regime to account, driving into the middle of the demonstrators to show our support, that is not something that has happened in any of the other 22 Arab countries.
SADJADPOURI would say, Diane, that Bashar al-Assad is now in the classic dictator's dilemma, meaning that he -- if he feels he -- if he compromises, he feels that -- and he fears that that's going to project weakness and embolden the opposition. But if he doesn't make any compromise, then the opposition doesn't stop. And I think he now feels that it's either kill or be killed.
REHMKarim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. When we come back, we turn our attention to Iran and threats by Israel. We'll take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We now turn our attention to threats made openly, made subtly by Israel to attack Iran, as the suspicion grows that Iran is constructing nuclear weapons rather than simply building a facility to provide nuclear power to its people. Here in the studio: Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Aaron David Miller of the Wilson International Center and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
REHMKarim, President Obama made strong statements yesterday to U.S. television. He said, my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully, diplomatically. How do you interpret those words?
SADJADPOURWell, I think those words are repetition of things that President Obama and almost every member of Congress have said in the past, that this national security of Israel is, "sacrosanct." And therefore, a country like Iran, which calls for Israel's demise, should be prevented from having a nuclear weapon. And I think the discussion, Diane, right now is that, as I see it, we have almost two different red lines in Washington as opposed to Tel Aviv, meaning, in Washington, we want to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
SADJADPOURAnd I think in Israel, they would like to prevent Iran from even acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, even having the capability to one day weaponize. And I think that may be one source of the tension between how we see this issue.
REHMThe Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was either quoted or referred to in David Ignatius' column in The Washington Post last week, saying that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June. Leon Panetta declined to confirm that, that that correctly represents his view. The question is, how imminent is an attack by Israel on Iran? Robin.
WRIGHTI actually don't think that Israel is likely to strike Iran this year. I think there are a lot of things that are going into the hopper when it comes to this decision, but it is true that everybody wants to keep the military option on the table. But between -- some of the basic issues of how advanced is Iran on its nuclear program, has it reached the threshold on the three different parts that it takes to pull a nuclear weapon together?
WRIGHTIssues of the election, domestic political considerations -- does the United States, does the Obama administration want to enter a third war in the Islamic world at the very time it has ended or pulled out U.S. combat troops from Iraq? -- is now looking at withdrawal of combat troops in Afghanistan beginning next year. And just the whole kind of aura of -- Barack Obama having won the Nobel Peace Prize, does he want to engage in another war in an election year? I just don't see it this year.
WRIGHTAnd I don't think -- and I think the United States is using every bit of leverage it has over Israel to say, not now. We are doing a lot of other things. Sanctions are beginning to bite. You have every -- at every level, both in Israel and in the United States, people talking about how the economic pressure for the first time has really begun to make an impact. And that's why you see such nervousness in Iran. They are beginning to pay a price.
REHMAaron, there is this issue of the nuclear project being out of range, or getting to be out of range, of an attack by Israel and therefore speeding up their -- Israel's desire to move in quickly.
MILLERWell, I do think, back to Karim's point, that there is a distinction between Iran in possession of a weapon and Iran producing the capacity to break out. And the Israelis, I suspect, have a different conception of time when it comes to this, the so-called zones of immunity. The Israelis may well have reached the conclusion that Iran's zone of immunity is on a much more accelerated timetable.
MILLERWe may -- well, we may differ with respect to that. But on basic issue, the Israelis have made no decision to attack. The Iranians have made no decision to weaponize. And I think before we get carried away -- and being carried away creates its own problem -- I think we need to look very seriously at whether or not talking about a possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike between now and the end of the year, which I think is -- it's certainly possible, but it is not probable.
MILLERThis is still a war of discretion when it comes to Israeli calculations. Iranians have not tested. They don't have a weapon. And the risks and consequences of an Israeli attack right now are still extremely sketchy.
REHMDavid Ignatius is a first-rate journalist. Why would he include such a comment in his column by Leon Panetta if the defense secretary had not made it looking at a strike in April, May or June?
SADJADPOURI think one of the reasons, in the past, U.S. officials or Israeli officials have played up the possibility of military action is to strengthen the non-kinetic diplomacy, meaning strengthen sanctions, economic coercion, more political coercion, and to send a signal in places like China that if you oppose sanctions against Iran because you feel its inimical to your energy interest, if we take military action, it's going to skyrocket the price of oil, which is going to be far worse for your energy interest. I think that's one reason.
SADJADPOURLast week, I had a conversation with someone at the White House, who also told me that they feel like Israel is -- has taken this debate out in public to prepare their own population for potential likelihood down the road. And I very much agree with Robin and Aaron, that the likelihood of military action in the year 2012 is very low. But at some point -- and it may be in 2013 -- if Israel is faced with this binary option of allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or acquiescing, I think they will be faced with a very hard choice whether not to act.
REHMWhy would Netanyahu and Ehud Barak be making such strong statements regarding this zone of immunity and their fears about it? Aaron.
MILLERBecause I think you have -- even though there are divisions within the security and military establishment on the wisdom and the necessity of an attack right now, you have a basic reality. You have a small nation. It may be a regional super power. It's a small nation with an acute sense of vulnerability, with a very dark past, living on the knife's edge. And as a consequence, no Israeli prime minister can afford to take this issue lightly.
MILLERAnd all must, I suspect, take into account all of the possibilities and the probabilities. The notion that -- and Netanyahu has used Holocaust imagery on this, which is rare, frankly, in the Israeli political debate. Very rarely does a mainstream Israeli politician use images of the Holocaust as a kind of trope to explain or set the stage for possible action. But on this one, the notion that we, the Israelis, will not allow the Iranians to do in eight minutes what Hitler tried to do in eight years, this notion in Netanyahu's mind, particularly in his mind, is a very meaningful kind of concept.
MILLERAnd, one final point, again, I think it's possible the Israelis will act, but not probable. But no Israeli prime minister is going to be able to retire from office, being accused of the Israeli prime minister who allows Iran to cross the nuclear threshold on his watch, and that particular issue is going to weigh very heavily in the mind, not only of an Israeli prime minister, but it the mind of an American president. And that may also be Obama's fate.
REHMThere has been several emails saying, why can Iran not have a nuclear weapon? Why should Iran have to remain nuclear-free when, in fact, you've got Israel, you've got North Korea, you've got a number of other nations with nuclear weapons, keeping, if you will, the region peaceful, perhaps? Robin.
WRIGHTLook at -- Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is obligated to tell exactly what it is doing on any nuclear issue. And it has pledged not to develop a nuclear weapon, so it would be in violation of its own international treaty if it moved ahead. And that's the basis on which the United Nations has moved and sanctions have been imposed.
REHMHow do we know absolutely, Karim, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons?
SADJADPOURWell, we don't know absolutely that they're developing nuclear weapons. But I think the real discussion is whether Iran is merely in pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability and they're content with remaining a so-called screwdriver turn away, or whether they actually want to go for the bomb itself. But I think when you talk to a nuclear physicist, they will tell you that a lot of the things which Iran is doing make very little sense in the context of a nuclear energy program. If their goal was only nuclear energy, they wouldn't be doing most of the things that they're doing right now.
MILLERCan I just make one point? And I'll defer to Karim and Robin with respect to their knowledge of Iran. But there's a certain reality, and that is, in my view, there's only one country that will stop the Iranians, should they choose to develop a weapon, from doing so. And that's the Iranians themselves, and it raises the interesting question.
MILLERWhen you look at the countries outside of the five permanent members of the Security Council that have nuclear weapons -- India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea -- several of them seem to be characterized by a profound sense of insecurity on one hand and a profound sense of entitlement on the other. In other words, they're weak on one hand, but they see themselves as grandiose on the other.
MILLERSo the real question -- I would ask Robin and Karim -- in the end, what is the purpose and the logic and rationale of Iran acquiring either weapons or, certainly in this case, the capacity to produce them? That question is critically important, it seems to me, to this entire debate.
REHMWhat do you say, Robin?
WRIGHTThere are a number of reasons Iran might want a capability. First of all, it fought a very grisly war with Iraq that lasted eight years, and Iran was constantly the victim of use of chemical weapons by Iraq. It also is, as you pointed out, in the neighborhood of five of the nine world nuclear powers. It's a country that hasn't invaded another neighbor in over 200 years but has constantly been invaded by others historically. And so it feels very vulnerable.
WRIGHTIt's a Shiite country. Shiites are a minority, 15 percent, in the wider Islamic world, and ethnically they're a minority on both sides of their border. So there are lots of reasons it might want a weapon.
REHMRobin Wright, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Karim, how would you answer the question?
SADJADPOURWell, one thing I find interesting is that when you get inside the mind of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Khamenei, what he's long been obsessing about is not military attack, whether U.S. or Israeli military attack on Iran. What he obsesses about is a so-called velvet revolution or soft revolution. He obsesses about, you know, the United States trying to culturally subvert the Iranian revolution and overthrow it that way.
SADJADPOURAnd to go to Aaron's question, a nuclear weapon won't protect you against that. I mean, it won't protect you against cultural subversion. So I find it kind of interesting that Khamenei has basically bet the entire farm on this nuclear program when, in reality, even if they're able to obtain a nuclear weapon, it's not going to shield them from the forces of globalization and modernity.
WRIGHTThere's also a calculation, I think, that -- since the 2009 presidential election, when millions took to the street to oppose the regime. I think that Iran, historically, has looked at the weapons issue as one of defense. But over the last two years, there's a political calculation that this is a way that the regime can say to its people, look, we brought you greatness again, and that a nuclear weapon is something that would defend Iran, just the capability no one is going to attack it if it is believed to have a weapon.
WRIGHTAnd this is something that restores political legitimacy to the regime. It's an issue of survival. And it's also, for the Iranians, an issue of sovereignty, and this is one they invoke whenever they get to the negotiating table, that they have the right to enriched uranium for energy and that the outside world shouldn't take that capability away from them.
REHMAnd don't the threats by Israel simply strengthen that feeling?
SADJADPOURWell, there is another domestic element here, Diane, which is very interesting. And after the NATO intervention in Libya, the Iranian supreme leader gave a speech saying that Muammar Qaddafi's main mistake was giving up his nuclear program because, by giving up his nuclear program, he made himself vulnerable to outside intervention. And that may well be a calculation of the Iranian leadership as well, that down the road they may face more mass popular uprisings. And having a nuclear weapon prevents them from some type of outside intervention as we saw in Libya.
MILLERI mean, I go back to my -- the -- to point -- to the point of departure. If, in fact, Iran is a state primarily motivated by a marriage of profound insecurity and grandiosity, then it seems to me regime preservation, regime centralization and consolidation is everything. And the Iranian perception is, well, through velvet revolution, through international sanctions, through assassination of their scientists, through cyber attacks, that the West -- the U.S. in particular -- is determined to change the mullahcracy in Tehran.
MILLERAnd if you were sitting there, you would clearly want to hedge your bets with a prestige weapon. It won't guard against velvet revolution, but it will give you deterrence and a capacity to pre-empt and prevent attacks. And that, it seems to me, is critical. And if that's correct, then we got a problem because, whether it's this year or next year, the search for a capacity and a weapon is going to continue.
WRIGHTWell, one of the things we forget is that, while we're all talking about war, in fact, the United States and the West basically assumes that there will be a new diplomatic effort sometime in the next few weeks, next month, next couple of months, where they will get the Iranians to the table with the world's six major powers to try to figure out if there's a way to find some kind of compromise.
WRIGHTWe'll learn a lot from that experience. I don't think anyone goes into this very optimistic, but there still is a commitment to try to figure out if there's a way we can remove the insecurities that the Iranians feel. Maybe offer them some incentives beyond what's been offered in the past. Talk about beginning to lift the sanctions or to ease Iran's place back into the international community.
REHMHow much are those sanctions having an effect?
WRIGHTI think quite extraordinary, whether it's the banking sanctions that make doing simple business difficult -- one of the most imaginative new things the United States has done -- or the new oil sanctions imposed by the Europeans. This is all beginning to squeeze Iran significantly.
REHMRobin Wright. She's a journalist and fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. When we come back, it's your turn to chime in. Do join us. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd let's open the phones. First to Pittsburgh, Penn. Good morning, Ann. You're on the air.
ANNThanks. Diane, hey, most of us know that you and your team are really dedicated to educating the public about this Iran issue in particular. I hope you have former administration officials Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett on. And their website is Race for Iran. They know so much about this issue. I recently went online and watched a video of an interview with former weapons inspector Robert Kelley where -- and I encourage your listeners to go watch that on Real News.
ANNThat's, again, former weapons inspector Robert Kelley. He said that much of what's on that recent IAEA report about Iran that there's a lot of material in there that ElBaradei, the former CIAEA, would not allow in, and that the new head Mr. Amanu allowed in. And then -- so if your guests would discuss that and also the fact that Iran has the right to enriched uranium up to a certain -- because they are signatories, as Robin Wright said, of the NPT.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Karim.
SADJADPOURWhat's -- the challenge, which Iran poses, in the context of domestic American politics, going back to the issue of Israel -- and I think that George W. Bush's former speechwriter David Frum put it best. He said that in the context of domestic American politics, a country can enrich uranium, and it can call for Israel's demise. But it can't do both at the same time. And that's really one of the great challenges which Iran poses. I don't think that anyone thinks that Iran poses an existential threat to the United States.
SADJADPOURBut when it does threaten a country, which is one of our key allies in the world, Israel, and it has aspirations of a nuclear weapons capability, that's something that any elected official in the United States is going to have to take very, very seriously.
REHMHere's an email from John, who says, "I suspect Obama's claim to support sanctions in diplomacy over war is a ruse that hides U.S. covert support of an Israeli strike. Obama is making a show of being diplomatic, but the sanctions are a prelude to war. They can only fail. And when they do that, will be used as a justification for war." Aaron.
MILLERThat means sanctions may well be an accelerator of conflict, but the emailer's question, or at least the point the emailer is...
MILLERThat Obama essentially has created a covert strategy, I think, is absolutely wrong. This president, the last thing he wants or needs right now is another discretionary war with uncertain consequences. At a time of a fragility in the American recovery, this is a very messy prospect. And while he has morphed into a less ideological, less rigid version of George W. Bush when it comes to our national security, he's taken out more bad guys with Predator drones in his first year than George W. Bush eliminated in his entire first administration. The last thing this guy wants is a war with Iran.
REHMAnd here's something to support that notion from Nick in Reston, Va., who says, "Quite frankly, I don't think the American people are going to support yet another war in the Middle East. If President Obama engages American airpower and/or forces in Iran, he would lose the election to Mr. Romney, who will have to pledge not to get into a Middle East war. The people will support the clearing of a naval blockade at the oil route, but nothing beyond that." Robin.
WRIGHTWell, Mitt Romney has actually taken more of the most militant positions in saying that Barack Obama would allow an Iranian bomb, but he wouldn't. So I think the caller has misidentified their positions. I don't think that, in an election year, that the White House wants a war. I don't think the military in general wants another war. I think they've been stretched thin in terms of commitments in Afghanistan and beyond, that they're looking at ways to try to use covert action inside the country as well as economic pressure.
WRIGHTI just don't see this administration, whether it's this year or next year, actually wanting to go to war.
REHMAll right. To Winter Haven, Fla., good morning, Rob.
ROBGood morning, Diane and the panel. Diane, I love you. Listen, my thing is that I want to go back to, you know, speaking of Syria. What I'm trying to find out with that regime is if China and -- wants to block what the U.N. is putting up, then do we have a way of getting around that? And, I mean, it -- I just would like to know, why would they want to block it? I mean, being African American and, you know, seeing people dying in the streets, it's just not, you know, something I want to see.
ROBBut at the same time, I don't want us to be, you know, just going in every place or whatnot. So what is the recourse?
REHMAaron, we had talked about this a little earlier.
MILLERI mean, the Chinese and the Russians have different motives for not even acquiescing or abstaining in the Security Council vote. I mean, there are commercial considerations. There are ideological considerations. Putin, it seems to me, wants to chart his own course and always has. He doesn't accept the notion that the Americans and their coalition should have the right and obligation to impose. I think that's part of it. Options, I think, are bleak. And I think this is one example. Arab Spring, Arab Winter is another.
MILLERAmerica doesn't control the world. We cannot make or manage. We cannot dictate. And on this one, we lack the resources and the instruments to affect regime change.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there, Bob. You're on the air.
BOBGood morning, Diane. I have a couple of questions, well, like, about where does Iran get its nuclear material. But first, let me quote the most recent IAEA report. And this is the quote: "The agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities declared by Iran." So the concern becomes undeclared nuclear material. I'm hoping that your panel can clarify, A, whether it's true that a lot of the declared material came from -- this is uranium yellowcake, whether this came from the United States.
BOBAnd if there's undeclared material, where do we think that Iran is getting this material? Is it from -- are they mining it in Iran? Or is it being supplied by other nations?
SADJADPOURWithout getting too much in the weeds and getting too technical, the commercial element, civilian nuclear energy element of Iran's nuclear program has very much been provided by -- especially Russia. In recent years, Russia has been helping to build Iran's nuclear reactor in Bushehr. But with regards to the non-verified material and some of the material which is feared could be used in illicit programs, nuclear weapons program, we know of long links between Iran and the A.Q. Khan network in Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
SADJADPOURAnd I think U.S. officials would say that that's been -- one of the points about sanctions which has worked is that it's made it more difficult for Iran to obtain this type of nuclear material on the black market.
REHMAny other comment? All right. To -- let's see, Apex, N. C. Hi, Steve. Thanks for joining us.
STEVEThank you so much. One of the commenters referred to the dictator's dilemma with regard to Syria, and it seems that there's a similar free world's dilemma, in that, if the free governments would collectively use their power, then they could be effective in affecting change. But as long as they're hanging back and waiting for one country like the United States or Israel to assume the disproportionate share of the cost or the risk, then change is not going to happen.
STEVEAnd I was born in 1963, and when I learned about the Holocaust, I wondered, why did the world allow it to happen? And being older, I understand that things are complex. But it still seems like there's a principle here that could be within the power of the will must bear to do so.
WRIGHTWell, at this junction of the 21st century, we're seeing something very interesting play out, and that's this phenomena of people power, whether it's in the Middle East -- or we saw it in South Africa, in the East Block. And one of the reasons China -- getting back to an earlier question -- has not been more interested in working with the West or the United States is because of its own Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 and the mere fact that they have been concerned that the Arab Spring would blow over into China.
WRIGHTThey have their own very large Muslim community, very restive in the West. They've been concerned about what kind of inspiration this might be even to the Chinese. And they banned, at one point, on the Internet the use of the word jasmine, which was a reference to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. And so there is a concern about this broader phenomenon as, I think, Aaron mentioned earlier.
WRIGHTYou've seen a rest of population in Russia as well, that this phenomenon is the thing that concerns everyone. Whether it plays out in Occupy Wall Street or it plays out in downtown Moscow, there is a sense that for the first time that these dictators' dilemmas really are dilemmas that the dictators are facing an unprecedented challenge from grassroots movements.
REHMAaron, are you as concerned as many of our listeners had said they are about an accidental war that the U.S. has been drawn into?
MILLERWell, you know, in Middle East -- in the Middle East context, wars really don't happen by accident. They're preceded by prolonged periods of build-up, mis-signaling, miscommunication. I mean, the period leading up to the June '67 war is an example of that. And I was thinking the other day, are we in such a period now? But I don't think so because I think we're not talking about a regional -- a war that can be confined to the region. We're talking about an international escalation which will reflect global oil markets, global financial markets, European and American recovery.
MILLERSo, no, Middle East wars don't happen by accident. And if we're correct in our assessment, then the next several weeks and months might actually see a reduction in a measure of the tensions. And if Robin is correct, then some diplomatic process, P5-plus-1 or the -- or continued IAEI inspections -- they're due to return, I think, to Iran at the end of the month, it -- for a kind of cooling off period. If diplomacy is going to work, that's what's going to be required.
WRIGHTI actually disagree. My biggest concern is we do get into a situation where there is some small incident that, in this environment, with all the rhetoric flowing and all the threads...
WRIGHTAbsolutely. And, actually, when you look at the pattern of warfare recently in the Middle East, we haven't had a conventional war, really, since 1982 with Israel's invasion of Lebanon, and that, when you look at 2006, there's -- with the longest -- Israel's longest war, 34 days with an Arab partner, it was with Hezbollah over -- after the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers -- that it's the tensions that play out over some time, small incidents that then trigger much bigger events.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Tallahassee, Fla. Reza (sp?), good morning.
REZAGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
REZAI love your program, and I will to be -- I will try to brief. What I would like to bring to your attention that since I'm born and raised in Bushehr, a neighboring to city to the Strait of Hormuz, I would like to let you know that the Strait if Hormuz is a shallow water passage that oil tankers can only pass through between the three islands of Big Tunb, Small Tunb and Abu Musa, which are Iranian Territories. The oil tankers can barely pass through without touching the bottom of the gulf.
REZADespite the fact that Iranians may have installed enough mines in the passage, blocking the Strait of Hormuz for them does not require any sophisticated military or navy forces. By sinking their own tankers or others in this shallow waterway, they can easily block the passage and cause catastrophic economical disaster not only for U.S. but for the entire world.
SADJADPOURThat's -- well, I liken Iran's threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz to threatening conducting a suicide bombing. Meaning, it's true that there would be repercussions for others, but, above all, the ramifications would be most great for Iran because it would be cutting off the majority of its own exports. So it would be preventing itself from exporting oil which is the lifeblood of its economy. Second, the Strait of Hormuz, on any given day, 20 to 30 percent of the world's oil is passing through there.
SADJADPOURBut the oil which is passing through the Strait of Hormuz is not bound for the United States. A lot of it is bound for China, and China is Iran's key strategic and commercial patron. And if the Iranian's were to close off the Strait of Hormuz...
REHMThat would hurt.
SADJADPOUR...they would infuriate the Chinese. So they would hurt themselves, and they would hurt the Chinese. So I think it works much better as a threat than as a reality.
REHMBut to what extent is the U.S. saying if the Straight of Hormuz is closed that could be an act of aggression against the world?
MILLERWell, I don't think there's any doubt that if the Iranians decided to, by whatever means -- mining, sinking tankers, attacking oil installations -- decided to close the straits, unstated or not, the United States would reopen them. And in conjunction with reopening them, you would create a situation in which we would -- I'm almost certain, and would have to, election year or no election year -- take action against Iranian conventional targets in Iran. Whether it would be nuclear targets or not, I don't know.
MILLERBut this would create a situation of an -- they talk about the Iran premium, that is the cost of rising oil prices as a consequence of tension. You could see oil at close to $200 a barrel. So, yes, the United States would, under those circumstances, have to reopen the straits. And they could...
REHMSo does Iran want to do that?
MILLERLook, again, to Robin and Karim's point, we live in a world of possibilities and probabilities. Is it possible? Sure, it's possible. Is it probable or likely? No.
WRIGHTIran has -- is perfectly capable of doing stupid things. During the Iran-Iraq War, it laid mines in the Persian Gulf trying to attack American ships that were flagging Kuwaiti ships, tankers carrying oil. But this is something that the Chinese would back the United States in doing anything to reopen the Strait of Hormuz.
REHMRobin Wright, Karim Sadjadpour and Aaron David Miller, let's hope for the best even as we watch all of this unfold. Thank you so much.
SADJADPOURThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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