|Ambassador Robert Josef- Options Ending Iran’s Nuclear Program|
|Monday, 13 February 2012 20:09|
Speaker: Thank you very much, Dr. Tutu. Excellent that you kept it to eight minutes and 37 seconds. And I welcome now former Ambassador Robert Josef. You have ten minutes. [applause]
Ambassador Robert Josef: Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here today. Let me begin, as others have, by thanking our sponsors for organizing this impressive conference, but mostly for all of the tremendous efforts to promote a democratic and free republic in Iran. My comments will focus on Iran’s nuclear program, something I’ve been following for the past decade, first at the White House, then at the State Department, and now out of government. My remarks will emphasize the interrelationships between the future of the nuclear program and the future of the current regime in Tehran. Put simply, as long as the existing rulers endure their quest for nuclear weapons will continue. This leads to my bottom line. While international isolation, economic sanctions, covert actions and even the possible use of force can slow the progress of the nuclear program. The key to permanently ending the program is the replacement of the present regime through the resistance of the Iranian people. [applause] This is why, this is why it is so vital to promote the democratic process now, and to build the means for a peaceful and stable transition. This is why the work of our sponsor, of Mrs. Rajavi, and the work of all of you here today is so essential.
Given the time constraints, and given the onset of what I fear may be what I call back home death by speeches, I will try to be very brief. I will in doing so abandon my 28 years of experience in government, including the last years at the State Department, and come right to the point. I want to do three things. First, briefly address the status of the program. Second, talk about why we must care. And third, I’ll lay out the options, at least as I see them, for ending the program.
Let me start with the report last October by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which received a great deal of attention. The report, I believe, set a new benchmark. It rang the alarm bell loud and clear. The report emphasized continuing progress being made in the program, operating more centrifuges than ever before, accumulating a stockpile of enriched uranium which if further processed could produce enough for four weapons, and tripling the production of enriched uranium to the 20% level that would significantly shorten the time to reach weapons grade material. While these assessments are of concern, the most alarming aspects of the report dealt with what the agency described as research development and testing activities that would be useful in actually designing nuclear weapons. In other words, Iran is working on the building blocks for making atomic bombs, and placing those weapons in its ballistic missiles. Whether or not a final decision has been made by the mullahs to actually build nuclear weapons cannot be proved or disproved. But it is clear, it is clear that Iran is moving ahead with the technologies used in the production of atomic bombs, and will in the near future be able to exercise that option if it so chooses.
Since October the program has only moved forwards. Tehran announced in early January that the enrichment plant at (Qom) is now operating and would enrich uranium to 20%. Perhaps even more significant, Iran has continued to deny and conceal the nuclear activities. In an ongoing game of cat and mouse, Iran recently invited IAE inspectors back into the country, but when they arrived provided them with no access to people, no access to facilities, and no new substantive information. While the inspectors will, for their own reason, return in about ten days, I would not anticipate any breakthroughs.
In fact, my sense is that the Iranian regime may well have decided to accelerate its acquisition of nuclear weapons. It sees the increase in the effects of sanctions on the economy and it wants to create an accomplished fact, a fait accompli, as other proliferators have done. Even more important, perhaps, the regime sees what is occurring in the Islamic world and desperate, desperately wants to avoid, at all costs, the fate of leaders in Tunisia, in Egypt and Yemen, and most of all the fate of Gadhafi in Libya. They may well believe that had Gadhafi not given up his nuclear weapons program in 2003 he may have prevented or even deterred NATO’s intervention and remained in power.
In any case, the sense of urgency developed by the October report and subsequent Iranian actions has led to a number of very strong statements at the highest levels of U.S. government. In late January Secretary (Panetta) stated that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon in about one year, adding that this is a red line by saying that all necessary steps would be taken to stop it. President Obama in his State of the Union message received a standing ovation from Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, when he said, and I quote, “Let there be no doubt that America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
This raises the question of why we care, why it is so necessary to defeat the regime’s nuclear ambition. A number of reasons come to mind. A nuclear armed Iran could embolden Tehran to promote its ambitions in the region and outside of the region even more aggressively than today. This could take the form of support to terrorists or fomenting political unrest to overthrow leaders supportive of the West. At a minimum, Iran would use its possession of nuclear weapons as a powerful tool of intimidation and blackmail. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a direct threat to U.S. forces and allies in the Gulf as well as in the greater Middle East, and in time to the United States itself. The likelihood of Iran using military force could increase if it believed that its nuclear capability, coupled with its long-range missiles, protected it from retaliation. A nuclear armed Iran could lead to the end of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as we have known it for decades, by lighting the fuse for further proliferation in the region and beyond, by countries responding to what they would see as a new threat that must be deterred by their own nuclear program. Finally, and I think an important message to this group, a nuclear armed Iran would feel even more secure from foreign outside interference and more confident that it could act without concern for repercussions to repress its own people, those who are in fact the greatest threat to the regime’s survival. In other words, if Iran achieves nuclear weapons, it is a true game changer. If it seems difficult to deal with Iran today, just imagine if the regime had nuclear weapons.
So what do we do to stop it? What are our options? The most common response is to apply economic and financial sanctions against the regime, and together international and national sanctions have reportedly had a very significant recent effect on Iran, both its government and its economy. In January, General Petraeus, head of the CIA, stated that sanctions were taking a severe toll on the Iranian regime. And more sanctions have been applied since then, especially sanctions against Iran’s central bank as well as its ability to use the international financial system, and as others have mentioned, a future EU embargo on oil. All of this will make it work. The problem is that causing economic pain through sanctions has not stopped the march to a nuclear weapon.
So again, what do we do? Well, as for covert action against the nuclear program, I think most of you if not all of you have heard about reported U.S. and Israeli efforts to disrupt the enrichment process through computer attacks and other means of sabotage. But while these reported attempts have likely caused some disruption, like sanctions they have not accomplished their goal. So we can do more sanctions and presumably more covert activities, and we should. But given our experiences over the past five years we should not expect them to end the program. And time is running out. In fact, one would have to conclude, I believe, that based on the results to date our efforts will fail if we don’t take an alternative path. Let me just put it very bluntly. We are at a critical juncture and are faced with very hard choices and very huge risks. Because we’re now at this crossroads, we must consider the use of force. This is not an invasion, this is not large-scale bombing of cities and industrial plants. This is force to destroy the known facilities. No one wants to use force. Every country would prefer a diplomatic, peaceful outcome. But this is a challenge for which there are no easy policy choices.
The problem is that there is no reason to believe that the regime would ever abandon its nuclear program with one possible exception, that it believed force would be used against it. This was the case with Libya in 2003 and 2004, and it is the case, I believe, with Iran. In 2003, Gadhafi believed as he watched Saddam’s military be quickly defeated, that he was next on the target list. When I participated in the secret policy talks with the Libyans late that year, it was evident that a number of motivations were in play, but the most important, have no doubt, the most important was Libya’s desire not to be the next Iraq. While the U.S. has taken a number of steps that likely undercut the perception of Iran’s leaders that the U.S. will use force, such as the withdrawal from Iraq and the downsizing in Afghanistan, there should be little doubt that the U.S. could conduct a series of effective strikes. And if the U.S. doesn’t, Israel very well might, as it sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to its very existence.
There is no question that the cost of using force could be substantial. Iran has many avenues to strike back through ballistic missile attack, through the use of terrorism, or other proxies in the region. It can also create economic disruptions and political unrest. And while the program would be disrupted, it would not be ended, but would almost surely go further underground as Iraq’s program did after the 1981 bombing of the (Osiric) reactor. But the use of force would buy time, valuable time, one year, perhaps up to three years. The key question is how that time could be used to change the political conditions in Iran. Some, including the repressive regime in Tehran, argue that if force is used, all Iranians will rally around the regime as a nationalistic impulse. Others challenge that conventional wisdom, noting that the limited use of force would not alter the deep animosity of most Iranians words the regime. Many of you are better able to answer that question than I am.
But I’ll conclude as I started off by saying that he only real sustainable solution to the Iranian nuclear threat is the emergence of a free and democratic Iran. [applause] This is the greatest threat in the eyes of the regime. They’ve seen the movie over and over, going back to the lessons of Ceausescu in Romania, much more recently Gadhafi in Libya, and even today with their closest ally, Bashar Assad in Syria. The greatest fear of dictator sips is that of its own people. They know they lack legitimacy and that the rule only through the use of force and repression. That is why Camp Ashraf is such an important symbol. That is why the regime is so determined to destroy it and is residents. That is why it is so opposed to delisting of the MEK. But that is also why we must, in addition to meeting our legal and our moral commitments, act to preserve and protect that symbol of freedom. Thank you very much. [applause]
Speaker: Thank you very much, Ambassador Josef. We have the pleasure to introduce now Professor (Andre Gluksman) French author and philosopher. [applause] He is one of the new philosophers. Welcome to take the floor.
[end of audio]
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