Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran Experts Encourage Dialogue and Non-interference

WASHINGTON, June 17—The National Iranian American Council hosted a conference on US-Iranian relations on Capitol Hill today, focusing on Iran's disputed elections and controversial nuclear program. Experts on Iran and nuclear weapons, as well as members of Congress, addressed the guests. These luminaries emphasized the need to engage Iran with respect and noted Iran would not give up its nuclear program.

The nuclear weapons and inspection experts were clear, in the words of former US weapons inspector in Iraq Dr. David Kay, "that we are beyond the point where you can deny Iran enrichment technology." The experts all emphasized that Iran would never accept "off-site" enrichment (enrichment abroad) as uranium enrichment was viewed as a matter of national pride and a symbol of national sophistication.

Still, they felt it was possible to establish a credible IAEA inspection regime that could detect Iranian non-compliance, was there sufficient international backing. Former French Ambassador to Iran François Nicoullaud said negotiations on such an inspection program need to be undertaken with seriousness and urgency, blaming European diplomats' lack of urgency (not Iranian obfuscation) for the failure of past talks. The panel of experts played down the notion that the US had only a short timeline in which to achieve results, with Kay saying that Iran was likely still far from being able to weaponize their nuclear technology and dismissed many of their centrifuge designs as "crap."

Two congressmen, Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade, and John Tierney (D-MA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, both emphasized the importance of dealing with Iran respectfully via dialogue and diplomacy. Meeks said, "Iran is too important—too important—not to talk to," and noted, "we can't ask them to respect us if we don't respect them." Tierney called on the US and Iran to "engage in matters of mutual strategic interest," and for US diplomats to "build a regional security framework that includes Iran."

Both Meeks and Tierney praised the US-Iranian cooperation that followed September 11, with Tierney noting that, "this country's, the United States', leaders, not Iran's," closed the door on those openings. The congressmen and the academics all felt that any perceived involvement by the US in Iran's disputed election would be foolish and counterproductive, especially if no Iranians requested US assistance. Meeks said this was a "sensible and sound, not cynical and cowardly" approach.

The speakers dismissed the notion that the Iranian leadership was inherently irrational. Tierney stated that the Iranian leadership saw itself as surrounding by unfriendly countries and that many Iranian policies are "rational to an Iranian realist." Kay said he felt it should be clear that "the only country to which an Iranian nuclear weapons program poses an existential threat to is Iran itself."