Scholars Call for Roadmap in U.S.-Iranian Relations

Atlantic Council sponsors review of proliferation in Iran By Judith D. Trunzo Washington File Staff Writer Washington -- Agreeing that U.S. policy has succeeded in disrupting Iran's search for capacity in weapons of mass destruction, three American scholars called for new thinking and a roadmap for more positive outreach. The Atlantic Council held a discussion "Managing Proliferation in Iran" on September 28, which featured three American scholars: Dr. Gary Sick, former National Security Council member and now director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia University, Dr. Michael Eisenstadt, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Dr. George Perkovich, Director of the Secure World Program of the W. Alton Jones Foundation and an expert on Indian nuclear capacity. U.S.-backed sanctions have achieved constraints in the market place on Iran's search for components of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including nuclear, biological and chemical, according to the three speakers, but Eisenstadt said that Russian sales of missile parts to Iran added an unknowable factor rendering difficult any assessment of Iran's ability to deliver any weaponry it might develop. He examined motivations for acquiring such capacities, recalling that the Iranian nuclear program pre-dated the current Islamic regime. The security threat to the country, especially during the Iran/Iraq war, was a driving force and continues as long as its neighbor Iraq also seeks WMD. To the degree that motives for pursuing WMD are internal, they are "beyond our control," in Eisenstadt's view. He suggested that current policies raising the costs to Iran of circumventing its chemical treaty obligations be maintained, so that the country would not "teach others" nor be encouraged to break its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is also a signatory. Continuing high costs would, he proposed, deprive conservatives in the regime of the means to proliferate while "stalling until moderates can come to power". The moderates could then more easily drop current efforts toward WMD. The greatest realm for newer policies lay in "mitigating the impact of proliferation by encouraging political change," according to Eisenstadt. He urged increased contacts, support to the Iranian people in general, release of restrictions, e.g. on currency, when favorable steps came from Iran. Proliferators leave "fingerprints", began the remarks by Dr. Sick. He believes that Iran has taken a number of steps "to position itself for a take-off in nuclear development" largely in the knowledge that an Iraqi WMD program "would target Iran." He called the Russian-Iranian project to build what they term a commercial nuclear reactor at Bushehr "a white elephant." There are, however, missing indicators of a drive toward WMD acquisition, and he listed several: Iran does not have a nuclear fuel site; there is no "massive diversion of the budget"; its arms control treaty obligations are closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. His Gulf 2000 program at Columbia University has held four workshops that included participation by very high-level Iranian officials, sometimes from sensitive government agencies. Sick found a "surprising" degree of openness on their parts despite the "security angst" of their isolation and memories of the gas attacks by Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war. He noted the frequent statements by the visiting officials that Islam prohibited "indiscriminate" attacks on innocent victims. While he does not believe Islamic precepts would be "sufficient to refute the WMD option," Sick suggested that this attitude indicates "we have time to think more intelligently." He joined Perkovich, in particular, in proposing that a better relationship with Iran might be found in a better understanding of what are the security needs of Iran. Successes and failures in applying the non-proliferation treaty are distinguished, said Perkovich, by whether quiet diplomacy could be applied. In the case of South Africa and South Korea, for example, the nuclear programs were secret, and there was no public attachment to them. "Positive inducements" are being applied in the case of North Korea, whose government is able to limit the public knowledge of these U.S. gestures. Failure occurred in India and Pakistan where the publics are highly attached to the nuclear programs and where U.S. disapproval was highly public. These experiences argue for new but "low key" approaches to preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, in particular, according to the speaker, reversing the "too public" stance against Russian sales of technology. Calling for a "roadmap" leading to more regional security and better relations with Iran, Perkovich asked, "what would be the sources of security if there were regime changes in both Iran and Iraq?" He noted that Eisenstadt had said that internal motivations were so dominant that improvement in regional security might not deflect Iran's search for WMD but queried, "Has it been tried?" The speakers affirmed the effectiveness of sanctions and export controls in raising the costs to would-be proliferators of nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry. Eisenstadt said "the cat was out of the bag" in regard to chemicals and biological weapons but "not yet" for nuclear; nevertheless, he thought it was worthwhile to pursue constraints on acquisition across the board. He also noted the higher oil prices could generate means for acquisition on the part of oil-producers; therefore export controls remained necessary. Sick argued for better tailored application of the controls, not ruling out relatively innocent air conditioning sales to Iran by the Czech Republic, for instance, which could only undermine international compliance as they hurt commercial sales. Sick noted that Iran's basic adherence to its treaty obligations had brought few benefits to the country. He feared that without some visible benefit, those Iranians supporting a non-proliferation approach would be weakened, delaying a more favorable regime change. Perkovich, too, urged that the U.S. turn now to a roadmap of what could be offered so that, in accepting, Iranian leaders would not have to repudiate any of their own public actions. (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: