Christian Science Monitor reports: Analysts say Iran is not an irrational, suicidal actor that can’t be deterred. Nor do they believe it is determined to destroy Israel at all costs. A recent Israeli think tank simulation of “the day after” an Iranian nuclear test came to the same conclusion: that nuclear annihilation will not automatically result.
Yet a nuclearized Iran would precipitate some profound changes across a chronically unstable region. Military balances would shift. Political relations among antagonists – and allies – would become more complicated. Israel would lose its nuclear hegemony in the Middle East.
Underlying it all loom major questions. Would Iran, implacable foe of the US and Israel, suddenly become beyond attack, like North Korea? Would Iran and Israel settle into a decades-long regional cold war, like that between India and Pakistan? Would Iran’s jittery Persian Gulf neighbors rush to become nuclear powers themselves, setting off a dangerous and irreversible new arms race?
The questions swirled as Iran signaled on Feb. 16 that it was ready with “new initiatives” to resume long-stalled talks over its nuclear program with the US and other big powers. But the Iranians were nebulous about any possible concessions to previous Western demands – demands that diplomats say have only risen higher in a US election year. Renewed chances of talks came during a week when Tehran also proclaimed new advances in nuclear technology. As a result of all this, the possibility of any political breakthrough is far from certain.
It is not a fait accompli, of course, that Iran will build a bomb, even though it sometimes seems as if it is – and many Americans believe the country already has. As recently as 2010, for instance, a CNN poll found that 71 percent of Americans believed Iran has a nuclear arsenal.
Yet American intelligence agencies agree that Tehran hasn’t yet decided to go for a nuclear bomb – and that even if it chose to, it would take years to create one and the means to deliver it. Israeli intelligence is also reported to have reached the same conclusion.
In testimony before Congress in late January, the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said Iran is “keeping open the option” to develop nuclear weapons. But, he added, “we do not know” if it will. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in its latest report last November, detailed alleged weapons-related work for the first time, but said “systematic” work was halted in 2003.
Tehran has long claimed it wants only to make nuclear power peacefully, and in Iran, embracing “nuclear rights” enjoys wide, popular support because it blends national pride and scientific prowess. Publicly, Iranian rulers profess to reject atomic weapons, and at the highest levels they evoke Islamic religious reasons to oppose all weapons of mass destruction.
Yet analysts and diplomats note that Iran does have many reasons to develop at least a “breakout” capability – the ability to assemble a bomb quickly should it want to. Tehran has watched modern history unfold around it and no doubt has drawn its own conclusions. Acquiring nuclear weapons helped preserve regimes in North Korea and Pakistan, for instance. But in Iraq and Libya, two nonnuclear countries, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were deposed. The Iranian media, in fact, tut-tutted last year that Mr. Qaddafi’s fatal error was relinquishing his secret nuclear weapons program in 2004.
“If I was an Iranian national security planner, I would want nuclear weapons,” Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the CIA now at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in January.
“Look at the neighborhood that I live in: Everyone else has nuclear weapons who matters; and those who don’t, don’t matter, and get invaded by the United States of America,” Mr. Riedel said on a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
In other words, the reason Tehran might pursue a bomb is the same one that has propelled every nuclear state in history: self-protection. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The United States and the European Union signaled on Friday that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program could soon resume for the first time in more than a year, even as a telecommunications network vital to the global banking industry prepared to expel Iranian banks.
While senior American and European officials stopped short of declaring a diplomatic breakthrough, Iran dropped previously unacceptable preconditions for talks in a letter this week from its senior nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who declared his country’s “readiness for dialogue” at “the earliest possibility.”
After weeks of official bluster, ominous threats of military action in the Persian Gulf, and assassination attempts on Israelis in India, Thailand and Georgia that Iranian agents have been blamed for, the offer appeared to be a genuine concession by Iran, the officials said, though one made under the duress of tightening economic sanctions against the country.