WASHINGTON, Jan 29 (KUNA) — The Iranian nuclear issue is unlikely to be resolved through short-term negotiations or via a military response, and will probably drag on for at least three to five years, or even 10 years or longer — with Iran making enough concessions to keep international talks going, while avoiding any deal that would end its nuclear ambitions to the satisfaction of the international community.
That was the consensus of Middle East Policy Council panelists who spoke on Tuesday on the subject of “The United States, its Middle East Allies and Iran: What is the Way Forward?” If Iran does not “come clean” with the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding its nuclear sites and capabilities, “there will be no long-term solution,” and the United Nations will not pass a resolution that removes sanctions on Iran, predicted David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
If the current international negotiations with Iran do not work, that does not mean the international community will either capitulate to a nuclear-armed Iran or respond militarily, said Albright, a physicist best known for his testimony debunking the George W. Bush administration’s assertions of weapons of mass destruction designs of Saddam Hussein during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“There are other options,” Albright said, adding that international pressure may be too great for Iran to ever cross the nuclear threshold.
The Joint Plan of Action (JPA) in the current interim agreement with Iran is sound, and interim steps are valuable since Iran still could destroy facilities where weapons-grade uranium might be developed, he said. The JPA delays the development of such uranium, and “that is good,” he added.
But if Iran develops weapons-grade uranium, “you would have to bring Iran to its knees” in order to remove that, Albright said.
Unlike the JPA, a comprehensive agreement with Iran involves things that the two sides do not agree on, Albright said.
The centrifuge research element needs to be folded into any final deal with Iran, and Iran will have to accept a major reduction in the number of centrifuges it has, he said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that there will be no reduction in the number of Iranian centrifuges, Albright noted, but for a comprehensive final agreement with the international community to be achieved, “a lot (of centrifuges) will have to be removed.” Challenges to such an agreement include that the international community would have to detect a secret plan for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and have a plan developed to respond to that, Albright said.
If Iran reaches “nuclear breakout” capability, it would take at least two to three months for a U.S. military response, while a UN-approved military response would require six to 12 months, Albright said.
It would be better to go back to the sanctions effort and the pressure of a military response against Iran than to have a bad agreement with Iran in which it can develop nuclear breakout capacity in two to three years, he said.
Iranian leaders suffer from “pride and hubris” on the nuclear issue, he said. While Iran desires a nuclear weapons capability, it likely lacks the technology and expertise to actually bring such a capability to fruition in the foreseeable future, he said.
Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Iran would seek a nuclear weapons capability primarily to compensate for its insufficient conventional military prowess.
“A terror weapon, a weapon of intimidation” is what Iran would seek via its nuclear program, he suggested.
Iranian military weapons systems are old and outdated, and Iran lost 40 top 60 percent of its military equipment during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, he said
Iran is building up a “massive assymetric warfare capability” in the Gulf to counter the military capabilities of the southern Gulf states, which is of more concern to Iran than what is taking place in Syria, Cordesman said.
Touching on the likelihood of Iran attacking Israel, Cordesman said such a move would mean Iran wanted to “commit suicide” should it attack a country with a nuclear weapons capacity.
The U.S. strategy concerning Iran is more about containing and deterring Iran’s conventional military might in the Gulf than focusing on the Iranian nuclear issue, he noted.
Cordesman downplayed the notion that Iran is as deeply focused on developing a nuclear weapon as many contend. Creating a nuclear weapon remains one of the most “demanding and complex” projects on Earth; for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon would mean taking “an act of incredible risk,” he said.
Addressing the issue of a military strike in order to ensure Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon, Cordesman said such a move would be “an incredibly complex” task. Only the Pentagon can assess the targeting structure required of such a task, he said.
While the United States could “probably” do it, Israel could not, he said.
Israel could take out only a few key targets in Iran, while the United States would have to strike Iran repeatedly, and continually update target assessments — a mission that would potentially take a period of years, he said.
Some think-tank assessments, which have concluded that such a military mission would involve less than 80 targets in Iran, are “rubbish,” Cordesman said.
Richard LeBaron, former U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center, Atlantic Council, said the current international talks with Iran are not likely to produce a comprehensive agreement on the Iran nuclear issue. But Iran could make enough concessions to avoid a breakdown in the negotiations, he said.
In the next two years, the international community will “have to live with a high level of ambiguity” with regards to Iran, and what takes place on the nuclear issue will most likely be affected more by internal Iranian politics than the actions of external forces.
Frederic Hof, former ambassador and special adviser to the Secretary of State for Transition in Syria, said that the pre-eminent national security objective for Iran regarding Syria is inside Lebanon and the role of Hezbollah as a counterweight to Israel.
Iran sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as “essential in this regard,” Hof said. Any replacement of Assad would be “a pale imitation at best of the real thing,” he said. “Anything post-Assad is a sharp downhill descent for Iranian interests,” and so Assad “is not a bargaining point” to Iran, he said.
“Iran thinks it has passed the storm in Syria,” he said. Only if the humanitarian excesses of Assad provoked a U.S. military response might Tehran pressure Assad to stop going down the current path, he said.
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