Ky. Voices: U.S. should negotiate with Iran's new, moderate leader

July 11, 2013 

Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of Turkey-Iran Relations, 1979-2004.

The June 14 election of the moderate Hassan Rohani as president of Iran promises the possibility of new directions in Iran's politics. Rohani's election was contrary to predictions of nearly all analysts, both Iranian and non-Iranian. This is especially true in the United States where nearly all analyses were made by major media outlets — nearly all of whom have a unremitting commitment to more sanctions against Iran.

The inevitable result is that Iran, under the leadership of Rohani, will have little maneuvering room to pursue negotiations, especially regarding the issue of enriching uranium to 20 percent. Most analysts agree that enriching to 20 percent makes enriching the 90 percent needed to produce nuclear weapons easier to achieve in a relatively short period. Of course, producing viable, deliverable weapons takes much longer.

The fact that Rohani won election by a majority of votes attests to the desire of many of the regime leaders and the Iranian populace for earnest negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues between them, the U.S. and European Union countries.

In spite of the promising future of negotiations and the pragmatic positions Rohani has taken thus far, the majority of Congress continues to call for more and more sanctions. This leaves the impression among many Iranians that the U.S. and EU are not interested in any kind of negotiations, let alone serious ones, but rather in regime change. Many Iranians also realize the same neo-conservative and pro-Israel forces and groups that called for war against Iraq are now calling for war against Iran, although they stress this does not mean boots on the ground.

Notably, the Joint Chiefs of Staff seem to have concluded differently. Their position seems to be that if Iran's nuclear program or industrial infrastructure were attacked, it would respond by attacking the Gulf Arab states, U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as well as U.S. and NATO bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

This may be another reason why the U.S. is eager to reduce its military presence in these countries by the end of 2014.

Some analysts say it is understandable that Iran would like to possess nuclear weapons capability. It is surrounded by Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel — all of whom have nuclear weapons. In addition, the U.S. has nuclear weapons in Djibouti and Turkey — as well as nuclear armed submarines in the Persian Gulf, Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indian Ocean.

Many analysts believe the U.S. also has prepositioned nuclear weapons at the air base in Qatar and at its bases in Central Asia.

Given the promise of earnest negotiations between Iran and the U.S. under Rohani, it is disappointing that 46 of the 47 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Barack Obama last month stressing that the election of Rohani, "has done nothing to suggest a reversal of Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity. There appears nothing 'moderate' about Rohani's nuclear policies. Our diplomatic goal must be to reach a negotiated settlement in which Iran agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program."

Yet all 17 intelligence agencies of the U.S. have, since 2003, declared that Iran suspended a nuclear weapons program and has not yet decided to produce a nuclear weapon. This does not mean that Iran will not strive to possess the capability to produce such weapons. But producing a viable, deliverable nuclear weapon would take another five to seven years.

It is urgent that the five members of the UN Security Council — the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and China — along with Germany, pursue earnest negotiations with the new president of Iran. With current U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. and an all-but-undeclared war against the Assad regime in Syria, most Americans are opposed to a war against Iran which would be detrimental to our national security.

Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst and author of Turkey-Iran Relations, 1979-2004.

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