Iran Primer's Blog
Tehran has “no urgent incentive to build nuclear weapons” according to a new policy brief by Robert Litwak. The nuclear issue is just part of a wider debate within Iran over how to interact with the outside world. The Islamic Republic “perceives the process of integration into an international community– whose dominant power is the United States– as an insidious threat to regime survival.” The following are excerpts from the policy brief from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, with a link to the full text at the end.
The nuclear crisis with Iran is playing out against the backdrop of potentially significant societal developments in the country. The problem for the United States is that the nuclear crisis is immediate, whereas the prospects for regime change or evolution in Iran are uncertain. The time lines for nuclear weapons acquisition and societal change are simply not in sync.
All Options Are on the Table
All options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear challenge may remain on the table, but none is good. Military action? In Iran, bombing would, at best, set back but not end the nuclear program. Moreover, the case for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program rests on an assessment that the theocratic regime is undeterrable and apocalyptic. But that depiction of Iran as an irrational state runs contrary to National Intelligence Estimates, which have characterized the clerical regime’s decision making as being “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” When asked whether the Iranian regime was messianic or rational, Obama said that Iranian decision making over the past three decades indicates that the clerics “care about the regime’s survival.”
...So Iran faces a profound dilemma. This outlier sees integration into the international community as a threat to regime survival, but Tehran’s posturing revisionism does not offer a viable long-term alternative. The nuclear question remains a proxy for the persisting debate about its relationship with the outside world. And that, in turn, presents Washington with a dilemma, one that may be managed but not resolved. Between the poles of induced integration and coerced regime change lies a third option, containment—an updated, retooled version of Kennan’s strategy that would decouple the nuclear issue from regime change and rely on internal forces as agents of societal change in Iran.
In Iran, the nuclear issue remains a proxy for the unresolved debate over that country’s relationship with the United States and the outside world. Maintaining a hedge option for a nuclear weapon (absent some perceived security imperative for acquisition) is Iran’s strategic sweet spot.
The term containment has been eschewed and delegitimized in U.S. policy debate. Yet it is an accurate description of current U.S. policy toward Iran and is likely to persist as long as the Tehran regime does not cross Washington’s red line of
Click here for the full text.
In November, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Iran’s influence and growing power in the region. He challenged Arab governments to follow Tehran’s example by assisting the Palestinians in Gaza. On Iran’s Navy Day, Khamenei encouraged navy commanders to expand operations in the Sea of Oman. He tried to maintain Iran’s image by stopping lawmakers from grilling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the economic crisis. “The enemy” wants to see infighting, he told members of parliament.
Khamenei also called on the Syrian opposition to lay down its arms and warned of the dangers of Western-style freedoms. The following are excerpts from his statements in November.
Senior Iranian officials sent mixed signals in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement about bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has indicated an openness to direct U.S. talks. But the Supreme Leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards said “accepting talks is like surrendering” to the United States. On November 29, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States must do everything “unilaterally, bilaterally, multilaterally” to reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The following are reactions by top officials.
Member of Parliament Seyed Sharif Hosseini
“The U.S. wants to announce to the world that it is ready for talks with Iran and it is the Islamic republic that is not willing to negotiate. The U.S. has long used this kind of political legerdemain.” December 3
Support for an Israeli strike on Iran has waned over the last year, according to a new study. Only one in five Israelis polled support a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Half of the respondents said they believed that Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons, while just as many said Iran is somewhat likely or unlikely to acquire a bomb. Israelis were also evenly divided over a diplomatic deal that would allow Iran to maintain nuclear energy for electricity under U.N. supervision—with 46 percent approving and 47 percent not supporting such a deal.
The following are excerpts from the report by the Brookings Institution, the University of Maryland and the Program on International Policy Studies, with a link to the full text at the bottom.
The Islamists Are Coming
The Islamists Are Coming, edited by Robin Wright, surveys the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.
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