Foreign Policy Director, Bipartisan Policy Center, Washington DC
1 – 2pm, Tuesday 4th September 2012
Committee Room 11, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: email@example.com
There are few international fault lines at the onset of the 21st century that can be considered as grave as the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme. The geopolitical challenge Iran presents combines the newly emergent element of sub-state level ideologically driven forces with very ‘classical’ hegemonic regional ambitions, and as such poses a serious threat to international stability. The issue has been addressed through years of negotiations and ever more stringent sanctions.
Yet it seems that we are no closer to persuading Tehran to change course. As months go by and the situation becomes ever more critical, what is there left to do? What steps need to be taken to avoid a major conflagration? What steps can be taken?
By kind invitation of Gisela Stuart MP, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Michael Makovsky, Author and Foreign Policy Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center. He will outline the current policy situation around Iran’s nuclear capabilities and discuss how best to prevent the emergence of a nuclear Iran.
TIME: 1 – 2pm
DATE: Tuesday 4th September 2012
VENUE: Committee Room 11, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Makovsky joined the Bipartisan Policy Center as Foreign Policy Director in 2006. A U.S. national security expert, he has worked extensively on Iran’s nuclear program, the Middle East, and the intersection of international energy markets and politics with U.S. national security.
At BPC, Makovsky has managed projects on a new U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear development, a new U.S. strategy toward Russia, how to augment U.S. Government capacity in stabilizing fragile states such as Yemen, devising a new bipartisan U.S. foreign policy, and how to make strategic public diplomacy an effective tool of U.S. foreign policy in Egypt and elsewhere.
From 2002-2006, Makovsky served as special assistant for Iraqi energy policy in the Office of Secretary of Defense and Director of Essential Services in the Washington office of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the postwar Allied entity that governed Iraq. In those capacities, he advised senior Defense, National Security Council and Energy officials on Iraqi energy policy. Prior to his work in the Pentagon, Makovsky worked over a decade as a senior energy market analyst for various investment firms, focusing on markets and hedging strategies for oil, petroleum products, natural gas and electric power, as well as regulatory and tax issues. Makovsky is founder and president of MSM Consulting LLC, an energy and political risk consulting firm.
Makovsky has written articles and op-eds on Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Middle Eastern energy and diplomatic issues for The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic, and been interviewed on CNBC, CNN, NPR, Voice of America (Persian), and other media. He is also author of Churchill’s Promised Land (Yale U. Press, 2007), a diplomatic-intellectual history of Winston Churchill’s complex relationship with Zionism.
Makovsky has a Ph.D in diplomatic history from Harvard University, an MBA in finance from Columbia Business School, and a B.A. in history from the University of Chicago.
Gisela Stuart MP
Ok I think we may make a start. After we’ve all admired the beautiful views of The Shard from here, which I still think is absolutely delightful but there we are. Welcome to this meeting of the Henry Jackson Society. I’m Gisela Stuart, I’m the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston. But the nature of the Henry Jackson Society will always take it in terms because we’re not party political in that sense.
I think today is really important, and if you can actually find an answer to the title of this talk which is ‘What it takes to prevent a n uclear Iran,’ you’re probably in line for a Nobel Peace Prize. But in the meantime, we shall try to do our best. Our speaker is Michael Makovsky, director of the Bipartisan Policy Centre and he’s written extensively on all the very site safe places to go to, like Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern countries for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post. What we’re trying to do is have Michael speak for about twenty minutes and then we’ll go straight into questions and we have to finish by two. And that’s all you’re going to hear from me, so would you mind.
Thank you very much, thank you very much for hosting me. I want to thank the Henry Jackson Society. Everybody can hear me ok back there? Ok fine, thanks. I think the last time I spoke in London was about five years ago and it was about a book I wrote on Winston Churchill and Zionism. So, I find actually Churchill to be a good segue into today’s discussion because I think one of Churchill, I know he’s more controversial here than he is in the States, but one of Churchill’s great traits was that he really, he had a great ability to seize on the most pressing issues of the day and focus on it at the exclusion of secondary issues. And I think with all that is going on in the world, whether economic crises, upheaval in the Middle East, I think, among other things, I think that preventing a nuclear Iran is the most – is a pre-eminent challenge that we face today. Now, merely I’m speaking as an American, I don’t pretend to tell the British what is in their interest, but I’ll speak from our perspective. I think we share a lot of interests together, but I certainly think for the United States it’s the – and the West in general, it is the pre-eminent challenge we face and I do think we have to have a really Churchillian focus on this in preventing a nuclear Iran.
So, our hostess has said I’m just going to kind of lay things out and I hope we’ll have a good discussion afterwards. Just to step back, I think the constant flow of media reports, and so on, on Iran; we don’t often just step back and think what are our interests in a nuclear Iran. Let me just mention three, and then how we then discuss where we are and how we can go about preventing it.
From a US perspective, I think our three main interests in the Middle East are, an historical one is a secure flow of oil, and I think a lot of Americans, and I imagine others outside the United States forget, but this interest in the region goes back at least to Jimmy Carter if not before. Jimmy Carter is now known in the United States as being one of our tougher presidents internationally, but he actually laid out the Carter Document in January 1980, as a warning in saying he would not, the United States would not, allow outside control of the Persian Gulf and he really kind of had in mind the Soviets at the time, which had just invaded Afghanistan. But, I think there are corollaries to the Carter Doctrine. You could look, if you want, at the previous two Iraq wars, as part of those corollaries is that now when should the United States not allow an outside power to control the Persian Gulf. But we wouldn’t allow a regional power to control the Persian Gulf. I think that applied to the time when we thought Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, or was developing them, and certainly I think with Iran, because if Iran gets nuclear weapons, they will be able to have much great control over the Persian Gulf, which everybody knows is such an important source of oil in the world. I also think that, related to that, is that the Saudis have already indicated, we know this, of course everyone who works on this issues knows this, but Dennis Ross even mentioned this publicly, who was a senior official on the Obama White House and left about last December. The Saudis indicated they’re going to get nuclear weapons if the Iranians do. Of course there are already rumours on the relationship they have with the Pakistanis in that regard. I bring that up, the security of the Persian Gulf, because if that area becomes more nuclearized, it certainly raises the risk of a nuclear conflict in that region – that’s not good for security of oil by the way, setting aside all the humanitarian concerns.
A second US interest in the region is a secure Israel. Now, this goes back at least to Woodrow Wilson – about a hundred years ago – for the United States, who was supportive of the Balfour Declaration, which of course came from here, from Lord Balfour. Now, I was thinking about this issue being in England the last couple of days, I think sometimes the British ascribe American support for Israel as purely domestic politics – Jewish votes, sometimes Jewish money. I know in my own research that if you look back to Clement Attlee and Bevin in the late 40’s they saw Truman as being supportive of Israel all because of domestic issues. Setting aside whatever domestic concerns British politicians have, which don’t get raised enough, I find, but setting that aside, I think that’s a misguided view of America. Yes, Jewish votes do matter in certain states, not in New York really, for the Presidential race, because that’s going to vote Democratic anyway, no matter what some Jews who vote for Romney in Brooklyn or elsewhere might want. But there are important Jewish constituencies in certain key states, what we call swing states, in the electoral maps – Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida. But, again, I think that’s a complete misconception of the American position on Israel, which I hear sometimes from the Brits, from British folks – it’s all about domestic politics. Actually, that’s completely wrong – Americans support Israel now overwhelmingly and it’s only grown over the years. And by the way, I’d add that Iran is the least popular country right now in the United States. When looking at the polls, China and Iran are certainly the most feared countries. But ever since the late 70s with the hostage crisis, Americans don’t like this regime. On the contrary, they are very supportive of Israel, and this isn’t just Jews, it’s not just Evangelical Christians, which there are many of the in the United States, but it goes across America I think, and I think the British should understand that. But of course, if Iran gets nuclear weapons, as a country that even recently continued to talk about how Israel should be wiped off the map, needless to say there is a greater risk to the security of Israel if Iran gets nuclear weapons.
I think our third historic interest in the region is a weakening or defeat of Islamic radicalism and terror. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, and we all know Iranians are one of the chief sponsors of terrorism in the world, supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah, whether Sunni or Shi’a terrorists – we’ve seen it only in recently months where they try to attack both civilians and officials of Israel, the United States, and others, in all sorts of countries – India, Azerbaijan, we had that case, of course, in Eastern Europe as well against Israeli tourists. I think if they get nuclear weapons, it will embolden all the radicals in the region. Any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace would certainly go out the window. I think our efforts since 9/11, which have been somewhat certainly successful against al Qaeda, but not as much as against other terrorists groups. I think those would be strongly, certainly compromised. So I think those are, I’d say, the three key interests the US has in the region, and a nuclear Iran threatens all those interests again, the secure flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, a secure Israel, and a weakening or defeat of Islamic radicalism and terror. So that’s why I think it’s so important, of course, there are other things that will happen if Iran gets nuclear weapons – oil prices, I think, will go up in a higher way, in a more sustained way, I could talk about that in a Q&A if you’d like, I used to be an oil analyst at trading companies and some of those I actually focus on a bit.
I think that it should matter a lot to Britain, certainly should matter to Americans. I think the US position in the region will be significantly compromised if administrations from both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, have warned Iran not to develop nuclear weapons and then they do so anyways. I don’t think our credibility would be very high, and certainly our credibility is already questioned by our allies in the region – the Saudis, the UAE, the Jordanians, of course the Israelis – already that’s been going on. I think we would take a severe hit and I don’t think it’s good for world stability, I don’t think it’s good for British interests, I don’t think it’s good for peace for America to be so weakened, but that’s how I see it and I don’t think therefore, any talk about a nuclear umbrella afterwards would have much meaning, because if we didn’t prevent a nuclear Iran, what sort of protection would we provide our allies after they get nuclear weapons? I think it’s almost actually ludicrous to conceit.
So, now, going forward, where are we? What do we do to address this challenge? Well, we tried diplomacy, only; at least the Obama administration tried that. I think it was that some Republicans were very critical of Obama putting an outstretched hand to the Iranians early on. I think it was the right thing to do; now, I would’ve done things differently when the Iranians rebelled and demonstrated in June 2009 after the fraudulent presidential elections. With that said, I think trying to reach out to Iranians and making a good-faith effort was the right thing to do.
Now then, the US at least, pivoted in around mid-2010 when outreach really went nowhere, sanctions really intensified – there was the UN Security Council Resolution in June 2010. And by the way, people forget that there were several UN Security Council Resolutions under President Bush and there’s only been one under President Obama. But it certainly marked a toughening of the international community in the approach to Iran. Then, Congress passed their own sanctions which focus a lot on gasoline imports and so on. But then nothing really happened too much and then things started really heating up on the sanctions front in the last year. One was Congress passed sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran which affected oil exports. And then, of course, you had the EU oil embargo which I think was perhaps the most significant event and have really changed the sanctions dynamic. But, that alone has not really changed enough because as we just saw in the International Atomic Energy Agency report that just came out at the end of last week, the Iranians have actually accelerated their program. In fact, they’re reaching new highs in almost every level and by every metric, I should say.
In the very important 20% enrichment rate that people look at, which is seen as most of the way towards complete enrichment their enrichment of 20% uranium had actually jumped 15% since the last report in May. They’ve reached all-time highs in terms of production also of 3 and a half percent enrichment and some of you might remember the cyber attacks, the Stuxnet, by the way got a lot of press, a few months ago, in the United States. Actually David Singer of the New York Times wrote a book that addresses that, has actually been a bit of a political storm in the United States because many Democrats and Republicans have been very critical of the administration for seemingly leaking information about Stuxnet, certainly Republicans have. Anyhow, for all the Stuxnet attack, the rate of enrichment of 3.5% has actually tripled since before Stuxnet. Maybe Stuxnet was helpful but basically it was a speed bump for the Iranians. Of course, they have more centrifuges; they’ve done more, a lot more, at their underground Fordo plant. Now, we basically just finished three rounds of talks in Baghdad, Moscow, and Istanbul. They have not succeeded, they’ve failed. So why have they? So we have tougher sanctions than we have ever had, yet the Iranians, there’s no success in terms of talks so far and the Iranians are doing very well in their enrichment program and getting very, very close to nuclear weapons capability.
So why is that and what do we have to do to change the dynamics? Some people think just keep strengthening sanctions and it’s going to bite and that’s going to do it. I think that’s good, you should use sanctions. My office at the Bipartisan Policy Centre and bipartisan for those who don’t know means Democrats and Republicans working together and that’s increasingly challenging in Washington, particularly in an election year but we do our best at being Republicans and Democrats together and try to fashion the bipartisan solution because that’s the only way to address something so pressing in any realm, but certainly in international realms when both sides come together, you can’t just do one side, it doesn’t work well, it’s not sustainable as a policy. But what we’ve always argued for is the triple check approach, so when Obama just went diplomacy, we said, well that’s good, but that’s only one track.
Then there are sanctions which we strongly welcome – strengthening sanctions. Then there’s a third track that is the weakest track that we haven’t gone on a lot and that’s a more credible US military option. And by the way, when I say US, I don’t mean to be exclusive of our British, or French or other allies. We welcome that, but we’re a US think-tank so we focus on US policy, but of course, we want to work as closely as possible with our allies on this, but if necessary, the United States, I believe, needs to do this alone, but of course we need to work as much as we can multilaterally. And it’s this triple-track approach that we think offers the best chance for diplomatic solution which is what everybody, any sane person wants – no one wants a military conflict; however, I think we’re getting increasingly close to one. So, I think that what we should be doing is enhanced, pursuit of sanctions fully.
I commend the EU for what they’ve done with the oil embargo – Again, I think that is one of the most significant events in the last year on sanctions, in many ways more than what Congress has done. Of course, because we’ve done sanctions in the US since ‘96 so we welcome what the EU has done. But I think we need to go to a full embargo of trade with Iran and I think it’s going to be a very difficult thing to do, but that needs to be the goal soon.
Again, what is the alternative to tougher sanctions? I think it is military conflict. I think the Israelis have made it clear – they keep rattling the sabre. Some people think they’re bluffing – I don’t. I was in Israel recently, a couple weeks ago, and you know, I don’t think they’re bluffing and I think that one could understand their position very well. Historically, certainly in Zionist ideology more, there’s a sense of self-reliance as much as possible, they don’t want to leave their security to other countries, they see that the West has moved. Certainly the United States and other countries have moved but as I kind of mentioned, a lot of the progress has really been in the last two years and particularly in the last year. But there are several different plots, and the Iranian plot is going a lot faster. And then, as we know, President Obama and others have tried to reassure the Israelis, but my sense is that they have not succeeded and you can’t blame everything on Bibi Netanyahu for that. I know he might not be the most popular politician here in London and I don’t think he is in the White House either, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame him on all this. It takes two sides to build distress.
I think that in my discussions with Israelis who are not, and they’d say not pre-disposed to distressing the US administration, they don’t feel that the sale has been made. They don’t believe the US that they’ll take care of this if all else fails. And of course, what Obama is clearly worried – he doesn’t want Israel to attack, he doesn’t want certainly an attack before the November US elections, and Israel sees that might be their best leverage to do something before November. I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s clearly the perception and I think General Dempsey was just here last week, in London, and he said I think on Thursday, and he went a little further than he has recently, not only he said, he kind of conveyed, he doesn’t want Israel to attack, but he used the word complicit. I don’t want to be seen as complicit in an attack. And I actually think, with all due respect to General Dempsey, I think exactly what he said was counterproductive.
The United States should not be creating more space between itself and Israel; it should be making less space between it and Israel. I think the audience, you only gain more with everyone, whether it’s Israel, the Iranians, the Chinese, the Indians, if it’s seemed clear that the United States stands with Israel. And I think the division that’s become apparent between the two countries is not constructive – it weakens the front against Iran and it makes Iran more complacent and it makes us grow more suspicious. If you’re trying to prevent an Israeli attack, creating more suspicion with Israel, is actually the exact opposite thing of what you want to be doing and I actually think the administration is significantly erred and certainly there have been a lot of senior US officials going to Israel. Certainly they try to reassure the Israelis but I think comments like General Dempsey’s are really not that out of line with what are either leaked in the New York Times or elsewhere but the administration has been abundantly clear that they do not want Israel to attack.
At our office, actually we think you should take the opposite tack. We should be boosting the credibility of the US, excuse me, not just of the US military option, but of the Israeli military option. Not because we advocate the option of an Israeli attack, look I don’t think the Israelis want to attack, I certainly don’t want them to. I think it’s obviously seeing that if there had to be a military strike, as a last resort, it is best coming with the United States’ involvement because we have much greater capability militarily to do more sustained damage to their nuclear program. But I think until the Iranians think that the United States is prepared to do that, not that we have the capability, I don’t think anyone challenges, well no reasonable person should question American capability to strike Iran’s nuclear program and do significant damage – that’s not the problem. The problem is the will and I think that is clearly questioned by not just Iranians, but by others in Israel. But I think that by distancing ourselves from Israel, we’re making the Iranians feel more complacent and the Israelis more nervous and that leaves greater chance of military conflict. And I think we should be boosting the credibility of the Israeli strike – Iranians need to feel that the alternative to good faith negotiations is military strike and I think while it might not guarantee a negotiated settlement, I think it offers the best chance of one. I think that’s what we should be doing.
And I’ll just conclude now and I think anyone who works in policy whether it’s an MP or in the foreign office, Whitehall or certainly in the US administration – policy is not about what we want always, it’s what we need to do. It’s really about alternatives and sometimes you’re lucky I think when you deal with policies – whether domestic or foreign. You can say, well these are our objectives, what we’re trying to pursue and this would be the best way to do that, to get to that, to achieve that. And then if we can’t do that, this would also be pretty good but not as good.
Unfortunately with Iran, the alternatives, we don’t have such luxury. Unfortunately the choices are between bad, worse and really worse, or ugly, uglier and ugliest, I’d say are the alternatives. And while we all hope for a negotiated solution that resolves us and prevents a nuclear Iran, I think that we have to choose. And I think the choices about how we go achieve that are pretty bad, frankly. But that means, as a last resort, we may have to use military force. But I think by demonstrating that willingness, and that doesn’t mean just a few lines every now and then in a speech, it means serious public dialogue. I commend the administration for what they’ve been boosting the naval capacity in the Persian Gulf – I think that’s admirable – we’ve been pushing for that for a long time and I’m glad to see that’s happening. But, capacity is one thing, will is another. Showing and demonstrating serious intent is still another. I think it’s the latter that we need to do more. I think we have to figure it out and we may have to choose between very bad alternatives here and I think our belief is the worst alternative is a nuclear weapons capable Iran.
Just one final point, I think, on that is we also need to be very clear about what our objectives are. For us it’s a nuclear weapons capability – that has to be prevented. It’s not weapons. Now I could get into that – I’m not a very technical person, I have colleagues who are – and by the way there is difference in the US on this. Obama talks about weapons, Romney, when he was in Jerusalem, talked about nuclear weapons capability and I could explain what that means. Essentially it means you have all the pieces of the bomb together, but you just need to turn the screws and put it all together. The concern we have is that the US and Western intelligence agency have never really predicted a breakout of a nuclear power – India, Pakistan and so on. The Israelis will counter, sure, you mean that you want to prevent a nuclear Iran, but you allowed North Korea. I remember Bill Clinton getting on TV and saying in the 90s that we’ll prevent a nuclear capable North Korea, and yet we allowed it. I think it would reassure the Israelis and it’s more practical to be very clear about what our red-line is, which I think is nuclear weapons capability. I think we have to demonstrate our intent very seriously without any questions of both our allies and our foe here, which is the Iranians, and also those countries like China and India who buy Iranian oil. We want them to stop that – they need to understand that the alternative is military conflict. Only after that I think that offers the best chance at preventing a nuclear Iran – hopefully diplomatically and I hope we don’t have to deal with last resorts. So, on that pessimistic note, I conclude my comment.
Gisela Stuart MP
Thank you very much, and just before we move straight on to questions, would you just say a little bit more on whether President Romney would differ from President Obama because you started to touch on that. Are there nuclear differences?
That’s a good question. I can only speculate. The presidential election right now has been about 95% economy and domestic issues and about 5% foreign policy. Something like that; though 100% of the foreign policy discussion has been about Iran. There isn’t really much else that the candidates talk about on foreign policy right now. I think there are couple things; one is, of course, if Romney won, then I think we have to see who he chose as his senior staff on the national security side. Certainly right now, he’s got some people involved that would suggest a tough line on Iran. I think, also, he’s been very clear in saying that he would not allow a nuclear Iran.
I think, in a way, President Obama, if he was re-elected, it would be less damaging for him politically – I’m not a political analyst, I’m just speculating here – but I think it would be less damaging for him here politically if he allowed a nuclear Iran than Romney because I think one of the issues that has been raised about Romney is that he’s a flip-flopper. When he was governor of Massachusetts, which is a Democratic state, some of his positions were seen as more moderate, but now people say, ‘oh he’s a conservative’. I think he’s very conscious of not adding any fuel to that image to mix metaphors. I think that he’s been very clear on that. I think it would definitely hurt his credibility if allowed a nuclear Iran after he’s made such an issue out of it. And then there have been some little differences – this issue of nuclear weapons capability versus nuclear weapons which I won’t get into, it all seems so technical. Romney definitely talks about capability, where the Israelis actually generally are, and actually there’s a bipartisan group of senators – both Democratic and Republican – who also said that should be our red line. So that suggests to me, he might be tougher, but again, President Obama has also been very clear that he would prevent a nuclear Iran. It’s hard for me to fully answer that question. I kind of just presented both sides of it and that’s the best I could do on that.
Gisela Stuart MP
I suggest we take three. So that gentleman there.
My name is Daniel Sherman. It must be clear to America by now that the sections of our work, that the only thing that will, at this stage, prevent Iran from going nuclear is to at least make it clear that the option of going to war is on the table. So why, America, when asked, hasn’t got a will to at least put it on the table? A lot of people think it might be because of the coming election and Obama can’t declare his interests before the election. He doesn’t want to get involved with that. But is the main reason that America is so committed in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it hasn’t got the will to contemplate the military option?
Gisela Stuart MP
I’ll take two more from that side and three from that side over there.
Jonathan Paris, political analyst. I think the question of the hour, by now, is whether the administration is going to define a new red-line in order to dissuade Israel from launching an attack before the election. Now in a David Sandler article yesterday, I couldn’t see anything particularly good for Israel on that and it talked a lot about strengthening the Persian Gulf defences and [inaudible], things which have to do more with, which began during elections, the Persian Gulf. But, very little on Israel. I don’t know whether the administration can credibly say by June 2013, if they’re at this level of enrichment and weaponisation, they cross a red-line, we will attack. I think what Israel’s going to hear is ‘maybe 2013, maybe 2014’. General Hayden just said that in Israel, that we can wait for 2013, 2014. Now I’m not a big enthusiast of Barack’s vision of immunity, but it seems to me that if it’s a matter of months, that I think 24-36 months from now, is a pretty big stretch. You’re going to have a lot of potential Iranian bombs and a lot of weaponisation and maybe even testing by then. So, if I’m an Israeli decision maker, and I give this red-line that vague about dates, I’m probably going to pack.
Unidentified speaker 1
I’ve got four American grandchildren over there. They were just telling me a nice story, they live in Ohio and John Boehner will be there. Just started at the Jesuit College. And John Boehner wrote him a handwritten letter congratulating him on going to the same school he went to. So I think MPs should do something similar. [Inaudible]
Gisela Stuart MP
New red-lines, political will, and can we really stop going around the bush and say we need to do something. To which I would add, if we’re going to do something, how often do we have to do it?
Right, that’s a good question. I think on the issue of sanctions not working, I would definitely agree that sanctions have not worked yet. So, maybe you could argue that it’s slowed the program, maybe you could argue that. But, of course the whole purpose is not to hurt the Iranian people, but the purpose is to put enough domestic pressure on the regime that they feel that they have to face a choice. So I would say that sanctions haven’t worked yet. Some would argue that doesn’t mean it won’t work going forward and we just need more time. I actually worry about that a bit because since July 1st, which was seen as a pivot point on sanctions, certainly on the EU, the Koreans have been saying they’re going to buy more oil, the Chinese have been buying more oil.
I think for sanctions to possibly work, or to work better, they have to be toughened completely. There has to be an embargo. And by the way, again, I think that sanctions alone are never going to work, that you have to have the three tracks. Now, by the way, I would want to add one other point, I was talking right before the talk, there’s also a public diplomacy aspect of this and I think one of the things that we’ve also argued is that Iranians, I think, are winning somewhat. And they think, ‘oh well other countries get to, we have a right to enrich’ and they’re very keen on acknowledging that. Now, we’ve really never aggressively refuted that. We meaning senior US officials, senior British officials, French officials, and so on. Now, it’s somewhat of a disputable point. A colleague and I have written a piece on this in July in the Wall Street Journal that really going through the non-proliferation treaty actually they are in violation. They do not have a right to enrich and Western officials should be very, very clear about it because I do worry that in the region, Muslims do say, ‘oh well you’re picking on Iran, Israel has a bomb supposedly, the US has it, so why do you deny the Iranians?’ I think you have to say, well actually, there are a lot of reasons. The fact that they’ve violated the NPT, that they’re in violation of several UN Security Council resolutions and so on are actually good enough reasons why they don’t. I think there are other reasons, for instance, they’re the chief sponsor of terror in the world and so on. But, on a purely legalistic view, I think we need to be more aggressive in winning that battle.
On the issue of about a new red-line. I agree with you. I think you answered your own question. I think that it is vague and it encourages an Israeli attack and I agree, the US can never say by a certain date they would attack, but they could say, we won’t allow Iran to get nuclear weapons capability. I think that undermines the confidence of Israel because now, the administration has suggested, and even I’ve met some Israelis who agree with them, that someday our intelligence will be so good, we’ll be able to detect when they’re about to weaponise. But the fact is, history suggests otherwise. We’ve never been able to do that. And we don’t know. If you talk to some intelligence folks though, they’ll readily acknowledge we actually have gaps on our intelligence on that. I think that waiting till weaponisation, when the Iranians are denying us – when I say us I mean IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, to Parchin and other facilities – I think raises a lot of alarms. I think it would help the administration to clarify their red-line is nuclear weapons capability. I think we should be a little more humble when it comes to the ability of our intelligence agencies. This isn’t a criticism of the intelligence agencies just because it’s a very hard thing to do. And I think we should draw our red-line a little closer as opposed to the weaponisation. But I also think, as you kind of suggested, it undercuts the confidence the Israelis have in us. As I said, North Korea and I know Barack, the defence minister has raised this, I mean we allowed North Korea and we said we wouldn’t do that. And again, to your question, I also I agree, I think I’m not convinced someone actually will do something. But we don’t always; countries don’t always do what’s in their best interest. I mentioned Churchill at the top. I mean obviously that’s the obvious example of the 1930’s – the coming storm and so on. But actually I find historical analogies to the1930s are often overwrought. But actually, there are some similarities in this case. That was also a terrible economic time – people were still getting over war. You asked about the capability, I mean, I think we’re not in Iraq anymore; we’re winding down in Afghanistan. Even when we had a hundred thousand troops in Iraq, we still could’ve taken care of an Iranian nuclear program and military strike if we so chose. At least, the way we would envision that, again it’d be a last resort, but it would be mostly air and naval power and the Air Force and the Navy was never really involved in Iraq and they’re not that involved in Afghanistan. Those are really Army and Marines. But I do think there’s war weariness in the American population, unquestionably in the military. No question about it. There are the economic issues – also true. These are terrible things we have to deal with. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work for the American calendar about when we want to do things and when we don’t. Sometimes, we might have to do things even though it’s not the time for us.
Gisela Stuart MP
Let’s take three from this side.
Unidentified Speaker 2
You might have seen Ken Waltz’s piece in Foreign Affairs entitled ‘Why Iran should get the bomb’
Sorry whose piece?
Unidentified Speaker 2
[Inaudible] A piece in Foreign Affair suggesting why Iran would get the bomb. Really suggesting why, actually, there’s an irrational view of Iran as they envision an irrational state rather than a rational state whereas actually there are facts that in fact since the 1960s, Israel has been to, has had an unusual anomaly over all the Arab states. [Inaudible]
Unidentified Speaker 3
You mentioned China and India, for example, and the failure of talks in Istanbul and Moscow. Is there any way of bringing the two sides together and what is it that those other countries [Inaudible] may be linked to what is going on in Israel and Iran.
Unidentified Speaker 4
I firmly believe that we should ensure that Iran is not going to become a nuclear weapons power and I’m really curious about the three tier approach you mentioned but I firmly believe in the diplomatic solution and the peaceful solution and that come off of one. And same with these sanctions, they go down antagonistic, the threat of war are advert to aggressive, so on one hand you have the antagonistic and aggressive and then yet also you supposedly have to seek a diplomatic solution. And I wouldn’t necessarily trust our in being antagonistic
The diplomatic solution to the problem, I see, is that Iran has the energy; they have a requirement to produce energy to their people. Now how do we make nuclear weapons? We use reactors that produce weapons-grade plutonium. There is actually a technology that exists today that enables you to create safe nuclear power that does not produce radiation at any dangerous levels. And it’s liquid fluoride chlorine reactors. There are five different types of these reactors and you can find out more from the top nuclear physicists who head a reactor with NASA. You can Google…
Gisela Stuart MP
I don’t really want us to go into the five different… It is fifty shades of nuclear power. We’ve got the gist of your question. Is there a political blind spot amongst the American politicians ever since Carter? They haven’t got visas to go into Iran and actually know each other. Do they have the right?
I think that’s a good question, by the way. I mean, there are Iranians in America, I have Persian relatives myself that live in the United States. But, I generally think you’re right; the fact that we don’t have an embassy and they don’t have an embassy. It couldn’t make things more difficult in terms of communication; of course we do work with our allies, such as the British. Definitely, I always think it’s better to talk than not to talk. You definitely get to understand more. But of course just because, we also know from Iranians, just saying something doesn’t mean they mean it. But I think you’re right, we knew that before the Shah we didn’t have probably good intelligence beforehand. I think having more of a presence in Iran would be more beneficial.
On the Waltz question and Foreign Policy – I’ll admit that I meant to read it and I didn’t although I’m familiar with the argument. I went to college, University of Chicago, and I remember when I was a college student I heard about this idea that there is more stability in nuclear weapons and I know even when I was 18 I thought it was kind of ridiculous. I think that it actually makes zero sense to me. The fact that Israel has a bomb, and of course that’s unofficial – they won’t admit it, but we all know, it’s assumed they have a bomb, maybe 200 nuclear weapons. I don’t think the Saudis are losing sleep over that, the Jordanians, the UAE, and so on, that the Israelis have bombs. I think, though, as I said, if they get nuclear weapons, it’s not dynamic. I mean it’s not static, it’s dynamic. The Saudis will get – you’ll have nuclear proliferation in the region. This is a region that’s already unbelievably unstable.
Unidentified speaker 5
Are you suggesting through the proliferation, if Iran gets the weapons, there’s no evidence to suggest that? [Inaudible]
Actually, that is absolutely incorrect, actually that is factually incorrect. As I indicated, and you don’t have to trust me, you could trust Dennis Ross who left the Obama administration, he publicised actually, which is the first public recognition of that issue, by the way. Google that. Google Dennis Ross. I think it was an article in the New York Times. I can’t remember when it was, but it was in the last couple of months. He said that the Saudis indicated, which we all knew anyway, but Dennis Ross publicised it and said the Saudis said they will. Now, I don’t want to get into this too much, but the region’s already unstable and I see much greater instability going forward. I don’t think we’re finished with Syria however this is resolved. I see what’s going on in the region and its reordering and it might have a lot changes in territory. This is not – I do not like the word awakening. The only thing I know for sure is that there’s an Islamic resurgence, but I think it’s much more than that. I think some of these countries are not countries in modern senses, and I think therefore we’re going to see much more upheaval if you throw nuclear weapons in the mix. It’s as scary as anything. And again, I think that you can have Jordan – Egypt under Mubarak, I don’t know about Egypt now – so you’re going to have greater proliferation in the region. By the way, it’s not just me who says this, President Obama said this. And I think unlike in the Cold War, you can have risks of actually military conflict. It’s not like you mention about the lack of communication between the Iranians and the US, it’s not like there’s a red phone between Tehran and Jerusalem either. So, I think there’s a chance of miscommunication even if both countries wanted to avoid nuclear conflict.
To get to your point about the sanctions, by the way, I wouldn’t use the term tiered because that suggests a different order of priority, and actually I don’t, I see the three tracks – diplomacy, sanctions, and a credible military conflict at the same level – they have to be pursued simultaneously. It’s not a tiered system, the way I look at it at least. Now your argument about whether threats and military conflict is antagonistic and it could prohibit, it could preclude a diplomatic solution. I think that I disagree because first of all, I think the Iranians, and I think they have some justification, think we would rather there be another regime. Now actually I would rather they thought that even more so, like beginning in 2009 when there were demonstrations. I wish we had acted more aggressively in regime change because ultimately, even if you did a military strike, if you have the same regime, that doesn’t resolve the problem, it just delays the problem. Now the only way to fully resolve the problem is regime change. I personally don’t support the military endeavour to change the regime like we did with the Taliban or we did with Saddam Hussein. I wouldn’t do that and the American people wouldn’t support that either. But, anyways, I think your point is valid in that the Iranians have reason to be paranoid. And they are, they believe we want to get rid of them as a regime. And I think, you know, even paranoids have enemies and it’s legitimate that they feel this way. But, where I don’t agree with you is that the threat of conflict would discourage diplomacy. First of all, we’ve tried what we’ve tried without a credible military option and I don’t think it’s gotten us anywhere. Secondly, the only time that we think they paused their nuclear program was in 2003. Why would they think that? Because 150,000 US troops were next door in Iraq and they thought they were next. Just like Gaddafi did and he gave up his program around that time. I think for those who support sanctions, by the way, believe that Iranians will respond to pressure. But I think this is an issue where they’re so determined, the pressure will have to be really acute. I think the only way we’re going to get anywhere with this regime which is a horrible viable regime and by the way, it’s got a lot of willingness to push back – they’re not so compliant. I think the only way they’ll do that is if they thought there was a more credible military option and I think that would only help sanctions and that would only help the chance for diplomacy.
And to get to the question about China, they see things differently. I think it’s a good question. I personally will acknowledge, I’m not an expert on China. I don’t fully understand their approach but I think what I do understand is they don’t’ want to be reliant just on friends of the US on their oil – they’re very conscious of their energy. I don’t think they’ll ever stop buying Iranian oil because as much as they buy oil from the Saudis, and so on, I don’t think they want to be – I think they want to have some diversification. I don’t think they want to buy all their oil from a country like Saudi Arabia, for instance, which is seen as so close to the United States. I mean, I think the best way to get the Chinese to curtail their oil purchases from Iran is if they thought the alternative to tough sanctions is military conflict. That means a shutdown of oil through the Persian Gulf for some period of time – maybe one week, two weeks or three weeks. But I don’t profess to fully understand how they’re approaching this.
Gisela Stuart MP
So last round of three questions. Gentleman on your far right.
Unidentified speaker 6
Do you think, however outlandish it might sound, that if we supported the US [inaudible].
I’m sorry I can’t hear you if you could speak a little louder.
Gisela Stuart MP
What he was saying is would the Americans go for supporting an embargo on Chinese imports?
Embargoing Chinese imports of?
Unidentified Speaker 6
Of American goods.
Oh American goods? Oh yeah.
Unidentified Speaker 6
I’m not sure if it’s right… [inaudible]
Gisela Stuart MP
Last question – gentleman at the very back.
Unidentified Speaker 7
Can I actually make it two questions? Firstly, I think that the suggestion that the Presidential campaign [Inaudible]. The second question is, how bad do you think it would be in Iran [Inaudible]
Gisela Stuart MP
So we’ve got five minutes to wrap it up and could you also on the back of that question keep in mind too, if I were Iranians, I would always be on the verge of about having it. Because then I’ve got the maximum significance without the responsibility of having them. What do you think of that?
Well, to answer your question, I think that’s what we assume too. That they might, for now, they might. But that could be plenty. They don’t have to kick out, they could have nuclear weapons capabilities. As long as people know that they’re there I think a lot of the impact would be the same, actually. That would be, I think, the first step – it might not stay with that. On your China embargo question, I don’t see that happening. Certainly, in these economic times in the US where the unemployment is so high. Look, President Obama issued a waiver to the Chinese on Iranian sanctions because they curtailed their purchase of Iranian oil when it was always thought, certainly I thought, that it was temporary because of a price dispute, which it seems like it was. So, I’m not surprised President Obama did that or would have been a tough thing for him to do otherwise given the economic situation. I think the only way we’ll impose problems, issue things on China trade, is Romney talks about it in terms of unfair trade practices, but not because of Iran. I don’t see it politically.
On your question about whether this is true, I read that article too. I’ve been out of the States – I’ve been in Israel, I’ve been in France – I haven’t had a chance to find out myself on that. I have no idea. All I can say is I hope it’s not true. I think General Dempsey’s comment in London last Thursday about not wanting to be seen as not wanting to be complicit or seen as complicit – I can’t remember exactly the language he used – I remember him saying complicit – certainly gives rise to thinking reports like that might be true. I would hope that wasn’t true because I think it’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing with Iran. We shouldn’t be asking them ‘don’t attack us if the military conflict with Israel’. We should be saying, ‘we’re going to stand with Israel. If you think you’re going to rain missiles on Tel Aviv, you should think otherwise’. I think that of course the downside to what I just said is you could have the Israelis bring the [Inaudible] in and a conflict not of our time of choosing – that’s the downside. But, I actually think if Israel attacked – and there are different views on this – I think the Iranians would be, the last thing they want to do is bring in the United States in if they could help it, and if they attacked our installations or attacked Saudi oil installations and tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, that would unify, I think, the West against Iran in a way that certainly – an Israeli attack might divide folks. But, Iranian reprisals like that against US facilities and Saudi facilities or the Strait of Hormuz, that would bring folks together against Iran. I think so, the Iranians would be foolish to do that, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do that anyways. But I would hope that’s not true because I think it would be an absolutely wrong signal for us to give.
On to the third question about Israelis fleeing, by the way, what I said about 100% of the foreign policy is in Iran, I guess I was exaggerating a little, just for effect. But I don’t think I was exaggerating too much. Yeah, I’ve looked at the Romney side – I’m familiar with it a bit. There are some countries listed. I’m not trying to criticise Romney at all, but if you watched all the Republican debates, and I can’t say I endured all of them, but I watched many of them. No, it’s not against the Republicans; to be honest I’m a Republican. But, most of these Presidential debates, sometimes they’re fun, and sometimes they’re pretty tedious, but the only issue that really came up a lot was either Israel or Iran. That was the one that came up a lot. And then there were a few little things once in awhile that came up.
Unidentified speaker 8
In the convention speech, though, which is maybe more [Inaudible]… he talks about Poland, he talks about other countries. And he didn’t talk about Iran.
Actually he did say Iran.
Unidentified Speaker 8
Ok, but he did talk about other countries.
Right, he also visited Poland. Right, he was trying to make a point there. I was trying but I’ve got to tell you right now, Poland is not a big issue right now in the Presidential debate, although I went to college in Chicago.
Gisela Stuart MP
[Inaudible]… Don’t underestimate the vote there.
I think Illinois is safely gonna go with Obama, but there are other Eastern European Americans, Polish-Americans, and so on in other states. And I think when Romney went to Poland it was a good thing because Poland has been a close ally to the United States, and of course, a couple of world wars were fought that kind of triggered involving Poland and so on. There’s still the anti-missile defences issues. I think him going to Poland actually had a lot of good symbolism, but is not a contentious issue right now in the Presidential election.
Your issue about the defence budget, you’re right, Romney is for increasing the defence budget – certainly not cutting it, like the President, like some are on that. I do think this election, and I’m not a political analyst, as in someone who focuses on foreign policy, there’s been very little foreign policy and the extent there is, it has generally been Iran. I use that word generally as opposed to 5% and I apologize, I take back what I said earlier.
Gisela Stuart MP
I’m sorry we couldn’t take any more questions, but Michael Makovsky, thank you very much.