How to stop Iran's radical clerics from adopting the nuclear option

By Dr. Assad Homayoun
Thursday, September 25, 2003

Dr. Assad Homayoun is president of the Azadegan Foundation, which advocates a secular democratic government in Iran and contributes to the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.

Geopolitically, Iran's quest for nuclear power is not out of the question.

Iran is located in a critical area, between two zones of energy, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, which contains 70 percent of the world’s known oil reserve and 60 percent of its natural gas. It has a 1,570-mile coastline on the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, with command of the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It rightly sees itself as a regional power.

Iran has borders with 15 countries, with no single strategic friend on its long borders. It has been invaded many times. Iraq invaded Iran in the 1990s, and used chemical and biological weapons, killing tens of thousands of Iranians. Iran has been also subjected to more missile attacks than any country in the past 50 years.

Iran already has one nuclear power on its border: Pakistan, which has half of Iran’s territory and twice its population. Pakistan could pose a grave danger to Iran if, for example, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf was removed from power and Islamists gained control of the nuclear installations. Also Israel, India, Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the vicinity of Iran possess nuclear capabilities.

Iran is indeed an important force that can contribute immensely, for peace or for the destabilization of the region. Unfortunately the present Administration in Iran has chosen the latter.

Since the nuclear policy of Iran is becoming a significant international issue, an important question arises as to whether or not Iran should acquire military nuclear capabilities. Given the fact that Iran is located in pivotal strategic area with five nuclear powers in the immediate vicinity, we must understand Iran ’s defense deeds and consider what kind of defense policy Iran should adopt.

Iran can choose four roads for its national security and defense:

  • 1. It can do nothing. This is not going to be an option. No government in Iran could agree to leave the country defenseless in light of the many historical invasions. As U.S. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet stated in his recent testimony to the U.S. Congress, no Iranian Government, regardless of its ideological leanings, was likely to abandon a program to develop weapons of mass destruction.

  • 2. Follow a nuclear-free zone policy. Several countries in the Middle East in the past several decades proposed regional non-proliferation agreements or a “nuclear weapons-free zone”. This notion has been discussed and was proposed and followed in the United Nations many time by Iran and Egypt in 1974, and in 1981, and by Egypt again in 1990, but did not go anywhere. A weapons of mass destruction-free zone (WMFZ) initiative is not possible in the region, and therefore it is not going to be an option. Israel will never give up its nuclear ambition, because it thinks it serves as deterrence for its survival against its hostile neighbors. [The same can be said for Pakistan and India.]

  • 3. U.S. or NATO agreement/protection. There could be some agreement with the United States or NATO for Iran to come under some sort of defensive umbrella to guarantee its security in case of a possible threat. This option is neither possible nor practical, especially with a regime in power which has committed itself to support of international terrorism and the promotion of radical Islam. If Iran was controlled by a moderate democratic government, then this option could be a possibility, but never under the present administration.

  • 4. The last option is that Iran becomes a military nuclear state. Presently, it seems that this is the policy of the administration in Tehran, and it is a policy which may be now coming close to reality. Iran has invested too much money, scientific, technological talent and pride in building its nuclear infrastructure, and it is unlikely to abandon completely its desire of acquiring nuclear technology.

The most likely promoter of nuclear policy is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsansani, the former President, who is, more than anybody else, behind the broad spectrum of international terrorism. On several occasions in the past, he openly pronounced and spoke on nuclear weapon-related issues. Mr Rafsanjani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, and other top leaders of the Islamic republic see nuclear weapons as a source of national power.

Significantly, however, they primarily think of nuclear weapons as an instrument to advance their radical fundamentalist and terrorist cause rather than for the national security and defense of Iran.

The problem is that, on one hand Iran needs to secure its defense in this pivotal strategic region which is volatile with many ethnic cultural and religious rivalries; while on the other hand neither the people of Iran nor the world could tolerate a nuclear theocracy which was the fountainhead of international terrorism and has based its rule on force, repression and the terror of its people.

What should be done?

Iran is close to the point of no return. Diplomatic and economic pressure will not be effective. Even the UN Security Council’s resolution will not change the decision of the clerical leadership of Iran to become a nuclear power.

In fact, it is possible that the [ruling clerics] have already secured or created some dirty bombs for terrorist purposes and have even secured a few existing nuclear warheads from the former Soviet Union, to be mounted on their Shihab-3 missiles.

Some observers believe that it would be height of folly if the Iranian clerical Administration did not sign and ratify the IAEA's "New Safeguards Measures" known as “program 93 + 2”. I believe that even if the clerics decided to sign the New Safeguards Measures of IAEA, their regime would not ratify it. There would be many ways and means to escape from the watchful eyes of IAEA. Moreover, the new Protocols System is not foolproof, and even by signing the Safeguard Measures, the regime could avoid ratification. On September 12, 2003 , the Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a strongly-worded resolution which gave the clerics a deadline of October 31, 2003 , to dispel all doubt about their nuclear ambition. We have to wait to see the reaction of the clerics. Knowing the nature of the theocratic rulers, they may resort to dissimulation, which is allowed in Shi’a religious philosophy as a “pious fraud” to deceive and mislead, in order to buy time to reach a goal.

The best and most feasible way to solve the problems of WMD, terrorism and anti-peace activities of the Iranian clerical leadership is to support, openly and enthusiastically, the people of Iran who are ready and resolved to change the national leadership of Iran. I believe that the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush are in the right direction, but those policies should be implemented and followed in a unified way, openly and without wavering. This is the safest and the best option for the U.S. and Europe to achieve peace in the region and to help the Iranian people. I am sure that after the downfall of the clerical regime, a responsible government could come to some sort of arrangement with U.S. and NATO to guarantee the security of Iran and help remove the reasons for Iran’s drive to become nuclear. This would prevent the volatile region from entering into a nuclear arms race.

I firmly believe that it is time, and indeed the acme of patriotism, for the Iranian Armed Forces and the Revolutionary Guards, who are guarantors of integrity of Iran, to discontinue their support for the clerics' regime. They must help the people to establish a representative democratic government. They must come to their senses and prevent conflict with U.S. and possible attacks on Iranian military, technological and economic, installations.

Iran must be a perpetrator of peace, not terrorism.

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