Expert weighs in on U.S. and Iran nuclear relationship

Apr 13, 2012

How the U.S. should deal with Iran on that country’s nuclear aspirations is a hot topic right now.  Tom Flanigan reports a true expert on that issue was in Tallahassee this week and wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts…

Brian Katulis is senior fellow at the progressive-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington D-C.  He says he visits someplace in the Middle East at least once a month.  That gives him a unique perspective on the state of relations between Iran and pretty much the rest of the world.

“It is tense and necessarily so because Iran has not responded to some key questions that not only the United States but the international community have about its nuclear program.  But we would hope that through a process of diplomacy and sitting down like we’ll see this weekend in the P-One-Plus-Five talks that we could lead to some kind of modest breakthrough where we can move beyond these questions; get answers to the questions and then hopefully bring Iran back into the global community.  But right now, I think the ball is largely in Iran’s court.”

Those talks, happening in Istanbul,Turkey, will involve Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany.  They are the first direct negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program after initial talks collapsed more than 14 months ago.  Iran’s top negotiator says his country will offer “new initiatives” during the discussions.  Given what’s happened before, Katulis has modest expectations.

“Well, I think just in these talks this weekend I think a success would be a continuation of talks.  The last time they tried to do this last year, they  broke down pretty quickly because Iran used the forum as a grandstand to say, ‘This is our right; this is what we need,’ and it wasn’t responsive at all to the questions, again not only coming from the U.S., but from China, Russia, from a number of countries.”  

Beyond that, though, Katulis  believes there are a few more elements that could serve to ease international tensions.

“What are the contours of a deal?  A fuel swap, sort of processed to provide Iran with the fuel that it needs to run a civilian nuclear program and to have some sort of program that is verified as being simply for civilian purposes and we’ll see what happens.  I suspect we’re not going to have a major breakthrough.”

A further complication to the whole question is what’s going on in U-S politics right now.  There have been accusations, mostly from Republicans, that the Obama administration is unwilling to consider military action against Iran, even if that military action is taken by Israel.  But Katulis doesn’t think the rhetoric, overheated though it may sometimes be, really counts for much.

“When you strip away the politicking in an election year in 2012, when you look at things like what Mitt Romney has said.  At the core of what he proposes, it’s not all that different from what the Obama administration is actually doing.”

Which, Katulis says, is essentially what the Bush administration was also doing…keeping up the diplomatic connection while insisting that everything, including military action, remains on the table.  But what if, despite everyone’s best efforts, Iran winds up with a workable, deliverable nuclear weapon?  

“You could see countries like Saudi Arabia moving to acquire a nuclear weapon.  You could see the risk of terrorist organizations like Hamas and others that have had support from Iran getting some form of this equipment.  And the biggest implication would be the death of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty; the thing that has bound together and stopped the spread of nuclear weapons and actually led to the denuclearization of several countries around the world.  And that I think would be tragic.  So it’s not the end of the world, but it would introduce more threats to a region of the world that’s already seen a lot of instability and it’s not what we need right now.”

Brian Katulis’ visit to Tallahassee was hosted by the Florida State University Center for Global Engagement and the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.  Co-sponsors included the Muslim and Iranian Student associations, Noles for Israel and Tallahassee Committee on Foreign Relations.