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Iranian Nuclear Program: No Trust, No Evidence

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Pounding the War Drums

Anyone who declares that Iran must not enrich any uranium is on a war path (or least a path to military strikes on Iran and some degree of retaliation from Iran). The question if this is right or wrong is another issue.

Iran has said categorically that they will not stop enrichment for energy. This position leaves Israel in the position where they must decide to act or not. If the past is prologue, we can be certain that Israel will strike.

So where does this leave us?

The United States may be dragged into another avoidable Middle East military conflict very soon.

Israel has said that it will not accept any Iranian uranium enrichment. Iran maintains, correctly, that it is their right to enrich uranium. The U.S. position seems to be that enrichment for verifiable peaceful purposes is acceptable.

At the core of this issue is one of trust. The West does not trust Iran but it is being forced to recognize that Iran has certain rights. Iran on the other hand, doesn't trust that the West, and the U.S. and Israel in particular, are not going to pursue regime change. From the point of view of Israel and the West, Iran isn't the most trustworthy nation.

Iran's View

In sports, if you don't examine your opponent's strategy, you will lose. It's the same thing here, except this is not a game and the stakes are higher. We must look at this from the Iranian point of view to make progress.

It is unlikely that Iran has decided to pursue the planned construction of a nuclear weapon at this point. The most important thing to Iran, even more important than a strategic advantage over Israel, is regime stability. With this in mind, a nuclear weapons program would invite further instability delivered in the form of an attack; the economic sanctions have already contributed to high unemployment, inflation, and low growth.

At the same time, it could be argued that Iran is using negotiation to buy time. This is unlikely to be effective; so long as the IAEA has the ability to monitor their program, we will know if Iran is going to construct a nuclear weapon. It could also be argued that Iran invites an attack on its nuclear facilities because such an attack would be the grounds to throw out IAEA inspectors and withdraw from the NPT, which gives the West eyes into its program.

These latter scenarios have a lower probability because with sanctions increasingly hurting Iran, throwing out the IAEA inspectors from Iran would result in harsher sanctions and Iran would do even more harm to itself economically and politically than nuclear weapons would bring in. Just look at North Korea. The regime knows this.

The scenario that makes the most sense from the Iranian point of view is to develop the capability to later have a weapons program if it felt it needed one. But it is not there at this point.

The bottom line is there is still no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and even though we don't trust Iran, the burden of proof rests on the accuser, not the accused. It is impossible for Iran to prove it isn't pursuing a weapons program; it can only prove that it is pursuing an energy program.

Lessons Learned

If the U.S. never invaded Iraq under false pretenses of nuclear WMDs, it is likely that the West would have already struck at Iran. But the international community learned from the mistake of the Bush administration and its insistence that proof could and would one day come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

Israel must recognize that it cannot peacefully dictate to another nation non-negotiable terms. The United States would never tolerate it. Israel would never tolerate it. There is no reason to believe that Iran will tolerate it either. The problem is that Israel has already said it won't back down on its demand that there be no enrichment in Iran.

We may find that the country that is more recalcitrant, inflexible and stubborn is the bigger threat to international peace. Dictating how or what other nations can and can't do is an act of aggression. This is not giving a pass to Iran and all of its aggressive actions over the years towards the US and Israel. But we have to bear in mind that aggression can take many forms.

Negotiation and Diplomacy

The need for negotiation could not by higher. Negotiation is not weak. It is not appeasement. Negotiation is respect. It is humility. It is a demonstration of strength and confidence, over fear and self righteousness. And it is absolutely necessary to avoid military conflict.

The idea that the West is going to have a lower standard of security for Israel than Israel is going to have for itself is a bit insulting to the nations that have stood by Israel over the years, even when it was not in their interests. Iran is a problem nation without question. But other nations need to be careful not to become a problem nation in their own different way. Put another way: nations can't let another nation force them into defining themselves in a way that is not true to who they are.

At the end of the day, before the West, particularly Israel, strikes Iran, we have to ask: where is the proof that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program? Suspicion not the same as evidence.

If Iran were proven to be lying about its program's intentions, I and many others may have a different take on military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. Until that proof is provided, I don't want to see avoidable military action on any country be marginalized over fear of the unknown and unproven.

PAUL HEROUX previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.