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Author: George Lopez
Presentation 07

The Coming War With Iran?


Iran’s Power Structure & Relations

Source:  BBC: Iran - Who Holds Power?


Political context with the US

  • 1979 – 2004: what it means
  • 1996 – 2004: the rise of a moderate movement politically – outflanked in 2004 elections by the conservatives
  • Since early ‘90s increased openness and ties with Europe, rapid trade expansion.
  • But no direct diplomatic relations – incredible variance in attitudes and overtures based on ideology and self-interest (itself varied)
  • It serves leaders there that the US remain the great Satan (stamps, TV, T-shirts) 

Sources on US-Iran relations/country profile:


From the US vantage point

  • Primacy of the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis renewed after 9-11, as policymakers connect the Iranian Revolution with the rise of Islamic militantism
  • Our balancing role in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), with a slight bias towards helping Saddam Husayn
  • We are (cynically) willing to engage Iran when a crisis for the US is mounting elsewhere (e.g.: Afghanistan)
  • More than Syria and Iraq, Iran seems a supporter of Palestinian groups and others supporting Palestine, esp. Hezbollah
  • Iran has a ‘confused’ position with its neighbors.
  • We support democratic reform, which since 1991 we call ‘regime change’ moving beyond mild democratization


Bush’s “wrinkle” on Iran

The reach of Islamic fundamentalism rising from Iran?

  • Somalia (CNN; IRNA)         
  • Hezbollah (Lebanon)
  • Hamas (Palestine; Covenant)

Iran is fomenting more than Islamic fundamentalism  also failed states


Iran’s perspective on its world

  • We live in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood: different real and potential enemies present quite diverse security problems (most in flux):
    • Afghanistan: From the Taliban to what??
    • Pakistan and Israel have the atomic bomb
    • Iraq: From Saddam to ??
    • Regional great power military encroachment: 160,000 US troops and the promise of 7 military bases are at our door
  • We deserve national preeminence in a tough region – legitimacy, independence and recognition (Ahmadinejad)
  • Who fought directly Saddam Husayn (Iraq-Iran 1980s war) and the Taliban when the west was doing nothing or worse?
  • Who are the people who have suffered the most from WMDs? (on the use of chemical weapons in the Iraq-Iran 1980s war: CIA; NY Times; Javed Ali)


  • Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988):;
  • Iran Chamber Society
  • Ahmadinejad - speeches; interviews


Iran post-2004

  • Rise of President Ahmadi Nejad: its meaning for Iranians (find it easy to identify with him) & Iran’s domestic politics & its international position/relations
  • The rising importance of enriched uranium (HEU): there are seven countries who do it - why shouldn’t we?
  • The “nationalist” issue for Iran (right to nuclear energy)
  • The domestic side and the anti-Bush side of the conflict - use of Bismarck-type tactics: consolidate internally by pointing towards common external enemy




Future of Nuclear Energy & Non-proliferation

  • Closing the Art. IV (NPT) loophole which guarantees all parties access to civilian nuclear technologies
    • Each party allowed to build enrichment and reprocessing facilities, even produce HEU and Pu (plutonium), as long as under safeguards – this allows states to come right up to the edge of a weapons capability while staying within the regime
    • Iran case demonstrates the dangers of this treaty oversight
  • Government-backed commercial consortium could offer a “new deal”:
    • Guaranteed lifetime of fuel supply and spent fuel management to any state that agrees no enrichment, and no reprocessing of their own – and signing of an Additional Protocol to confirm that commitment
    • Some states would say “yes” – those that said “no” would immediately be the focus of international concern
    • Similar idea proposed in Bush speech Feb. 11, 2004
  • The development of feasible nuclear alternative energy (fusion nuclear reactor)


Case Study: Iran

  • Iran started both an open civilian nuclear power program and a secret nuclear weapons program under the Shah – both were dormant for a period after 1979 revolution
  • Large numbers of nuclear experts trained in U.S. and Europe (esp. MIT) in pre-revolutionary period
  • In early 1990s, Russia agreed to complete a power reactor the Germans had begun at Bushehr – throughout the 1990s, U.S.-Russian disagreements over this deal and more sensitive transfers – hundred of Iranian experts trained in Russia
  • We now know that Iran was receiving centrifuge technology from the A.Q. Khan network (Pakistan). This technology originated in Urenco, and was implemented with components from all over the world – in 2002, Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility revealed
  • Iran has always claimed that its program is entirely for peaceful purposes – using the civilian program as a cover for technology purchases and facility construction whose weapons purpose would otherwise be obvious
  • Iran has remained within the NPT, but violated its safeguards agreement by lying to the IAEA for decades
  • U.S. has sought to cut off all civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran, arguing that any such cooperation will contribute to a bomb program – Russia and Europe do not agree
  • October 2003: European foreign ministers negotiate a deal – Iran agrees to Additional Protocol, suspends enrichment and reprocessing, in return for trade deal, and possible nuclear technology access
  • Then Iran states it still has a right to enrich, and may choose to do so
  • To and fro this continues until final aspect of major deal concluded in September 2004
  • US supportive but skeptical
  • Now all eyes on new Iranian leadership as regards its intentions, real actions and policies
  • Earlier this year (2006), Iran withdrew from the Additional Protocol it had signed in 2003, aimed to provide safeguards that the country does not have undeclared nuclear materials or facilities


For more information, see some of the articles in the Bulletin:

  • Jack Boureston & Charles D. Ferguson: “Schooling Iran's atom squad” (2004)
  • David Albright & Corey Hinderstein: “Iran, player or rogue?” (2003)
  • David Albright: “When could Iran get the Bomb?” (2006)
  • Walter C. Uhler: “Engage or enrage” (2005)
  • Iran’s Nuclear Facilities (


The Internal Challenge

  • Iran is experiencing a huge demographic change: 60% of population under 18
  • Most freedom and education for women in the Arab &/or Islamic world
  • Industrialization and modernization has imposed huge energy needs
  • Old mullah class is dying off and changing
  • Still a society with vast contradictions
  • The Kurds…and all that now means


Potential &/or real threat

  • Iran continues to aid and abet Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad…real, official disdain for Israel - Ahmadinejad: (1); (2)
  • Security and energy concerns drive them to nuclear power and the bomb
  • They always are rogues and always have the potential to disrupt…..
  • So they fit all three dimensions:
     Terror + WMD + Rogue State = Threat


Is there a way out?

  • Most of these issues are ‘joined’ – that is, the resolution of one can’t happen without the resolution of the others
    • They won’t renounce terrorism unless there is a two state solution (Israel and Palestine) - Ahmedinejad’s constant references to holding referendum in Palestine, recognizing democratically elected government
    • They won’t undo or reverse the nuclear program unless there is energy independence and compensation
    • They won’t have internal reform while an enemy lurks overhead, next door, etc. (Ehsani 2006)
    • They will go two steps forward and one back often
  • Time for the West to drop ‘criteria’ which must be fulfilled before relations begin
  • Carrots and sticks, not just carrots
  • Engagement and making Iran a regional security partner in the process
  • Understand the West’s goals and long view here
  • Renounce the military option as a disaster


And the bottom line

  • Time for a direct US-Iran Summit on the following points:
    • Support for nationalist groups
    • Support for terrorism
    • Uranium enrichment
    • Security in Iraq
    • Improved and normalized relations with US


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