Publications on the internet
Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 952
Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 5 February 2013
Richard Ottaway (Chair)
Mr Bob Ainsworth
Mr John Baron
Sir Menzies Campbell
Mr Frank Roy
Sir John Stanley
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Ali Ansari, Director, Institute of Iranian Studies, University of St Andrews, and Dr Trita Parsi, President, National Iranian American Council, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: May I welcome members of the public to this session of the Foreign Affairs Committee? It is a one-off, topical evidence session on the foreign policy consequences of Iran’s nuclear programme. The session is split into two groups. The first is focused very much on what is going on inside Iran at the moment, and the second is more about the negotiations and consequences of the programme.
Our first two witnesses are Professor Ali Ansari, who is no stranger to Parliament. He is director of the Institute of Iranian Studies at the university of St Andrews. Professor Ansari, welcome. It gives me particular pleasure to welcome Dr Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council who has come over from the United State especially for this session. Dr Parsi, we are particularly appreciative; thank you very much for making the effort to come.
May I start with a general question? What do you think it would take for the west to reset the relationship with Iran at the moment in the current regime? Is it possible, particularly if we are going to try to restore good faith in what is becoming an increasingly difficult situation?
Professor Ansari: I would say that with the current stellar cast in Iran it would probably be quite difficult to reset the relationship. Many people in Iran are probably waiting for the presidential election that is supposed to take place in June to see whether a new team comes into place. My suspicion is that the problem lies with the opinions of the Supreme Leader, and his opinions are fairly cemented in one direction. Some of the things they have required, certainly from the Americans-it might be even tougher with the British-are quite extraordinary. I don’t think the Americans can achieve some of the things they want in terms of resetting the relationship. In terms of having a better relationship, there are means and ways of approaching that, but it will be a slow process.
Dr Parsi: I tend to agree. This is not going to be an easy negotiation or a process that will be quick in any shape or form. I certainly believe that it is possible, but it will require a tremendous amount of patience and persistence from both sides, and so far neither side has shown the sort of persistence that is needed to turn the trajectory of the relationship around, away from the gravitation towards confrontation that now seems to be taking place.
Q2 Chair: Do you think it is too late?
Dr Parsi: I don’t believe it is too late. In fact, I don’t believe that diplomacy is anywhere near being exhausted. Attempts have been made in good faith, but this is not too different from other conflicts that have taken several years of negotiation to find full resolution. Obviously, I understand that such patience or time may not exist, but I believe that in the shorter term diplomacy can bring the two sides away from the brink of military confrontation, and that in and of itself is worth pursuing.
Q3 Chair: Do you think there is a deal that can be done?
Dr Parsi: I certainly do.
Q4 Chair: What would it look like?
Dr Parsi: If we focus specifically on the nuclear issue, there is gravitation towards an understanding that at the end of the day the contours of the deal will entail the Iranians having to accept that they must have a programme that is much more inspected than currently. That means additional protocol and other verification systems that will provide the international community with some form of, not a guarantee-that may be too strong a word-but the best possible firewall to prevent the Iranians from being able to transform an enrichment programme into a weapons programme.
On the other hand, from the western side there must be acceptance that at the end of the day, enrichment below 5% is impossible to do away with at this point. The nuclear-specific sanctions will have to be looked at to see what can be done to get rid of them to obtain some compromises from the Iranian side. The structure of that is more or less set. The real task is to find a path towards achieving that objective, and finding the political will on both sides to be able to weather all the storms that will besiege the two parties on the path towards that solution.
Q5 Chair: Do you agree with that, Professor Ansari?
Professor Ansari: In broad terms, but my view is that until there are some serious changes in the political landscape in Iran, it will be very difficult to achieve anything meaningful, certainly in the medium term.
Q6 Chair: You are quite a good watcher of what goes on there. Do you think that saving face by the regime is important? Do they have to be seen to be achieving something?
Professor Ansari: Yes. My view is that there is a deal to be done. I don’t think at the moment the sort of pressures they are under have really squeezed them enough to make them contemplate the sort of deal they need to contemplate. But when they do, I think EU3+3 needs to be in a position basically to respond to that in a constructive way. I think if there was a degree of gloating to come out in certain quarters, it certainly wouldn’t be helpful. They need to find a way out that isn’t going to be utterly humiliating for them. At the moment I have to say that, with the state of the economy and the way things are going, things are not looking good for them. So I think it’s a question of patience, as Trita rightly said, for the time being; but sooner or later I would guess that there are going to be some serious moves coming from Tehran.
Q7 Chair: Do you think saving face is important, Dr Parsi?
Dr Parsi: I certainly agree with Ali that saving face is critical, and frankly I think it’s quite important to both sides. By now there is so much pride and other types of psychological factors being invested in this that it is clearly going to be an element in making sure that a deal will be politically acceptable on both sides. In the United States, there clearly are political obstacles that render President Obama’s manoeuvrability somewhat limited, precisely for these factors.
Q8 Mike Gapes: In the internal dynamics of the way that Iran perceives its position in the world, is it more likely or less likely to be responsive at a time when it sees what is happening in Syria and potentially what could happen in other parts of the region?
Dr Parsi: Let me put it this way. If one were to simplify somewhat, one could say that there are perhaps two schools of thought in Tehran right now on how to handle this. I think there are elements who recognise that Iran’s regional influence has been rolled back to a certain extent, partly because of the policies of the EU and the US but largely because of regional developments that were probably not in the control of anyone, particularly the civil war in Syria. And they are waiting to see what type of offer the west is willing to make, in order to capitalise on the fact that Iran’s influence has been reduced. They are looking to see if the west is willing to meet their bottom lines, because their bottom lines are not particularly different from the more hard-line perspective, and the more hard-line perspective is not particularly different from the perspective that exists in Washington-a perspective that essentially says that the only way the west will make a deal with Iran is by Iran pressuring the west into making a deal. The west will only respond to overwhelming pressure-a line of thought that is very common in Washington but in the opposite way, saying essentially that Iran will only respond to a tremendous amount of pressure.
From their end, which is the more hard-line end, looking at the regional developments I think their view is that if they don’t believe that Iran can make a deal in this more compromised position, they are going to be waiting or playing for time, in order to be able to get some kind of a game-changer on their side. And their regional dimensions are going to be very important for them in order to be able to regain the momentum, particularly Syria, and some of those developments are likely-the cards that they are looking at-to be able to regain the regional momentum and strengthen their position in the negotiations.
Q9 Mike Gapes: Do they see the discussion with the Russians that they are currently having about possible solutions or arrangements with regard to post-Assad succession as a potential way for getting support from Russia, as regards the Security Council putting less pressure on them in the future?
Dr Parsi: Well, the Iranians have been turning towards Russia and China for quite some time, to try to break the P5+1 unity or the EU3+3 unity as it’s called over here. But at the same time, I think it’s quite clear to them-I don’t think they really trust the Russians, or really feel that they can count on the Russians, because at the end of the day Russia has sided with the United States and the EU in signing on to most of these resolutions. It has watered it down and created a lot of carve-outs for itself, but at the end of the day it has gone along with the multilateral sanctions.
Professor Ansari: In terms of the regional dynamics, I think that Syria has been a monumental mistake for them. They have invested a huge amount of time and effort into it, largely through the IRGC, to which they have basically delegated foreign policy in that respect. They have invested a lot of time and effort there and I don’t think it’s working out. It’s causing them some problems, and there’s also a lot of domestic criticism that money, effort, blood, sweat and other things are being poured into a problem that really isn’t theirs.
However, there are people in the regime at the moment who see this as a great struggle against the west; one that, as long as they maintain that struggle in Syria, will not come to their own borders. It’s similar to what they perceived the Iraq war to be about-you keep the fighting at one arm’s length away from your own borders. But there are criticisms domestically that this is not really the way forward and is draining resources.
To be frank about it-people have commented on this, but I think it’s certainly true-in terms of their own security, there are measures they could take domestically that would shore up the stability of the regime which they haven’t done. In fact, they have taken measures that have been utterly counter-productive to the domestic stability of the regime. So in the sense that they might feel pressure or otherwise from abroad, I think they probably do, but they have stuck their neck out and their foes are obviously not going to be shy in striking at it-if that is what they choose to do. They have not actually pursued policies that in my view have been in the best interests of the state.
Q10 Mr Baron: If I could just focus on the triggers that could break this diplomatic deadlock, if you like. Dr Parsi, you wrote in your book, "A Single Roll of the Dice", that there is mutual suspicion that has almost been institutionalised over decades. The Iranian view tends to be: "If we give a concession, it is shown as weakness. Therefore it is not in our interest. We have responded to threats from the west on the ground"-because there were quite blatant military threats by Israel-"and the west believes that only a threat of force, or certainly being hard in negotiations, will yield results."
Yet you look back and see missed opportunities; mistakes have been made by both sides. Go back to the mid-2000s and the offer of a 5% uranium enrichment limit-I think the west would probably jump at that now, but we turned it down at the time. There were a series of missed opportunities. What is going to break this mutual suspicion? It is almost as though we need a gesture by one side that will not be perceived by the other as a weakness and play badly domestically, but we seem to be lacking the strategic overview to achieve that diplomatic breakthrough. What are your views?
Professor Ansari: There was a wonderful line used by the former British ambassador-the last ambassador before the revolution in Iran-when the Foreign Office made its assessments of the Islamic revolution. He said, "Our problem in Iran is not a lack of information, but a lack of imagination." I think that probably holds true. On all sides, certainly in the United States, there has been this sort of ideological lens, which all sides have really got stuck into and find it very difficult to move out of.
The problem has been that, if you go back to the Obama presidency-Trita can talk to this better than I can-Obama did write two letters to the Supreme Leader, and the Supreme Leader took it in a slightly different way. He didn’t take it quite in the way that was perhaps intended. I know there was a complex dynamic going on there, with sanctions and other things, but I think for an American President to write two letters to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran was quite a bold move in many ways, certainly one that would have brought him, as I think it probably did, lots of criticism in the United States itself.
I suppose there needs to be intelligent creative leadership shown on a number of different sides. I think that missed opportunities have taken place on both sides; I know that lots of opportunities were missed during the Khatami Administration. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Even current diplomats and military officials from the United States I have talked to have said, "We wish we were back in a time when we had someone more amenable to deal with, in some ways." It is a difficult question.
I don’t think the problem would actually be that difficult to reconcile if certain things fell into place. As I said at the beginning, one is that you get fresh thinking on both sides, particularly in Iran. We should not underestimate the level of ideological intransigence there is in Iran at the moment, but that is not going to last. It could go on for a little longer, but I think the damage it will do to the economy of the country will be pretty severe. Sooner or later, people of common sense will have to get up and say, "We need to manage these relationships better." You can see some of that with the current foreign Minister in Iran, Mr Salehi, and others, who, having said, by the way, that there will be no negotiations before the presidential elections are over, are now saying, "Actually, we are quite interested in having a negotiation fairly soon." So there are these pushes and pulls, and these people who are interested in pursuing a way out. All I would say about that expectation that this will be swift under the current circumstances is that it’s just not going to happen. We need to be very patient, to bide our time and to almost step back a bit to see how things go.
Dr Parsi: I would tend to agree. I think you are absolutely right in pointing out that there have been a lot of missed opportunities. As Ali pointed out, the Iranians themselves have certainly missed a lot of opportunities. As much as there has been a lack of imagination on this side, there has certainly been a lack of imagination on the other side as well.
What could possibly break that? One could perhaps make the argument that the situation has not got bad enough for both sides to realise that, unless they change course and find that imagination, we will all be in a much worse situation. It is fair to say that both sides are in a worse position today than they were four years ago. Certainly, one can make the argument that all of the sanctions have had a tremendously costly effect on the Iranian economy; the Iranian economy is not at all in the shape it was four years ago. At the same time, when you take a look at the progression of the Iranian nuclear question-we have looked at everything from the LEU count and so on-it is essentially a straight line upwards. All of the counter-pressures from the western side have not had any significant impact on the trajectory of the programme. So both sides are essentially doubling down again on pressure. That is not necessarily an element that cannot, or should not, be part of this, but when it is at the centre of the effort, there is clearly a lack of imagination.
There will be some political opportunities and windows coming forward, and that is going to be critical. As with all other major conflicts that have been resolved after decades of festering, it is ultimately leadership and the willingness to take political risks on both sides that will be the decisive variable.
Q11 Mr Baron: On the issue of evidence of a nuclear weapons programme, we all know there is a difference between capability and possession of nuclear weapons. Can I bring you back briefly to the point about status? I sometimes think we underestimate the importance of status in the region. Why did Saddam Hussein not deny having WMDs? Because it was in his interests not to do so; it is the bomb-in-the-basement argument. What part do you think that is playing on the Iranian side?
Given the lack of concrete evidence-even western intelligence services are saying they do not think Iran has made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon-why are we not listening more to that on our side to try to bring a rational approach to these negotiations? There seems to be a wilful wish to ignore the evidence on our side. The western intelligence services have clearly stated there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme; they do not think they have evidence of a decision to go for a nuclear weapons programme. The much-touted 2011 report included lots of ifs and maybes, but there was no concrete evidence and very little that was new. So, on our side, why did we not pay more attention to that? On the Iranian side, is status playing a role in the difficulty in negotiating?
Professor Ansari: I think status is absolutely central to it. This is a prestige project-that is what it is. It is the same with the much-vaunted space programme they recently announced. Iran is not really in a position to have a space programme, to be perfectly honest, but they want to show how technologically advanced they are, and that is what they are trying to do. The nuclear programme is part of that. From talking to people-the two witnesses after us will probably be able to speak to this better-we know the technology that is being used is actually quite old technology; it is not new technology, but it gives the impression that they are technologically advanced and scientifically ahead of the game. The Islamic republic has to convince its own people that it is an Islamic state that is scientifically advanced; that is part of the things they want to do.
In terms of the evidence and the doubts, I am of the view that the decision has not been taken to weaponise, but they are putting in the infrastructure to give them the options they need, should they need to take them. This emanates from the time of the Shah, by the way. It is not necessarily new; this is something that they have had since then.
Obviously, there are questions they have left hanging on their nuclear programme. Again, I am not a physicist, but I am told that there is no reason to have a heavy water reactor. Why do they have a heavy water reactor? Why do they need to stockpile so much enriched uranium? This idea that they might like to go and sell it to other people as a business is all a bit of a nonsense. There are some fairly basic questions they could answer which they don’t and have left hanging. It is those doubts and questions that people are asking about.
The other aspect, which we should not ignore, is that the political rhetoric that comes out of Iran vis-à-vis Israel and other countries is not helpful. As one former Iranian Minister said to me, "If you’re going to have a nuclear programme, you don’t talk about the holocaust. That’s politics 101." It’s nonsensical. Other countries might get away with developing a nuclear programme that may in some ways be more advanced than Iran’s, but they’re not coming under scrutiny. At the same time, they’re not flinging rather pointless rhetoric, in my view, in the direction of another UN member state. You’ve got to put that political hinterland into context and see how they’re doing it.
Dr Parsi: I agree with Ali that, at the end of day, status is very much central to this. It lies as part of the Iranian identity, whether it is this regime or the previous regime, that Iran has a natural role as a pre-eminent power in the region and has some very strong historical roots. As a result, symbolic gestures and symbolism are more important than they would be in other types of conflicts and they certainly do not make this an easier conflict to resolve.
When it comes to what they are doing in the nuclear programme, does it really make sense or not? I am not a nuclear physicist either, but I tend to agree with Ali that there are many different things that do not seem to make sense if their programme is strictly for the purposes that they are saying. One can draw the conclusion then that there is something that they are hiding and something nefarious going on, and that likelihood is clearly there.
There is also another likelihood that we have to take into account, which may also help explain this. These are not necessarily competing explanations, but complementary ones. In this game of pressure and counter-pressure between the west and Iran, there are very few variables that they can play with. On the western side, the variable that we have primarily focused on is sanctions and trying to isolate Iran and to increase the costs for the Iranian state to continue with its programme. On the Iranian side, what are the different variables that they play with when it comes to countering that pressure or putting pressure on the west? It is primarily regional efforts, such as what is taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, but besides that is exactly what they do on the nuclear programme. In some of the interviews I have had with officials from the Iranian Government, they made it very clear that some of the steps that they were taking, such as increasing enrichment and the stockpile and going to higher levels of enrichment-and even contemplating going further, up to 60%-is their way of countering the pressure and creating an imagery in the west that sanctions and pressure will only yield a worse response from the Iranian side.
What is the western reaction to that? Obviously we find that very unacceptable and we double down on sanctions. Then they double down on doing things on the nuclear programme that, as Ali said, probably do not make any sense from a nuclear perspective. Both sides are forced into this straitjacket of escalation and counter-escalation. There is an absence of political will and imagination to find a way to break free from that, so we will continue down this path, and that is where it gets really dangerous.
As you correctly pointed out, intelligence in the US and the EU, and I believe also in Israel, agrees that there has not been a decision to build a bomb. Clearly, there is some evidence that elements of a weaponisation programme have existed, at least prior to 2003, but the crucial decision to weaponise has not been made, according to all the important intelligence services. If this game of escalation continues-Europe has already run out of a lot of the sanctions that it can impose; I don’t know whether there are additional steps that we can take-what escalatory steps can the west can take, and what escalatory steps can the Iranians take? We are reaching a point where the escalatory steps are fewer and more dangerous. Perhaps even worse, the de-escalatory steps are fewer. This is a dangerous trajectory.
Q12 Sir Menzies Campbell: If any proposals are on the table, does Israel have to save face? To put it slightly differently, does Israel have anything approaching a veto on a settlement that might recommend itself to Iran, the so-called west and the United States in particular?
Dr Parsi: On the one hand, I think involving more countries and their particular interests can complicate the situation further. There is a viewpoint in the region that it is not just Israel that should have a say in this or a veto, as you put it; Saudi Arabia also has some very strong views on this issue. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine a sustainable solution unless regional states also feel that they have a stake and an interest in seeing that solution survive. At some point, we have to be able to square that circle. We need to bring in the interests of other states and make sure that they find the outcome acceptable-perhaps a Congress of Vienna of 1815, or something along those lines, if we are still capable of pulling off that type of diplomacy.
Sir Menzies Campbell: As long as it is not the Congress of Versailles.
Dr Parsi: Let me put it this way. From the Israeli side, there has been a systematic effort to create some form of virtual veto on this issue. They are interested in avoiding a situation in which the United States primarily strikes a deal with the Iranians that enables some level of enrichment to remain in Iran. In the Israeli interpretation, that would mean that Iran becomes a virtual nuclear power, which could be sufficient to shift the balance of power in the region in and of itself. That would essentially reduce-although not eliminate-US-Iran tensions. At that point, the Israelis would ask themselves an important and valid question: if there is a certain reduction in US-Iran tensions as a result of the deal, is it accompanied by a proportionate reduction in Iranian-Israeli tensions? If the answer is no then the Israeli perspective is that Israel will be relatively worse off in the region. It will still face a hostile Iran, but no longer with the automatic support of the United States, because the US will move on with plenty of other issues that are taking place globally that it is more or less responsible for.
Ultimately, for something sustainable there has to be a need to go beyond the nuclear issue. Here, I think that the western singular issue may be counter to our interests. As long as that is the only focus and we do not take into account a lot of the other regional aspects, I find it difficult to see a sustainable solution. An interim solution, perhaps, and that is valuable in and of itself. However, a sustainable solution requires much more than that.
Professor Ansari: Just to reinforce what Trita said, but to put it in more black and white terms, if Iran recognised the right of the state of Israel to exist-this goes back to the leadership question-that would solve a lot of problems.
Q13 Mark Hendrick: You both mentioned missed opportunities and a lack of imagination, but could Iran be pursuing a masterplan based on creating nuclear weapons capacity on the basis of subterfuge and cunning in the same way that North Korea did? Or is it just lack of leadership and imagination?
Dr Parsi: In general, I would not believe that there is a masterplan in Iran on almost anything relating to this issue. I would not give them that credit. I would also say that I do not think that we on the western side have a strategic plan; I think that too many tactics are not well-connected. I believe that for the Iranians to be as isolated as they currently are is extremely difficult for them to accept. It completely contradicts their self-image. You cannot achieve the objective of having the status of being a pre-eminent power in the region if you are just isolated. So this is clearly a position that they do not want to be in. The question is: is there a way out? Is sanctions relief, de-isolation and de-containment, on the table right now? In the last rounds of negotiations, it wasn’t.
Going back to what I said earlier, I fear that the escalation game will reach a point at which there will be voices in Iran who will say that Iran already faces the type of sanctions and pressure that it would face if it had weaponised, so it might as well weaponise.
Professor Ansari: First, I would concur with Trita. I don’t think there is a masterplan. There are people in Iran who think they have a masterplan, but I don’t necessarily think there is one. They are much more reactive and short-term than they used to be. So I don’t think there is necessarily a masterplan there. The problem that pervades many Governments in some ways is that they perhaps think that there are elements who think they are cleverer than they are, so in their dealings with the international community they will often think that they can manoeuvre. They have come to believe in the myth of Persian cunning-let me put it that way-just as they obviously like to believe in the truth of British cunning. Everyone likes to think that they are probably a little bit more intelligent-and their foes are obviously much more intelligent and cunning in a masterplan than they are.
Dr Parsi: All sides are giving each other a little bit too much credit.
Professor Ansari: Yes. That’s basically it. I think that would be the case.
Q14 Mark Hendrick: OK, if there is no masterplan and things are escalating, whether they want them to or not, do they realise how high the stakes are in terms of a possible invasion from Israel? Are they frightened of a military strike?
Dr Parsi: I don’t believe the Iranians are. Obviously, in public they probably downplay it even further, but looking at their behaviour, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to indicate that they take the Israeli military threat particularly seriously. Not in the sense that they don’t think it possible, but in the sense that they wouldn’t view it as something that would be particularly devastating for their programme. In some aspects, there may be elements within the regime that would perhaps even think of it as a blessing in disguise, particularly if there is an attack that ends up not being particularly successful. They can draw a lot of benefits from that.
For instance, if you have an Israeli military attack against the nuclear facilities that does not achieve their objective and does not even set back the programme a year or so, it would create a completely new dynamic. The Iranians could potentially play the victim card. They could potentially be able to break the international consensus for sanctioning Iran, perhaps even quicker than they could through negotiations. We cannot forget part of the reason why so many, particularly Asian, countries have gone along with the sanctions regime, mindful of the fact that there is no UN mandate for these unilateral sanctions. It is because of a combination of pressure from the west and the caution that, unless these countries go along with these sanctions, there may be an Israeli attack on Iran that could lead to a much larger war.
If the Israeli attack has already taken place, what additional incentives do some of these Asian countries have in continuing a sanctions regime that is costing their economies quite a lot? So it would perhaps create a tremendous amount of variable situations: challenges but also things that the regime in Iran may see as opportunities. That is part of the reason why, from the Obama Administration’s perspective, there has been a very firm position against any Israeli military adventures.
Professor Ansari: I think there are elements in Iran who would welcome an Israeli attack. It would be the solution to a lot of their problems. Their calculation is that a surgical strike is manageable-it is as simple as that-and the Israelis cannot do more than a surgical strike. What a number of them are worried about is an American participation in any military confrontation. There are probably sufficient people within the military in Iran, including the Revolutionary Guards, who are fully aware what an American military strike would entail and would like to avoid it as far as possible. An Israeli one they don’t really take too seriously. As Trita said, they think it would be something that might garner them the support that they require in the international community.
Israelis themselves are basically calculating that, if they strike, they would be able to bring the Americans in, by the way. They are not thinking that they would do it on their own. From an Israeli perspective, it would be a monumental mistake.
Q15 Mark Hendrick: Do you think that the Israelis see it that way?
Professor Ansari: Yes, I do, because every time that we get close to it, they then announce that actually they are not going to nuclearise for another two or three years. Now the latest figure is 2016, I think. There is enough opposition in Israel. It is very vocal. We tend to pick out among our strands-I think that they are very good at getting their point across. They are very good at getting our attention, and they are very good at getting the sanctions they wanted imposed. They have achieved their aims in the post-Arab Spring set-up. They have played the game very well, but I do not think that there is the stomach for a surgical military strike on their own. Let us put it that way. If the Iranians provoke something, that is different, but we are not at that stage yet.
Dr Parsi: Just to put an emphasis on the point that Ali made, there have been plenty of Israeli red lines and the Iranians have walked through each and every one of them without any overt military response from the Israelis so far.
Q16 Sir Menzies Campbell: To some extent, you may have answered some of these questions by inference, as much as anything else, but who actually runs this programme? Who makes the day-to-day decisions about the nuclear programme? Is it an official, does it go to the Supreme Leader or is there some other rather shadowy collection of people who have responsibility?
Professor Ansari: I always take the Iranian Government, inasmuch as we can describe it as such, basically as a high table. A number of people sit round it; Ayatollah Khamenei is the primus inter pares and can adjudicate and make decisions. A number of elements are contributing to the nuclear programme or have an influence and a say in it. There is the official side, the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, but then clearly there is also a military dimension to it in the sense that the Revolutionary Guards clearly have an influence.
Q17 Sir Menzies Campbell: I was going to ask about that. They have an influence?
Professor Ansari: Oh yes. There is an angle to it. It is obviously part of the problem that we do not know enough about what exactly is going on. At the end of the day, the decisions are made ultimately by the leader and the leader’s office, but I suppose the question that we have to ask ourselves is to what extent is the influence pressurised on and so forth by various other players around that high table, who would influence him. It is a fairly small group. It is decreasing.
Many of the people who would have been prominent in the nuclear programme, like Hassan Rohani and others who were in five or six years ago, are no longer really players. That is why they are now releasing wonderfully detailed books about their accounts and when they were negotiating, and why everyone else has done it wrong since they left or were sacked. You will find that there is a very limited circle, but a number of different influences are certainly there.
Q18 Sir Menzies Campbell: Does Ahmadinejad have any real influence over this, in spite of the fact that he is always rushing off for photo opportunities in a white coat?
Professor Ansari: I think that Ahmadinejad has probably been a lame-duck president for the better part of a year. I do not think that he is finished. He is certainly going to fight, but he has other things to worry about at the moment.
Dr Parsi: I like Ali’s metaphor saying that there is a decision-making table. We have to be humble. We know very little about that table or the process. We have some hints of who is and who no longer is at the table, but the real important thing is the composition of that table beyond Khamenei. Without knowing all the details, it is relatively fair to say though that the composition has increasingly become limited, more hard-line and more along the views of what I mentioned earlier: people who tend to believe that the west will only respond to pressure.
Q19 Mr Roy: In relation to the forthcoming elections, can an agreement be made before June? How significant will the result of the election be on the nuclear issue?
Professor Ansari: I will lead on that. First, I would not even dignify it with the term "election". I don’t think that it will be an election. It is going to be an appointment. They have already ratified certain rules restricting what was a restrictive process even further. In order to stand for election now you have to be nominated by 100 great men, self-professing great political leaders who have to sign up for your candidacy. They have been so blunt about it now-what is wonderful about this is how open they are-and they have actually said that the role of the Revolutionary Guards is to engineer elections. For those of us who had even any illusions that these things were remotely free and fair, I think they have even admitted it themselves.
I think the decision is interesting. There has been a certain amount of spin coming out of certain quarters-the sort of press TV crowd as I like to call them-who basically say that nothing can be done until the presidential election is over. If you look at it, there is a wonderful way in which Iranian politics likes to mirror and echo American politics. Because the Americans said "We can’t do anything until our presidential election is over" all of a sudden the Iranians have said "Well, we can’t do anything until our presidential election is over". Lo and behold, they actually can; they are going to have a meeting before their presidential election is over. I think part of it reflects the fact that the presidential election is completely inconsequential. I do not think it matters that much who wins because at the end of the day, the decision will have to be made by the Supreme Leader and he will have to ratify a deal. There may be a new face at the front, who may come and be slightly more pleasant to engage with, certainly than Ahmadinejad, but the candidates they are talking about at the moment might make Ahmadinejad actually look rather nice.
Q20 Mr Roy: Who do you think would be the candidates then?
Professor Ansari: Well, Larijani I think is one of them, but Jalili has been suggested who is hardly the most inspirational figure. Another one is Haddad-Adel, who is the former speaker, but he is also related to the Supreme Leader-I cannot remember but I think his son is married to the Supreme Leader’s daughter or something. This is a very tight inner circle that is being chosen. There are a couple of outliers that I think are being touted, possibly to raise some interest, including the current mayor of Tehran, but he, in order to basically make himself acceptable to the powers that be, has had to say some pretty obnoxious things about reform, liberals and others; people who might not be part of the very deeply hard-line establishment. I do not think he will be allowed.
Q21 Mr Roy: And anyone from the Green Movement?
Professor Ansari: No. They cannot risk going through what they went through in 2009. And they are scared of it coming back. If you look at the parliamentary elections last year, that was a perfect show. They put it on, it came through with very little fuss and they even told us what the turnout was going to be three months before it happened. It worked very well, and nobody fussed, nobody was interested. Anyone that tells you-and this is another one of the press TV crowd I’m afraid-that Tehran is buzzing with interest about the presidential election-nobody is interested. Why would you be? There is no competition, so why would you be? What people in Iran are interested in at the moment is the economy; that is what they are interested in.
Mr Roy: But not the election.
Dr Parsi: I would not go so far as to say that whatever the outcome in June it will be inconsequential. I do tend to agree with Ali that, at this point-well, let me say this first. We should not underestimate the Iranians’ ability to be as self-centred and self-focused as other countries are. Just seeing what happened in the Parliament two days ago, if they have this really strong discipline of being able to unify and resolve internal differences or make sure there are no internal differences in the face of the pressure that they are faced with right now, then I suspect that we would not be seeing images like that. But we did, and they were very real and they were quite unprecedented. They are busy with themselves; I do not think there is any doubt about that.
When it comes to what will happen in the elections, on the one hand, if there is a different face, I do not think that will be inconsequential because the political toxicity of someone like Ahmadinejad, particularly mindful of his holocaust theories, should not be underestimated. I do not know if it is as decisive here in Europe as it is in the United States, but it was certainly a factor that rendered things very difficult for the Obama Administration. The photo opportunity that, by accident, the President could have with President Chavez he could never have with Ahmadinejad. Having different people being the face of it can create certain political flexibility or openings that will increase their manoeuvrability on many different sides.
As to the question, can a deal still be made, or can some negotiations take place, the Iranians are very discontented with the package that has been put in front of them. They are using various types of tricks and tools to play for time to make it very clear that this package is not something that they will accept. I think they have a calculation to try to figure out what the cost is of playing for time and what the cost is of going to another round of talks that ultimately will fail and which they will be blamed for. Is it better to go and have those talks and get blamed for the failure? Or is it better to push forward, push forward and use the excuse of the elections etcetera to find a way to deflect any of the criticism that will be directed against you?
Professor Ansari: Can I just come back on that? This is where I slightly differ from Trita, I’m afraid. Those four or five people who are currently touted as being potential replacements for Ahmadinejad do not differ from him in any substantive way on their ideas on the holocaust. This is a very small group of people. There are many other people in the Iranian system who do not share those views. Whether they would be allowed to run for president is another matter. This is our problem. The pool of talent is rather restricted at the moment. Ahmadinejad is a very "What you see is what you get" type of guy and he will come and shout it out. But the others are not paragons of liberalness or anything. They are highly conservative in their own ways.
Q22 Mike Gapes: The Committee went to Iran in the last Parliament and we had intensive discussions with Mr Jalili who had just become the chief negotiator on nuclear issues. He emphasised-I have heard Iranian people and people who purport to speak for them in Press TV and elsewhere claiming this-that a fatwa has been issued by Ayatollah Khamenei against nuclear weapons. How significant is that fatwa and does it have any bearing on whether there is really a prohibition on seeking a nuclear weapon?
Dr Parsi: I would put it this way. Under no circumstance can a fatwa replace the type of inspections and verification programme that is necessary to create the type of transparency needed to ensure that there is no weaponisation effort in Iran. The fact that there is a fatwa, however, can be used, cleverly, in the way that the Obama Administration did about a year ago. That is to say that it is good to hear that Iran not only says that it does not seek a nuclear weapons but it also says that it has a fatwa against it. Now help us translate that fatwa into an objective mechanism that we can feel faith in, that we can have any confidence in, mindful of the fact that a religious fatwa only tends to be applicable to people who belong to that religion. So if that type of approach can be utilised then perhaps this is part of that face-saving exercise that both sides need in order to come to a more secure place. But in and of itself, I would not find particular value in it.
Professor Ansari: I will go a little bit further and say that there isn’t a fatwa. There is a series of statements.
Q23 Mike Gapes: It is not written down?
Professor Ansari: There is nothing written down. It depends what you define as a fatwa. If a fatwa is something which in traditional Shi’a norms would be a written judgment, properly referenced to scripture, then that does not exist. What you have is a series of speeches and a number of announcements by Ayatollah Khamenei that he thinks these things are un-Islamic. Fine, and as Trita says, that is a basis on which one can build, but trust and verify, as you put it. Where the pure incoherence of this becomes apparent is when you probe a little further. I talked to a number of people-Trita and I were at a conference on this-and when you probe a little further on their fatwa they say that this is a religious injunction and we are deeply offended that anyone might think that we would not adhere to it. Then you raise the Rushdie fatwa and say, "Well, you didn’t actually implement that, did you?" And they go, "Well, yes, but that is not really a fatwa." So what is a fatwa? The problem is they get themselves tongue-tied because for 10 years and as far as this country is concerned they said Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa-let us face it, Ayatollah Khomeini was in a different category from the current incumbent-could be ignored. Yet this one, apparently, cannot be ignored. That one, I think, had something written about it. There are dubious comments about whether it was a fatwa, a decree or a hokm, or whatever they call it, but none the less it is generally accepted to be a fatwa. They are caught; it is like someone who does not think through the logic of what they are saying. If the fatwa against nuclear weapons sticks, I presume Mr Rushdie ought to go into hiding again.
The point is that you cannot have it both ways, and they need to articulate this in a slightly more coherent form. At present-I wrote a piece about this, which I am happy to send you if I can dig it out-I looked quite extensively even on the Supreme Leader’s website and other sources and there is no written fatwa. They will tell you until they are blue in the face that there is one, but my answer to that is, "Show me."
Dr Parsi: If I can just add to that, I am not a religious scholar so I would not be able to tell the difference between a hokum and a fatwa, or anything like that. To emphasise how one can use even contradictory things like this in order to use the imagination that Ali also called for to find solutions, imagine if we were in a situation in which the Iranians actually said that they wanted a nuclear bomb. Fatwa or no fatwa, imagine if we were in that situation. Where would be the touching points? Where would be the opening points in order to be able to find a solution?
We have to be imaginative and clever, and say, "Okay, they say they do not want it, and at least on the face of it that is a positive thing. Now let us find a way that we can find confidence and mechanisms to verify that what they say is what they do." We have a much trickier situation with North Korea and we lost that one. Here at least they are saying something along that line. Whether it is a hokum or fatwa, written or not, is more of an academic conversation. The question is how we can use things of this nature imaginatively to get out of this trajectory towards confrontation.
Q24 Rory Stewart: Welcome, and thank you both very much for coming. Just to go back to negotiations at the beginning of the Obama Administration, there seemed to be two very different descriptions of what happened in that negotiation. One version is that the Obama Administration were extremely generous and imaginative; they proposed a solution where they were prepared to take a back seat and allow others to go forward, and they proposed imaginative paths to civilian enrichment. I suppose Sayyid Ali Khamenei is accused in this version of not knowing what to do, of being paralysed in the negotiation, of producing random anecdotes and of not responding. That is one version.
The second version is that the United States was being slightly disingenuous, and that all along America were doing this just to prove that they were making an effort so that they could swing to a harder-line position and excuse themselves by saying, "Well, we did make an offer but you did not take it." Which of those is the correct account of what was going on?
Dr Parsi: I would subscribe to the first view. I believe that the Obama Administration were genuine in seeking to find a solution. They used a certain degree of imagination to try to find some openings. They broke some long-standing American taboos, such as writing a letter to the Supreme Leader, agreeing to bilateral conversations with the Iranians and showing up at the P5+1 conversations, which the US did not do during the Bush years.
At the same time, the Obama Administration had a very limited time period in which that approach could be pursued, mindful of what was earlier referred to as institutionalised enmity. Here, I think that the political space that the Administration had was essentially eaten up by several different factors. The most important one is what happened in the Iranian elections in 2009, with both the fraud and the very negative image that was being projected from Iran, but also the fact that the Iranians became paralysed and the in-fighting was so intense that they really could not move forward. There were also other factors, such as pressure from Israel and pressure from Congress.
The very genuine effort, in the words of a very senior American Obama official whom I interviewed, was such that the entire negotiation strategy ended up becoming a gamble on a single roll of the dice, meaning that it had to work right away or not at all. There was not enough time to pursue it in the manner that any successful negotiation has been pursued. The fact that the Administration became so successful in implementing an unprecedented sanctions regime on the Iranians has fuelled the belief in some circles that that was the objective from the very beginning, because the diplomatic effort became somewhat short-lived In my estimation that analysis does not really correspond to the facts, mindful of the fact that a big portion as to why so much time was lost was because of the Iranian elections and the fraud in them and the paralysis in Tehran, not because of lack of willingness on the US side.
Q25 Rory Stewart: Briefly to follow up on that, there are two versions as to the rationality or otherwise of the Iranian regime. One version says that, broadly speaking, the regime is relatively pragmatic and rational, and the other view is, no, no, they do some genuinely crazy things; they have plots to try to assassinate the ambassadors in the United States; they get involved in completely irrational support for the Syrians. Instinctually, what is your sense as to what extent this is an irrational, ideologically driven regime? For example, Emanuele Ottolenghi stresses this kind of thing, but do you see them as a more rational element?
Dr Parsi: I think the term "rationality" has been confused with a concept of agreeability in some of the discourse. Just because they do things that we disagree with does not mean that it is irrational. We know too little about the Iranians to be able to have an accurate estimation of how they calculate their interest. If we don’t know how they do that, how do we make a determination as to whether their actions are rational in terms of maximising that interest? We know too little, and we will know even less, mindful of the fact that the diplomatic connections and interactions are becoming fewer and fewer.
Q26 Rory Stewart: Just to push you a little bit harder on this, we in Britain see the attack on our embassy as another example of completely counter-productive, irrational behaviour, or short-termism. What is your view?
Dr Parsi: Without a doubt, that was an absolutely disgraceful act on the Iranian side, and they are paying a price for it, but we also have to be careful to understand the broader actions of the regime and not just singular incidents. Singular incidents everywhere can be deemed to be counter-productive, and the Iranian regime has quite a long résumé of having done counter-productive things, but to take that step and say they are irrational is quite a leap. Those who are making the argument that this is a completely ideological, irrational regime have to ask themselves what are the consequences if we accept those assumptions-I would call them assumptions more than conclusions.
If you have an entity on the other side that is irrational and completely ideological, and then you add another concept that has been thrown around in the debate, which is to say that they are suicidal, you have just eliminated two of the most obvious policy actions, the first being diplomacy and the second containment and deterrence. If the other side is irrational, ideological and suicidal, neither diplomacy nor deterrence will work, so what are you left with? You are only left with pre-emptive military strikes. So I would say, in the absence of clear convincing evidence, the assumptions about irrationality seem more politically driven towards pushing the west in a certain direction.
Q27 Rory Stewart: But doesn’t your argument cut both ways? If they are in fact not suicidal, and are rational, perhaps we should not be so worried that they will get a bomb, because they will then act like other nuclear powers-because it is suicidal to drop a bomb on someone-so the effect on the Iranian regime of having a bomb will not be an immediate attack on Israel in the Middle East.
Dr Parsi: I don’t think the primary concern about Tehran getting a bomb is that it will immediately use it. It is about all the other consequences of having the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Will there be a domino effect of other states taking that path? Will a nuclear weapon in Iran embolden the Iranians to do more of the destabilising things that have taken place in the past? Will it give it a certain level of protection against such things? That is the primary concern about them getting a nuclear weapon. Beyond that, even if they are rational, the principles and values of making sure that there are less nuclear weapons in the world rather than more stand on their own.
Q28 Rory Stewart: Can I, finally, then, bring in Professor Ansari on that? Could you develop the idea of what the effect might be on the regime itself if it were to possess a bomb, in terms of its ideological character? Would it strengthen particular factions within the regime? How would it affect the behaviour of the regime? That is assuming it had managed to end up with it.
Professor Ansari: The interesting thing is that there has not actually been a very clear debate, certainly not voiced publicly, about the consequences of developing a nuclear weapon. There have, on the other hand, been a number of private discussions and admissions by diplomats and other specialists in Iran.
In the 2009 election one quite striking thing was that the subject came up in debates. People commented on how useful the weapon was for them, and whether it would institutionalise their power and make them feel more secure and stronger. Or they asked-and this was the model that always came up-whether they were going to go the way of the Soviet Union, so basically, "Are we bankrupting ourselves on a real flight of fancy?" That debate is there. People are saying, "We don’t know whether developing a weapons capability will make us more secure at all."
Unfortunately, there are elements-not unique to Iran-who equate weapons of this nature with strength and power. This is what they want. They think it will make them more secure. They take a very simple and straightforward analogy of, say, Iraq, North Korea or Libya. They say, "Look at what Libya did. They compromised and look what happened to them." They take these examples and use them to justify it.
Others have said, "On the contrary, this is making us less secure. We would never be able to build up a weapons capability that would be remotely comparable to what the Israelis might have, or certainly what the Americans have. Actually, our security would be better achieved if we had alliances, for instance, or actually had some friends in the region." There is that sort of argument. There are people within the regime who believe that acquiring that sort of capability would make them stronger.
Q29 Rory Stewart: And your assumption is the Revolutionary Guard is one of those factions.
Professor Ansari: Yes. Again, it is difficult to paint with too broad a brush. There are certainly elements there who believe that would be the case.
Q30 Mr Baron: Briefly, to follow on with one question. Separating rhetoric from action, we have all heard the rhetoric from the Iranian side and, likewise, there has been rhetoric on our side. Do you have any evidence? People such as Sir Richard Dalton, the former ambassador, and Paul Pillar, the CIA intelligence officer in the Middle East, said there was no evidence of irrational behaviour from the Iranians. Let’s speed forward a few years and assume they get the bomb, do you think that would change, or is there real irrationality at the heart of the regime that they are doing well to disguise?
Dr Parsi: First, it is important to note that there are plenty of options, time and space to prevent a nuclear weapon in Iran. I think we should be careful not to believe that it is inevitable or that the cause has been lost. It is quite possible to prevent it peacefully.
However, if that scenario were to occur, the biggest strategic losers would be the Iranians themselves. Look back at how the Shah reasoned. The programme started during the time of the Shah, through some encouragement from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld during the Ford Administration, in which they thought Iran could not become a modern country unless it did have a nuclear energy programme.
The Shah was pursuing a programme that had energy purposes but he was clearly pursuing an option to ensure that he could weaponise, if the security environment in the region deteriorated. He was convinced that the United States would not come to Iran’s aid if the Soviets attacked, for instance; that the US would not risk a war with the Soviets for the sake of Iran. As a result, he wanted the option. He didn’t want the weapon, he wanted the option. He recognised the strategic negatives for Iran in making itself such a target and increasing the perception of a threat from Iran that is so widespread throughout the region, particularly on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf.
The more Iran does this the more it will undermine its ability to have true peace in the region by having a relationship with the neighbours that is not based on their constantly allying themselves with external powers in order to contain and deter the perceived threat from Iran.
Q31 Mr Baron: And you think they appreciate that?
Dr Parsi: I believe there are elements in the Iranian regime that appreciate it. You can also take a look at the programme that they have. This is not a particularly quick programme. Gary Sick has pointed out that this is trundling along very slowly. It is not at all the Pakistani quick dash for a bomb. Again, there is a complex web of interests and nuances on this issue, and the better we understand it, the better we can find openings to utilise an interest on the Iranian side not to weaponise. If we make an assumption that the Iranians are no different from the Pakistanis, who said they would rather eat grass and still have the bomb, we are eliminating our options in being able to address this effectively and peacefully.
Professor Ansari: Just to come back on the issue of rationality and irrationality, we talk about the irrationality of the Iranian regime, but they operate within certain rational norms of their own; they have a world view and they take actions which they think are rational within a particular perspective that they have. As Trita quite rightly says, they have made mistakes and misjudgments. They can explain certain actions according to their perspective. I certainly do not believe that they are suicidal-frankly, they believe they are going to inherit the world; they do not want to eliminate it-and they do not want to do themselves down either.
What you have seen over the last five to six years is a level of incompetence, possibly, in Government in Iran, because they have promoted people to jobs who simply are not capable of doing them. You can see that with the diplomatic corps. If you think back five to six years to who was representing Iran in the UN, in London, in Paris and in other places, these were often very sensible people: they could mediate, they could talk to you and you could have a conversation with them. These days, it is pretty difficult, actually, to get anything commonsensical out of them, because they are either too worried about the ideology-I can see the Chairman waving his pen, so I will cut down my comments very quickly-or they simply have nothing to say; they are either too scared or they are very ideologically committed to a particular view. They rationalise it in their own mind, but that does not necessarily mean that it is in the country’s best interests.
Dr Parsi: Another example of where both sides are giving each other perhaps too much credit is that we see mismanagement and incompetence, and we think that there is something more profound there, whereas, in reality, it may just be mismanagement and incompetence.
Q32 Mr Ainsworth: Notwithstanding what you have said, let us continue for a moment with this scenario where the bomb has been achieved. It is regularly bandied around in the House of Commons that that will cause an almost automatic escalation throughout the region-Saudi Arabia will want one, Egypt will want one and Turkey will want one-and that that will inevitably embolden Iran in its foreign policy. Do you buy into that? Let us just try to think through the probable Iranian policy post the achievement of a nuclear weapon.
Professor Ansari: One of the main worries we have at this end in terms of policy is what would happen to the NPT; that is what people are concerned about. I am not sure about the escalation argument. It has been used widely, but I am not convinced that the Saudis, the Turks and others will all suddenly decide they want to go that route, but it is certainly an argument that is made.
In terms of emboldening the Iranian regime-yes. It would be an achievement, and that is something that would make them feel more secure. In feeling more secure, they would probably behave in a manner, that was, perhaps, even more grandiose than it has been recently. I certainly do not think that they would ever move to use anything; they are not in that league. As I have said to people, the only existential threat the Iranian regime poses is to Iran, not to anyone else. To go back to the prestige, this is something that will make them feel good and bring out, perhaps, the worst in their character.
Dr Parsi: I am not an expert on that literature, and our two colleagues who will testify afterwards are probably much more knowledgeable about this. But there seems to be an interesting questioning of some previous views, when there was a belief that there was an automatic risk of a domino effect. People are pointing to the fact that North Korea weaponised, and we have not seen the Japanese or others do it so far, so perhaps we should not be as unquestioning of that notion.
Regardless, I would personally like not to risk it. Why be in that world? This is not a particularly technically complex question; it is an issue about political will. If we can peacefully achieve a resolution to this, and avoid being in that world just by mustering that political will-of course, the other side has to do it as well-and mustering the imagination, I am convinced that we will push that conversation into the academic world and never actually have to have a definitive answer to it, because we simply will not experience it. If the EU has managed to be in this unprecedented period of peace since world war two through that sort of imagination-it won the Nobel prize for it last year-I am pretty sure that that is also achievable when it comes to this issue, as long as all sides commit the type of political will and imagination that is required.
Q33 Mr Ainsworth: Let us return to what would be needed in order to try to avoid the problem. You have both given us evidence that Iran’s policy has gone backwards. Over the past few years there have been a number of setbacks, not least the Syrian disaster. If Syria falls, Iran is then more isolated, more paranoid and more vulnerable, and the chances of them pursuing a nuclear weapon are surely hugely increased. What, practically, can we do at this stage, without taking the pressure off, to avoid that state of mind-that the only way to security is the attainment of nuclear weapons-becoming inevitable?
Professor Ansari: One of the things that I would say is that we are assuming there, of course, that there is a cohesion internally that is moving towards a particular position. I think that as the situation becomes worse for them-both regionally and domestically-you will find that there will be a breakdown, almost, in the system. It will not be quite as clear-cut.
In terms of giving them the message, I suppose it has to be made clearer to the Iranians that there is nothing in what the west is arguing that says that they will not be able to have their rights under the NPT-there is nothing that says that they cannot have civilian nuclear power-but they simply must adhere to certain norms, and rules and regulations. Of course, they will counter that that is unfair, because it is double standards, and that the west is setting them a higher standard. Well, yes, one element of that is true, but that is partly because of the hinterland of the political landscape that I mentioned earlier. We wish they could approach the region and their international relations in a different and more constructive way. That message has to be got across to the Iranians-and I mean all Iranians, by the way, not just the regime; we are talking about public opinion and hearts and minds in Iran as well. That needs to be emphasised.
I know the subtext is regime change-I know there is that subtext in the United States, certainly-but actually, if, given half a chance, the west were able to achieve a solution, I do not think that we would be particularly keen on having another piece of real estate in the middle east going topsy-turvy. I can’t see that. They play on that a lot-they say, "This is all about regime change." My argument to the Iranians, over and over again, is, "If you are worried about regime change, hold an election that is free and fair. That will sort you out."
Dr Parsi: That will bring regime change.
Q34 Mr Ainsworth: I can’t remember which one of you it was, but one of you said that by concentrating on the nuclear issue we are in many ways missing out on any opportunity that there is for a sustainable settlement. What are the other elements that need to be pursued in order for any settlement to be sustainable?
Dr Parsi: The first thing I would say is that whenever one pursues a pressure-centric approach, which is clearly what we are doing, one has to be careful that one doesn’t become the victim of that policy because it is not nimble enough or adjustable enough. At least on the American side, the sanctions tool is a rather clumsy one, mindful of the difficulty that exists in the United States in being able to put that option on the table, and say, "If the Iranians stop 20%, or if they do x, y and z, sanctions can be lifted." That is not a very convincing argument from the US side, mindful of the tremendous difficulties that exist.
Part of what has motivated the strategy is the belief that Iran does not give into pressure, but into tremendous amount of pressure. We have been looking at the 1988 example, where, after the Iranians suffered tremendously in the Iraq-Iran war, Khomeini finally had to break his vow and end the war, even though his slogan had been "War, war, war to victory". He likened that step to being worse than drinking a cup of poison. This has been one of the motivating factors for bringing the very strong sanctions regime on Iran.
But there are several different things that are missing if we are looking at this analogy. The first is the moral question of bringing about that type of pressure on a country in which clearly, large portions of the population are quite unhappy with the regime in the first place and have no influence over the nuclear programme anyways. I want to get back to that later.
The other things is that in the option that Khomeini had-he ultimately decided to drink that cup of poison-he knew that if he drank that cup, the war would end. It wasn’t an "if" or "maybe, perhaps, one day that will happen"-it was very clear cut. He also knew that Saddam Hussein could deliver on his end of the bargain.
On these two questions, which are extremely central to making sure that the pressure campaign can work, I think there are significant question marks in the Iranian mind. The Iranians do not know exactly what would happen if they were to capitulate on the issue. The offers that have been on the table are that perhaps at some point there can be sanctions relief, or perhaps at some point there can be an enrichment programme in Iran. There is nothing quite concrete.
Secondly, to President Obama’s credit, he is no Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein did not have to deal with viewpoints from Iraq’s allies. He did not have to deal with the pesky Congress. So there are question marks on the Iranian side as to whether the US can deliver. When that exists, that renders an escalation and a pressure tactic quite problematic. It can very well end up in a situation, as we have with the United States vis-à-vis Cuba right now, in which the sanctions are there-I have been in Washington for more than a decade, and I have not come across a single person who thinks that that is a good idea-but it is impossible to move them.
Chair: We have just one more group of questions. As we are already nearly quarter of an hour over time, we would be grateful if you could keep the answers short.
Q35 Mark Hendrick: Is it possible at the moment to assess Iranian public opinion on the regime’s nuclear programme and whether the general public feel that it is a good move? Is it popular with the Iranian public?
Professor Ansari: It is very difficult, certainly since 2009, to have any sort of assessment of public opinion in a realistic way. What we have been able to see is the comments coming out, either during the election itself in 2009-there were clear disagreements as to the direction of policy-or from individuals who talk about the way in which policy has become very confrontational of late, and say that perhaps the way to achieve things would be to take different approaches and to assess things more realistically.
I don’t think you will find much dispute over Iran’s right to have a civil nuclear programme, because they just see that largely in economic terms; it is partly for the diversification of energy. But I dare say that, given various difficult choices, the adherence to the nuclear programme would probably wither and decline.
We had a similar question when they made a bit of a mistake and put forward a poll on one of these Iranian news channels. It was a phone-in poll-this is not, I think, something you can scientifically predict. They asked, in the face of US and international sanctions, what should we do? A: compromise; B: shut the Straits of Hormuz; or C: resist till the end. Something like 78% said compromise. That was not actually the result they wanted, so they changed it and went for something else.
You can see that when the situation changes, if there is a cost, people have different priorities. There is that indication that it is probably more fluid than the regime would like to let on.
Dr Parsi: Ali is right that there is some difficulty in knowing. It is fair to say that it is not the priority of the vast majority of Iranians, but, again, they tend to be supportive of the right. This was an internet poll, so Ali is right in saying it was not a scientific poll, but what is implicit in that question and the answer is compromise in order to get the sanctions lifted. As long as we have gone out of our way to declare that sanctions relief is not on the table, then that 78%-assuming that that is the proportion of the population-are not going to understand the purpose of a compromise if the sanctions are not lifted. This is where the nimbleness of the pressure tactic has to be configured in such a way that we have those abilities.
I would like to turn to some of the things that are happening on the ground in Iran that we should be aware of, mindful of the fact that this is not a new phenomenon. The sanctions, particularly the financial sanctions, have made it very difficult for people to get access to medicine. Medicine is exempt from the sanctions but because of the financial sanctions, hardly any banks are willing to handle the transactions. That has created an acute shortage in Iran, which would not have happened to the same extent but for the mismanagement and incompetence of the regime.
Nevertheless, the variable that brought it to a crisis is the sanctions. We are starting to see early phases similar to what we saw with the sanctions on Iraq 15 or 20 years ago. We should be very careful in asking about the Iranian population’s viewpoint on these issues. If we have a medical or humanitarian crisis in Iran, the ultimate direction is more likely to bring the population closer to the regime rather than the opposite direction, beyond all the other moral questions we have to ask ourselves.
Q36 Mark Hendrick: I was going to come on to sanctions from the other angle. Dr Parsi, you made the point that the Iranian public might not want a compromise while the sanctions were still there. Might not the Iranian public have been pushed into wanting a compromise because of the sanctions?
Dr Parsi: That raises a very important question: was it necessary to go to this level of unprecedented sanctions to get a compromise? I think we answered that question earlier-no, because both sides have missed opportunities. But at this point getting a compromise would necessitate both sides doing away with some of the added things––the facts on the ground that have been created in the last four years. On the Iranian side, that certainly includes enrichment to 20%. On the western side, it certainly includes some of the financial sanctions and other things. Absent that, there cannot be any solution any longer. Four years ago, it was easier to deal with this issue because neither side had as many facts on the ground as it does today.
Q37 Mark Hendrick: As a practical solution, do you see the possibility of a de-escalation by gradual removal of sanctions coupled with gradual backtracking in the way they are moving in their nuclear policy?
Dr Parsi: I do, but I believe that the step-by-step approach needs to be enriched, perhaps, in the sense that there is an asymmetric situation between the Iranian proposal and the American or P5 proposal. Both sides are essentially asking for a lot and offering very little. It is very politically difficult to improve that type of small step package. Perhaps it is better to move towards a larger package in which more is demanded but more also can be offered. In that scenario––the going big option as it is referred to in Washington––clearly there has to be backtracking on enrichment in Iran, particularly on 20%, how to deal with the stockpile and things of that nature, combined with the Iranians agreeing to inspections and verification, combined with sanctions relief. How we sequence this is part of the trick, but make no mistake, these are the variables that have to be included to get a deal on the nuclear issue.
Professor Ansari: On the sanctions issue, we are where we are. Unfortunately we are where we are because of decisions that were made on both sides. I also do not think we can neglect the way in which the Ahmadinejad administration has basically not taken the situation as seriously as it should have. Serious sanctions only really came in over the last year, and it is those banking sanctions and also the EU oil embargo that have hit them hard.
To give you an example, in the past five or six years when all this has been talked about there has been a tendency for Iran to say that the EU and others are bluffing. There has been no shortage of warnings about where the situation was heading, and I suppose that for me the most striking example was the oil embargo. It was announced in January that this would come in at the end of June or July. The Iranians took no measures, really, to counter this. The reason is that they thought that the EU was bluffing, or alternatively that the EU economy was in such a pitiful state that there was no way the EU would forgo the pleasures of Iranian oil. As it turns out-and it seems to have come as some surprise to some of them-European and American diplomats were working overtime to ensure that the oil market would not suffer from the withdrawal of Iranian oil. Perhaps another shock to the system was the fact that the two countries actually doing rather well out of the oil embargo are Iraq and Russia, which are meant to be Iran’s friends. I think all this has been a bit of a body blow for the Iranians, which partly goes to the fact that they have not prepared themselves.
It is worth bearing in mind the staggering figure that, as the Iranians themselves admitted, over the last 100 years-or since 1908-43% of the total oil revenue earned by the Iranian state has been earned since 2005. That is an enormous amount of money. They should be sitting pretty at the moment on an enormous oil sovereign wealth fund. Although in 1908 the oil was trickling out, nonetheless the point is that because oil prices have been so high, in the Iranian mindset it puts in a little bit of perspective the achievements that were made previously. Since 2005 Ahmadinejad has had an enormous cash flow, and that has disguised what is basically incompetence. That is what it has done. It goes back, I think, to the incompetence that Trita was talking about regarding the medical management and other things, but the sanctions have now crystallised this.
Chair: We will leave it there. Thank you very much. Clearly we could have gone on much longer, but we very much appreciate your taking the time to come and see us.
The sitting is suspended for two minutes.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Shashank Joshi, Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, gave evidence.
Q38 Chair: May I welcome everyone to the second session, which will focus more on the current state of Iran’s nuclear programme? Our two witnesses are Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the non-proliferation and disarmament programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Dr Fitzpatrick, welcome-and Shashank Joshi, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, whom we have already heard on the radio this morning. Welcome.
May I start with a general question? Given what we know now, how far away is Iran from having the capacity to produce a nuclear bomb? Are we now talking months?
Mark Fitzpatrick: Sir, you phrased the question-"How far away are they from having the capacity?". I have to say they have the capacity today.
Chair: But you need the ability to produce.
Mark Fitzpatrick: If they make the decision to produce a nuclear weapon, they could probably produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon in a few months. Then, it would take another several months to put it in the form of a weapon. But then it would take at least another year to be able to mount it on a ballistic missile. So if you’re talking about a weapon that could hit anywhere in Europe, it would be a couple of years, but if you don’t care about what the delivery system is-if you were willing to transport it via suicidal truck drivers-theoretically, less than a year.
Q39 Chair: Do you agree with that, Mr Joshi?
Shashank Joshi: Yes; if I could add just a couple of small points. First, the answer to that is heavily dependent on data to which we will have access only later this month, in so far as the IAEA releases its quarterly reports. It depends, for the last report, on how much uranium enriched to 20% Iran has produced since November; and, really importantly, how much of that it has then depleted or run down by converting to fuel. So that will make a difference to how close they are to the point at which they would have sufficient uranium enriched to 20% to then turn that into weapons-grade.
The other point is that there are really two stages: enriching to weapons-grade and then producing a usable nuclear device, and probably a deliverable device-Mark explained that subtlety. We can calculate the first one with reasonable precision. The second one, at least without classified information, depends on a host of parameters, such as the extent of their pre-2003 weapons research and how much data they receive from countries such as North Korea that conduct nuclear tests. That would affect how reliably they can then manufacture a device, and the time could be longer or shorter than that period we just heard about.
Q40 Chair: Mr Fitzpatrick, you have expressed concern about the amount of uranium at 5% enrichment, but that could be just for peaceful purposes. Will you set out your concerns about the amount of 5% that they have?
Mark Fitzpatrick: The 5% stock pile now amounts to about five weapons-worth, if it were further enriched to 90%. An effort to enrich it further above 5% to weapons-grade 90 involves much less effort than getting to the 5% point. There is a lot of emphasis today on 20% enrichment because, as Mr. Joshi said, the time to get it to weapons-grade is shorter.
However, getting from 5% to 90% adds only a couple of months. We cannot forget the basic problem of that 5% enrichment. Yes, it has a potential civilian use, but for what? Russia has promised to provide the fuel for the lifetime of the only reactor in Iran that works today. Iran talks about building another reactor at Darkhovin or somewhere else, but it would take 10 or more years to build it, and it would be very unsafe if they tried to build it by themselves. They do not need to produce this much low-enriched uranium today-it is like producing gasoline before you build an automobile.
Shashank Joshi: And, of course, nor do they, strictly speaking, need to produce more 20%, because they have enough to run the Tehran research reactor for 10 years or so, so I broadly agree with that. When looking at any interim settlement, the focus on 20% is simply because that is of much greater concern with regard to the potential dash for a weapon, but it is really a prioritisation. The 5% does matter, and the Security Council has asked Iran to stop enriching to 5% as well, but in the grand scheme of things, that is going to be a very low priority when it comes to the various things that we would like to see from Iran.
Q41 Chair: Does Iran have sufficient stocks of uranium or yellowcake inside the country for its peaceful nuclear energy programme, or will it have to import more?
Mark Fitzpatrick: For a peaceful programme to be able to produce fuel for a reactor, they would need far more yellowcake than they have today. They do have a mine that can produce uranium, although not of very good quality, so they may be able to sustain a very small nuclear programme based on their one mine, but not the kind of programme that they envisage with 10 or 20 nuclear power plants.
Q42 Mark Hendrick: Is there a thin red line between Iran’s having and not having a nuclear weapons capacity, or is it more of a thick grey line? Has Iran already crossed into that grey area? Mr Fitzpatrick, when I saw you briefly at a meeting last year, you predicted that the Israelis would attack Iran before Christmas. Obviously, that has not happened, so do you still think that it is coming through?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I am not sure that I said they would attack before Christmas; I said they would attack if Iran crossed the line from capability to production and actually started to build a nuclear weapon, or if the line that separates capability from building becomes so faint, grey or invisible-white-that it is impossible to judge when it has been crossed. At that point, I think that Israel would feel the need to attack. I hope that I expressed it in that way, and I still believe that.
Mark Hendrick: But I thought you thought that they would get to that point before Christmas.
Mark Fitzpatrick: They did not get to that point.
Q43 Mark Hendrick: What do you think the differences are with the red line? Are they getting to the grey line now?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It is clear that Iran has the basic capability, so it is a matter of whether they would make a political decision to do it, how much time it would take and whether it would make any sense to dash for nuclear weapons by producing one of them. I do not think it would make any sense. They would want to have several of them, and that would lengthen the time. And they would be exposed if they made that decision.
The IAEA inspections at Natanz are twice a month and at Fordo they are four times a month. If they tried to divert that stockpile, they would be noticed. However, as they build up the stockpile and enhance their capability, including with the more effective centrifuges that they recently announced, then that timeline for being able to know that they have crossed becomes shorter, and that will heighten sensitivities in Israel and Washington-and, I presume, in London as well.
Shashank Joshi: Can I just add one point to that? It is that there are multiple lines here. The one that has attracted a lot of attention since the end of last year or so has been the point at which Iran acquires enough uranium enriched to 20% to suffice for one bomb; the shorthand for this is one significant quantity of uranium enriched to 20%. That is the line that was set out in front of the UN General Assembly by Binyamin Netanyahu, with his famous speech and his famous bomb diagram-a sort of ACME bomb.
According to Netanyahu’s own calculations, the fear was that Iran would hit that point about the spring or summer, based on its earlier progress of enrichment. What happened last year is that, over the course of the year, Iran converted about half its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to fuel, which can be reversed but takes a while to do so. This goes back to my point at the beginning about our needing the data coming out later this month.
It may be that Iran has now stopped converting its 20% stockpile to fuel and is simply accumulating this up and up and up-15 kg a month or so, depending on how it has changed things. If that is the case, and we don’t know if it is the case, it would hit that Israeli red line in about April, May or so, depending on its rate of production. If, on the other hand, Iran has continued to convert its stockpile to fuel, that would slow it down. And it could keep doing that-thereby staying below Israel’s red line-indefinitely. So that is one side of it.
However, there is another red line, which Mark mentioned at the end and which is not to do with stockpiles-it is not to do with how much stuff it has-but to do with capacity and how much stuff it could get. The issue there is: does there come a point-maybe in a year’s time or so, or over a year, or potentially sooner if there are changes in the centrifuges-at which the time it would take Iran to acquire one significant quantity of weapons-grade uranium shortens to below the time you have between inspections?
That is not going to occur any time soon-it almost certainly won’t occur this year-but that is a different type of red line, where you can’t be sure whether you will catch Iran or whether detection will occur with reasonable certainty. We are a long way away from that, but that is another red line. Iran is not near either of those lines, but we will have more clarity later this month.
Q44 Mr Roy: Can I ask about the time limit of mid-2013, as set by Israel? Bear in mind the election in June; a new Iranian President won’t actually take post until maybe near the end of August. What are the ramifications for any particular deal then-based on those two dates-this year?
Mark Fitzpatrick: Being cautious not to make predictions that will be proven wrong-I hope that I have never been quite so uncautious-I think that there is a possibility that we could be in a dangerous time frame this summer, before Iran’s political circumstances are such that they could make the kind of compromises that the last panel discussed. But their programme so far along depends on, as Shashank Joshi said, how much 20% enrichment they make and how much of that they convert to a form that cannot be very quickly reconverted to gasified form, and the capability-how many of the more effective centrifuges do they introduce? I could foresee a circumstance this summer where the Israeli political and military calculus is that they have to act. I am not saying they will, but I think that there is a possibility that we can’t ignore.
Shashank Joshi: What is interesting is that Iran knew what it was doing last year when it converted its stockpile of 20% to fuel. It knew what it was doing; it was a safety valve. It was stepping back slightly, and Israel recognised that.
Ehud Barak gave an interview with the Telegraph last autumn and said that it had delayed the moment of reckoning by eight to 10 months. The central question is will they continue to show the same caution. The problem is can they continue to stack up capacity-new cascades, adding numbers of centrifuges and potentially adding more advanced centrifuges-and refrain from using any of that capacity without appearing weak. There may also be bottlenecks in the process of conversion from the stockpile to fuel, which occurred at the end of last year.
If I had to guess, I would say that Iran would not quite want to test Israeli resolve, unlikely as I think Israel would be to strike unilaterally; I think Iran would know what an incredible risk it would take. The problem is that that is only one line. There are all manner of other actions Iran could take, which may appear innocuous to Iran, but may appear much more dangerous to other parties, such as hindering weapons inspectors or suddenly increasing capacity. I cannot think of many other areas of ambiguity that may prompt something like this. Can you, Mark?
We enter a very dangerous period from the second half of next year, just after June, when, even if Iran stays below that line and does not cross the 240 kg of 20% enriched uranium that has been identified and repeatedly articulated by the Israelis as the magic point, there are all manner of other lines that it could still inadvertently cross.
Q45 Sir Menzies Campbell: If you cannot negotiate, an alternative policy is disruption. As you know, there are allegations of the assassination of scientists, unexplained explosions and an allegation of the use of the Stuxnet virus. I am not going to ask whether you think these are all true, but assuming that they have taken place, has the option of disruption by something of the same kind passed, or is there still scope for it?
Mark Fitzpatrick: The disruption that has occurred to date has not slowed the programme; it has not set it back. They produce more enriched uranium every year than they did the previous year. For a period of time, the Stuxnet virus knocked out 1,000 centrifuges, so that put a hiccup in the programme. They have not obtained the results they wanted, and I think part of that is because of some of the disruption programmes.
By the way, I think the assassinations have stopped. The last one was in January last year; you may remember that after it, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton very forcefully denounced it and said that the United States had nothing to do with it. I notice that it has not happened since then. I do not doubt that other forms of disruption are being contemplated in certain circles; one could think that theoretically it could be a way of stalling the programme, but I do not think it could stop it entirely.
Q46 Sir Menzies Campbell: Are those responsible for the programme alive to these possibilities? Do you know of any evidence to suggest that they are taking precautions designed to prevent the sort of impact these things have caused in the past?
Shashank Joshi: They have certainly beefed up personal security for scientists involved in the programme. That is very clear from press accounts. Following the assassination attempts, they have responded.
Q47 Sir Menzies Campbell: Cyber?
Shashank Joshi: The short answer is that I don’t know. It seems reasonable that they have sought to try to plug some of the gaps. Stuxnet worked first of all because it was an incredibly sophisticated piece of code once it was in, but it also had to cross the air gap to the enrichment facilities. It had to be taken in there by a human being, or something had to be plugged in. It could not just have remote access.
It is a very difficult to replicate weapon in any case, but going back to your first question about its effectiveness, it did take out 1,000 centrifuges and Iran only had 5,000 centrifuges at the time. It only took out about a fifth, and the net effect was virtually negligible because they simply ramped up production at exactly the same time.
Sir Menzies Campbell: So that each year was better than the previous one.
Shashank Joshi: Right. But I think it is safe to assume that there is some sort of adaptation to these various covert efforts. One exception may be in the missile programme, which does seem to have suffered severe, debilitating setbacks-Mark has written about this-partly as a result of covert efforts, from which it does not seem to have recovered.
Q48 Mr Ainsworth: How much of the capability that Iran has-and will need in the immediate future to see this programme through to completion, if that is their intention-is indigenous to the country? How much help, if any, do they need from the outside, both for the development of a bomb and for the development of delivery systems?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It is hard to answer that question. I do not have access to classified material. What I do know is that Iran has been very active in the international black markets, seeking to acquire various components and materials for both its nuclear and missile programmes. That does not necessarily mean that they cannot do it themselves. If they are not able to acquire foreign material, they could perhaps rely on less worthy domestic-produced material. They have been able to introduce centrifuges in larger numbers than I thought was possible. At some point, I probably said that they could not go beyond 10,000, and they now have 14,000. They either acquired a larger amount of some of the materials that they cannot produce themselves, or they are finding some way to get them.
It is in the missile programme that Shashank just alluded to that they are facing graver difficulties. The most capable missile is the solid-fuelled Sejil-2, which they have not tested for two years. We assess that that is probably because they have not been able to establish a reliable source for the ingredients for the solid fuel. In that sense, sanctions have probably been effective in slowing down their missile programme.
Q49 Mr Ainsworth: Where are those ingredients available?
Mark Fitzpatrick: With globalisation, they are available in many countries. Many of the materials that Iran gets come through China, but they are not necessarily manufactured in China. They can be manufactured in a variety of countries.
Mr Ainsworth: Routes via China.
Mark Fitzpatrick: Many of the routes are via China, but that is not the only route. There are various routes in black marketing. Dubai used to be a favourite port, but that has tightened up. Istanbul became a favourite port, but Turkey has tightened up, although there is overland transit. Iran has a very active black market acquisition programme. They try every route that they can.
Shashank Joshi: Can I just add two points to that? First, much of the external help has already occurred over the past 25 years ago, in terms of the acquisition of centrifuge designs and the potential acquisition, if you believe American accounts, of a warhead design from the AQ Khan network.
Mark Fitzpatrick: Actually, the IAEA said so too.
Shashank Joshi: The IAEA said so too-of a warhead design? Right, in the November 2011 report. A lot of that transfer of the know-how in design information has already occurred.
My other point is that an interesting litmus test of this will be whether Iran can follow through on its plans to introduce thousands of second-generation centrifuges. The current generation is from the 1970s and is much slower. For 10 years they have been insisting that they will introduce new and all-improved centrifuges that can increase the pace of enrichment, and therefore breakout capacity, by three or four times. The new centrifuges require material that we have presumed Iran has not been able to get access to, such as certain types of steel and certain types of carbon fibre and other small components that you need to get in bulk. The assumption from analysts has been that although Iran acquired much of the stuff it needed for its existing thousands of centrifuges perhaps 10 years ago when sanctions were a bit looser and weaker, it could not do so now. It will be interesting to see whether Iran surprises us and follows through on the announcement to the IAEA that they will put in place these new centrifuges. I am pretty sceptical on that.
That question is very significant in terms of answering the other question of how, if the programme was destroyed now, it could be reconstituted. Virtually all of the know-all, expertise and engineering skills are there within Iran. There would be question marks over a lot of types of materials, although as Mark pointed out, activity on the black market is so intensive that you could not rule out the programme being reconstituted somehow anyway.
Q50 Mr Ainsworth: What you are effectively saying is that if there was an effective military strike against the capability that did considerable destruction to it, it could be replaced.
Shashank Joshi: It could be replaced. There would be big question marks over obtaining certain materials, but I think that over time, it could be replaced-not on the same scale, but with sufficient secrecy.
Q51 Mr Ainsworth: How long?
Shashank Joshi: I couldn’t offer a time. I’d have to come back to you on that after thinking it through.
Mark Fitzpatrick: I think it’s fair to assume that Iran has already put in place redundancy capabilities, and that they probably have facilities they have not announced. Their policy is not to announce facilities, and it would make logical sense for them if there was a military attack to have those.
Shashank Joshi: The risk of that, of course, is that every one of their past undeclared facilities has been revealed, so if they did have plans for such secret redundant facilities, you would question whether at this time, given that the risk of bombing was so high last year, they would not have wrapped those up and completely eliminated them. You cannot rule it out, and if we are talking about redundancy, I think there may be other types of redundancy-stockpiling materials and suchlike.
Q52 Mike Gapes: So far we have been talking about the uranium enrichment process. What about the option of going for a plutonium-based weapon? As I understand it, there is the Arak facility, which the Iranians have been developing for some years, but so far it is not in operation. Could you tell us about that, and what is the potential for a plutonium route to creating a nuclear weapon?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It is very important to remember the plutonium route. Every country that has pursued nuclear weapons has pursued both plutonium and highly enrichment uranium, and Iran is no exception. The heavy water reactor at Arak is supposed to come online next year-Iran says the beginning of next year, but it is probably more likely to be at the end of the year. When it is online, Iran will be able to produce a weapon’s worth of weapons-grade plutonium every year. That will be another red line, among these various red lines that we have posited, that could trigger a sense of crisis and military action if it is not somehow stalled or very heavily inspected to prevent Iran from pursuing that path.
Shashank Joshi: The thing is, once it goes operational it would be extraordinarily destructive to bomb it. It would be a very, very bad thing.
I want to quickly mention that in order to produce plutonium from the heavy water reactor at Arak, it would need a reprocessing facility of some sort. There are various forms that that could take, but that is just worth stating as well.
Q53 Mike Gapes: So why does Iran need a plutonium plant?
Mark Fitzpatrick: Well, it is for the production of isotopes, and that is a legitimate purpose. One might question why they need a 40 MW thermal reactor for producing isotopes, because you could do it with a much smaller reactor. The size of the reactor happens to be rather similar to reactors that some other states that have newly produced nuclear weapons have used for their programmes-I am talking about Israel, India and North Korea. One can question that about Arak, and I think that is why the UN Security Council, in its repeated resolutions, has mandated that the construction be suspended.
Shashank Joshi: There is one other thing to say on that. One of the most interesting suggestions that I have heard about potential deals or compromises, or engaging with Iran, is that the heavy water reactor should be converted to use not natural uranium but low-enriched uranium. That would reduce by two thirds or so the amount of plutonium it could annually produce, because of the way it operates. That could then also serve as a useful pretext or basis for trying to place some limits on Iran’s uranium enriched to below 5%, which has obviously been escalating for many years. It could be an interesting avenue to pursue.
Again, the plutonium route has not been a priority or top of the agenda in talks, because there are many more pressing areas, but it does highlight the point that we will have to come back to this. It is not something that can be shoved aside.
Q54 Mike Gapes: Are you saying that once the Arak facility becomes operational, it could be a way to getting a negotiated solution?
Shashank Joshi: Not once it becomes operational. The whole thing would have to be converted to run on a different type of fuel. That is a big step. I do not know whether that is even something that is on the agenda. It is vaguely feasible, but it is an option to consider perhaps much later down the line.
Q55 Mr Baron: May we look briefly at the secretive nature of the Iranian regime? There is a view among western intelligence services that it has not reached the decision about weaponisation yet; that seems to be confirmed. We hear a lot about the additional protocols, but it did not ratify them, so it had every right to withdraw from them. But there is a constant retort from the Iranians that what is lacking in the western approach is the idea of reciprocity-that there is not any give and that if they give something, it is deemed to be a sign of weakness. There does not seem to be anything certain on the other side. That is something our two previous guests referred to. What importance do you attach to reciprocity in the negotiations?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It is a matter of common sense that a negotiation has to have a sense of reciprocity; it cannot be all give on one side. The western partners in this-we cannot call them talks because they are not happening. When I have spoken with officials in London and Washington, they clearly recognise that any deal has to be something that Iran’s negotiators can sell back home. Clearly, there has to be reciprocity. The question would be what to offer for what. As the last panel said, what has been asked on both sides is a lot for a little. The issue that you raised at the beginning of your question is a matter of secrecy and what Iran’s responsibilities are. Iran has sought to use what I believe to be its responsibility to address IAEA questions of transparency as leverage for diplomatic gains from the P5+1. Having signed the NPT, it is obliged to accept safeguards and to address the question that the IAEA has posed about the past weaponisation activities to get to the bottom of it. It is not obvious why it should be given a reward for complying with its responsibilities.
Shashank Joshi: I have some sympathy for that view and for the view that reciprocity should be central and has not been. Iran also tabled some fairly absurd suggestions last year; that should be noted. I have said, and I continue to believe, that we should go into talks next month in Kazakhstan as a negotiating block with a view to providing some meaningful sanctions relief in exchange for meaningful caps on the uranium programme. That is a form of reciprocity that does matter. The P5+1 has spoken of reciprocity; we have agreed on that as a principle. It is not something that we feel should be unilateral. Again, we should offer better, upgraded concessions next month, and we should therefore test Iran’s sincerity.
Mark spoke about Iran using the issue of coming clean to the IAEA as leverage. It has done that, but one thing Iran may be afraid of is that process of transparency, of re-implementing and ratifying the AP, and providing documents and personnel information. I am talking about a very substantial body of evidence on possible military dimensions. I do not agree with the way you characterised it earlier on. It has to be confident that, in the process of doing so, its revelations would not then be used as a pretext for further punishment.
We are very much with Trita’s point that it has to be able to see a way out; to see the end of the tunnel. In the process of negotiating, it would help if it could be made much clearer that if it comes clean, if it is giving information-inevitably new bits of illicit activity will come to light-there will be an undertaking that it will not be used to entrench sanctions. It will instead not necessarily be rewarded, but met with recognition that it is fulfilling what we have asked of it, and we will not use that to punish it further.
Does that make sense?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I would agree with that point. As part of a negotiation, that would be a card to play.
Q56 Mr Baron: Do you think that there has been fault on both sides, in many respects? One of the key points, if not the key point, is 20% enrichment, but we tend to put it at the end point of a deal. Would focusing on that from the start perhaps be a better way?
Shashank Joshi: We have. We have put it at the beginning. Throughout last year, we recognised that. Although the IAEA was simultaneously pursuing a discussion with Iran on its so-called "structured approach" to try to resolve its own grievances and issues, the P5+1 did focus on the so-called "stop, shut and ship." Stop 20% enrichment, ship out your existing stockpiles and so on.
Q57 Mr Baron: Can I therefore press you on what then is going to be the trigger point to break the diplomatic deadlock? I think Trita said earlier that part of the problem from the Iranian point of view is that you are not sure that concessions are going to bring any rewards. In the past, they have often been seen as a sign of weakness, and the west is understandably suspicious. What is going to break this deadlock?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I think what would get negotiations under way is if both parties came to the table in a transactional mode; if they came ready to negotiate and give for something. I think that the P5+1 would be ready to do that. They have not flagged in advance the kind of sanctions relief that Iran would be looking for, because they want to hold that as negotiating leverage, but I am quite sure that, if negotiations got under way, there are several points on which the P5+1, after consultation among themselves, would be ready to give and take.
I have not seen any readiness on Iran’s part to engage in this kind of transactional give and take. They have played a pretty good PR game, saying that they are ready to do this, that and the other thing, but in the talks last summer they were only ready to do one thing: suspend 20%, for which they wanted everything-all sanctions removed and a recognition of the right to enrichment. That is not being in a transactional mode. I spoke with one official who compared Iran with the case of North Korea. As hard as the North Koreans are to negotiate with, they do engage in transactional discussions-"We don’t want that, but how about this?" That has to begin.
Q58 Mr Baron: Any further comment, Shashank?
Shashank Joshi: No.
Q59 Mr Baron: Okay. Finally then, are we, and perhaps more importantly the Iranians, clear as to what our red lines are? If you talk to the Israelis, in the past it has been enrichment, but they seem to be moving now, perhaps spurred on by an election. If you talk to the Americans, it has been weaponisation. Are you clear what our red lines are, and more importantly, are the Iranians?
Mark Fitzpatrick: That is the tricky thing. Nobody knows exactly what Israel’s red lines are-I don’t think the Israelis know.
Mr Baron: I don’t think we know what ours are.
Mark Fitzpatrick: Ours? I think it was pretty clear last year when President Obama and Defence Secretary Panetta said that it was weaponisation. However, in the third presidential debate, President Obama spoke about Iran’s programme getting to the point where you wouldn’t be able to tell whether they could be stopped or caught in time. That is another one of the red lines that Shashank has talked about, and that is an unclear one.
Shashank Joshi: The fact is, it has sometimes been US policy to avoid being too explicit about red lines for fear that Iran would creep right up to them. You can understand that logic-avoid setting out a line only to find that your adversary has taken up all the space short of it-but it is problematic, particularly as we go forward over the course of the next year. There are lots of issues. One significant quantity of uranium enriched to 20% is a red line, but it is not the red line. We absolutely don’t know what we would do if, for example, Iran decided on some absurd pretext to enrich to 60%, which would have absolutely no peaceful purpose. Would we engage in military action straight away? Would we tighten sanctions? There is no public sense of this.
Q60 Mr Baron: Do you think that the lack of clarity on red lines is impeding negotiations?
Shashank Joshi: I don’t think it is impeding negotiations. I think it is creating considerable risks. We may find ourselves pushed to take much more robust action than we would like simply because we find Iran is undertaking a provocative step and we do not have a policy to deal with it. Of course, the most provocative step of all at this stage would be the expulsion of inspectors or the hindering of their work. That would be a very significant step against our visibility into the programme and, therefore, our reassurance. Do we have a policy? Maybe in private we have a policy. Maybe the Government of this country and P5+1 member states have policies, but there is certainly very little public articulation. So if we do not know, how does Iran know?
Q61 Chair: Could the fall of President Assad affect the Iranian negotiating position?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I don’t know that it affects their negotiating position. I think it greatly affects their psychological position. There is a view that the fall of Assad will undermine Iran’s ability to project power to the Levant. It would remove their only formal ally and make them feel more isolated, but I am afraid that actually it might cause them to put even more emphasis on the nuclear programme as one of the remaining ways in which they can show power.
Shashank Joshi: A former Mossad chief wrote an editorial in The New York Times last year saying that one of the reasons we should assist in toppling Assad is that it would lay Iran very low, leave them licking their wounds and, therefore, conceding on the nuclear issue, which I think is completely untenable. A weakened Iran shorn of its only formal ally and one of its key routes to supplying Hezbollah is an Iran that may place greater value on a nuclear weapons option and be more risk acceptant in how it handles that issue.
Q62 Sir John Stanley: As you know, the prime responsibility of this Committee is to scrutinise the British Foreign Office. May I ask you both, if you were the British Foreign Secretary and you were seeking to fulfil the Government’s remit to do all we can to try to prevent Iran securing a nuclear weapon capability, what would be your top priority?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I find no fault with the conduct of Great Britain’s policy toward Iran. I think the priority has been working in the P5+1, starting with French and American allies, to find a position to try to bring Iran into a transactional mode. Maybe there could be some greater way of flagging to Iran the prospect that, if they give something, they would get something of value. I hesitate to say up front what that something might be because it should be negotiated. To make it clear, negotiations are the policy of the respective Governments, and they are willing to talk, but Iran has to uphold its obligations. I do not think Iran should be getting something for nothing.
Shashank Joshi: The difficulty is that we do not want to do anything that might disrupt the unity of the P5+1 and allow wedges to be driven between different states. Having said that, I would note two points. First, to repeat a point I made earlier, I think it is very important that we offer meaningful sanctions relief in exchange for concrete, verifiable and significant caps and restrictions on the Iranian programme, which should have been done more prominently last year. Of course, we negotiated as a bloc, so we cannot place responsibility just on the Foreign Office.
Secondly, as a significant ally of the United States within the P5+1, we should be doing all we can to encourage the new Administration and its new national security team to take as many risks as they can-I think they have done so courageously-in pursuing direct US-Iran talks as a supplement to the P5+1 process and as a way of reinforcing that track. We should also use our leverage with Gulf allies to ensure they also support that process and do not feel as though they are being pushed aside by any future US-Iran talks. We must push very hard for that within the context of our alliance.
Q63 Sir John Stanley: You say we should be offering meaningful sanctions relief. What in your view are the sanctions that are biting most tightly on Iran and therefore the ones that they would find most meaningful if there was the prospect of having them relieved?
Shashank Joshi: The ones that are biting the most are not necessarily the ones that can be offered as inducements the most easily. The unilateral US sanctions are imposed by the US Congress and the President cannot just have them removed. It is not an option, at least until a later stage. Of course they also must be on the table for later concessions and for later concrete Iranian acts of transparency, for example. For now, we would be looking more closely at European sanctions, things like the push to sever Iran from the SWIFT network of financial transactions. That is not the one that bites the hardest by any means but it is most easily manipulable at this stage. So when I say meaningful I mean more meaningful than the inducements we offered last time which were the provision of certain aircraft parts, which had been under sanction, and certain forms of civil nuclear co-operation, which had also been under sanction, but which were very marginal carrots.
Q64 Rory Stewart: The policy of our Governments for the last 15 years has relied to a great extent on the idea that the intelligence services can delay the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran until such time as the regime changes. So there have been continual boasts from intelligence agencies in the United States and Europe that they keep buying another four or five years through their brilliant disruption operations, which achieves a situation where the likelihood of the Iranian regime falling over that time increases. Has this been a rational policy? Has this been a good way of proceeding for 15 years?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I think it is accurate that if you look at the times when Iran was seeking to acquire plutonium reprocessing capabilities, enrichment capabilities, western Governments have impeded the programme not just through intelligence operations but through diplomacy, dissuading countries like Argentina and China from supplying these technologies. That is why over the years when CIA chiefs have said that Iran would be able to get a capability in three to five years, it never came. It kept rolling. Well, it is because they were successful in pushing it back. Now they are at the point where it is pretty close and impeding the programme through Stuxnet and other means of sabotage has not worked. I don’t think any one tool in the toolbox is the solution. There has to be a diplomatic solution. Sanctions are part of it. These other forms can be part of it. I would not rely on intelligence alone, no.
Shashank Joshi: It has certainly been rational in that if you go back to 2003 and you look at Iran’s decision to halt its programme-however we define "halt": pause rather than eliminate-the national intelligence estimate of 2007 specifies that one of the reasons Iran did so was under severe international pressure. That pressure partly came about through the revelation of secret sites in 2002. Pressure was added by the revelation of the Fordo facility in 2009. Both of those were the result of western intelligence operations which kept the pressure on Iran and therefore dissuaded it from proceeding any further. If that pressure had not occurred before and after 2003, I don’t know where we would be but I don’t think the Iranian programme would necessarily be as halted-as paused-as it is now. So that has been very rational.
It has also been extremely useful to have the visibility we have had. Leon Panetta said that we think we will know when an order is given from the Supreme Leader for a nuclear weapon to be built. As Mr Baron said, intelligence agencies think that order has not yet been given. But it is very important that they think they can work out if and when it is given. Again, that is the result of accumulated intelligence work. So that is not only rational but absolutely imperative to the way we have managed the crisis. There are clearly diminishing returns. Even Stuxnet itself was fairly limited in its effects. Some aspects of covert operations-though not necessarily by us or the west-in terms of assassinations have been both unethical and counter-productive in sending a message to Iran as to the nature of the compromise we are willing to brook, and how we see their civilian nuclear assets. Otherwise, it has broadly been rational, yes.
Q65 Rory Stewart: What has Iran been up to and how would you simplify the Iranian position/strategy over the last 10 or 11 years? It looks from the perspective of the west naïvely that we have spent over a decade talking about possibly intervening in Iran, threatening to bomb it and setting down these red lines. Meanwhile Iran has somehow been manoeuvring its way to ending up with 6,000kg of partially enriched uranium. How has this happened? What has been going on in the Iranian head? Did they plan to do this from 2003, has this been a strategy or have they blundered into it by mistake?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It has been clear for many years that Iran has sought a capability to produce nuclear weapons if it makes a decision to do so. It has not been pursuing it with the speed that Pakistan pursued it. As the last panel said, Pakistan took 11 years to get from theft of enrichment technology to a cold test. Iran has been at it for, I think, 27 years. But it has been moving towards that goal, with some deviations along the way, but with its eye firmly on the goal. That is the fundamental problem that we face. They want to have the nuclear weapons capability; the western nations don’t want them to have that capability; is there some line in between that would be acceptable to both? That is the tricky diplomatic question.
Q66 Rory Stewart: Can I finally take you both up on that tricky diplomatic question and put you on the spot about what that deal might look like? As Mr. Joshi has said a number of times, there seem to be these potentially incompatible positions. The objections of the Iranian Government and the concerns of the international community are not reconcilable. What is the deal? What might it look like?
Mark Fitzpatrick: There are three variables. One is the amount of capability: how many centrifuges and how fast they can spin-technically, how many SWUs do they have? This can tell you how fast they can produce enriched uranium for weapons. That has to be limited to the point where they could not make a breakout for some months or maybe years. Where exactly that is, experts would differ. Most experts would say that some enrichment capability has to be part of the solution, otherwise Iran cannot sell it. Then there has to be a level of intrusive verification to provide the confidence that they cannot do something in secret. That has to be the application of the additional protocol, plus some additional measures.
Then there is sanctions relief, because there has to be a level of sanctions relief so that Iran could again declare victory. You could play around with those three variables and try to find something. I do not know if you could find something that would meet both sides’ bottom lines, because we do not know exactly what Iran’s bottom line is. I’d have to stop right there. Look at those three variables and find something where you give on each of them.
Q67 Rory Stewart: Consider what Dr Joshi just said, particularly on the issue of how such a deal would meet the west’s objectives. How reassuring would it be for British, American or Israeli voters to be presented with a deal which basically says: "We are going to check and we will freeze them in a situation where it might take them six months to make a bomb"?
Shashank Joshi: That is probably the best we can get and it is something which we would and should take. The point is, there are overlapping guarantees. You have limited capability, so even if you assume complete bad faith, they are still constrained in what they can do. You need fissile material for a bomb, unless you assume there are secret sites-if you assume secret sites, it is very complicated, so put that aside for a second. So even if you assume that we do not know the possible military dimensions that they have conducted in the past, if you cannot produce uranium to 20% or you have capped it and undertaken not to do so and you will be spotted if you do, then clearly you can assume all the bad faith you like, but they are still capped.
You then reinforce that by saying that because you signed the additional protocol we have a much higher standard of inspection, so we can catch you doing any secret things. We have a better chance of catching you doing secret things because we can inspect other sorts of facilities, we can inspect on shorter notice. Even if your capacity goes up and you add centrifuges in violation of an agreement, we can inspect you frequently enough to make sure you have not slipped something between those sessions. So you add the inspection side.
Finally, it does come back to the possible military dimensions, the PMDs and the long list of the various paragraphs the IAEA had in its November 2011 report that it considers credible. We have to get a better sense of what Iran has done in the past, and that has to be part of a deal because then we know whether those entities, institutions or people involved in what the IAEA says was a functioning, structured nuclear weapons programme prior to 2003-where are they now? What are they doing? Are we sure they are involved purely in peaceful purposes?
If we have those three things, there is always a risk that Iran could then expel inspectors, ramp up production at Fordo again and call up those scientists and use some of that pre-existing know-how. That cannot be eliminated, but we at least have various overlapping bulwarks against that. That is really the best we can do. Iran is not going to accept a zero enrichment solution and it is not going to accept a solution that is utterly humiliating. It would rather, I think, ultimately be bombed than accept such an outcome.
That is my assessment; I could be completely wrong. The issue is not selling this to the public, who probably do not care in the slightest about some of these nuances in any of the P5+1 countries or Israel, but actually persuading bureaucracies, intelligence agencies and others who have been looking at this programme for 10 years.
Q68 Chair: Do you think any progress can be made in the United Nations? Is there any more pressure that can come on from the UN, or do you think that the EU oil sanctions and the financial sanctions are enough?
Mark Fitzpatrick: The UN sanctions have provided a very important baseline and a basis for states to add on their own sanctions, and that is what has been the most effective. I highly doubt that Russia and China would agree to additional UN sanctions, so the sanctions that are left are probably going to be-United States Congress can come up with any number of new sanctions and the EU could adopt the same.
Chair: As far as I can see the Russians have already broken their own UN sanctions in their shipment of missiles.
Q69 Mike Gapes: Can I take you to the Israeli perception of what is happening, and the possibility that Israel might get very frustrated by what it perceives as a lack of effectiveness or action and consider the military option? Under what circumstances might Israel take unilateral action against Iran?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I think if Iran were seen to be either crossing red lines, such as preventing inspectors from making their inspections, introducing many more centrifuges that can operate four times as efficiently, and if Israel believes that other states would not take action to stop it, then I think Israel has said that they would take unilateral action.
Q70 Mike Gapes: But would that be unilateral action regardless of US attitude? Or would it be effectively sanctioned unilateral action?
Mark Fitzpatrick: It is very hard to provide a clear answer to that. I have heard Israelis offer themselves very different answers to the question. I believe that, ultimately, the Prime Minister of Israel will believe and will say that Israel is a sovereign nation, and if they perceive that their national security is imperilled, they do not need the permission of anyone else. They would seek forgiveness rather than permission.
Shashank Joshi: If there is a situation in which the US is offering sanction for Israeli action, there is almost no reason why it would not do it itself. If it deemed that a red line was sufficiently significant that it should not be crossed, and that it is too high a risk, it has every incentive to participate in military operations itself so as to avoid inflicting a temporary wound on Iran from which it could quickly recover to rebuild its programme, as it surely would. If it thought that the red line was not sufficiently significant, and military action would therefore prompt the expulsion of inspectors, pushing a programme underground and all manner of terrible consequences, it would have every incentive very strongly to withhold that sanction.
Q71 Mike Gapes: There has been in the recent American presidential campaign a perception that Mr Netanyahu was trying basically to interfere in the campaign, and that obviously did not work very well for him, because he did not get the outcome he wanted. Is there now going to be a concern from the new American Administration-the new people who are put in place-that the Israeli Government will try to bounce them into taking positions they do not want to take over the coming months?
Mark Fitzpatrick: I think Israel had been trying to persuade President Obama to take positions and to set red lines that were based on dates rather than capabilities, and I think Israel will continue to espouse that position. Having resisted it already, however, I do not know that the new American team will feel that they are under some new pressure.
Q72 Mike Gapes: I do not like asking hypothetical questions, but I am going to. If there were to be an Israeli military strike on Iran that the US Administration was not happy about, and that strike, given what we know about Israel’s capabilities and the dispersal of the Iranian facilities, was unsuccessful in the sense of only setting back the programme for a short period and allowing the main enrichment facilities to continue to exist, what would be the result of that?
Mark Fitzpatrick: Obviously, US-Israeli relations would suffer, but I do not know how to quantify that.
Mike Gapes: Not just US-Israeli relations-
Shashank Joshi: There is a precedent for that. When Israel attacked the Osirak reactor in Iraq, I think the United States participated in Security Council condemnation of Israel’s actions. I cannot quite remember whether that is accurate, but I think it did. Of course, that action also, in some respects, resulted in an accelerated Iraqi programme. It did not lessen US concern about Iraqi proliferation activity anyway, but the US was not happy about it and made that displeasure known.
Q73 Mike Gapes: But of course the Iraqi facility was a one-off facility. It was not buried under mountains or dispersed to try to counter military attacks. From an Israeli perspective, that could have been deemed to have been successful, because it certainly put Iraq out of the nuclear weapons field for some time.
Shashank Joshi: Not much, but I think in that situation the US priority would be less about shouting at Israel and much, much more about doing all it possibly could to avoid having Iran reconstitute its programme underground. It would be focusing on keeping the IAEA inspectors within Iran, within even those attacked facilities, and ensuring that they do not get expelled. To do that, it would have to disassociate itself, to some extent, from any attack.
Q74 Mike Gapes: A final hypothetical question: if we do not succeed, if there were no military attack and the sanctions regime does not succeed and Iran at some point decides to weaponise its capability, is containment likely to be the only option? Could containment succeed? Could we, in effect, be in a position like that which exists now with North Korea, India or Pakistan?
Mark Fitzpatrick: You have heard President Obama say that containment is not the policy. I think he really means that and, if Iran did weaponise, that the United States and others would take military action. Let us consider the hypothetical question that the United States did not take action, that Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, and whether it could be contained from using it. Several other countries have been contained from using it, but there are other aspects of Iran having a nuclear weapon that are hard to contain: the possibility that the weapon gets into the hands of a group that would be willing to use it for terrorist purposes, not because Iran, as a nation, decided to do that, but because some individual in the Iran Revolutionary Guards corps or an Iranian equivalent of Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan took it upon himself to share it with another, or that a weapon was used by mistake, as happened several times in NATO/US versus Soviet Union. There are many consequences of Iran having a nuclear weapon that the United States, Great Britain and other countries are determined to prevent.
Shashank Joshi: When non-proliferation policy has failed, there are various ways that we have dealt with it. In the Indian case, after a long period of pushing back, we rehabilitated India into the nuclear order, to some extent. We have accepted its special status outside the NPT and given it a waiver in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
In Pakistan’s case, we haven’t done that, nor do we any longer vigorously push for what used to be "cap in, roll back"1-push the programme back. The US policy has pretty much given up on that. It is focused on other things. There is the North Korean case where we have actively sought to limit the programme in various ways. That would probably be the closest to a situation that you would see with a nuclear Iran. But it is also worth bearing in mind that the military imbalance between Iran and its adversaries, including the United States and other partners in the region, is so great that a containment regime against Iran would look a little bit different to that against North Korea.
Q75 Mike Gapes: But, if I am sitting in Tehran and see that military imbalance, see, as a Shi’a Persian, the Arab regimes around me that are allied to the United States and see Pakistan’s bomb and India’s bomb, is there an argument for me to then go nuclear?
Shashank Joshi: But you have also seen the transformation of one of your key Arab adversaries into something of a semi-ally next door in Iraq. You have also seen the Taliban, a key Sunni adversary for many years and the group that has killed your diplomats, fall-probably not to come back. You have also seen in many ways the destabilisation and weakening of the Sunni Arab bloc in which Egypt paid a key part. You have the Muslim Brotherhood Government who in some small respects have made overtures to the Iranian Government. I am wary of arguments that Iran has either won or lost the last 15 years. It is a very mixed picture, but it certainly has not got to the point when it is uniquely and imminently threatened in a way that would warrant that perception.
Q76 Mike Gapes: So getting the nuclear weapon is not necessarily an advantage for the Iranian regime.
Shashank Joshi: No, not at all.
Chair: That is a very good note to end on. I thank you both very much indeed. It is much appreciated that you have taken your time. You have dovetailed very well with the earlier session.
 Note by witness: This should be: “Cap, roll back, eliminate”