A concurrent resolution in the US Senate and House calls for a blockade against Iran to prevent the exports of refined petroleum going into Iran. Many in the anti-war movement have called this the “Iran War Resolution,” while analysts on the right believe these sanctions to be the only option, short of war, for stopping Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Ilan Berman from American Foreign Policy Council, a conservative think tank, argues that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate misrepresented the timetable for Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon, and that time is running out for the administration to address the threat of Iran.
“There is a general sense among serious people in the administration that the hour is getting very late to do something about the Iranian nuclear program that doesn’t involve the use of force,” Berman said. He argues that the choice is between a blockade and war.
MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: A month ago, a resolution was introduced in both the House and the Senate calling for an embargo against refined petroleum going into Iran. Iran, of course, has a large reserve of oil, but it imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum. AIPAC was one of the leading members supporting this resolution and sent over a 1,000 of its members to Capitol Hill to lobby for the resolution. I’m joined now by Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Affairs Committee. You have voiced support for this kind of action. Why is it necessary now? And what does it chalk up to? What would this mean in terms of confrontation with the US and Iran?
ILAN BERMAN, VP, AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY COUNCIL: The reason this is so important now is that right now there are essentially three tracks of sanctions going on. There’s the multilateral track that’s winding its way through the United Nations that’s being debated by the five-plus-one group—the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany. By all indications, that track isn’t going very well. It is subject to Security Council veto by Russia and China, which are major suppliers of nuclear technology to Iran or have been in the past. And it’s not likely that the time line for that track is going to be successful in terms of really changing Iranian behavior.
PALEVSKY: The NIE report came out in late 2007, saying we don’t know if they have a nuclear weapons program, also saying they thought it would be around 2010 to 2015, somewhere in there, that they would be able to enrich enough uranium to produce a weapon. Now, producing a weapon’s a whole ‘nother story, that that could even take much longer. So you have time, according to our National Intelligence Estimate. And before that estimate came out, we thought, you know, the president and the administration were saying it could be a matter of months, maybe a year. But this seems to be a ramping up in response to a stretching out of the time line, right? I mean, after 2007—.
BERMAN: Well, no, I mean, because I think there are multiple time lines here. Remember, that we are in the midst of a presidential race, and the candidates have very different positions about what to do about Iran. And I think what this is, in many ways, is a response both to what folks in the administration, serious folks who understand nuclear technology, who understand the practical implications of the Iranian enrichment process and how that would marry into a nuclear weapons program, what they see as the time line, and also the political realities, right, because Iran—as I said, the law of diminishing returns is kicking in. The administration is less free to do things now than it was before. It’s more constrained. Politics is essentially beginning to pass it by. So this is essentially them attempting to make a last stand, to hold the line. There is a generalized sense among serious people, both Republican and Democrat, in Congress and among serious people in the administration that the hour is getting very late to do something about the Iranian nuclear program that doesn’t involve the use of force. Part of it has to do with us, with what we see as the Iranian nuclear time line; part of it has to do with other countries, like Israel, which are making signals that if we don’t do something—and it doesn’t have to be military, it just has to be serious—if we don’t do something, they’re likely to do something on their own. And so this is essentially a response to this. It’s a response to the fact that we really need to take the initiative now so that we’re not left holding the bag later.
PALEVSKY: But what about the notion that they’re willing to sit down, they’ve been willing to sit down since 2003? We interviewed Lawrence Wilkerson, I’m sure you know, former chief of staff for Colin Powell. He said that they had an offer to sit down in 2003, but that it’d been blocked by the administration. Is there a reason that sitting down won’t work?
BERMAN: There is and there isn’t. For a long time, the administration has actually been floating the idea of some sort of contacts. Remember that the Bush administration was the first US administration since the hostage crisis in 1980 to actually talk to the Iranians. We’re talking to the Iranians now about Iraq, but it’s a tactical dialog—it’s not a top-level strategic dialog. So that’s really what we’re talking about. We are talking to the Iranians. The problem is that since 2003, the Iranians did appear to be ready to talk. That was in the aftermath of Afghanistan and the aftermath of Iraq when, frankly, they thought they were next in the hit parade. I don’t think they think they’re really next on the hit parade now, and it creates something of a different approach in the Iranian political discourse. There are some in Iran that want to talk with the United States, but the message that’s being sent by people like Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah ali-Khamenei, is that there is more benefit to be gleaned by unilaterally moving forward with their nuclear program than by any sort of agreement they can hammer out with the United States or with the coalition.
PALEVSKY: So is this a result of a failed war in Iraq? I mean, many people say if we never went into Iraq, Iran wouldn’t have this influence over the region.
BERMAN: I think up to a point that’s certainly true. In the year 2005, if you were to look backwards, you would realize that the greatest single beneficiary of the war on terror up till that point was Iran. We had gotten rid of their ideological adversary in the Taliban in Afghanistan. We got rid of their conventional military threat by getting rid of Saddam. We had essentially created a situation where we were locked into those two theaters, and they essentially had the run of the Middle East. I think it’s a little bit different now. I think what’s happening is, over the last 8 to 12 months, you’ve really seen a transformation in the security environment in Iraq. A year ago it would be unheard of that the Iraqi president would be pushing back against Iranian influence. So I’m not sure it’s all that cut and dry. But clearly we have a problem, at least in terms of perception. There are plenty of people in Europe and Asia that are aware that Iran’s nuclear program is about more than just nuclear energy. It’s about strategic influence. It’s potentially about weapons. But they’re less likely to help us because of the legacy of Iraq, because Iraq is internationally unpopular, and because Iraq is still a tremendous drain on resources for the United States. So the answer is both yes and no.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.