Lawrence Wilkerson: If the US is serious about negotiating with Iran it must offer a suspension of sanctions and a permanent end to sanctions once safeguards are in place – Iran has to come forward and tell the IAEA everything about the past and present of their nuclear program
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Wilkerson Report with Larry Wilkerson, who now joins us.
Larry was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary.
Thanks for joining us again.
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Good to be here, Paul.
JAY: So you’ve been doing a lot of work recently on Iran. What have you been working on?
WILKERSON: Working with the members of the Iran project: Ambassador Frank Wisner, Ambassador Tom Pickering, Ambassador Jim Dobbins, and others. We’ve turned out our third report. The first two were weighing cost and benefits of military action and weighing cost and benefits of international sanctions. They were dispassionate analyses.
This third report, Strategic Options for Iran: Balancing Pressure with Diplomacy, is one that makes recommendations. We’re taking a position. We’re saying to the White House, we’re going to brief the British Parliament. To the P5+1 who are conducting the negotiations in Kazakhstan we’re saying this is what you should do. We’re telling them that if they don’t do this, they are risking failure in the diplomatic track.
JAY: So what are the main recommendations?
WILKERSON: It’s fair to say the main one is that the United States position on sanctions relief is not substantial enough. That is to say, the U.S. position has to be one that says, if you’re willing to give us what we want or a reasonable falling off from what we want, a negotiated position that we could eventually accept, if you’re going to do that, we know we have to give you substantial sanctions relief.
Now, what we should negotiate over is not that we’re going to do that because we promised to do that, but just how long our suspension, for example, of sanctions will be before we are really ready to say, you have done what we asked you to do, we think it’s going to endure, we think we have sufficient safeguards in place to ensure it will endure, so now we will give you permanent sanctions relief.
This is what’s got to happen in order to achieve what is necessary, which is a win-win solution. That is, Iran can say, we got some of the things we wanted, the United States and the other members of the P5+1 can say they got what they wanted, and we can go away from the table understanding that what we achieved is probably going to be checkable, that is to say, verifiable, over the short term, if not the mid term and long term.
JAY: So let’s look at concretely what you’re proposing. First of all, what is substantial reduction of sanctions? Do you define what that means?
WILKERSON: You’ve got to be willing to say to the Iranians, those sanctions that are hurting you worse, those that are unilateral, and perhaps even some of the international sanctions, those that are hurting you the worst, we are prepared to give you a six-month suspension, maybe even longer suspension, if you will give us what we want. We are prepared to say that we will make that suspension permanent; or, conversely, we will put the sanctions back on you, depending on how well you perform. That’s got to be on the table.
JAY: Now, what are the Iranians supposed to do? Because I still don’t get what they’re not doing that they’re supposed to do. There’s some suggestions from the IAEA that they want to look at a certain site and they’re not able to. But it seems kind of vague what the Iranians aren’t doing, because on the whole the Iranians say, at least, that they are cooperating. There doesn’t seem to be any, really, hard demand from the IAEA where they’re not cooperating. And intelligence agencies in the United States—and, I understand, in Israel as well—still have the position that Iran has not decided to build a bomb.
WILKERSON: That’s true, but I think you’re wrong when you say they’re—the Iranian—not necessarily their position, but their actions conform with what we want or what we might want. And that includes—that we includes the IAEA. They have the potential right now to, for example, begin a program of reprocessing plutonium very shortly. They could do that in secret, as many other potential prospects for this sort of thing have done in the past. Look at Nyongbyon and Pyongyang—or Nyongbyon in North Korea. They also have the potential to clandestinely do things that aren’t subject right now to the IAEA. And one of the places where this might happen is Fordo, which they have refused to allow the IAEA to enter and to inspect.
You also have the possibility of a secret program existing somewhere else under either category. Reprocessing is the easiest one to do because it doesn’t require major facilities. Enrichment would be a little more difficult, but the North Koreans have proven to us that they can do both. So you have the potential to do things in Iran that Iran’s past behavior has given both the IAEA and the P5+1 (otherwise they wouldn’t be doing this) reason to doubt the Iranians’ sincerity.
If the Iranians will be productive in this way, allow the IAEA to go places—and this also includes, Paul, the Iranians being more forthcoming on what we know—we, again, being the P5+1 and the IAEA—that they were doing it in the past with regard to weaponization. Our intelligence estimate says they stopped that and they haven’t made a decision to resume. We want to know about what they were doing when they were still doing it.
So they’ve got to come forward and tell the IAEA everything. And they’ve got to say mea culpa, if necessary, and we won’t do this again, but this is what we were doing and this is how we’re going to ensure that you can ensure we’re not going to do that in the future. That’s a lot to ask for Iran to do. So in order to get them to even consider it, you’ve got to be willing to put something substantial on the table.
JAY: I mean, part of the issue the Iranians have been raising is that a lot of what the IAEA wants to look at has to do with conventional weapons and that they don’t want to be spied on in terms of their—and they have no obligation to be spied on or inspected when it comes to their conventional plan—programs.
WILKERSON: That’s fine, and that’s a valid argument. What I would say is: what do you want to do? You want to protect what is really not a very robust conventional weapons program. What do you have to hide there, for example? Is what you’re hiding there the fact that you’re working with North Korea on missiles that eventually could carry a nuclear warhead? You’d better check your interests. And your interests are in satisfying the international community that you are not in any way pursuing weaponization of nuclear capability.
So, in order to do that, you’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile, I think. You’ve got to be willing to say, I will take this intrusive regime for a certain period of time in order to substantiate, and make that substantiation endure with the international community, that I have no intent to build nuclear weapons. And for that, I want you to do some things that will substantially help me do the things I need to do, foremost of which is improve my economy dramatically and swiftly so that I can provide a higher standard of living for my people.
JAY: Now, some people have suggested the reason the United States has not offered substantial relief in the sanctions is because weakening the Iranian economy actually is the objective, that sanctions against Iran is more important because they want the real thing they’re trying to deal with—they being Israel and the United States and Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Bahrain—that what they really want to do is weaken Iran as a regional player.
WILKERSON: There are some people who want to do that, Paul. But I tell you, here’s my assessment of the substance of the matter. First, the United States has achieved a remarkable record of sanctions. Once you do that, you’re very reluctant to give them up. In short, sanctions become your diplomacy. It’s very difficult to imagine being able to reconvene all these parties and reassert sanctions.
That’s the reason I recommend a suspension initially rather than a relief. If you don’t come out of that mindset that sanctions are so remarkable, such a political achievement for you as a Democratic president, that you can’t possibly give them up, then why did you do them in the first place? That’s the Washington side.
On the Iranian side, their situation is that the sanctions, as sanctions regimes like this always do, are beginning to hurt the people. They’re beginning to keep medicines away from young people, for example, who have diabetes and other congenital or otherwise debilitating diseases that in some cases may kill them when there are medications available that could give them a full life. They’re starting to hurt people that don’t need to be hurt.
At the same time, they’re enriching people, many of whom we find to be our most recalcitrant enemies in Iran, like the leaders of the IRGC. These people are taking advantage of the sanctions to run their black market activities and make personal fortunes. Sanctions are terrible blunt instruments. That’s the reason our Congress loves them.
So we’ve got to be willing to come in and say, we’ll take some of this draconian apparatus we put on you off for a temporary period while we judge what you do that we want. And if it’s good enough, we’ll then make sanctions relief permanent. That’s the essence of it.
JAY: Some of the intelligence and military analysts we’ve interviewed and seen interviewed in Israel, they like this whole level of sanctions. And you can actually hear fairly explicitly said that the issue of how it hurts ordinary people and such, it’s not so bad, because the real objective here is regime change. And so if you can make people even more dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Iran, that ain’t so bad.
WILKERSON: If the real objective is regime change, then we’re lying. And when I say we, I say the P5+1 and the United States. If that’s the objective, then we’re lying.
The second thing is, if you look at Iraq, similar sanctions were put on Iraq, and when we got to Iraq in 2003, we found that Iraq was devastated. Part of the reason that we couldn’t get our hands around the Iraqi problem post-invasion was that we had devastated the Iraqi infrastructure. We had virtually destroyed that infrastructure. And sanctions—and bombs too, of course—but sanctions were largely responsible for that.
If you want regime change, then shut up lying about it and come out and say it and put the troops on the ground to effect it, because these sanctions are not going to cause regime change. What they’re going to cause is what I just said: a more unified, recalcitrant, and stubborn Iranian people supporting ever increasingly an autocratic theological regime and defying the international community. That’s the essence of the problem. And you don’t get around that problem, that challenge, unless you’re willing to talk and talk meaningfully.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Larry.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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