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Iran and the US: Beyond the war of rhetoric

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back for the final part of our interview with Professor Sahimi on Resolutions 362 and 580, which call for a kind of blockade to, quote-unquote, "stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." So, Professor, to sum it up as I understand it, Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium. There is a bit of a cat and mouse game going on while Iran is trying to develop the capacity through the enrichment program to get to a bomb, if they ever really feel the necessity for it. There’s no evidence there’s an actual weapons program as such going on. President Bush, both the presidential candidates, although a little more McCain than Obama, but Obama pretty much, Israel, they’ve drawn a line in the sand at the enrichment process itself. It’s exactly over this issue of whether Iran would ever have the capacity to make that leap. And even if that leap takes six months, a year, two years, they don’t want Iran to even have that potential. So if I’ve described this situation correctly, where do we go from here?

PROF. MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Well, I explain this in my recent Guardian article. If the goal is to prevent Iran from developing knowledge and mastering the technology for uranium enrichment, Iran to a large extent has obtained the technology. It has made a completely domestic enrichment industry within Iran. So Iran to a large extent has already crossed that line. You cannot tell a nation to forget what it already knows. Iran already knows how to make centrifuges. Iran is already capable of manufacturing much more sophisticated centrifuges than the technology that A. Q. Khan network provided Iran in the 1980s. So to a large extent, Iran has already crossed that line. I agree: Iran is not as advanced as it claims to be, because the United States has a vested interest to say that Iran is not as advanced as it claims to be, and Iran has a vested interest to declare that they are more advanced than they actually are, and for the obvious reason: because the United States wants to say, "Well, Iran is not as advanced, so let’s prevent it before it gets to that point." Iran has a vested interest to say, "We are more advanced," because it wants to say, "Well, look, we already crossed that line."

JAY: So in this war of rhetoric and positioning, does it really then come down to a fundamental question? Which is sections of the American administration, American body politic, same sections of the Israeli body politic and elite, simply don’t want Iran to be a regional power, period, and want to make use of this current administration to do something about it. Or are we seeing a real dance about the nuclear weapons that is likely just to carry on in one form or another? In other words, is regime change the real issue here? And if so, how real an issue?

SAHIMI: Oh, there is no question that both Israel and the United States want a regime change in Iran. Now, whether Iranian people want a regime change or not is up to them. It is an internal affair for the Iranian people. It is completely true that a large portion of Iranian population don’t like the Iranian government, but that’s an internal affair for them. There is also no question in my mind that at the bottom the issue is that, as you pointed out, both the United States and Israel do not want Iran to become a major regional power. But Iran is already a major regional power: its enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq have been eliminated; it is on the verge of having complete uranium enrichment technology; it’s making $100 billion a year from exporting its oil; it has a dynamic population of 75 million, two-thirds of whom are below the age of thirty; it has a very highly dynamic and educated population, as a matter of fact, and it is sitting in the most strategic area of the world [inaudible] on the shores of Persian Gulf, where 70 percent of all the oil produced by Middle East passes through Strait of Hormuz that is controlled by Iran. So Iran is already a major regional power. The point of all this discussion is, if we want to keep this power that Iran is developing and already has latent and use it in a constructive way, we have to negotiate with Iran, rather than trying to isolate Iran, so that its nuclear potential will keep under tight control and remain latent. And in return, Iran also gets what it actually is looking for, namely, security guarantees against any attack by the United States and Israel. And let me just finish by saying that Iran is not Iraq. Iranian nationalism is extremely strong. If Iran is attacked by the United States and/or Israel, Iran will respond and retaliate in a very dramatic fashion. Unlike what some neocons recently said, like Patrick Clawson and people like him, Iran has full capability for retaliation. And if Iran does retaliate—and I believe it will retaliate if it is attacked—then the whole region will be engulfed in war and blood, and will spread to the rest of the world. This is not what we want. As peaceful people, this is what we want: what we want is to keep that region away from the confrontation between Iran, Israel, and the United States. And the only way to do that is not to threaten Iran, but rather to negotiate with Iran; the way to do it is not to threaten militarily or impose sanctions on Iran, rather to negotiate with Iran. I think Iranian leaders, as bad as they might be internally, are interested in negotiating and reaching a solution with the United States and through the United States with Israel. And I think we should take that path and try to reach an agreement in Iran.

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