Radio Farda: At this point in time with the expired UN Security Council deadline, where does Iran's nuclear case stand to you?
Gregory Schulte: Yesterday we received the report by Muhammad el-Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the report makes clear that Iran has failed to comply with the UN Security Council and it has failed to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In five pages, the report documents over a dozen examples of Iran's failure to provide access to information, individuals, and facilities. It also documents Iran's continued efforts to enrich uranium and to master the technology to build nuclear weapons. So, given what the fact that Iran has not met UN Security Council resolutions, the next action is for the Security Council to act and there is already agreement in the Security Council to move forward with a sanctions resolution.
Radio Farda: But there was a report in the United States yesterday saying that even if Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons, it could not gain the capability to do so for at least five years. Another report published by David Allbright's Institute for Science and International Security suggests the performance quality of the Natanz nuclear facility is much lower than previously thought. Former UN nuclear inspector David Kaye yesterday said something along the same lines. This all suggests Iran's nuclear program doesn't amount to an immediate threat. Doesn't this warrant giving diplomacy more of a chance?
Schulte: We are giving diplomacy a chance. Our goal is to achieve a diplomatic solution. We don't think -- and I hope we are right -- but we don't think Iran is going to be able to produce nuclear weapons this week, next week, or even next year. But what is very clear from what they are doing and from what the IAEA has reported to us is that they are moving ahead step by step with determination to master the technology to produce the material for nuclear weapons. And once they figure out how to successfully run these centrifuges, they can build large-scale cascades in places we don't know about and can produce the material for a nuclear weapon. So, we don't think they are going to have a nuclear weapon tomorrow, but it is urgent that address this diplomatically and we are addressing it with great urgency. And that is part of the reason why this is going to the Security Council.
Radio Farda: Is the United States willing to recognize Iran's right to enrichment, something Tehran is insisting upon, in exchange for a temporary suspension of enrichment?
Schulte: We strongly support the peaceful use of nuclear technology, including by Iran. The problem is Dr. el-Baradei, after three years of intensive verification work, cannot certify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. And there are questions in particular about their enrichment activities. This is why the Security Council has mandated that these be suspended. These enrichment activities are not necessary for civil nuclear power. Iran claims they need to enrich to fuel nuclear reactors -- they don't have a single nuclear reactor. In fact, the one under construction will be fuelled by Russia and even if they produced a modest nuclear power program with, say, seven reactors, they would run out of uranium just about the time the program was completed. So, from a civil perspective, this doesn't make sense. But there are serious question when you look at this program from a military perspective. There are connections of this program to the A.Q. Khan network, which was a network for marketing nuclear-weapons technology. There are questions about why they have a document on fabricating nuclear-warhead components. There are questions about ties to the military and to their missile program. This is why suspension is so important. We are prepared to negotiate a treaty -- an agreement -- that would give them access to nuclear power, and would in fact facilitate access to nuclear power.
Radio Farda: Some analysts have said that Iran is already operating under U.S. sanctions and under the threat of regime change and the real incentive is to lift sanctions and to give up on a regime-change policy. Is the United States willing to end sanction against -- to take one major example -- the sale of not only Airbus, but also Boeing products to Iran? Or is Washington willing to give up on the regime-change strategy?
Schulte: In the package that has been offered to the leaders of Iran and that has been endorsed by the leaders of the United States as well as Russia, China and Europe, there is the prospect in there of cooperation on civil aviation, on telecommunications. There is the prospect of Iran joining the World Trade Organization. So here is an enormous opportunity for Iran to become more integrated into the international economy. And that's awfully important for the people of Iran, who right now are suffering from unemployment and from double-digit inflation. So there are big opportunities here that the Iranian leadership needs to grasp.
Radio Farda: What guarantee does Iran have that the U.S. Congress would agree to such measures -- setting aside sanctions and giving up on regime change?
Schulte: I think Iran needs to take advantage of this opportunity. They need to suspend the activities of concern and adopt a positive attitude toward these opportunities and negotiate on them. And the U.S. as a whole -- including our Congress -- will be prepared to support a new type of relationship with Iran, if Iran makes a fundamental decision to give up its nuclear-weapons ambitions. Even then there will be other issues we have to discuss -- support for terrorism, the problems that Iran has caused in neighboring countries, and the poor treatment Iran's leader accord their own people. Those are issues we would have to discuss. Right now, the focus is on giving up this nuclear-weapons program.
WHAT DOES TEHRAN REALLY THINK? On August 22, Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman spoke with Alex Vatanka, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group, by telephone from Alexandria, Virginia. Vatanka discussed the possible impact that comprehensive sanctions could have for Iran.
Radio Farda: Some Iranian authorities are trying to create the impression that they aren't concerned about the possibility of international sanctions against it. They emphasize that what Iran has achieved so far has happened despite the sanctions already in place against it. Are they really not afraid of sanctions?
Vatanka: I think that what the Iranians are trying to do is to continue to play this balancing act. On the one hand, they are trying to say, "Look, we have done without you for 27 years; we can continue." On the other hand, if you look at every other major Iranian overture toward the U.S., obviously what they are hoping to do is remove those sanctions. It is the sanctions that have been the biggest obstacle to a genuine expansion in the Iranian economy. It is the sanctions and U.S. policies vis-a-vis Iran that have, for instance, kept Iran from joining the World Bank. It is sanctions and so on that have made the Iranian oil industry have such a tough time in bringing investment into the strategic oil and gas sectors. People like [former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-]Rafsanjani back in the mid 1990s even kept certain fields untouched because the idea was that U.S. companies should have those once the sanctions were lifted.
I think sanctions are quite important to the Iranians, but at the same time what they are trying to say is, "Don't assume that we are going to fall off our chair just because you mentioned the sanctions card." It is part of a kind diplomatic chess game going on by Tehran. But remember if we look and listen to Iranian reformists, this is being openly debated inside Iran. The question that is being asked of [President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his entourage] is, "What is the ultimate objective?" Is it just Islamic independence? Is it just the ability to enrich uranium? The debate in Iran by the reformists -- and I think a lot of people would sympathize with this -- is, "What are we being sanctioned for exactly and what policies do you have to make sure that those sanctions don't hit us harder than we have already been hit?"
Remember, the big issue here is this: Iran has been sanctioned by the U.S. Iran has never faced comprehensive United Nations sanctions. The Iranian people have never suffered on a scale that the Iraqi people, for instance, suffered because of such sanctions. So it is kind of disingenuous of these senior leaders to pretend that Iran has already gone through comprehensive sanctions. Iran has not. And it will be totally different set of circumstances that will have a totally different impact on Iranian society and the economy, should the UN impose comprehensive sanctions on the country.