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Iran: Former U.S. Official Pessimistic On Bilateral Talks

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle (file photo) (epa) May 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Richard Perle was assistant secretary of defense under U.S. President Ronald Reagan and served on the Defense Department's Defense Policy Advisory Board from 1987 to 2004 and served as its chairman during the run-up to the war in Iraq. He is a member of a number of conservative think tanks and comments regularly on events in the Middle East. He spoke with Radio Farda correspondent Niusha Boghrati.

Radio Farda: Let's begin with the issue of democracy and democratization. Do you think that democracy, as a political framework, can be transferred from one place to another?

Richard Perle: No, I do not believe that democracy or any other system of public politics can be transferred from one country to another. But the ideas and concepts can be transferred.

I think the decision to press for democratic reforms in countries that are not democratic or fully democratic can only come from the citizens of that country.

"The thing that concerns Americans most is Iran becoming a nuclear-weapons state because of the threatening remarks that [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad has made."

It can be encouraged from outside, as for example many Western countries encouraged Solidarity in Poland during the Cold War or as the democratic proponents in Spain or Portugal were encouraged at the time that those countries were dictatorships. But at the end of the day, the only people who can bring about democratic reform are the citizens of the country involved.

Radio Farda: Do you mean the transition to democracy cannot be transferred by force and that it has to be done peacefully?

Perle: I don't believe that democracy can be transferred by force, and I don't know anyone who does believes that democracy can be transferred by force. But I even have a problem with the concept of the "transfer of democracy." The better way to put it would be to say the adoption of democratic institutions by a society -- and that can only be accomplished peacefully and by the citizens of the country involved.

Now, sometimes in a dictatorship where a dictator rules with absolute power, it's necessary first to remove that dictator before the citizens of the country have any opportunity to choose their own government and to govern themselves.

Radio Farda: But "regime change" is inevitable in such situations....

Perle: Well, in undemocratic societies -- and unless the undemocratic regime can be persuaded to voluntarily to leave office -- there is really no way to move from a dictatorial structure to a democratic one without removing the dictators in power.

Radio Farda: If force is used to carry out such regime change and if it produces a democratic system, would you say that end justifies the loss of life involved?

Perle: I don't believe that we should be-- and I do not believe that are -- seeking to impose democracy by force. I think that is simply wrong.

If you are referring to Iraq, we went to Iraq [in March 2003] because we thought [former Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein posed danger, not to impose democracy. Once Saddam's regime was destroyed, obviously, we were going to do what we could to offer to the Iraqi people a chance to choose their own government. But we did not go into Iraq with a view of imposing democracy by force -- period. We just did not do that.

Radio Farda: Let us focus on the U.S. approach toward Iran. What is the United States looking for there?

Perle: The Unites States would like to see several things happen in Iran. One is movement in the direction of the democratic institutions and individual rights. Secondly, they would like to see Iran abandon its drive to acquire nuclear weapons, which is dangerous and wasteful [Editor's note: Tehran has steadfastly denied that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons]. And third, they would like to see Iran abandon its support that it now gives to international terrorism. So we would like to see all of those things.

Radio Farda: Which of these things is the priority for the United States now, in your opinion?

Perle: Well, I think it varies from one observer to another. I think if you did an opinion survey, the thing that concerns Americans most is Iran becoming a nuclear-weapons state because of the threatening remarks that [Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad has made. But I believe most Americans would like to see democratic reforms as well.

Radio Farda: Do you think the system in Iran is capable of carrying out democratic reforms itself or is regime change there necessary for the country to become fully democratic?

Perle: I do not believe that the current regime in Iran can reform itself or has any desire to reform itself. So only regime change can lead the way to not only full democracy, but individual rights.

Radio Farda: Representatives of the United States and Iran are scheduled to hold direct talks soon in Baghdad. Do you think this meeting can have any effect on relations?

Perle: I don't think it would have any result at all. I think the decision on the part of the United States to offer the Iranian authorities yet another chance to show that they are ready to contribute to peace and to order in Iraq rather than violence and disorder is unwise. We will see no change in the Iranian position, which has been to make matters worse in Iraq.

I don't believe it would help because I don't believe there is any interest on the part of the mullahs in Tehran in changing the behavior of the government of Iran, which has been -- and I think will continue to be -- to encourage violence and disorder in Iraq.

Radio Farda: What do you think is the likelihood of any U.S. military action against Iran?

Perle: I don't believe that U.S. is planning or is likely to take military action against Iran. And if it did, I would not expect anything like an invasion of Iran, but rather the precise targeting of critical facilities associated with Iran's nuclear program.

There is a diplomatic process under way; but I don't believe that it is making any progress.

Talking Technical

Talking Technical

A control panel at the Bushehr nuclear power plant (Fars)

CASCADES AND CENTRIFUGES: Experts and pundits alike continue to debate the goals and status of Iran's nuclear program. It remains unclear whether the program is, as Tehran insists, a purely peaceful enegy project or, as the United States claims, part of an effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
On June 7, 2006, RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden to help sort through some of the technical issues involved. "[Natanz] will be quite a large plant," Kile said. "There will be about 50,000 centrifuges and how much enriched uranium that can produce [is] hard to say because the efficiency of the centrifuges is not really known yet. But it would clearly be enough to be able to produce enough [highly-enriched uranium] for a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, if that's the route that they chose to go...." (more)


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Iran: The Worst-Case Scenarios

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.