The United States’ recent speeding up of arms sales with its Gulf allies has raised some eyebrows as these sales appear to be preparations for a potential clash with Iran. Although these contracts to sell warplanes and anti-missile systems actually started with the George W. Bush administration in 2005 to ally with Arab states and counter Iran's growing influence in the region, accelerating it now increases the tension in an already tense Middle Eastern climate.
According to the Washington Post, arms sales, including a U.S.-backed plan to triple the size of a 10,000-man protection force in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are leading a region-wide military buildup that has resulted in more than $25 billion in U.S. arms purchases in the past two years alone.
While we are getting closer to a period that seems to be generating a historic set of events in terms of the Iranian conundrum, there are two schools of thought emerging with two sundry arguments on the situation. There are those in Washington, including Seymour Hersh as well as Flynt and Hillary Mann Leveret, who think the U.S. must do more to bind Iran to multilateral negotiations. On the other hand, there are others who argue that Iran is not willing to negotiate at this time because it mainly does not see having close ties to the U.S. as beneficial to its national security interests.
I had a chance to listen to both Hersh, an investigative journalist with many links to the region, and talk to Ladan Yazdian, an Iranian-American security analyst in Washington D.C., on the Iranian nuclear question, in the interests of getting two different approaches on the issue.
According to Hersh, Iran has not been able to enrich the uranium it possesses more than 3 or 3.5 percent so far because of technical issues. This level of enrichment is much lower than 90 to 95 percent, a level which is considered to be needed for a nuclear weapon.
And Hersh defends the Iranian position by claiming that Iran has already accepted the West's offer to send 20 percent of the 1300 or 1500 kilogram uranium, the amount that Iran is considered to possess currently, to Russia to be enriched by up to 20 percent. Subsequently, this uranium from Russia will be shipped to the French where it will be put into pallets that they can only be used for the medical purposes, which is what Iran claims the enriched uranium is necessary.
It is the irrationality of the Americans, and the West, that prevents this nuclear deal from happening, Hersh argues, and by asking Iran to ship all the uranium at once. Therefore, although Iran is doing nearly all it can do to solve the problem, it is this attitude of Western obstructionism that does not let this detail be overcame.
After listening to this perspective, I called up Yazdian, my Iranian-American friend, who was born and raised in Iran and follows the Iranian issues closely. I informed her of what Hersh had to say about the current state of the Iranian nuclear impasse and sought her opinion.
According to Yazdian, since President Barack Obama came to the office, he has been sincere and committed to unconditional negotiations with Iran. Despite three decades of distrust and conflict, Obama made an effort to offer a considerable package of incentives and start a new chapter in bilateral relationships as a part of his new foreign agenda to open up to rough regimes around the world.
A generous nuclear incentive package was offered to Iran during the past summer, which included a broader range of economic, political and energy incentives, improving Iran's access to the global economy by promoting investment, membership in the World Trade Organization and the possible lifting of U.S. and European restrictions on the export of civilian aircraft and telecommunications equipment, as well as other diplomatic and cultural exchanges.
Yazdian said despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s initial Sept. 23 proposal to buy enriched uranium from the U.S., and International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, efforts at multilateral negotiations, talks have come to a halt. She cited several factors for the regime’s unwillingness to respond to the international community and oblige it to keep its commitments.
These factors embody the internal divisions among the factions within the Iranian regime, lack of international pressure, and the anti-American nature of the Iranian regime that makes it impossible to explain changes of policy to its people after years of harsh rhetoric toward the U.S., especially during the post-election uprising. Yazdian said Iran has not shown a goodwill gesture and has bought time on numerous occasions, therefore pushing the international community toward tougher multilateral actions.
If the Iranian regime accepts the offer, it will appear weak at home and would lose its legitimacy. Yazdian recalled that there were similar debates during the Mohamed Khatami presidency, and when Khatami softened his tone toward the West, his administration was immediately criticized by hardliners who saw the reform movement as the tool of the West.
Since it was known that Iran was working on secret uranium enrichment programs, several estimates about Iran's capability for a nuclear bomb have been put forward by various intelligence agencies. Despite the revelation of another nuclear facility near the city of Qom last fall, Iran’s nuclear capability remains mostly a guessing game according to Yazdian, as opposed to Hersh's concrete assessments about Iran's nuclear capability.
In the eyes of this latter approach, the current nuclear impasse between Iran and the West stems from the nature of the Iranian regime and that Iran sees no imminent danger except toothless sanctions coming from the West. Also, the Islamic regime considers negotiations as a “kiss of death” and instead has tried to close its doors to the outside world during the internal upheaval which it still is dealing with.
We might just find out whether Hersh, who has uncovered some of the darkest sides of the Bush's global war on terror, just reactively views the West vs. Iran conflict or whether he does know things that other colossal intelligence agencies around the world could not piece together.