What Is To Be Done About Nuclear Iran?
A transcript of the entire interview appears below:
MR. SIMON: Ambassador Oren, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for PJTV. And before we get into the real subject of this discussion on Iran, I can't resist asking you to comment on the events yesterday at UC Irvine. Was it really as bad as Judean Ramallah or not as bad?
AMBASSADOR OREN: First of all, pleasure to be here, Roger. As to what happened yesterday in UC Irvine, I was giving a presentation on the state of US Israel and Israel-Middle Eastern relations, and a group of several hundred students kept on disturbing me, calling out rather, you know, various curses and expletives, none of them deleted, and basically, violating the most fundamental law on an American campus, indeed, outside of American campus in this country, and that's the right of free speech. And from my perspective, it was a great squandered opportunity for them. Here, they had an opportunity to hear a different perspective, perhaps not a perspective they agreed with or like, but -- and a chance to exchange ideas, and that, I think, is what universities are about, but they've blocked this. And unfortunately, this has happened at several campuses to several Israeli speakers, but not only to Israeli speakers. Last week, down at Georgetown campus, General Petraeus was subject to the same type of interference. So I think it's the beginning of a trend that we have to watch very, very carefully, a trend to sort of bring the Middle East, where there is no freedom of expression, onto American campuses. And I think we have to be very vigilant, indeed, to prevent that from happening.
MR. SIMON: It's not just American campuses, though, unfortunately. My nephew is a student at the London School of Economics, and the same thing happened there. And he wrote about it for Pajamas Media. But let's move on to Iran, here.
And I want to, first of all, thank you, as I said earlier, for a great weekend, because I really enjoyed reading very much a book I've had on my shelf for too long, The Six Days of War, aboutthe Six Day War, June 1966, "June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," which is really an enthralling read, and I don't say that just to compliment you because I'm a writer myself, but the -- what I got during reading it, your head can't help going to the situation right now, even while reading this, because we seem to be at the brink of something terrible. Do you see parallels...
AMBASSADOR OREN: All the time.
MR. SIMON: ...from the period?
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AMBASSADOR OREN: All the time, though I think the Nasser of Egypt of the 1950s and '60s has been replaced by the Iran of Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, today. And I think the stakes are inestimably higher. Nasser had hundreds of tanks and planes and hundreds of thousands of men. But Iran not only has far more men and tanks, it also has the potential for nuclear weapons. It has a missile program that can strike any city in Israel, indeed, strike any city in the Middle East. So the stakes are inestimably higher, but the rules of the game remain unchanged. And that is that war can break out; a war that is not foreseen nor even wanted by most of the parties can break out in a matter of minutes, and that's precisely what happened in 1967. And the ramifications of that war are impacting us still, more than forty years later.
MR. SIMON: We're sitting in a moment right now where on the top of the Drudge Report and all other places, Ayatollah Khamenei has announced that he's going to give a punch, whatever that may be -- do you have any ideas -- to the West on February 11th when they have their memorial for their -- Khamenei's revolution.
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, we don't know what the punch may be. Certainly, the Iranians have not -- have proven capable of delivering such punches in the past. They've blown up Jewish community centers in southern America. They have promoted terror throughout the Middle East, undermined Middle Eastern regimes, and certainly killed a great, great number of Israelis. They've triggered entire wars in the Middle East. They were responsible, in a very large measure, for the Gaza campaign of 2008 2009. They were responsible, in no short measure, for the second Lebanon war of 2006. So we know what an Iranian punch can look like.
MR. SIMON: There's another report that just came out, I read the other day, from the Suddeutsche Zeitungen in Germany that they have, now, or are claiming to have a nuclear warhead already. You have any comment on that?
AMBASSADOR OREN: I can't confirm that report, no.
MR. SIMON: Okay, because that's -- that could be -- maybe that's the punch. If it is, that's pretty scary.
AMBASSADOR OREN: Um-hum.
MR. SIMON: Okay, now, let's ask the more general question that this leads to is can we live with nuclear Iran in the sense that, in the old days, the United States, obviously, and still does live with a nuclear Russia and nuclear Soviet Union. But can we live with a nuclear Iran?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, the answer is categorically no. This isn't the Cold War. During the Cold War, you had a bipolar cold -- nuclear situation where each side knew where the red lines were. We had the concept, you know, of mutual assured destruction, where the Russians knew full well that if they attacked Washington, New York, the United States would respond by attacking Moscow and Leningrad. And that calculus held over the course of fifty years.
We do not know, in the Middle East, what counts for an unacceptable destruction in the eyes of the Iranians. These are people who, during the Iran Iraq War, sent thousands of young people with little plastic "keys to heaven" around their neck to clear minefields. A very difficult calculus obtained with the Iranians.
But that's only the, sort of the beginning of the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, that Iran would put a nuclear warhead on top of a missile, and they have the missiles. A nuclear-armed Iran threatens not only Israel; it threatens all western-oriented regimes in the Middle East. It's the end of western hegemony in the Middle East. It triggers a process of nuclear development in the Middle East in which all Middle Eastern states are going to require Middle Eastern -- nuclear weapons, so we'll all be happening -- and having a profoundly multi, multi-polar nuclear world which will be inestimably unstable. Can you imagine this? And you have a situation where Iran is going to be able to pass on nuclear military capabilities to its terrorist proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
And there is no border, including the borders of the United States of America, which are not porous to terrorists.
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MR. SIMON: Coming back -- there are two things that are coming up, here, in my head in what you just said. But let's move back to one of the earlier things. You refer to the keys of heaven, and the strange eschatology of the Khamenei regime. We call it [Ka'-mi-nee], [Ka ma'-nee], Ahmadinejad regime. Do you think that western leaders quite get that and understand that eschatology?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Oh, I think they understand it very well, particularly in Europe. Europe, now, which is within missile range of the Iranian rocket arsenal, Europe which has had to deal with radical Islamic terrorist threats, they understand it very, very well.
MR. SIMON: All right, glad to hear that. I, sometimes, I wonder if our leaders do, here, in this country, because it's hard for the western mind to wrap around that. You think it's, like, you know, they don't really believe in it. It's just sort of a mask of, you know, for a talking point. It's not -- they don't really believe that.
AMBASSADOR OREN: And it's extraordinary that they wouldn't in the aftermath of 9/11, and now a very nearly successful terrorist attack on an American airliner on Christmas day, heading to Detroit. Terror is real. And the people who perpetrate it are very committed to pressing their terror agenda forward. And God willing, we won't have to experience another 9/11, but another 9/11 is certainly, certainly a possibility.
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MR. SIMON: We're looking at this horrible situation. In the words of Lenin, "What is to be done?"
AMBASSADOR OREN: What is done is, first of all, be aware of the danger; to work together with international security services and pool information -- and the United States and Israel and other concerned countries do pool such information, and we have learned immensely from our cooperation; to understand that the Iranian regime has no intention of backing down on its nuclear program and that they have rejected successive offers of compromise, some very good compromises, indeed -- they have slapped the outstretched hand of President Obama; and that now, the world has to bind together and impose crippling sanctions on Iran in a last-ditch effort to get the reigning regime to desist from enriching uranium and striving to achieve a nuclear capability.
MR. SIMON: What form of crippling sanctions? I -- can you specify what you have in mind, here? The second thing is that a lot of us have tremendous emotional response -- positive response to democracy movement, the Green Revolution in Iran. Will those sanctions cripple those people, as well? How do you deal with it?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, we're looking at a whole range of sanctions, sanctions that will do everything from impair the ability of the reigning regime to do business internationally, to even travel abroad, members of the regime, not be able to travel abroad freely. One of the most painful sanctions that can be levied on Iran is denying Iran refined petroleum products. Iran's got a lot of oil, but not much of it is refined. They have to import it.
And yes, this will impact the Iranian population, but -- and this is a big but -- Israeli and American security experts are agreed that in the period before June 2009, the period before the upheaval surrounding the Iranian elections, if the taxi driver in Tehran had run out of gasoline, he probably would have gotten out of his cab and cursed America and Israel and the West. Now, in the aftermath of June of the elections, now with the rise of the opposition in Iran, that same cab driver gets out of his cab after it runs out of gas, and he doesn't curse America and the Zionists and the West. He curses his own government.
Our assumption is that sanctions now will not strengthen the ties between the people and the government, but on the contrary, it'll widen the schism between them as people blame their own government in Iran for their lack of basic fuel and other commodities.
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MR. SIMON: Now, speaking of the freedom movement over there, the Democracy Movement, conservatives and libertarians in the U.S. have criticized Obama for not being more outspoken in his support. At the same time, there have been reports on the street, a matter of fact, I've heard them myself on video, that the demonstrators are yelling Obama, Obama, which side are you on? Are you with us or are you with them? Do you think the support by the U.S. has been sufficient for the Democracy Movement? What's your attitude on that?
AMBASSADOR OREN: I'm not going to second-guess the president's handling of the Iranian situation. We have been very, very supportive of the Obama administration's policy on Iran, toward Iran, to date. The situation in Iran is extremely complicated, and there is no Iranian expert either in Israel or the United States who can tell you, definitively, what's going to happen in Iran. For example, there are members of the opposition within the government, including Mousavi, himself, who are what we would call to the right of Ahmadinejad on the nuclear program. There were indications that Ahmadinejad was willing to accept at least one of those compromised packages that were proffered him, but the Mousavi opposition vetoed it. So we can't assume that within the government itself the opposition is more amenable to compromise with the West than the reigning government.
We have to distinguish, though, between divisions within the Iranian leadership and the divisions between the Iranian leadership itself and the people. Now, therein, I think there's room for promoting and supporting those people in their legitimate demands for democracy and freedom in Iran.
MR. SIMON: It's interesting because in reading your book, one of the things that, you know, I went, "Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten that," was the relationship between Iran and Israel during the days of the Shah...
AMBASSADOR OREN: Yes.
MR. SIMON: ...and, in fact, it was the, you know, oil from Iran coming around through the Straits of Tiran...
AMBASSADOR OREN: Right.
MR. SIMON: ...was part of the whole linchpin of the event. Do you think there's any hope for a renewed relationship between Iran and Israel?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, we certainly have no animosity, whatsoever, for the Iranian people. On the contrary. We revere the Iranian people. We have great respect for their ancient civilization and for their dynamic culture. And we know that there are many Iranians who feel the same way about us. And the only thing that stands between us is this pernicious, vicious Islamic extremist regime. Should that regime disappear from the world, I think the Iranian people and the Israeli people would revert to their traditional historical friendship.
MR. SIMON: Hard to believe that. Now, let's talk about the unmentionable, which is military action. At what point do you feel that that would become necessary? Suppose the sanctions that you want are applied and nothing really happens. What then?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, we think we have to see that first. You're getting into the field of hypotheticals. We now have several months, at least, to examine the efficacy of these sanctions. They're not even in place yet. It'll be several months before we even get them up and running. So we're getting far, far, far ahead of ourselves by talking about any other options.
We do, however, agree with the Obama administration in keeping all options on the table. Without going too far into that, what that means, all options are on the table. And we are looking at these sanctions; as they come into play, we'll be following them very, very closely to gauge their efficacy.
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MR. SIMON: And what about China and Russia, specifically China which seems to be relatively intractable on the sanctions issue. Do you think there will be some movement?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, we hope so. Right now, we haven't been overly sanguine about the possibility of bringing the Chinese along.
The Russians have come a long way, though. The Russians were, initially, very adverse to sanctions, but they were surprised. They were surprised by the revelation of the Iranian's secret site at Qom. The Qom facility which could not have had a civilian use -- it was too small to have been a civilian reactor -- could only have had a military end use, the Russians didn't know about. And the Russians were very insulted by the Iranian rejection of the compromise package. Part of the Iranian low-enriched uranium was to have passed to Russia for enrichment via France, and the Russian took umbrage to the fact that the Iranians basically slapped them in the face by rejecting the package. So now the Russians are, we believe, better poised and better posed toward sanctions.
We still do not know about the Chinese. There is a working assumption that if the Russians come on board, the rest of the international community comes on board, the Chinese will not want to be left out.
MR. SIMON: Do you think there's any use in continuing the discussion in these compromise packages at this point? Or have they just become a method for the Iranians to go on enriching uranium, and, in fact, as they announced yesterday, enriching to higher levels?
AMBASSADOR OREN: Well, the compromise packages were never ends in themselves. They were a confidence building measure where the international community could effectively set the breakaway clock back. Let's say Iran had 5,000 kilograms -- 10,000 pounds -- of low enriched uranium, and you took seventy percent of that out to another country for enrichment and ensured that when it came back, it was only rich for the purposes of making medical isotopes, and you know you need X number of kilograms or pounds to make a nuclear weapon, well, by taking that seventy percent out, you have set back the clock from the point at which the Iranians could break out and create a nuclear weapon. So it was a confidence-building measure which they rejected. It was never an end in itself. Even if they had accepted the compromise measure, you'd still have to negotiate with the Iranians over the total secession of enrichment on their soil. That was the goal of Israel, it was the goal of the United States, and it was the goal of the other five members of the Security Council.
MR. SIMON: Well, thanks, Michael Oren for joining us at PJTV.
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(Transcribed For Pajamas Media by Dena Page, eScribers, LLC.)