“Assembling nuclear weapons is not as easy as building furniture from IKEA,” said Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association (ACA) at a press briefing held October 22. The briefing, on the future of Iran-U.S. negotiations, consisted of a panel of three experts, who drew a direct line from U.S. engagement with Iran to greater information and transparency regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In the panelists’ view, the most important thing the West stands to gain in the short term from engagement with Iran is new and valuable information about Iran’s activities. 
Ambassador James Dobbins of the RAND Corporation said that “engagement is a virtue in its own right,” since it is only through engagement that the United States is able to collect information about the state of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As more information is gathered, it will allow the Intelligence Community to make more accurate assessments regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. Thielmann, a Senior Fellow at the ACA, said that achieving transparency on sites like Natanz and Qom should be the primary focus of the P5+1 countries.
Paul Pillar, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, said that greater information was necessary for understanding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He noted that understanding the country’s nuclear intentions was a “matter of degrees… [and] not an either or” call. As a result, increased access to nuclear sites like Natanz and Qom will allow intelligence analysts to make more accurate assessments about the state and progress of Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile activities, as well as whether or not Iran is on a trajectory toward an illicit program.
As Thielmann indicated, the United States has time to engage in an extended dialogue with Iran. Taking issue with recent media conclusions, they stated that Iran is not months away from building a nuclear weapon but years. The negotiations that have already taken place in Geneva and Vienna should, therefore, be viewed as only the beginning in a long process of engagement. Pillar said that the United States is “nowhere near the end” of negotiations with Iran, and that the “gloom and doom” so prevalent in Washington about Iran is misplaced.

Back to top