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Washington, DC – Top former officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense emphasized yesterday that sustained diplomacy is the only realistic means for the U.S. and international community to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill event organized by the National Iranian American Council, the panelists said that keeping an IAEA presence on the ground–and increasing transparency and verification as part of a diplomatic agreement–is key to ensuring Iran’s nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.
“I think that’s the essential point,” said former IAEA Director General Blix, “that if they break out, the inspectors will be there. It’s an alarm bell.”
“The worst thing I can imagine right now is something short of war that causes the Iranians to kick the IAEA out,” said Robert Kelley, former Chief Inspector for the IAEA.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl agreed, stating, “if you’re worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon, the nearest term pathway to that is probably a relatively ineffective Israeli strike.”
A strike on Iran would delay the program by about two years said Kahl, but would shatter international consensus and set the stage for Iran to eject the IAEA and potentially pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The result is that Iran’s “will to reconstitute their program would be considerable, and then we would basically be forced into this situation of having to permanently encircle Iran and be ready to restrike on a moment’s notice with very bad intelligence about what they were actually doing.”
Kahl also noted that all the timelines for an Iranian nuclear weapon “depend on the supreme leader in Iran making a final decision, a decision that we have no evidence that he’s made, and we have every reason to believe we would detect if he did.”
Blix said that, should Iran pursue a nuclear weapon, there remains a “long fuse” to actually achieve such a step.
“I don’t think the diplomatic line is all over,” stated Blix. The priority, he said, must be “to diffuse the most acute things and prepare the road for further talks.” Accordingly, the international community must convey “all our offers are on the table, not just the threats.”
In the near term, Kahl said U.S. goals regarding Iran should be, “stopping their 20 percent enrichment, stopping further insulation of centrifuges at the Fordow facility at Qom, taking steps that can avoid a war with Israel this year.”
The experts warned against efforts in the Senate to rule out containing a “nuclear weapons capable” Iran, a term Blix said “is not well defined.”
The resolution, according to Kahl, could effectively take diplomacy off the table by precluding any deal that recognizes Iranian enrichment, even if verifiably peaceful. He cautioned, “any endgame on this will probably have to recognize Iran’s rights under the NPT, but only under extraordinarily strict safeguards.”
“I think that all of us in this town need to be very careful of taking positions, whether its up on the Hill or out there, that box in our negotiators from being able to find a diplomatic solution,” Kahl said.
“I think boxing the negotiators in, in that way, rhetorically or through pieces of legislation, et cetera, the effect is to make the diplomatic solution less likely and a kinetic outcome more likely.”
A full transcript of this event is available here.
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