President Bush based his "axis of evil" designation on two factors: sponsorship
of terrorism coupled with the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The CIA has identified Iran as "one of the most active countries" pursuing
weapons of mass destruction, and cites apparent technical assistance from
Russia and North Korea. Yet Iran steadfastly denies the existence of any
nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. Is the threat real? And if
so, what should the U.S. do? Here are the views of former CIA Director James
Woolsey; Iran's ambassador to Canada, Mohammad Ali Mousavi; nonproliferation
expert George Perkovich; former undersecretary of state for political affairs
Thomas Pickering; and Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for
He was director of the CIA from 1993 to 1995.
What is the case against Iran on the issue of weapons of mass destruction?
How real is that case?
Well, there is no underlying [reason] for one of the greatest oil producers in
the world to need to get into the nuclear [energy] business. And if they do for
some reason want a nuclear reactor for power purposes at Bushehr, there's
absolutely no reason for them to be getting into the rest of the fuel cycle,
reprocessing and so forth, unless what they want to do is train people and
produce an infrastructure that can have highly enriched uranium or plutonium,
fissionable material, for nuclear weapons.
They are working essentially in a joint venture with the North Koreans ... on a
medium-range ballistic missile to carry weapons of mass destruction. I think
there's really no particular argument about this, at least in this country,
among anybody who's ever followed Iran. Certainly they're working on nuclear
weapons, and certainly they're working on ballistic missiles. ...
How do you answer the Iranian who says, "We are surrounded by people with
weapons of mass destruction. We need our own"?
Well, the most dangerous person who has weapons of mass destruction, who is
right next door and has used them against Iran, is Saddam Hussein. And he's
working on nuclear. He has chemical and bacteriological. My answer would be,
"Yes, he is a real threat. He's a threat to you. He's a threat to everybody
else in the region." Through terrorism, he's a threat to us, and the best thing
we could do for Iranian security is get rid of the Baathist regime in Iraq and
have a decent regime there. ...
But doesn't America run the risk of adding fuel to the nationalist fires of
Iran by saying, "You can't have these weapons?"
Well, Iran has certain international obligations through the [nonproliferation]
treaty and the like. And if they are fulfilling those obligations, it seems to
me that our arguments with them are policy disputes, and nations have policy
disputes all the time. What we are concerned about, since we see them with all
their oil and we see them getting heavily into the nuclear business --
including the reprocessing steps which are relevant to producing fissionable
material -- is we think it's very likely that they are violating and planning
to violate further their obligations and build nuclear weapons. But as I said,
I can understand Iranian concerns about their neighbor, Baathist Iraq.
What about their Pakistani neighbor, who also has nuclear weapons?
Pakistan does have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan has recently taken a rather
substantial step toward liberalization and democracy. Parliamentary elections
are called for next fall. President Musharraf, with his last speech, is about
two-thirds of the way toward being a Kemal Ataturk. And if Pakistan is not in
the throes of Islamism and religious terror, such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda
provided in Afghanistan, if Pakistan is a nation more like Turkey in the years
to come, Iran won't have anything to fear from them. Pakistan has no designs on
Iran that I know of. ...
How real is the risk that the mullahs, given the power they have, will share
weapons of mass destruction with subsidiary terrorist operations?
It's possible. Iran is probably the leading terrorist-sponsoring state in the
world right now, and their intelligence services are very active doing this
both financially and with all kinds of assistance. And one would hope they
would have more sense than to share any type of weapons of mass destruction
with terrorists. But I don't think one can count on the common sense of the
mullahs. ... So I think we need to do everything we can to help the reformers
He is Iran's ambassador to Canada, and one of only two Iranian diplomats in
If you ask some, particularly conservative, Americans, what was behind [the
"axis of evil" statement], they'll talk about a number of things. ... For
example, there is no reason in the world for Iran, one of the great oil
producers on earth, to have a nuclear power station unless it's for the
production of bombs. Iran is developing delivery systems for the delivery of
warheads and weapons of mass destruction. What is the answer to that?
The United States is one of the main producers of oil, has a great deal of
reservoir of oil, but United States itself has nuclear power. ...
It is very much so a politically motivated allegation. And you see the
unfairness of such charges while Israel has nuclear power, is progressing in
its nuclear warhead. Then the point of allegation comes to Iran. This is a
world should run by international body's rule, not by a country's rule. In such
cases, the existing mechanism of control and investigation has been set up.
It's IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. They deny such charges. ...
Two clarifications. One, Iran's foreign policy doctrine doesn't include
acquiring nuclear power as non-peaceful means. Second, what now Iran try to
achieve in nuclear power in Bushehr has been in the past 30 years. It has been
a part of policy of pre-revolution. There had been investment there, and it was
Then, Iran's policy is to use nuclear power as a peaceful means of energy, and
we continue to do so. That was the reason that we always been open to
inspections, and it has been so repeatedly and regularly by International
Atomic Energy Agency. It is the main international body to supervise any such
acquirement by countries. And not even once they have complained that, or they
have criticized Iran that there is a misconduct. There hasn't been. ...
We recognize that you are surrounded by Pakistan, Israel, India, Iraq. You
are surrounded by weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
Doesn't it make a certain amount of sense that you would also be developing
nuclear weapons capability?
No. We have concern, such as you mentioned. Such countries having nuclear
power increases concerns, not only in Iran -- in the region. And that's the
reason Iran has been an initiator of having Middle East a free zone of weapons
of mass destruction, including nuclear power. It is not in our doctrine to
acquire nuclear power.
The Americans point out that Iran has engaged with North Korea in
development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be capable of
delivering a nuclear warhead.
But these are two different issues. Acquiring nuclear power, nuclear warhead,
is something, as I mentioned, it is not in our -- it is not happening at all,
and there is not one single evidence to show that.
Second is the missile issue. Iran moves based on the international conventions
on the missile. We have taken it as a defensive power, a defensive strategy,
and it is our right, based on the international conventions, to acquire such
defensive power for Iran -- as you mentioned, surrounded by countries of a
major threat not only to Iran, but also to international peace and security.
Then our missile policy is a defensive one. And actually Iran has been an
initiator of missile pact in United Nations to regulate missile policy by all
countries, including Iran. Then what is our plan? It is very transparent, very
clear under international body supervision and regulatory inspection. There is
no secret about this.
He is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and
an expert on arms control and nuclear nonproliferation issues.
How real is the danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass
Well, it's very real especially if you include not just nuclear weapons but
biological weapons, which are in many ways easier to produce. It's a very real
threat that has to be addressed more fully than it has been. ...
How strong is the case against Iran? There's a pretty strong case against
Iraq and North Korea, but what is the case against Iran?
... Based on public information and the statements of government officials,
it's a fairly strong case that there is procurement that Iran has made, or has
attempted to make, that only makes sense if the technology they're trying to
get were to be used for acquiring nuclear-weapon material. The technology
they're trying to get, uranium enrichment, doesn't have other purposes
So how should, in a sane and logical world, this problem be
... First and foremost, you have to look at Iran's situation and say, "All
right, are there security considerations that Iran has that have to be
addressed?" Otherwise, it rather naturally is going to be seeking large
strategic weapons. ... And to date, the U.S. hasn't even really tried to put
itself in Iran's shoes and say, "OK, if we were Iran, or we were an ally of
Iran, here's how we think Iran could protect itself against Iraq." We don't
have an answer to that question, and that makes it very hard to figure out how
you persuade these guys in Iran not to have any interest in weapons of mass
And it isn't just Iraq. On the other side you have Pakistan.
Yeah, I mean the painful irony really is that if you took U.S. decision-makers
and you put them in Iran's shoes, in Iran's environment, with an enemy that has
WMD programs and a nuclear neighbour in Pakistan, and you asked the U.S., "Do
you need nuclear weapons?," every U.S. official would say, "Absolutely, we
couldn't live in this environment without nuclear weapons." And the Russians
would say the same thing, and the Chinese would say the same thing. So now
we're coming to Iran and we're saying, "No, you should be different than we've
been, and you should understand that you should not acquire these weapons."
Now, I happen to think there's a good case for Iran not to acquire nuclear
weapons. But I don't think that the U.S. and other governments have really made
that case yet. ...
The argument I would make to Iran is kind of a cynical one, but it is to say,
"Look, you're too late. You want nuclear weapons now, but if you get real
close, Israel takes you very seriously and you're going to paint a very big
target on yourself, either for the United States or Israel to hit you. So
whatever nuclear capability you can get in Iran is not going to be sufficient
really to deter Israel or the U.S. from fighting you. And yet that nuclear
capability is going to make them decide to hit much harder than they would
otherwise because they've got to wipe out whatever capability you have. So you
can't really catch up in a way that enables you to use this in any meaningful
way. And yet possessing nuclear weapons would make you a much bigger target
than you would otherwise be. ...
We now have a conversation around the world based on this phrase "axis of
evil." What is the answer?
I think the near-term approach that makes sense when relations are really bad
is twofold. One is: do not make nuclear weapons into a nationalist issue in
Iran. The more the U.S. loudly says, "We think they're acquiring the bomb,
they're cheating, this is evil," the more people in Iran will actually get
attached to the idea of getting nuclear weapons precisely to resist this kind
of dictat. And it becomes a nationalist issue. ...
On the other hand, covertly, I think you should do everything possible
physically to keep them from getting nuclear assets. So if you know that
something is being shipped from point A to point B, and you can intercept it or
destroy it, fine. If you can persuade other countries not to sell things to
Iran, whatever it takes to persuade them to do that, you should do that. Buy
time by keeping the technology away and buy time politically by not letting
this become a nationalist issue within Iran. ...
It becomes a matter of pride -- "We're a great civilization, we're Persia, and
these Americans are telling us how to live our life, and they have bombs, but
they're telling us we can't have them." It does become a matter of pride, it
becomes a matter of nationalism, and it becomes hard to turn around a policy
once it becomes a nationalist policy.
He served as U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997 to
How does the United States approach this large and largely opaque issue of
weapons of mass destruction?
I think it's a tremendously important question, and you can chart the course
over the last three or four decades. The general practice on the part of the
United States and its friends and allies, and most of the states that have the
capability to support proliferation, has been to carefully control trade, to
use all kinds of political persuasion, at times to resort to sanctions when
that has seemed necessary. India, Pakistan have been examples of that. And then
to do everything they can through diplomatic channels to talk to countries
about not continuing. That was quite successful in South Africa and I think in
places like Brazil and Argentina, and maybe in Taiwan and Korea and other
places. But it hasn't been successful everywhere, and so there's uncertainties
Now you hear a lot of talk about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, possession of weapons of
mass destruction. And, in fact, as you know, the Security Council, for a
different purpose, authorized 11 years ago the use of force against Iraq. The
use-of-force resolution has never been withdrawn, so I presume it remains in
effect. Whether, in fact, states like the United States or others would move to
the use of force to prevent proliferation is a more open question. But it's
being widely talked about now.
That's implicit in a lot of the political rhetoric that we've heard from the
United States recently, is it not?
I think it is, and I think that when states see a clear and present danger,
that might be needed. As you know, the U.N. charter allows for self-defense in
the face of an armed attack, obviously, and that condition hasn't been met,
although the United States has felt that Sept. 11 certainly
constituted that, and the Security Council agreed. So whether, in fact, there
is a legal framework for this, there is certainly a growing political interest
in it as a way of proceeding ahead -- obviously recognizing that there are
critical times when states have to act to prevent greater dangers to
You seem to be saying that it's appropriate, it's implicit in the recent
statements, and it's appropriate to draw the line in the sand and to take a
I think that states obviously have to consider long and carefully before using
military force. But I think that, under some sets of circumstances where they
feel there is a justifiable danger -- a linkage between terror and weapons of
mass destruction is one of those -- then I think that that's something for
careful consideration. I don't think that one can draw a chart and say, "Always
go to war here; never go to war there." States have to make up their own minds.
But I think, within the international framework, it would be a mistake for a
country to rule out that possibility if it felt seriously threatened.
She is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a
nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that publishes the
journal Foreign Policy.
... Time is on our side in Iran, with one huge exception. And that's what makes
it so difficult. And that exception is their pursuit of weapons of mass
destruction. If it were not for that, I think it would be pretty obvious that
the right way to go with Iran is to let this government destroy itself by doing
such a poor job of managing the economy and losing the trust and confidence of
the people until it undermines itself terminally. We can't just do that,
because of the weapons of mass destruction. ...
Iran is perceived as a serious threat in that?
Iran is unequivocally engaged in that pursuit, has been for a very, very long
time, back before the revolution, under the shah. Iran has always seen Iraq as
a tremendous threat, and of course there was Israel's nuclear weapons, too. And
they insist that they're clean with respect to biological and chemical weapons.
But my understanding is that nobody with access to classified information who
follows this closely believes that. So their pursuit is active. The program,
the nuclear program, at least, is not so terrific technically. In fact, a lot
of people say it's a real mess. So it's not a tomorrow concern, but it's a very
serious and very real one, in fact what I believe should be our focus of
Is the rhetoric [of "axis of evil"] legitimized by the real possibility of
weapons of mass destruction?
No. I think the rhetoric is not legitimized, only because it doesn't help.
There is no way that it is constructive to our interest, which is to find a way
to undermine and control that program.
So the proper way to go ...?
I think, first of all, that what we do in Iraq has an enormous effect on
Iran. I think step one is that you focus not on Saddam Hussein and not on
regime change in Iraq, but on the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. And
you rebuild and then build even further an international consensus that this,
that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by regimes that have proven
themselves prepared to use them, is an unacceptable threat. And you rebuild the
consensus from the early 1990s around an inspection regime -- this time an even
tougher inspection regime, with armed capability behind it. That, in itself,
will have an enormous effect on Iran.
Then you have to deal with the Russians more effectively than we have, because
that's their principal supplier. And that's a question of increasing the
incentives. We have offered them, I think, inadequate incentives to give up
what is for them a very substantial sum of money. ... So we have to do what we
can to shut down the Russian supply.
At the same time, we have to stop making this so much an American crusade.
There are 180 countries in the nonproliferation treaty regime. All of them have
a stake in that regime. We have to broaden the base of leadership in saying
pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, even if technically legal -- as Iran
still is -- by a country that is a member of the NPT is unacceptable. We let
North Korea get away with it. We're not going to let another country get away
with it under our noses. ...
I also think we will have to use some of our intelligence, make public some of
what we know about what's going on in both Iraq and Iran -- even though it will
cost us in terms of sources and methods -- the way we did in the Cuban missile
crisis, when Stevenson went to the U.N. and put up the pictures of what the
Russians had in Cuba. And nobody could any longer say, "Well, maybe. It's us
against them. Who's lying?" We have to strip away this veil of hypocrisy behind
which the French and the Russians hide their commercial interests and make it
impossible to do that.
If we do all that, then I think we really do stand a chance of slowing, of
crippling both programs to the point where they are an acceptable threat. This
is not what you would do if you had your druthers 100 percent. But that's not
the real world.
"The Iran Game," by Seymour M. Hersh
"In formal evaluations, the American intelligence community lists Iran as
posing a more immediate nuclear-proliferation threat than Iraq. 'Everyone knows
that Iran is the next one to proliferate -- to possess a nuclear weapon,' an
American nuclear-intelligence analyst told me. 'Iran has been the No. 1 concern
about who's next for the last couple of years at the highest level of the
government.' ... Iran's drive for the bomb, he said, 'is not going to be
resolved by export controls and diplomacy.'" (The New Yorker, Dec. 3,
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