A new report on how the United States should "resist
and deter" Iran's alleged ambitions to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability
by a think tank closely tied to the so-called "Israel Lobby" has been
endorsed by two key officials who are expected to exercise major influence on
Iran policy in the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The 10-page report, which was released here Wednesday by the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy (WINEP), argues that the United States should engage with
Iran diplomatically but at the same time ratchet up pressure on many other fronts
if it fails to heed demands to suspend and eventually abandon its uranium enrichment
Among the carrots Washington should be prepared to offer Tehran for that goal
are cooperation on "shared problems, such as piracy and smuggling in the
Persian Gulf," and "participation in a regional security dialogue,"
according to the report.
At the same time, however, the report stressed that failure to stop Iran's
nuclear progress may well result in a decision by Israel to carry out a military
attack within the next two years. Such a decision, it warned, could be hastened
if Russia goes through with the sale and delivery of sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air
missile systems which "are seen by Israel as seriously limiting its military
"Whatever Americans may think, Israeli leaders seem convinced that at
least for now, they have a military option," the report asserts, adding
that if Tehran deploys such systems, Washington "should promptly provide
Israel with the capabilities to continue to threaten high-value Iranian targets
for instance, with more modern aircraft."
"Time is short if diplomatic engagement is to have a chance of success,"
The new report, which comes amid a major administration review of U.S. policy
toward Iran, is likely to be very closely read in European and Middle Eastern
capitals due to its endorsement by Dennis Ross, who serves as Special Adviser
on the Gulf and Southwest Asia to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Robert
Einhorn, the senior State Department official on non-proliferation matters.
While both men resigned from the 17-member task force that helped draft the
report after they were asked to join Obama's presidential transition team, WINEP
stressed that they had formally endorsed an early draft which was not substantially
different from the final product.
Other members of the task force, which was convened by WINEP's director, Robert
Satloff, and its deputy director of research, Patrick Clawson, included a number
of prominent neo-conservatives, such as Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), and some who served in senior posts under President George
W. Bush, including former under secretary of state for arms control and international
security, Robert Joseph; his immediate subordinate, Stephen Rademaker; and the
former chairman of the Defense Science Board, William Schneider.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, a liberal Democrat who heads the House Subcommittee in
the Middle East and South Asia, and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, a member of the
Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees who has been a reliable supporter
of the "Israel Lobby," also signed on to the report.
Ross's endorsement, however, is particularly notable. While the State Department
has been vague about what his precise responsibilities will be, it is understood
that he is responsible for developing a diplomatic strategy for dealing with
Iran, particularly in how to marshal regional and international pressure on
Tehran in support of Washingtons positions.
Ross is expected to coordinate with Under Secretary of State for Political
Affairs William Burns, and Puneet Talwar, who has the Iran portfolio on the
National Security Council. Both Burns and Talwar are considered less hawkish
on Iran than Ross, former President Bill Clintons top Middle East negotiator
who himself has held senior positions in WINEP and who last September signed
on to another report by the Bipartisan Policy Center drafted by hard-line neo-conservatives.
Among other things, that report called for Washington to be prepared to launch
military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and conventional military
infrastructure if Tehran did not accede to demands that it abandon its nuclear
WINEP, which was founded some 25 years ago as a spin-off of the powerful American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is one of Washingtons most influential
think tanks on Middle East policy, although, like AIPAC itself, its views and
perspectives rarely deviate far from those of the Israeli government or national-security
Indeed, the major message of the latest report is that Irans acquisition
of a military nuclear capability, the prevention of which is characterized as
a "vital national priority" for the U.S., would set off a "cascade
of destabilizing reactions by other states," which, it argues, would seek
to emulate Tehrans achievement, thus weakening the global nuclear non-proliferation
regime and increasing the risks of "...a nuclear confrontation, with horrible
Yet the report omits any mention of the universally accepted view accidentally
confirmed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a December 2006 interview
that Israel already has nuclear weapons which may have had destabilizing consequences
of their own.
The report, which coincided with Secretary of State Clintons first Middle
East trip during which she reportedly expressed skepticism about the likelihood
that diplomatic engagement with Iran would succeed but also invited Tehran to
a conference on Afghanistan at the end of this month, offers a number of hints
for how Ross hopes to carry out his diplomatic strategy.
It stresses that any offer on the nuclear issue should come from the Permanent
Five Security Council members plus Germany the group that has negotiated
with Iran over its nuclear program to date "not from the United
States alone." "Arab countries, Turkey, and Israel" must also
be involved so as to assure a unified voice.
It also emphasizes that any deal should not permit Tehran to enrich uranium
on Iranian territory, arguing that such a precedent would itself contribute
to proliferation. Moreover, "the international community ... should not
foster debate among its members about what a compromise (on enrichment) acceptable
to Iran might be." The report calls for a policy of "resist and deter"
rather than "acquiesce and deter."
Instead, Washington should "respond to Iranian worries about ensuring
access to fuel for its civilian nuclear power plant" by following through
on its "announced intention to bring to fruition the international nuclear
fuel bank [and] ... on the U.S. commitment to negotiate a fissile material cutoff
While it does not raise the possibility of gaining Russian support for U.S.
efforts by offering to cancel Washingtons deployment of missile-defense
systems to Poland and the Czech Republic a deal that was reportedly alluded
to in a letter from Obama to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev last month
it suggests that China could be brought along through pressure from "the
Gulf states especially Saudi Arabia" due to Beijings dependence
on their "export markets and energy supplies."
The U.S. should also consider offering a "nuclear guarantee (or umbrella)"
to its allies in the region as part of a deterrence strategy and should, in
any case, build up their defensive capabilities if Iran persists in its nuclear
program. In such a case, the report also calls for a rapid buildup in economic
sanctions, including efforts to discourage countries and companies from building
oil refineries in Iran or exporting refined petroleum products to the country.
Inter Press Service