Iran: U.S. Policy Options

Iran: Prospects for Regime Change

Iran: U.S. Policy Options

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Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations

Danielle Pletka
The American Enterprise Institute

Ray Takeyh
Council on Foreign Relations

Moderator: Robert Kagan
Deputy Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and The Foreign Policy Initiative


The panel first addressed the Obama Administration’s current position towards Iran.  Ray Takeyh argued that the Administration’s objective is to bring Iran to the negotiating table.  Now that initial attempts at engagement have proven ineffective, it is hoped that sanctions will compel the regime to accept a deal.  Nevertheless, Takeyh does not believe that sanctions will influence the Iranian regime.  Perhaps sanctions on oil exports as well as gasoline imports would weaken the regime, but the international community is unlikely to support sufficiently tough measures.

The Administration has not conceded acceptance to a nuclear Iran but has no attractive options.  Moreover, in Takeyh’s view, the Administration needs to address whether the nuclear issue, as opposed to regime change, should be the top priority.  Do we want sanctions now that the Iranian middle classes support the Green Movement?

Elliott Abrams discussed the problems introduced by taking the military option off the table.  This removes Iran’s greatest incentive to negotiate.  Similarly, the Administration continues to extend the deadline for negotiations and delay sanctions.  Meanwhile, the U.S. has not taken serious steps to support the Green Movement.  In Abrams’ view, it appears the Administration is resigned to accept a nuclear Iran.

Danielle Pletka argued that the Administration had a plan: either negotiate a deal or build credibility by showing Iranian intransigence.  But the last 18 months were not used to build international support for sanctions.   Instead, the Administration has fallen into the “Washington trap,” focusing solely on achieving intermediate goals, overplaying the importance of reaching agreement with the Chinese on sanctions, while neglecting serious action with stronger allies.  In addition, Congress is not as eager to challenge the Administration on this issue as in the past.

Pletka also warned of the tendency to talk of the Green Movement as an unmitigated good, even though we have little certainty as to how they would govern.  Those in the forefront of the movement have previously led Iran’s effort to acquire nuclear weapons.

Takeyh expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of containment, should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, but argued that preemption means 100% certainty of use of force, while containment presents a high risk.

Abrams responded that preemption, in contrast, does guarantee that the result is achieved.  Moderator Bob Kagan added that preemption also occurs before the regime acquires a nuclear weapon.  Once the regime acquires a weapon, its motivation to support Hezbollah and take other provocative actions will increase, while the U.S. incentive to respond only decreases.

Abrams argued that the U.S. should put pressure on the regime along all fronts, pressing for sanctions, identifying Iran’s human rights violations, condemning its support of Hezbollah, actively supporting the Green Movement, and not ruling out military options.

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MR. KAGAN:  Why don't we get started on the second panel, which I'm told is the less good panel of the day, but Bill apparently said that in the first panel and I must have missed that.  We are on the second best panel. 

          SPEAKER:  We're the butler.

          MR. KAGAN:  I think we are going to be talking primarily about policy options, although I think those of the panelists who were here from the previous session, if they want to interject their thoughts about some of the very interesting comments that were made in the previous session, and then of course, the question of what the state of the Green Movement is is a policy relevant decision.  I'm sure we are going to get into it.

          I thought we would start by at least delving into what is the state of play, as we like to say.  Where is Administration policy right now.  Where is the policy of some other governments that are relevant.  Where is Congress.

          I thought I would start with Ray.  Where is the Administration right now? 

          I had a conversation with an Administration official, one of those many aspiring to the next National Security Advisor position, who assured me that in February but no later than March, they would have their resolution. 

          They had to get past somebody who was in the chair and then the French were going to be in the chair, and when the French were in the chair, that's when they would get all this done, and that certainly is when I pressed, it would not take until the Summer to get a sanctions resolution.

          I guess I thought --- they also said they were not going to hinge this on whether they could get the Chinese and Russians on board.  They were going to make a good faith effort, but at the end of the day, what mattered was doing something with the Europeans.

          It seems to me that is not the way things have turned out, but I wonder what your impression is and where you think things are going really, if you can even be specific about what the timing is right now as far as you understand it.

          MR. TAKEYH:  Right now, the Japanese are in the chair, so I don't know what that means. 

          MR. KAGAN:  Right.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I think when they say they have a two track policy, they actually mean it.  I would object to having it remain the same.  The approach has changed. 

          I think the first year you might have thought that some sort of conciliation and reaching out would get the Iranians to the table.

          Now, I think the perception is that having some sort of a sanctions policy will get them to the table.  Namely, switch from conciliation to coercion, but the objective remains getting to the negotiating table and discussions at the negotiating table would be the nuclear issue.

          I think since 2005 at the least, we have privileged the nuclear issue over all other issues.

          I don't know what the nature of that conversation is going to be.  I suspect try to get the rich uranium out, and that gives you some more lead time.

          There are several assumptions embedded in that particular approach.  The first is that your objectives should remain the same.  Namely, the nuclear issue should be the predominate issue that you talk about, which doesn't fully take into account the remarkable change in the context that has happened in the intervening year, in terms of the domestic situation, whether it is in transition, in terms of the regime, whose longevity and reliability is in question, so those assumptions, I would say, have to be revisited in terms of whether you should even come to the negotiating table.

          That threshold question, I think, needs to be assessed.  When you come to the table, how that affects your entire range of other interests, human rights interests, regional concerns, and so forth.

          The second assumption is that somehow economic sanctions are going to condition or impact the regime's behavior, which I must confess, is a peculiarly Marxist argument in a town where Marxism has all but vanquished, because it essentially has caused Iran's l political behavior to be based on certain economic determinations.

          Countries make decisions on an entire range of issues.  At times, the Islamic Republic has continuously made decisions where it has these economic concerns in order to advance some sort of ideological perspective, it is uniquely a non--Marxist thing, so we have a Marxist approach in a non--Marxist state.

          The debate over whether you are going to get a sanctions resolution and all that are to me somewhat less significant given the fact that I don't believe there is a sanctions solution for this particular problem.

          The sanctions issue that people talk about is because you do not want to address the other options.  If you don't have sanctions to talk about, what do you talk about?  If a spokesperson goes in and says, hey, what's your policy toward Iran?  Oh, we're going to give sanctions.   

          I just don't think sanctions as a policy instrument are going to condition the behavior of this regime.  I think what they will do is potentially get you to the table, where you have a tactical and rather inconclusive discussion, sort of what the Iranians did for all those years, tie you up into negotiations.

          Where does this go from here?  My suspicion is you are going to have a turbulent Summer in Iran because of the subsidies issues and the economic issues, so there is going to be a degree of political ferment in Iran this Summer, and how this affects the larger Iranian diplomacy remains to be seen.

          I actually believe at this particular point, President Ahmadinejad, who I always say for better or for worse --- he thinks his domestic legitimacy will be enhanced given the nature of his re--election, and second, he is a marginalized figure within the system, within the political system, and he thinks that is going to be enhanced if he is seen as a principal instrument of a new diplomacy.

          I don't think Khatami and others are that necessarily interested in kind of a conversation with America, but that may happen.  Where that leads you afterwards is sort of prolonged negotiations which purpose is not that obvious to me.

          Everybody wants to be in that position because they do not want to address the alternatives.

          MR. KAGAN:  The sort of final question in a way is -- there are some people who have decided this is where the Administration is going, but basically they have already accepted that Iran is going to get a fine.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I don't know if that's true.  I don't think they have accepted that.  I don't think there's been a determination made, okay, this country is going to get the nuclear weapon.

          I think Iran is a perplexing challenge that nobody is quite sure how to address.  That was true -- there's much continuity about the second Bush Administration and the policy today.  In a sense that you sort of have these options, whether sanctions, even negotiations that would presumably impose restrictions on Iran's nuclear activity, and you somehow hope they work.

          I'm not quite sure that I would suggest they have accepted the idea that Iran will get the bomb.  I think it is hoped that the instruments at your disposal today, whether sanctions as a means of getting them to the table and posing some sort of restraint on their nuclear program while at the table is a means of adverting that possibility.  I'm dubious of whether it is going to work, but I think that's where it is.

          MR. KAGAN:  The final question and we will move on down the line, how much is the fear of an Israeli action shaping the Administration policy?

          MR. TAKEYH:  There are several ways of looking at the U.S./Israeli relations.  I think the United States would prefer for the Israeli's not to take military action against Iran.  I'm not quite sure if the Israeli's are going to do so.  I think they speak a lot.  Israeli's always give themselves more time.  It's been an exponential threat for about six to eight years.

          They seem to have different ways of dealing with an exponential threat in a non--military manner.

          The Israeli issue, I think, will confront the Administration at some point.  I don't think it's at this point.  When you talk to the Israeli officials, they seem confident about the possibility of sanctions could have an impact on the Iranian regime whose social base is contracting. 

          There is a renewed area you can talk about that's more informative, kind of a renewed confidence in the sanctions, from what I gather amongst some Israeli officials, especially as the regime's social base narrows, they seem to think as the regime is subject to internal economic distress and international economic pressure, it could come back to the table and have some sort of restrictions.

          The Israeli's are hoping they do not have to visit the military option as well.

          MR. KAGAN:  Elliott, what about the Israeli calculation as far as you are able to gleam it?  There has been a recent statement by a former Defense Minister suggesting that November was the time.  I remember last year, they should have already bombed by now or this Summer or last Summer. 

          At a certain point, one does begin to wonder how much of this is aimed at getting the United States to be as serious as possible, is keeping the option on the table in a more creditable way than the United States is able to keep the option on the table, but at the end of the day, you could make the argument that Israel is desperately eager not to do this.

          MR. ABRAMS:  They are desperately eager not to do this.  It would be crazy for them to be eager to do it if there is another way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.  An American strike, a diplomatic outcome, a revolution in Iran, because if they strike, there will be a price to pay, potentially a heavy price to pay.

          I wouldn't agree with the notion that the Israeli strike is now less likely. 

          For one thing, the bargaining idea that you raised, all the Israeli's I've talked to can't believe  how stupid the United States is to take this option off the table.  If the American goal is a negotiated deal that's a good deal, that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon or delays it quite a long time, then we are looking for leverage on Iran.

          What leverage do you have?  You have sanctions theoretically.  You have the possibility of a military strike.  You have the idea of helping the Green Movement more.  These are threats.

          We have the Secretary of Defense and others in the Administration going out and saying, oh, it will just be catastrophic.  I don't understand why from a bargaining point of view why the Secretary of Defense is going out and saying what, bomb Iran, don't worry about it, even if he doesn't believe it, he shouldn't be saying that publicly. 

          MR. KAGAN:  Why is he saying it?  You've been in the Administration.  People just don't say things.  They usually have a reason why they are saying it.

          MR. ABRAMS:  I think it's his genuine view.

          MR. KAGAN:  Is he fighting against somebody else who wants to do something else?

          MR. ABRAMS:  That's a very interesting question.  Who is that person in the Obama Administration who is sitting there desperate to --- I think there is a school of thought in the Democratic party of kind of arms control, people who have spent their lives believing in the NPT, and they don't want see the NPT collapse.  They don't want to preside as part of the Democratic Administration over a huge expansion of the number of countries who have nuclear weapons.

          Some of those people probably would prefer even a military strike to seeing the whole post--war non--proliferation edifice collapse on their watch. 

          MR. KAGAN:  Gates is saying it's to keep George Perkovich under control.

          MR. ABRAMS:  I think it reflects the view of Gates himself and certainly some people in the military, I would guess, mostly in the Army, that this would be a very bad thing to do particularly now given our involvement in Afghanistan and still in Iraq.

          What I find perplexing about this is if you approach this problem of U.S. policy, life presents you with two options.  Yes, let them have a nuclear weapon or a military strike to prevent it. 

          There has certainly been continuity on the desire to create a third option, a middle option, which is a diplomatic option, to do a deal that prevents or under which they agree not to get a nuclear weapon, and sanctions are part of that option.

          Five years ago, nobody thought that the end of the regime was really an option.  That's a new option.

          What surprises me about the Administration is the diplomatic option is disappearing with each passing month because Iran is making further and further progress towards the nuclear weapon.

          What we should be doing is either shortening the sanctions time scale, which we are not doing -- there was a deadline last Labor Day --- and/or we should be really hitting the question of helping the Green Movement, and we are not doing that either, which is why even if the Administration does not say to itself, yes, they're going to get a bomb, we are resigned to it, one would have to say, you know, if you looked at this, it would be a fair conclusion to reach.

          MR. KAGAN:  Danielle, you have written about some sanctions' efforts.  I am going to ask the question I asked Ray, what is the Administration up to?  They do seem to be moving about as slowly as possible to move on this while still trying to move.

          Maybe it's beyond their capacity to move any faster because of international circumstances, but I would say that probably trying to go faster rather than slower would be the way to go.

          What is your read on what's going on right now?

          MS. PLETKA:  I think the Administration on sanctions is sort of a lightning indicator of the situation on the ground.  They have moved more and more in the direction of a hard line on Iran.

          The problem is the challenge is more perplexing, more challenging, more difficult, and it's not enough.

          What was striking to me --- I'm not a grudging supporter of sanctions -- I always have believed that sanctions create the space to increase your options. 

          I agree wholeheartedly with Ray that at this point, sanctions are not going to deliver, and I don't even think they are going to deliver to people at the table because they are moving so slowly.

          I think what was confusing to me was the fact that the Administration really did have a plan, and those who suggest they don't or didn't are unjust.  I think they had a plan.  I didn't like it.  It wasn't the plan I wanted.

          It wasn't that the President was reticent about laying out what he thought was going to happen.  He wanted to sit down and negotiate with the Iranians and if they were going to come to the table, they were going to come to the table, either we would succeed or we wouldn't, but at least we were going to build our credibility.

          What is mysterious to me is this passage of a year and a half almost in which that time was not used effectively to build up agreement with those with which we would have to plan the Iranian sanctions with if in fact they didn't come to the table.

          The Iranians said no around September, and we kept going back and saying are you sure, come on.  Now we're saying it's a great achievement that the Chinese want to talk to us about this, but of course, getting the Chinese to talk to us is not exactly solving the problem with Iran's nuclear weapons.

          I think that is the parallel, we have actually slipped further away.  Why is the Administration doing this?  Why are they talking about this?  Obviously, they are operating within their limits. 

          There are those that suggest from whatever perspective that they have that this Administration is comfortable with Iran getting a nuclear weapon, it's okay, it is all part of a plan for American decline.  I doubt there are too many people inside the Obama Administration who are actually eager to see Iran with a nuclear weapon.

          The problem is because this has become such a challenge, they have fallen into the great Washington trap, and they have fallen into it much more quickly than previous Administrations, which is they are now working toward the goal to achieve some sort of agreement with our allies, and then maybe with our less allies, our strategic competitors or whatever, with the Chinese and the Russians.

          MR. KAGAN:  Let's get to that and see if you can help us understand their thinking.  With the Russians and the Chinese, one argument would be you can't have serious sanctions without the Russians and the Chinese, therefore, you have to have the Russians and the Chinese.

          On the other hand, they have had to water down what they are proposing in order to get the Russians and Chinese.

          The other argument you could make is you have to get the Russians and the Chinese in order to get the Germans, because the Germans are going to demand some kind of U.N. Security Council chaebol, I think would be the diplomatic phrase for that, under which they can do whatever they want.

          First of all, would those reasons be the explanation for why they have allowed the Chinese in particular to drag this on?  Knowing the Chinese, they can probably drag it on for another six months before getting to anything like a resolution.

          MS. PLETKA:  You talked about what I think the Administration had envisioned, and I'm probably the last person who should be talking about what the Administration wants to do.  I don't have that much insight into their thinking except via the Congress and people I talk to there.

          I think that what they had envisioned was there would be this sort of multilateral effort through the United Nations, the big legit, and then there would be this ad hoc coalition that came together with a much harsher set of sanctions.

          What you heard from the French and the British and less from the Germans toward the middle of the last year was no, we're really working towards this, we have an agreement, we know what we want to do.  We are putting in place some ad hoc sanctions that are outside the scope of the United Nations.

          Stuart Levey has been reasonably quiet, at least in public, but some inside Treasury say no, we do have this ad hoc regime.  Yeah, sort of.  At the end of the day, not a lot.  We are still seeing subsidies for business to Iran.  We are still seeing credits for doing business with Iran.

          I read this morning that the Chinese are financing a big Australian/Chinese partnership to do some big investment in Iran.

          It's not working as I think the Administration envisioned, and that's a big part of the problem.

          As to your direct question, can you have effective sanctions without the Chinese and the Russians, nobody is going to disagree that having multilateral sanctions is better.  The more, the merrier. 

          The Chinese and the Russians have managed to carve out and take up that space that has been squeezed out by the rest of them.  It is still better to buy from the Germans than the Chinese.  The Iranians clearly want to do that, that is why they are making such efforts.

          The real problem there to my mind is if you're talking about not terribly defined sanctions, the more you need more countries. If you want to put in place some really Draconian sanctions that will get people's attention, then the Russians and the Chinese -- if you put in place really Draconian VISA sanctions, if you put in place really Draconian travel sanctions, the Iranian shipping lines, if you go after gas, if you go after oil, if you go after those sorts of things, certainly the Russians and the Chinese -- the ability of Western countries to deliver on those kinds of things is actually pretty good if we want to do it, but we don't, apparently.

          MR. ABRAMS:  I agree with that.  I think what is striking, the Administration had a policy.  The policy was blown up by the Iranian people essentially last year.  Now we get to Labor Day, the original deadline.

          This policy was to try to get something from the U.N., which can be important because there are a lot of countries that will actually enforce that as a matter of domestic law, and then building on it with the coalition with the Europeans.  Fine.  That would have been a good thing to do last Fall.

          What is harder to comprehend is why did they let it go nine months.  In the interim, I think it becomes harder, not so much because Iran is making progress in its program, but because of the diminished position of the United States.

          Had the newly elected President Obama tried to get this set of sanctions, it would have been easier.

          American relations with the British, French, Germans, Japanese, Indians are not as good now as they were 12 and 24 months ago, and getting that cooperation, I think, is going to be harder.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I would draw one difference.  With the Russians, I think there is a greater degree of U.S./Russian cooperation.  Part of that has been a series of agreements that have been made between Russia and the United States, criticism of Russia's internal practices, their missile defense programs and so forth, and also because I think they have had it with the Iranians, I think you are going to get a greater degree of cooperation from the Russians. 

          There is a transactional arrangement with the United States and Russia that can be more effective in terms of sanctions policy, particularly with Russia on S--300s, their missile defense systems and so forth, which I don't think is going to happen.  

          You can say the Russians are being clever because they know the Chinese are going to play the bad guy role.

          There are two ways of approaching United Nations sanctions.  The way that has been approached since whenever the first resolution was done, during the Bush Administration, namely trying to get international unanimity as a means of conveying to the Iranians the impression of international unanimity and within that, you have an ability to craft sanctions policies with other countries.

          The second one, which as someone who doesn't really believe in sanctions as a persuasive instrument, I would say you load up your resolution in terms of negotiation with the British, the French, and possibly the Russians, and you dare the Chinese to veto, you just put it out there. 

          Relations are extremely complicated and have a lot of areas of trade, commerce, military and so forth, what are you going to do about it.

          I think direction is trying to get international unanimity and then you have this --- I don't know how reliable it is --- this dossier of revolutionary guard corps that you're going to go after, and do we know all their assets and do we know all the --- I just can't judge that, I don't know.  Then you will see that sort of thing happening.

          Then the third thing is the Iranian internal developments and how that affects the sanctions policy. If you want to have a sanctions policy that is a blunt instrument that really affects --- causes pain to the Iranian people, that is what an effective sanctions policy does, do you really want to do that at a time when the middle class and the intelligence of the country is on your side.

          You know you wanted to do it in South Africa because you wanted the middle class to understand that their complicity in apartheid cost them something, but do you want to do that in the Iranian society where the regime has lost the middle class, has lost the intelligence, maybe has lost portions of the working class, is that the kind of instrument that you want to use at this particular point.

          MS. PLETKA:  Among the conversations we have had with the Chamber of Commerce in which they say sanctions are an appropriate instrument that we need to use on dumping televisions into the United States, that apartheid versus nuclear weapons is appalling on a morale scale, but national security wise --

          MR. TAKEYH:  I just don't think sanctions are going to affect the regime's nuclear calculations anyway.

          MR. KAGAN:  Let's go to the next level.  You could argue it will affect their calculations indirectly in the following way, and which I think leads us into the next phase of discussion.

          MR. TAKEYH:  Energy sanctions will.

          MR. KAGAN:  Danielle, what is the state of  legislation on the Hill right now?

          MS. PLETKA:  They're in recess right now.  The Administration is not leaning on the sponsors of the bill but leaning on people who are known to be skeptics, and that is John Kerry and Richard Lugar and others, to slow down the Conference, to give the United Nations a chance.

          I am told waiting on the U.N. is limited, but it was said this would be done by the end of January and it ain't.  I testified before that Committee.  I think Congress is not willing to take on the Administration on this, as much as it thinks it is, and as it historically has been, no matter what the political party of the President or the Speaker or Majority leader.

          MR. ABRAMS:  You see a slow drive toward sanctions.

          MR. KAGAN:  Let's talk about sanctions and regime decision making.  We have been nibbling around this issue.  The case that one could make is not that the regime responds directly to sanctions.

          The case that one could make is the regime is fearful that sanctions will erode its political position, a regime that is not entirely confident of its position would be made less confident, and if you assume, as I do, that regime survival is the number one goal, then you begin to ask, well, if the regime's survival can be put at risk, does that lead to change in behavior.

          That is one set of issues.  The other set of issues is could you in fact put regime survival at risk with sanctions.  I'll make the argument and you can push back on it.

          Before June 12th of last year, we all would have said doesn't matter what you do with sanctions, you're not helping anybody, you're not hurting anybody, it doesn't matter. 

          After June 12th you could argue that you don't even need comprehensive sanctions any more because you don't know where the regime is in terms of its virility.  It could be something less than what you might have called for before. 

          I think this is what the best panel did not get into, what is your view of the effect of sanctions, and I'd like to get all your views, on the internal situation? 

          Would it in fact be the case -- this is a question I would have liked to have seen the best panel address -- that if there are sanctions which do hurt the very people who are against the regime, would that nevertheless help them in their struggle against the regime?  

          MR. TAKEYH:  I think the type of sanctions that could impact the regime's calculations would be trying to impose prohibitions on its ability to export oil, whether in terms of extraction or marketing.  That is the kind of thing that could get their attention because it lessens the revenue they have.

          This is a regime at this point that has a very narrow social base.  It is comfortable with that social base.  There has been opportunities in the intervening year for them to expand their social base and they have rejected it.

          There is always going to be sufficient revenue for the country to be able to meet the demands of its constituencies, and somewhat indifferent to the population at large.

          They do have an approach to their internal intelligence and their middle class.  This is not the Soviet Union.  If you don't like it, you have a computer engineering degree, you can get a VISA to Canada, go ahead.  It has the highest brain drain.

          One of the ways they deal with a population problem is to ship out the brightest and the best, to Canada, Australia, on occasion, the United States.

          The logical sanctions as I understand it is as follows, the regime's revenues decline and its ability to meet the subsidies and advance the population declines.  That leads the population to essentially engage in street protests.  Therefore, the calculations of the regime change.

          That particular logic was nullified on June 12, 13, 14, 15 and every day since, three to four million people were on the street, and Khamenei was as dogmatic and defiant as you could get. 

          The notion of street protests and a significant social and political movement coming to the surface could affect his political calculations and what the Green Movement was asking for was actually modest, access to media, release of political prisoners.  These are not dramatic requests, and he was saying no to all those requests.

          The logical sanction that has played itself out in Iran argue against the case you make and second of all, people say the threat of sanctions, that's the psychological -- this is a country that has been under sanctions for 30 years. 

          I don't know which number of U.N. resolutions this is, fifth, fourth, sixth.  I lost count.  This will be the fourth?  The notion of international review is not new.  They have been engaged with that argument before.

          MR. ABRAMS:  Suppose you could impose sanctions that included a prohibition on export of petroleum and the import of gasoline.  

          MR. TAKEYH:  I think under those circumstances, you could begin the conversation on the nuclear issue, but I don't see the international system allowing that type of sanction you are talking about, because those are Iraq like sanctions.  They came under a very particular context. 

          They were unprecedented before and they have not been applied -- if you look at the global sanctions regime, as practiced on various other countries, the Iraq case that you're talking about is exceptional.  I don't see that kind of a regime coming together.

          Look at the conversation that is happening now in trying to get the Chinese to agree, you think you're going to get three million barrels of Iranian oil off the market.

          MR. KAGAN:  Let me just press further, what if you got more protests and then the regime made mistakes?  The question is you're sort of presuming sort of perfect regime behavior throughout this entire period. 

          I think the last panel discussed the possibility that the regime can make mistakes, it can over react, it can under react.  It's difficult to handle these things.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I would say the regime has made mistakes since June 12.  They have the idea that you make no concessions to the opposition because Shah made concessions and Shah collapsed, or Shah made concessions without reciprocity. 

          They could have broadened the social base of the regime.  They could have had some sort of negotiations.  There are four or five different scenario's. 

          There is nothing that the regime has done since June 12th that is logical, starting with the fraudulent nature of the elections. 

          Musadi was not a threat to Islamic Republic's longevity.  He is now.  He was not then.  He was anti--American.  That's his history.  He was the Godfather of Iran's nuclear program.  In the 1980s, he actually kept the nuclear program alive.  You had an anti--American person who was committed to the nuclear program.  He was unacceptable.

          Along the way, if Musadi had been allowed to be re--elected on June 12, you couldn't even get --- the entire international landscape would change. 

          Everyone will say you have to engage with Iran and offer concessions in order to empower Musadi and this delicate balance of power.  That would be the logical thing.  We are the only country in the region that has 85 percent turn out.  We are the only country in the region that has this peaceful succession.

          When is the last time you had a succession in Saudi Arabia that was peaceful and electorally based?  We have a legitimate representative of the Iranian people and he's going to negotiate with the United States and the international community, and that will actually change the landscape.

          Can the regime make mistakes?  One thing this regime seems to be particularly good at, and that has come through decades of study, the Chinese example, the Eastern European examples, is how to control public space, how to use calculated violence in order to control demonstrations.  Too much violence can result in a backlash. Too little violence may further instigate. 

          I think in the long run, it is not sustainable. At least for a period of time, they have managed to control the streets, selective arrests.  I know they have studied this issue with the delegations going back and forth to China and so forth, they seem to have studied how to deal with domestic protests.

          As I said, in the long run, I don't think the regime has the strategic depth to deal with the Green Movement, but nevertheless, they seem to be particularly adept -- they are not adept at managing the economy, international relations that meets the interest of the country.

          MR. ABRAMS:  The other thing they are adept at is diplomacy of handling --

          MR. KAGAN:  It's not that challenging.  They do not have to do much to kind of delay things.

          Do you want to push back on anything Ray said vis--a--vis the sanctions? 

          MS. PLETKA:  No, I wish I could.  I really think we are in a situation where we are talking about too little much too late.  I do think that Draconian sanctions probably could have the effect of bringing them to the table. 

          We are very much in the situation in my opinion -- I am not in favor of the Russia deal.  I think we have a whole slew of possible outcomes, unlikely outcomes, that are actually unknown and really kind of bad.

          Musadi is absolutely one.  We have a tendency to talk about the Green Movement.  The guys who are in the forefront of it are not especially attracted to us and had we compared them ten years ago, we would have been pretty unhappy. 

          People say no, no, no, in the case of instability inside Iran, you could never tell, they were shouting death to the dictator and now they are shutting end of the regime.  Maybe. 

          I think again the first panel and better looking panel talked about --- I didn't say that --- talked about the IRGC and the role of the IRGC.  We haven't talked much about that, about the decision making.  I don't think we have a very keen understanding about the relationship with the IRGC.

          Again, who would be the ultimate victor, what would that mean coming back to what we are actually talking about, which is the nuclear weapons program, any of that, I think, is a great unknown for us. 

          We are in one of the most complicated and no good ending situations that we have been in in a long time because no matter what, the Iranians have the capacity to really change the regional dynamics in a way that I think we have not begun to imagine.

          MR. KAGAN:  Let me ask you, Ray, you don't think sanctions are going to work.  You don't think diplomacy is going to work, work in the sense of stopping the nuclear program.

          It seems to me you have two options.  You just wrote an article saying containment is a false option because there is no non--military containment, which I thought was a very important point to make.

          You are now left, it seems to me, with two options.  One is you basically let the regime go ahead and gets its weapon and hope that eventually the Green Movement succeeds and the result of the Green Movement succeeding is that the regime is toppled and they embrace the West and therefore are willing to make a deal that this regime is not willing to make.  That's option one, it seems to me.

          Option two is you let George Perkovich win the argument, Bob Gates is defeated, and you do take military action. 

          I don't see any other options.  You would say containment is a real option?  What is your preferred option of those three options?

          MR. TAKEYH:  Sanctions, sanctions.  Now, you know how you get to sanctions.  Now you know why it's so much more interesting to travel to Europe and talk to Europeans and get the Chinese on board.  Frequent flyer miles.

          The Wall Street Journal wrote an article, I think yesterday, editorializing against the containment piece of it, which I think they misread.

          Having looked at containment, admittedly, in not a rather profoundly substantive way but to some degree, I am beginning to think it is actually a less appealing option.

          Could you contain Iran?  Probably, but the cost and the process of that containment is going to be very turbulent.  I think we have categories and compartments, if you will.  There is containment, there is use of force and there's diplomacy.  In reality, they are all part of the same.

          There are several containment regimes.  The way we drew the containment regime was very rigorous, with red lines.  If those red lines are violated, that triggers a military action, up to and including -- you can draw them differently.

          You can say as Lyndon Johnson said in 1964, this doesn't affect the balance of power in the region, good--bye, then you preserve your flexibility, so if the Chinese transfer nuclear resources to the North Koreans, you're not obligated for retaliatory strikes.  

          You can have a nebulous sanctions policy, containment policy that gives you a lot of options, or you can have the restrictive policy that triggers military action.

          We opted for the latter.  Having looked at containment, I just don't see its appeal that much.  I just don't think it's easy.  I don't think it's effortless, and I don't think it's without the use of force.

          MS. PLETKA:  It delivers.

          MR. TAKEYH:  It delivers, preserving the stability of the region, preventing the Iranians from blackmailing your allies, preventing the Iranians from transferring nuclear technology to other countries, try to prevent them from essentially becoming a more assertive power and a new export market for nuclear technology.  I think it might not deliver that.

          Then you get to the use of force, which is an interesting argument.  When the military leadership says this is catastrophic and this is disastrous, that may be your end point.

          When the leadership says that, what does the bureaucracy do?  No any sort of creativity within the bureaucracy to look at the military option.  Okay, this is what it looks like.  These are the consequences.  That could be your end point, but that shouldn't be your beginning point.

          The difference between containment and prevention or preemption -- I can never get that straight -- is that prevention/preemption means 100 percent possibility of the use of force, 100 percent certainty of use of force against Iran.  That's what it is.

          Containment means high risk of use of force.  There is a difference between high risk and certainty.  That is what containment buys you.

          MR. ABRAMS:  There's another side to that coin which is preemption guarantees you have achieved your result whereas the so--called containment doesn't guarantee anything.  In fact, since you're doing it under this, you're in a context in which your five years of statements saying it is unacceptable are now shown to be meaningless.

          MR. KAGAN:  You left out the other point, which is prevention is when they don't have a nuclear weapon and containment is when they do have a nuclear weapon.

          That seems to me to be the point you were making, which is if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, and I'm going to paraphrase what you were saying, their incentive to increase their support for Hezbollah goes up.

          MR. TAKEYH:  Yes, goes up.

          MR. KAGAN:  Your option then in real containment is you want to be able to retaliate, that is what containment means, otherwise, I don't know what containment means. 

          If you're not stopping them from doing that, you're not containing them; right? 

          Now your incentive to do something has declined because they have a nuclear weapon; right?

          MR. TAKEYH:  We still have a conventional military option. 

          MR. KAGAN:  We don't want to use it now.

          MR. TAKEYH:  So what makes you think we will use it then.

          MR. KAGAN:  By the way, not to put too fine a point on it, this was kind of the argument on Iraq because the assumption was if Iraq does eventually get a weapon, that makes it a little bit harder to contain their obvious actions.

          Again, I think you have come down to preventive military action.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I'm still saying sanctions.


          MR. TAKEYH:  You have to try international diplomacy.  That limited area, between certainty and probability, use of force --- the other thing is the President, if the bureaucracy is judicious, will have numerous containment options in front of him, not just the one we drew up.

          He can draw a very nebulous one where he cannot retaliate should Iran engage --

          MR. KAGAN:  That's just not containment.  I mean, you can call it that.

          Let's look at the other options.  The first and better panel today, I think, came to the conclusion that it is just a matter of time before this regime falls.

          One question that I would have wanted to pose to the better panel is does the acquisition of a nuclear weapon affect the internal dynamics, i.e., I think there are some regimes around the world that believe that if they get a nuclear weapon, it actually helps them maintain control domestically.

          Otherwise, you could pursue this other policy, which is if it's inevitable this regime is going to fall and every other option is lousy, then you basically let them get the bomb and hope the regime falls in a timely manner, and do whatever you can to assist the regime in falling in a timely manner.

          You have to pay whatever price you pay in the interim, but overall, given all your bad options, that might be the best option.

          MS. PLETKA:  I think there are those who suggest that somehow nuclear weapons won't help the regime.  I cannot see why it would not.  The incentive to interfere in Saudi and Iran is diminished.  The Iranians' ability to interfere externally is going to increase, I think.  I don't know why it doesn't give them a feeling of empowerment vis--a--vis their own people.

          MR. KAGAN:  Sure.

          MS. PLETKA:  There is a second question which you have to ask, if the regime's time line is limited, and let's say that it is.  Let's say it is limited.  Who is coming next?  Why are they necessarily better and why do we necessarily want them to have nuclear weapons?

          The only thing I would say to people who say that is unlike all the rest of you, I have learned some lessons from Iraq, and damn, sometimes the guys that come afterwards aren't exactly what you would expect. 

          They aren't Jeffersonian Democrats.  They don't behave the way you want them to.  After 30 plus years of being the Islamic Republic, we have half the population that was educated by the Islamic Republic and has opinions about the United States, about the neighborhood, about Iran's role in the neighborhood, about Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas and all the rest of it, that are informed by the regime and that may not be any better.

          MR. KAGAN:  You must be in favor of preventive military action.

          MS. PLETKA:  I'm getting there.

          MR. KAGAN:  Okay.  Tell us when you get there.

          MR. TAKEYH:  On the argument of whether acquisition of a nuclear bomb helps the regime's legitimacy, I don't know how that works.

          If my name is Hamid, I'm unemployed and I'm disenfranchised, and I have a difficult time making ends meet, and I'm sort of in opposition to this regime that has disenfranchised me and mismanaged my economy.

          Iranians, they do this all the time, in terms of stimulation, they shoot up cockroaches, whatever.

          The next day there is a bomb.  I'm still poor.  I'm still disenfranchised.  Now, you know, I have nuclear science.

          I think what acquisition of a nuclear weapon will do is probably solidify the regime's ties to its constituency, who always believed in its mission and believed in its approaches.

          I think the ties between larger society and the state are severed, and I think that severance is irrevocable.  I don't think it can be bridged by acquisition or advancement of nuclear science.

          MR. ABRAMS:  Even if that's correct, there is another aspect of that, which is morale.  Aren't you delivering a message to the opposition inside Iran that the world has just been defeated by these guys, they are riding high.

          MR. TAKEYH:  You are still disenfranchised.  You are still economically impoverished.  You are still in a difficult situation, and you always felt, if you are a sensible Iranian, and they are, that the change of the regime can come through internal processes, and eventually the international community isn't going to come to your rescue anyway.

          I don't think the argument that this will rekindle middle class affection for the regime --

          MR. ABRAMS:  The only argument I'm making is the victory of the regime helps its morale.

          MR. TAKEYH:  Long term?  Short term?  Medium term?  Forever?

          MR. ABRAMS:  Short term.

          MR. TAKEYH:  Short term; yes.

          MR. ABRAMS:  For a few years.

          MR. TAKEYH:  I don't know how you gauge that but I think at most, it's a short term advantage.

          The other thing about we will not intervene in it, whether subversion or militarily, that's a card we can concede or not concede. 

          We can say this actually puts you in greater difficulty with the international community, with the United States, and with the possibility of military -- the United States is in kind of a perplexing position because we have thought to ourselves that our entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan give Iran a deterrent.  We have conceded that.  Bush conceded that.

          Why is it that they have a $10 billion defense budget and we have a $1 trillion defense budget?  They do whatever they want to do.  Why is it that the disparity in military power doesn't give us any deterrents over their behavior?  Why is that?

          MR. ABRAMS:  It is a very good question.  I do think you are right to point back to Iraq. 

          MR. TAKEYH:  2006.

          MR. ABRAMS:  For years now, Iran has been killing Americans.  They have been doing it for decades actually, and has paid almost no price.

          In Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly Iraq, it has certainly been killing Iraqi's in larger numbers and American soldiers.

          What always struck me in the Bush Administration was the absolute insistence of the U.S. military of not doing anything about that.

          You might have thought SADCOM and the commanders in Iraq would be the ones banging on the table and saying this can be stopped, if we make the Iranians pay the price.  The contrary was true. 

          They took the view we have too much trouble out there.  We go out alone.  Let's just concentrate on what we are doing in Iraq.

          I think one can blame the Bush Administration but one has to say a lot of this comes from the military leadership.

          MR. TAKEYH:  And the President is still the President.

          MR. ABRAMS:  The President is still President.  The Iranians, I think, have learned from this whole point of view of what happens if they get a nuclear weapon, a very unfortunate lesson, which is there is a price to be paid.  They can impose prices on us, as you said, without our imposing prices on them, despite the amazing disparity in power.

          That is a choice on our part.  We have been making the wrong choice for a very long time.

          MR. KAGAN:  I think I have exhausted the questions on my end.  I think unlike the better panel today, we will open it up to questions.  There is a lot of expertise in this audience. 

          I hesitate to say this, opening it up for 15 minute speeches, which I don't want to do, if you have answers to questions that we have not been able to answer, I would like to hear them, but briefly.  I'm sure we all have a lot to say.

          You're very quick with your hand up.  Please, go ahead.


          AUDIENCE QUESTION:  I just want to draw some attention to what American foreign policy can mean for the Green Movement and what your opinions are about that.

          It is important --- Danielle Pletka brought attention to the sort of ostensible leaders of the Green Movement, but I think it is important to look beyond them and look at people who are human rights' defenders like the Nobel Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, and many others.  It is such a diverse and broad movement, and see what they think and what they demand of the international community.

          People like Shirin Ebadi, in my opinion, unfortunately, are against the use of sanctions, but I think the reason behind their disagreement is very important for the U.S. Government to listen to because what they are saying is all this focus on the nuclear issue is empowering the regime because the single greatest threat against it right now are the people of Iran.

          I think the U.S. Government is not paying enough attention to that.  It's horribly foolish at a time when there is such an erosion of legitimacy from within.

          What can the U.S. do to support the Green Movement?

          MR. TAKEYH:  I think a couple of months ago I went to Elliott's office and asked the same question.  I don't really have the answer.  I think you can make a case, as has been made, that the Green Movement has kind of enveloped the Iranian society.  I think it has succeeded in severing ties between the regime and its population.

          Maybe it's just my imagination, because I just don't know beyond some of those things that have been said, communication devices and so forth, what else the United States can do.  I'm not saying they shouldn't do anything.  I just don't know the answer to your question.  That's what I'm saying.

          I know some of the cases with solidarity and others.  I'm not quite sure they are applicable.  The Helsinki process.  The Helsinki process worked because at the end of the day, some members of the Soviet elite defected to the argument that perhaps a greater degree of social space creates functioning socialist governments that will still have orientation towards the Eastern Bloc, a wrong calculation.

          I just don't know.  I don't know what the American bureaucracy can do.  I don't know who would do it.  I know how bureaucratically that would work, one way is getting it to the State Department.

          I don't have an answer to your question.  I think it's an important question and probably the most critical question that can be explored.  Beyond some of the things that have been said about the communication devices and expressions of moral support by the United States, I can see the argument that we should have appointed a U.N. person to deal with Iran's human rights' abuses just like we have a U.N. process that deals with their nuclear infractions.

          The Iran human rights' abuses are also in violation of its international agreement, just as proliferation, and that puts an international glare on its domestic efficiencies.

          Are these things going to convince Khamenei

to give them power?  No.  Elliott, you have thought about this question.         

          MR. ABRAMS:  I think the latter point you were making about U.S. policy, showing its support for the Green Movement, is critical.  It doesn't overthrow a government in three weeks. 

          It was possible in the course of the Cold War somehow to convey, even though we were negotiating constantly with the Soviets, somehow to convey clearly whose side we are on.

          If you ask people who were in the Gulag, it made a big difference to them to know that the United States and other portions of the West that varied from decade to decade had this view.

          I think you're right.  If we had a kind of all fronts aggressive approach to this in the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. General Assembly and UNESCO, and the U.S. Human Rights Council, just pushed everywhere, everywhere, put the regime on the offensive in all international fora, and made it very clear it is a piranha regime -- it is really quite remarkable if you think about the events of the last 12 months.

          In the last 12 months, you have seen Israel being moved into the position of a piranha regime, despite the events -- it is a huge error for --

          MS. PLETKA:  There are things we can do.  The truth is there are things we can do and that we don't do.

          It's funny what you say about the question of discussing the nuclear issue and conferring legitimacy upon the regime, basically having a discussion on the turf they want to discuss.

          I think that's a very fair point.  It reminds me of the discussion that we had about Iraq, and the debate that went on in the Bush Administration and among the Defense Department about whether it was that we should talk about getting rid of Saddam Hussein because of his non--compliance with international agreements and the U.N. Security Council, or because of his own treatment of his own people.

          The agreement and the broad consensus inside the Administration was that you have to go with the internationally legitimate question of his failure to comply with the demands of the U.N. Security Council under Chapter 7, not because of his failure to live up to his obligations to his own people.  No one gives a crap about human rights.  That is the reality.

          When push comes to shove, countries are not willing to stand up in the same way as they are on these nuclear infractions.

          I agree with you.  I'm very sympathetic to it.  All I'm saying is that is the reality of the world, the Iran's and the Libya's and the Sudan's and the Zimbabwe's who control the discussions in UNESCO and the U.N. Human Rights Council and elsewhere, but there are things we can do that we do appallingly badly.

          The Voice of America that runs its programs into Iran, a Congressman just said to me the other day that he was interviewed by the Voice of America and he was asked by the reporter extraordinarily aggressively why it was he was so hostile to the people of Iran and why it was he wanted to promote sanctions and what was wrong with him, and didn't he think it was legitimate for the government of Iran to pursue nuclear weapons.

          That is why people listen to the BBC, of all things, because the VOA sucks.  I'm sorry.  Forgive me.  That's what I think.  That is what I've always thought.  You can come and yell at me afterwards.

          MR. KAGAN:  This is an off the record conversation, don't worry about it.

          MS. PLETKA:  I say it publicly.  Those tools that are available to us, the European leaders are meeting with Sharana Beibet.  She's had a revolution, she wasn't that great before.  Fine.  They are meeting with her.

          All the folks who have been exiled and who the Iranian Government is successfully pushing out, where are they?  Are they meeting with the President, the Vice President?

          MR. TAKEYH:  One did.  There was a meeting of human rights' people.

          MS. PLETKA:  Did they put them out the back door the same way they did the Dalai Lama?

          MR. KAGAN:  On the previous panel, there was a very technical point made, which is the United States could provide free Internet services by means of satellite.  That seems to me something that could be done.

          I get the feeling there is no desire really in the Administration to provide any meaningful assistance even of that kind.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I'd be happy to be wrong.

          MR. ABRAMS:  You're just judging from the evidence.


          MR. KAGAN:  Are you raising your hand because you are going to answer this exact point? 


          MR. KAGAN:  Okay.  One after the other.

          AUDIENCE QUESTION:  I'm from Bloomberg News.  I actually asked Hillary Clinton this question in an interview in Moscow two weeks ago, and she said that the U.S. has granted a license to a company -- this is what she said on the record.  Patrick is shaking his head "no." 

          She said they have granted a license to a company to provide satellite to boost Internet access within Iran, and when we pressed her and pressed other people at the State Department and asked what is this company and what is it exactly you're doing, they wouldn't tell us, but they said such a license has been issued.

          That actually was a question I wanted to ask this equally terrific panel to the first panel, which is in those -- I don't want to call them little things, but in those sort of civil society things, what specifically can U.S. policy makers be doing?

          As I listened to all four of you struggle up there, working through the questions of diplomacy, sanctions and military action, and not finding sort of agreement or even within yourselves, each one of you thinking what is the right answer, so I want to know what is the way you want to go.

          The other thing I asked Clinton in this interview was whether the U.S. has intelligence proving that Iran is closer to getting a nuclear weapon now than they were at the beginning of the Obama Administration, whether this one year has meant a critical delay, and she said she didn't know.

          On the last panel, we had our CIA alumnus telling us we should look at all the national intelligence estimates and essentially throw them out.

          I want to ask you guys that same question, what sense you have about that.

          MR. KAGAN:  Just because it's on the same point, do you want to take a crack at it and then we will come back to your question.

          AUDIENCE QUESTION:  I work with some pro--democracy and human rights groups in Iran.  For that question specifically, this Administration has actually stopped funding certain pro--human rights and democracy groups that have been funded for years.

          For example, a group out of Connecticut, Documentation Center for Human Rights, which had its State Department funding stopped at the end of last year.  There are other organizations as well.

          For example, Voice of America, you mentioned, as an example, to show what the de--policy is, whatever you might think of him, has stopped being interviewed on Voice of America since this Administration has come to power, not officially, but his office has been asked many times to appear on Voice of America and he has declined to do so. 

          That kind of shows you what this Administration has been doing.

          To go to the bigger question, I think what can the U.S. do, I have my own opinions, but if you look at the Iranian populace on June 10, and if you ask the general question, and my belief is would you rather a regime change, I think the answer in the majority would have been no, especially after Iraq and what the regime change concept meant.

          I think primarily the reason for the vast majority of the Iranians saying no was because they couldn't see the possibility, there was no hope.

          What June 12th did in my opinion, which is the most important thing, is to show the Iranians that you know what, it is possible to get rid of the regime.

          A huge chunk of the Iranian population has changed their minds, and if you ask them today, would you rather the regime change or the end of the Islamic Republic per se and establishment of a free democracy, a lot more would say yes, partly because of the actions since June 12th of the Islamic Republic, but mostly because they can see the possibility, they can see it's not just them but a huge chunk of the population is against this regime.

          That is one thing the American Administration and the Western world can give Iran, hope, and that will go a long way to pushing the population into getting rid of this bureaucracy and establishing hopefully a democracy.

          MR. KAGAN:  Do you have a feeling about how far along Iran is on the nuclear program?

          MR. TAKEYH:  Having flunked physics twice in school.

          MR. KAGAN:  I'm impressed you took it the second time.

          MR. TAKEYH:  You had to take it.  The science of this largely eludes me.  I would say the following, sort of back of the envelope calculations.

          There is a lot of reporting in the papers that Iran's program is suffering technical breakages and it's not progressing as well.

          If you actually look at the IAE reports, you realize they are producing more enriched uranium than they were before with less number of centrifuges, which means the existing centrifuges are being operated with more efficiency and greater productivity.

          Therefore, the question will be why are they not installing more centrifuges and jacking it up.

          That may happen soon, maybe they are just trying to perfect the system they have.  I don't know the nature of their clandestine program and how elaborate it is or even if there is one.

          I would say they are becoming every day more technologically proficient and self sufficient.

          It seems to me you can make the case that the Iranian program no longer requires exports from abroad in order to complete its mission, its mission being having the infrastructure for a nuclear bomb.

          How it progresses from here on, I can't see the scientific process reversing itself.

          Where you master a technology, you can pretty much master it.  I am dubious of the fact there is a 30 year old scientist who has all the keys to Iran's nuclear program and shows up in Saudi Arabia unescorted.

          Let me just say one more thing.  The Iranian Government is behaving in violations of its international obligations and international law in a number of different ways, in terms of its human rights and its nuclear problems, and also its relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas. 

          When it sends arms to Hamas and Hezbollah, that's actually violating the U.N. resolution.  Nobody says anything about that.

          The nuclear infractions are not the only infractions that this government is committing.  I think if you call the international community's attention to all these infractions, you can actually gain a fair degree of support for the nuclear infractions because you have demonstrated as part of a systematic behavior as opposed to an one off thing, and that is why I think having more comprehensive -- if you are going to negotiate with Iran, and I suspect at some point we will, it cannot be, it seems to me, a strict discussion of the nuclear issue.  It's not a technical disagreement between two states over nuclear apparatus.            You have to go in like we used to do with a list of dissidents that we want to see released.  You have to go in and say your relationship with Hezbollah and so forth, that's on the table.  The table has to be broadened.

          Again, I hear all these arguments for a greater degree of emphasis on human rights.  I'm not saying I'm against it, I just don't know how to do it.

          MR. ABRAMS:  I don't think there's a magic bullet.  It has to be an all fronts effort.  Why do we not have an effort to get national parliaments all over Europe and Latin America, places where there is a parliament, to be denouncing some of these violations that you mentioned?

          Why don't we have more in the European parliament?  Why don't we do more at every international gathering of any kind, inside or outside the U.N. system?  We're not doing that.

          The impression we are giving --

          MR. TAKEYH:  We have never done that.

          MR. ABRAMS:  Right.  We have given the impression since last June that the Green Movement is an annoyance in our effort to negotiate a deal with Iran, and we have got to stop doing that.  That is going to hurt the Green Movement.

          We can't make them succeed, but we can hurt them.  I think the one thing we should be trying to do is prevent the regime from using the nuclear issue to gain legitimacy, and the very least we can do is to prevent it from gaining legitimacy, and we are in danger of missing that goal.

          MR. KAGAN:  I think it would be fair to say the Administration's policy is the opposite of what you are saying.

          MR. ABRAMS:   I agree.

          MR. KAGAN:  It's very hard as you know, having served in Government, to do a major shift.  They were focused on negotiating with Iran.  They have been focused at the beginning at saying nice things to the Government as a means of inducing them. 

          They have never really shifted away from that approach, which is what you would require bureaucratically to move into this kind of global offense that you would have to completely determine that you're not going in that direction any more, and I think you are right to believe they still are aiming at getting back to the table, which unfortunately, we don't chew gum and walk at the same time.

          MR. TAKEYH:  The point Elliott was making, the two are not inconsistent. 

          MR. KAGAN:  To them, it has been inconsistent.

          MR. ABRAMS:  There is nothing inconsistent about it.  It's like threatening a military strike even if you don't plan on doing a military strike, because you want to use it as a means of advancing negotiations.

          The problem is they seem unwilling or unable to do both.

          MR. KAGAN:  Yes, ma'am?

          AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Hi.  I think Elliott made exactly the right point, which is that having failed to contain or roll back their WMD programs, and I would highlight as well as nuclear, you can't expect to deter its use.

          I would also ask that the IRGC is at the core of all the WMD programs, and I believe that the WMD programs and the regime could not survive in the absence of the IRGC, or at least the leadership.

          First of all, do you think that's correct, and secondly, if so, can the United States target the IRGC both for sanctions and militarily, so that we can attack them without having to have the full scale confrontation that the Pentagon does not want to have?

          MR. KAGAN:  I'm going to take a couple of questions because we are coming close to the end.  Yes, sir, in the back over here.

          AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  American Progress.  With regard to the concern over the fact that the top military leaders have taken the military option or seem to be taking the military option off the table or just speaking about what a bad situation that might lead to, what do you think about -- to what extent do you think the Iraq war itself, the fact that we have stationed over 100,000 troops there and have been involved there for eight years, do you think that has taken the military option off the table for Iran?

          MR. KAGAN:  I'm going to take one more, this young lady right here.

          QUESTION:  I'm just giving you a suggestion.  I agree with most of the things you said about the Green Movement, but I work for the Obama Administration.  I don't see even you guys talking about diplomacy.

          What sort of diplomacy they did, just saying oh, we want to talk.  Actually, there is more gesture from Iranian Government that we want to sit on the table, negotiate, but this didn't happen.

          With the threat of nuclear, military and economic sanctions, nothing is going to happen, actually pushing more people towards the government.

          Like Obama give the New Year message to Iranians, it wasn't a New Year message.  It was threatening the Iranian Government and before that, he renewed the sanction for 30 years, which was renewed by Clinton, and he renewed it.

          If I cannot go to the Iranian people and say look, America did this for us, now is the time we push the government to go and negotiate.  Then you continue the sanction and threaten more sanction, more military.

          Nothing is going to be established and no progress.  This is not the way to go as to diplomacy. That's my opinion.

          MR. KAGAN:  That's an interesting point.  Let me just direct this to you.  You could argue that a serious diplomatic approach to Iran would have to be much more patient, would have to significantly reduce the nature of any threats that are hanging out there, there are people who have argued these things take time, you need to give it some years even to do that.

          Is it fair to say in fact the Administration never really did give diplomacy enough of a chance?

          After you answer that question, we have the two other questions to answer, too.

          MR. TAKEYH:  We have never withdrawn diplomacy. The President and everybody else has said we are willing to negotiate over Iran's transactions. 

          I think the scope of what we should negotiate should be broader, but we never said we're not willing to talk.

          Second of all, people always point out the Sino/American relations.  Nixon went to China.  There is no obvious interlocutor for a broad transformation of the relationship between the United States and Iran.  That became obvious.

          Then the goal changed.  The goal was no longer transformation of the relationship, but what was called behavior modification.  You had discussions to modify Iran's behavior on issues of your concern.

          The problem with the Sino/American relations as a model, and there are many --- there is a problem with a regime that views negotiations with arrest, not tactical, but significant negotiations with arrest as a threat to its ideological identity, as sort of a challenge to its ability to preserve the sanctity of the revolution.

          I think they are quite right to be concerned about that because I think engagement with the United States does erode the revolutionary pedigree of the regime. 

          This is the lesson they probably learned from the Chinese, you know, what's so communist about the Chinese communist party today, other than absolute power in the hands of a selective group of people.

          I think what was discounted is how the regime views diplomacy, the United States as a threat to its internal pillars of power and its ideas and identification and so forth. 

          I think that is a great achievement of the Obama Administration.  It ended a 30 year debate in Washington.  In one year, the President ended a 30 year debate in Washington, which is not an insignificant achievement on the part of a chief executive who at times is criticized.

          Whether Iraq deters the United States from military action against Iran, I think that is undeniably true.  The large presence of the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fragile stability of those war torn charges does affect the military and other people's calculations about expanding the third front.

          Also, for the Administration and the President that has made reaching out to the Muslim community a serious and important objective of its policy, the idea that you go to war against a third Muslim country, so that is an issue you have to take into consideration.

          MR. KAGAN:  I guess the question I would pose is if the United States were not in Iraq, would the military favor a strike on Iran?

          It seems to me there are a lot of elements to the situation that make any intelligent military planner nervous.  There is an escalation ladder which eventually leads to an American invasion of Iran.  I think you might find a cautious military in any case.

          MR. ABRAMS:  You do find a cautious military and rightly so in a general sense, but the price is paid by the Americans who have been killed by weapons supplied by Iran, and in some cases, by Iranian agents directly.  That is a very steep price to pay.

          MR. KAGAN:  We have one final question hanging which is the IRGC question.

          MS. PLETKA:  I think probably you asked a fair question.  I don't think in terms of command and control we have a very, very strong sense about who exactly is the final decision maker, but I think it's the supreme leader and not the IRGC.

          The question of the supreme leader's relationship with the IRGC is very fraught, and I don't think we have a lot of clarity about it.

          The problem that you lay out, which is if we target the IRGC, then aren't we going to the heart of --- it is also support for terrorism, it is right except for the fact that this is probably also one of the more impervious parts of the regime. 

          Ray knows a lot about this, too.  The IRGC is a very different ideological kind of leadership for Iran than the Clerics are, and I think they make the Clerics look quite sophisticated and nuanced in their thinking about how to work with the outside world.

          The notion that somehow if we are able to really denude them of the ability to get the contract for the Tehran Metro or do whatever, that they are suddenly going to make different decisions about the nuclear program, I think that is probably wrong.

          It is also a little bit of an easy way out for us.  That is what you are seeing at the U.N. now.  No, we can only really agree to target these narrow things, and that is not going to be enormously, in my view, de-stabilizing for the regime.  I think broader range sanctions have to be thought about.

          MR. KAGAN:  Okay.  I think we have reached the end.  Let me just thank our panelists for an excellent second best panel of the day.


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