This was part of the Symposium on Iran and Policy Options for the Next Administration, which was made possible through the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
GIDEON ROSE: Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages -- ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and what to do about it. We are very fortunate to have with us two of the best experts around on what is going on, and what should be done about it -- Gary Samore and Ash Carter.
Their extensive, distinguished resumes and biographies are in your program, so I'm not going to take up too much time here reciting them. I will mention that Ash has a new paper out from the Center for a New American Security on "Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program." And those, and other publications of both of them can be found on-line at their various websites, and available outside the door as well for not of any fee.
Frankly, I'm exactly looking forward to this session greatly. I come from a, you know, small town nestled in the potato fields of eastern Long Island -- (laughter) -- and I have a little puzzled, but I'm curious that you've -- about helping, you know, having you elite, sophisticated types eating croissant at the Council on Foreign Relations, to help me -- (laughter) -- think through certain types of things.
I've been -- I've been watching the Conventions carefully, and I've gotten the sense that this Iranian nuclear thing is a problem. (Laughter.) But, I'm a little unsure what exactly the problem is, and which of these two alternatives -- simple, easy solutions to it, is the right one. Some people seem to think the problem is they're afraid of us, and so we can basically, calmly sweet talk them out of it. And other people seem to think the problem is they're not afraid of us, and so we can basically bully or bash them out of it.
Now, I heard very good cases for why each of these makes sense -- and you guys know all this stuff, so I'm curious to hear your take on -- we all know the existing policy is terrible, but which of the two simplistic alternatives that have been put on offer for us is the right one?
And with that, I'll throw it open -- let's start with Gary, and see if you can tell us why the diplomatic -- what's going on, in your opinion, and why the sweet-talking approach is the right one.
GARY SAMORE: Well, I think the sweet-talking approach is the right one if it'll work. But my view is that unless it's backed up with a very strong bashing alternative, it probably won't be successful. So, if I was going to answer your question -- which of the two, I'd say both. And the problem we've had is combining both.
When we were in a very strong position, right after we invaded Iraq, and Iran was very nervous -- so nervous that they were prepared to suspend some key elements of their nuclear program, we didn't take advantage of that opportunity to try and negotiate with them on terms that would have met our needs in the nuclear area.
Since then, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, as oil prices have increased, as there have been changes in domestic politics in Iran, the balance of power has shifted against us. And now it's the Iranians that are not particularly interested in a deal that would limit their nuclear program.
So, the challenge for the next administration, I think, is going to be to both engage Iran -- in terms that makes it difficult for them to say no, but at the same time increase the credibility of our ability to punish and threaten them if they do say no. And I think that's going to be very difficult to do.
ROSE: What's the basic problem in the first place, though?
SAMORE: I think the basic problem is they want a nuclear weapons capability and we want to stop them. And both sides have -- (laughter) -- perfectly -- and both sides have perfectly understandable reasons for those objectives.
From Iran's standpoint, there are a lot of advantages in have a nuclear weapons capability, both for defensive purposes -- because they may very well fear that they'd be vulnerable to external pressure or even U.S. attack if they don't have nuclear weapons, or a capability; but also because of their imperial interests in establishing themselves as the dominant power in the region. They think nuclear weapons, or the option to have nuclear weapons, is a very important instrument of power. And, finally, just in terms of mobilizing domestic support -- as we, as we heard in the first panel, it's a very important nationalistic symbol.
So, for all those reasons, I think the current leadership in Iran is deeply committed to acquiring a nuclear weapons option -- a capability. And this is a program that they've been pursuing for 20 years, so I doubt we're going to be able to talk them out of it in the sense that we can persuade them that it's a bad idea. But what we can do is create a package of incentives and disincentives that convince them to at least delay, or slow down or limit the program. And that, I think, is probably the best that diplomacy can achieve.
ROSE: You're confusing me a little bit, because I thought the problem was that they were a bunch of crazy religious fanatics who wanted to destroy and wipe out Israel. Isn't that the issue? You sound like -- you make it sound like it's a regular problem in nuclear proliferation, of the kind that we've been grappling with for, you know, generations now, rather than some entirely new existential threat that can't be handled with conventional measures.
SAMORE: Well, I think it -- I think they are acting rationally. And I think you can even argue that the current nuclear ambition is actually something that began during the Shah's period, when we had an ally, you know, ruling -- you know, ruling the government. So, in that sense, I think it does reflect a national interest primarily.
There is a concern that since this is a government we don't completely understand -- we don't understand the extent to which, you know, these sorts of religious extremism play in their decision-making that could lead them to act differently if they had nuclear weapons. I doubt that it would. I actually think they probably would behave like most nuclear powers behave.
But that's not necessarily something to be sanguine about. If you think about the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, we almost got into a nuclear exchange with the Soviets, and we're both rational powers. So, my concern is that in the Middle East, if you introduce nuclear weapons, not only Iran, and, of course in Israel -- and other countries are very likely to try to follow suit -- that kind of a situation is very unstable and could lead to nuclear use even though everybody understands deterrence and containment and so forth.
ROSE: Very interesting. Ash, you seem -- do you do nuance too? Is this what -- (inaudible) --
(Cross talk, laughter.)
ASHTON B. CARTER: Not as well as Gary does, but -- and everything he said is true, you know, you really have to let me count the ways that an Iranian bomb is a disaster. Number one, is that they might use it against us and against Israel. You already mentioned that.
But, it doesn't end there. I think possession -- even if they never use it, just simple possession is a disaster all by itself. I think it will change their behavior. I think it's a -- it is a shield behind which they will be emboldened to do things contrary to our interests, and to the stability of the region that they wouldn't dare if they didn't have the bomb.
I think Gary's absolutely right that this could be the beginning of a cascade, where their neighbors say -- who have foregone the nuclear options for decades, but always had it in the back of their mind -- Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria will have to reconsider their decision, so far, not to have the bomb, if Iran gets the bomb. So, possession -- it's not just use, just possession is a problem.
And then there's -- we haven't talked about something -- third, but which Gary has done a lot of good work on as well, which is diversion. The current owners of the bomb may not be the ultimate owners and users of the bomb -- they may sell the technology; they may lose control of the technology; they may divert it to a third party who uses it. You know, this is uranium-235. It has a half life of 713 million years. So, once these cats make this stuff, it's around for many turns of the wheels of history. And who knows --
ROSE: Like Council members. (Laughter.)
CARTER: -- yeah, who knows who's hands they'll come into. So, I agree with Gary, it's a -- it's a big problem. But it's not just one problem, it's a complex. Each one of those things I just named is, all by itself, something to keep you up at night.
ROSE: Well, let me ask you a question, though. Again, I keep hearing the Israel angle of this, are you saying that the -- it's Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey will be more scared of an Iranian bomb than they would be of an Israeli bomb?
CARTER: Scared and jealous -
ROSE: Why would the Iranian --
CARTER: -- scared and jealous -- and jealous too.
ROSE: So, the Iranian bomb would --
CARTER: There's the Shiite bomb, there's the Persian bomb. I mean, all of it's -- it's a pride thing. It's not --
ROSE: So, that would make them take actions that they didn't take in response to the Israeli development of a nuclear capability?
CARTER: Yeah. That was a close-run thing with respect to Israel but, yeah, it would add another weight in the pan. They're always balancing whether to go or not to go, and Israel's in the "go" pan, and this adds another weight in the "go" pan for all of those parties. I think it's quite clear.
ROSE: Okay, let's -- there are lots of things we can get to with that, but let's go back a little bit to the question of how things have gotten to this point. If everyone has -- recognizes what -- if everyone realizes what you're saying and has tried to stop this, why have all the things that we've tried not worked?
CARTER: Well, we haven't tried very much, so --
ROSE: So, we've been sitting around watching all this without actually trying this?
CARTER: Well, I observe -- and Gary knows this much better, and let me just say something and then turn it over to him because he's been thinking about the diplomatic option, doing really good work on that, and has a lot of actual, practical experience negotiating non-proliferation things -- but, to my way of thinking, we have had this policy of tough talk and incongruously weak action for some years now.
And, you know, diplomacy is about carrots and sticks, and the carrots haven't been there because the Russians and the Chinese and the Europeans haven't wanted to wield them. The carrots haven't been there. We haven't wanted to proffer them.
Our administration, near as I can tell, has been divided between a camp that wants to call Iran the "axis of evil," and so forth, and contain or isolate on the one hand; and another camp which would like to "give it a try," to talk them out of it. And we've had the worst of both worlds, where we've gotten the disbenefits of both of those policies -- the benefits of neither. And that's what happens when you have -- you're stymied. And that's just taking them. And then the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese all have their own issues for why they have been ineffectual.
So, I don't think the experiment's been done, really. It's not that it's been done and failed, it hasn't been tried. Gary made a real interesting point a short time ago, which is, had it been tried in 2003, there's now some evidence that it might have worked. That's the real meaning of the 'ill-starred' NIE, which was otherwise appallingly worded and misleading.
But what it suggested was that in 2003 the Iranian leadership was looking at us invading Iraq -- and a little scared about that, but we seemed to be working with them in Afghanistan, and maybe an accommodation. There seems to be some evidence that had we jumped then we might have been able to talk them out of it. That was then; now is now. They've had the experience of fecklessness, and they probably think we'll huff and puff, but never really blow the house down.
SAMORE: I want to pick up on something Ash said. I think he's right that the Bush administration has tried diplomacy in a half-hearted way, but I also want to emphasize the structural obstacles to an effective international approach, and in particular, the different interests that the big powers have, and this is something the next administration's going to have to grapple with.
For the United States, and for our allies, it's very easy to put nuclear nonproliferation as the top objective -- and that's our principal focus, in terms of both incentives and pressures, but for other countries, whether it's the Europeans, or the Russians and the Chinese, nuclear nonproliferation is the competing interest against other interests they have. And, as a consequence, it's been very hard for the U.S. and its allies to form a coalition that was prepared to take really serious measures against Iran if they -- you know, if they refused to stop their efforts to try to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.
And, in particular, the Russians and the Chinese have been a very weak link in our efforts to try to mobilize U.N. Security Council action -- again, for reasons that make sense if you look at the world from the standpoint of Moscow or Beijing. That's not going to change for the next administration. The Chinese are still going to want to protect access to oil and gas from Iran; the Russians are still going to see Iran as part of the overall effort to balance American power; and we, as we heard this morning, there are all kinds of covert business interests that the Russians -- you know, that the Russian elite is trying to protect.
And I'm afraid the Georgia situation is going to tremendously complicate any efforts for the U.S. to form and effective coalition against Iran. If Georgia doesn't get fixed -- if that, in fact, spreads to a broader conflict with the Russians over Ukraine and other parts of the near abroad, it's really going to leave us on our own -- I mean, the U.S. and its Western, you know, allies without being able to count on the Russians to do much help.
ROSE: So, let me get this straight. It's a real problem. (Laughter.) It needs to be fixed desperately. There's a way we might be able to fix it with a well-calibrated, sophisticatedly deployed package of carrots and sticks. But we're not going to give the carrots, and we're not going to use the sticks, so we're back to square one.
SAMORE: Well, I think the next administration will have a chance to deploy a more effective package of carrots and sticks. And, you know, let me just mention -- on the carrots side, because I think that's a lot easier, as Ash said, the Bush administration has been divided. The Bush administration has supported the international offer to Iran to help their civil nuclear power program if Iran agrees to accept a 10-year moratorium on its enrichment program.
I think that's a very generous offer, and makes perfect sense if the real purpose of Iran's program was nuclear power -- that would be very attractive. Of course, that's not the real purpose of their program. But what the Bush administration has not been willing to do up to now is to throw into the pot U.S. willingness to improve U.S. bilateral relations with Iran -- lifting our bilateral economic sanctions; you know, normalizing political relations; giving some kind of security assurances.
Now, you know, I think those carrots are of mixed appetite for the Iranian regime, but to not have deployed those important instruments on an issue that we all agree is critical importance, that strikes me as a weakness in our position. And I think the next administration, whoever is elected, will be in a position, I hope, to offer to Iran a fresh start, a transformation in the relationship if Iran meets our needs on the nuclear issue.
To me, that part of the formulation is much easier. The harder part is how you back that up. And, ideally, we would want to go to the other big powers and say, we're going to make a much more generous offer to Iran to solve this nuclear issue, but if the Iranians turn down that more generous offer, we're counting on you to support stronger sanctions. And what I'm worried about is this Georgian crisis may have interfered with our ability to line up the Russians and Chinese beforehand to support sanctions if the Iranians refuse a more generous offer.
ROSE: Do you agree with what he said?
CARTER: Yeah, I do. I think it's worth a shot. I wouldn't put a high probability on its success. It needs to be tried. I'd just make two additional points about the diplomatic option. The first is, I'm not an expert on Iran, and I'm humbled by what I hear about this, sort of, "amoeba" that is the Iranian government. And so when you're negotiating with something that is that divided and amorphous, even the best diplomatic setting at the table doesn't guarantee success.
And that's related to the second point, which is, I think it's going to take us a little time, if we were going to try this route -- which, again. I don't put a high probability on its success, but I think we have to try it because you can't go on to the other things unless you've tried diplomacy and shown that diplomacy has failed -- you know, we don't, our government has not interacted with the Iranian government much at all. There was somebody -- Nick Burns, a friend of Gary's and mine, our top diplomat, had the job that Frank Wisner once had -- Frank's here -- said that there was, when he came into office, "half a person" in the State Department who dealt with Iran.
And it reminds me, if I'm a Defense person -- and there's an old story about a letter written to the secretary of the Navy by the MIT Chemistry Department before World War I, and they said, it looks like the field of chemistry is going to be very important in the upcoming war, and we would like to offer the services of the chemists. And the letter back from the secretary of Navy says, you know, thank you for your interest in national defense, and we appreciate your interest, but wish to inform you that the Navy has a chemist; -- (laughter) -- and we have somebody who works on Iran. But it was half a guy. (Laughter.)
So it's going to -- even under the best of circumstances, to figure out how to approach this amoeba would take a little bit of learning and some time and some willingness to probe and interact. And we haven't had that so far.
SAMORE: Could I just add one more thing, because I don't want to leave people too depressed. I do think that the transformation in Iraq could help strengthen our diplomatic position considerably, because the more that the Iraqi government looks stable, the more that it looks like U.S. forces can extricate themselves out of harm's way, the more it will become credible in Tehran that the U.S. would be willing to use military force if diplomacy fails.
Up to now, the Iranians have counted on our predicament in Iraq as protection against a U.S. military attack, because the Iranians could retaliate by stirring up trouble in Iraq by providing arms and, you know, and encouragement to their -- you know, to their allies in Iraq. So, the more that that option is deprived, the more we can credibly threaten the use of military force.
And I'm absolutely convinced, whatever you think about the wisdom of using military force as a last resort, unless the Iranians believe that's a real, serious possibility, I just don't think diplomacy can be effective. That doesn't mean that we should be threatening them publicly, but as they sit and calculate the odds, unless they believe that that's a real danger, I think whatever we put on the table by way of carrots and inducements is not going to be effective.
ROSE: You know, you're not supposed to make threats that you're not prepared to keep, if necessary. So, Ash, you know, this is the kind of thing you do, what exactly are the military options, and if they're so good and worth doing, why not just do them?
CARTER: You know, let me make a distinction first -- and this paper walks through all this, between a military option and military ingredients to real options. I make that distinction between -- because as you see, if you read this, and I'll say why in a moment, military action by itself isn't an option in the sense that it can settle the matter.
It can contribute to resetting the diplomatic table, I suppose you might say, and resetting the registers in Tehran. But it, by itself -- for reasons I'll explain in a moment, doesn't dispose of the Iranian nuclear program. So, you have to ask yourself, after military action -- what? And that's either a return to a diplomatic path, now made more plausible by the fact that you've shown you're willing to whack them; or, or to a strategy of containment.
But there are really just two strategies for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, which is to talk them out of it; or get used to have them having it and adjust militarily. And so, as we think about military ingredients, of options, there are two options: Stop them -- what's the military ingredient to stopping them?; and contain and deter when they get the bomb -- what are the military ingredients to that?
Let me start with the first --
ROSE: Wait, that's three options, right? There's talk them out of it; there's stop them out of it by force --
CARTER: But, what I'm going to -- about to suggest is that doesn't really work out to be very practical. I mean, so the -- what everybody has in their mind when they talk about ending the nuclear program by military force is, most of the time, is an air strike on Yongbya, and it's now -- I mean, Yongbyon, sorry -- (laughter) -- (inaudible) -- on --
CARTER: -- on Natanz. That's more than a Freudian slip, this is analogized to --
CARTER: -- to the Osirak strike by Israel in 1981, and to an air strike which I'd planned in 1994 -- Gary remembers this quite well; he was alternately intrigued and horrified by what we were doing -- (laughter) -- to strike Yongbyon, in North Korea if the North Koreans did not agree to stop, which they ultimately did.
Both of those air strikes would have been more decisive, in technical terms, than would a strike on Natanz. And, if I may take a minute getting --
CARTER: -- to support and say why, Osirak didn't end the Iraqi nuclear program either. It slowed it down, delayed it; drove it underground and in somewhat different directions. But Saddam Hussein persisted. What ended the nuclear program was, first, Desert Storm; then a decade of sanctions and inspections; and, finally, the conquest of Iraq. That's what ended the -- Osirak did not. Osirak gave time for the work -- for history to overtake Saddam Hussein's regime. So, it wasn't -- Osirak bought the time for other things. Osirak didn't end Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.
If we had done Yongbyon in 1994 -- what we were going to do was strike an operating reactor that had those fuel rods, that now, to my total dismay, another incompetence on our part, has committed -- the North Koreans have now turned into bombs. But, those fuel rods were, at that time, in an operating reactor. And it's not a trivial matter to take out an operating reactor, because you can create a little Chernobyl, and we were quite confident that we knew that we were going to be able to do that. That would have entombed those fuel rods in the rubble of a reactor. We would have taken out the reprocessing facility, the fuel fabrication facility, the other reactors under construction, sort of, everything associated with the North Korean nuclear program. And so what would the North Koreans had to do? They had to go dig this dirty stuff out of the rubble; rebuild a reprocessing facility; rebuild the reactors and start all over again. Now, they could have done that, but it would have taken some time.
Let's look at -- let's think about Natanz for a moment, what's going on in Natanz. In Natanz there are these centrifuges spinning, 3,000 of which, operated in the right way, for a year, to make a bomb's worth -- that is 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. And we could get rid of it in a night. I mean, the United States -- this paper goes through how we'd do it. The Israelis a little bit lighter, but also could probably do it. So, we could destroy that facility.
And if you believe, as most people do, that there are other parts of the Iranian nuclear program that are not at Natanz -- and probably parts we don't know about, but that Natanz is the fastest route for them to a bomb, then destroying Natanz will slow down them in getting to a bomb. By how much? A good reckoning might be maybe two years, or something like that, because what -- they have clearly thought about this, and they have the ingredients of a reconstituted program hidden somewhere else. And so they'll -- they'll start again.
So, you have to think about two scenarios here: One is the scenario that the NIE plays out, in which they're really after the bomb but they're going to play "cat and mouse" with us; and they're pretending only to lightly enrich, and just a little bit, and then they're going to get up to the point where they can quickly break out and enrich, and make a bomb's worth. That's path one; that's the path we're on now -- and, what people say, maybe five years or so and they'll get there, or some number of years, it's all a guess, or an estimate. The other path is we bomb them; they rebuild. And then, of course, all bets are off. They're not going to play "cat and mouse;" they're not going to be letting inspectors in; they're not going to -- you know, they're going to race.
Those two paths only differ by a couple of years, in terms of when they get the bomb. Said differently, a single strike by itself buys you a couple of years but doesn't dispose of the matter. So, how could you dispose of the matter? Well, you only dispose of the matter if that air strike slows them down long enough for something else to happen -- which is us to carry out the diplomacy, having shown that we're willing to use force; that diplomacy succeeding in ultimately ending the program. Or, you have to go back again and again, every time you find them. And you're talking about going back every year or every two years -- if you find what they're doing.
So, that's the sense in which bombing them now is not an option, in the sense that it ends the story. It begins a new chapter in the story, and you still have in front of you, fundamentally, two options, which is: talk them out of it, and get over it. You've changed the terms of talking them out of it, perhaps, by showing your willingness to bomb -- you've bought some extra time for diplomacy to work, but you're still fundamentally pursuing a diplomatic path.
Unless you go to option three, which is to invade the place. And let me just quickly say here that, you've got to remember, this place has, you know -- what, four times the number of people, and three times the land area of Iraq. And, we've just had the experience of conquering and governing big places in the Middle East, and there doesn't seem to be a huge appetite for that On top of which, even though we've had plans for the invasion of Iran as long as I've been associated with Defense, we don't have the ground forces now to do it.
ROSE: What makes you think that the response to an American, or an Israeli air strike would be limited to rebuilding the program, or coming --
CARTER: Oh, it wouldn't. It wouldn't. I've given you the pro, which is that you get a -- buy yourself a couple years. The cons are, (laughs) I think, quite large. They'll retaliate -- no kidding, they'll take action through proxies, and so forth. They'll try to disrupt Gulf shipping -- I don't think they'll succeed in doing that for long but, at any rate, they'll retaliate. That's number one.
Number two, there's every chance that using military action under the -- in the wrong way will not reset the diplomatic table, it will turn over the diplomatic table. That is, it will be a one-way exit from diplomacy, because the Russians, the Chinese and the Europeans are going to say, well, to hell with you, we're not -- you know, we're not on this train anymore. And we can't do a lot without them, just because we don't have the sticks without them.
And the third thing it would do is turn a generation of Iranians against the United States. And that's unfortunate because, as near as I can tell -- I'm willing to be corrected, the Iranian people are not anti-American, certainly not by the standards of much of the rest of the world with the current historical -- (laughter) -- and this is according to polling data, and so, and so forth. And, you know, you piss them off for a generation -- the way they did us when they took our hostages.
And so you're buying yourself, again, kind of a one-way street from diplomacy, and a one-way street from any hope of reconciliation with the Iranians as a people by taking this action. So, I, myself judge the pro is buying a couple of years, but it's even dodgy at that. That's not real appealing, in terms of a benefit. And the disbenefits are quite large. So I think the balance weighs against military action at this time in a sort of diplomatic vacuum. And I think that's the judgment that our government has made.
ROSE: Okay, so the military sticks aren't really there. The diplomatic and economic sticks are in the hands of other major powers that aren't interested in using them, and therefore they aren't really there. And the diplomatic, economic and other kinds of carrots are not going to be deployed by any U.S. administration that you know of, or at least it hasn't been.
So why do you guys -- to go back to what you were saying before, why do you think there is some real hope that a newfangled carrot-and-stick initiative might work? As George Kennan used to say -- (speaks phrase in foreign language) -- "Why is this time going to be different than all the previous times?" (Laughter.)
SAMORE: Well, look, I think it probably won't be. But I think the next administration has to make that effort before Iran reaches the point where they have a credible breakout capability. And the good news, again, just to not leave you all too depressed, is that even though Iran has been trying over the last two and a half years to move ahead as quickly as they can in their enrichment program, they're encountering enough technical difficulties.
We've made it harder, through export controls and sabotage and other, you know, actions so that we've complicated their program. It's still a very rudimentary capability. They've got 4,000 centrifuge machines that are spinning very inefficiently. They're producing about one to two kilograms of low-enriched uranium a day, which is very, very marginal capacity.
And, you know, I think we do have at least a couple of years before they reach the point that they would feel confident they could break out in a short enough period of time, as to say produce enough highly enriched uranium for a couple of bombs in a short enough period where we would not have the opportunity to attack them, because where I think -- I mean, Ash is absolutely right about the pros and cons of a military strike that is, you know, what I would call a preventive strike, a strike against a facility which is under IAEA safeguards, which is producing low-enriched uranium, which is ostensibly a peaceful facility. There are a lot of negatives.
However, think about a scenario. There are two other scenarios where military force might be used. One is a breakout scenario. Let's say that the -- which is sort of like the North Korean scenario we were looking at. Let's say Iran kicks the IAEA inspectors out of their enrichment facility. That's a pretty good indication that they're now trying to break out; they're now trying to convert that facility from the production of low-enriched uranium to the production of weapons-grade uranium.
And in the period of time it will take for them to produce a couple of bombs' worth -- which could mean, depending upon the size of this facility, could be a couple of months -- I think a military strike against that facility in that window is much easier to justify, you know, internationally and domestically.
The second scenario, which we've seen very recently, is the Syrian scenario, where the Israelis bombed a secret nuclear facility. And again, the international reaction to that was marginal, and it didn't in any way interfere with subsequent peace talks between Israel and Syria. So if we were to identify a secret facility, you know, in Iran, or if we or the Israelis or someone took military force against that, again, I think that's much easier to argue in favor of.
So, you know, to me the military options -- we shouldn't just look at the most difficult case, which is a preventive strike against an ostensibly peaceful facility. We also want the Iranians to believe that if they actually try to make nuclear weapons, or if they build secret facilities that we detect, they run the risk of being attacked.
CARTER: I agree with that, but I just need to say something about that so you don't misinterpret. Everything that Gary says is absolutely right. There are circumstances -- I don't mean to say military action is not advisable under all circumstances. I'm saying there's no military option that settles the matter, including the two that he just adduced.
You're still back to the issue of what do you do about the Iranians if they want to get the bomb, and you either keep bombing them or you keep talking to them. And you may have reset the terms by taking military action, but you're not out of that dilemma entirely. That's my only point about saying it's not an option. I think it's an appropriate part of a coercive diplomatic strategy.
Point two is military action -- I think Gary would readily agree to this -- in a diplomatic vacuum -- that is, without a strategy and without an idea of where it leads -- is the worst of all possible worlds, because it doesn't achieve much and you get all the blow-back.
So if we're going to do this, we have to set the terms so that it is in a diplomatic context and it's clearly the consequence of the Iranians' failure to accept reasonable diplomacy. Then it might be advantageous to not only threaten to do it but to do it. But in the current circumstances, where that context isn't there, you get the small technical advantage and all of the disadvantages.
ROSE: Could the Israelis do it if we didn't want them to?
SAMORE: I would say yes.
ROSE: Even if we refused to give them the codes?
CARTER: Well, they don't have to fly over air space that we control. They can fly over Turkey. They can fly over Saudi Arabia. There's even some reports that they might have had some discussions with the Georgians, to use Georgian airfields.
There are four routes, at least, for Israel. Israel -- it's not as good as if we do it because the scale available to them is not as great. I think they can do it. I think they can do it without the complicity in advance of anyone, including ourselves. By "do it," I mean do the Natanz. They can't do anything as extensive as we could do.
It's gone through in this paper how they do the refueling and so forth. And for them, the regrets are less, because they don't have to worry about turning the Iranian population against them. The Iranian population is already against them. They don't have to worry about upsetting a delicate multilateral diplomacy that they're involved in, because they're not.
ROSE: Isn't that precisely the point, which is, isn't there a moral hazard issue here, which is if the Israelis have less incentive to worry about the consequences and perhaps more incentive to favor a short-term setback, aren't there things --
CARTER: They're more likely to do it than we are. I've said that between our elections and the inauguration of our president, I'd put 50-50 the Israelis to do that.
ROSE: And if the U.S. government decided that it was not a worthwhile thing to do, there is nothing it could do to prevent the Israelis from doing it? Is that what you're telling me?
SAMORE: No, I don't think that's what Ash is saying. We can certainly try to discourage the Israelis. And, in fact, there's some evidence that this administration has been doing just that; that in June and July, when, you know, there were reports of Israeli practice runs over the Mediterranean and when there were public statements being made that were very belligerent, as I understand it, the U.S. government has tried very hard to argue with the Israelis that this is not the right time, not to say never, but that right now would not be an appropriate time to launch an attack.
And I think one of the difficulties we have in our diplomatic strategy is that, on one hand -- and I think you mentioned this, Gideon -- we want the Iranians to believe that the military force is a real option, but we also have to be very aware, as Ash has pointed out, of all the limitations and the risks that we run.
So how you use that instrument as a political instrument without, you know, inadvertently making it more likely that it's used when we don't actually want it to be used is a tricky balance.
ROSE: So the Israelis are our madman theory.
SAMORE: Well, yeah, I mean, in theory, you'd like to do that. But I think --
ROSE: Don't ask us, because who knows what the Israelis might do.
SAMORE: We will certainly make that argument, and I think it's a credible argument, for all the reasons that Ash has pointed out. The Israelis are much more sensitive to the risk of Iran having a nuclear capability and genuinely see that as an existential threat, which it isn't to the United States. And the Israelis are much less sensitive to the possible consequences and blow-back.
So it's a good diplomatic instrument. But we have to be careful when we use that instrument that the Israelis don't see that as a green light to go ahead and strike, you know, before we're ready to have that actually happen.
CARTER: There's another layer of this too. It's absolutely right. And the green light is not only to the Israelis, but if we are seen to have given a green light, then we get all the negative consequences as though we had done it ourselves. And so if everybody's going to think we did it, we might as well just do it, because we'll do a better job. But there isn't a soul east of Morocco who won't think we didn't have something to do with it if the Israelis do it. That's the dilemma for us.
ROSE: I used to think that we were the great (power patron ?) in this relationship, but I guess not. (Laughter.)
Okay, let's turn it over to you guys. Herb Levin.
QUESTIONER: Last night, after McCain finished, I had a lot of reading to do, so I left it on. And I got all of these people talking up there at the convention who I had never heard of before, will never hear of again, and they were all reading things that had been supplied to them, obviously, by the brain trust of the Republican Party.
And there was a theme, and the theme was that McCain would never compromise with evil. He would never sit down with evildoers. He would never compromise. And we must absolutely elect him and stand firm, because these other guys, they believe you can work things out with people who are fundamentally evil. And we're going to have 40 votes in the Senate. We can block anything serious, and that's really what we must work for.
So I thought that those who do not believe in negotiations in the past eight years have been a little bit restrained when the president wanted to negotiate, but they will have no restraints, should there be a Democratic administration. And this was well-coordinated. You guys all had gone to bed. But you certainly shouldn't talk to the Iranians, for many reasons. And there are even people who wanted to push over Burma, who wanted to talk to the Cubans. The North Korea negotiations had been a disaster. And, of course, people wanted to sell out Taiwan to the Chinese.
And I thought, where do you get support? You've talked about the failures, potential failures, pitfalls, of violence. Where are you going to get support for a serious diplomatic strategy? And when you have the Democrats apparently willing to support Bush's initiative to have the Indians build more nuclear weapons and test them with our blessing, under that argument, where is support for the kind of strategy that you're talking about, and what is the strategy?
ROSE: Try to keep your answers shorter than the question. (Laughter.)
SAMORE: Well, you know, I think what candidates say during the election is not necessarily a good guide to what they'll do once they're in office. I know this is a shock to you. And I -- you know, I mean, I always believe that at the end of the day, the U.S. government tries to do the most sensible thing.
So I think there's a pretty good chance that whoever is elected will try something like the kind of diplomatic strategy we've talked about, which frankly is building on the current strategy. I mean, if you ask the Bush administration what's their diplomatic strategy, it's carrots and sticks. It's the use of inducements, threats, intimidation, persuasion; I mean, all the instruments that we normally use in diplomacy. It's just that they haven't done it very efficiently.
And the obvious approach, since we're nearing a point where it would be too late for diplomatic action to be effective in stopping Iran's program, the obvious approach is to try to enhance that package with better carrots and more threatening sticks.
So I actually think that an Obama administration and a McCain administration is likely to pursue a very similar strategy, which will seek to build on the current approach and try to fine-tune it in a way that makes it more effective. As we've all said, it may very well not work, and then the next president will face a very difficult choice between either accepting that Iran will have a breakout capability and hoping to erect barriers to prevent them from actually making nuclear weapons, or taking military action with all the risks and -- (inaudible) -- we've talked about.
CARTER: Can I just say something about that? I hope you're right. John McCain, at least judging from what he said about Iran, but also about North Korea, really does believe that talking with evil is -- and I respect that point of view; I have a different point of view, which is I have the same feeling about North Korea, which is I think it's more evil to let them get nuclear weapons than to try to deal with them.
I wish that North Korea had a different government. Its people deserve a better one. I wish Iran had a different government. But I don't know how to change it. And it looks to me like they're going to have that government long enough to get the bomb. And so talking about changing the regime really doesn't answer the question, which is, "What are you going to do about nuclear weapons?"
So I hear this, "I don't like to talk to evil people," and so forth, and I certainly respect that point of view. But my answer to that is, what's the second sentence in that paragraph? What are you going to do about the bomb? Is what you're saying you're just going to let them get it? That's really what I infer from a statement like that is that we will let Iran get the bomb and then we'll figure out what we do after that.
That, to me, is too dangerous a path. And I'm willing to try something else, even dealing with people whom I wish weren't governing the country they are in order to head that off. I just don't think that that's an analytically sound -- it's a stance, but it's not a policy.
ROSE: We've got a pair of questions. We'll get as many as possible. Please keep them succinct. Over here -- Alan Gerson and Frank Wisner.
QUESTIONER: Alan Gerson.
Ashton, you said that the odds of an Israeli strike before January are about 50-50. And you also said that even if Israel were to strike, if I understood you correctly, without U.S. authorization or an amber light, it would be perceived, certainly by the Iranians and the rest of the world, that the United States did provide such authorization.
Given that, would you venture another calculation as to what the odds are that the United States would feel compelled to come in and finish the job if the Israelis began it?
ROSE: And Frank.
QUESTIONER: I wanted to tell both of you how much I've appreciated what you've said today and the analysis you've brought, the arguments you've advanced for a case of engagement, which I'd like to think is the only rational way forward.
At the same time, I'd like to add a thought that flows from your arguments, and that is, treating the nuclear issue as separate from the overall question of our strategy towards Iran will undermine our capability to deal with the nuclear issue.
But once we do turn to the nuclear issue, I would argue, as part of the whole, have you all looked at, thought about the consequences of the arguments advanced by Bill Luers, Tom Pickering and Dr. Walsh regarding a deal that would end up with Iranian enrichment capability inside Iran but under international supervision and international and Iranian mixed ownership? Does that have a space in your logic as a way through this otherwise extremely difficult puzzle?
ROSE: Either one of you?
CARTER: Well, I mean, you asked a good question, and I suggested that myself. If you thought the Israelis were going to do it and you were going to suffer -- we were going to suffer most of the blow-back anyway, we would do a more competent job carrying it out ourselves. So there's a certain logic to that.
Your question was, do I see that logic prevailing? No. I don't look -- and this is tea-leaf reading, so I don't know; I'm not in the administration. But I see the administration having done the analysis I did, which suggests that this doesn't get you a whole lot under the current circumstances. And if you're going to do it, you want to do it in the right circumstances, number one.
And number two, I see the lineup of the personalities of the administration. I mean, it was different when Don Rumsfeld was there and Dick Cheney and they had a kind of tag-team relationship. Bob Gates, Mike Mullen, the chairman -- I mean, if you listen to what they've been saying, they've been more or less saying, "We've got our hands full and would rather not get into this kind of thing." Condi Rice is trying to end her term on a negotiating note instead of a bombing note. That seems quite clear.
So I don't see -- you know, the decider can still decide to do whatever he wants, but there is around him a group of people whom I think will be suggesting that this is a good idea. So both for the reasons that it doesn't seem analytically to make a lot of sense and because of the current constellation of personalities and where they seem to be at, I don't see the United States -- (inaudible). So I would not -- I tell people I see the odds of us doing it before the end of the Bush term as very small. I put the odds of the Israelis doing it between the election and the inauguration considerably higher.
SAMORE: Well, I think Ambassador Wisner is absolutely right that we can't address the nuclear issue in isolation. We have to figure out a way to address it in the context of all the other issues that we have on the table with Iran. Now, unfortunately, that means both issues where we might have common interests, but also a lot of interests where we have different interests, including support for Hezbollah and Hamas and support for the peace process and regional security arrangements and other issues. So even though that complicates the situation, I think it's important that when we approach Iran, it has to be in the context of trying to deal with the overall relationship.
On the second question, Ambassador Wisner asked about the idea of an international enrichment facility located on Iranian soil. Well, that's what the Iranians are proposing, although they haven't been very precise about exactly what that would look like in terms of international ownership and participation.
From my standpoint, that's a pretty undesirable outcome, because I think it gives Iran what they want. I think it gives them a base of capacity to produce nuclear weapons, and they could use that kind of international facility in two ways. First of all, they could nationalize it and actually produce weapons-grade uranium at that facility, and we would have helped them or we would have participated in the construction and operation of that facility. So I think we would look pretty foolish in that case. And, of course, there's a history in Iran of nationalizing industry, so this is not unprecedented.
But secondly, I think much more likely, if they had a huge facility on their soil, that would mean training a lot of people. That would mean producing a lot of components and materials to run that facility. And I think that creates many more opportunities for them to build a covert facility and break out in a way where there wouldn't be any warning.
Now, the argument in favor of an international facility is that we would have people or there would be people from western countries on the ground in that facility, and therefore we would be in a better position to keep tabs.
I think that's true, but to me that advantage is outweighed by the opportunities it creates for Iran to cheat. And I think we have to recognize, in a realistic way, that any agreement where you're talking about obstacles to diplomacy, and just as with the North Koreans, you have to assume that any deal we make with the Iranians, there's a pretty high risk that they will cheat on it. And certainly their record of cheating on the NPT can't give us much confidence that they would actually abide by any agreement. So we have to keep in mind the importance of verification.
So to me, the sort of international, you know, multilateral facility in Iran, I think you could probably negotiate that since that's what the Iranians are proposing. But I don't think that's a diplomatic outcome that would give us much happiness.
ROSE: Gary Sick back here, and over here.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- Israel can bomb Iran, and the United States will not be held responsible for it and that the retaliation against us, we can just sit there on our hands and do nothing. If it's 50-50 that they attack, it's 50-50 that we go to war. And I don't believe it, frankly. But my question is, Gary has been very careful of always saying a nuclear capability, and Ash has just said bomb.
Is this a distinction without a difference? I mean, having a nuclear capability is different than having a bomb? What is the difference, and what is actually --
SAMORE: Yeah, yeah --
ROSE: We're pairing them. We're pairing them.
SAMORE: I'm sorry.
ROSE: Over here.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)
ROSE: Hold on a second. Wait for the microphone, please.
QUESTIONER: I guess what I'd like some clarification on is the question of Israel and the role Israel could play in a military strike on Iran. The way that I've understood you guys talking is that the only deterrent to Israel bombing is the U.S. pressure for it not to.
And what I'm wondering is, is there any other deterrent in terms of, you know, the possibility of blow-back from Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas, the various complements of what Israel is going through right now? Is that a deterrent at all? Does that play a role? Is it a question of America holding back Israel at some point either letting it go or Israel becoming sort of the tail that wags the dog in this situation? If you could sort of explain that, I think it would help in understanding the 50-50 situation that you brought up.
SAMORE: Well, let me start. You know, perhaps I should -- you know, I made this distinction more clear earlier. You know, I think there's a big difference between a capability and the bomb. And what the Iranians claim they're seeking is a capability. Of course, they say that program is purely peaceful, intended to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power reactor fuel.
But privately, I've had Iranian officials say that they live in a dangerous neighborhood; they're surrounded by countries with nuclear weapons, including India, Pakistan, Israel, Russia, and the U.S. is there, and they need to have an option. They need to have -- for their own survival and security, they need to have the ability in extremis to build nuclear weapons. And that means they need to be able to produce fissile material, either enriched uranium or separated plutonium. And if they build a large -- you know, if they build a large enrichment facility, that will inherently give them the option of converting and using that facility for the production of weapons-grade uranium.
Now, they say they would never actually build nuclear weapons, because they know that would scare the neighbors and it could risk war, you know, and it could cause a nuclear arms race in the region. So sort of the Iranian position is, "We'll be content with a latent capability, with a breakout option, but we'll never actually use it." I don't believe that. I mean, I think once the option is available, at some point the temptation to actually have real nuclear weapons on missiles will be so overwhelming that it can't be resisted.
And we've seen other countries that have made similar arguments. I mean, India, for example, for many years argued, "We don't want nuclear weapons, but for our status and our sort of protection in extremis, we need to have the option to build nuclear weapons." But eventually the desire or need, perceived need, to have the actual bomb became overwhelming. And I think in the case of Iran, my guess is a similar process would take place.
CARTER: I agree with that. He just uses -- he explains things better than I do. (Laughs.) It's the only thing I'd say about it.
Your point is a -- I mean, it's not just that they would be putting their best ally in a really tough spot, as Gary says, that deters the Israelis. I mean, they can do the math as well. They know that this doesn't end the story. They know that there would be retaliation against them. So again, taking out Natanz isn't the end of the story for anybody. And the Israelis know that that's true for them, as well as for us.
So I think there are many things that go into their calculus, but presumably one of them is, if we're right that our government has been suggesting that this would be an unwelcome development for the United States because it would immediately embroil us in something we didn't instigate, hadn't thought through and hadn't positioned ourselves to withstand, that's an unfriendly situation to be in. But I think there are other things as well that go into that calculus. But the balance is not as sharp as it is for us, which is why I'm wondering whether they won't, in fact, decide that the balance is in favor.
ROSE: I really find you guys astonishingly cavalier about this, I mean, given the extraordinary leverage, potential leverage we have vis-a-vis Israel. Any U.S. administration that decided it was not prudent to strike Iran and allowed Israel to do so anyway would be guilty, in my opinion, of a gross malfeasance in the advancement and securement of the American national interest. I cannot imagine that taking place if we truly used the leverage in advance to make that clear. It's not something that would be an unfriendly act. It would be getting into a war that we had chosen not to start. But that's just my take.
I'm curious here -- we have several who want to get into this. Over here, and then back there.
CARTER: You can't let that stand. Cavalier, Gary was not. Gary made the point earlier that it may be a dangerous game, but the game in which the Iranians wonder whether the Israelis are going to do something has some value. So you've got two audiences out there. You've got the Iranians, whom you might wish to think this might happen, and the Israelis, whom you might wish to think this would not be such a good idea. And that's a sporty game to play, but it's not an unreasonable game to play. So I --
ROSE: But that's using Israel as a threat. I thought you said -- you said you thought there was a 50-50 chance that there would be an Israeli strike.
SAMORE: You know, I think that we may not have an opportunity to use our full leverage to dissuade Israel. If we decide that we think an Israeli attack is not in the American interest, I think it will happen in a way so that we will not have the kind of advance warning that would allow us to take effective action.
So you lay the cards out now. "Here's what will happen if you do this when we say, 'Don't do it.'" But, you know, as I say, I don't think the U.S. government wants to act in a way that precludes the threat, because we're using the threat as a political instrument.
CARTER: And that's what I'm afraid gets misplayed.
ROSE: You're going to get a chance next session, so over here and then back there.
QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible) -- Council on Foreign Relations.
Being an Iranian myself, and having spoken to countless Iranian diplomats and former Iranian candidates for presidency and Iranian dissidents here, there is a current denominator, common denominator, for the argument of carrots and sticks, and that is that the Iranians want America to recognize Iran.
There is an element of recognition that's very, very important to the Iranian people, whether they're here, whether they're in Iran. And I wanted both panelists to please shed some light on this. To what extent do we see this happening? Is this a viable carrot, and do you see this as a lever to change this game in our favor? Thank you.
ROSE: And then back here.
QUESTIONER: Jim Dingman, INN World Report.
One could argue that in the spring to the end of 2003, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the political assets that had been built up for 15, 16 years were deployed to Iraq to aid and abet those who were coming up and upsurging in the crazy environment of that time.
I want you to specifically talk about what you think would happen in Iraq and Afghanistan if, whether the Israelis did this unilaterally or we did it unilaterally, we attacked their nuclear facilities. What would happen on the ground in both those situations, in your minds?
SAMORE: Well, let me first comment on the psychological element of engagement. I do think it's important for the Iranian public to feel a sense of respect and recognition from the United States. And I think that's a relatively easy, you know, price for the U.S. to pay, although sometimes I wonder, when the Iranians talk about recognition of their importance and respect, I often wonder how they translate that into real terms.
I mean, sometimes when the Iranians talk about, you know, recognition of their status as a leading power in the region, that means that the U.S. can't have any military bases in the Persian Gulf, which is a nonstarter. So I think it's important that -- you know, it's very easy I think to convey respect but sometimes that is used by the Iranians as a subtle way of getting at much more important issues, and that's something that you can only tease out in the course of diplomacy, which is why it's important to talk to them and find out what it means.
You know, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, what would the consequence be, I think it's very difficult to anticipate, but what I was trying to say earlier is that the situation we face in Iraq now appears to be more impervious to Iranian retaliation and the consequences in the street in terms of a threat to the Iraqi government. I mean, presumably, the Iraqi government would disown any support for a U.S. or Israeli military attack because it would obviously -- at least with much of the Iraqi population it wouldn't be popular. With some of the Iraqi population, the Sunnis much actually be quite happy, quietly.
You know, so I think that we're at, you know, I guess the general thing I would say is the better things look in Iraq and Afghanistan in terms of U.S. forces not being in harm's way, and the more stable those governments look, the less opportunities and options the Iranians would have to retaliate. They'll clearly try to retaliate through proxies and allies in both places, but part of the balance of power is the extent to which we appear to be in a position, you know, to, you know, to withstand whatever retaliation they can take in response to an attack.
CARTER: Can I just say something?
CARTER: First, I thought that was absolutely a good answer to the second question, there will be consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan, I should have mentioned that earlier. But you raised something that's very, very important and Frank Wisner does as well which is whether there's a possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough that is more comprehensive than one just dealing with the nuclear question. You could say it differently which is can you even hope to have an agreement with Iran that is isolated to the nuclear, or would it have to be some broader kind of accommodation?
You know, we're used to arms control with the Soviet Union, and the premise of arms control in the Soviet Union was we're going to talk about weapons and everything else is going to stay the same. You know, we're still a cold war, we're still antagonists but we're going to deal with this little problem together. And that worked. That was more or less the way it was done with North Korea under the agreed framework. We hate you, you hate us, we're not going to trade with you, we're not going to relax any other kind of pressure on you, keep you on the terrorist list that trade with the enemy, this was back in 1994, but we're going to make this little deal about nuclear -- this one little issue about nuclear weapons. That's type A of agreements.
Type B is where there's a general relaxation of pressure by the West against Iran in return for a comprehensive change in conduct on behalf, that's a bigger deal. Frank's raising that prospect, can you have the former in this case without the latter, or can you imagine a circumstance where the cold war essentially with us and Iran continues but we make a deal about this little thing called the nuclear program. I don't know whether the little one is possible without the big one, and if it's not possible without the big one and you can hardly imagine the circumstances in which the big one gets done, then that turns you into a pessimist about diplomacy.
ROSE: Okay. We're going to have one final batch of three. Over here, over there and back there.
QSince Iran is aware of the Israelis' threat too, the hour after Israel bombs Iran, then who bombs Israel on behalf of Iran, and where does Condi Rice first go? (Laughter.)
QGiven the persistency of the level of threats by the Iranians, are the Israeli's correct in your judgment, that this is an existential threat to them?
ROSE: And back there.
QJust going back to the question of making a bigger deal than the nuclear issue, is there a medium alternative or middle alternative to all this situation, the possibility of making a deal on the nuclear issue because nuclear issue is so important, and then putting on the table important concessions on the part of the United States, including -- and I want to be concrete -- full diplomatic relationships, the possibility of lifting sanctions while leaving some other issues that the United States and Iran have difficulties with on the table?
ROSE: Those three plus any final comments you might have. And one little addition which is if it is an existential threat, is it different from the one that the United States lived through for half a century during the cold war?
SAMORE: Right. Do you want me to --
CARTER: Sure, go ahead.
SAMORE: Well let me say first of all I think, you know, I completely agree that in pursuit of a nuclear deal, we should be prepared to put on the table the offer of improving, you know, our bilateral relations which would include lifting economic sanctions, normalizing political relations and so forth. Now the argument against that which the Bush administration has used is that once you play those chips, that weakens your hand to deal with all the other problems we have, whether it's support for Hezbollah or opposition to the peace process or you know whatever and I think that's true, it's a valid argument.
But for me the nuclear issue is so important, that I'd be willing to play those chips or at least see whether that would work. Maybe it won't, but I think you've got to make a decision how you use the cards in your hand, and I'd be prepared to use them.
You know, on the existential threat, I'm very sympathetic with Israel's belief that it's an existential threat. And, you know when you talk to Israeli strategists, I think it's very unlikely that Iran is going to wake up one morning and decide to destroy Israel by using nuclear weapons because the Iranians understand that Israel can retaliate in a way that would destroy Iran. But they believe that there's a small possibility, whether it's escalation, accidental use, miscalculation, diversion, plus the fact that Iran would act much more aggressively if it had nuclear weapons, but that isn't -- poses an existential threat to Israel. And given Israel's history, I think there's a tremendous sensitivity to the possibility that the entire population could be destroyed.
So I completely understand why Israel views it that way. It's not I think quite the same as the U.S. and the Soviet Union, you know, and therefore I think it's, you know, completely understandable why they would be much more willing than other countries to use military force in order to try to prevent that threat.
And, you know, I've also heard Israelis say that, you know, they wouldn't be so worried about, you know, Iran having nuclear weapons if there was a different government, so it -- I mean, a different government in Iran. So it's not the mere fact of Iran having nuclear weapons, it's the fact that it's seen as such a hostile government.
Was there one more question? Oh, yes, about -- you know, the Israeli calculation is that Iran's ability to retaliate against Israel will be limited, both by choice and by necessity, that Iran is not likely to, you know, shoot missiles at Israel because Israel can retaliate and the retaliation's likely to take the form of action through proxy. And the Israelis think they're prepared to withstand that and deal with it.
ROSE: And any final thoughts?
CARTER: Well, I said it at the beginning, it's not just use, its use, possession and diversion. We didn't worry about diversion from the Soviet Union, we have about Russia, I ran the Nunn-Lugar appropriation -- (inaudible) -- and you heard a lot about it after the fall but -- and it followed a state you didn't worry about use control.
And Russia -- and as far as leading to further proliferation, you know, Russia became our partner in stopping further proliferation. So this is, you know, different and more dangerous and I take it very seriously. You know, you can't say you can't live with something that you may have to live with and I have in this paper what we all have to do if Iran gets the bomb, but it's really a very unfortunate circumstance.
We already have that with North Korea, we've seen that in the last seven years, we're going to look back and very deeply regret that, just as we look back now -- I don't know how you feel, but I'd do anything to be able to turn back the clock and stop Pakistan from having a bomb because under the current circumstances, that is a huge worry.
What's down the road for Iran? As I said, it's the half life 713 million years for plutonium, 24,400 years? I mean, you know, the supreme leader ain't going to be around that long. (Laughter.) It'll be somebody else who has this. And so you're creating -- you're casting a shadow over humanity for a very long time every time a bomb is introduced to the world. And it's not that, you know, we're better people than the Iranian people are in some fundamental sense. But every time you put one of these things out there, you're creating a lasting danger.
ROSE: Well, on that cheerful note, we will -- (laughter) -- kick the can to the next session to how to actually resolve it all and we'll see you back here in 15 minutes.
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