The fallout for Bush on Iran

Former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix assesses the latest U.S. intelligence and whether Bush could still launch a military strike.

By André Anwar

Published December 20, 2007 11:27AM (EST)

In a recent interview, former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix spoke about Iran's nuclear program, America's conclusion that Tehran may not be pursuing the bomb, and a WMD-free Middle East.

It seems rather ironic that U.S. intelligence agencies were the ones to determine that Tehran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Is the United States now, since the blunders leading up to the Iraq war, taking a closer look before accusing countries of possessing weapons of mass destruction?

Yes, there is a new sense of caution. But the initiative comes from U.S. intelligence agencies, not the administration. They were heavily criticized after the Iraq war, and this time they don't want to offer up the wrong reasons for taking action.

An Iranian opposition group known as the National Council of Resistance claims that Iran has resumed its military program. How seriously should this be taken?

It was undoubtedly resistance groups in Iran that exposed the nuclear program in Natanz to the world for the first time. But claims by highly committed political opposition groups must always be approached with great caution.

What would qualify as truly convincing evidence that Iran is working on a military nuclear program again?

Authentic government documents that describe such a program, allocate resources to it, and assign responsibilities -- or the discovery of activities that can have no other purpose but to produce weapons. However, even this sort of evidence must be examined very carefully.

Isn't it already somewhat suspicious that Iran, with its massive reserves of fossil fuel, is so insistent on having a nuclear energy program?

It's commonly claimed that Iran, because of its petroleum, could have none other than military reasons for pursuing a nuclear program. But this doesn't have to be the case. Mexico has oil and a nuclear program. The French seem to have no qualms about selling nuclear power plants to Libya, an oil-producing nation. Of course, we shouldn't delude ourselves, either. Industrial-scale uranium enrichment in Iran shortens the technical path to a weapons option. But we have the same situation in other countries, as well.

Had the intelligence report not come out, would the United States have attacked Iran?

There are many indications that the White House was in fact planning an attack. It was said that the Bush administration wanted to complete this military strike as its last act before it left office. The most recent U.S. intelligence report now makes war an impossibility. The United States traditionally justifies its attacks with its doctrine of preemptive self-defense. But now that the official word is out that Iran neither has nor is developing weapons of mass destruction, this is no longer an option.

Despite the defused situation, President George W. Bush warned against interpreting the intelligence report as a reason to let our guard down. Is such a warning justified?

Yes. The report changes nothing about the fact that Iran is in the process of acquiring the capacity to enrich uranium, even if Tehran isn't interested in military objectives at the moment. It is important to continue trying to convince Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program.

You have proposed offering security guarantees to nations that could be seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, instead of imposing sanctions. Is this feasible in the case of Iran?

If you want to influence behavior, you can do it with a carrot or a stick -- or both. The Europeans tried it with carrots at first. Their goal was to make it easier to invest in Iran and to help the country develop peaceful nuclear power and join the World Trade Organization. These were all good approaches, but then, unfortunately, the stick dominated once again.

Isn't it naive to assume that carrots are enough to convince a country like Iran to abandon its nuclear program? President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has continuously threatened to wipe Israel from the map.

There are many more incentives available that have yet to be offered to Iran.

The United States gave North Korea the assurance that it would not be attacked and, together with Japan, the promise of aid when relations normalize. How can Iran be contained in the long term? You often mention regional solutions. Would that be an option?

The best thing would be for the entire Middle East to become a WMD-free zone. Of course, Israel wouldn't play along without substantial progress in the peace process. But what would be possible today, politically speaking, is a zone in which neither uranium is enriched nor plutonium reprocessed. We also hear that countries like Egypt and Jordan want nuclear power. A regional solution would mean that the finger is not being pointed exclusively at Iran.

This article has been provided by Der Spiegel through a special arrangement with Salon. For more from Europe's most-read newsmagazine, please visit Spiegel Online or subscribe to the daily newsletter.

André Anwar

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Der Spiegel George W. Bush Iran Middle East National Security Nuclear Weapons