Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Report Outlines Recommendations for Next U.S. President

A new report entitled “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development” has just been published by the National Security Initiative of the Bipartisan Security Center. The task force was co-chaired by Ambassador Daniel Coats and former Senator Charles Robb (VA). Other task force members included Ashton Carter, Admiral Gregory Johnson (U.S. Navy, Ret.), General Ronald Keys (Ret.), Dennis Ross, Henry Sokolski, and Steve Rademaker, among others. Kenneth Katzman and Micahel Rubin served as consultants to the project and Michael Rubin is credited as the primary drafter of the report.

The report concludes that a new and comprehensive diplomatic strategy, with calibrated financial and military leverage, will be the next administration’s best option. While the report says its seeks a diplomatic solution to the Iranian challenge, involving direct engagement between the U.S. and Iran, it says such engagement should only be done under the right conditions, and the U.S. should only enter diplomatic relations from a position of strength. Furthermore, if diplomacy fails, the next president might have to turn to “less optimal solutions,” including military action, if diplomacy fails within a reasonable timeframe. It says that “while a ‘grand bargain’ resolving all issues between Washington and Tehran would be an attractive outcome, the United States does not have the luxury of time given the intractability of issues and the Iranian government’s decision to accelerate its nuclear program.”

The report warns that opening dialogue with Iran without preconditions could backfire, and the U.S. should limit talks with Iran to a predetermined time period. It states, “Any formal dialogue with Iran absent suspension of enrichment could backfire: Not only would the United States implicitly void all UN Security Council resolutions demanding a cessation of Iranian uranium enrichment, but Iranian authorities are likely to interpret U.S. flexibility as acquiescence to the Iranian position that it must be permitted to enrich—all the more reason to increase multilateral sanctions as any new incentives are contemplated.”

The report also states that the “Europeans make war with Iran more likely if they do not strengthen sanctions against Iran and effectively end all commercial relations.” It calls on the next President to “clarify to the Europeans that only by standing firmly together diplomatically and ratcheting up the pressure on the Islamic Republic can we improve the chance to avoid more robust action.”

The report calls for ramping up sanctions and closing existing loopholes in current U.S. and United Nations sanctions. According to the report: “The U.S. Treasury Department’s quiet diplomacy with European banks should continue. Many European banks and companies have stepped back from operations in Iran when confronted with evidence of the Islamic Republic’s deceptive financial practices. Washington should press for expansion of sanctions upon Iran’s banking sector. Even without European acquiescence, the next occupant of the Oval Office should consider applying Section 311 of the U.S.A Patriot Act to designate additional Iranian banks up to and including Bank Markazi, the central bank, because of their involvement in deceptive financial practices. Such action would, in effect, remove Iranian banks from the international financial stage. Negotiations could commence immediately to achieve greater transparency in Iranian financial dealings.”

The report also address the possibility of using a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports if diplomacy should fail. According to the report, “Some have proposed an embargo of gasoline exports to Iran but, in practice, there are too many suppliers to enforce fully without a blockade. However, even a partially effective embargo might have a psychological impact on the Iranian people, representing a cost for the Iranian leaders. An actual blockade of Iranian gasoline imports would have a much greater impact since, despite rationing, the Islamic Republic still must import about 25 percent of its refined petroleum needs, the majority of which enters Iran through sea ports. The Iranian regime feels vulnerable about its stability and a tighter rationing of gasoline or a spike in gasoline prices would likely spark further social discontent and political upheaval.” If blockading imports should fail, the U.S. should then blockade exports, an action the report views as a final sanction before military action.

The report recommends an “information campaign” to accompany all diplomatic and sanctions efforts, calling for increases in funding for Voice of America and Radio Farda. The report cautions, It is not the place of Washington to support any political groupings outside Iran or ethnic interests inside the country. However, the next president should recognize the importance of an independent civil society and trade union movement inside Iran and encourage their growth through any appropriate means.” The report does not elaborate what those means are.

Finally, the report concludes that military action is “a feasible option and must remain a last resort to retard Iran’s nuclear development, even if it is unlikely to solve all our challenges and will certainly create new ones.” The report acknowledges risks inherent in the military option saying, “Military action against the Islamic Republic would incur significant risks, whether such action involves a limited air strike or a more sustained air and naval campaign such as the imposition of no-fly zones and a full blockade. Any military action would run the risk of significant U.S. and allied losses, rallying Iranians around an unstable and ideologically extreme regime, triggering wide-scale Hezbollah and Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, and producing unrest in a number of the Persian Gulf states. An initial air campaign would likely last several days to several weeks and target both key military and nuclear installations. It should not target civilian facilities, and might not require ground troops beyond Special Forces. While a successful bombing campaign would retard Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. It would also require years of continued vigilance, both to strike previously undiscovered nuclear sites and to ensure that Iran does not resurrect its military nuclear program… A military strike would have to target not only Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response.”

The report concludes, “It may be too late to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power state, but it is not too late to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear weapons threat.”

Download the full report here.

No comments: