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Hearing on Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
September 22, 2006
Ashton B. Carter
Co-Director, Preventive Defense Project
John F. Kennedy School of Government
SEN. LUGAR: The second panel today: Dr. Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; the honorable Ashton B. Carter, co-director of the Preventive Defense Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University; the honorable Martin S. Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, the Brookings Institution.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to the hearing today. All of your opening statements, your prepared statements, will be made part of the record. I'll ask that you proceed in the order that I introduced you; first of all, Dr. Takeyh, then Secretary Carter and then Ambassador Indyk. And we'll ask that you summarize your remarks.
We want to hear from you, as opposed to summarizing to a fault before we question, because we appreciate the wisdom that you bring to this subject. But if you could sort of compact it to maybe a 10- minute period or so. And the chair will be lenient in the event that you need a little bit more time. But we look forward to hearing from you, and then we'll raise questions of you around our panel.
MR. TAKEYH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me back to the committee. I'll stay well within my 10-minute limitation. I have submitted my full testimony for the record.
Since I was here last, I tried to bring up the subject matter that today the United States confronts a fundamentally different Iranian leadership.
SEN. LUGAR: (Off mike.)
MR. TAKEYH: Sure. Thank you. We confront a different Iranian leadership. It's not unnatural, after 27 years in power, that the complexion of the Iranian regime is changing. And the elders of the revolution are gradually being displaced by a younger cadre.
The debates are no longer, frankly, between pragmatists, such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and the more austere reactionaries, and Iran no longer views its international relations through the prism of strategic or economic vulnerability.
Rising oil prices and America 's entanglement in Iraq have led the new generation of leaders to perceive unique opportunities for their country. Iran views itself now as an indispensable nation in the Middle East , with its own claims of hegemony and dominance.
It is tempting to view Iran 's new leaders or the new right as a sort of monolithic, united clique of ideologues driven by the same impulses and objectives. But as with most political movements in modern Iran , there are obviously divisions and factions and power centers even in the new right.
The current divide in the theocratic regime is between those who seek a revolutionary foreign policy and more temperate realists emphasizing nationalism and Iran 's national rights. This delineation is perhaps best exemplified by examining the global views of President Ahmadinejad and the current head of the national security council, Ali Larijani.
I would say a combination of sort of the bitter experience and Islamic ideology tends to animate Iran 's new president. If you look at President Ahmadinejad's speeches, particularly those focusing on international relations, he often suggests the notion of Iran 's Islamic state as a model for the region to be emulated. Beyond such Islamist aspirations, it is Iran 's own war with Iraq that was, I think, mentioned by Senator Biden that continues to commission Ahmadinejad's strategic assumptions.
A pronounced suspicion of the United States and the international community that tolerated Iraq 's war crimes against Iran characterizes the perspective of those who fought on the front lines, and those veterans have now, in large measure, entered politics.
The reluctance that these veterans-turned-politicians drew from the war was that Iran 's independence and territorial integrity cannot rest on international legal compacts or, for that matter, international opinion. After decades of tension with America , Iran 's reactionaries perceive that conflict with the United States is inevitable, and perhaps the only manner that America can be deterred is through the possession of the strategic weapon.
However, I think it is too facile to suggest that it is the fear of America that is drawing this faction toward acquisition of a bomb. As with some in the theocratic regime, Ahmadinejad and his allies perceive that nuclear weapons capability is critical for consolidation of Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf . It is only through the attainment of the bomb that Iran can negate the nefarious American plots to undermine its stature and power.
President Ahmadinejad's rhetorical fulmination and presence on the international stage, including today at the U.N., should not obscure the fact that he is not in complete command of Iran 's foreign relations.
One of the more important actors to emerge is, of course, Ali Larijani, and he brings to this his own allies. As the leader of a generation of realists that evolved actually in the intelligence communities in Iran in the 1990s, this cohort has significant influence over the direction of Iran 's international relations.
Through their presence in the key institutions that link with the traditional clerical community, intimate ties to the supreme leader, they chart a court of Iran's foreign policy that is somewhat different.
For the realists, the Islamic republic has offered a rare and unique opportunity to establish a sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf . For a century -- centuries, really -- Iran's monarchs and later mullahs perceived that, given their history, given their civilizational standing, given their geographic location, it should emerge as the preeminent state of the region. However, those ambitions were unjustly thwarted by global empires -- British, American and local hegemonic powers; Iraq .
Today, as Iran 's leaders gaze across the Middle East , they see a more humbled America , frankly, seeking an exit strategy out of its predicament, an Iraq preoccupied with a simmering sectarian conflict, and a Gulf princely class that, in my view, is eager to accommodate rather than confront Iranian power.
Therefore, a judicious and reasonable Iran can go a long way toward achieving its long-cherished aspiration of domination of the critical waterways of the Middle East . It is important to stress that for this camp, they are driven not so much by Islamist ideology but for Persia 's historic aspirations.
Again, an examination of Larijani's speeches reveals sort of a peculiar insistence on India as a model for an aspiring regional power. India 's detente with America has allowed it both to maintain its nuclear capability and dominate its neighborhood.
In contrast, a Russian federation that at times finds itself at odds with the United States has seen its inability to influence its near abroad checked by a skeptical Washington. Although the United States presence is bound to diminish in the Middle East , for Iran 's realists, American power can still present a barrier to projection of their influence and Tehran 's resurgence.
For this cohort, a less contentious relationship with the United States -- hardly an alliance, and hardly even normalization -- with a less contentious relationship with the United States may ease America 's distrust, paving the way for projection of Iran 's influence.
For the realists, the nuclear program, therefore, has to be viewed in the larger context of Iran 's international relations. Once more, Larijani points to the example of India ; namely, a country that wants improved relations with the United States may obtain American approbation of its nuclear ambitions.
Iran and India are not the same countries, obviously, but nevertheless that is a perception that is emerging. Thus they don't seek to dismantle their nuclear program but offer confidence-building measures and improved relations with the United States as a means of alleviating international concerns.
Hovering over this debate, as with all debates in Iran , stands the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and his relationship with these competing power centers. In my view, Khamenei's instincts would be to support the reactionary elements in Iran and their call for defiance in pursuit of the nuclear option.
However, in his role as the guardian of the state, he must consider the nuclear program in the context of Iran 's national priorities. Thus far, despite his ideological compunction, Khamenei has pressed the state toward some degree of restraint. The fact that Iran continues to call for negotiations, and even has expressed their willingness to suspend potentially critical components of its nuclear program for a brief duration should meaningful discussions begin, reflects a willingness to tentatively and grudgingly subordinate ideology to pragmatism.
So where that leaves us is that we're essentially dealing with a country today as a result of what has happened in Iraq and the changes in geopolitical alignments of the Middle East, a country that is assertive, determined, and is essentially insisting on maintaining what it views as its national priorities and national prerogatives.
I'll stay at this point and defer to my other colleagues.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Dr. Takeyh.
Will you please proceed, Secretary Carter?
MR. CARTER: Yes, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman and members, thank you for inviting me to be here today to discuss the alternative courses of action if the diplomatic course that the United States has been on and its European partners have been on for the last three years or so fails to stop Iran 's progress towards developing the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons.
These alternatives I will call plan B. What is plan B, in short, if plan A fails? There are three broad varieties of plan B. All of these varieties were discussed at a workshop that former Secretary of Defense and my academic partner, William Perry, and I convened here in Washington . That was an off-the-record workshop of distinguished experts, civilian and military of both parties, all Americans.
And I draw upon the report of that conference, which Bill Perry and I co-authored and which, with your leave, I will make my written statement and ask that you insert it in the record. That said, everything I say, I will draw upon that report. But I am responsible now for everything I say and not the participants in that workshop.
Let me begin by saying, while I think it's important, and everyone in our workshop did, for the United States and its partners to design all three versions of plan B now, I believe it would be premature to move to plan B at this time; that is, to abandon the diplomatic path, particularly to move to a coercive path. And before I get to the paths, let me say why.
For one thing, a very important thing, Iran 's known nuclear program is several years away from being able to produce its first bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium. The unknown program is, by definition, unknown, but everybody I talk to believes that the unknown program is on a still slower schedule than the known program.
And therefore, Iran as a whole is several years away from being able to produce its first bomb's worth of fissile material. And therefore, unlike the case of North Korea , which has already obtained fissile material and is producing more, there's time, purely from the point of view of the technical development of the threat, to let diplomacy play out in the case of Iran .
Second, and again unlike North Korea, the Iranian government has exhibited at least a smidgen of sensitivity to international opinion and to the possibility of further isolation and punishment if it persists, and acceptance and trade if it stops; i.e., to diplomatic carrots and sticks. We see less of that -- Secretary Burns made that point -- in the case of North Korea . And so there is a chance that if this fish is played for longer, it can be landed.
Third, if the United States brings this matter to a head at this moment, I'm concerned that we will find that Iran is playing a comparatively strong hand and the U.S. a comparatively weak hand at this time. Iran 's influence, as Ray Takeyh has indicated and others in this discussion this morning have indicated, Iran 's influence in the Middle East is at a recent historic high.
Its unstinting backing of Hezbollah and the latter's clash with Israel this past summer has added to its perceived luster and its boldness. It has about as much sway -- and here I would agree with Senator Hagel -- within the borders of its historic enemy, Iraq , as do we at this time. And to top it off, Iran 's president, Ahmadinejad, is enjoying I guess I would call a sort of rock-star faddishness in much of the Muslim world.
We, by contrast, are weighted down by important ongoing and unresolved conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, a runaway North Korean nuclear program, as I mentioned earlier, our need to adjust cautiously and prudently to China's political and military rise, and above all, to the sprouting of post-9/11 versions of al Qaeda. We have a lot on our strategic plate.
The U.S. has only in recent months seemed to get in the game on the Iranian problem also. And our erstwhile partners in helping us combat Iran 's nuclear ambitions -- Europe , Russia and China -- are not always inclined at this time to follow where we lead.
All these circumstances could change, and the U.S. could find itself in a less adverse position strategically sometime in the future. But now may not be the moment to bring things to a head. And that would be a third reason not to move to at least a coercive version of plan B at the moment.
And fourth, and finally, before you change horses, you need to saddle the new horse. And that would mean preparing the way for the three alternatives I'm about to describe. And as you'll see when I describe them, I don't believe we've done that yet.
So for all these reasons, it's not yet time to switch to plan B, but it is time to consider and devise plan B. And the time that is available for diplomacy is only valuable if we use it effectively.
We addressed, as I said, three distinct versions of plan B. The first would add direct U.S.- Iran contact to the EU-3-led diplomacy the U.S. has supported from the sidelines for several years. The idea of this plan was broached by a number of influential observers and leaders -- Republican, Democratic and foreign -- to include Senators Lugar, Biden and Hagel in the very weeks before our workshop. And shortly thereafter, the Bush administration adopted a version of this plan, which has not been implemented because Iran, as we all know, has refused to satisfy the condition that it suspend enrichment before we do so.
The second version of plan B would use coercion to obtain the outcome that diplomacy seeks, a non-nuclear Iran . Coercion is the political, economic or military pressure that the U.S. and other nations could bring to bear on Iran in an attempt to discourage or physically delay it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
And the third version of plan B prescribes what the United States should do if Iran succeeds in going nuclear, and the U.S. needs to make strategic adjustments to protect itself and its friends from a nuclear Iran . Strategic adjustment requires the U.S. to develop a long-term strategy to respond to Iranian possession of nuclear weapons if diplomacy and coercion fail.
Mr. Chairman, with your leave, I'd like to just make one or two points about each of these options and then I'm prepared to discuss all of them in more detail, as does the report I referenced earlier.
First, direct contacts between the United States and Iran . There were a number of views, at least four different views, by knowledgeable people at our workshop. And let me just tell you what they were. They all head in somewhat different directions.
One view was that direct talks are the only way to test whether there can be a breakthrough in U.S.-Iranian relations, including the nuclear issue, if such a breakthrough is possible.
A second view is that a breakthrough is unlikely, but direct talks conditioned on a freeze will buy further time, and that itself is valuable.
A third view is that direct talks won't succeed, but they will effectively prepare the way for coercion, since coercion can only be effective with international support and the U.S. can only win that support after it has shown that its best efforts at diplomacy have been tried and failed.
And a fourth view was that direct talks will only play into Iranian hands. Since the Iran war and other developments have strengthened Iranian influence in the Middle East , direct talks will legitimize the Iranian government. The U.S. administration is divided within itself and cannot negotiate shrewdly, or the Iranian government has so many factions that it can't deliver on a real deal anyway.
So these were the views that participants had of the prospects for direct talks.
Direct talks, secondly, come in several flavors. You have to ask yourself how you want to conduct the direct talks. Are they purely bilateral? Are they with the EU? Are they in some form of six-party talks, including Russia , China , the EU-3, us and Iran ?
The second thing you need to decide is what do we talk about? Do we confine the talks to the nuclear program, or is anything on the table? If anything is on the table, to include other concerns like terrorism, then some participants warned us, you will have on the Iranian side other factions in the leadership participating from their side in the talks. And that may make it more difficult to get agreement on the nuclear front.
Moreover, if we're going to discuss other issues besides the nuclear issue in this larger setting, we're going to have to deal with Russia , China and the Europeans on those other issues. And it's been hard enough to corral them into a common view on the nuclear issue.
So there are pros and cons to a broad agenda versus a narrow agenda. And then, finally, there are the conditions under which direct talks are held, and those conditions have to do with Iranians and with our allies. The conditions on the Iranians we've imposed so far, and I support this, is that they suspend enrichment. The condition that we imposed on our friends and partners was that if the talks didn't work, they'd be prepared to go down the path of sanctions. And both of those conditions are in doubt as we sit here today.
Let me say something about coercion. Coercion can be political, economic or military; and just a couple of points. The first is that a point has been made several times in the course of this hearing already; economic coercion is not within the power of the United States to effect unilaterally for the simple reason that we essentially don't trade with Iran now anyway, and therefore there's nothing to take away. And so economic pressure is only possible if somebody else goes along with us in doing so.
The second point to make about economic pressure is that the general view of people who study sanctions is varied as far as their assessment of the effectiveness. But there is an issue of time scale which does not seem to be controversial, and that goes like this. The political effect of the imposition of sanctions would be immediate. The Iranian people would feel their horizons constricted by this act, and that may have some effect on them. But it takes years for the economic effects of sanctions to bubble in, and we may not have that kind of time.
With respect to political pressure, I would only note the $66 million, or whatever it is, of assistance that the United States government is going to give to the cause of splitting the Iranian government from its people. It will be, in my judgment, more than offset by the $55 billion of oil money that goes into the coffers of the Iranian regime this year, this calendar year, 2006, which will have 1,000 times the effect of drawing the Iranian government and their people together. And I think we need to be realistic; whatever you think of our efforts, that it's small in comparison to that.
Military coercion. Military coercion has been much discussed in the press. It was much analyzed by our workshop. The proposition is very straightforward. It's about air strikes on the main facilities at Bushehr, at Arak , at Isfahan , and, of course, especially Natanz.
I'm not going to add to what I'm sure members of this committee know perfectly well, which is that the consequences of an act of this sort would be very grave, both in terms of unifying the Iranian people behind their government and giving the Iranians opportunities to retaliate. It may still be worth the risk at some point, but the risk is very substantial.
The point I'd like to make that I think is also important is that a strike of this kind does not eliminate -- would not eliminate the Iranian nuclear program. It only buys you time. And you need to do the math about how much time it would buy.
So let us do a hypothetical here. Let's suppose that our intelligence judgment at the time a strike like this was mounted was that if we broke off talks and Iran was unconstrained and just raced to the bottom, it would take them four years. Let me suppose that that's our assessment; and that we further assess that if we continue to pretend we think the talks are going to succeed but we know they're not, we can add two years to that, for a total of six. But we believe that talks are a losing game.
Let's suppose further that if we were to eliminate, in an air strike, the known facilities that I enumerated earlier, it would take Iran two years to restore them to their current state. These numbers are not entirely made up, but they're obviously -- each one of them is arguable.
Well, at the end of the assumptions I just gave you, the attack wouldn't buy any time relative to continuing the negotiations. So one needs to do the math and ask how many years one is getting. Obviously if you're prepared to go back again and again and again and attack facilities as they are reconstituted, you can continue to buy time. But a single strike, which is so much discussed, buys a certain amount of time, but one needs to calculate how much that is. And depending upon the assumptions, it can be a short period of delay.
A final point on coercion. Coercion is properly seen not as an alternative, in my judgment, to diplomacy, but as a complement to diplomacy; that is, you show the Iranians what you're prepared to do if they're not prepared to agree. Plan A and plan B reinforce each other. The specter of plan B strengthens your hand in plan A. And likewise, you can't be effective at plan B unless you have tried plan A and shown it to have failed.
Finally, the third option was what do we do if Iran succeeds in getting the bomb? And I'll just say that our recommendations or thoughts about that, which is obviously a circumstance none of us wants to be in, divide into three categories, according to the three reasons why Iranians having the bomb is such a disaster. They might use it, and therefore we need to figure out how to protect ourselves and our friends in the region against a profound new threat. And that takes you to deterrence, to defenses, to counterforce, all of the familiar military tools.
Second, an Iranian bomb might be diverted to other parties via direct transfer to groups like Hezbollah, a black-market sale by a corrupt scientist like an Iranian version of A.Q. Khan, seizure by extremist factions of a future Iranian government, or loss of control in a new Iranian revolution. All of these are eminently plausible and fearsome dangers, and one needs to consider what one will do to protect oneself in that circumstance. And again, I could say more. I won't now.
But the third, and the point on which I'll close, is even if they don't use them and even if they don't divert them, the simple possession of the bomb by Iran creates a new fact in the region. It gives Iran a shield behind which it can be emboldened to try to extend its sway in the Middle East , export extremism, support terrorism and strike out at friends and allies of the United States .
Iran 's success in getting the bomb with impunity might also give encouragement to others seeking the bomb or cause others in the region to feel compelled to follow suit. And we'll have to think about and we need to discuss, and it's in the report, the countermeasures possibly that the United States could take to try to limit the damage to nonproliferation from this unfortunate development and to contain and encircle a nuclear-armed and emboldened Iran .
Mr. Chairman and members, this then constitutes the look ahead at the alternatives if diplomacy fails. Obviously none of them is attractive. And to repeat myself and close -- to repeat what I said at the opening -- in my personal judgment now; I'm not speaking for the workshop participants -- it would be premature at this time to move to coercion from diplomacy.
SEN. LUGAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Carter. Ambassador Indyk.
MR. INDYK: (Off mike) -- passing so quickly, I will try to summarize it very quickly.
Mr. Chairman, you pointed out that I tried to deal with the Iranian issues when I was assistant secretary in the Clinton administration. There were two lessons that I drew from that experience that I'll reference now, and a third later.
The first is that I agree with you completely on the point that you made in your opening remarks, that multilateral sanctions are the way to go if we're going to use sanctions. Unilateral sanctions are a very destructive (and ineffective ?) effort. And the ILSA legislation that we had to deal with in those days was proof in point. It divided us from our allies, as you pointed out.
The second point is that we did try to engage with the government of Iran during the Clinton years. And it's not true, as Secretary Burns mentioned and as newspapers, from The New York Times and The Washington Post on, continue to assert, that the United States since the revolution has never offered to negotiate with Iran .
It's, in fact, been the policy of Republican and Democratic administrations before this administration that we would negotiate with the government of Iran, provided they understood that we were going to put on the table all of the issues of concern to us, which included sponsorship of terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, opposition to the Middle East peace process. That was true in the previous Bush administration and it was certainly true in the Clinton administration.
What was also true was that the Iranians would not talk to us. And so the shoe was on the other foot. The experience in the Clinton administration, when President Khatami, a clear moderate and reformer, had been elected with a large mandate, was nevertheless we were unable to achieve any form of negotiation with that government.
And that leads me to be quite pessimistic about the chances that we will succeed in the effort to try to negotiate a way out of this nuclear situation with the current regime in Iran .
I want to run through quickly the reasons for that pessimism. Some have been mentioned already. First, and I think most important, is that Iran has a very strong incentive. Whether you're the radical president or the realist nuclear negotiator, both of them, as Ray Takeyh pointed out, have a very strong desire to acquire nuclear weapons, either for security reasons or for prestige reasons or for the furthering of their regional ambitions.
So in the first case it's going to be extremely difficult to head them off from that.
Secondly, distrust permeates the relationship between the United States and Iran since the revolution there. They think that the United States wants to overthrow them. They have good reason to feel that way. We think they want to dominate the region, subvert our friends, block the Middle East peace process, promote terrorism and destroy Israel . And we have good reason to believe that that's their intention.
And on top of that, as Secretary Burns pointed out, we don't have a feel for them because we haven't dealt with them for 27 years. And they don't have a feel for us for the same reason. So the ability of us to actually overcome this distrust and find a way to communicate is going to be very problematic.
I'm sure you know that the way in which Secretary Burns underscored that Secretary Rice indicated that she's prepared to sit at the table, I think that's an interesting idea. But the idea that we should have direct bilateral engagement with the Iranians if we actually get to the table is going to be critical in terms of overcoming this distrust. In other words, rather than a multilateral forum, I think it's very important that we shrink that down to a bilateral engagement.
The third reason for pessimism (lies to ?) the dysfunctionalism on their side and the impatience on ours. We've seen, in the three months they took to respond and the response that actually came up to the offer that was made, a good deal of confusion and conflict within their own system.
Larijani, their negotiator, has suggested that perhaps they'll suspend for two months. That's now been repudiated by Ahmadinejad's spokesman. And so we have to understand that things don't function very well on their side and it's going to be very hard to establish what the real position is on our side.
I think there are many within the administration and within its supporters, particularly in the neoconservative camp, that see the whole idea of negotiations as a real threat for us and opening up the possibility for the Iranians to drag out the engagement so as to better further their nuclear ambitions under the cover of negotiations.
And then there is the simple problem that we also confronted in previous efforts is that we seem to be ships passing in the night. When they're ready, we're not; when we're ready, they're not. And in this particular case, given the sense that they feel that the wind is at their backs, that they are on a roll and that we are short of breath in the Middle East, means that their willingness to compromise on the critical demands that affect their national security and their concept of their role in the region, their willingness to compromise, I think, has gone down considerably because of those circumstances.
And finally, there is the question of is there an acceptable outcome of these negotiations? Beyond the question of whether they would really be prepared to give up nuclear weapons, there's the question of what they will demand in return. We talk about economic incentives. Well, what they're talking about is getting the United States to recognize their regional hegemony. And that is something that I don't believe that we could agree to. And even if we did, I don't think that our regional allies would accept it to be under the domination of Iran .
And therefore, when we actually -- if we actually get down to the negotiations themselves, I think it's highly problematic as to whether we could find some common ground here. The simple assumption that we'll buy them off is one that I would caution you against.
That said, I do think it's extremely important that we give it our best shot. I think that Secretary of State Rice and Burns deserve a good deal of praise for their perseverance and their patience in this effort. But we are playing a weak hand in this situation.
Threatening sanctions that our allies don't really want to go along with, putting ourselves in a situation where the hint of negotiations seems to be enough for many of our allies to begin to talk about jumping ship from this agreed strategy, means that I think it's going to be very important. It's very difficult to hold them together as well and maintain our position of leverage over them.
Finally, I would just like to point out that, having said all of that, I do think that there is a broader strategic opportunity that emerges from the recent war in Lebanon that we should not ignore as we go forward in this effort to engage the Iranians.
As I said before, one of the problems is that they feel that they are now on a roll in the region. And what that has done is produce a reaction which I think we can develop. The reaction comes from the Sunni Arab leaders of the region, who fear the Iranian dominance now.
And there is a potential in the threat that they perceive and the threat that Israel perceives for these Sunni Arab leaders to come together and work with Israel in an arena that we pay very little attention to when we focus only on Iran , but it affects Iran 's calculations.
If we can make progress in the Arab-Israeli arena and build a virtual alliance of interests with our allies there, we will find ourselves in a better position to pressure and deal with Iran . This is not a simplistic argument, that solve the Palestinian problem and everything else will follow, but it is to point out that everything in the Middle East is connected.
And as the Iranians become more dominant, that sets up a reaction, an equal and opposite reaction, amongst the Arab countries there that we can use to increase our leverage on Iran . And that's the final lesson of the Clinton years. When we were making great progress in the Arab-Israeli arena, the Iranians were isolated and felt much more pressured to take into account our interests.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Indyk.
Let me just say procedurally now we are about three or four minutes away from a roll call vote. What I would like to suggest, if he's amenable, is that Senator Hagel might chair the committee and raise his questions, and then recognize Senator Biden, because he will probably return. Absent Senator Biden, we would recognize Senator Dodd. And I will be back to try to conclude the hearing and raise my questions at that point.
So if you would proceed, Senator Hagel, I would appreciate it. And perhaps we should adopt maybe a five-minute rule for these questions to these witnesses.
SEN. HAGEL: That's a risky proposition leaving me in charge, but we will proceed in spite of that.
SEN. DODD: (Off mike.)
SEN. HAGEL: It will not be voted on. Thank you, Senator Dodd.
Gentlemen, thank you. You have made significant contributions, as you have done over the years, to not just this issue but others as well, and we appreciate it very much.
I would like to pose this question to each of you. You all touched upon the sanctions issue and examined it with some clarity. If I would have had another opportunity to address Secretary Burns in response to a question that Senator Obama asked, if you recall at the end of his testimony, in the question-and-answer period, he went into some detail about the graduated sanction regime.
And I think he said he would not include oil and gas in the first tranche of that regime. But if I recall correctly, he said it would involve exchange programs. Specifically I think he mentioned professorships at MIT. And nothing personal, Secretary Carter, but he used MIT if I recall.
What struck me about that was, at least I thought, was a bit of an inconsistency when, on one hand, Secretary Burns was talking earlier about great strides and progress we were making on the diplomatic exchange front, and he spoke specifically about education exchanges in students and professorships. But yet that would be included, according to the secretary, in the first round of sanctions.
I'd like each of you to respond to that, because, again, it's a bit unfair for Secretary Burns because he's not here and I didn't have a chance to follow up. But I'm puzzled by that, at least, again, my perception of an inconsistency there. You can't have it, I don't believe, both ways, and especially if we're trying to develop some trust and confidence among our allies and if we are trying to lay down -- if, in fact, that's the point here -- a legitimacy for some engagement, finding some form for that engagement.
So I would appreciate each of you responding to that and any other element of Secretary Burns' testimony and his responses to those questions, specifically on sanctions.
Ray, we'll begin with you. Thank you.
MR. TAKEYH: (Off mike) -- the incongruity of having exchange programs while imposing a travel ban. I think that's worth talking about. I don't know how that works. You know, I can't explain that contradiction other than acknowledging it.
In terms of having the United Nations being used and the Security Council as a venue for progressively more coercive sanctions on Iran , I think that's far-fetched. It wasn't so much what the French president said as on that very day France signed a $2.7 billion oil and gas deal with Iran , at the day when you begin discussion of sanctions.
And throughout the EU-3 negotiations with Iran , the French were among the more resolute. It was the Germans that we suspected of actually not wanting a resolution on coercion again also.
You know, there's a lot of reasons to believe that international solidarity, in terms of imposition of rigorous multilateral sanctions on Iraq , is a nonexistent one. It's nonexistent among our allies, and certainly I would say the same thing about the Chinese and the Russians. So the idea of having escalating coercive measures enacted through the United Nations is far-fetched.
Now, whether exchange programs are going to be suspended or not, that's neither here nor there. Some of the measures that are contemplated that can be enacted are not necessarily punitive. You know, travel ban on Iranian officials dealing with nuclear issue, that's about four people. And whether that's going to be adhered to, I'm not sure. Prohibition of cooperation between other countries and Iran 's nuclear industry, that's every bank in Russia . And frankly, the Treasury Department did have that provision before it. It just never enacted it because it knew it would be difficult to enforce.
So these measures, in my judgment, are not likely to succeed.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
MR. CARTER: Senator, I can only put the following interpretation on what Undersecretary Burns said, because I agree with you that getting an education in the United States is an aspiration of many Iranians. It is in our long-term interest to satisfy that appetite to come here and to learn and take back what they see and learn here. And I believe that the restrictions referred to by Secretary Burns are on engineering education that could result in the kind of training that would provide assistance to the nuclear program. That would be hived off from other forms of educational exchange.
On the general question of sanctions, I'll just note something that people frequently ask me, and the members of the committee surely know full well, which is that the most effective sanction, theoretically, against Iran, of course, would be to refuse to buy their oil, which is $55 billion in 2006, and which certainly bonds the government to its people, because that $55 billion is, I think, 85 percent of Iran's exports, and it is 65 percent of the federal government's budget in Iran. So it would absolutely cripple Iran .
On the other hand, Iran 's production, which is 2.5 million barrels a day, exceeds the slack in the international production system. So interrupting Iranian supply -- that supply could not easily be made up by even with effort by Saudi Arabia and other suppliers that have some excess supply. And so there would be a price spike. And so this falls in the category of sort of mutual assured destruction. It would certainly destroy the Iranian regime, but it would have repercussions in the rest of the world as well. And that's why one takes that off the table and cascades down to these much lesser measures, which, as Ray suggests, aren't -- short of comprehensive sanctions imposed, especially by Japan and Europe -- likely to have much effect on the Iranian people and, therefore, on its government.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
MR. INDYK: Well, Senator Hagel, I think you really put your finger on the larger problem which is a contradiction in the administration's approach when it comes to sanctions. Because there is a belief -- I think a justified belief -- that the Iranian people are actually friendly towards the United States -- much friendlier than many others in the Muslim world these days -- and that we want to try to try to reach out to them. President Bush broadcast this message through an op-ed -- an interview -- with David Ignatius which he published in The Washington Post. But on the other hand, we want to punish the regime. So how do we punish the regime and still reach out to the people, because sanctions are going to affect the people?
And so sanctions don't work very well. So we talk about targeted sanctions. You remember the administration started off with targeted sanctions towards Iraq , and that didn't get anywhere either. What we discovered in the case of sanctions in Iraq is that they hurt the people a great deal; in fact a great deal more than we had understood and didn't hurt the regime that much at all. And so you try to find targeted sanctions, and you end up with these kinds of contradictions and tensions.
Of course, Ray didn't mention, but when you focus on nuclear sanctions, it's not the Russian banks that are going to want an exception, but the Russian government is not going to want to effect the Bushehr reactor which they're building. So even in the case of these targeted sanctions, we're going to have a problem, because as I understand it, the Russians are asking for an exception in the case of Bushehr, which then kind of guts that particular sanction of any real meaning.
And it goes to the broader problem of sanctions are really not an effective weapon to achieve this objective. What is effective, what I do think managed to concentrate the minds of the Iranians was the way in which the administration very effectively managed to concert international opinion against Iran's nuclear program. And it's that isolation of Iran that is, I think, the key. And the problem when you get into sanctions is that you tend to divide and they are able to play a divided role.
So I really think that that's the key that your question has highlighted. How do we find a way to isolate Iran politically, diplomatically while not allowing them to divide us from our allies?
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
SENATOR JOSEPH R. BIDEN (D-DE): Thank you very much.
Do you both agree with that last statement that the attempt to -- that the most effective thing is to isolate them diplomatically and that almost any configuration of sanctions is likely to split that consensus to isolate diplomatically? Is that accurate?
MR. TAKEYH: I think we're all in agreement that sort of the sanctions that is contemplated for it to be effective, multilateral is unlikely to be enacted through the United Nations because of the divisions and so forth.
Whether Iran can be diplomatically isolated -- I suspect it can be from the Western bloc. But increasingly, the Iranian leadership are talking about an Eastern orientation -- namely, having a relationship with countries where their human rights records and proliferation tendencies are not that bothersome -- the Chinese, the Russians -- and those that they have commercial relationship with, particularly in oil and gas industry.
Can Iran be isolated regionally? Well, not long ago the deputy national security adviser of Iraq went to Iran and said there is absolutely no evidence that Iran is interfering in that country. (Laughter.) And the last July resolution when 15 Security Council members voted against Iran , Qatar was not one of them. Ahmadinejad is very popular on the Arab street. Martin is absolutely right. There is concerns in palaces and ministries, but that doesn't read down to the street. And even in nonrepresentative regimes, public opinion counts, as you saw in case of Lebanon . When initially Egypt and Saudi Arabian officials came out in criticism of Israel , they quickly retreated when the popularity of Hezbollah became known.
Iran today is the second most important country in Afghanistan , the second most important country in Iraq , perhaps destined to be the most important in each. It has -- the Gulf Cooperation Council is not likely to congeal against Iran . That is not its temperament; that is not its behavior. It has a relationship with Syria of long standing, and it is increasingly becoming an important player -- even more important -- in the emerging Lebanese civil war.
So can a diplomatic arrangement be made to isolate Iran ? I think privately, most Arab officials would complain about Iran 's behavior, just because they board the plane to Tehran and shake hands with the Iranian officials. You know, I don't see diplomatic isolation within the region. I think it's possible to sever Iran, to some extent, from Western Europe in terms of diplomatic presence but not necessarily from the Eastern bloc that Iran is beginning to appeal to, and not necessarily about the non-aligned community which actually is supporting Iran's stands as a country that has nuclear rights within the confines of the NPT and the traditional north-south -- (inaudible).
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.
MR. CARTER: I just -- very briefly -- I agree with your contention, Senator Biden, and with my two colleagues. There is a sense, however -- and I noted this earlier -- in which economic sanctions have a political effect. They do express universal or some degree of consensus. And, as I mentioned earlier, the experts on sanctions will tell you that the political effects kick in immediately and the economic effects actually kick in over a long period of time. So sanctions do have a political effect.
The other thing I would say is I completely --
SEN. BIDEN: Excuse me. I'm not asking whether they have a political effect. I'm asking whether it's possible to get the sanctions. In other words, this notion was we diplomatically isolate, but the degree to which we seek sanctions that are not unilateral, it splits that diplomatic consensus.
MR. CARTER: I'm sorry then. That I also agree with. The sanctions we can get will not be effective, and the sanctions you can imagine being effective we will not get.
Ray is absolutely right. The expression Martin used was Iran 's on a roll, and I think we all recognize that. We're looking in a kind of fun house mirror at the Middle East at the moment and places that are smaller than they really are look bigger at the moment. And I think Iran 's bubble is destined to -- I don't know whether it would burst but certainly reduce in size. There are fundamental things that go against the Iranian government. The people are uncertain about its ability to deliver what they want. The rest of the region might be in appeasement mode at the moment, but fundamentally they're looking for an opportunity to put Iran back where it belongs. And so these are things that, over time, will play out in our favor, and that's one of the reasons why I said that the moment isn't quite right for us now, because they're doing so well and we're so preoccupied elsewhere. And that's why I take some solace in the fact that they're not about to build the bomb.
SEN. BIDEN: Without ruining your reputation, I agree with you completely. That's been the thesis in which I've been operating that there, a, is more time than is asserted by the administration before there's an imminent threat; b, that time really plays to us not to them; and c, that if you could divine a way to do it, the place to play is internally in Iran if you could. I don't know how to do that. I don't know how to do that.
But, you know, if you take a look at Syria -- if you look down the road and you assume that Bashar al-Assad or any of the Syrian leadership, that Iran was destined to become the "hegemic" power in the region and the dominant power, I don't think that would bode too well for you, especially if you buy the argument of our right that it is a radically Islamic-driven, you know, bunch of crazies who are in a position that they are attempting to extend the influence of Sunni power in this internal revolution that's going on and clash of cultures within Islam, et cetera.
All these sort of nightmarish scenarios that are set up -- if you're sitting in -- it's a question. If you're sitting in Syria, it's kind of a -- you know, you're kind of making a Faustian bargain with an outfit that doesn't like you very much and for which you don't have a whole hell of a lot of future, it seems to me.
And so I'm wondering, Martin, along the lines that you suggested about when -- I apologize, I had to take a call -- but I'm told by staff that you indicated the possibility of a Sunni-Arab state fear combined with an Israeli fear, that maybe this was a time to try to jump start the Arab-Israeli peace process. I assume -- maybe I shouldn't assume -- wouldn't that require us to -- them and us as interlocutors -- to engage Syria relatively soon in that process if there was going to be an attempt to do that?
MR. INDYK: Well, first of all, on the timeline, Senator Biden, I think it's important to bear in mind while you and Ash are correct that there's time, that the Iranians appear to be, as far as we can tell -- you have to always say that -- five years away at a minimum, Israel keeps on making the point that what matters is the time it takes them to cross the nuclear know-how threshold, meaning when they actually know how to enrich the uranium, know how to actually build the bomb and put it on the missiles which they've already developed. And their estimate is that Iran crosses that nuclear know-how threshold within a year.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, let's assume that's true. There's not many options anybody has laid out to do anything about that. In other words, I mean, we have all these, you know, projections, but I don't know anybody, I don't hear any of you recommending that there is military action that was taking place. You've all acknowledged that the likelihood of getting coherent and cohesive economic sanctions that would make a difference by the world community is not in the cards. We acknowledge that Iran's on the ascendancy momentarily, and that we are, to say the least, bogged down in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and that there don't seem to be a whole lot of options available other than trying to figure out, a, how we get straightened out in Iraq and Afghanistan as quick as we can -- we have no plan, in my view. And try to figure out as well how to put strange bedfellows together who have a common concern -- even though it may only be the leadership -- a common concern with regard to Iran, and deal with the reality that the real fundamental threat comes when the capacity has been realized, when actually something's done with that capacity.
Because, you know, we kind of -- anyway --
MR. INDYK: Well, we're left with the choice between bad options.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I haven't even heard any option that is not bad. We're left with a choice between disastrous options.
MR. INDYK: Well, no, I wouldn't go that far.
SEN. BIDEN: Well --
MR. INDYK: I mean --
SEN. BIDEN: Military force -- use of military force in the near term. Is that an option that does anything to generate or benefit our short-term interest?
MR. INDYK: I'll let Ash answer that. But, I mean, we should not abandon the diplomatic option just at the moment when it's going to be really tested. So obviously, we have --
SEN. BIDEN: No, I'm not suggesting that.
MR. INDYK: -- and to pursue that first and foremost. Then there is the military option. Ash has laid out, I think, there are a lot of problems with that. But I think ultimately we are going to be left in a situation -- this is the reason for my pessimism -- where we're going to have to end up deciding whether we can live with Iranian nukes like we live with Pakistani nukes and North Korean nukes or not. And Israel , of course, is going to make its own decision about whether it can.
But ultimately, Senator Biden, that's where, I think, we end up here.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I would argue there is an interim step in there within the time frame we're talking about, but that's a different issue. Not a different issue, but that's for another time. And my time -- let me conclude by asking the question -- and I should know the answer.
How much oil do we import from Iran ? And would it make a difference if in fact we unilaterally cease and desist from importing Iranian oil? I assume it would just be picked up by other countries immediately, but --
MR. CARTER: I'm not an expert, Senator, on oil markets, but my understanding is that we'll just -- we would end up buying oil from Venezuela and somebody who's now buying oil from Venezuela would buy it from Iran . It's a fungible commodity, and the world supply would adjust.
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, that's right. I think it's important for the record that be stated because that's a question we sometimes ask.
MR. CARTER: Yes. And so it would have no effect on Iran or on us, for that matter.
May I touch on this question of the Israelis and the knowledge? I've heard Israelis say that, and I want to say as a scientist that I really think that that is a misleading metric. You can have all the knowledge you want of how to build a bomb, and if you don't have highly enriched uranium or plutonium, you're not going to have a bomb. But that's not the important threshold.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you. Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. CARTER: The second thing I would say is that particularly with highly enriched uranium, less so with plutonium, but with highly enriched uranium I think that everyone who's knowledgeable about bomb design will tell you that anybody can assemble a uranium bomb. And it's sadly not difficult. You know that we had no doubt that ours would work -- our very first one would work. It's trickier with plutonium. These people are using highly enriched uranium. Any knucklehead that has highly enriched uranium can make it go off. So it's just not the case. (What the pacing ?) item here is getting the metal, and if they're going to make it, they have to make it in those centrifuges. We know how many there are. We know how effective each one of them is at making -- at enriching uranium. Even if they get to the thousand centrifuge pilot plant level, that pilot plant running full time with non-enriched fuel, I think the number's 2.7 years to the first bomb. That's once they get the pilot plant going in the thousand centrifuges.
So these are things that people can work out -- the numbers. And why the Israelis are saying this, I don't know, but I say from a technical point of view, it's just not true.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I noticed that the new head of Israeli Ministry of Intelligence has stopped using the phrase "point of no return."
And I'm at the point of no return. The vote on the floor is up, and I'm going to leave. Thank you, gentlemen.
SEN. LUGAR: Thanks, Senator Biden.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT): Do you want the chance to go first?
SEN. LUGAR: No, I'll raise questions after you have.
SEN. DODD: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank all three of you for your continuing help and support in trying to shed some light on a very, very difficult and complex foreign policy challenge, about as serious of one as I can think we've had.
I wonder if you might just -- instead of trying to decide what options we hear -- I wonder if you might, each of you, take a moment out and describe if you could what a successful end game would look like to you in a process here where -- which would leave all of the principal parties satisfied. I mean, satisfied is a vague enough word, but envision, if you will, or share with us your thoughts on an end game here that would leave everybody saying, "Well, that's a pretty good result." And is it possible in your view that such an end game would allow us to -- would allow Iran to attain its enrichment capabilities?
MR. TAKEYH: I'll just begin. In terms of negotiating options with Iran , I think what Senator Biden was referring to that -- what are the options to negotiate? First of all, this is not a unique historical moment for the United States . We've been in this position before. If you look back in the late 1960s, early '70s, we were in a position in East Asia where our power was declining because of the Vietnam War, and the Chinese power was increasing because of China 's own capability and declining American power. And then there was certainly antagonism between the two countries. They had gone to war with each other in Korea , and obviously Chinese were very much involved in the Vietnam War.
The negations with Iran , I think, as being contemplated today suffer from a conceptual divergence. Iranians are going into these negotiations, as Martin was saying, in order to offer confidence- building measures that will allow them to continue their nuclear program. The Europeans and now, I gather, the Americans are going into these negotiations in order to arrive at an arrangement that will cease those nuclear activates. These are conceptually divergent perceptions of what the negotiations are for. And ultimately, it was this conceptual divide that undermined the EU-3- Iran negotiations after two and a half years.
How do you negotiate with Iran ? I think you have to accept certain basic realities. Iran is an important power with influence in the region, and the purpose of the negotiation would be how to establish a framework for regulation of its influence. Therefore, in a perverse sense, negotiations is a form of containment. We're negotiating as a means of containing Iran 's influence, surely as we negotiated with the Chinese in the early 1970s as means of coming to some arrangements to rationalize U.S.-Sino American relations as a means of regulating Chinese power.
So what you can do, as I think I alluded to at the end of my written testimony, is actually having the negotiations with Iran, as I think Martin was saying -- a comprehensive negotiations on all of Iranian concerns and all of our concerns. Our concerns are human rights, terrorism; they have their own grievances and so forth. And these negotiations will take place ultimately without precondition.
In 1970, when the United States negotiated with the Chinese, there was no precondition to those negotiations. We didn't say, "We want 250,000 Chinese troops that were active in North Vietnam to be withdrawn." But the purpose of those negotiations was essentially to establish a framework where Beijing 's relationship with Washington was more important to it than its relationship with Hanoi . The purpose of these negotiations would be to foster an arrangement where Tehran 's relationship with Washington is more meaningful to it than various gradation of uranium or potentially its ties with Hezbollah.
So therefore, although suspension of nuclear activities is not the beginning point, you hope to get to that at the end point by creating a new framework and a new basis for U.S.- Iran relations. But in all these discussions and negotiations, we have to appreciate that in a sense we are legitimizing Iran 's at least Persian Gulf if not larger regional aspirations.
MR. CARTER: It's an excellent question. It's the key question. What would we be satisfied with? Ray's given a version of it, which I think is quite cogent. I'm going to take a different cut at it.
When it comes to proliferation, you never really win finally, because people never renounce forever. Whether it's Taiwan , South Korea , South Africa , Ukraine , Kazakhstan -- they could all reverse course. So there's a buffer in time between where they stand now and them having a bomb. And what you want in the case of Iran is a sizable buffer. But you'll never make that buffer infinitely long.
We judge that if they are making their own fuel, even for a civil nuclear program, that buffer is too narrow, and that is why we have opposed Iran having the capacity to enrich itself, even if that enrichment capability was inspected. And that has been the American view. I share that view. I don't share the view that them having nuclear power of any kind is too dangerous, nor, evidently, does President Bush, for the reason that that buffer can be made long if the fuel comes from outside of the country -- the enriched fuel -- the enrichment is not done there, and then the spent fuel goes outside of the country. But what we need from Iran is a buffer that's long enough that we don't feel that we're up against an Iranian bomb that's only one or two years away, or some uncertainty about whether there is an Iranian bomb at all. And that's what we're looking for, a buffer of some years. And there are various ways that that can be worked out, and that's one of the reasons why I think that from a technical point of view, these negotiations could succeed. The Iranians could be satisfied that they were close enough that they haven't -- hadn't renounced for all time a Persian bomb, and they could have a civil nuclear power program. But the buffer could be long enough that we're satisfied and our allies are satisfied that they're not on the cusp of proliferation. That's the end state I think we -- both sides could be looking for in this negotiation that would satisfy them both.
SEN DODD: Do you think that satisfies Iran ? I was intrigued by Martin's point earlier, and I was telling the chairman on my way over to vote -- without, in a forum like this, sharing with you who specifically said this, but I was in the region in April, and I had a long meeting with a very high-ranking Arab official from a very strong ally of ours, who expressed to me great reservations and fears about an Iranian-U.S. diplomatic conclusion that would exclude them in some way, or would in some way leave them out of the equation.
And Martin, you made the point earlier that you think there's going to be an ask coming back from the Iranians to us, assuming we could be satisfied with the result that Ashton has talked about here. It may include a very significant and dominant role in the region.
And so I -- could you give me some idea, before I turn to Martin, what you think the Iranian ask is going to be, other than the satisfaction here that they've somehow been able to maintain their nuclear option here without taking the position that forbear forever from acquiring that weapon?
MR. CARTER: The result I described, which is purely a nuclear result, is unlikely, in my judgment, to be obtained in isolation. It'll be part of some larger package.
SEN. DODD: Larger thing.
MR. CARTER: And the larger package will cut both ways for the Iranian leadership. To some extent, it will legitimize them and reward the role of Iran . On the other hand, it will constrain their behavior in the future. And the other response, I guess, I'd give, Senator Dodd, to your excellent question is that when one says, "Will the Iranians accept it?" the answer is, "There are several different flavors of Iranians."
SEN. DODD: That's true.
MR. CARTER: And I'm sure there some who want to have the bomb, and nothing can turn them around; others who want nuclear power, and others who don't care about one or the other. We do know that the nuclear power program is what they say they want, and we know that that's popular with their people. And so it's possible that they could be satisfied with some version of that and not the bomb. But who knows?
SEN. DODD: Mr. Ambassador, do you want to add anything to this?
MR. INDYK: I don't think I was spoke to that same high-level leader, but I did hear one of them here just recently speak in what I would assume will be the same terms, in which he said, "There should be no negotiations with Iran, because if you negotiate with Iran, you are allowing it to become the arbiter of Arab interests, and that is unacceptable."
SEN. DODD: In effect, that was the same message.
MR. INDYK: And that's a very real fear that they have in the region.
But I just want to come back to what I thought was a very useful explanation on Ashton's part of what the nuclear deal would need to be, because I think what I heard him say was that enrichment is not something that would -- Iranian independent enrichment is not something that would give us sufficient evidence that buffer would be long enough. Correct? And that's precisely what the Iranians are saying is a red line for them, that they insist on their right to enrich. And so if you just focus it down to the nuclear issue, that's where the rub will be. That's where the real problem will be. And I suspect that the scientists are going to have to work out a way. If we really think we can get a nuclear deal, the scientists are going to have to work out a way to allow Iran to do low-level enrichment under strict controls. And we're going to have to decide whether that's acceptable or that runs too high a risk, because I don't see that if -- I don't think we're going to get to that point anyway. But if we got to that point, to answer your question, that's where it would have to be worked out. Can we live with low-level Iranian enrichment? Because that's the locus of the deal that would have to be done.
But on the much broader question of what their ask would be, I think it's very clear that what they're looking for is recognition by us of their regional role. And that is, at a minimum, we can't accept that. And the question is, what do they really mean by that? How do we parse it? We can only figure that out in a negotiation -- a direct negotiation in which we're obviously going to have to be talking about a security structure in the region that takes care of their security concerns as well, and takes care of our security concerns and the concerns of our allies. So it's possible. I'm a diplomat, so -- I like to think I'm a diplomat -- so I think it's possible to work out compromises for all of these things. But it's very difficult to see how we're going to get there. Theoretically, we can do it. Practically, it's very difficult to see how we're going to achieve it.
SEN. DODD: Someone suggested that we take some sort of a bold action here to try and break through, at least to start the process. And I like, by the way, the analogy going back in the late '60s with the -- with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger's opening towards China , which has been articulated.
Peter Beinart has talked about this in conversation, of just doing the unexpected and changing the game. (Chuckles.) It changed the game dramatically with that very clever defensive move, I thought, in that time. But just even opening up an interest section, offering -- the Iranians to open up an interest section here in return for one being opening up in Tehran . Is that something that you could imagine?
MR. INDYK: I think we would love to do that. I think even the Bush administration would love to do that. The Iranians have never been prepared to allow us -- they have an intersection here. We would like to have American diplomats on the ground in Tehran , but they are not prepared --
SEN. DODD: Have we made an public offering to -- I mean, I don't recall ever seeing that kind of a public expression of offering that exchange of interest sections being made. Do you know if that's been done?
MR. INDYK: Well, our interests are represented by the Swiss. I forget who represents their interests here.
MR. TAKEYH: Pakistan --
MR. INDYK: Pakistan . But in terms of actually being able to -- I think that the real benefit to us would be if we could actually get in on the ground there in a diplomatic capacity, and that's not something they're prepared to do.
SEN. DODD: Been resistant to it.
Mr. -- I've got a dozen more questions, but I can see the look on your face and the look on these -- I have an opening statement, which I obviously was not here for. I'd ask unanimous consent to put that on the record.
SEN. LUGAR: It'll be placed in the record.
SEN. DODD: If you don't mind, there are a couple of other questions I'd like to send to you, if I could, and then if you could respond, it'd be very, very helpful. They get into the nonproliferation issues and the wait-and-see look, which is another whole aspect of all of this, watching now what we've done with India and so forth. I'm sure there's not -- and then the internal. I'm very interested in the -- where we stand today with the U.S. in the wake of the events over the summer, with regard to the population in Iran itself. So those would take a longer time to answer, and I'll just submit them in writing and look forward to your answers.
SEN. LUGAR: Thank you. We'd be appreciative of the panel responding to the senator for the record.
Let me just conclude with a couple of questions. One is, just theoretically, why would it not be a good idea, aside from the fact that it seems to be a great change in course -- but leaving that aside, we indicated that we want to have as a country a very open relationship with Iran, that for 27 years, you pointed out, we haven't had very much of a relationship at all officially -- very unofficially. But we've decided, as a matter of fact, just adopting the buffer idea that you have but maybe not labeling it that -- that if we are going to get along in this world, that immediately we suggest scholarship exchanges; sports teams has been mentioned; but business people, tourists, curious people, whoever -- and ask the Iranians to admit all these people to the country. And at the same time we admit all sorts of Iranians here, as opposed to there being a huge issue when a distinguished Iranian comes to Washington, in which there are editorials as to whether anybody ought to meet with the person or not. I can understand the current diplomatic situation, but we would say, well, indeed, we should, on the basis, for example, that our country has taken this position in the past with the former Soviet Union , now Russia .
You've traced sort of the developments in China over the course of time that have led to a very different kind of negotiation, when our secretary of the Treasury goes there presently and talks in sophisticated ways. So you can say, "Well, my goodness, what a change in course; what's happened to this administration?" or to whoever's responsible. And we would say, "Well, as a matter of fact, we suspect that this is probably a better course, all things considered, and we'd like for the Congress to consider it." Throw some of the burden over to us, so all the contradictory factions in American society come in here and say, "Don't touch those Iranians," but others say, "Well, we ought to have a" -- I just have the impression that -- not that we're flying blind here; a lot of very sophisticated people and yourselves are so helpful in (our ?) respect. But one of the questions often raised about Iraq , and it was raised in this committee long before we got into hostilities, but the long -- is that, frankly, we didn't know very much about Iraq . We were just barely aware of its origins, who was there, what sort of -- what relationships they had with Iran or Saudi Arabia or anybody else. And it's very painful to have so much discovery for years afterwards, which we all go to school. But I just have a feeling this is of the essence, presently.
Now, I ask that sort of coupled with this aspect, so that you can try both at the same time. We do have, obviously, a very large United States presence in the area, in Iraq and in Afghanistan -- much larger in Iraq than in Afghanistan these days, but our European allies, under the NATO reach-out, are in Afghanistan .
Is this likely to be helpful or harmful, using the buffer situation again? Notwithstanding whether we finally have lots of exchanges of other people, but right now we have a lot of people, really, in the area. We haven't discussed today what would be the implication on our negotiations with Iran if, for example, we were to withdraw a substantial number of forces fairly rapidly from Iraq . Or the other side, if we simply said, "Well, as a matter of fact, in order to get that situation under control, we need to send another division to Iraq ," as some suggest. But how does that affect either the negotiations or the nuclear developments or any of the above? Is there something salutary in our position by having Americans there to offer credibility? If they were not there, would Iraqis take the position that the United States , when it finally comes down to it, is interested in this area for a while, but only for a while. We have sort of a short time space, all things considered, and we may do a little development work, but not much of that is going on either, as a matter of fact.
So would any of you comment on these ideas of using, once again, the time span or the buffer idea or however else you want to develop it?
MR. TAKEYH: I'll let Ashton talk about his buffer plan. I'll briefly say, something that has been alluded to in this hearing and others, is to -- I always view studying Iran as comparable to studying China in the 1950s. We just have no access to that country; we have no real way of understanding it. It is a country that is very difficult to work in, given the fact that they often equate research with espionage. So it's an enclosed country in many ways, in terms of actually trying to decipher the internal deliberations within the regime. In all countries, there's a gap between public declaration of officials and their private perception. In the case of Iran , that gulf is the Atlantic Ocean . I mean, when an Iranian official says yes, he could mean yes, he could mean no, he could mean maybe. I mean, there's no way of assessing it. So I think a greater degree of American interaction with Iran , going there and talking to people, particularly at an official level and even non-official level would be extremely salutary.
But the problem, frankly, hasn't been from our side. There are lots of Iranians who are willing to -- there are lots of Americans willing to go. I was supposed to go this summer; I was denied a re- entry permit. Deputy to -- Ken Pollack, Martin's deputy, has tried to go many times and he was denied a visa. So -- not every problem in U.S.-Iranian relations is the fault of the United States . Part of the reason why we fail to understand their country is they're not providing us with an ability to do so, and there has to be a change of mind on the other side. I mean, if all three of us applied for a visa to go to Iran , I doubt if any of us would get it. Certainly not Martin. (Laughter.)
SEN. LUGAR: But it might be important to publicize --
MR. : (Off mike.)
MR. TAKEYH: He'll get an entry permit!
MR. CARTER: Before my security officer has a stroke, I would have to say that I would have to ask, and I would probably not be allowed to go.
SEN. LUGAR: But it might be important to publicize the fact that you are attempting to do this. In other words --
MR. TAKEYH: Yes. A colleague of mine and I went through months of negotiations to go and they never -- ultimately, their final response was a no response, which we took as a no.
SEN. LUGAR: Yeah.
MR. TAKEYH: But the role of Iraq -- increasingly, I think the presence or absence of American troops in Iraq does not affect Iran's negotiating posture, because I think they arrive at a position that they're confident that those troops are not going to be used against them. And it's important to recognize that when Iranians are talking about security issues, we often misinterpret that as their asking for security guarantees. Increasingly they're asking for negotiations with the United States over the security environment of the Persian Gulf , which is in some way recognition of their rights and prerogatives in that particular region. So they're coming at this with some degree of invulnerability. Should American forces begin to leave Iraq , I think -- I mean, Iranian influence, I think, in Iraq is intact. It's operational, not just through the Shi'a allies that Iran has but also has a close relationship with the Kurdish population and Kurdish leaders, and so forth.
SEN. LUGAR: Ash, do you have a thought?
MR. CARTER: Just two observations. They're both excellent questions, and Ray has given excellent answers to them. On the question of the troops in the region, it hasn't turned out at all the way the Iranians probably expected. It certainly didn't, of course, turn out the way we expected. At the time the war began, many people were telling me that if things went well, this would strengthen our hand with respect to Iran . We would have a military presence in the region that might be semi-permanent, right on their border, and notwithstanding the fact that we had eliminated their historic enemy and balancer in the region, we would be able to assume that role.
The Iranians, I think, now -- certainly the Iranians I've spoken to have said to me they're pretty happy with the current situation. They have a big hand in what happens. But we're keeping the lid on, and they don't want the lid to blow off entirely. It is -- unfortunately, even if it were the optimal thing to do, to put more U.S. troops in Iraq, the reality is that that's not physically possible for us, given the size of our current military, or the Army and the Marine Corps at the time and the rotation we've already put them through, now on their third rotations, materially to increase our presence there. Even if we felt that another 50(,000) or 100,000 troops would spell the difference, we couldn't do it.
MR. INDYK: I would just say, first of all, on the issue of exchanges, I think in principle it's a very good idea and we should encourage it, but we shouldn't have any illusions that it's going to make a major difference. We did have experience with this in the 1990s; we had all sorts of exchanges going on. But what was happening in Tehran was that the hard-liners were effectively establishing their control, undermining and thwarting the reformers, and in the end, all the exchanges didn't change that dynamic, and we are where we are. But I still think we should do it, if only because it will give us a better understanding of what's going on. I think one of the things that everybody has agreed on in this hearing is that we don't have that feel, and that's very problematic.
As far as Iraq is concerned, I mean, I think, to put it crudely, Iran is on the ascendancy in the region, not because of anything they've done in particular but because of what happened in Iraq . We've in effect taken Iraq out of the balance-of-power equation now, and it's going to be a hell of a long time before it's back in that equation, and that makes them dominant in the Gulf, because the old Iraqi-run balance doesn't exist anymore.
Were we to put another division in, I think the Iranians would be very concerned. Were we to pull out our forces, they'll also be concerned, because the descent into chaos on their borders with their involvement there with the Shi'as could easily drag them in. So the ideal situation for the Iranians is the one that exists now where we're bogged down, but we're keeping enough of a lid on it that it just enables them to build their influence, including in Iraq and in the broader region, gratis -- courtesy of the U.S. Army.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, lots of optimism. (Laughter.) But a lot of wisdom, and we appreciate very much your thoughtfulness, your patience, your stamina. But we feel we've had a good hearing for ourselves and for the people who have shared this hearing over C-SPAN. So thank you for coming, and we look forward to seeing you again soon. And the hearing is adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)