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Panel II of Hearing of the Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee - Addressing Iran's Nuclear Ambition


Location: Washington, DC

Panel II of Hearing of the Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee - Addressing Iran's Nuclear Ambition


SEN. COBURN: How many of you all think that Iran desires to have a nuclear weapon?

MR. : Elements.

SEN. COBURN: How many of you all realize, or would agree, that who we're talking to indirectly now isn't the people who are making the decisions? The IDRC, we're not talking to them, right?

MR. : Supreme leader.

MR. : Supreme leader.

SEN. COBURN: Well, but they work for the supreme leader.

MR. : Yeah.

SEN. COBURN: Yeah, they don't work for Amadinejad.

Comment on sanctions. There are sanctions, and then there are sanctions. We haven't had real sanctions, yet. Intriguing idea, Ambassador Ross. The question is, is we're in a pickle. And the question comes, is how do we get out of the pickle? If we do what Ambassador Ross says, and it's related only to enrichment instead of killing our troops, denying human rights in Iran and all the other consequences, what happens if we fail? What happens -- if you think they're going for a nuclear weapon and we say we'll talk on the basis of the fact that we got to enhance sanctions and the talking doesn't work, what happens? Sure, what happens?

MR. : Well, I think, you know, these policies move in sequence. And the one thing you don't want to do is prejudge yourself so you have -- you miss an opportunity to resolve the problem, right? If we assume that they're bound and determined to get a nuclear weapon, which is not the finding of the NIE -- in fact, that's a key --

SEN. COBURN: But that's based on 2003 intelligence data.

MR. : No --

SEN. COBURN: It's not -- that's not based on the most recent relevations (sic/revelations) of what has been in the press about their accomplishment with Chinese drawings, molds.

MR. : Well, you know, I've always thought, when you look at the history of the Iranian nuclear weapons program that started in the mid-'80s -- we'll ignore the fact that the shah wanted it as well -- that the curious thing here is that they didn't make progress than they did in the decades. This has been a program that's been up and down and up and down. And I think the key finding of the NIE, as I explain in my testimony -- the key finding is not whether today they're working on weaponization or not; the key finding is whether they're a rational actor that, under circumstances, would be willing to give up their nuclear weapon or talk about it. And the answer on that is pretty clear.

If we presume they're going to get one no matter what, then if there is actually an opportunity to stop it, we will completely blow past that on a way to other policy --

SEN. COBURN: Is it your assumption they're a rational actor?

MR. : Oh, definitely.

SEN. COBURN: Is it you're assumption they're a rational actor?

MR. : I would say more or less. If the NIE proposition that they respond to cost and benefits I think is essential correct, and I think if you look at the behavior of the regime, it's been reasonably predictable.


How about you, Steven?

MR. RADEMAKER: The premise of all the international diplomacy that's taken place since 2002, the imposition of carrots and sticks, incentives/disincentives, the premise is that they are a rational actor, and if under enough pressure will do what we're asking them to do. I mean, it's hardly a revelation in the NIE to say that that's our premise.

SEN. COBURN: Ambassador Ross?

MR. ROSS: I think generally, but I think they have elements in the leadership that are not, that believe fundamentally in something else. And the question is, what's the balance of forces within that leadership, and how do you affect it so those who are pragmatic -- when you say rational, I say those who are pragmatic in terms of protecting their interests and their regime, so that you affect those who reflect that mind-set and they hold greater power right now.

MR. : If I could, on your sanction point that you were -- earlier, I think that I agree very much with the proposition that it's bizarre -- I say in my testimony ironic even, that many of the members of the sanctioning coalition, seem readier to run the risks of a military attack on Iran than to impose sanctions that would be sufficiently harsh to have a chance of changing Iran's behavior.

SEN. COBURN: Yeah, they behave like U.S. senators; they're rational to the next general election but not to the future of the country. (Laughter.) I mean, there's a great correlation. It's like on fixing Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. Well, we know we got to fix it, but we can't do anything about it because it might affect the short term.

MR. : Forty percent -- as you said earlier, 40 percent of the gasoline that's used every day in Iran comes imported. Is it possible to interrupt that? Yes, it is. Now, would it have an impact on gas prices here? Yes, it would. Who's in favor of that? Not the administration. I don't know how many senators are.

SEN. COBURN: Well, the fact is, is we have a big problem, and there are a couple of coming consequences. The question is, are we willing to pay some of the sacrifice to have that consequence? One is -- one is some military action at some point in time, or some cost and sacrifice on our part to avoid that, from an economic standpoint. The question is, is that's not always necessarily clear and out there among the choices that we get to make.

I want to make one other point and see if you all agree with it, and we've seen this be true in the past. And I want to take issue a little bit. I think Libya came to the table because there was in invasion of Iraq and it didn't have anything to do with sanctions. I think they finally just said, "I give up. I don't want this happening to us." I think there was some pressure with sanctions, but the real truth of the matter is here's this bold move and we don't think we want to invite that. So, you know, I think there was a big difference. And we had testimony earlier. And the fact that at the time, in 2003, we didn't have sanctions on Iran at the time we invaded.


x x x invaded.

And the secretary correctly pointed out that that was a big impact in 2003.

Can you not have uranium enrichment and still have weaponization?

MR. WALSH: Unless Iran were successful in buying enriched uranium from another state, no.

SEN. COBURN: Well, if they have nuclear -- if they have enriched uranium -- if they have that at some point in time, is it clear to you that they would have the capability to weaponize that?

MR. WALSH: Yes, if they have --

SEN. COBURN: Does everybody agree with that?

MR. ALLISON: -- If they have enough enriched uranium, they can make a bomb, yes.

MR. WALSH: Yeah, not 3 (percent) to 5 percent enriched uranium, but yeah, weapons grade.

SEN. COBURN: Yeah, weapons grade. Yeah. All right. (Inaudible.)

MR. ROSS: Shoot, can I answer the question you posed earlier?

SEN. COBURN: Yes. Please do.

MR. ROSS: You said if talking doesn't work, what are the choices?

Well, then the choices are basically two -- one is you come up with what is a very vigorous containment approach which is quite visible within the region, or you act militarily to forestall what they're doing with the message that you'll do it again if they proceed.


MR. ROSS: Those are the kind of choices you have.

I would say this -- I think that the reason I prefer the third way is because I don't really like either of those outcomes because I can see all sorts of consequences that are not so great.

But you put your finger on something -- there is no cost free approach right now, and we have to decide which of the least costly or least bad options are the ones that are available to us.

SEN. COBURN: Ambassador Ross, would it behoove us to work on containment now given the fact that our other options are not great? In other words, plan for containment, signal containment, put that out there as another leg in the stool?

MR. ROSS: For me, the answer is yes, and for a particular reason. deterrence is not just deterrence at the time, deterrence can also be about dissuasion.


MR. ROSS: And if the -- you're trying to persuade again, that part of the Iranian leadership that they're not going to gain anything -- hey have a lot to lose and they're not going to gain anything. And if they think that nuclear -- a nuclear weapons capability is going to give them leverage in the region, they should think again.

SEN. CARPER: Yeah. So -- that takes time, so you would agree that we should start that process now?

MR. ROSS: I would.

SEN. COBURN: Mr. Rademaker.

MR. RADEMAKER: I guess I would just add one footnote to Ambassador Ross' comment -- responding to your earlier point.

The risk that diplomacy may not succeed certainly is something -- not an outcome we want, but that risk is not an argument for making an offer to the Iranians that is so attractive that they have to say yes to it.


MR. RADEMAKER: In other words, a successful diplomatic outcome is not necessarily preferable to some of the other alternatives.

Dr. Walsh has a statement in his prepared remarks that I'll just read it to you because I disagree with it. He says, "The worst possible outcome is a purely national program on Iranian soil whether it is unsafeguarded or under-safeguarded."

I think what he means by that is basically they continue deploying additional centrifuges -- they stand up the enrichment capability they're seeking and we don't have any additional international safeguards than exist today. That's the worst possible outcome, according to his testimony.

I think that's not right because at least today it's an illegitimate program. It's -- the United Nations Security Council has condemned it four times, sanctions have been imposes, it is an illegitimate program.

Certainly, one consequence of any diplomatic settlement with the Iranians on this issue is going to be that illegitimacy, that sigma will be removed. The U.N. sanctions will be lifted, the Security Council will back away and whatever program we sign off on will be internationally legitimate.

SEN. COBURN: Yeah. Legitimized

MR. RADEMAKER: And if it is essentially the same program that they're going to achieve if they continue down the current path and diplomacy fails, but it's legitimate, I think that's a worse outcome than them continuing down the current path.


MR. RADEMAKER: And let me just -- you know, I think the rejoinder to what I've just said is, well, international inspections are reliable and if we can get as part of a diplomatic settlement enhanced international verification inspections, then we can have a higher level of comfort about that kind of outcome.

I just want to read you a quote which I've always enjoyed -- and this is on the issue of international inspections. "Every form of deception and every obstacle baffled the commission. The work of evasion became thoroughly organized. Under civilian camouflage, an organization was set up to safeguard weapons and equipment. Even more ingenuity was used to create machinery for future production of war material."

You know, it sounds like George Bush on Iraq. It's not. It's Winston Churchill on Weimar Germany and their evasion of the international inspection regime that was set up under the Treaty of Versailles. So the idea that international inspections will save us from a bad outcome is not a new --

(Cross talk.)

SEN. COBURN: -- and have irrational behavior on the part of the supreme leader and the RGC.

MR. WALSH: (Off mike.) If I may respond, that would not have been my rejoinder. It seems to me if the choices between a stigmatized, you know, stigma on one hand and a nuclear weapons capability on the other, I'll take stopping the nuclear weapons capability every day of the week. I mean, an Iranian program that is nationally owned and is not transparent but opaque because either they have minimum safeguards -- you're saying enhanced, how you feel about minimum safeguards -- minimum safeguards or they pull out of the MPT that's the quickest route to a bomb.

My proposal -- our proposal -- those who talk about this is about preventing an Iranian nuclear weapons capability, not enhancing it.

And I will --

SEN. COBURN: All right. Well, let me just add one thing --

MR. WALSH: If I may --

SEN. COBURN: There's nobody -- nobody that I've asked in the leadership in this country and no expert that I've asked that doesn't believe that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. Nobody.

What would make us think that anything other than cold, hard consequences to that is going to work?

MR. WALSH: Well, the nuclear age would be one.

Look at --

SEN. COBURN: Well, you've already answered the question about how rational they are. That's -- the reason we were very successful during the Cold War is, one, we talked, but number two is that there was a rational pattern of thought that wasn't based on martyrdom. It was based on survival; it was based on staying alive. That is a consequence that has to be figured in in terms of how we negotiate with these people and how we think about how they think.

Senator Coleman raised that issue and I think it's a great issue. That's something we've not every dealt with before as a nation -- as -- Ambassador Ross, you have in terms of Middle East in certain areas, but that's not routinely what we see.

And this assumption that survival is a guide to bring people to the table when in fact there's tremendous human rights of the people who aren't in the religious leadership in Iran today and what they claim about what they believe really mixes the common sense and logic that we could defer from having negotiations.

MR. WALSH: Senator Coburn, we heard the same thing about the Soviet Union, the same sort of cultural argument from Colin Gray and others who said the Soviets would accept unacceptable levels of deaths. They weren't the same as Americans; they weren't -- that whole sort of cultural argument we heard during the Cold War and it turned out not to be true.

I'm not saying the Iranians are perfectly rational. Like Americans, they can be prideful, they can made mistakes, they can bear significant economic costs in the defense of things they think are important. But in the main, they've been a status quo power.

Some had thought that they had chemical weapons after the Iran- Iraq war. Did they turn around and attack Israel? Have they picked a direct big war against Israel? No.

If you -- and on this issue of the regime, when did -- he quotes Churchill -- what did Saddam do when inspectors were in the ground? He decided that he would give up his weapons program -- this is from the Iraqi survey group and from others -- he would give it up -- he still had ambitions, but he gave up the program because he didn't want to get caught when there were inspectors on the ground. I think there's a lesson to be learned there and a lesson that applies here.

SEN. COBURN: All right. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CARPER: You bet. This has been just an extraordinary panel. We -- you know, we have hearings every day of the week around here, sometimes they're pretty good, this has just been extraordinary.

And I thank you for thinking outside the box. I thank you for making us think outside the box and for a -- there's very constructive testimony and going back and forth with one another, I think, in a most constructive and respectful way.

The -- something else?

SEN. COBURN: Yeah, just unanimous consent. I have several questions that I would like to submit for the record and ask that you answer them, if you would. We didn't -- we can't take the time here to get -- I'd like to spend two days with you all.

MR. WALSH: (Laughs.) Thank you.

SEN. CARPER: The hearing record's set up for two weeks. And so we'll -- I know I'm going to have some questions as well.

But we thank you very, very much for being with us today and for your thought and your responses.

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