NBC’s Ann Curry was the first Western journalist to gain access to interview newly elected Iranian president and former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani. The Islamic Republic of Iran is secretive by nature which makes this interview all the more attractive and diplomatically engaging. Their secrecy has made diplomacy very difficult for the United States in an increasingly volatile sector of the world especially since relations soured after the 1980’s with the United States’ holding of the Shah. Rouhani’s interview revealed many previously unanswered speculations about war, peace, and the future of a nuclear Iran–a subject viewed by many lawmakers as the number one US international priority.
President Rouhani outlined Iran’s nuclear program by stating the nation wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes. There is no denying in today’s world of wasteful and environmentally crippling energy sources that nuclear power can be much cleaner and more efficient if pursued correctly (however, Japan is currently demonstrating the disastrous consequences of nuclear power with the Fukushima Nuclear Plant’s leaking of radioactive material following the deadly tsunami over a year ago). Rouhani stressed that Iran does not want to pursue weapons of mass destruction and would never use a nuclear weapon. Iran wants to eliminate WMD’s from the region.
While this news is very exciting for the United States and the West, there is still reason to be skeptical. Many nations in pursuit of nuclear arms have lied, cheated, and been dishonest with the United Nations and countries playing a major role in their disarmament. These nations have said what the international community wanted to hear simply to get them off their backs. There are several examples of the back and forth struggle between UN inspectors and nations unwilling to cooperate in this post-Nonproliferation Treaty world.
Military power is always a great tool to have in a nation’s back pocket when either negotiating or facing a possible military threat abroad. This has driven nations such as North Korea, Libya, and Iraq to develop WMD’s in the hopes of gaining clout among the world powers as equals–a sort of “don’t mess with me “mentality. Saddam Hussein and Iraq had a long bout with UN inspectors in the 1990’s and 2000’s. During the Gulf War following a cease fire in 1991, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 687 which mandated Iraq eliminate all chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles with range capabilities of up to 150 km. The inspection was subject to review every 60 days and the sanctions would remain until Iraq complied with disarmament obligations. Iraq agreed to the terms yet inspectors faced obstructionism from the nation and Iraq was caught moving prohibited items away from inspection sites. Obstructionism continued for some time forcing more resolutions to be adopted to allow inspectors to do their jobs. From 1991 through the late 1990’s, weapons inspectors continued to face opposition from the Iraq regime making disarmament and accounting for stockpiles extremely difficult. Despite agreeing to initial terms of the resolution, Iraq fought the inspectors tooth and nail and during their limited time in the country, inspectors discovered far more weapons than Iraq had claimed they had.
In November of 2002, the UN adopted Resolution 1441 which declared that Iraq “remained in material breach” of past resolutions giving Iraq a “final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” which dated back to 1991. The Resolution also went on to specify that Iraq must allow “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access” to “facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means of transport which they wish to inspect.” If Iraq was uncooperative, the UN under their Resolution offered “serious consequences.” Iraq then accepted the terms and inspections began. This came as a result of George W. Bush’s prodding of the UN to adopt a resolution because if they did not, he maintained, the United States would use force.
Libya’s disarmament differed somewhat from Iraq's and parallels can be drawn to some of Rouhani’s statements. Like Iran currently, in the 1980’s, Libya was subjected to crippling sanctions which some believe was the driving force behind their voluntary disarmaments. Some hawks believe the threat of military might was the cause, however. NBC News’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported that Iran wanted peaceful negotiations because they were faced with crippling sanctions hurting their businesses, economy and ultimately their people. Between 1995 and the mid 2000’s, Libya had made “strategic decisions to reinvigorate their nuclear activities including gas centrifuge uranium enrichment.” This is contradictory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) (which Libya ratified in 1982) which prohibits states from developing the weapons. It was not until 2003 after renewed sanctions from the United States and an Italian ship discovered a Libyan ship carrying centrifuges that the Libyan foreign minister officially acknowledged their WMD programs and stated they will adhere to international nonproliferation treaties. With that inspectors entered the country and destroyed Libya's WMD's. However, international inspectors discovered large stockpiles of chemical weapons hidden in a hillside bunker after Libya's leader Moammar Gaddafi was killed in 2011.
North Korea’s program is also startling. They did sign the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) but are still actively pursuing nuclear capabilities. Ever since the 1990’s and up to 2003, US-North Korea nonproliferation negotiations failed. Nuclear inspectors discover North Korea’s nuclear program and in 2003, North Korea withdraws from NPT admitting they have a nuclear weapon. Sanctions from the US and UN are imposed and for a while, North Korea adhered, however they were caught moving and hiding materials and in 2012, North Korea attempted to test launch missiles.
The object of North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, just as most nations', is to gain respect from the national community. While Libya gave up their programs, their government was toppled and still remains in a state of chaos. Nonproliferation is clearly the safest route for the sake of the rest of the world, however, a nuclear Libya would have indubitably complicated the intervention efforts.
Rouhani’s comments in his interview are revealing yet there is evidence to support that he may not be fully truthful. Sanctions are severely hurting their nation yet they would be considered weak for caving which would be counterproductive to the world image they are trying to convey. It is interesting to point out that Rouhani stated that war makes one look weak when responding to President Obama’s decisions toward Syria and that peace should always be the number one option. He criticized Israel for having a “war monger mentality.” Rouhani is also pushing for social change stating, “We want the people, in their private lives, to be completely free,”and “We believe in the ballot box,” also hinting Iran may end their internet censorship.
Ultimately, the final say in Iran’s government is the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to the Washington Post, Khameni stated, "his country should embrace diplomacy over militarism," albeit the "Islamic republic must never abandon its revolutionary ideals and objectives, he said it was time to address Iran’s diplomatic disputes with major world powers." The Post goes on to note, "Khamenei’s words were the clearest indication to date that Rouhani’s government has the supreme leader’s support, which will be essential in reaching any deals with the United States and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear activities," and quoted Khameni as saying, “We do not believe in nuclear weapons because of our beliefs, not for the sake of the U.S. or other countries.”
President Rouhani is a new face and is thought to be much more moderate than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who illegally sized power after he lost his last reelection battle democratically but maintained his position only through force. Rouhani may just be the perfect political actor to deter the international community. Again, Iran is secretive in nature and exhibits many similarities with other nations who have pursued WMD’s in the post-nonproliferation period. I hope Rouhani’s comments are truthful. However, history provides reasons to be skeptical.