Hoover Conference Examines Iran and Its Nuclear Program

Monday, November 29, 2004

Recent developments regarding Iran's intent and ability to develop a nuclear weapons program, covered widely by the media, highlight the importance of a conference hosted by the Hoover Institution on November 11. The conference, "Iran's Nuclear Program: International Implications and U.S. Foreign Policy Options," examined Iran's capabilities and domestic politics and the international political implications of Iran's becoming a nuclear power.

The question of whether Iran could develop nuclear weapons was addressed in the first session, "Assessing the Iranian Nuclear Program: Technical Capabilities and Intent." The speakers, David Albright, president, Institute for Science and International Security, and Henry Sokolski, executive director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, acknowledged that Iran may already be nuclear- ready. In their presentations they discussed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon, which allows for the development of nuclear power by countries for peaceful purposes. In reference to the treaty, Sokolski pointed out that "they have a right to enrich and if they do they are within weeks of having a bomb."

Hoover senior fellow Sidney Drell, one of the commentators at the session, said, "We are dealing with one of the most dangerous problems in the world at this point." Expressing concern about how to decide which countries get access to materials, he recommended that the problem be approached with consistent standards. "Yes to Brazil, no to Iran—that's not the way to do it," he concluded. Other commentators at the session included Sharam Chubin, director of research, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and Najmedin Meshkati, professor of engineering, University of Southern California. The session was chaired by Abbas Milani, research fellow, Hoover Institution.

In "Domestic Politics of Iran's Nuclear Program" Milani spoke of the mullahs, Iran's religious leaders, as being clever strategists. He believes they are most afraid of intervention by the United States, as it is the only country that hasn't "cut a deal" with them. "They want North Korean treatment," Milani said, "not Suddam Hussein treatment." He expressed criticism of the Iranian opposition for not articulating a position, the Europeans for not paying due attention to human rights breeches, and the United States for not having a policy on Iran.

This session also included a presentation by Ali Nayeri, who has researched Iran's educational system as to whether it could produce scientists capable of building a nuclear bomb. Nayeri concluded that it was possible but that it would be easier to import such a weapon. As the commentator in this session, Hoover senior fellow Michael McFaul posed questions on the prospects of democracy in Iran and, if Iran was a democracy, whether it would it dismantle its nuclear program. The session was chaired by Larry Diamond, senior fellow, Hoover Institution.

"I think Iran does seek nuclear weapons," said Shahram Chubin, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, in his presentation as part of the final session, "International Political Implications of Iran's Nuclear Quest." In determining why Iran would seek nuclear weapons, he said he could not identify urgent strategic reasons. Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs, the Nixon Center, discussed the policy of the United States toward Iran. He believes that the Bush administration has outsourced the policy to the European Union due to gridlock as a result of the Iraq war.

The commentator was Scott Sagan, codirector, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University. The session was chaired by Michael McFaul.

The closing discussion was chaired by Milani and included participation by the conference speakers.

The Hoover Institution, under its Iran Democracy Project, cosponsored a similar conference on November 9 with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. The daylong conference was televised by C-SPAN. Both conferences, funded by the Hoover Institution, were organized by Larry Diamond and Abbas Milani.

Participants in Washington who were unable to attend the conference in Palo Alto were Robert Einhorn, senior adviser of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center; and Robert Litwak, director of the division of international studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The conferences are part of the Iran Democracy Project under the umbrella of the Hoover Initiative on Transition to Democratic Capitalism and paid for by the Hoover Institution. Organizers of the project, Hoover fellows Larry Diamond, Abbas Milani, and Michael McFaul, were in Washington as participants, along with several speakers unique to that venue.