CMEC was delighted to have Shashank Joshi and Ben Wallace MP speak at a Policy Forum event on the Iranian nuclear program. Ben Wallace MP opened the discussion by posing two pertinent questions: firstly, given the current degree of domestic political and economic upheaval in Iran, is any part of the regime in a position to make a serious deal with the West over the nuclear program? Secondly, if the Iranian regime does develop a nuclear device, will they act rationally in their dealings with regional and global powers? He also highlighted the increasingly important role of Saudi Arabia in shaping Iranian policy.
Shashank Joshi followed these comments with five key points: recent positive developments in Western relations with Iran; the impact of sanctions; timing; the possibility of military action; and unexpected factors which could alter the course of Iran’s nuclear program. On the positive developments, Shashank noted the reports by the American press that the US government have agreed, at least in principle, to enter into negotiations with Iran, and the moderation of the P5+1 position which could result in limited sanctions relief if Iran agrees to cap enrichment at 3.5%. He cautioned against allowing sanctions to become seen as a long-term solution, however, particularly as if they succeed in destabilising the regime, they may end up having the opposite effect to the one intended. Destabilisation could make people feel more vulnerable and thus more likely to want the security offered by nuclear power. Alternatively if sanctions succeed in encouraging the population to mobilize against the regime it would make it difficult for the West to negotiate with a government who were violently repressing their people.
On the issue of timing, Shashank argued that the proverbial ‘red line’ is not as close as some fear. “Iran has the most watched and pressured nuclear programme in the history of nuclear energy,” thus the detection risk for Iran is very high. Moreover, any military action taken by the West against the regime would eliminate our, currently extensive, system for observing what goes on inside Iran. Shashank concluded by cautioning that the West should also be on alert for unexpected occurrences, for example the death of Khamenei, which would substantially alter the Iranian calculations about the risk of outbreak.
Shashank Joshi’s report on the Iranian Nuclear Program will be published by CMEC on Monday 29th October.