Ex-Iranian envoy: Attack will not deter nuclear buildup

If Israel launches a pre-emptive attack on Iranian nuclear sites, the only outcome will be disaster for both the United States and Israel.

That’s the opinion of Seyed Mousavian, a former Iranian diplomat and adviser to the Tehran regime. He maintains that his country has no interest in developing a nuclear weapon.

Mousavian reflected on the topic before an attentive audience Sept. 5 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Now a visiting scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Mousavian enjoyed an insider’s view of Iran’s nuclear program and policies.

Seyed Mousavian, a former diplomat from Iran, speaks at the Commonwealth Club. photo/dan pine

His C.V. includes a stint as editor of the Tehran Times and as head of the foreign relations committee of Iran’s National Security Council between 1997 and 2005. Mousavian went on to serve as Iran’s spokesperson for his country’s 2003-2005 nuclear negotiations with the European Union.

All that came to a halt in 2007, when Mousavian was arrested for espionage. Though the charges were dropped, he fell from grace and now lives in New Jersey. He detailed his personal story, as well as Iran’s nuclear program, in his book “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir.”

In that book, and in his Common-wealth Club remarks, Mousavian defended the program, which he asserts is for peaceful purposes only, and which has been underway for decades. “I am convinced Iran does not want a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Moreover, Mousavian added, threats and international sanctions will do nothing to deter Iranian from uranium enrichment.

“Sanctions, pressure, the threat of military action, four U.N. resolutions and an oil boycott — which costs Iran $133 million a day — Iran believes Barack Obama’s talk is just talk,” he said.

In one of the more illuminating portions of his remarks, Mousavian weaved the histories of Iran’s nuclear ambitions with the history of U.S.-Iranian mutual mistrust.

Both go back decades.

The mistrust began after the CIA engineered the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s popularly elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. With Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah installed afterward, the United States, according to Mousavian, helped Iran develop nuclear power.

“President Ford signed a directive to give Iran a nuclear fuel cycle for nuclear power,” he said. “The U.S. had no objections to an enrichment program despite the Shah wanting a nuclear weapon. If the Shah were alive today, Iran would have many nuclear power plants.”

The 1979 Iranian revolution, and the notorious kidnapping of hundreds of U.S. Embassy workers, intervened; bilateral relations rapidly deteriorated.

Mutual mistrust increased. As Mousavian pointed out, no matter who was in charge in Iran — be it relative moderates such as former president Akbar Rafsanjani or inflammatory hotheads like current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — the American policy was always one of fomenting regime change.

“The impression in Tehran is that the other side has no interest in thawing relations,” he said.

With Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel, it is no wonder rapprochement is stalled. In Israel, the fear of an Iranian bomb has led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to all but confirm his country’s intention to attack, with or without American help.

“An attack would delay but not remove” Iran’s nuclear plans, Mousavian said. “Destroy one facility, and tomorrow they will build another. The main loser would be Israel. It is already isolated worldwide. Israel is doing its utmost to push the United States to war [with Iran]. They don’t understand this will create more hostility.”

The former diplomat, who studied at American universities early in his career, seemed to hold out hope for a solution, at least between Iran and the United States.

It would take a leap of faith, bilateral talks and some hard-nosed diplomacy.

“Set aside the harsh rhetoric,” he said. “Put sanctions and coercive action on hold. We have issues of common interest, like the security and stability of Iraq and Afghanistan, drug trafficking. Iran would adhere to all international treaties with the highest level of transparency and assure the international community that Iran is committed forever to be a non-nuclear weapon state.”

Naturally, there is a catch. “In exchange,” he said, “the United States would recognize Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear power.”

He also said the United Nations should pursue the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. In other words, Israel should relinquish its nuclear deterrent.

That will happen when ayatollahs fly.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.