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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD

Iran’s Nuclear Threat Over-Stated;
Pursuit of Nuclear Technology by Iran a Bad Idea; According to Panel of Experts

Report by: Hamid Karimi

Sunnyvale, CA - January 23, 2005 -- BAIAD, Bay Area Iranian-American Democrats (www.baiad.org), held its fourth educational forum entitled “Iran’s Nuclear Issue, Peering through the Fog of Nuclear Proliferation” with Dr. Ivan Eland, Director, Center on Peace and Liberty and a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Dr. Ali Nayeri, Research Affiliate, MIT, and Visiting Professor, University of Florida.

The audience watched video excerpts of various analyses by a host of experts on US and Iranian political topics. Mehrdad Moayedzadeh, the president of BAIAD was the first speaker. He emphasized the importance of Iranian-American participation in the political engagements and invited Iranian Americans to balance their national emotions with objective reasoning to be heard in the discourse of American Political process. "Being too emotional or otherwise not objective hurts our community," he emphasized.

Dr. Nayeri took to the podium to present the scientific and technical perspectives on the nuclear technologies and issues surrounding Iran’s program. He reminded the audience that as we embrace the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s famous relativity theory, the nuclear genie has left the bottle and many nations aspire to develop indigenous nuclear technologies. Germans were the first nation to discover that the nucleus of an atom can be split to release enormous reservoir of energy. Typically, this requires Uranium-233, Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239. A more powerful result can be achieved through nuclear fusion by bringing together two smaller atoms (of Hydrogen) which is also the process used in heavy water reactors. In nature, planet SUN uses nuclear fusion to release heat and energy. Dr. Nayeri went on to explain that Uranium-based nuclear explosions yield 1.5 to 17 percent efficiency whereas fusion reactions are a lot more potent. The result of the latter can produce intense heat up to 300 million degrees of Celsius and wreak havoc to surrounding areas. In the words of Nobel Prize physicist Hans Bethe: "If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly killed every last inhabitant of Persia."

Dr. Nayeri then discussed the history of modern science in Iran which started in 1851 by the establishment of Darolfonoon in Tehran. The first modern research center in Iran was the Institute for Theoretical Physics and Mathematics (IPM) founded in 1989 immediately after the end of Iran-Iraq war. Iran Atomic Energy Organization took shape in 1975 and its aim was to promote nuclear technology deployment in Iran. Indeed Shah had foreseen the development and operation of 36 nuclear reactors and had donated $100M USD to American and European universities to train Iranian nuclear scientists. The program came to an abrupt halt at the time of Iranian revolution. The first PHD-level physics program was established in 1988 and many estimate the number of Iranian PHD graduates to be at 120 among a larger population of 460 physicists. Iran’s academic programs have focused on solid state, nuclear, high-energy and cosmology, laser and non-linear optics. The latter has direct applications in industrial operations. Iran’s investment in graduate physics studies has paid off to large extent. Prior to the Iranian revolution, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan published more research papers on physics than Iran. In 2004, Iran ranked 30th in the world and surpassed all Middle-eastern countries.

Dr. Nayeri expressed doubts at the safety measures used in Iran’s nuclear reactor deployments due to outdated Russian technology and methodologies. He predicted catastrophic results for the region should an accident occur at Bushehr’s plant. Indeed, the Iranian Physical Society has released a statement which is critical of current nuclear policies on the grounds of scientific fallacy. According to this statement, even though Iran has the right to develop independent nuclear technologies, it lacks the discipline and know-how to safeguard proper development of methodologies and practices in all sub-branches of this interdisciplinary area. The society also worries about the impact of international sanctions on the course of scientific research and development. In fact, most Iranian physicists do not believe that Iran’s nuclear program should aim for military applications. In many instances, these physicists also doubt if Iran is ready to safely deploy nuclear reactors. According to Dr. Nayeri, due to political considerations, Jordan won the custodianship of the SESAME project initiated at Stanford University which has the goal of promoting peaceful, reactor-free particle accelerator technologies, though Iran would have been a better candidate. In the end, Dr. Nayeri stated that the West should look for alternate ways of dealing with Iran’s nuclear issue since “bullying will not work with the Iranian culture.”

The second keynote speaker was Dr. Eland who addressed the political angle of Iran’s nuclear issue. He stated that the recent leaks to the press can be planned indirect threats and a part of psychological campaign against Iran since US lacks the resources and stamina to wage another costly war. US is well aware that Iraq’s quagmire has taught other nations how they should hide their key facilities and avoid being easy targets. Besides, non-nuclear nations have perceived US policies as hypocritical since they aim to only disarm potential adversaries. All regimes, whether democratic or despotic have legitimate security concerns that the West has to empathize with. Clearly, Iran has reasons to worry about US intentions after the invasion of Iraq. An attack on Iran can have “rally around the flag” effect and push a lot of Iranians to government’s corner and that is not what US wants. The use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy deeply buried targets is not practical since it will have political fallouts and in the end can be counterproductive.

According to Dr. Eland, the politics of isolation and sanctions have generally been a dismal failure; economic sanctions can only work in a very narrow sense when they try to achieve a limited objective. Furthermore, sanctions can only delay a country from becoming a nuclear power –they do not prevent it. Additionally, the European Union will not allow a comprehensive sanction regime to be imposed on Iran. Instead, one may argue that politics of engagement and influence will be more potent and strategically more valuable by infusing Western culture and values into target nations. The difficulty is that Americans are idealistic, impatient and demand instant gratification. Therefore, strategic thinking and planning may be difficult to sell. However, it is too simplistic to believe that there is a single and unified American foreign policy. Like Iran, different branches of government can assume contradictory policies with respect to a single country or region. The reality is that while Americans seek short-term results, politicians in Washington DC think and operate on long-term basis. They want a friendly Iran, an Iran that would ideally be a client state for America’s interests in the region.

The only choice left to America is to negotiate with Iran. US has certain concerns such as Iran’s support for groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is Israel’s problem, not America’s. Pressuring Iran on disbanding support for Hezbollah has not worked and is not expected to work. Israel has better security today than it did before the collapse of Soviet Union since most of its enemies are either weakened or transformed and thus faces no existential threat. Additionally, it is improbable to believe that a nuclear Iran will give its hard-earned nuclear bomb to groups that can eventually implicate it. Iran is a nation-state and unlike terrorist groups has an address that can be attacked. This is an important point that is lost to many neocons in Washington. Without overstating US power, the best discourse is to bring about the politics of participation and influence which will be in the best interests of all nations.

Both experts agreed that US’ Cride Coeur over Iran’s nuclear issue is exaggerated and –given the political willingness - there can be an opening between the two nations which have many common interests in pressing for a more peaceful and vibrant Meddle East.


About Dr. Ivan Eland:
Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has testified on the military and financial aspects of NATO expansion before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and CIA oversight before the House Government Reform Committee.

Dr. Eland is the author of The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool, a contributor to numerous volumes, and the author of forty-five in-depth studies on national security issues. His articles have appeared in Arms Control Today, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Emory Law Journal, The Independent Review, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), Mediterranean Quarterly, Middle East and International Review, Middle East Policy, Nexus, and Northwestern Journal of International Affairs.

Dr. Eland’s popular writings have appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Insight, San Diego Union-Tribune, Washington Post, Miami Herald, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Newsday, Sacramento Bee, Orange County Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Washington Times and Defense News. He has appeared on ABC’s “World News Tonight,’ NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” PBS, Fox News Channel, CNBC, CNN, CNN “Crossfire,” CNN-fn, C-SPAN, MSNBC, CBC, Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other local, national, and international TV and radio programs.

About Dr. Ali Nayeri:
After receiving his PhD in Theoretical Physics from IUCAA in 1999, Dr. Ali Nayeri was appointed as a Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of Physics at MIT for 2 years and as a Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT Center for Theoretical Physics for an additional year. Since 2002, he has been a Research Affiliate at MIT and he is currently also a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Fundamental Theory at University of Florida. His fields of research include Early Universe and Inflation, Semi-Classical Theory of Gravity, and Alternative Cosmologies. Dr. Nayeri has published numerous papers in various scientific journals in the US, UK, Netherlands and Russia. He is cofounder and current member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Studies Group at MIT, cofounder of Iranian Research Group at University of Florida and the Principle Investigator of the "Physics of Chaos and Society" project.

Dr. Nayeri has also been working on application of physics on social sciences and sociology, and has given numerous talks on popularizing science and on sociology and physics. He has appeared on a number of TV and radio programs including BBC World Service.


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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD