Recognize that a nuclear-capable Iran is only a matter of time

We need to think more about how to live with a nuclear Iran.

It’s not a matter of “if” Iran will have the bomb ” it’s a matter of “when.” With that in mind, the United States needs to re-examine its current policy toward Iran. Incentives, not threats, will bring stability to the region.

Iran’s motive for becoming a nuclear power isn’t purely political. Its desire to become the next nuclear power stems from a strong sense of nationalism and an equally strong distrust of United States intentions.

Since Iran’s revolution, the United States has predicted secular Iranians would eventually reclaim their country from the mullahs. Well, we’re still waiting, and the latest election actually brought an even more radical leader to Iran’s presidency. Even more telling is that secular Iranians are as adamant as radicals about their country having every right to nuclear technology. This same nationalistic pride is also fueling Iran’s ambition to become a regional power.

Now place yourself in Iran’s shoes. The United States is occupying Iraq to your west, rebuilding Afghanistan to your east, and headquarters its 5th Naval Fleet to your south. This is the same U.S. government that harshly criticizes your foreign and domestic policies at every chance, continues to freeze your assets since the 1979 revolution and is currently leveraging its U.N. Security Council position to put the kibosh on your nuclear ambitions. In effect, the United States is undermining any chance of significant foreign investment coming your way. Is it any small wonder you distrust and dislike the United States?

If Iran is clever, it will play nice and come into lockstep with the International Atomic Energy Agency demands while insisting on rights to develop nuclear technology under strict international monitoring and safeguards. Meanwhile, they will continue to gradually acquire what is necessary to produce nuclear weapons, albeit on a much longer timetable.

If we are clever, we will anticipate this and address the dangerous half of Iran’s nuclear equation, distrust of the United States. Only by assuaging Iran’s fear can we hope to bring stability to that region.

Naysayers will point to Iran’s hard-line government and demand the status quo. But the status quo painted the United States into the corner in which we now find ourselves. Dealing with a hard-line government is nothing new for the United States, a prime example of which is China. Each passing day strengthens the trade relationship between the two countries, while the chances of armed conflict simultaneously decrease. China’s phenomenal growth is traceable to globalization and its increasing connectivity with the world economy. In 1990, one year removed from the Tiananmen Square incident, any prediction of China becoming an economic powerhouse would have been laughable. Today Beijing is exploring ways to slow its economic growth. Foreign investment and open trade is fueling this growth. This foreign investment is noteworthy, especially when one remembers hard-liners in China are still running the show and that investors are wary of anything resembling risk.

Can we expect the same bright future for Iran? Not with the current U.S. policy which essentially mirrors Iran’s distrust. United States policy over the past 26-plus years is proving to be impotent. This same policy is arresting Iran’s economic development and affirms its mistrust of the United States.

The United States needs a seismic shift in its Iranian policy to make it perfectly clear that if Iran stops aggressively pursuing nuclear weapon technologies and threatening its neighbors (including Israel), the United States will meet it halfway. Meeting Iran halfway includes supporting Iran’s ambition to become an advanced technological state and a regional power. This can be accomplished by eliminating sanctions against non-United States entities investing in Iran’s oil and gas sectors, encouraging technological collaborative endeavors and giving serious thought about releasing still-frozen Iranian financial assets. Such a move signals to Iran that the United States is an honest broker and will steer Iran down the path leading toward connectivity with the rest of the world. In time, new foreign investment and trade will usher in a rebirth of Iran’s economy, compelling it to adopt international rule-sets and mitigating any risk a nuclear Iran may pose. In short, Iran will avoid actions that may lead toward isolation.

It would be nice if we could prevent Iran from getting the bomb, but we need to think more about how to live with a nuclear Iran. When that day finally arrives, do we want to deal with an angry and fearful Iran with nothing to lose, or with an Iran connected to the world economy?

? Joseph J. Kurr is a candidate for a Masters of Public Policy degree at the University of Minnesota. Please send comments to [email protected].