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Transcript from the Sixth Article VI Forum Meeting
Berlin, Germany
January 29-30, 2009

Ambassador Robert Grey, Jr.

speaking on the panel, "Resolving Challenges to the Non-Proliferation Regime"

(This is a rush transcript)

Thank you Jonathan, and it’s kind of fun to address this issue. I’m going to talking about the little problem we have with Iran, which I think is something we have to be urgently concerned about. Because, in terms of the efforts we all work on collectively, I think this is a stopper unless we get it right. Now, when I prepared this paper a week ago, I was not aware of what was going to be happening while we were having our meeting here. So, I just think it’s worth pointing out that a few things have happened. President Obama made a statement about his willingness to engage in a dialogue with Iran. The Iranian President responded yesterday with a sort of a snotty response, but in it he made it clear the door was open. He said he was prepared to engage if we were prepared for substantive discussion and it wasn’t just a tactical ploy, and this morning, while we were meeting, there was a statement out of the State Department that they were indeed planning to respond. In preparing a letter that goes into great deal of depth with the Iranians, making it clear, we are prepared to engage substantive discussion across the board, and that we are willing to engage on other issues aside from the nuclear issue, which is what I tried to predict here. But I want to make it clear, I wrote the paper before it happened.

We have a new American Administration with what I would say is a traditional perspective of how to use diplomacy constructively, and I think it gives the international community, as a whole, a new opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue in a manner which could meet everyone’s concerns. A combination of bilateral engagement between Iran and the United States on a number of issues followed or simultaneously with international agreements to allow more intrusive verification and monitoring of nuclear programs for peaceful purposes and to provide nuclear material for NPT member states who choose not to reprocess it themselves might just help resolve the problem.

Let me develop this discussion with two quotations. One from Robert Burns. The other from Marshall Green, a distinguished American diplomat from Massachusetts with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. The Burns quote is well known, “O would some power giftee gee us, to see ourselves as others see us!” Ambassador Green’s quote is less well known but equally important in the context of the relations between the international community and the Iranian Government. He said, “Like prostitution, diplomacy is one of the world’s oldest professions, but in today’s world both suffer from a ruinous competition from amateurs.”

Let me begin with Robby Burns. Let’s speculate about how the Iranian government views the United States and the world at large. They view us with great suspicion. Iran has been repeatedly invaded in the past and in the last two centuries the British and Russian empires competed for influence there. In addition, the ancient division between the Shia and Sunni versions of the Muslim faith ­­­­­­­­­which divide Iran and the Shia from the Sunni world. The Middle East is a tough neighborhood when you are a religious minority. Then many years ago, the United States interfered by siding with the Shah in a dispute with an Iranian government intent on moving towards a less autocratic political system. There was a Cold War dimension to this to this, the fear of Soviet expansion, but nevertheless it happened and is deeply resented in Iran. Furthermore, American support over many years enabled the Shah’s regime to suppress many elements in Iranian society whose religious values and political aspirations did not accord with the Shah’s policies. And in the lead up to the overthrow of the Shah, American support enabled him to resist to the very end, and when he was toppled the United States saw to it that he got political asylum both in the United States and subsequently elsewhere.

And the years that followed the take-over of the American Embassy and seizure of American hostages, successive American administrations have been implacable opponents of the present Iranian regime. The most dramatic demonstration of that hostility in the Iranian view was that when the Iraqi invasion of Iran took place, it was not strongly condemned by the United States. Visits to Iraq by high ranking US officials during the Iran-Iraq conflict showed a clear bias in favor of Iraq. One ranking official in the Reagan Administration noted, years later, that the failure to use the Security Council to act against Iraq’s flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, in spite of our differences, was a profound mistake. It’s mistake for which we are still paying today.

From the Iranian perspective, how can the Security Council have any legitimacy if it failed to act aggressively against the Iraqi invasion, and yet years later turns around and imposes sanctions on Iran, which strongly believes its efforts to develop nuclear power, which it believed are well within its rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is enacted against it?

Indeed, the dispute over Iran’s production of nuclear material is perceived by the Iranian leadership as an American led international effort to gang-up on Iran, and force them to give up what they consider to be a legitimate right. I suspect the only solution to this is going to have to be an international one. We can’t expect the Iranians to unilaterally accept a fiat from the rest of the world. It has to be internationalized in some fashion.

So, here we are. The regime views the international community with deep suspicion. They believe, and they know, the US has identified them as part of the Axis of Evil, and called for regime change. They believe we’re trying to put them out of business, and in that case, from their perspective their support of terrorist groups who oppose the United States and Israel is totally justified. There may be some errors and omissions in this analysis of how the Iranian regime views the United States and its supporters, but it certainly doesn’t overstate it.

Now to Ambassador Green’s observation. Public diplomacy may be useful in some instances, and certainly would help in dealing with Iran’s young emerging leaders, who are more open and curious about engaging the international community than are their radical elements. But denunciations and name calling have no value and make it only more difficult to engage in the delicate diplomacy needed to finding mutually acceptable solutions. Semantic overkill on the part of both the United States and Iran has made it difficult to lower the temperature. The latest buzz word now is “smart diplomacy.” It’s not smart. It’s not new. It’s simply the traditional practice of the profession that many of us here have practiced for years. So, I don’t think we can make progress on the nuclear program unless other issues are made part of a unilateral, on one side, and multilateral dialogue on the other.

The United States would be well advised to seek to quietly engage the Iranians on a broad number of issues and concerns. Today’s news makes it clear the United States is prepared to do so. Most of all, the Iranians want the United States to accept the legitimacy of their regime and the assurance that we will not attempt to overthrow it by force. We have other common interests as well. I think both sides have a strong interest in the outcome of evolving political developments in Iraq and should be willing to discuss possible outcomes there. There must be a candid discussion of the whole range of issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, involving but not limited, to Iran’s support of terrorist groups in Gaza, Lebanon, and other Arab states. The key to improving relations with Iran and other Middle Eastern states is, above all, a renewed US interest to engage vigorously, and actively, and with all the force we have at our command to drive things towards a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The key to peace in the Middle East, the key to reducing tensions fundamentally revolves around that issue.

We both have common interests in Afghanistan which should be addressed as well. A Taliban state would both be a disaster in terms of international community and in terms of Iran’s own national interest. Now, let’s think a bit about this. Alexander the Great flopped there. The British and Soviet Empires flopped there. The presumption that NATO, the United States, and a collection of states can have a successful outcome in Afghanistan by military means. It can’t be solved by military means. But this is something in which both we and the Iranians have a common interest, and we ought to pursue it vigorously.

In this connection of the total relationship, the bilateral relationship, and the outcome, there are a number of excellent recommendations on dealing with the Iranians prepared by my old boss, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, and nineteen other distinguished statesmen, the Joint Experts Statement on Iran, and I’m having copies passed around as I speak. It may well be that progress on all these issues may be impossible, but without a good faith effort we will never know, and rhetoric and the actions on both sides could lead to a violent and destructive confrontation. There are ample precedents. Before the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah, an exceptional American diplomat, at the time our ambassador in Tehran, Bill Sullivan, pleaded with Washington to send an envoy to discuss the situation with Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris. At first, Washington agreed, but at the last minute changed its collective mind. The diplomat in question commented at the time, perhaps such an effort would not have worked, but now we can be sure that we have an enemy. We don’t want to repeat this mistake, again. Again as Churchill once said “jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

Today Iran is a regional power. We must deal with the regime as we deal with any regional power to see if we can reach a Modus Vivendi. It is not in the interest of Iran, the United States, or the international community to have an arms race, particularly a nuclear arms race, in the Middle East. Fore sure, if we have a bomb from one Muslim faction, there will be an atomic bomb from the other faction, and it is in the interest of all of us to have a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, and that’s what we need to be working together towards.

With the understanding that progress on the nuclear issue will not be made absent these other considerations, what concrete steps can be taken to resolve the nuclear dispute?

First, the United States needs to recommit to its 1995 pledge not threaten non-nuclear weapon states with the use of nuclear weapons. Such a negative security assurance should alleviate the understandable fear the Iranians currently have with respect to the United States. A number of things fuel this fear, and it is real. The United States, as I stated earlier, has named Iran as part of the Axis of Evil. Since that time, the US has amassed 200,000 troops on Iran’s eastern and western borders. Add to these actions the Bush Administrations expansion of both the missions and circumstances under which the US could use nuclear weapons, then you have a mess. All of these factors contribute to the profound distrust the Iranians hold towards the United States and the international community.

But, there’s another side to this. In order, for the Iranians to provide confidence that their nuclear program is strictly intended for civilian use, and because Iran has a history of minor violations of the NPT, it is incumbent upon Iran to allow much more intrusive verification and monitoring of its nuclear program. Doing so would have a number of benefits. It would demonstrate to the world that Iran’s nuclear program does not pose the threat to the international community that it is currently perceived to be. It would also provide the IAEA with an opportunity to demonstrate to the Iranians that it is not intent on disrupting or constraining them in their ability to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. This confidence building measure is crucial in moving towards the next step in the process with is the multinationalization of Iran’s enrichment program. The more intrusive verification and monitoring and multinationalization should be pursued with two goals in mind. First, to assure the international community that the Iranian nuclear program does not pose an existential threat. Second, to provide a new model of verification. This model could then be employed for all other non-nuclear weapon states. This would provide Iran with the confidence that it will not face emerging strategic threats in the future. The new regime could provide an economic benefit to participating nations in addition to strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime. By allowing stringent verification and multinationalization of the fuel cycle, the door would open for a much higher degree of trade of sensitive materials. States accepting intrusive verification could also gain guaranteed access to nuclear materials for peaceful purposes without having to reprocess it themselves if they choose not to do so.

It is also essential that the United States and the acknowledged nuclear states move forward in fulfilling their pledge under Article VI of the NPT to move towards a nuclear free world. The Obama Administration has promised deep reductions in our nuclear arsenal and plans to open nuclear negotiations with the Russian Federation, as well as a follow on agreement to START. Positive American leadership is badly needed if the NPT is to be sustained and strengthened. That would be a conclusive demonstration of what good diplomacy can achieve. This coupled with American ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would be a powerful demonstration that the United States is once again taking the lead in moving towards a nuclear free world and sets the stage for a successful review conference in 2010. Thank you.