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Iran Nuclear Program: Analysts Argue Nature of Regime Poses Higher Risk

The regime of the mullahs in Iran is ready to fall, says Assad Homayoun. Let's give it a timely push.

An Iranian opposition leader in the United States whose sources inside Iran may be second to none, Mr. Homayoun has little patience with efforts to conciliate or compromise with the government in Tehran.

Westerners, he insists, are misled by the religiously inclined but ineffectual reformists associated with President Khatami. The Iranian future does not lie with them, he says, but with the growing coalition of secular nationalist forces that favor democracy.

"I believe that the solution is in the hands of the Iranian people, but the Iranian people need support," says Mr. Homayoun. "The United States should come enthusiastically, vigorously, openly in support of the Iranian people. President Bush supported Iranians before, but different voices from different branches of the administration confused the Iranian people."

Mr. Homayoun writes in the CIPA journal: "What the secular force needs is legitimization through recognition - not financial or covert assistance but rather the unconditional moral and political support of the world democratic community."

Mr. Homayoun traces the spread of Islamic militant fundamentalism to the regime in Iran. Remove that, he says, and you may stop the spread of terrorism as well.

"Nothing will be peaceful in the Middle East," says Mr. Homayoun, "unless the government of Iran changes its position, but change of position means change of government from theocracy to secular democratic government."

Mr. Homayoun says Tehran seeks nuclear weapons not so much to threaten other nations as to shore up internal support for its own shaky government. In fact, citing the work of Washington strategic analyst Yossef Bodansky, he believes Iran already has acquired nuclear warheads from the Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union and possibly from North Korea.

So the military option is out. An attack on Iran would have unfathomable consequences, he says, and besides, change must come from within untainted by material help from abroad. He writes in that if attacked, "Iran is advanced in various fields of WMD, and those weapons could fall into the hands of radicals and terrorist groups and create problems much more extensive than those today in Iraq."

Leon Hadar, a foreign policy analyst at Washington's CATO Institute, says focusing too much on Iran's nuclear potential blurs a larger picture.

"It is clear that Iran like many other mid-sized powers in the world - Turkey, Brazil, and the list can be quite long - those countries at some point in the future because of many factors, including national security considerations, are going to gain access to nuclear weapons," says Mr. Hadar. "This has nothing to do with the power of Islamic radicalism in Iran."

Mr. Hadar notes that Iran is in a rough neighborhood of nuclear armed powers: India, Pakistan, Russia, Israel and now the United States in Iraq. And nuclear weapons may not be altogether bad. It is possible, he says, they may have prevented India and Pakistan from going to all-out war over Kashmir. The cost would have been too great. He adds that a nuclear balance of power may be equally stabilizing in the Middle East.

Weapons aside, Mr. Hadar says now may be the time for the United States to start talking to Iran. In an article in The American Conservative magazine, he recalls President Nixon's approach to Communist China's rulers just when they were harshly repressing their own people during the so-called Cultural Revolution.

The President, writes Mr. Hadar, was conducting realistic diplomacy in the national interest while ignoring China's internal turmoil.

"Despite all of that, the United States was able to reach an agreement with the Chinese government at that time and started a process of détente with the Chinese, which led to the American opening to China and eventually to the reestablishment of a diplomatic relationship," says Mr. Hadar. "There is no reason why we should not at least try that kind of strategy with Iran today."

Mr. Hadar says the conservatives now running Iran may be better positioned than moderates to reach some kind of understanding with the United States. They cannot be accused of being soft on America.

Leon Hadar cites the recommendation of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director Robert Gates that the United States and Iran avoid any grand bargain and work incrementally on key issues like nuclear weapons. Specifics, they say, are the way to go.