Iran’s claim that it should have nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is valid, but Tehran must not “break the rules,” the former special adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama told Al Arabiya in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
Dennis Ross, a special assistant to Obama for the Middle East and South Asia from 2009 to 2011, said escalations in Israeli rhetoric against Iran could indicate a looming preemptive attack, caused by Israeli concern that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its existence.
Tehran maintains that it is enriching uranium for peaceful and civil purposes, but it has been accused by a number of governments of actually aiming to build a nuclear weapon.
“That isn’t to say you can’t have civil nuclear power,” Ross said, directing his comments to Tehran. “If you want civil nuclear power, you can have it. But … you break all the rules. You violate all your commitments. You don’t live up to your obligations. You don’t give answers to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).”
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly demanded Iran cease its uranium enrichment and has imposed four sets of sanctions on the country, which have been greatly reinforced by separate U.S. and EU sanctions.
Iran's enrichment is to again be raised this week, when the IAEA is expected to release its latest report based on its ongoing inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Some of the report's findings have already been leaked to Israeli and U.S. media, including those confirming a July 25 statement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that hundreds more uranium enrichment centrifuges had been installed.
Iran's refusal to allow inspectors into Parchin military base outside Tehran could also form part of the report.
“The debate is a genuine debate, but it is not over whether Israel in the end should be prepared to live with Iran having nuclear weapons, it is a debate is about the timing if diplomacy fails,” Ross said.
“There are those who think there is what they call the ‘zone of immunity’ -- the point in which Israel will lose the ability to strike -- is upon us now, and therefore you shouldn’t wait,” he said. “There are those who think it is not that urgent; it is a real problem they will have to deal with it at some point if diplomacy fails, but they have 12 to 18 months before they will have to do something.”
Senior American officials have been visiting Israel in recent weeks, sparking increased public speculation over whether the United States will lend a helping hand to Israel in action against Tehran. But Ross dismissed the popular view that the U.S. is making promises to Israel.
“The objective is to prevent Iran from having this capability. Not to live with it, not to say we can contain it after the fact,” he said. “They are trying to persuade, to say, ‘Look, since we share the same the objectives you should at least defer to us on the question of timing and you don’t need to act now. Nothing has changed to the point where you need to act now.’”
“I think what the Israelis are saying in return is: ‘Okay? But what is your end point? We see diplomacy that doesn’t look very active, we see sanctions that have been applied but we don’t see any change in the Iranian behavior, so unless we get a clear picture of your timetable if diplomacy is not going to work,’” Ross said.
The former State Department and National Security Council official said a decision may be made to attack on the premise that economic sanctions coupled with further diplomatic efforts were not working. In this case, the Israelis “might move from the diplomatic front to the military front,” Ross said.
Watch the Al Arabiya full interview with Dennis Ross for more.