Al Arabiya show tackles Iran, Israel issues

Speakers discuss Middle East nuclear stances

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Al Arabiya Panorama TV aired tonight a debate between Dr. Sayed Karimi, Research Counselor, Iranian Mission to the United Nations and Avner Cohen, Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Marylandas as well as an Israeli and American citizen.

There have long been suspicions that Iran is working on building nuclear weapons. The country’s uranium enrichment plans lead the United States to negotiate recently with other Security Council nations a fourth round of U.N. economic sanctions against Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran argues that Israel’s nuclear program goes unmonitored allowing the country to conceal nukes. This has caused Iranians to accuse the U.S. of double standards while Israel continues to insist that as a small country unable to rely on foreign powers and surrounded by enemies, its nuclear program is only a means to protect itself.

Dr. Sayed Karimi and Avner Cohen tackled these complex and controversial issues bringing new light on old recurring problems. The episode aired tonight at 0700 GMT.

Below are segments from the speakers satements:

Cohen speaks

In many ways what has already been said laid ground for what I’d like to say. I was listening carefully to Mike Yaffe. I agree with many things. Yet I was amazed that he did not say one thing which is fundamental and underlying to entire nuclear situation in the Middle East, this is what about starting a discourse of truth. We do not have a discourse of truth in Mideast. I’m not talking about transparency. I’m talking about straightforward truth.

Israel has nuclear weapons for about 40 years. On eve of 1967 war, when it was surrounded by Egypt, Israel was able to put together its nuclear program that was close to fruition and create first … there was planning…Israel committed to enormous sense of inhibition and caution.

That sense of caution, and boldness and resolve create unique nuclear posture, one we have not seen anywhere else throughout nuclear age. A posture that you have country with nuclear weapons, but never found a way to acknowledge to itself, citizens, neighbors, world, about the fact that she found itself to go, ages ago, to have nuclear weapons, that she thought, we’re talking about leaders Ben Gurion, very diff from today, very small and tiny, “tiny country surrounded by enemies” that kind of Israel found itself in need to create edge to create nuclear weapons.

Israel started with that façade, and everyone continues. No one has courage to say time has come to unmask this game. When you move this opacity, you can talk seriously about how to engage Israel in Mideast, against broader political context against conflict in Mideast. Without changing this, no progress whatsoever can be done. For Israel reflects strategic view that makes some sense, and political agreement made ages ago between Israel and US. Very few Israelis understand in political sense, it’s emotional attachment.

Obama reaffirmed that deal that was done 40 years ago between Golda Meir and Nixon. This led to opacity. First we need to establish honesty and truth. Israel has to find a way to acknowledge that, doesn’t mean it’s going to be taken from Israel. Israelis in emotional way identify with that. it’s posture how to present and deal with issue. Doesn’t mean anyone will take its own weapons. Matter of essential national security.

Why not able to acknowledge the fact that they have nuclear weapons? When Ben Gurion thought about having national insurance policy in form of nuclear weapons. In 1948 this was on his mind. Started in earnest… irony. Israel thought right time to make that move. 1955, we’re talking about only 3 states have nuclear weapons – US, Soviet Union and UK. It was chutzpah for Israel to think about it as way to anchor survival in Mideast, but Ben Gurion thought it was way it needs to be done.

Why opacity? First, strategy. For small country like Israel, looks great to have that nation insurance policy alone in the form of some sort or another. But if your own action, once we think about 2 major landmarks of WWII. Idea that led Israel to bomb, in order to prevent another Auschwitz, but have deterrent in form to inflict Hiroshima. Not to do it, in position to do so, then it will be able to prevent Auschwitz. Remember who wanted it, national leader, Ben Gurion, founder of Israel who was totally helpless at time of holocaust.

Many Israelis talk about holocaust in manipulative way. Talking about genuine authentic way, leader found himself helpless to do anything. If found yourself on the other side to get nuclear weapons, you’re many times more vulnerable to other side. If your action leads other side to have weapons, what you did was catastrophe. You play on subtle kind of territory. Not only was not acknowledging only with US, it was to lower Arab incentives to go nuclear.

Even before, according to NPT, draw line between nuclear weapons states and non nuclear weapons states. Israel could have tested, but without nuclear material before Jan 1 1967, which was deadline between states that have tested. Israel at that time was very cautious. Could not conceive going nuclear and making test. This was element of technological resolve and being cautious. By 1969, us recognized Israel has nukes. Question was what to do. We have young NPT, Israel fait accompli, the deal that was done was matter of improvisation. Israel is going to keep it low profile, low salience, invisible. And US would tolerate, would talk openly about universality of NPT, but would not put pressure on Israel to sign it. US would provide shield to Israel to remain outside.

It became uncomfortable for Israel, US, Europeans, and Arabs. Israel was left alone. Israel has nuclear weapons, time has come to talk the language of truth. Time come for Israel to get out of this outdated capacity. Not pressure on Israel to dismantle itself it’s also truth about Arabs. When Arabs talk about dismantling they talk about Israel. That cannot happen before u resolve the conflict.

These issues have to be understood in context of truth. Israel has nuclear weapons, decided to have them for real and substantial reasons of the past. These have to be ack. In context of Iran, try to think seriously about issues of difficulty, how to think about idea of nuclear weapons free zone in relations to conflict or peace making, but more specifically, since Israel truly considers situation of … to see yourself as cautious and have nuclear weapons as salient level but not talk about them, but once you don’t have monopoly, diff story.

It reflects genuine line of thinking that many Israelis would accept. … Iran is on the line, others close to line. Ultimately, Israel prefers Mideast without nuclear weapons, I think this is Israeli view. What Rafsanjani said about 2 decades ago, that one gone over to Tel Aviv is end of Zionist entity. One cannot conceive Israel after nuclear weapon.

I think time has come, and very difficult to do it with Iran of today, Ahmedinejad would love to see Israel wiped off. Start thinking what it’s like to have nuclear weapons free zone. Think about what it’s like in Mideast, what it’s like without technology, enrichment and reprocessing. Israel will still have strong residual capability for years and decades to come. Israel not going to abandon what they have for words.

Time has come for Israel to acknowledge how to make Mideast better place to live and place without nuclear weapons. Time has come for discourse of truth.

Karimi speaks

My name is Karimi, I am one of the members of Iran’s mission to the United Nations. Thank you very much, I enjoyed. Dialogue is always good. Truth as you mentioned. The other day I was reading a book entitled American Negotiation Behavior, and the conclusion was, the American’s never negotiate, they just come and impose. They do the negotiations behind the scene with their own internal institution, different ministries and all that. That’s wrong. I don’t know where to start because there were diversions of ideas and points.

I just want to clarify 3 points. One was You have seen the picture, very nice. I think that some of them has been taken from the war Iraq imposed on Iran in which they have used chemical weapons. And you know that time, we had the capability of using chemical weapons against they enemy, and we didn’t. So it proves that it’s inhuman. That’s not fair. We have proof that we haven’t used it. That’s the history.

The 2nd thing I would like to bring to your attention here, is that if you go to the new nuclear strategy of the United States, they do have the nuclear weapons. They used it, and again they are threatening my country to use it. And they are guessing that I might have it. Which one is the danger?

The last point I would like bring to your attention is that unfortunately here the people, all of the panelists forgot to talk about the Palestinians. We are all human beings. The Middle East is the center of rich culture, rich religion, divine religion. The Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, they were living side-by-side peacefully for centuries. But from 1948 when the Zionists have been imposed upon that region, which I believe, you may disagree. You see you are all scholars, the history has proved that artificial states don’t last – the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, you had examples. If some crimes had been committed to the Jews by the Germans, why the Palestinians has to pay for that? Give one of the states of Germany to the Jews, the Saxony. Why you are occupying the lands of other people? If you want to bring the truth, how is it possible that somebody occupies your home, and then say, offering shakes hand and sitting down and negotiate. That’s wrong.

You know if you open up the Holy Quran, it has 5 conditions in the beginning, it says that you have to believe in the divine religion. It means as a Muslim I have to believe in Christianity and Judaism and respect them.

And the 2nd reason for the last 30 years, the power of Iran has increased or decreased? It has increased without depending on nuclear weapons. Usually I give the example that nuclear energy looks like a knife in a kitchen. It is dangerous, but a kitchen without knife is unimaginable, you can’t do anything. We need nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Now you see this US has made sanctions against Iran, they are not selling civilian airlines to Iranians. That is under the monopoly of Airbus of the Europeans and the Boeing of the US.

What are you expecting us to do? Just sit like that? No. we are building ourselves. Now 8,000 patients in Iranian hospitals waiting for this 20% isotope, enriched isotope, for medical. You did it before revolution for Iran. Now is the time to change it. We are inviting you to come and invest in Iran. Central Asia is a good market, you can create jobs over here. They are desperately in need of electricity – Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan. There’s a good market.

You are not coming. Making sanction after sanctions, in fact you are isolating yourselves. Iran is large, it’s 70 million population, it’s a big country, we don’t need any foreign investments. We are sleeping full of gasoline and oil, very rich country. You are in fact isolating yourself in not coming to Iran. Otherwise, dialogue is very good, exchange of views is good. Truth is good. We should re-set, restart, but usually...

You know, last night they had a meeting. Iranian Foreign Minister was here last night. They have invited 15 members of Security Council for a dinner. In the morning I went thru news. One comment came from Japanese Ambassador, you can read or refute it, he said we didn’t negotiate, it was just exchange of views. That’s wrong? You have to listen to other side as well. That’s why I said they do not come for negotiations, they do not come for dialogue. They just come to impose and that belongs to the past.

Cohen responds

Israel accepted to some extent because of Israeli bomb. Arab world realize Israel is there to stay. Helped to stabilize the area. That’s one reason they would like it to be there.

Pres. Ahmedinejad said he’d like to see Israel go out of pages of history. Doesn’t believe in holocaust. This is totally unacceptable in Israeli position. He’s reminder of Nasser of 20-40 years ago. if you like Israel to be engaged and ready and willing to move into the idea of NWFZ, every country in region has to accept its legitimacy. Iran does not accept legitimacy of Israel.

Legally and politically there is no way for the NPT, as we know it today, to incorporate India, Israel and Pakistan in their present perceptions of national security. It’s simply incompatible. There is no way to do it. To do it means that all 3, as they do it, would have to dismantle what they have, none of them is ready to do so. So legally and politically it’s just impossible.

But there is need to engage all 3 of them. North Korea created a different story, she did sign at one time, and legally there is questions to what extend her departure is legal.

There is a need to engage these 3, the 3 cannot be outside. There was excellent, I have proposed one time, something on that, along with former ambassador of US, 2 of us wrote something on that. In Disarmament Diplomacy, excellent Journal of Rebecaa, there was piece that gave fully array of ideas, one of them for the 3 to behave as if they’re part of NPT, even if there are not.

When President Obama made his nuclear summit, this was one or another way to think about dealing with global nuclear issue with all 3 included, outside the NPT, not to complement, not to replace, but outside the NPT. But as we know it, legally and politically today, there is no way for them to sign the NPT, but we must think of other modalities to have them involved. The piece I wrote was with Tom Grahm, former US ambassador.

About the Palestinian issue, It’s 2 different tracks, and yet 2 tracks related. I think, I’m talking as Israeli, also American, there is growing sense in world today that occupation is illegitimate and has to be ended. I see it much stronger than it was 20-30 years ago. I would love to see the occupation ending. Once you’re able to find, maybe it’s going to be long term, not immediate solution with Palestinians, those existential issue, and in context of Iran, lose much of their acuteness, they’re much less existential. So of course, Iran is much less an issue, even if there is a sense of some threat from Iran, Once u solve issue with Palestinians, from Israeli perspective, Iran cannot intervene if issues between Israelis and Palestinians are in the process of being resolved. There’s 2 separate channels, but there’s a lot of connections. Views of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, towards statehood for Palestinians, even if it’s temporary, even if borders are not defined, it is very good idea even from Israel perspective, from my perspective.

Final point about Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. One should realize how complex all the nuclear weapons free zones we have in the world today are areas that when there were negotiations for the zone, were in areas where there were no longer nuclear weapons.

So we don’t have really a case, we don’t have an example of talking about nuclear weapons free zone, when one state, had for very obvious reasons it’s decision and has nuclear weapons. Actually we talk about how to dismantle that state in relation to the rest of the region. It’s obvious you need first to talk about the conflict itself. Only in relation to the conflict you can move in relation to the nuclear weapons free zone.

Success in conceptualizing and perhaps slicing the big piece into limited, isolated units, and success in units could aspire some success to rest of conflict. There is relation between 2 sides.