Iran and US should Work toward Reconciliation
Interview with Prof. John J. Mearsheimer
By: Kourosh Ziabari
Prominent American political scientist Prof. John J. Mearsheimer believes that as a result of the enormous influence of the Israeli lobby on the U.S. politicians, one can hardly think of rapprochement between Iran and the United States in short-run, but they can move toward reconciliation by recognizing each other’s rights and responsibilities.
“What the Americans and Iranians have to do is to reach a compromised agreement, where the Americans would recognize the fact that Iran is allowed to have a nuclear enrichment capability and we should recognize that, and at the same time, Iranians should accept the fact that there have to be limits on this enrichment capability, so that they don’t march up to the point where they’re a short step away from where they can turn their nuclear enrichment capability to producing nuclear weapons. That’s a compromised deal and the bargain which should be reached. And I think it’s good for both sides and can lead to an accommodation,” said Prof. Mearsheimer in an exclusive interview with Iran Review.
John J. Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. He has written extensively on the international relations and security issues and published five books. His 2007 book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” co-authored with Stephen M. Walt was listed as a New York Times bestseller work and translated into twenty-one languages.
Prof. Mearsheimer took part in an exclusive interview with Iran Review and answered a number of questions regarding controversy over Iran’s nuclear program, the prospect of Iran-U.S. relations, the Western media propaganda against Iran and President Obama’s Middle East policy.
Q: You know that Iran’s nuclear facilities are completely under the safeguards of IAEA and constant inspections. Iran is an NPT signatory and several reports by IAEA demonstrated that there has been no diversion in Iran’s nuclear activities toward atomic weapons. Why do the U.S. and European officials unremittingly talk about Iran’s developing nuclear weapons, while this is not true? Don’t the American experts and think tanks really know that Iran is not after nuclear weapons?
A: First of all, it’s quite clear that the American intelligence community agrees that now Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. The 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimate said that according to their judgment, Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, people in the media, here in the United States, and many people at think tanks, as well talk as if it were not true and that Iran is developing atomic weapons, and this makes no sense at all.
Q: So why do you think they are repeatedly propagating this belief that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, while they acknowledge that this is not true?
A: I think that the main reason is that Israel and Israel’s supporters in the United States do not want Iran to have any nuclear capability at all. For them, the idea that Iran has a significant uranium enrichment capability of any kind is unacceptable. It’s much harder to sell that argument to the American public, but it’s much easier to sell the argument that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and the United States therefore has to completely shut down Iran’s nuclear program. So I think it’s mainly because Israel and its supporters here in the United States do not want Iran to have any nuclear capability, even a peaceful one. That has caused Israel and its supporters to sell the idea, quite successfully by the way that Iran is actually pursuing nuclear weapons, while the available evidence shows that it is not.
Q: Don’t you believe that Israel’s pressure on the United States to go into war with Iran mostly emanates from Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as a regional power, rather than the myth that Iran is producing nuclear weapons?
A: I think that the main reason why Israel and its supporters in the U.S. have been pushing the United States to attack Iran is because of Iran’s nuclear capability, not because Iran’s threat of dominating the Persian Gulf and the Middle East more generally. I think that every Israeli understands that Iran is not strong enough to dominate the Persian Gulf and therefore there’s no reason to go to war with Iran for that reason. The main reason is Iran’s nuclear capability.
Q: Iranian officials in the recent years have complained of President Obama’s unchanged policies toward the Middle East. They say that Obama continued its sponsorship of Israel and renewed economic sanctions on Iran, and as a result, many Iranians view Obama to be repeating the policies of George W. Bush. What’s your idea?
A: When President Obama first took office in January 2009, he was determined to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and he believed that if he put pressure on the Israelis and the Palestinians, he could get a two-state solution. So at the beginning, he was deeply committed to change the American policy in the region, but he failed, largely because no president is strong enough to stand up to the Israeli lobby on issues relating to the Occupied Territories, so by 2011, Obama decided that it was best to just back off and not push the Palestinian issue, because he had an election coming up in 2012, so over the past year, Obama has hardly said anything about the Palestinian issue, and the big question is that what would President Obama do now that he has been reelected. Will he go back to trying to push hard for a two-state solution, as he did at the beginning of his first administration, or will he basically pursue a hands-off policy? My sense is that Obama realizes that it’s almost impossible for him to persuade Israel to end its policies toward the Palestinians and realize a two-state solution and I think he cannot do much for a two-state solution over the next four years.
With regards to Iran, I think that Obama was interested in trying to reach some sort of negotiated settlement over the past four years with Iranians, but again there’s no way any American president can reach a meaningful agreement with Iran as long as Israel and its supporters in the United States don’t want a solution to the conflict between Iran and the United States, and the fact is that Israel has no interest in allowing the United States and Iran to have some sort of rapprochement, and I don’t think that’s going to change in the next four years. I think every time that it begins to look like that the Iranians and Americans might strike a deal over Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the pressure will be brought back, and Obama will back off, so I’m very pessimistic about the future of Iran-U.S. relations and it’s in large part because of the Israelis. I hope that I’m proved wrong on this.
Q: What’s your prediction of the future of U.S.-Israeli relations in President Obama’s second term? There have been conflicts between the two staunch allies in his first term. What will happen in the coming four years?
A: I think that over the next four years, the relations will be pretty much the way they have been in the past four years. I think that Obama will do a number of things that will anger the Israelis and the lobby would put pressure on Obama and he will retreat. The fact is that if there were no Israeli lobby, the United States would have a much different policy toward Israel, and I should say toward Iran, and I think in the end that would be much better for Israel, the United States and Iran as well. And it would certainly be much better for the Palestinians. The current situation which we are in is a lose-lose-lose-lose situation for all the four parties, and of course by the four parties, I mean Israelis, Americans, Iranians and the Palestinians.
Q: Since Iran started its nuclear studies and activities, the U.S., Israeli and European officials have repeatedly warned that Iran will be possessing nuclear weapons in the next two, three, six or twelve months, thus keeping alive a continuous fear of Iran among their people. All of these years have elapsed, and the predictions didn’t come true. What are the possible reasons for the psychological operation and black propaganda against Iran?
A: There’s a fundamental problem here, and that is if Iran develops a significant nuclear enrichment capability – and I’m not talking of weapons capability here, it’s very close to the point that it can develop nuclear weapons. It’s just a short step from the nuclear enrichment capability to the nuclear weapons capability. And the reason that the Americans, Israelis and Europeans are so fearful of Iran developing a significant nuclear enrichment capability is because they realize that it will bring Iran very close to the point that it can acquire nuclear weapons. That’s really the tap root of the problem here. And what the Americans want to do is to significantly limit Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability, because they don’t want Iran to be close to the point that it can weaponize. And the Iranians of course feel that as signatory to the NPT, they have a right to significant enrichment capability, but again, from an American and Israeli perspective, that is very worrisome because it brings you close to the point that you can weaponize. But by striking a deal between the United States and Iran, we mean that the Americans should accept the fact that Iran is entitled to have an enrichment capability, but at the same time, it creates a situation where Iran accepts that there should be a limit to that enrichment program, so that Iran doesn’t march up to the point of weaponization. That’s a compromise that has to be done. This is going to be a compromise.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the economic sanctions imposed against Iran? Do they have legitimacy in terms of international law? What’s your viewpoint about their humanitarian impact?
A: I thought that the American-led sanctions against Iraq in 1990s were from a war point of view categorically wrong, and I think that the sanctions against Iran that result in the killing of innocent civilians are categorically wrong. I remember that in the run-up to the first Iraq war in 1991, there were many people in the United States who favored sanctions over going to war against Iraq; this was the first Persian Gulf War which you remember was started in January 1991 and before that war, there were many Americas, especially on the left who argued that we should employ sanctions rather than go to war with Iraq because sanctions is a morally preferable policy. I thought at that time that they were dead wrong. I thought that from a moral perspective, the best policy option was to go to war because in war, soldiers fight against soldiers rather than put sanctions on Iraq, ending up in killing a large number of innocent civilians. Fortunately at that case, we did decide to go to war rather than putting brutal sanctions against the Iraqis. Of course the situation changed in 1990s and we put sanctions, and the estimates are that some 500,000 civilians died as a result of those sanctions.
Q: But you know that the sanctions are taking a heavy toll on the ordinary civilians, and Iran’s economy is being destroyed as a result of these inhumane sanctions. Don’t you admit that?
A: Yes, there’s no question about that. Everybody who has studied sanctions understands that what sanctions do is that they damage the intended target state’s economy, and if the sanctions are tough enough, they end up killing large numbers of innocent civilians. This is what happened in Iraq in 1990s, and if they are tough enough, this is what will happen in Iran, and I think it’s impossible to justify it on moral grounds.
Q: You talked about the possible grounds for the improvement of ties between Iran and the United States, but said that you’re pessimistic about the future of Iran-U.S. relations. What steps should the two sides take in order to move toward reconciliation and betterment of bilateral relations?
A: There’s one main issue which needs to be solved above all else and it is the Iranian nuclear issue, and what the Americans and Iranians have to do is to reach a compromised agreement, where the Americans would recognize the fact that Iran is allowed to have a nuclear enrichment capability and we should recognize that, and at the same time, Iranians should accept the fact that there have to be limits on this enrichment capability, so that they don’t march up to the point where they’re a short step away from where they can turn their nuclear enrichment capability to producing nuclear weapons. That’s a compromised deal and the bargain which should be reached. And I think it’s good for both sides and can lead to an accommodation and then the United States can lift all the sanctions against Iran and then the Americans and Iranians could work on other fronts to improve their relations.
Q: What do you think about West’s hypocrisy on nuclear issue? From one hand, they neglect Israel’s big arsenal of nuclear warheads, and from the other hand, they put a heavy pressure on Iran over its civilian nuclear program. How is it possible to justify this hypocrisy and exercise of double standards?
A: Great powers have always been guilty of hypocrisy. The United States, like all great powers, has a rich history of behaving in a hypocritical way. The United States often uses one set of standards for its friends, and another set of standards for its adversaries. So, what’s going on with regards to Iranian and Israeli nuclear programs is hardly surprising. There’s no question that the United States is behaving in a hypocritical way on the nuclear issue, but again, it’s not surprising.