To the editors of the Lorian,
Dale Elenteny’s excellent column “Aiding the Syrian rebels is not in our best interests” presented a thorough and compelling argument against U.S. military intervention in Syria. However, I must draw attention to a factual error that Elenteny makes with regard to Iran. It is especially unfortunate that this error is pulled out and showcased in the summary blurb in the center of the article: “Any support to the rebels is, indirectly, an affront to two sovereign nuclear-holding states, one of which has built their foreign policy around the aspired annihilation of our closest Middle Eastern ally.” It is clear from the context that the two nuclear-holding states are Russia and Iran, and the US ally is Israel.
The term “nuclear-holding” in this context implies that Iran has nuclear weapons. I want to make clear that Iran is not known to have nuclear weapons, and it has never claimed to have them or to have sought them. Iran, unlike Israel, has signed and ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and as a party to the treaty Iran has been under some investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as to the levels at which it is enriching uranium.
However, Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for civilian use only, and there is no evidence that Iran is enriching or attempting to enrich uranium to anything approaching weapons-grade levels. Recently Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced to the UN that “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions”. In fact, Rouhani’s comment merely echoes Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s stated position. Even the official stance of the United States government, which does not even have formal diplomatic relations with Iran at this point, is that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. But these facts often get overlooked while our media focus on Iran’s presumed “nuclear threat”. As a result, many people end up with the misconception that Iran has nuclear weapons.
Of course, we cannot know for certain that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, but to claim or to imply that they have nuclear weapons is certainly unsubstantiated. The most likely scenario is that they are withholding information from the IAEA about their nuclear program (peaceful or otherwise) in order to have negotiating leverage against the Western powers, who have burdened Iran with crushing economic sanctions.
As for Iran’s foreign policy, the claim that it has been “built… around the aspired annihilation of [Israel]” is misleading and outdated. The antagonism between the governments of Iran and Israel is certainly real. This antagonism has shown itself most starkly in some of the outrageous comments of Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who consistently denied that the government of Israel had any right to exist in Jerusalem. But since the newly elected Hassan Rouhani replaced Ahmadinejad as Iranian President in August, Iran’s foreign policy has already taken a more conciliatory turn, which will hopefully result in renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Iran.
Again, Dale Elenteny’s argument for staying out of Syria is well reasoned, informed, and frankly, compelling. I merely wish to set the record straight on Iran. Just as many Americans suspected that the People’s Republic of China had internationally aggressive intentions before diplomatic relations were established in 1971, it’s clear that many Americans today, partly because of sensationalist journalism, suspect the same of Iran. Perhaps we can hope for the same transformation of relations as happened in the case of China. In any event, the prospects for peaceful relations with Iran are not aided when we assume Iran’s aspirations are nuclear and malicious.
Assistant Professor of Politics