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Monday, January 31, 2011

Does he speak for Obama?

At a Davos panel on Iran's nuclear program, Council of Foreign Relations representative Richard Haas took a relatively hard line.
In the debate at the World Economic Forum, former top U.S. diplomat Richard Haass said there were no good options should diplomacy fail, but stood apart from the others in advocating force as a viable option. He sparred repeatedly with Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, who urged the United States to instead pressure Israel to quit its own reported nuclear weapons as a way of coaxing Iran to drop its suspected weapons program as well.

Haass replied that there was no time for this because of the speed of Iran's program — and rejected the assertion by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan that the program might be civilian, as Tehran has repeatedly claimed.

The Davos panel thus reflected the basic disagreement that divides world powers and bedevils diplomatic efforts: All seem to oppose Iran producing a nuclear weapon, but there are disagreements over whether to believe its protestations. And down the road lies the open question of whether war is worse than acquiesence.

Iran "is not interested in any serious way to produce electricity," said Haass, who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential U.S. think tank. "Let's not kid ourselves: This is about a sustained Iranian commitment to either develop nuclear weapons or get 90 percent of the way there" — perhaps sufficing with a status as "a 'threshold nuclear weapons state' in the belief that they could derive most of the benefits (without) incurring most of the costs."

Most of the other panelists at the debate hosted by the Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel stressed that diplomacy should be the focus of current efforts.

"We should use every single opportunity to reach our goal on the diplomatic path," said German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Babacan argued that "there is a huge misunderstanding between the Western world and some in the (Middle East) and Iran. ... Marginalizing Iran more and more, or cornering them more and more ... is not going to give any kind of (solution)."

"The Iranians see diplomacy as a tactic to buy time," Haass countered. "I don't think it's going to work." Although he advocates tougher sanctions as a tactic, Haass said he feared an ultimate choice between two bad options: accepting a nuclear-armed Iran — or using military force to set back the Iranian program however possible, despite the risk of only partial success.

"I do believe that force is a serious option," he said, arguing that a nuclear Iran would place this region on a knife's edge. It would take the most dangerous, unstable part of the world and place it on steroids. This has tremendous consequences which we should not underestimate."
Read the whole thing.

The real question is whether Haas speaks for the White House. But he's right: It will ultimately come down to a choice of stopping Iran militarily or accepting a nuclear Iran.

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