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Ilan Berman interviewed in E'temad

September 14, 2008

On September 3-4, 2008, AFPC Vice President for Policy Ilan Berman was interviewed by the Iranian reformist newspaper E'temad regarding future U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic. The interview was subsequently published in E'temad's September 14th edition.

A PDF version of the interview, in Farsi, can be found here and here. An English language transcript, as submitted to the paper, is below.


Both Iran and Us have one of their most important presidential elections coming up next year, as the first question would you please draw a picture of US-Iran’s relation post presidential elections according to the parties elected in America (Democrats or Republicans) and Iran (reformists or conservatives).

 IB: The U.S. elections in November will have momentous consequences for American policy toward Iran. Senator Obama and the Democratic Party have articulated their commitment to negitiations and engagement with the Islamic Republic. Senator McCain and the Republican Party have taken a very different approach, emphasizing the need for pressure - diplomatic, economic, even military - as a response to the Iranian nuclear program. Simply put, depending on who wins in November, American policy toward Iran will be either one of accommodation or one of confrontation.

Do you believe “war against Iran” as a serious choice, equally is on the table of Republicans and Democrats after winning the election?

IB: I think some sort of military conflict is a real possibility, if the crisis over Iran's nuclear problem is not resolved. It is more likely under a Republican administration, because of Senator McCain's public commitment to preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran. So far, Senator Obama has made no corresponding commitment. But irrespective of who wins the U.S. election in November, the danger that Americans perceive from a nuclear-armed Iran will not disappear, and even a Democratic administration will face serious pressure from the public and the Congress to act decisively.

To create a certain win-win situation, why US doesn’t think it is the time to change the tactic of its diplomacy to a direct dialogue without preconditions?

IB: Let us be clear. The U.S. government has so far insisted on preconditions for talks with Tehran because it has real concerns over Iran's strategic capabilities. Given the maturity of Iran's nuclear effort, the worry in Washington is that talks - if carried out without a corresponding halt to Iran's uranium enrichment - will simply provide the Iranian regime with additional time to work on its atomic program. The requirement for preconditions, therefore, is a pragmatic one based upon American perceptions of the threat that would be posed by a nuclear Iran. Things may change if a Democratic administration comes to power, but the concerns over Iranian capabilities and intentions are truly bipartisan.

As you know, although conservatives have the main elective power centers in Iran like the government cabinet and the parliament, some divisions have appeared between them. So, we see a spectrum of conservatives candidating themselves for the next election in Iran: from President Ahmadinejad to Mayor Ghalibaf (Mayor of Tehran). Do you see any differences between electing Ahmadinejad or Ghalibaf (two ends of a spectrum) as a president in improving the relation between two states? (Ghalibaf is also near to the Leader).

IB: There are indeed differences between the various candidates for president now organizing in Iran. One certainly hopes that the elections give rise to a more moderate, pragmatic president who better understands the dangers of his country's current foreign policy direction. However, it is worth noting that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has publicly given his endorsement to President Ahmadinejad. This suggests to observers in the United States that dramatic changes in the ruling power structure within the Islamic Republic are unlikely to take place next year.

When the reformists in Iran had power, US improving relation signals (sent by President Clinton) didn’t work. Do you think the similar signals will be sent to the new Iran’s president regardless of being a reformist or a conservative?

IB: Under a Democratic administration in Washington, such overtures will almost assuredly be sent, given Senator Obama's interest in engagement. Tactical contacts are possible under a McCain administration as well -- remember that the Bush administration has actually been negotiating with the Islamic Republic for close to two years on security issues pertaining to Iraq. However, Senator McCain is likely to calibrate his policies much more closely to the political changes within Iran. If there is no liberalization in Iran, in other words, a Republican administration is not likely to see any reason for a softer policy.

Some analysts believe that even if Iran’s atomic energy activities are suspended, US still will increase the global pressure against Iran from other aspects like human rights and etc. What is your point of view?

IB: The danger that the United States perceives from Iran is not limited to Iran's nuclear activities. We are concerned with the Iranian government's extensive sponsorship of terrorism, the radical and expansionist nature of the regime's ideology, and its repressive treatment of its own people. These issues will persist even if some resolution to the current nuclear crisis is reached. It is important to emphasize, however, that the driver of these dynamics is not the United States -- it is the Iranian regime itself. Better behavior from Tehran on these issues will do a great deal to improve bilateral relations with Washington.