The Question of a Nuclear Iran: A University of Denver Perspective

By Megan Sehr on October 1, 2012

The Iranian nuclear program has been an ongoing debate in domestic American politics, and it has been a key issue discussed in this year’s presidential election.  Last Wednesday, I attended a discussion panel hosted by University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies that touched upon the likelihood and the consequences of military intervention against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The discussion panel featured Trita Parsi, author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.  His book has received positive reviews from publications such as Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, and The Economist.  Parsi’s work was also praised by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo by Parmida76 at Flickr

The panel also included Christopher Hill, dean of the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies; Richard Lamm, co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver; and, Tom Farer, professor at the University of Denver.

The discussion lasted about an hour, and the panelists covered issues ranging from the legality of an Iranian nuclear program to the consequences of an Israeli airstrike against known Iranian enrichment facilities.  It was refreshing to hear new viewpoints about the Iranian question articulated by individuals with experience in the subject.

Dean Hill is a former U.S. diplomat, and he covered the last round of negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.  He compared the North Korean situation to the current Iranian situation, noting that the North Koreans were upfront about their nuclear aspirations.

“The North Koreans said, ‘Hey, we’re building a nuclear weapon,’” said Hill.  ”The Iranians have not been honest about what they’re pursuing.  When you say you’re enriching uranium at 20 percent, it’s hard to believe it’s just for medical isotopes.”

Hill explained that Iran’s dishonesty about their nuclear ambitions is bothering the international community, and it has made diplomacy with the Iranians much more difficult.

Professor Farer had some interesting points to make about the legitimacy of a nuclear armed Iran.  Farer noted that Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, explaining that Iran would be violating international law if it chose to develop nuclear weapons.  He also referred to Pakistan as an example of an unstable country with nuclear weapons, commenting on the lack of resources and the infiltration of Taliban-sympathizers into the military and intelligence services.

“If we were to make a list of countries most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorist or non-government groups, then I should think Pakistan would be higher on the list,” said Farer.

All four panelists condemned military action against Iran, expressing fears that a military strike could ignite a regional war in the Middle East.  They explained that a military strike against Iran could postpone nuclear enrichment by a few months to two years, but that it could not completely stop the Iranian program.  They expressed their hopes in diplomacy, but they stated that the U.S. and Iran needed to get serious about taking diplomatic measures.

“I don’t think negotiations have even really started,” said Hill.  “We need to make the Iranians’ future very bad until they get serious about negotiations.”

The panel was an event organized to lead into the first presidential debate at the University of Denver this coming week.  I think there needs to be a discussion about an Iranian policy, and Americans need to consider the implications of a military strike against Iranian enrichment facilities.  A nuclear Iran is one of the key issues in this year’s foreign policy debate, and I liked that the University of Denver was able to open the discussion to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Megan Sehr is a sophomore at the University of Denver, and she is majoring in International Studies and Journalism Studies with minors in History and Hebrew. She wants to go into international journalism, and is interested in Middle Eastern politics and culture. She loves writing, reading, poetry, Mad Men, and good discussions.

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