Teheran's thirst for nuclear weapons can only be understood if the United States remembers Iran is a "rash, revolutionary regime at odds with America's core interests in the Middle East," say former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden and former Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal
"It is a state ruled by men such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose worldview is shaped by conspiracy theories and enduring enmity toward the West," Hayden and Bayh wrote in the Thursday piece. "Tehran seeks dominance over its Arab neighbors, sows discord through the region and actively supports terrorist organizations. It is only in this context that Tehran's quest for nuclear weapons can be understood."
But there is an "obvious" temptation to cooperate with Iran, especially given the situation in Iraq, where radical Sunnis threaten to take over. The United States and Iran, controlled by Shiites, would have a common interest in joining forces to fight against the Islamic State.
However, Hayden and Bayh write, the United States and Iran have "incompatible strategic objectives."
The United States needs Iraq to be stable, but Iran would want to preserve a Shiite-dominated state. And if the United States is not careful, say Hayden and Bayh, Iran will seek to leverage Iraq's chaos to obtain nuclear concessions before Sunday's deadline for a deal in the ongoing talks in Vienna looms.
The Middle East is often divided, Hayden and Bayh write, and the United States has been insensitive to allies' concerns and "unusually deferential to our adversaries' ambitions."
But Washington can't ignore Iran's "nefariousness," they wrote, and if it continues to arm Shiite militias continue to be armed and press Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to exclude moderate Sunni elements, Washington should respond.
"America must not bluff," Hayden and Bayh wrote. "We must realize that U.S. interests in the Middle East are not tangential to our national security but are essential to counterterrorism, thwarting nuclear proliferation and promoting stable, representative governments."
In addition, it is imperative for the United States and its allies to devise an Iranian nuclear program that can't be used for military purposes, they wrote.
Washington must also insist on a credible verification regime and Iran must come clean about its prior weaponization attempts, Hayden and Bayh wrote, and must submit to "intrusive inspections" at any site identified by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, there are some problems with a Joint Plan of Action signed by Iran and six powers in 2013, they wrote, as it stipulates any final agreement with Iran will have a sunshine clause that allows Iran to build up an industrial-size nuclear program that would give it the ability to quickly manufacture nuclear weapons.
There are also "great dangers" if the current interim agreement under that plan is followed by another interim agreement, or the current negotiations are extended by another six months
in hopes that the Iranians will relent, Hayden and Bayh said.
The current lull only limits some activities, but Iran is still building other essential elements, including improving the efficiency of its nuclear centrifuge and constructing clandestine enrichment sites, they noted.
The lull has also given the Iranian economy time to grow, further reducing the United States' leverage, and "time is not on our side," Hayden and Bayh concluded.
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