Ambassador Robert Joseph, United States Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation and the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security until 2007 addressing the panel on “Policy review on Iran” in Paris on June 30, 2017, moderated by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, distinguished fellow and Chairman Emeritus at the Stimson Center, former Assistant Secretary of State for Military Affairs.
His remarks follow:
What I’d like to do is drill a little bit deeper and look at the Iran issue more broadly from a counterproliferation or nonproliferation perspective. Because despite the hype both here in Europe and in the United States that’s been given to the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement, Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The ballistic missiles are very obvious, they’re in the open or at least many of the programs are in the open, whereas the nuclear capacity I think is a bit more opaque but nevertheless still there. Because we shouldn’t kid ourselves, I think it was Olli Hienonen who was an IAEA inspector said that if Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today it will be the first time in 30 years that it hasn’t had one. And we know, I think, from the revelations that were made available in Washington over the course of the last three weeks by the resistance, by NCRI, that both the missile and the nuclear programs continue unabated. But let me start with my conclusion or my bottom line. And that is that it’s essential to put the Iran proliferation challenge or threat in a broader context, in the context of the regime. Because it’s really only that way that we will find a path forward for dealing with the regime. And when I say dealing with the regime in an effective way it really means finding a best path to an end of the regime, because it’s only when the regime ends that we will have been able to stop the ballistic missile and the nuclear programs.
Iran today continues very aggressively to pursue both ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Although the latter is now cloaked in this nuclear deal that lavishly rewards the regime for pretending that it’s not pursuing nuclear weapons. Even I think the defenders of the JCPOA would have to agree that Iran retains the capability of sneaking out or breaking out of the agreement, and that at best this agreement represents only a pause.
I’ve got a piece coming out in The National Review in the next couple days, and it’s focused on North Korea and North Korea’s proliferation programs. And while the mullahs in Tehran and the Kim dynasty are different, I think it can be useful to draw some parallels. For the past 25 years in both cases the United States under both Democratic and Republican administrations have based policy on myths. And also in addition to the myths it’s this unfounded hope, unfounded hope that we see sneaking into our policy year after year, even with each successive failure that’s made apparent by either a missile test or a nuclear test. And when those failures appear we simply double down with the same old policy based on myth, based on misplaced hope. It’s as once Samuel Johnson wrote about second marriages, it’s the triumph of hope over experience. And it happens time and time and time again. And again while Iran pretends that it is agreeing and abiding by the nuclear deal, and we pretend that we believe them, their ICBM program continues apace. And remember there’s only one reason for an ICBM program and that is to put a nuclear weapon on the tip of it. With North Korea the fundamental myth was that the regime would go away in ten years. I heard this in 1994, I heard it in 2007, I heard it throughout the years of the Obama administration. The problem is the ten years, well it’s always ten years. And the regime doesn’t go away. Throughout the years though in North Korea we’ve shifted our policy from pursuing negotiations to sanctions to pressuring China, all designed to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.
In fact, and this is what I argue in this piece to be published, focusing on negotiations has diluted our efforts to undermine a regime that is truly illegitimate and truly internally vulnerable. Regime change from within, and I always underline from within, is the key. And I would argue that it’s the prerequisite to ending the nuclear and the missile programs. And our concessions in and outside of negotiations with North Korea have only strengthened the regime and have had this perverted effect of perpetuating the very threats that we seek to end through the negotiations. So the parallels to Iran, and I’ll be very brief, are striking. Iran is much different than North Korea. Iran is a real country. Iran has 3,000 years of history and a rich culture. But our policy has still been based not on sound thinking, not on experience, but on misplaced hope. And the misplaced hope in this case is not that Iran is going to go away, but that we will be able to find moderates within the government that will lead the government to a new and better place. And this is the myth that has been perpetuated for years and years. Again, the myth triumphing over reality.
I think what we need to realize is that the regime itself is at the heart of the threat. The regime is the source of the nuclear and missile programs. The regime is the source of Iran’s expansionist policies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. And it is the source very clearly of the brutal internal domestic repression. This is a regime that will not change. It’s a regime that cannot change because if it begins to change it will fall. Until the mullahs’ regime is brought down we will not succeed in our efforts to end the proliferation challenge or to acquire more stability in the region. And here again, as in North Korea, the irony is that our misguided policies have only strengthened the regime in Tehran, providing it with the means to advance its proliferation programs, to intervene and foment disorder in neighboring countries, and to brutalize its own people who are the first and foremost victims of the regime. The key in Iran, like in North Korea, is regime change from within, something that the Obama administration explicitly ruled out. How the Trump administration will deal with Iran is still an open question. I’m optimistic that this administration will continue to see Iran as a threat both from a proliferation perspective as well as from a regional instability perspective, and will continue its efforts to build support within the region and to take firm action. But their test or at least one test will be whether or not the administration is willing to list the IRGC as a terrorist organization and to sanction that organization and its supporters. Remember what my boss once said about Iran, that it is the central banker of international terrorism. Well, the IRGC is certainly the chief teller of that banking system. So today we have press reports that say that the usual sort of alignments are taking place in the policy review. There are some that support regime change. There are some that support continuing the current policy even though the latter is usually dressed up in much more harsh rhetoric, but it’s basically the same. Who will win out? I really don’t know. I do know that even if those who advocate regime change went out, it doesn’t mean that that policy will be implemented, going back to North Korea again. We did have the principals agree and the president agree on a firm policy of containment and regime change, but that wasn’t implemented. It simply wasn’t implemented and we fell back on negotiations and serial concessions to ensure that the negotiations didn’t fail, or at least would continue. So where we go from here, I think it’s essential that if we’re going to resolve the proliferation issue and the other challenges and threats that we have from Iran, we do need to support internal change. Again, regime change from within. We can’t do this from without but certainly we can support the opposition in Iran and those that support the opposition. We need to provide the opposition with hope and with sustenance in their long fight against this brutal regime. We need to support those opposition elements that favor, that advocate a non-nuclear secular government, and we need to ensure that those who support more missiles, more instability, and more of a brutal crackdown on the Iranian people are isolated and ultimately removed. And I think this is the vision and this is the mandate of Madam Rajavi. Thank you.