Listening to the Iranian Public on Nukes

Robert Wright has a piece up at The New York Times noting that the structure of public opinion makes it very unlikely that any Iranian government will ever agree to the kind of thorough denuclearization that the West wants. At the same time, there’s little Iranian support for building actual nuclear weapons:


It’s worth emphasizing that it’s not unusual for a country to possess a full-spectrum of scientific and technical aspects of nuclear technology without building nuclear weapons. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and I believe some other smaller European countries are in that boat. What’s more, Iranians seem committed to enrichment even if it means sanctions:


Under the circumstances, Wright suggests we need to try something else:

In particular: Why don’t we offer Iran something its public cherishes — the acknowledged right to enrich uranium — in exchange for radically more intrusive inspections, along with ratification of the additional protocol? A version of this idea has been advanced by a group of experts that was convened by the American Foreign Policy Project and co-chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and the aforementioned Gary Sick. It’s worth checking out.

I’m not betting that Iran would accept this deal, but I don’t see the downside of finding out, and that’s something we’ve never done; no comparable deal has ever been put on the table. The closest such overture was a 2008 offer that would have imposed tougher inspections but denied Iran the right to enrich uranium as allowed under the N.P.T. until “the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of your nuclear program is restored” — which to the average Iranian means, “not until America says so.”

The current regime seems to me to have basically lost interest in reaching any kind of compromise—on some level, they’re probably hoping for a harsh international crackdown to bolster their domestic situation. But I think it’s still important for the West to be making reasonable offers, both because that assessment could be wrong and also because it’s important to lay the groundwork for possible political change in Iran.