Will an Iran nuclear agreement set a healthy precedent for future nonproliferation efforts? Host Scott Simon talks with George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace about what a deal on Iran could mean for nonproliferation work around the globe.
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The negotiations there in Geneva center on the requirement that Iran somehow limit its enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make a nuclear weapon. And in exchange, of course, the West would ease some of the sanctions that have so crippled Iran's finances. But this deal is about more than Iran. It was supposed to be about brightening the future of nonproliferation around the world. George Perkovich, director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, joins us in the studios. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Perkovich.
GEORGE PERKOVICH: Thank you.
SIMON: Given all the caveats we just heard from Peter Kenyon, if this interim deal - six months, whatever - comes about, is it a good precedent in your mind?
PERKOVICH: Well, I think it's a good precedent if it leads to a final deal that actually satisfies, you know, obviously, Iran in order to get it agreed, but the international community. And in that sense, the interim deal will have stopped either the march of Iranians' program towards weapons or a march towards war. It will suggest that the rules that we have actually work and their enforcement can be done diplomatically, so that you then can get a final resolution that allows Iran to have a purely peaceful program that the rest of the world concludes will in fact remain purely peaceful. That would be a huge gain.
SIMON: I gather you know President Rouhani?
SIMON: Let me put this bluntly. Is he trustworthy? Is Iran sincere?
PERKOVICH: Well, I think in this negotiation, the way I think about it is a little play on President Reagan's old line about, you know, trust but verify the Soviet Union. Here, I would say it's distrust and verify. We have to distrust Iran based on the history we have with them. They distrust us even more, if that's possible, based on their view of history going back to 1953.
SIMON: Subverting the - overthrowing the Iranian government.
PERKOVICH: Right, overthrowing their government, supporting the shah, things like that. So, I think Rouhani is reasonable. I think he wants clearly to end Iran's isolation and wants Iran to be a big player on the stage, which is actually what has the Saudi Arabians and others...
SIMON: I was going to suggest. That's not good news to every country in the region.
PERKOVICH: Exactly. And so - but precisely because it's in Iran's interest, I think he realizes the only way for all of that to happen is to end the nuclear crisis and convince the world they don't want the bomb. Because Iran's big enough that it doesn't need a bomb, basically. And that, again, is what alarms Saudi Arabia.
SIMON: Does it need nuclear enrichment?
PERKOVICH: No. From a technical point of view and economic point of view, I think objectively one would say no. Psychologically and politically at this point, because this issue had become central for more than 10 years, if they give up on that, they would lose politically. So, at this point, it's a political psychological necessity.
SIMON: They want to be able to say we're - we made a real deal, we're a real country, we can enrich uranium if we want.
SIMON: Is that a good technical - technically speaking, given your knowledge in this area, is that a good precaution for so many nations to have? I mean, what's the step between nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes and developing a bomb?
PERKOVICH: Well, I mean, look, from a nonproliferation point of view, ideally, no one would be doing enrichment because, you know, then you would have real reassurance they don't have the stuff that could make a bomb go boom. But 14 countries already are doing enrichment, including Iran. So, you probably can't get that ideal where no one's doing it, in which case now Iran's paid a huge price. So, if anybody else wanted to do enrichment against the rules, you know, you're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, total isolation, your scientists are being assassinated, they're sabotaging your country; enrichment's worth that much? And I think the answer would be, for most countries, no.
SIMON: In the half a minute that we have left, what about Saudi Arabia? If there is a deal, does it make it more or less likely that the Saudis develop their own weapon, or just bring it in on the rails?
PERKOVICH: The most likely way the Saudis would get a weapon is if Iran gets a weapon. This deal would lower the likelihood that Iran gets a weapon. So, Saudi Arabia may not get a weapon but it then has an existential crisis, which is that Iran's now being welcomed back into the international system and is a much bigger player than Saudi Arabia. And that's the existential problem for Saudi Arabia. Whether they get a bomb or not, Iran's alarming to them.
SIMON: George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment. Thanks so much for being with us.
PERKOVICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.