Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iran accused the US yesterday of launching a “psychological war” against it, in a statement made by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast commenting on remarks made by CIA Director Leon Panetta that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons, and that it will develop two nuclear bombs within the next two years. This comes at a time that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he was not prepared to enter negotiations with major powers over the Iranian nuclear issue before the end of next August, and after the US reaffirmed its commitment to diplomacy in resolving the Iranian nuclear file.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC’s Sunday show “This Week” that Iran possesses sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to produce two nuclear bombs by 2012. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast responded to this by saying that “such remarks are some kind of psychological warfare aimed at creating a negative mentality about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” He added “The US officials, especially their intelligence apparatus, know that Iran’s nuclear program is not a military one, but is aimed at peaceful purposes.”
Panetta also expressed his doubts that the sanctions imposed on Iran would succeed in preventing the country from developing nuclear weapons. The CIA Director’s statements reflect growing questions in Washington over the effectiveness of sanctions.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a US State department official said that Washington’s strategy of dealing with Tehran combines both pressure and dialogue, and that “while we continue to believe that negotiations and dialogue are the best two ways to address the concerns of the international community regarding the true nature of Iran’s nuclear program, this dual strategy must be accompanied by legitimate pressure in order to be effective.”
The US official added “Our strategy includes combining communications, incentives, and pressure, because without the threat of consequences, Iran is not expected to make a strategic change in direction.”
However questions remain over the current US strategy towards dealing with Iran. Brookings Institution expert on Iranian Affairs, Suzanne Maloney, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “what was interesting in Panetta’s statement is the lack of confidence in the success of the sanctions, and the question is; what can the US administration do if the sanctions do not succeed? The answer is not clear.”
Maloney added that “there is a growing feeling that the sanctions will not succeed, and all the while Iran is moving closer and closer towards developing nuclear fuel.” She also said that Washington’s “post-sanction strategy towards dealing with Iran is not clear.”
There is some hope that the pressure resulting from the sanctions will force the Iranian regime to seek to break its international isolation and return to the negotiating table. However Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced yesterday that Iran would not resume talks with the major powers over its nuclear file until the end of August, in addition to issuing a number of conditions for these talks to take place.
Answering a question at a press conference, Ahmadinejad said “We are postponing the talks because of the bad behaviour and the adoption of the new resolution in the Security Council. This is a penalty, so that they (the world powers) are disciplined to learn the way of talking to other nations”
As for the possibility of negotiations being resumed with Iran, the US State Department official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we do not eliminate the possibility of dialogue; in fact the goal from this pressure is to encourage Iran to continue in a constructive manner.” The official added “we aim for Iran to understand that failure to abide by the requirements of the [UN] Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will lead to results that can only be addressed via serious communication.”
In this context, the Iranian President said that the talks between Iran and the “Vienna group” (the US, Russia, and France, led by the IAEA) regarding a possible exchange of nuclear material should be expanded to also include Brazil and Turkey. He said that “other independent nations” should be invited to take part in talks over its nuclear file, and put forward a number of pre-conditions for these talks, including calling for the major powers to clarify their position on Israel’s nuclear arms.
Ahmadinejad also rejected CIA Director Leon Panetta’s accusations that Iran could develop nuclear weapons by the year 2012, reiterating that Tehran is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and that Iran “strongly supports [nuclear] disarmament.” He added “We have clearly declared that the nuclear bomb belongs to politically retarded governments who lack logic.” The Iranian President went on to ask “what good is an atom bomb to anyone? The stupidest thing today is accumulating atomic weapons.”
In a press briefing on Saturday, White House Senior Director for Asian Affairs, Jeff Bader, also said that “the President emphasized that we remain committed to a diplomatic track with Iran, if the Iranians will come to the table and take the necessary steps.” He added that “[UN Resolution] 1929 does not end the diplomatic track, but makes it possible.”
President Obama discussed the Iranian nuclear file during the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada last week. The White House also issued a statement warning against nuclear proliferation, and which also spoke about the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s failure to comply with international regulations.
CIA Director Leon Paentta’s remarks sparked the interests of several G8 countries. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Panetta’s statements that Iran may have enough nuclear material to produce two nuclear bombs by 2012 are “worrying” and that if these reports are confirms then Iran may find itself facing additional sanctions. Medvedev told journalists in Toronto where he was attending the G20 summit that “this information has to be checked but such information is always worrying and all the more so because the international community does not recognize the Iranian nuclear program as transparent.”
Russian leaders rarely comment on statements made by US intelligence agencies, however Medvedev’s comments reflects the increasing gap between Moscow and Tehran, which has only widened in recent months. This was after a public row broke out between Tehran and the Kremlin last month after President Ahmadinejad admonished Russia for what he described as bowing to US pressure to impose sanctions upon Iran.
Regarding Panetta’s comments, Medvedev also said “If this is proved, it would make the situation even more tense, and we might need to re-examine our position.”
Brookings Institute expert in Iranian affairs, Suzanne Maloney also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Panetta’s assessment is not new and is in line with expectations, but every new statement brings the focus once more on the fears from Iran’s nuclear program.” She added “there is a real sense of the need to deal with this issue in accordance with a successful policy.”