x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Security experts debate outlook for nuclear Iran

Blix suggests GCC should be leading the negotiations.

Dr. Jim Walsh, research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's security studies program, speaks during a Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf conference organized by the British American Security Information Council at Georgetown University Doha in Qatar.
Dr. Jim Walsh, research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's security studies program, speaks during a Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf conference organized by the British American Security Information Council at Georgetown University Doha in Qatar.

DOHA // Security experts gathered in Doha this week in an attempt to make sense of the confusion surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme. Among their thoughts was that the GCC countries are best-placed to suggest solutions.

Hans Blix, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of the UAE nuclear programme's International Advisory Board, said at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation in the Gulf Conference that complex solutions would be needed for a difficult problem. But he added that GCC nations should be leading the negotiations.

His own suggestions included implementing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction as well as a fuel-cycle-free zone.

"Fuel cycles in reactors can be used to develop military grade materials and they pose a danger," he said. "For such a plan to work the Iranians and the Israelis have to agree to this and if they are spoken to individually they will laugh at this due to the perceived risk to both of them. However, if the GCC is involved then it will be taken seriously."

According to Dr Jim Walsh of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the latest US intelligence out of Iran reveals that Tehran is "keeping its options open" on building nuclear weapons but has not actually pursued that avenue yet. "Iran has made a capability decision, not a bomb decision," said Dr Walsh, a research associate at MIT's security studies programme.

A report from the director of national intelligence in the US, shared by Dr Walsh at the conference, stated: "We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

Dr Walsh said he had met with numerous Iranian experts and diplomats. "I have spent 16 hours with President Ahmadinejad in my many trips to Iran over the past decade, talking about these issues," he said.

Dr Walsh said the Iranians posed a threat only if provoked.

"My analysis is that they will be pushed towards weapon development if provoked," he said. Other speakers said they feared an Israeli attack on Iran might provoke a military reaction by Tehran against other Gulf states. But according to Dr Mustafa Alani, director of security studies at the Gulf Research Centre, the Iranians are overstating their ability to react with devastation.

"The Iranians love to inflate their capabilities and we assume the Strait of Hormuz is the first target," he said. "During the Iraq-Iran war the Strait of Hormuz was threatened with closure more than 15 times but it was shut by the Iranians for a total of only three hours during the eight-year conflict.

"In conclusion: the Iranian threat is a myth."

amustafa@thenational.ae