Question: Is the U.S. headed for war with Iran?
Vali Nasr: Well you know the saber rattling rhetoric has gone up, has gone down. But the reality is that the U.S. has a large number of forces sitting in the Persian Gulf with capability to at least conduct an air war against Iran. And the reality is that the [U.S.] administration and many western countries – including also Russia, and in this case also China, have said that a nuclear Iran is not an option, is not acceptable.
Now if that’s the case, if there is no change of attitude there, then the only issue is, how are you going to prevent that? Because the current strategy over the past four or five years [circa between 2002 and 2007] has not worked. In other words, there have not been successful negotiations. Subcontracting U.S. foreign policy to Europeans has not worked, and Iran has continued to expand its capabilities.
So either the United States has to adopt a completely different diplomatic approach, believing that the current diplomatic approach is insufficient; or it has to prevent Iran otherwise, which means that through some kind of use of force. And the current trend of this administration [i.e. the George W. Bush administration], in my belief, is that the U.S. has never been really serious about talking to Iran. There is talk of talking to Iran, but there has not been really serious engagement of Iran.
And when it’s happened, there’s been ad hoc, like in Afghanistan in 2002, with successful engagement; but then the U.S. suggested it didn’t want to continue and put Iran in axis of evil.
On Iraq it has been very limited engagement. On the nuclear issues there’s been no engagement. And as a result, you could see that this administration is beholden to the goal of no nuclear Iran, and does not really want to think about any option that involves a more serious diplomatic engagement.
So the conclusion is that it’s probably going to go down the path of escalating tensions. Now whether it comes to war is contingent on many things – domestic politics, elections, international support, etc. But we’re not seeing progress in a positive direction here.
Recorded on: Dec 3, 2007