Pictured above are two of Iran’s most senior leaders, President Hassan Rouhani (right) and IRGC Commander (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (left), in an impromptu discussion of security issues.
According to a February 26, 2014, Reuters article entitled, “Kerry: US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War,” by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry further explained, “We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution.” On November 12, 2013, Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia China, and Germany) to halt what were alleged to be its most sensitive nuclear operations in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions. The interim deal was completed on January 12th, and the parties set forth to continue negotiations for six months after which, it is hoped, a final accord will be signed. However, a positive outcome is not guaranteed. The Reuters article’s authors explained that when he states all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, US President Barack Obama is using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action. His predecessors and a long line of US officials have held out that same threat. Yet, when Kerry spoke to the reporters, he apparently left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks breakdown.
Kerry’s public comments concerning the Geneva talks were uncharacteristic of him. Kerry is an extremely capable Secretary of State, and he has a genuine interest in improving relations with Iran. He is a discreet person who would hardly want to do anything to derail the Geneva process. The Reuters article’s authors asserted that Kerry’s statements were in reaction to pressure placed on the Obama administration by Congressional Republicans who threatened to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran. The Obama administration has cautioned Congress that such action could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement. The article’s authors also assert that pressure from Republican lawmakers will likely increase with signs that the easing of sanctions is allowing for the boost in Iran’s oil exports. However, Kerry’s comments on going to war with Iran were doubtlessly also heard in Tehran. As Iranian Foreign Minister and lead Iranian negotiator for the Geneva talks, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated in December 2013, “When Secretary Kerry talks to the US Congress, the most conservative constituencies in Iran also hear him and interpret his remarks. So it’s important for everyone to be careful what they say to their constituencies because others are listening and others are drawing their own conclusions.” Kerry’s comments were very threatening in nature. Yet, at this point, it is that the leadership in Tehran probably did not become too concerned about US military action. Indeed, they feel that such action is unlikely.
Among the key power centers in Iran, to include the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and hard-line political and religious leaders, there was an understanding that Iran would be negotiating in Geneva from a position of strength as a military power. Such power was in part the basis of their belief that the US needed to negotiate with Iran as an equal. Iranian leaders likely reached this conclusion as a result of an assessment of the “capabilities and possibilities” for likely US military action. Certainly, Iranian leaders regularly receive a wealth of detailed reports from official and unofficial sources, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, on information such as US approaches to the nuclear negotiations, policy and decision making and statements made by senior US political, diplomatic, and military officials on Iran. Yet, the consideration of capabilities and possibilities is a standard procedure and favored methodology for foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations in Iran to assess, in the abstract, capability to effectively perform a proposed action and the real possibility for success. It also allows for an assessment of an opponent’s capability to respond to that action and possible decision making and reaction to it. By wrongly giving higher meaning to certain facts and assumptions and incorrectly weighing relative strengths and weaknesses of Iran’s military power versus the US, it becomes clear how Iranian policy analysts and decision makers would reach the conclusion that they would not face a military response if talks failed or if they took the step to develop a nuclear weapon. Based on one member’s experience working with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue, a truncated assessment of capabilities and possibilities, comparable to those done in Tehran, is presented here by greatcharlie.com in order to demonstrate how the Iranian leaders most likely acquired certain views, and why they have taken certain approaches toward the US. If Iranian leaders decide to drop the Geneva talks and actually develop a nuclear weapon, its decision will be based on a flawed understanding of US capabilities. There is a real possibility the US will attack Iran. However, there is also the possibility that as the Geneva talks advance, and greater contacts occur among US and Iranian officials and diplomats, some prevailing views in Tehran on US military capabilities may be modified. Those contacts may also create interest among Iranian leaders to seek a sustainable final agreement on economic sanctions and their nuclear program, if a final decision on how to proceed on the nuclear issue has not already been made.
The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces have declared their willingness to defend Iranian territory with military power, and are convinced that they have such capabilities. IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has explained: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.” Regular displays of military strength through exercises and parades, along with hubristic declarations regarding Iran’s power, serve to assure the Iranian people that their government has the capability to defend them, and are also intended to serve as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Although the impact of US directed international sanctions on Iran’s economy has been considerable, Iranian leaders have vowed not to allow US sanctions prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program. Concerning sanctions, Jafari explained: “Today, Americans and Westerners have understood that pressure on Iran not only does not lead to the advancement of their desires but also has the opposite effect. Iran has progressed day by day.” Jafari’s statement is indeed accurate. Regardless of the state of negotiations between the US and its Western partners and Iran over the years, and the ferocity of the US threats, advances would continue to be made on the nuclear energy program. Iranian leaders have also appreciated the deterrent effect created by Western intelligence assessments that Iran is close to breakout capacity with its nuclear program; some estimates are that Iran is only six months away from having the technology to develop a bomb.
Iranian leaders feel Rouhani can capture the imagination of the US and its European partners making them more pliant to compromise. Regarding negotiations, there is a sense among Iranian leaders that Zarif has capabilities as a diplomat and advocate that are superior to his Western counterparts and is capable of driving them toward compromise on sanctions without surrendering nuclear rights. While rifts between hard-line elements in Iran with Rouhani and Zarif over the Geneva talks have been highlighted in the West, there is actually an understanding among Iranian leaders of the need to support the negotiations team. Indeed, concerning Zarif and the negotiations team, Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.”
On regime change, a threat posed by the administration of US President George W. Bush against Iran, Iranian leaders are certain their security apparatus is too strong for the US to ever defeat and the US has backed away from that effort. Addressing the issue of regime change, IRGC Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani stated: “the important side of your [US] attempts today have been to confront the Islamic Republic. Your [Obama] statement [at the UN] that ‘We are not seeking the Islamic system’s overthrow’ is not a statement of kindness, but rather an announcement of incapability. You have been and will remain unable to be successful in overthrowing the Republic’s system.”
There is a sense among Iranian leaders that Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s efforts to revamp and enhance Iran’s advanced defense research programs and strengthen Iranian defense industrial base will greatly enhance Iran’s warfighting capabilities at the present and in the future. Iran has already made great strides in satellite technology, drone, and stealth technology. Iran has successfully used a base in Venezuela as a test bed for new technologies. Regarding application of those new technologies, in the Gulf, Iran believes it can establish dominance with the advent of new anti-ship system and naval technologies. Ali Shamkani, the new Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council directed the IRGC attempts to realize Iranian dominance in the Gulf while serving as IRGC Commander. He retains a strong interest in that effort.
On its borders, Iran has demonstrated its capability to effectively combat narcotics traffickers and rogue Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Jundallah, as well as the Peoples’ Mujahedeen, a group some Western policy analysts suggest that the US use as a means to weaken the government in Tehran. In Iraq, Iran has trained and equipped Iraqi Shi’a militiamen and sent them into Syria to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In Syria, Iran has demonstrated its capability to project power beyond its borders, deploying significant numbers of IRGC, Quds Force and regular Army forces there in support of the Assad regime. Iran has trained and equipped Syria’s shabiha (militiamen), and organized them into the National Defense Front. It is known that Iran has sent at least 330 truckloads of arms and equipment through Iraq to support the Syrian Armed Forces in 2013. An air corridor over Iraq has also emerged as a major supply route for Iran to send weapons, including rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades to Assad. Iran has also armed, equipped, and enabled Hezbollah to join the fight in Syria. Further, Iran has facilitated the deployment of Iraqi Shi’a militiamen trained by the Quds Force to Damascus. To further supplement the Syrian Armed Forces, hundreds of Shi’a, among the Arabs in Yemen and Pashtun in Afghanistan, have been recruited for combat duty in Syria. In Yemen, Iran’s Quds Force has supplied arms to Houthi rebels fighting government forces in the northern part of the country. In Bahrain, Iran has capitalized on ties established with Shi’a groups back in the 1990s. Calling themselves the Bahraini Rebellion Movement, some have carried out small-scale attacks on police. Bahraini rebels are operationally controlled by Bahraini opposition leaders, but typically trained in Iran. Iranian leaders feel they could utilize these diverse forces against the interests of the US and its friends and allies in retaliation for US military action.
As events and issues in the Middle East do not align with US President Barack Obama’s new vision of its national interest, some Iranian leaders feel the US has become disinterested in the region. Most also recite the global mantra that the US has been traumatized by its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan both in which Iran supported opponents of the US. Obama, himself, appears to Iranian leaders as being skeptical about the use of the US military anywhere to create desired outcomes other than actions where participation by US personnel is very limited in scope as in Libya. Iranian leaders observed the Obama administration’s decision to make steep reductions in US conventional forces, leaving them somewhat less able to project robust power, take and hold ground in a non-permissive environment or engage in sustained ground combat operations in defense of the interests of the US, its friends, and allies. They have also observed Obama administration effort to make steep reductions in its nuclear forces, the crown jewels of its military power, only to be thwarted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin refused to negotiate on the matter concerned with the efficacy of taking such an audacious step. Additionally, they were amused over the way in which the Obama administration buckled under pressure from academics, policy scholars, and activists over drone use.
Iranian leaders have noted the Obama administration’s insistence on deploying a European based missile defense system to defeat an imagined Iranian nuclear-tipped missile attack. To Iranian leaders, the deployment of the missile defense system indicates that there is a willingness within the US to rely on defense and deterrence rather than offensive military action to cope with Iran’s nuclear program.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s behavior has been perceived by Iranian leaders as being very awkward. Regarding those military operations, Suleimani stated: “What achievements did the American army have with $700 billion budget . . . They expended approximately $3 trillion for the war in Iraq but the American army was unable to gain immunity in Iraq for [even] a single flight and exited Iraq with disgrace. The result of all war in the region was the Iranian nation’s victory.” In the view of some Iranian leaders, the Obama administration withdrew from Iraq as a result of a promise made during Obama’s first presidential campaign rather than strategic considerations. Consequently, Iranian leaders surprisingly found themselves left with an opportunity to strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq. However, the door was also opened for a growth of al-Qaeda’s presence there. The initial increase in force in Afghanistan after a long, agonizing decision by Obama in 2009 was made with the goal to create the opportunity for the US and NATO to succeed there. Iranian leaders have observed how that approach transformed into a decision to withdraw. Indeed, the US has now declared its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan by December 2014 without a security agreement with the Afghan government. Iranian leaders have been presented with an opportunity to further Iran’s dominance in the region, but recognize the US withdrawal may open the door to a growth in al-Qaeda’s presence there.
Among experts and advisers on foreign and defense policy in Tehran, the popular view espoused was that the Obama administration was forced into an aggressive stance against Iran with manipulation from Israel. Senior Military Advisor to the Supreme Leader and Former IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi stated, “It is sad that the US President is under the influence of [Netanyahu’s] pressure and lies about Iran to such an extent, that he changed his tune and stance towards the Iranian issue. This leads to the US President’s weakness of independent thought and policy and has shown the power and influence of the Zionist lobby . . . .” Jafari stated in September 2013, “We hope that the Americans let go of their intransigence with Iran and become less affected by the Zionist lobby.” However, Iranian leaders now believe the US has retreated from its aggressive stance toward Iran fearing further military engagement in the Middle East. Iranian leaders want to believe that the Obama administration has very negative relations with Israel, and has pursued the Geneva negotiation process, despite Israel’s objections. They are convinced that uncongenial relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has served to stymie Israeli plans to take any action against Iran.
In Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s efforts to establish itself as the state with predominant military force on the ground and the complete capability to shape events, with the financial support from Russia and China. Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Obama administration hesitated and backed away from military action after very publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons. Iranian leaders’ views of Obama’s unwillingness to take military action anywhere were confirmed when the Obama administration expressed “fears” over placing troops on the ground and was indecisive in choosing targets in Syria for military strikes before eventually declining to act altogether. That actually compelled many Iranian officials, IRGC commanders in particular, to publicly deride the US government as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands. Suleimani made the following statement about the US: “There was day when the US used three options: political, economic, military. Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’ Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world. The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily. From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world. In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”
Iranian leaders watched as Democratic and Republican Members of the US Congress failed to support Obama’ s plan to take military action in Syria. They recognized that as being indicative of a greater problem between Obama and Congress. Iranian leaders feel the Congress would likely deny Obama support for military action elsewhere. The willingness of opponents in Congress to inflict harm on the US military, the security apparatus, and the US public, through sequestration and a government shutdown, convinced to Iranian leaders that there is outright hostility from Congress toward the Obama administration akin to an animus toward an enemy. The Iranian view of the Obama administration were supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his now infamous September 12, 2013, New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A Plea for Caution from Russia.” Putin’s negative perceptions of Obama’s motives and the US have very likely found their way into Russia’s dialogue with Iran and have had an impact. Russia’s most recent military action in Ukraine demonstrates to Iranian leaders that there is little reason to be concerned or intimidated by a possible response from the Obama administration. Iranian leaders’ views on the role of the US in the world as a predominant power were also supported by China. Chinese views were represented in an editorial by the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, calling for a “de-Americanized” world.
On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.” Maintaining the nuclear program and the right to enrich were the main requirements that he gave to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when releasing him to engage in a dialogue with the US and Western powers on economic sanctions, and Iran’s nuclear program. Khamenei viewed the Geneva process primarily as an opportunity to counter economic sanctions while progressing in the area of nuclear technology. Jafari has stated: “The people expect their officials to demand the complete nuclear rights of the nation of Iran, including the nuclear fuel cycle, complete and official recognition of the right to enrich, and the elimination of all unjust sanctions.”
Given the nature of relations between Obama and Netanyahu, Iranian leaders felt it was unlikely the US would agree to Israeli demands for Iran to cease all uranium enrichment and to remove all enriched uranium from its territory; dismantle its Fordow nuclear facility hidden in a mountain near Qum; dismantle its newest generation of centrifuges at Natanz; and, stop construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak. They know that the US has engaged in an effort to quell very audible concerns expressed by Israel and other Middle East allies over concessions made to Iran, particularly on sanctions. Iranian leaders truly believe Zarif is the best diplomat possible to promote the legitimacy of Iran’s positions. The popular notion, that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was initially driven in great part by the White House’s desire to establish Obama’s legacy, signaled to Iranian leaders that the US may be willing to make concessions in talks to reach an agreement. Zarif could deliver success at Geneva on Iran’s terms, exploiting the US desire to make a deal.
It may very well be that Iranian leaders want to use the Geneva talks to gain time to make greater advances in the nuclear program. Continued progress in the program has been a feature of Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the US and its Western partners since such talks`began with the Bush administration despite the ferocity of threats of military intervention and the imposition of sanctions. From a darker perspective, true conservatives among Iranian leaders may wish to use the diplomatic efforts of Rouhani and Zarif simply to misdirect the US and its European partners, enabling other elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program. Iran has the possibility to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the US and its Western partners within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility. Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Ministry would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the US while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements take a path toward accomplishing the military goals of the nuclear program.
Whether through the current course of research or a covert program, Iranian leaders are aware that once a significant level of competence with nuclear technology is successfully acquired and tested, the genie will be out of the bottle and a new situation will immediately exist. Iranian leaders believe that threats of further sanctions or military action against Iran would unlikely be viewed as constructive internationally, other than by Israel. Iranian leaders believe particularly that it would less likely face any consequences if it achieves nuclear weapons technology when US mid-term Congressional elections occur in 2014. Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives, especially those seeking re-election, would not want to have to explain a new war in the Middle East declared by a president from their party.
What Has Occurred So Far
Under the agreed pause of its nuclear activities, Iran has suspended its nuclear program to the extent that enrichment of uranium would be halted beyond 5 percent, a level deemed sufficient for energy production but not for developing a nuclear device. Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons grade fuel, would be diluted or converted to oxide, preventing it from standing prepared for military purposes. Iran already produced more than 20,000 pounds of enriched uranium gas that is three quarters of the way to weapons grade material. Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, or start up any that were not already operating. Between 2009 and 2013, Iran’s inventory of installed centrifuges increased from 5,500 to 19,000. Iran agreed not to build any new enrichment facilities. An undeclared enrichment facility at Fordow, buried inside of a mountain and outfitted with centrifuges over the last several years, was exposed by US and allied intelligence efforts prior to the negotiations. Iranian officials indicated that their program had not been curtailed at all. They claimed that Iran by its own volition, reached an interim agreement with the P5+1, but did not give up the right to enrich or the ability to return to enriching at any time. To them, the interim agreement did not prevent Iran from enriching uranium above 3.5 percent or to dismantle any existing centrifuges. Iranian deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs as well as lead negotiator, Abbas Arachi, made it clear that while Iran would separate connections between centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the interconnections could be reconnected in a day. The entire feed stock for producing nuclear weapons fuel and infrastructure remains intact. Additionally, the Iranians were able to retain achievements made through their development of a heavy water reactor in Arak which provides a plutonium pathway to producing nuclear weapons fuel.
However, the agreement, more importantly, has reversed the momentum of sanctions and provided some relief from the threat created by the notion of impenetrable sanctions. Some US policy analysts may believe that Iran may be buying time in order to advance its nuclear program while giving key concessions on the sanctions front. Yet, what may really be happening is that Iranian leaders are giving new consideration to the Geneva process. Considering how to proceed against the US and its European partners in the abstract, is quite different from engaging with US officials in actual negotiations. Information gleaned from US officials and diplomats should provide fresh information about US actions and intentions. It is difficult to say whether such information from the talks might have an impact on thinking among Iranian leaders. Nonetheless, while enduring Kerry threats of war, Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24th agreement by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things. Kerry, himself, told reporters that “Generally speaking, they have done I think everything that they were required to do with respect to the reductions.” Kerry further explained that “There’s no centrifuge challenge. They haven’t put any in. They … have reduced their 5 percent. They have reduced the 20 (percent),” he added. “They are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”
The Way Forward
Khamenei and other Iranian leaders believed an agreement favorable to Iran’s interests, particularly on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear rights, would be rapidly constructed. As the negotiation process dragged on, they were recognized as a complicated and deliberate process, the outcome of which is uncertain. Khamenei began expressing doubts that an agreement acceptable to Iran could be constructed. Nevertheless, once an interim deal was reached, and Khamenei and Iran so far have adhered to it. There is real hope among negotiators that a final agreement can be reached. However, the talks could also fail, and that would not be a simple matter at all. Iranian leaders may conclude the US will not attack, given the predilection of the Obama administration to shy away from military action, and speculation on the US included in some analysis of “capabilities and possibilities” developed in the abstract by policy experts in Tehran. Yet, the US military, in reality, possesses the capability to successfully execute a decisive blow against the Iranian nuclear program and effectively deal with Iran in the aftermath of any strikes.
US military planners develop concepts for operations using their expertise based on a long career in their respective branches of the armed forces that includes continuous military education and training and considerable experience warfighting. They would be the ones responsible for developing plans for military action against Iran for the Obama administration. They know the capabilities of specific individuals and units, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be. All tools, both conventional and nuclear, would be available to them. If ordered by the president to present a plan for such an attack, senior US military planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee. A plan to put the full panoply of security measures in place not just in the region but in the US and territories of friends and allies to thwart retaliation would also be produced and implemented. The worst way for Iranian leaders to discover the US military’s capabilities would be through an attack.
Iranian leaders must realize that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time. Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term. Striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president. To the extent that the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of all its nuclear activities. The demand could possibly be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.
Another realization that must be reached is that rather than focus on comments that are meant for domestic political consumption in the US, Iranian leaders must stay focused on what is best for Iran and what can truly be achieved through the nuclear negotiations. Relations between the US and Iran are at a new stage as are the nuclear negotiations. The P5+1 Talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of various aspects of one another’s thinking. Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US. For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council. Those talks also allowed very senior officials to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns and relations between the two countries. The new dialogue has built confidence, eliminated many ambiguities about positions, and lessened the guessing over actions, intentions, and motives. Jafari has been quoted as saying, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.” However, Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with such slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement. Adhering to the interim deal, as Kerry himself has confirmed, is a good first step and serves as recognition by Iranian leaders that a peace agreement has promise. Although it has been dogma among US policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program, it may very well be that a final decision on how to proceed has not been made in Tehran. Recall that Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon. If Iran were trying to develop a nuclear weapon, the effort could only be justified by Iranian leaders as a matter of absolute necessity for Iran’s security. Evidence does not exist that the nuclear program has been militarized. Whether Iranian leaders truly believe a nuclear weapon would make them more secure is not certain. With great expenditure, Iranian leaders may be both creating a nuclear energy program, and simply creating the option to weaponize if it became necessary.
If a final decision truly has not been made on developing a nuclear weapon, it may still be possible, in Geneva and through back channel discussions, to convince Iranian leaders that pursuing a weapon would not be necessary. Zarif, Kerry, and all parties to the negotiations may very well be able to deliver a deal that satisfies Tehran and all parties to the negotiations. It is certainly worth the try. If they fail, then a war will likely be declared, if not immediately, in the near future.