Experts: Iran Nuclear Weapon Closer than Some Think

New Iranian president unlikely to tamp down nuclear ambition

Hassan Rowhani / AP
July 24, 2013

A panel of experts told an audience at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday afternoon that the United States can expect more of the same rhetoric from incoming Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and that Iran is much closer to getting "the bomb" than many people believe.

Senior research fellow for Middle Easter Affairs of the Heritage Foundation James Phillips explained that the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei "calls the shots" and there is only a façade of democracy in Iran.

"Under Iran’s political system, the president has little latitude to make major policy changes," Phillips said.

"The real power lies within Iran’s unelected religious establishment … Rowhani’s elevation to power was more of a selection than an election," Phillips added.

Phillips stressed that the media’s belief that Rowhani is a moderate and a reformer was unfounded and false.

"Make no mistake … [Rowhani] is a long time pillar of Iran’s Islamic establishment. … He is no reformer," Phillips said.

Phillips iterated that Rowhani would bring little change to the issues that the United States is invested in unless Rowhani is able to convince Supreme Leader Khamenei that it is in Iran’s best interests.

Dr. Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, agreed with what Phillips had to say, stating that "[Rowhani] is not a different leader."

Katzman went on to say that once Rowhani’s election promises fail to come to fruition, the progressive minority that helped him get elected in the first place will turn on him.

"This minority … feels like they own [Rowhani]," Katzman said.

"We have ingredients for perhaps another uprising or major unrest," Katzman said, referencing the brief upheaval that occurred in 2009 during Iran’s last presidential elections.

Executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Henry Sokolski addressed the looming fear of Iran’s proximity to creating a nuclear weapon.

"[Iran] is closer than anyone thinks," Sokolski said.

Sokolski reinforced that the presence of covert nuclear facilities in Iran has little bearing on how close Iran is to actually getting the material necessary to create a nuclear weapon, stating that weapons-usable plutonium is readily available from spent fuel in non-covert facilities.

Phillips closed with ramifications of Iran getting a bomb, stating that Iran’s procurement would create a renewed arms race in the Middle East and in turn would result in a "cascade of nuclear proliferation."

"In the end [freedom] is the greatest hope," Philips said.

Published under: Iran , Middle East