‘Do you want Iran promoting terror with or without a nuke?’

Former US defense secretary tells ‘Post’ US should rejoin JCPOA

William Perry, a former U.S. secretary of defense, answers questions from guests during a dinner for technology industry leaders in Palo Alto, California, U.S., April 17, 2013 (photo credit: USA-NUCLEAR/MODERNIZE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE/GLENN FAWCETT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
William Perry, a former U.S. secretary of defense, answers questions from guests during a dinner for technology industry leaders in Palo Alto, California, U.S., April 17, 2013
Does the world want an Iran that promotes terror with or without a nuclear weapon, asked former US defense secretary William Perry in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, as he argued that the United States should rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He said that although the hope was that the Islamic Republic’s behavior would normalize through JCPOA, “none of that was on paper.” Perry, who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration, added: “Would you rather have an Iran promoting terror in the Middle East with a nuclear weapon or without?”
The interview took place shortly after the release of a book Perry and Ploughshares Fund Policy Director Tom Collina co-authored. Titled The Button, the book focuses on US-Russia nuclear dilemmas, but briefly confronts the Iranian nuclear dilemma.
“Rejoining the deal is better than not rejoining it,” Perry continued. “We had restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs and now we don’t. If someone had a third alternative, it would be nice to hear about it.”
He said the decision should be pretty simple: “Some think they can get a better deal. Maybe they can, but I don’t see the evidence.”
Furthermore, Collina said that when the US was in the deal, it was working, according to international inspectors.
“Now that the US has withdrawn, Iran is closer to a bomb than before,” he said. “Clearly, Iran won’t enter a different agreement” nor “a better agreement until the US comes back to the original deal.”
Perry said in the last year of the Obama administration, many things about Iran’s behavior concerned him, but he was “reasonably relaxed” about its nuclear program.
“The problem was solved, or put on the shelf anyway, maybe for 10 years or 15 years,” he said. “The “hope was that eventually there would be a change for the better [regarding Iran’s regime], but in the meantime, we had the nuclear program put on ice.”
Next, the two nuclear experts were questioned about criticisms of the “sunset clause,” which would release Iran from any nuclear restrictions at the end of the deal, and of the Islamic Republic’s expressed ambitions to develop many more centrifuges when the deal ends.
This concern is described as “the walkout” scenario in which Tehran could develop nuclear weapons within a mere number of weeks, even if it was starting with zero enriched uranium.
“There is no foregone conclusion that Iran will get nuclear weapons,” Collina said. “If we can delay the issue for 15 to 20 years, we have no idea what the regime will look like.”
He slammed a mentality of “saying you are worried about 20 years down the road,” leading to policies that bring the US and Iran “back to the brink of war.”
Similarly, Perry said: “I simply cannot understand people who walked away from the deal. Whatever problems there were from the deal, all the [bad] things they describe” as possible with the deal “can happen more readily without it.”
In his estimation, a nuclear Iran is a “catastrophe” and could lead to military conflict between Iran and Israel.
“People who don’t like the agreement would like a perfect world. Given the world that we have, the deal minimizes military conflict with Iran and Israel – which could get very ugly,” stated Perry.
Asked if a potential Biden presidency should seek to use leverage created by the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign to rejoin the nuclear deal under condition that Iran makes some new concessions, Collina said, “that is a nonstarter. You are dealing with a self-respecting country. They won’t take any more crap from the US.”
Collina also criticized those opposing the deal as having an “unspoken motivation for regime change in Iran. This is tremendously unrealistic.”
On North Korea: Perry said that Pyongyang has “a dozen or two nuclear bombs that makes the situation worse. We are where we are. They have a nuclear arsenal – a medium-sized nuclear arsenal.
“I spent a good part of my life negotiating and I thought we were pretty close to an agreement… I thought we would have had one if the administration had not changed in 2000. [President George W.] Bush thought he had a better way.
“They have it now – one to two dozen nuclear weapons. Why do they have them and what are they going to do with it?”
Critics say the deal Perry was working on during the Clinton administration had already come apart before Bush took over.
Perry explained that the good news, in relative terms, was that based on his discussions with the North Koreans, they only have nuclear weapons as a safeguard against forced regime change from the US. This means that “as long as we don’t provoke them … there is no intention or likelihood of using them.
“The bad news is that they have a nuclear arsenal. The Trump program to negotiate to get rid of that was just based on a complete misunderstanding of what North Korea is all about… and is doomed to failure,” he added.
Next, the Post asked that if Perry is so confident that Pyongyang would never use its nuclear weapons, why does the West need to spend any time placating the North’s leader Kim Jong Un.
“Why can’t we ignore them?” he said. “Any country, not just North Korea, that has nuclear weapons should not be put in a position in which it might be backed into a corner where it might feel obligated to use them.”
He said there is a risk that North Koreans could misread Trump’s threats of military action against them and preempt them. He said he did not foresee a viable political approach to get North Korea to give up its nukes.
“Given that, the strategy of containment and stability is best with North Korea,” he said.
Successful negotiations today are about forming diplomatic relations with the country, he added.
“Modest economic assistance, especially in agriculture” could help, as well as “getting them joint economic ventures with South Korea,” Perry suggested.
Looking at Israel, Perry criticized investing in “long-range missile defense, not defense against short-range missiles. Israel has pretty good missile defense and if I were Israel, I would be supportive of missile defense... against short-range missile attacks.
“I am distinguishing that from strategic missiles with long-range nuclear warheads,” he said, contending that when it comes to “defending against nuclear warheads… from outer space and shooting them down there, it can’t be done.”
Perry said the US could “keep the defense system it has already deployed. It has some kind of marginal usefulness against remote situations – if one missile accidentally was launched against us, a very, very small-scale attack.”
But he said the US seems to be trying to convince itself that it can defend against an attack from Russia involving huge quantities of nuclear missiles simultaneously.
“Nonsense,” he stressed. “By trying to do it and believing we can do it, we have a policy based on a faulty premise. If we deploy more [offensive] missiles and more defensive missiles, we encourage other countries to deploy more offensive missiles” so they can maintain their deterrence against the US. “There is also a policy cost involved.”
Another original point by Perry and Collina is the idea that the US can avoid a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China and save huge amounts of money by abandoning most of its vast quantity of intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles. They argue the US can suffice with nuclear deterrence based on 10 nuclear-missile submarines.
He said the reason they have 10 nuclear submarines is that not all 10 will be on patrol all of the time.
“We are also hedging against some kind of anti-submarine warfare breakthrough,” Perry said. He added that the country could keep three to five of the 10 at sea at one time.
Regarding whether basing most of the US’s nuclear deterrence on submarines was a safe bet in the long-term, he responded that the country had been trying to develop anti-submarine warfare for 50 years and that they were likewise concerned that Russia was working on it.
“I would never say never,” Perry said. “You should always be concerned and prepared. In 1977, we were worried that some blue and green lasers could make oceans transparent. A lot of money was spent, but it never amounted to much.”
However, he said that today there is “talk about hundreds of anti-submarine drones. We are working on it. Other countries are working on that.”
Hedging a bit on the all-submarine strategy, Perry said he endorsed continuing the US’s B-2 nuclear bomber program.
He said B-2s are also useful for conventional war and as a backup if future technology makes submarines more vulnerable.