By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its most serious warning about Iran's nuclear program. It argued that Iran seems to have experimented with various technologies that suggest that it was trying to build not just a nuclear program, but a nuclear weapons program. This finding, to be clear, is at odds with the views of the former head of the IAEA, Mohamed Elbaradei, as well as the report issued a few years ago by the U.S. National Intelligence Council.
It's difficult to be sure what to make of these intelligence judgments because they are trying to determine the intentions of the Iranian regime. One thing is clear: Iran is developing an increasingly robust nuclear program.
Having read all the reports, I'm still not sure that anyone knows what Iran's plan is. Is it to develop a breakout capacity? This would mean developing a nuclear program and a missile program but not marrying the two together. That would keep Iran within the legal framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it has signed and takes pains every year to prove that it adheres to. Or is the plan it to develop the weapons themselves?
Frankly, the former would be the smarter course. It would get the benefits of increased influence; it would be seen as having nuclear capacity without attracting the total clampdown on trade and other sanctions that would come with actual weapons.
But let's take the IAEA report as valid. It still makes the case for some kind of contact with Iran. As he left office as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen said that one of his greatest worries was that we had no communication with Iran. He worried about miscalculations –misreading of intentions - and thus war.
At the height of the Cold War, we talked to the Soviet Union, an adversary we were contesting in dozens of countries around the world. We talked to China's Mao, a man with a large nuclear arsenal, who several times said that he would welcome a nuclear war that would destroy half the world. We talked to Moammar Gadhafi.
Meanwhile, we do have a containment policy towards Iran that appears to be having some effect. Its neighbors are allied against it and with the United States. The pressure has restricted the regime's room for maneuver. There appear to be internal tensions within the regime. And yet, rather than keeping the pressure on and seeing if we can find a way to get inspectors in, we now hear calls for war one more time.
Let's be clear: We are talking about a preventive war against a country that has not attacked us. We are talking about war on the basis of intelligence reports. It is easy to start a war. It is very difficult to predict how it will go and where it might end. I think we need to ask some hard questions before we start launching the missiles.
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