Assessing Iran’s Nuclear Program

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Assessing Iran’s Nuclear Program

What comes next for Iran’s nuclear program? The Diplomat speaks with CFR fellow Matthew Kroenig.

The Diplomat's Assistant Editor Harry Kazianis speaks with Matthew Kroenig, associate professor at Georgetown University and Stanton nuclear security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, to discuss Iran’s nuclear weapons program:

Please give us your thoughts on the latest IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program.

The report is significant because an independent international organization has provided detailed evidence that Iran has conducted work on nuclear weaponization. This makes it much harder for Iran to claim that it's only interested in nuclear energy, and shifts the debate from whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons to what to do about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Do you feel there is any “smoking gun” that implicates Iran in trying to build a nuclear weapon?

The report describes research and experiments conducted by Iranian scientists that are only relevant to the production of nuclear weapons. They have no other plausible rationale.

In your view, is it Iran’s intention to develop a nuclear weapon outright, or develop the capability to have the” ability” if regional tensions dictate such a move?  Is the “ability” enough of a deterrent alone?

I believe that Iran’s ultimate objective is to have a declared nuclear arsenal. Experts assess that Tehran’s strategic goals are to be able to deter an Israeli or U.S. attack and to become the preeminent power in the region. To achieve these ambitious goals, a latent nuclear capability (what some call the Japan model) isn't enough.

If Iran were to progress to the point of having all necessary materials to develop and deploy a nuclear weapon, how would regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iraq respond? Could a nuclear arms race in the Middle East be a possibility?

I think we are already beginning to see a growing interest in nuclear technology and possibly nuclear weapons in a number of states in the region. As Iran’s program progresses, this interest will only intensify. A regional nuclear arms race is one of the many possible negative consequences of Iran’s nuclear program.

With much talk surrounding a possible Israeli nuclear strike, if Israel were to choose such an option, with much of Iran’s nuclear facilities being deep underground, would they be effective in doing much damage?

Outside military analysts have assessed in public documents that Israel has the capability to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities—even those that are buried and hardened.

If Iran were to gain the ability to deploy a viable nuclear weapon, with its current missile inventory, what type of range would it have? Would U.S. SM-3 Aegis sea based platforms be able to defend against such a weapon?

Iran currently possesses ballistic missiles capable of targeting most of the Middle East and even parts of southern Europe. US ballistic missile defenses could provide protection against an attack from a few stray missiles, but they would be overwhelmed by a larger salvo.

Does Iran have the capability to miniaturize a warhead now or in the near future?

Iran doesn't yet have the ability to fit a warhead on the nose-cone of a ballistic missile. But with additional research, this capability could shortly be within their reach.

Any final thoughts?

The U.S. pressure and engagement strategy seems to have run its course. The United States and the international community will very soon be forced to choose between military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program or learning to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. Neither are attractive options.