Ambassador speaks on U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations

Ambassador Thomas Pickering, whose diplomatic career spans five decades, outlined Irans nuclear program and the security challenges it creates for the U.S. and its allies at the third event of the National Security Lecture Series on Tuesday.

Mohsen Milani, director of USFs Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and director of the National Security Lecture Series, interviewed Pickering about Iran.

Pickering explained the history of the Iranian nuclear program, from its beginnings in cooperation with the U.S. for the Atoms for Peace program, to its falling out and resurgence during the revolution to Irans current enrichment of uranium using centrifuges.

The Iranian administration always maintained that their interest in the program was always for peaceful, civil purposes, Pickering said.

Iran, he said, does not have enough stored, enriched uranium now to quickly create a nuclear weapon, and it is not likely that one has already been made.

At least there is a reasonable view that Iran does not have a completely clandestine program imitating everything it has done on the outside, he said. There are good reasons to believe that that is probably true because there are a limited number of Iranian scientists working in this program.

The main issue in U.S. foreign policy is what steps the U.S. should take to continue negotiations with Iran. Though the U.S. has not taken force off the table as a possible intervention technique, Pickering said a military option would only set back Irans potential nuclear program, not permanently deter it, and would spark a reaction from Iran.

Their direct reaction would probably be asymmetrical attacks of various kinds, on everything from American and Israeli facilities, perhaps directly against Israel using surrogates, he said.

On the other hand, a diplomatic solution would involve compromise on both sides, he said.

(The West) should want as a result of any deal the maximum potential access of the International Atomic Inspection Mechanism to Iran and Iranian programs, Pickering said.

Iran would likely want lifting of sanctions, as well as the ability to continue enriching uranium for civil purposes.

He also said there is an Iranian fatwa, a political and religious decree, which states that it is against Islam to manufacture or use nuclear weapons. Iran maintains that it hopes to continue enriching uranium for civil purposes.

Pickering addressed concerns about what would occur if Iran did develop a nuclear weapons program.

The consequences would be very extreme, he said. Iran would not want to hazard its own future by using a nuclear weapon.

Students, professors and invited guests attended the event in the Patel Center.

Lara Theodore, a senior majoring in international studies, said she attended the event to learn more about international affairs.

I learned more about the way we need to go about nuclear arms negotiations, she said.

Retired Rear Adm. Jon W. Bayless, who attended the event, said Pickering defused a lot of things that I read in the press.

Pickering has served as ambassador to several nations, including India, Israel and Russia. He has served as ambassador and representative to the U.N. and holds the title of career ambassador, the highest title in U.S. Foreign Service.