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Q&A With Colin H. Kahl on Dealing With Iran

The Georgetown Professor Answers Questions From Readers

Colin H. Kahl

  • Country: The United States
  • Title: Professor at Georgetown University
  • Education: Columbia University, University of Michigan
  • Books: States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World (2006)


As part of Foreign Affairs' "The Iran Debate: To Strike or Not to Strike," Georgetown Professor Colin H. Kahl took questions submitted to the conversation today from Twitter. His responses:

Peter Kiernan (@peter_kiernan): @ForeignAffairs What's the U.S. endgame on Iran's nuclear program? Get Iran to totally give up enrichment and rely on imported nuclear fuel?

The Obama administration’s stated goal is to prevent Iran from developing a “nuclear weapons capability,” which the president has described as “unacceptable” and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called a “red line.” At the same time, the administration recognizes that, as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to pursue civilian nuclear energy so long as it can assure the international community that the program is intended solely for peaceful purposes. So any diplomatic deal would have to recognize Iran’s inherent rights while providing strict safeguards against any military dimensions of a program. Whether it is possible to do this in the context of any domestic Iranian enrichment remains unclear.

Mathew Shearman (@MathewShearman): @ForeignAffairs Do you envision Israel taking unilateral action with tacit U.S. approval? Or Obama (before election) coerced into it?

Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, view the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat, and there is no history of Israeli restraint in such circumstances. Israel attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria’s al-Kibar facility in 2007 to prevent the emergence of nuclear-armed regional adversaries. So as Iran continues to make progress toward a nuclear weapons capability, Israeli anxiety will mount and the prospects for a preventive strike will increase. In the current context, however, it is difficult to see the United States tacitly supporting such a strike. The administration clearly shares Israel’s concerns, but argues there is still time for its dual-track policy of pressure and engagement to work. Moreover, as U.S. officials have made clear on numerous occasions,

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