FAQ on Iran

Find an answer to questions about FCNL's work to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran through robust, sustained diplomacy.

1) How can the U.S. prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran?

2) But hasn't diplomacy with Iran already been tried?

3) Don't Israelis support attacking Iran?

4) What evidence is there that a "grand bargain" with Iran is possible?

5) What if in the end, diplomacy fails?

6) Would a military strike on Iran prevent Iran from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon?

7) The U.S. holds more than two-fifths of the world's nuclear arsenal. What gives the U.S. the moral authority to demand that Iran--or any other country--should not also pursue a nuclear weapons capability?

8) What about Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal, holding some 200 'undeclared' nuclear weapons?

9) What has talking to Iran ever achieved?

10) Is Iran really a rational actor?

11) Does Iran pose an existential threat to Israel?

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is FCNL doing to prevent war with Iran? What is FCNL doing to prevent a nuclear armed Iran?


A. Robust, sustained diplomacy with Iran is absolutely essential to prevent war and to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. FCNL is committed to working for a world without war, and without nuclear weapons. It's time for the United States to negotiate a "grand bargain" with Iran, which would include reaching a comprehensive nuclear safeguards and verification agreement to ensure full transparency of Iran's nuclear program, among other issues.

2) But hasn't diplomacy with Iran already been tried?


A. Hardly. U.S. and Iranian officials have reportedly spent a grand total of 45 minutes in direct, one-on-one talks in more than 30 years. That singular reported incident of high-level, U.S. and Iranian bilateral talks took place during a lunch break in Geneva, in October 2009. After those talks collapsed, rather than pursue further talks--which is what sustained diplomacy requires--the Obama administration abandoned its efforts to engage in robust diplomacy with Iran.

While U.S. and Iranian diplomats have spent more time in the same room in multi-party talks regarding Iran's nuclear program (i.e. the P5+1 talks) or the political future of Afghanistan, grievances between both sides cannot begin to be resolved until U.S. policymakers are willing to spend more than 45 minutes in direct, bilateral (i.e. one-on-one) talks with Iran.

3) Don't Israelis support attacking Iran?


There is a wide spectrum of the Israeli military and national security establishment, as well as the Israeli public, who are opposed to attacking Iran. (See FCNL's compilation of U.S. and Israeli security officials against attacking Iran.)  In fact, a February 2012 poll revealed that only 19% of Israelis said they would support an Israeli military attack on Iran if it is not approved by the United States. Certainly, there is a broad diversity of opinion in Israel, but this poll suggests that the Israeli public have a strong understanding of the fact that the cost of a military attack on Iran would be high, while the benefits would be small to non-existent, given the following results:

  • A majority of Israelis polled, roughly 51 percent, said the war would last months (29 percent) or years (22 percent), while only 18 percent said it would last days. About as many Israelis, 44 percent, think that an Israeli strike would actually strengthen Iran’s government as think it would weaken it (45 percent).
  • What would be the outcome for Iran’s nuclear program? Only 22 percent of Israelis said a strike would delay Iran’s capabilities by more than five years, while an additional 31 percent said it would delay its capabilities by one to five years, 18 percent said it would not make a difference and 11 percent said it would actually accelerate Iran’s capabilities.

4) What evidence is there that a "grand bargain" with Iran is possible?


A. Iran has actually proposed a "grand bargain" with the United States in the past. In 2003, Iran proposed that in exchange for the U.S. lifting all sanctions against Iran and a new relationship based on "mutual respect", the Iranians would end their support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and pressure them to cease attacks on Israel. The Iranians offered to allow intrusive international inspections of its nuclear program and commit to signing and adhering to the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran also offered to accept the Arab League initiative (i.e. Saudi peace plan) to recognize and normalize relations with Israel, in return for an Israeli commitment to withdraw from all occupied territories and accept a fully independent Palestinian state.

The Bush administration rebuffed Iran's proposal for a "grand bargain" at that time. In fact, U.S. and Iranian history is littered with examples of missed opportunities, when one side was ready for negotiations, while the other wasn't (for more, read veteran Iran journalist Barbara Slavin's book about those missed opportunities).

It's certainly true that Iran has also rejected significant proposals offered by the United States, as well. Most notably, after two rounds of talks in October 2009, Iran refused to accept a U.S. "fuel swap offer", which would involve swapping its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. However, Iran eventually agreed to another version of the agreement, which was secured by Turkey and Brazil, but later rejected by the United States.

The main point is that all of the outstanding issues between the U.S. and Iran cannot be resolved in a day. The U.S. must pursue sustained, direct, and one-on-one talks with Iran, and Congress must work on opening political space, rather than shutting down political space with more and more provocative sanctions measures.

5) What if in the end, diplomacy fails?


A. If diplomacy doesn't work, the U.S. must continue to pursue sustained, direct, one-on-one talks with Iran. The U.S. has tried more than 30 years of increasingly indiscriminate sanctions and aggressive threats against Iran, and that has failed to do anything but increase the resolve of hardliners on all sides. Restoring relations between the United States and Vietnam, China, or any other country that the United States previously had severed relations with takes years, and restoring relations with Iran will be no different.

6) Would a military strike on Iran prevent Iran from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon?


A. No! Even proponents of attacking Iran admit that a military strike on Iran--which FCNL renounces categorically--would set back Iran's nuclear program two years at most.

As former top Middle East intelligence analyst Paul Pillar has pointed out, a military strike could convince hardliners in Iran to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, in order to deter future U.S. and/or Israeli attacks:

"If the saber rattling were ever to lead to the use of military force, among the disastrous consequences for U.S. interests would be to ensure the enmity of future generations of Iranians and to provide the strongest possible incentive for those Iranians to build, or rebuild, a nuclear weapons capability."

7) The U.S. holds more than ltwo-fifths of the world's nuclear arsenal. What gives the U.S. the moral authority to be the world's nuclear police?


A. FCNL strives for a world free of nuclear weapons, and actively campaigns for the United States to rid itself of its own nuclear weapons stockpile. FCNL's nuclear disarmament program lobbies for the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and other arms reduction treaties.

All nuclear weapons pose a grave threat to global peace and stability. Securing a comprehensive "grand bargain" with Iran, which would include a comprehensive regime of safeguards to prevent the development of nuclear weapons, is one more essential step that must be taken to achieve a world free of war, and free of nuclear weapons.

8) What about Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal, holding some 200 'undeclared' nuclear weapons?


A. FCNL opposes all nuclear weapons, held by any country anywhere. We support a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, as many security experts have called for. Also, Article 14 of UNSC resolution 687, which was passed following the first U.S. war with Iraq, called for "establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery".

9) What has talking to Iran ever achieved?


A. Despite the limited efforts that U.S. and Iranian diplomats have made to comprehensively resolve conflict between the two countries, the accomplishments of diplomacy have been significant--though they have received astoundingly little notice.

After 9/11, the Bush administration initiated talks with Iran about Afghanistan, led by James Dobbins, the president's special envoy to Afghanistan. As veteran Iran expert Dr. Trita Parsi wrote in his recent book on the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts with Iran, "Contrary to commonly held perception, the U.S. did not assemble a coalition against the Taliban; Washington joined an existing coalition led by Iran."

During those meetings in which U.S. and Iranian diplomats took an active role, the Iranians made the following offers to the United States: air bases, cooperation in search-and-rescue missions for downed U.S. pilots, cooperation as a bridge between the Northern Alliance and the U.S. in the campaign against the Taliban, and cooperating with the U.S. to find and kill Al Qaeda members.

10) Is Iran really a rational actor?


Top U.S. and Israeli national security experts, including Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and the former head of Israel's spy agency Meir Dagan, agree that Iran is a 'rational actor'.  

As Fareed Zakaria points out, the term 'rational actor' describes a state that "calculates costs and benefits".  As the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explains in his latest testimony to Congress, the U.S. intelligence community concludes that Iran makes its decisions based on a "cost-benefit approach."

11) Does Iran pose an existential threat to Israel?


Leadership in Israel's security establishment has taken a far more measured stance toward Iran and its nuclear program than many U.S. politicians have. The current chief of Israel's intelligence agency Mossad, Tamir Pardo, has said that Iran is a threat to Israel--but not an existential one, noting that "the term [existential threat] is used too freely".

Israel's Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has echoed Pardo's assertion, saying "Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential one." FCNL believes that nuclear weapons anywhere in the world are a grave threat to global stability, and that the single most effective way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, as well as a devastating war, is to support robust, sustained, and comprehensive diplomacy.

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