Today we are going to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and its complicated relations with the USA. And our guest is Pyotr Topychkanov, Nonproliferation Program coordinator at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

In response to the Western countries intention to ban the purchase of Iranian oil Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - the transit route for the 1\5 of the world’s oil. The United States has warned that any attempts to close the Strait maybe met with the military force. Analysts say this is a psychological war – both sides are playing a game of brinkmanship, hoping that they will not have to act on their threats. So, do you share this opinion?

Petr Topychkanov
Topychkanov was a fellow in the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Nonproliferation Program.
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First of all it seems to me that the threat to block the Strait of Hormuz is a very dangerous provocation from the Iranian side. And by these kinds of provocations it can lose supporters in other countries dependent on oil and gas supplies from the Middle East including China, including India, including the countries in the Far East. And of course I believe if Iran decides to block the Strait of Hormuz the military response will be very possible and I would like to hope that Iran will not decide to realize these provocations, these statements.

But do you agree that nuclear Iran would be a heavy blow to US prestige as some experts say?

You mean Iranian state with nuclear weapons or Iranian state with nuclear energy program? Because the difference is very important, extremely important in this case. Because Iran as an NPT state has a right to develop nuclear energy and this is not a problem. But the United States and Israel believe that Iran wants nuclear weapons, nuclear technologies which will allow the state to get nuclear weapons in a very short period of time.

As for the development of nuclear energy, it is possible, of course there may be some groups in Israel or in the United States that can be against the development of nuclear energy in Iran but from the point of view of the international law it is possible and it is allowed.

But as for the development of nuclear technologies that lead to the possibility to develop nuclear weapons – this is very dangerous and not only for Israel and the United States but also for the non-proliferation regime and the international law, and other countries including Russia. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia many times declared nuclear weapons in Iran are very dangerous for international security and for Russia, and Russia is not interested in allowing Iran to get nuclear weapons.

The US Defense Secretary told The Washington Post that in his opinion, I quote: “Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons some day but is not yet building a bomb. It is unlikely that Tehran has dramatically advanced its nuclear program.” How do you think why the US – Iran standoff has suddenly intensified?

It seems to me that the problem has political dimension, not necessarily related to the nuclear developments in Iran but of course political dimension includes nuclear problem. In the United States we are expecting presidential elections this year and of course Iran is one of the hot international issues during the presidential elections campaign. And we can see that every election campaign in the United States includes Iranian issue. This is one of the very important moments.

The second is the changes in the Middle East and competitive relations between the countries involved in the Middle East political change. And Iran is hoping to get bigger influence in the Arab states after the Arab Spring. So, this is the second issue.

And the third issue is a very crucial moment for non proliferation regime because now we can see that international community is not able to agree on CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and there are very difficult problems in negotiating FMCT (Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) and other problems which demonstrate that the way to nuclear zero is very difficult. And in this process many countries tend to be interested in getting nuclear technologies that will allow them to get nuclear weapons in future, not only Iran of course.

Iran’s supreme leader has accused the US and Israeli intelligence services of the involvement in the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, adding that the attack was similar to several other attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years. How can you comment on it?

I think that if Iran believes in links between these assassinations of Iranian scientists and people involved in missile and nuclear program of Iran it means that it should send all the evidence to the UN and to the international community, and to capitals of major great powers to demonstrate these links.

If it doesn’t have evidence about links between these assassinations this kind of accusations can be a provocation and an attempt to move attention from its nuclear program to the problem of its relations with Israel or the United States. It is very important now for Iranian stabilization on the international arena to demonstrate real evidence of links between these assassinations and foreign participation.

The European Union’s Foreign Ministers are expected to make a decision on Iranian oil embargo at the meeting on the 23rd of January. What results do you expect?

I believe that it would be a very difficult question for the European countries because relations between main countries of Europe, first of all France and Germany and Iran, are very close and the trade is very active and oil is one of the main parts of the trade in relations between Europe and Iran. And that is why European countries are not interested in blocking and economic sanctions against Iran.