Iran nukes are a problem – William Perry

If the US and Russia take the leadership in bringing nuclear weapons down, other nations will follow this lead, insists former US Secretary of Defense (1994-1997) William Perry.

RT: For a long time you have said you have been a “Cold Warrior” – then you became a Defense Secretary under Clinton. The goals changed, certain goals were different. And you said your major goal was to get the loose nukes under control and to also stop the explosive growth of proliferation. If we look at things today, how are they looking at that prospective?

William Perry: For a number of years we made very good progress in that goal. And that progress depended fundamentally on US-Russian cooperation, and in the early nineties we had that cooperation in the area of nuclear elimination.

During this century the progress in eliminating nuclear weapons stopped and even reversed and also tensions built up between the US and Russia.

One of President Obama’s principal goals, I think, is to get the nuclear elimination started again, to start dealing with a nuclear danger, a nuclear danger to the whole world. And also to develop a much stronger tie between the United States and Russia. And so far, I think, he’s been making progress on both of these goals.

RT: If we look at it now, to the biggest nuclear powers, the US and Russia, they are really looking to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. Do you think that could actually reverse the whole trend in the world and other countries will also give up nuclear weapons?

WP: I believe they would. Most of the other nuclear powers that I’ve talked to, when we talked with them about reducing nuclear weapons and nuclear danger, they said: “We will follow the lead of Russia and the United States.” So, if the US and Russia take the leadership in bringing the nuclear weapons down, I do think that the other nations will follow this lead.

RT: You are in Moscow for the International Luxembourg Forum, which is really dedicated to non-proliferation. Recently, President Medvedev came out with an announcement and he said: “No more nuclear powers.” Does that give you hope?

WP: The Luxembourg forum is dedicated to dealing with nuclear proliferation, to try to prevent nuclear proliferation. It’s very important, because the more nations get nuclear weapons, the more danger we have of nuclear terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear bomb.

That could be a danger to the US, to Russia, to India, the United Kingdom, any country in the world could suffer from that. So it’s very important to stop their proliferation. The Luxembourg forum is dedicated to that, but the progress in proliferation has to be tied to the progress of the nuclear disarmament. That’s why the US-Russian treaty, START treaty, which they are now near the final negotiation, is a very important step, not just because reducing nuclear weapons is important in and of itself, but because they make an indispensable contribution to reducing the danger of proliferation.

RT: How important exactly is the new START treaty and how soon do you think it really be signed by the end of the year?

WP: I believe that this treaty will be concluded this month, before the year is over, and I believe they are very close to an agreement. It involves a relatively small reduction in nuclear weapons. But that’s not the most important point.

The most important point is that it is moving in the right direction, and, most importantly, it has the US and Russia dealing together from a position of trust.

RT: Every decade has its own major issues to resolve. This decade, for the US, it is probably Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan and North Korea. Are they all interrelated, or is there one that should be taken care of right away?

WP: Unfortunately, I don’t think we can do them in sequence. We have to do them in parallel. We have to deal with them together, because each one of them is itself a danger to security in the world and they are related to each other.

RT: Okay, we will take them one by one – let’s start with Iran. Neither diplomacy nor sanctions seem to be working as talks with Iran on its nuclear program are ongoing. Do you have any third option on how to approach Iran?

WP: I do not think that we are ready to give up on diplomacy yet. If diplomacy is not successful with Iran I do believe that economic sanctions could be quite effective. But for economic sanctions to be effective all nations need to participate. It cannot be just the United States or just Russia. It has to be all nations to be working together.

RT: Let me ask you this: do you personally believe that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons?

WP: Yes, I do. Let me be more specific: what I believe is that they are trying to get to the point for which they could move to nuclear weapons in a number of months.

Now they are trying to get what I would call a “virtual nuclear capability.” But that’s the same as having nuclear weapons.

RT: What would be the worst case scenario for the international community as far as Iran’s nuclear program goes? Is a military escalation a possibility?

WP: I think the worst case is if the international community is ineffective in stopping Iran moving towards nuclear weapon capability and if Israel seeing this decides that they must intervene militarily and that could have disastrous consequences – unintended consequences – that will be far reaching in significance.

RT: President Obama has said that he is willing to talk to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president, on his behalf, has also said that he is willing to talk to world leaders. Now let’s say bilateral talks between the US and Iran, a tête-à-tête, can take place. Could that help resolve things?

WP: As I said, diplomacy has not yet run its course, and a part of diplomacy can be summit meetings between leaders of the countries. So, I would encourage them to do that. But, in the first instance, Iran has to be willing to give up its nuclear weapons. So, you have to be talking on how to achieve the goal if Iran isn’t in fact willing to give up their capability.

RT: Do you think North Korea will ever abandon its nuclear weapons?

WP: It’s going to be much more difficult to get that agreement now than it would have been ten years ago when we tried to prevent them from going into nuclear weapons. Now we have to get them to give up the nuclear weapons they have which is obviously is much more difficult task, but I wouldn’t give up trying to achieve that.

RT: In your opinion, what would be the best way to go about it, to try to persuade North Korea to give it up?

WP: It needs a certain amount of pressure to do that, but we also need considerable incentives in helping North Korea economically: the US, South Korea, Japan, as well as Russia and China would agree to do that.

It could be a part of the Six-Party Talks. And the United States has the unique role it could play by offering diplomatic relations with North Korea and by offering some kind of more assurance of not conducting unprovoked military attacks.

RT: As of today what are we really afraid of? Is there a real chance that North Korea will launch a nuclear attack, or are we afraid of a domino effect that could have on neighbouring countries willing to build their own nuclear weapons?

WP: In my own view, the danger of North Korea launching a nuclear attack on the US is minuscule and not something I’m concerned about. My concern is rather two-fold: first of all, that they will sell their nuclear technology, maybe even nuclear fission material of nuclear weapons to some other counties.

The second concern is that if we accept them. If they establish themselves as a nuclear power the danger is then to other countries in the region: South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. They will believe they need to become nuclear powers. So, those are the two reasons I’m concerned about North Korea being a nuclear power.

RT: Now let’s talk about Afghanistan. For decades, nobody has been really able to restore law and order. Years go by, soldiers die. The British and Soviets couldn’t manage to do anything there. Do you think President Obama’s troop surge can resolve things?

WP: The surge proposed by Obama is not for the point of view of conquering or occupying Afghanistan, as was the British goal earlier. It is with the intent of helping Afghanistan’s government establish law and order so that the US troops can then leave.

RT: So what is the most important thing that the US is trying to achieve in Afghanistan? Is it the same that George W. Bush tried to establish democracy in Iraq? Is that what Obama is trying to do?

WP: No, I don’t believe it’s the goal of the Obama administration. That’s maybe too big, “a bridge too far.” Their goal simply is to have a government that is enabled, that can establish order in the country and prevent the reintroduction of terror camps as there were before.

RT: American weapons will pass through Russia to Afghanistan. How important is that?

WP: Cooperation with Russia in general is very important, because we do not have any sea access to Afghanistan. Therefore, to deliver weapons to them we have to have a land route for delivery. I think the United States and Russia have very common interests in Afghanistan.

Neither one of them is trying to occupy Afghanistan or gain influence over it. Both of them have a very high interest in stability in Afghanistan and in there being no haven for terrorist groups to train there.

RT: During the last NATO-Russia summit a decision was made on Russia to cooperate with NATO on Afghanistan. We are not talking about US weapons being transported through Russia and we are not really sending any troops to Afghanistan. The question is: how can Russia really help?

WP: Russia could consider providing assistance in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. That would be a useful role to apply as well. I do not think that anybody is contemplating Russia sending its troops to Afghanistan. But economic reconstruction will be a very useful contribution.

RT: Would better relations between Russia and NATO mean that there will not be a need for a START treaty or anti-missile defense shield?

WP: When I was the Secretary of Defense, I worked very hard to establish not only very good bilateral relations between the US and Russia, but also bringing Russia into the NATO Council, making them an important part of NATO contributions for several reasons. First of all, I saw NATO as being able to provide security for all of Europe, not just Western Europe, and I thought Russia ought to be a part of that. I’m happy to see the starting of rebuilding relations between Russia and NATO that we first tried to establish in the early nineties. It’s very good to see that happening again.

RT: What do you think about President Medvedev’s proposal on a common security treaty for Europe and Russia?

WP: I don’t want to comment on the particular nature of that treaty, but the idea of a common European security treaty and having Russia a part of European security is a very important concept. The question what is the best way of achieving that. One important way of achieving that is having Russia, as I said, as an integral part of NATO, but the European Union also has a very important role, non-military role here, and Russia can play a very important role with them as well.

I do not think Russia’s relation with NATO needs to be an exclusive role, but it could be an important role.