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Guest Commentary: Who's Afraid of a Nuclear Iran?

US Senator John McCain says the only thing worse than a war to stop it would be Iran actually getting a nuclear bomb. Why would this be so dangerous? The Aspen's Institute Jeffrey Gedmin offers answers.

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Letting Iran pursue nuclear research would be devastating, Gedmin says

The US and the European Union share nearly identical views. Teheran says it wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes. No one believes the mullahs. Iran should have enough oil and gas to take care of its energy needs for several hundred years. There are other reasons to believe that the government in Teheran is lying. Iran played cat and mouse with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 18 years. We expect the IAEA to issue Iran yet another rebuke this Friday.

Still, why should Iran not have the bomb? After all, India, Pakistan and Israel are all nuclear powers, right? If you follow this logic -- and cast aside for a moment the fact that by signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons -- then you had better ponder the following.

Setti n g off a n uclear arms race?

First, when Iran gets the bomb, be prepared for a nuclear arms race. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey (perhaps Syria, Algeria and eventually Iraq) would all find it hard to understand that they do not enjoy the right to a nuclear option. This is presumably a principal reason why (former German Foreign Minister) Joschka Fischer once described the thought of Iran with the bomb as one of the worst imaginable nightmares.

Second, imagine an emboldened Iran meddling to an even greater extent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The mullahs may have an interest in stability in both countries; but most surely not in democracy and pro-Western governments. Expect more dead Americans (and Germans) in the short-term.

Third, bet on significantly higher oil prices, says Henry Sokolksi, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. A nuclear Iran may feel tempted to intimidate Saudi Arabia (which has the world's largest oil production capacity), according to Sokolski, or perhaps even threaten the freedom of the seas to manipulate oil prices dramatically upward.

More terrorism to come?

Fourth, get used to more terrorism. Iran remains a prominent supporter of Palestinian terror, of course. But the Iranian regime has also struck targets in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. There is evidence, moreover, that as recently as 2004 the Iranians sought to assist terrorist groups in identify targets in the United States.

One feeble excuse made on behalf of the Iranian regime is that Iran has legitimate security concerns: it feels threatened by the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. But then Iran had been busy pursuing its bomb long before the United States ever had troops in either country.

Jeffrey Gedmin, Leiter Aspen Institut Berlin

Jeffrey Gedmin

Iran's leaders say Ahmadineejad wants to wipe Israel off the map. The mullahs say they want to be a regional hegemonic power. The Iranian President also says Iran wants more. Ahmadineejad talks of the rising Islamic "Superpower" and a coming "Clash of Civilizations." Where insanity meets modern technology, there is surely reason for concern.

Jeffrey Gedmi n is director of the Aspe n I n stitute Berli n

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