Zbigniew Brzezinski is one of the United States' most recognized foreign policy analysts. DW-WORLD.DE spoke with Jimmy Carter's former security advisor about the ongoing tensions with Iran and the situation in Iraq.
Political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski believes the US should reconsider its Mideast policies
DW-WORLD: The Iranian President Ahmadinejad has ridiculed the European offer to provide a light-water reactor as an incentive to freeze uranium enrichment. Has diplomacy failed?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: One has to recognize that when one says President Ahmadinejad, one is using the title of president which means something entirely different in the West from what it means in the Iranian system. President Ahmadinejad is not the President of Iran in the sense that the President of the US is Mr. Bush, and the President of France is Mr. Chirac.
The position of the president in Iran is roughly a third-level position. His executive powers are quite limited.
What the West has done, and what the US in part has done, is to elevate him into an interlocutor, who then uses the debate with the West to enhance his domestic political power. So I don’t consider his responses to be authoritative.
But weren't the recent steps to begin enrichment supported by the Iranian regime as a whole?
The desire to go forward with uranium enrichment is the Iranian position. But that is not necessarily the last word insofar as the negotiating process is concerned. It depends a great deal on how that negotiating process is conducted, and it is my view that the United States itself has to join the negotiating process in order to make it truly serious.
Right now the US is not even involved in those negotiations. I was pleased to see that (former US Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger now has joined me in advocating a more active and direct US role in the negotiations process.
Direct talks between the US and Iran would be more productive
Some may argue that the present division of labor makes sense. That the US has said it does not rule out military action could increase the European bargaining power
It hasn’t said that directly. It said all options are on the table. But in fact that probably strengthens the hand of people like Ahmadinejad because it makes it possible for them to appeal to Iranian nationalism and to say that Iran is not going to negotiate not under threats and duress. Last but not least, how truly credible is the threat of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities?
That will then precipitate a major crisis in the Persian gulf, probably a dramatic increase in the price of oil -- maybe to double of what it is today -- and hence, an international economic crisis, more instability in Iran and Afghanistan, where Iran has a capacity to make serious trouble; perhaps even in Lebanon with the Hezbollah. Perhaps strikes against Israel? So what sort of a threat is it really?
So you think the Bush administration is not really considering military action an option?
It may be considering it an option. But if it has a moment of sanity and calculates the actions and counteractions which such an event would precipitate, I think the rational conclusion would be that this would not be a very profitable course of action while threats to undertake it have the opposite effect of fusing Iranian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism and that certainly does not make the negotiating process any easier.
If Iran does indeed have plans to acquire nuclear weapons, under which circumstances could it be willing to abandon those plans?
Brzezinksi doesn't believe Iran's nuclear program is strictly meant for weapon production
First of all, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they have plans to acquire nuclear weapons. There are indications that they are seeking the capability to produce them. But it is also quite possible that they may decide to have a posture like that of Japan, which has the capability to produce nuclear weapons but is not actually producing them. That is a further complication in one's analysis of their intentions.
But beyond that we just don’t know how far they are prepared to go because we have haven’t had serious negotiations regarding not only the nuclear problem but also related problems such as the American-Iranian security relationship -- or security fears on both sides. There are the various contentious issues pertaining to financial settlements, problems of embargo as well as regional security involving Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
These issues are part of the larger negotiating context. But given the present procedure for negotiations, these issues are not addressed because in fact negotiations are being conducted between three European countries and Iran, with China and Russia on the sidelines -- partially agreeing, partially disagreeing. The United States negotiates with its European friends, who then negotiate with Iran and negotiate with China and Russia, but does not negotiate with Iran.
What would the world look like if Iran became a nuclear power?
That depends on what kind of Iran. I do not happen to favor nuclear proliferation, and therefore, it is desirable to avoid it. But what about Pakistan? How stable is Pakistan compared to Iran? What are the prospects of Pakistan becoming a democracy in the next ten years as compared to Iran becoming more like Turkey in the next ten years?
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf (l.) also has nuclear weapons at his disposal
So you believe that deterrence would work?
Does it work in the case of Pakistan? It depends on how stable the Pakistani government is. And we know it has been the object of assassination attempts. I would say that Iran is considerably more predictable and stable than Pakistan.
You said Iran could use its influence in Iraq to make the situation for US troops even more difficult. What can the US do to improve the situation in Iraq ?
Basically I advocate a four point program. Firstly, the US should consult with the Iraqi government and set a time table for American departure, maybe within a year or so. Those Iraqi leaders who would agree are probably the Iraqi leaders who have the confidence that they could govern. Those who would say, "No, don’t leave!" are the ones who would leave when we leave -- so it tells you something about their capacity to govern.
Secondly, once we have reached an agreement with the Iraqis regarding a possible date, let's say a year from now, then we would jointly announce it as a joint decision.
Thirdly, upon our departure, the Iraqi government would convene a conference of adjoining Muslim states, who have an interest in stability in Iraq to help the Iraqi government -- maybe even with peacekeeping forces -- in consolidating stability. Although I do think that the Shias and the Kurds have the capacity to prevail upon the Sunnis to accommodate.
And then fourthly, upon American departure the US would convene a donors' conference to help rehabilitate Iraq; a little bit like the Bonn conference on Afghanistan.
The US war against Iraq has cost lives, money and credibility
Wouldn’t a withdrawal weaken the US for years if not decades?
Why? I think the engagement in Iraq is weakening us. It is costly in blood, in money, in international antagonism, and it is an engagement that is not large enough to be militarily decisive but large enough to be militarily counterproductive in the sense that it keeps the violence going and mobilizes more hostility against us.
A withdrawal could reduce the credibility of future threats against governments.
Do you think the present performance increases credibility?