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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US could live with Iranian uranium enrichment program: expert

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Berlin, Jan 31, IRNA -- The US could ultimately agree to an uranium enrichment program on Iranian territory, said the executive director of the Washington-based think-tank The Nixon Center, Paul J. Saunders in an exclusive interview with IRNA in Berlin.

Asked whether the US could live with a small-scale Iranian enrichment program, supervised internationally, Saunders replied, "I can imagine that. It would clearly have to be part of a package. But I think there is some possibility in that."

He did acknowledge though that the issue of Iranian uranium enrichment was still a "red line" for many US officials.

Pointing to plans by new US President Barack Obama to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran, Saunders stressed this initiative should be viewed "in the context of American strategic interests in the greater Middle East and the Persian Gulf" region.

The US scholar emphasized that a direct dialogue between Washington and Tehran could lead to "new understandings" on key Mideast issues, among them Iraq, Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear dispute and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

He pointed out that some countries in the region like Russia, Saudi Arabia and some Persian Gulf countries could feel uneasy by the US-Iranian rapprochement.

"There is always a lot of nervousness when discussing major changes in the strategic relationships of the region because it creates a lot of uncertainty for the Russians, the Saudis and the smaller Persian Gulf monarchies which are historically worried about Iran," Saunders said.

"From the position of Russian strategic interests, one could make an argument that the status quo would be better than a resolution of the issues," the former advisor to the US State Department added.

Saunders said a normalization of American-Iranian ties could spur massive European investments in the Iranian natural gas sector, leading to the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran via Turkey to Europe.

An Iranian gas pipeline to Europe could "really threaten the most important market for Russian gas," he added.

The US expert reiterated the importance of finding a solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.

"Personally, I think it is ultimately in everyone's interest to have a resolution of the dispute because it is a destabilizing dispute and the political consequences could be very difficult for everyone."

Saunders predicted that the US would engage in a behind-the-scene diplomacy with Iran "very quickly."

"There is a real sense of urgency," he went on to say.

In addition to being The Nixon Center's chief operating officer, Saunders heads its US-Russian relations program and works on other issues, including energy and climate change and US-European ties.

He is also associate publisher of the foreign policy magazine, The National Interest, published bi-monthly by The Nixon Center, and publisher of National Interest online.

Saunders served in the Bush Administration from 2003–2005 as senior advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs.

In that capacity, he worked on a broad range of transnational issues, especially on Russia, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, as well as Iraq, China and India.

Saunders served as director of The Nixon Center from 1997–2003, and was assistant director of the center from its founding time in 1994 until 1997.

In 2000, he was a senior policy advisor to the Speaker's Advisory Group on Russia, established by the Republican Policy Committee of the US House of Representatives.

He has written extensively for major newspapers and journals, and is a frequent commentator in national media, including CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.

Saunders is the author of Russian Energy and European Security, Common Challenges: A U.S.-European-Japanese Dialogue on Energy Security and Climate Change, and America, Russia and the Greater Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities (co-authored with Nixon Center Program Director Geoffrey Kemp).


EndNews / IRNA / News Code 330727

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