Frontpage Interview's guest today is Steve Schippert, co-founder of the Center for Threat Awareness and managing editor for ThreatsWatch.org.
FP: Steve Schippert, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Schippert: As always, my pleasure, Dr. Glazov.
FP: We've gathered here today to discuss the Iran-Russia-China alignment. I think a good place to start is with Russia sending nuclear fuel to Iran. What do you make of this development?
Schippert: The 11-shipment Russian supply underway of 80 tons of enriched uranium nuclear fuel for the Russian-built 1,000 megawatt light water reactor is a sweeping Iranian victory and troubling in several respects. From a strategic view flying by at 20,000 feet, it is indicative of Iran and Russia's deepening common alignment against the United States. It's an alignment – an allied partnership beyond nuclear cooperation - that also includes China.
Iran has notched yet another major victory over the West, which remains quick and eager to talk while slow and reluctant to act. Iran smartly feeds the Western obsession with talks and negotiations, while acting without pause or regret. The West, in this regard, is persistently, willingly and knowingly being played.
The first question that should come to mind should be, why then does Iran need to continue enrichment if Russia supplies the fuel for its only production reactor? And, what use does Iran have for the enriched uranium it will soon begin producing in significant quantities itself? With the Russian-built Bushehr reactor on the Arabian Gulf operating on Russian fuel and no other light water plants in operation – let alone being built – the answer is either benevolent stockpiling for future plants or the development of nuclear weapons. Of course, there's the Arak heavy water plant nearing completion, which will be used to create plutonium.
Recall that Iran steadfastly refused a deal tabled in which they would have received Russian enriched uranium fuel in exchange for scrapping their enrichment program. What ended up agreed to in 2005 was a Russian supply with no enrichment cessation requirement at all. Until now, Russia hesitated to deliver the fuel. This Iranian victory, which few discuss from this perspective, has afforded the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism both the preservation and advancement of its nuclear enrichment program and the Russian nuclear fuel for the low, low cost of...nothing. Iran ceded nothing and has now received both.
If that were not disconcerting enough, consider the timing of the sudden arrival of the first Russian enriched uranium fuel shipment. It was just two weeks after the early December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran which was worded in a manner to state that the whole of the Iranian nuclear weapons program had been halted and thus does not exist. (In the footnotes, it was stated that “weapons program” did not mean the whole program, but just the weaponization program – or warhead/bomb design development program. But widely quoted and championed was straight text from the body that “Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
The Iranians and the Russians immediately pounced on the opportunity freely handed. The mullah regime declared it a “victory” for Iran while the Russians leveraged it to further the argument that Iran is not a nuclear threat. And within two short weeks, in surprise to everyone, the Russian supply was publicly announced only after the first 11 tons of enriched uranium had arrived inside Iran. The NIE provided both Iran and Russia the strategic political cover to proceed without concern or looking over their shoulders.
Triggered by a reckless National Intelligence Estimate, the Russian supply of enriched uranium for Iran is one more gratifying finger in the eye of their common enemy.
FP: What is the state of the Iranian support axis: Russia and China? What threats does it represent?
Schippert: The state of the axis is good, strong – and strengthening – and mutually beneficial, particularly for the Iranian regime in the short term. I have and will continue to refer to Russia and China as the Iranian Protectorate. No nation at the UN Security Council has been more steadfast or consistent in resistance to US and Western sanctions efforts there than either the bear or the dragon.
The reasons for this are quite simple: Synergistic strategic advancement against a common enemy, oil and money.
Iran is rightly portrayed as one of the most pressing threats to the United States and her interests. But Iran remains in many respects a piece on the chessboard of a greater Russian and Chinese game.
Iran seeks greater power and regional dominance and enjoys the support of both Russia and China in its pursuits. Both afford Iran the protection of cover and interference at the UN Security Council and other diplomatic endeavors, allowing Iran to continue its nuclear efforts under a fairly comfortable security blanket.
For Russia, already sitting atop a major portion of the world's oil reserves, the gains are monetary and psychological, with Iran as a major arms client as well as its principle client in Russia's lucrative nuclear construction and supply market. The Bushehr plant construction alone was a $1 billion dollar deal, with the potential prospects of more in the relatively near future.
For China, the issue is one of energy. Just as the Russian supply of nuclear fuel began transit preparations within hours of the release of the December Iran NIE, China in turn immediately signed a massive long-term energy deal with Iran worth billions. Before the NIE, there was hesitance from China in signing an open deal. The United States in particular had made specific demands for more sanctions against a recalcitrant Iran as well as public calls for other nations to specifically stop making energy agreements until Iran complies. Signing the energy deal before hand would have meant strained relations with lucrative trading partners and potential economic damage. China was patient, as it always is. And the NIE afforded them the diplomatic cover necessary to ink the deal, affording the oil-starved dragon energy relief and enriching the Iranian regime during economic plight.
All seek to weaken the United States to the point where each is enabled to act on their respective interests. Iran seeks regional dominance in the Gulf, the continued export of its Khomeinist revolution, and the destruction of Israel. Russia seeks the restoration of its pride, re-acquisition of the states lost in the breakup of the Soviet Union and restoration of its superpower status. China seeks to establish itself as the next superpower, to subdue and consume Taiwan, ensure its energy supply and to dominate South Asia and the Pacific rim. Each of them and their chosen paths are impeded by a sufficiently strong America.
FP: What do you make of Iran's invitation to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
Schippert: The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was originally the manifestation of the Russian and Chinese rapprochement, a new strategic pact between historic enemies. It was publicly introduced as an anti-terrorism regional cooperative, looking to combine regional efforts to combat the thereat that terrorism posed to each participating state. But, while each may indeed have its own challenges posed by regional terrorism, The SCO has always been largely leveraged by Russia and China as an anti-US strategic cooperative, including security and economic aspects.
Some scoffed at this characterization, but how else can it be explained that a supposedly anti-terrorism regional security cooperative then later invites a prolific state sponsor of terrorism to be included in the strategic roll call? How is that anti- or counter-terrorism in nature?
It isn't. It is anti-United States and anti-West in nature. Iran, more directly than its protectors Russia and China, upon its invitation called the SCO an “anti-imperialist alliance,” in a era where 'imperialist' has been used as a parallel term for the United States.
FP: What policy do you recommend for the U.S. in facing this new axis?
Schippert: It truly is a three dimensional chessboard in both complexity and scope. Compounding this is the sometimes schizophrenic nature of American Foreign Policy brought about by the regular peaceful transition of power brought about with every American election, particularly presidential elections. When an election results in a majority transition from one general world view to a different world view, the foreign policy changes can be dramatic.
With regard to the 'new axis' among Iran, Russia and China, we must avoid bi-polar sea changes in direction and effort and adopt a policy that recognizes these strategic competitors with consistency. Some may be enamored with phrases claiming to end the days of “cowboy diplomacy” and the like, but if ending this perception means fundamentally altering the approach to one or all in a 'kinder, gentler' manner, this will only serve to empower the alliance to further exploit an America (and the West) already nearing a refusal to act. They clearly have few such equivalent inhibitions.
For instance, China and Russia had some reluctance to ink a new oil and gas deal with Iran or supply enriched uranium for its reactors while its won enrichment program proceed unabated. But the words of one NIE reversed that in an instant. So too can the words outlining an outwardly weak foreign policy shift, and the words employed during its execution.
To the contrary, our foreign policy must be bolder, particularly with Iran. As it is, our Iran policy is impossible to define and left largely to interpretation.
I will make one crucial policy recommendation, though there are many to consider. The United States must openly adopt a regime change policy with regard to Iran. There is absolutely zero indication that the current Iranian regime's chosen path of influence through terrorism will change. Therefore, the fanatical regime itself must be changed, preferably from within. And this can only happen with our tacit, determined and unequivocal support to the Iranian people. It does not have to mean US invasion and occupation.
The Iranian regime leads its citizens in chants of “Death to America” and provokes and threatens us at nearly every opportunity. It has vowed to “wipe Israel from the map” and supports every terrorist group engaged in attacking the Israeli civilian population. Hizballah is Iran's foreign legion. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has received Iranian funds, training and weapons since its inception. Since Hamas took power, it has been supported through funds and massive arms shipments from its new Iranian benefactors. Via Hizballah, Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also has received Iranian funds, weapons and training. The Sunni al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Jenin commander revealed that his group even coordinates Israeli attacks with Iran's Shi'a Hizballah, the PIJ and others.
Yet a policy of regime change for the mullah-run Iranian state is somehow deemed too aggressive by critics. Meanwhile, as we were fostering the failed EU negotiations with Iran and the Russian negotiations which netted Russian nuclear fuel alongside a continued Iranian enrichment program rather than in lieu, Iran's EFP weapons sent into Iraq have claimed 10% of all American casualties in the entire war there. Ten percent of American combat deaths. This is not including Iranian rockets, mortars and ammunition, evidence of which has been seized on numerous occasions. Who is the aggressor?
Changing the Iranian regime's path necessarily means changing the regime. Their convictions are too deeply held to be swayed by negotiations. Sanctions only impede them, they do not change their aims. To change the dynamic, change the regime. This policy must be consistently applied through multiple concerted means.
Imagine Hizballah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others without an Iranian state lifeline of terror. Imagine Lebanon and Iraq without the subversive and disruptive hand of Tehran. Ponder, if you will, the next steps of Syria, no longer a conduit for the Iranian supply lines into Beirut and the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and weakened by the starvation of Hizballah and Hamas, who maintain headquarters in Damascus.
Instead, we seem to watch nervously as the regime fosters conflict, feeds nearly every significant terrorist group, and kills our soldiers in Iraq. And while it continues un-intimidated on the path toward nuclear weapons, we scarcely impede them with sanctions and talk of sanctions.
In an American presidential election cycle where nearly every candidate promises “change,” the one change that would have the most impact lies in Tehran, not Washington, DC. The Iranian regime is the head of many snakes, and the significance of its demise would be historic.
FP: Steve Schippert, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Schippert: Thank you.