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The United States does not know enough about Iran, a nuclear proliferation expert said Thursday.
Arvid Lundy, a Los Alamos National Laboratory retiree who has focused on Iran in recent years, said the United States does “not have adequate understanding of the country,” and that a greater understanding of Iranian culture was needed.
“We have focused on the Iranian nuclear program without paying any attention to the issues that Iran has with the United States,” Lundy said after the talk. “I don’t think we’re going to get very far unless we listen to what they have to say.”
Lundy spoke at a meeting of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security on the current social and nuclear situation in Iran.
Among Middle Eastern countries Iran has a nationalist pride that none of the other countries in the area have, because it desires to return to the glory that the area once had as the Persian Empire.
The Iranians believe that the path to retuning to that Persian glory is through education. Iran has a goal of 90 percent literacy by 2015, which would make it one of most literate nations in the Middle East.
Iran is ranked third in Asia academically and second in the Middle East after Turkey. The government claims that there are 700 scientists per million, which would give the country one of the highest populations of scientists in the world.
“They have an emphasis on education and science that you don’t see in Middle Eastern states, other than Israel,” he said. “These are things that suggest we should have good interactions.”
While Iran places such a high value on education, it has the largest brain drain in the world: 150,000 educated people leave each year for social and economic reasons.
The government strictly censors the Internet, second only to China in Internet censorship and any source of dissidence. This censorship, Lundy said, is “causing a lot of young people to question the way the government works.”
Iran has long had a very suspicious view of the rest of the world especially the Western powers. Lundy said Iranians have “an inborn paranoia about the rest of the world.”
In 1953 the CIA funded the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s government to return the shah to power. The shah was greatly disliked by the public, but was liked by the United States. The whole coup took less than one month.
The U.S. also sided with Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war.
Iranian-US affairs did not improve when President Bush labeled Iran as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ in January 2002. Despite the insult, the Iranians did aid the U.S. during the invasion of Afghanistan.
There was definite cooperation with the U.S. at that time,” Lundy said. “They’re concern was probably keeping the Taliban from coming into Iran. They have no sympathy with either the Taliban or al-Qaida.”
On June 12 the next Iranian president will be elected. This year there are four candidates running, including the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mirhossein Mousavi, an independent moderate reformist, Mahdi Karroubi, a moderate reformist, and Mohsen Rezaee, a retired Major General and former Chief Commander of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
To win, one of these men must gather at least 50 percent of the votes. All Iranian citizens over the age of 15 are eligible to vote. The issues important to the Iranians are the economy, corruption, social reform, foreign policy, the clergy and the growing influence of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, or the militarization of politics.
The non-issues are U.S. relations and the nuclear policy.
“I did show lots of slides of nuclear projects, showing the large scale and how dispersed they are around the country,” Lundy said. “Iran has some competence in all the technologies needed for the nuclear fuel cycle and for the technologies needed for a nuclear weapons program."
He didn’t think that there was much of a chance to stop the nuclear program, at least in part because they aren’t dependent on outside assistance.
Lundy identified several positive factors working to restore U.S.-Iranian relations. Among these are shared interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, the issue of energy and fighting Al Qaida.
He also noted factors that have hindered improving relations, such as the nuclear program, Iran’s anti-Israel stance, Iran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Anxious pro-U.S. Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt also play a role, because they would rather not see Iran get too close to the U.S.
The Los Alamos Center for International Nuclear Security Studies is opening an office at Los Alamos National Bank in Room 318, with hours to be determined. The center is a separate organization, founded by members of LACACIS as a 501(c)(3) organization eligible to receive tax exempt contributions. The Arms Control Center will have information relating to arms control and non-proliferation available to the general public.