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Diplomatic discussion

Professors deliver commentary on Middle Eastern unrest, sanctions

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 01:09


Roger Zhang

The possibility of Iran going nuclear and the crisis in Syria were hot-button issues discussed by former ambassador and Bush School professor Larry Napper and Bush School professor Mohammad Tabaar during the first installment of the Great Decisions Discussion Series.

The discussion also covered the Arab Spring protests, rivalries between Turkey and Iran and the U.S. relations with Turkey and Iran Wednesday night at the George Bush Presidential Library.

The focus — Iran becoming a nuclear power — has been an ongoing issue in American politics and continues to be pertinent in the upcoming national election, though Napper said the resolution of the issue is unclear.

“The answer to that is that I don’t know,” Napper said. “I don’t think anybody knows yet how all this is going to play out.”

Napper said the pressures and sanctions are ratcheting up on Iran because it has not aborted its nuclear arms program. He said there are increasing military pressures as well.

“The international community wants Iran to abandon enrichment or to at least restrain it,” Napper said.

Tabaar also commented on Iran’s nuclear arms program. He said, according to U.S. intelligence, Iran has not made the decision to go all the way to acquire nuclear weapons.

Tabaar said he is not sure whether nuclear weapons will increase security for Iran or for the regime. He said one problem is if Iran goes nuclear, it is likely that other countries — such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt— will also try to go nuclear, something, that would not be in Iran’s interest.

Napper closed the discussion on Iran’s nuclear program by saying solutions exist for the nuclear problem such as repurposing the uranium held by Iran.

Another hot-button issue discussed was the unbridled civil war waging in Syria and its effects in the U.S., Turkey and Iran.

The Syrian crisis started 18 months ago in March when protests broke out against the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. After the government responded, protests continued to spread across the country and into the borders of neighboring countries. By the end of the summer, the protests escalated into a full-fledged civil war resulting in the deaths of more than 21,000 people.

Napper said the U.S. and Turkey have not been able to cooperate in responding to the crisis in Syria. Napper said Turkey wants to push the current regime out of control in Syria, but the U.S. is reluctant to make bold or costly efforts in supporting the rebels that are trying to uproot the current regime.

“It is my view that we are much more likely to have influence on Assad when Turkey and the U.S. are on the same sheet of music,” Napper said.

According to the United Nations, more than 230,000 refugees have registered for United Nations support since the fighting began in Syria. It is estimated that tens of thousands more refugees have not registered.

Napper said Turkey is having a horrific problem managing all of the refugees that have fled across the Turkish border from war-torn Syria. This is something fueling Turkey’s persistence in removing Assad.

“Turkey has been openly calling for Assad to go,” Napper said.

In contrast, Napper said Iran is doing almost anything it can to prop up the Assad regime in Syria.

“It would be a really strategic catastrophe for Iran to lose the Assad regime,” Napper said.

Tabaar said Iran desperately wants to keep Assad in power in Syria because Syria is one, if not the only, ally to Iran.

“Iran believes that if it doesn’t fight for Assad in Damascus now, tomorrow it has to fight in Tehran,” Tabaar said.

The Great Decisions program is a national discussion program that highlights thought-provoking foreign policy challenges facing Americans each year. It is America's largest discussion program on world affairs.

The program allows students, such as international affairs graduate student David Blanco, to participate in international discussions. The issue of U.S. relations with Turkey is something Blanco said all students should pay attention to.

“[Students] should be paying attention. Everything that is happening in the Middle East will involve us,” Blanco said. “That relationship is very important for the goals that we set.”


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