Ask The Leveretts Anything: Is Iran’s Enrichment Legitimate?


During the Iranian uprising of 2009, the Dish continuously clashed with Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the most well-known skeptics of the Green Movement. The husband and wife team continue to blog at Going to Tehran, in addition to Flynt’s role as Penn State Professor of International Affairs and Hillary’s role as Professorial Lecturer at American University and CEO of the political risk consultancy, Stratega. In the fall of 2011, the Leveretts addressed how an IAEA report was “treated in some quarters as an effective casus belli”:

Even if every single point in the IAEA’s report were absolutely, 100 percent true, it would mean that Iran is working systematically to master the skills it would need to fabricate nuclear weapons at some hypothetical point down the road, should it ever decide to do so.  This is how we ourselves have long interpreted the strategic purposes of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program—to create perceptions on the part of potential adversaries that Tehran is capable of building nuclear weapons in a finite period of time, without actually building them.  As [Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency] himself has pointed out, see here, having a “nuclear weapons capability” is not the same as having nuclear weapons.    

Iranian efforts to develop a “nuclear weapons capability”, as described by Baradei, may make American and Israeli elites uncomfortable.  But it is not a violation of the NPT or any other legal obligation that the Islamic Republic has undertaken.  While the NPT prohibits non-nuclear-weapon states from building atomic bombs, developing a nuclear weapons capability is, in Baradei’s words, “kosher” under the NPT, see here.  It is certainly not a justification—strategically, legally, or morally—for armed aggression against Iran.     

In the end, the United States and its allies have a choice to make.  They can continue down a path that will ultimately prompt them to launch yet another illegal and ill-considered war for hegemonic domination in the Middle East. … Alternatively, the United States and its allies can accept the Islamic Republic as an enduring political order with legitimate interests and sovereign rights, and come to terms with it—much as the United States came to terms with the People’s Republic of China in the  1970s.  In the nuclear arena, specifically, this means accepting, in principle and in reality, the continued development of Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium, while working with Tehran to put in place multilateral arrangements to ensure that the proliferation risks associated with uranium enrichment in Iran (as in any other country) are controlled. 

A round-up of favorable reviews of their new book is here. Watch their previous videos herehere and here. Read more in their new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran