DAVOS, Switzerland – A diverse panel of decision-makers and experts from the United States, Europe and the Middle East found common ground on just one thing when it comes to dealing with the Iranian nuclear program Friday: A military strike could well spark a devastating counterattack.
In the debate at the World Economic Forum, former top U.S. diplomat Richard Haass said there were no good options should diplomacy fail, but stood apart from the others in advocating force as a viable option. He sparred repeatedly with Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal, who urged the United States to instead pressure Israel to quit its own reported nuclear weapons as a way of coaxing Iran to drop its suspected weapons program as well.
Haass replied that there was no time for this because of the speed of Iran's program — and rejected the assertion by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan that the program might be civilian, as Tehran has repeatedly claimed.
The Davos panel thus reflected the basic disagreement that divides world powers and bedevils diplomatic efforts: All seem to oppose Iran producing a nuclear weapon, but there are disagreements over whether to believe its protestations. And down the road lies the open question of whether war is worse than acquiesence.
Iran "is not interested in any serious way to produce electricity," said Haass, who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential U.S. think tank. "Let's not kid ourselves: This is about a sustained Iranian commitment to either develop nuclear weapons or get 90 percent of the way there" — perhaps sufficing with a status as "a 'threshold nuclear weapons state' in the belief that they could derive most of the benefits (without) incurring most of the costs."
Most of the other panelists at the debate hosted by the Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel stressed that diplomacy should be the focus of current efforts.
"We should use every single opportunity to reach our goal on the diplomatic path," said German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.