STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Syria's turmoil has overshadowed but not stopped talk about war in another country - Iran. The usual scenario is that Israel might strike Iranian nuclear facilities, with or without the approval of the United States. In The Daily Beast, historian Niall Ferguson dismissed concerns about a strike. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius wrote that U.S. officials oppose an Israeli strike but think it may come in the spring.
We put some basic questions to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Why is there so much talk about a possible war with Iran now, as opposed to any other time?
KARIM SADJADPOUR: Well, Iran is inching much closer now to a nuclear weapons capability and there's particularly concern in Israel that Iran is close to reaching the so-called zone of immunity whereby if they pass a certain point it will be very difficult to set back their program, even militarily.
INSKEEP: How firm is the intelligence that Iran is getting closer to a nuclear capability?
SADJADPOUR: The intelligence isn't incredibly firm. My sources both within the White House and senior ranking Israelis tell me that Iran, if it were to make a decision tomorrow that it wanted to push full speed ahead for a nuclear weapon, it's still at least two years away from reaching that point. And it's very likely that Iran's nuclear sites have been penetrated by foreign intelligence agencies. So there are likely to be more computer viruses and explosions and things like we've seen in the past.
INSKEEP: OK. So there's some question about when the deadline is. It may not necessarily be this year then, depending on which expert you talk with.
SADJADPOUR: That's right. And I think that there's a distinction here between Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon itself. And for the United States, they would certainly would like to prevent both, but I think a red line issue for the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The Israelis, I think, have red lines which are a bit more stringent. They're worried about Iran even acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
INSKEEP: And so that's part of the reason when we ask why is there so much talk of Iran now, it is partly driven by Israel, stories out of Israel and concerns from Israel about Iran's course.
SADJADPOUR: That's certainly part of it. There's multiple reasons directed from multiple audiences. Certainly another reason why you hear a lot of chatter about the possibility of war is to try to strengthen the course of diplomacy. Meaning you look at a country like China, and China is opposed to sanctions against Iran because it feels like sanctions against Iran are inimical to its energy interests. China needs vast amounts of energy. Iran has vast amounts of energy and henceforth there's an important commercial relationship between those two sides. And one of the messages of threatening war against Iran is to say to the Chinese, listen, if you think you're opposing sanctions because it's bad for your energy interests, if we bomb Iran, it's going to be far worse for your energy interests because oil prices are going to skyrocket. So, the hope is that countries like China will calculate that sanctioning Iran or signing up sanctions against Iran is the least bad option for them.
INSKEEP: And that requires a little talk of war to make sure that the Chinese know that people are serious.
INSKEEP: Now, what has really changed regarding the sanctions against Iran? Of course, there have been sanctions for many, many years against this regime. How much tighter are they today than they were a few weeks ago or months ago?
SADJADPOUR: The pressure against Iran has reached unprecedented levels because you in the past several weeks have had the U.S. government sanctioning Iran's Central Bank, trying to cut off Iran from the global financial system. And the Europeans announced a sanction against Iranian oil, essentially embargoing Iranian oil. And it is true in the last years Iran has gradually shifted their economy westward to eastward, meaning they're less reliant on the Europeans and increasingly dealing with countries like China and India. But that said, Iran still exports almost 20 percent of its oil to European oil markets, and losing that is not going to be negligible for Iran. I think Iran is certainly going to feel the hurt, if indeed those oil sanctions are implemented, which they stand to be implemented in late July.
INSKEEP: Is that another reason that there's so much talk of war with Iran right now, because the sanctions are so serious that the Iranians themselves might be willing to risk a war?
SADJADPOUR: I think there's a legitimate concern that you have hardline actors in Tehran who feel like the walls are closing around them internationally, and domestically this tremendous popular disaffection. And one way to try to resuscitate revolutionary fervor is to invite an attack, provoke some type of a military conflagration for their own domestic expediency.
INSKEEP: Karim Sadjadpour with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks again for talking with us.
SADJADPOUR: Anytime, Steve. Thank you.
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