- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Washington think tank overseen by President Obama’s defense secretary-designate predicts that Iran one day will be a “natural partner” for the United States and could possess nuclear weapons.

It also puts the onus on Israel to make peace with Palestinians, many of whom are governed by Hamas, an Iran-backed terrorist group bent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

The views are contained in a major policy paper by the Atlantic Council, for which former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska serves as chairman. The paper shows the foreign policy culture from which Mr. Hagel emerges to face Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearings.

The paper also may explain the underpinnings for Mr. Hagel’s dovish views on Iran for which he will receive close scrutiny by fellow Republicans.

Mr. Obama on Monday presented Mr. Hagel as the nominee to replace Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. Mr. Hagel has taken a far less hawkish stance than Mr. Panetta, who has vowed that Tehran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and talks of a military option to stop the regime.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday approved Mr. Hagel’s nomination, saying it hopes his appointment as Pentagon chief would improve relations between the U.S. and the Islamic republic.

Mr. Hagel upbraided President George W. Bush for not offering unconditional talks with Iran’s hard-line Islamic leaders. He does not emphasize a military option to counter Iran’s nuclear program, and he has suggested that Iran one day will own atomic weapons.

In December, the Atlantic Council issued the major position paper — part advice to Mr. Obama in his second term, part vision for the world in the next 17 years.

Mr. Hagel did not write “Envisioning 2030: U.S. Strategy for a Post-Western World,” but it corresponds with his and the Atlantic Council’s efforts to seek global cooperation, not confrontation.

The paper predicts that Iranian hard-liners will be unable to insulate the population from democratic movements in Egypt, Tunisia and other neighboring states.

“It is difficult to envision an already globalized Iranian public not being inspired by regional examples of popular democratic governance,” the Atlantic Council says. “For U.S. strategy, Iran should be viewed as a potential natural partner in the region. … A post-mullah dominated government shedding Shia [Muslim] ideology could easily return to being a net contributor to stability by 2030.”

Iran brutally put down protesters who contested the fairness of the 2009 election that kept in power President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also has called for the destruction of Israel.

Arguing for a smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal, the Atlantic Council paper says that Iran one day may achieve nuclear weapon status.

“To deter and if necessary to defeat micronuclear powers such as North Korea, or Iran if it does cross the nuclear threshold, numbers substantially lower than those of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal may be possible,” the paper says.

On a pessimistic note, it says: “Iran’s nuclear ambitions are proving to be a difficult test for the already fraying nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

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