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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”