Muslim Politics, Iran's Nukes and 'The Shia Revival'

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to deliver "good news" to his people about the nation's nuclear program, and an Iranian press report suggests he will announce success in creating enriched uranium for use in fuelling atomic reactors — and possibly creating atomic bombs. Madeleine Brand discusses the issue with Vali Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now, more on Iran's reaction. Vali Nasr is an Iranian expert. He teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Welcome to the show.

Professor VALI NASR (Iranian Expert, Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California): Hello.

BRAND: How seriously is Iran taking this idea of a U.S. military strike?

Prof. NASR: I think they take it fairly seriously. If we looked at the military maneuvers that Iran just did last week, employing new torpedo and missile systems which are designed for attacking ships in the Persian Gulf, it suggests that they are looking very seriously at creating a deterrence to a U.S. attack.

BRAND: Iran's president was saying that he thinks it's psychological operations. That it's, in effect, propaganda, but you're saying that they're actually behaving as if it's not?

Prof. NASR: Well, yes. I think that's the official line, is to dismiss any kind of a military option against Iran. But I think they're taking it very seriously that the rhetoric with the U.S. has been escalating, that the United States has also been indicating in multiple ways that it is committed to making sure that Iran does not acquire nuclear technology and that there is the example of Iraq in which ultimately a process of the United Nations ended up finally with military operations against Iraq.

BRAND: And what kind of retaliation would there be? What are they capable of doing?

Prof. NASR: Well, they are, at least what they indicated last week, is that they are capable and willing to use missiles and torpedoes to attack oil tankers, as well as U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. They are also able to use their assets in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East to carry attacks against U.S. interests and U.S. targets. And in Iraq, in particular, they can escalate the violence in that country to a level that's been unprecedented in the past three years.

BRAND: And who are Iran's allies in this?

Prof. NASR: Well, Iran does not have any allies in the local government. But Iran is hoping that it would have the sympathy and support of the street in the Middle East. And in the past several months during the protests against cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, and also given their support for Hamas and their attacks on Israel, Iran has been sort of appealing to the anti-American anger on the Arab street in the hope that it can use that as the, in the event of a major confrontation with the U.S.

BRAND: Vali Nasr. His forthcoming book is The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. Vali Nasr, thank you for joining us.

Prof. NASR: Thank you.

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