(Originally published in The Batallion, by: Trevor Stevens)
Fluxuating oil prices and the threat of nuclear weapons development fuel the tension between the U.S. and Iran, a topic addressed in an on-campus discussion Wednesday evening. Two professors discussed these current global issues during the MSC Wiley Lecture Series symposium: The Iranian Hazard.
Professor Paulo Barretto, consultant on international nuclear projects, said evidence of Iran acquiring nuclear-specific equipment and western sanctions imposed on Iran, are furthering the distance between Iran and western nations at the negotiating table.
As a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, Iran has the legal right to uranium enrichment, the key ingredient to a nuclear weapon. A 20 percent concentration of natural uranium is the politically decided “red line” for NPT members. Iran has not crossed the “red line,” but continues to work at the “border line,” Barretto said.
“Iran will not have a nuclear device this year,” Barretto said. “First, because they have limited enrichment capabilities … mechanical problems.”
Barretto also said the issues between Israel and Iran, as well as Russian and Chinese continued action importing oil from Iran, are indications of a “developing capability” for Iran to possess nuclear weapons.
Richard Stoll, professor of political science at Rice University, said Iran lacks the military capability to directly attack the U.S., but could provide support to various terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Iran has been on the U.S. Department of State’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since January 1984. Stoll said this is because Iran clearly supports Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shi’a Muslim militant group and political party.
“[Iran] has this very sophisticated smuggling network that goes from Iran through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which tells you how the Iranian government feels about things that are happening in Syria these days – they don’t want to see a drastic change in government,” Stroll said.
In the attempt to thwart Iran from developing nuclear weapons, western nations, including the U.S. and the European Union, have attempted to put financial and economic pressure on Iran. The U.S. government said it would ban any institution dealing with the Central Bank of Iran from U.S. financial systems.
“Iran exports its oil; people give them money; they pay for it through banks; most of those banks have some kind of connection to the U.S. banking system,” Stoll said. “If this is fully implemented, it threatens to be something where Iran can’t get paid for its oil.”
Oil is a significant part of Iran’s economy. Stoll said the country imports food and pays with oil money.
“If they can’t sell their oil, they can’t pay for food,” Stoll said. “Already, ships that were bringing grain into Iran have turned away because they say they know we can’t get paid.”
Stoll said the newest sanctions against Iran, if implemented, will hurt common Iranian citizens most.
Iranian government officials responded to western sanctions by threatening to wreak havoc on international oil markets by blocking the Strait of Hormuz.
Stoll said he doesn’t think Iran could completely blockade the Strait of Hormuz, but that they if they tried, they would use a combination of mines, speed boats and anti-ship missiles.
Even if Iran can’t close the strait, Stoll said, the flow of oil will decrease and insurance rates on shipping will skyrocket, causing oil that passes through the Strait of Hormuz to be more expensive.
Junior electrical engineering major Arnold Zhang said it is important to have professors who are knowledgeable on the subject to communicate to students analysis of current global events.
“One trend in civilization now is globalization; everything is connected to each other whether it’s markets or cultures,” Zhang said. “Not being knowledgeable about the world is not being responsible as a citizen, especially if you want to be a citizen in a position of power to help not only your people, but you have to look out for other people, as well.”