Physicians for Social Responsibility President Calls for Diplomatic Solution in Iran

By Sharon Brock

The national president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Catherine Thomasson, MD, called for diplomacy and peaceful solutions to promote a nuclear weapon-free Iran recently. On a national speaking tour, Thomasson came to UCSF on June 21 to share her insights about Iran during a presentation co-sponsored by the Bay Area chapter of PSR and UCSF's Iraq Action Group. Thomasson recounted highlights from her recent trip to Iran as part of a friendship delegation sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. During her visit in March, she met with Iranian religious, educational, political leaders and others. Thomasson described the missteps the Bush administration has taken in its relationship with Iran. She emphasized that sanctions and threats of war from the United States only serve to strengthen Iranian hard-liners and that military action would convince them that nuclear weapons are justified for national security. "I agree that there are major concerns regarding Iran developing nuclear weapons," Thomasson said. "But, the strategy of further aggression by the U.S. is counterproductive to our goal of a nuclear weapon-free Iran, because if we attack or place more sanctions, the Iranian parliament will just kick out the inspectors and take a more defensive stance. "Although there are uranium mines, an enrichment facility, and several nuclear reactors in various phases of development throughout the country, many experts, including former U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and the Israeli Mossad believe that Iran is many years away from having the capability to assemble a nuclear weapon (at least three years, but more likely seven years), providing plenty of time to negotiate a solution." Call for Diplomacy Iranian officials signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and consistently claim that their nuclear program is peaceful and intended only as an energy source. Since 2002, however, considerable circumstantial evidence has been revealed, with implications that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, Thomasson explained. For example, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have uncovered experiments in plutonium separation, sophisticated centrifuges for uranium enrichment obtained on the black market and diagrams explaining how to machine uranium into hemispherical form - something that has no use except in a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials have also refused access to several sites for inspection, and with increasing US threats and sanctions, Iran has threatened refusal of all future inspections, as well as withdrawal from the NPT, according to Thomasson. In 2003, Iran offered talks on a broad range of topics, including their nuclear program, Hezbollah and a nuclear-free Middle East, but the United States did not reply. To date, the United States has not publicly opened a dialogue with Iran regarding these issues and has met at the ambassador level only once regarding issues in Iraq.

Catherine Thomasson, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), stands with Michael Geschwind, member of the UCSF Iraq Action Group and Bay Area chapter of PSR.

Thomasson said that real diplomacy requires understanding the needs of all of the parties involved. "Iran wants security," she said. And, having the world's second largest reserve of natural gas and the third largest of oil, Iran also needs answers for its energy needs and the ability to engage more freely in the world market. In turn, the U.S., Israel, Europe and other Middle Eastern countries wish for a nuclear weapon-free Iran. And, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, other Persian Gulf states will desire nuclear weapons and nuclear power, which will only escalate the crisis. "The biggest issue is that the US refuses to offer a guarantee of non-invasion if Iran halts their nuclear program. Diplomacy cannot occur in the midst of threats. We need everything on the table to open the dialogue for a diplomatic solution," said Thomasson. "I truly believe that we have the ability to come to an agreement regarding the security concerns for all of the countries involved. So the questions are: Why aren't we? Where is our leadership?" PSR is currently working with Iranian-American organizations to bring several physicians of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support to the United States in the fall to discuss previous chemical weapons use on Iranian forces by the late Saddam Hussein. Thomasson issued a call to action for members of the UCSF audience to write letters to Senators to vote against additional sanctions and to visit the Middle East themselves. Physicians for Social Responsibility is a nonprofit educational organization committed to the elimination of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the achievement of a healthy and sustainable environment, and the reduction of violence and its causes. PSR is the founder and US affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo/Susan Merrell Related Links: EyeWitness Thomasson's PowerPoint presentation Iran Physicians for Social Responsibility Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility Iraq Action Group