Tehran has long claimed it wants only to make nuclear power peacefully, and in Iran, embracing "nuclear rights" enjoys wide, popular support because it blends national pride and scientific prowess. Publicly, Iranian rulers profess to reject atomic weapons, and at the highest levels they evoke Islamic religious reasons to oppose all weapons of mass destruction.
Yet analysts and diplomats note that Iran does have many reasons to develop at least a "breakout" capability – the ability to assemble a bomb quickly should it want to. Tehran has watched modern history unfold around it and no doubt has drawn its own conclusions. Acquiring nuclear weapons helped preserve regimes in North Korea and Pakistan, for instance. But in Iraq and Libya, two nonnuclear countries, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were deposed. The Iranian media, in fact, tut-tutted last year that Mr. Qaddafi's fatal error was relinquishing his secret nuclear weapons program in 2004.
"Look at the neighborhood that I live in: Everyone else has nuclear weapons who matters; and those who don't, don't matter, and get invaded by the United States of America," Mr. Riedel said on a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.