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What would happen if Iran had the bomb? (+video)

Even as Tehran signals an interest in nuclear talks, many experts have already envisioned what the world would look like if the country got nuclear weapons. It wouldn't be as dire as many fear, but it would unleash new uncertainties - and perhaps a regional arms race.

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Interestingly, Russia proposed a Russo-American defense alliance aimed at ensuring the security of all states in the region. The initiative caught the rest of the countries by surprise. The new regional order would have enabled Israel and Iran to keep their nuclear weapons, bound others not to pursue them, and protected all members from internal meddling. The Russian aim was to prevent Iran from using its new nuclear capability to achieve regional political and military goals, including through attacks by its proxies, such as Hezbollah. The US opposed the deal, though, while other actors figured it would at least "neutralize Iran's nuclear blackmail power," the report said. Iran viewed the Russian move as recognition of its new status.

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"I don't think the Iranians are going to throw a bomb at Israel the next day," says Mr. Guzansky. "Nuclear weapons are not for use; [they are] a powerful political tool.... It was interesting that Iran actually pressured to go back to the [negotiating] table and use this new capability to extract more.... This is another card for Iran."

The trigger in the simulation exercise was Iran conducting a nuclear test, in order to induce reactions among the players. But a more likely scenario is that Tehran slides into nuclear threshold status without fanfare.

"I think it's in their interest not to screw the last screw, not to [weaponize]," says Guzansky, "because no one will know where the Iranians are. And some actors may want to attack, [and] you have to be on your toes all the time.... Potentially it's even more destabilizing [than a test]."

In some ways, Iran is already there. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphantly announced in April 2006 that Iran had enriched its first grams of uranium. Dancers in traditional costume held glass and metal vials as the president proclaimed that Iran had "joined the nuclear countries of the world."

Iran has heralded its nuclear progress every step of the way, just as it has other scientific achievements, from its nanotechnology expertise to launching three satellites into space – a feat that puts it in a club of just nine other nations. Last December, Iran even brought down a CIA stealth drone that was spying on its nuclear facilities, claiming to catch it in an "electronic ambush."

"It is clear to Iranian strategists that nuclear weapons will not improve Iran's national security situation.... They do, however, see a value in technological progress," Bijan Khajehpour, an Iranian analyst at Atieh International, an Austrian-based strategic consulting firm, recently told the Muftah website.

Few Iranians forget these words of the prophet Muhammad, if only because they are printed with an atomic symbol on the 50,000 rial currency note: "If knowledge is to be found in the heavens, the Persians will go and get it."

A little girl appears on the TV screen, strolling through a pleasant field. She plucks the petals of a flower, innocently counting each one, until a somber voice takes over and begins counting down – "10, 9, 8 ..." It ends in an atomic explosion. Then a voice intones: "These are the stakes: to make a world in which all God's children can live, or go into the dark. We must love each other or we must die."

The TV spot, one of the most famous in American political history, is from the 1964 presidential campaign. It is a reminder that the issue of nuclear weaponry has long been a sensitive and sensational one, often punctuated with dire predictions of what might happen depending on whose hand is on the nuclear button in this country and who has an arsenal overseas.

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