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Presidential debate on U.S. foreign policy: a Utah connection

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 2:08 p.m. MDT

Utahn Khosrow B. Semnani published a report last month in collaboration with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics titled Utahn Khosrow B. Semnani published a report last month in collaboration with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics titled "The Ayatollah's Nuclear Gamble: The Human Cost of Military Strikes Against Iran's Nuclear Facilities." (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

At the same time as Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama turned their attention to foreign policy for Monday's third and final presidential debate, Khosrow B. Semnani — a longtime fixture in Utah business and philanthropy circles — generated broad media coverage with his timely scientific findings that are pertinent to any discussion of Iran's nuclear program.

A scientist-turned-industrialist who founded the nuclear-waste disposal company now known as Energy Solutions, Semnani published a report last month in collaboration with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics titled "The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble: The Human Cost of Military Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities."

Semnani estimates the death toll of military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would immediately start at 5,000-10,000 civilians and could quickly swell past 85,000 after gaseous hydrofluoric acid and radioactive uranium hexafluoride — both of which are present in large amounts at several facilities — enter the air.

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivers Friday prayers sermon, at the Tehran University campus, Iran, Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. Utahn Khosrow B. Semnani published a report last month in collaboration with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics titled In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivers Friday prayers sermon, at the Tehran University campus, Iran, Friday, Feb. 3, 2012. Utahn Khosrow B. Semnani published a report last month in collaboration with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics titled "The Ayatollah's Nuclear Gamble: The Human Cost of Military Strikes Against Iran's Nuclear Facilities." (Office of the Supreme Leader, Associated Press)

"For all the years that the world has focused on the confrontation between western nations and Iran, oceans of ink have been spilled over many aspects of its nuclear program," David Isenberg wrote Thursday for Time magazine's battleland blog. "Yet, almost nothing has been written about one critical factor: the impact on Iranian civilians, if the U.S. and/or the Israelis were to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

"That vacuum has now been filled, thanks to a recent lengthy report — 'The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble' … (which) examined various military options against different sites but regardless — perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise — the news was horrifyingly bad for (Iranian) civilians."

The Woodrow Wilson Center, a foreign-policy think tank in Washington, D.C., hosted a panel discussion about "The Ayatollah's Nuclear Gamble" on Oct. 12. Per the center's website, Wilson Center director of international security studies Robert Litwak "praised the report for its 'contribution to our public policy debate' in providing more context to debates about whether military strikes should be 'on the table' regarding Iran and nuclear policy. In addition to the humanitarian concerns outlined by Semnani, Litwak noted the liabilities an attack on Iran’s facilities would pose for the U.S.: It would likely set back the nuclear program but not end it, would provoke a 'general nationalist backlash' in Iran and 'could well escalate to a regional war.'”

Earlier this month, Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari reported for the Atlantic regarding Semnani's work: "The report analyzed the impact of pre-emptive conventional strikes on four key nuclear sites. … Workers at those sites — who include scientists, workers, support staff and soldiers — would be among the first victims of a bombing campaign. … The report warns that the grim scenario could be magnified by the lack of readiness on the part of Iranian authorities, who have a poor record of disaster management and who lack the capacity to handle deadly radioactive fallout in the aftermath of a strike on its nuclear sites."

Deseret News award-winning columnist Jay Evensen wrote an article about Semnani two weeks ago. "If anyone has the passion to move the United States and its allies to deal positively with Middle East's most troubling nation, (it's) Semnani, a Salt Lake resident who came here from Iran virtually penniless in the late 1960s and has since amassed a fortune," Evensen wrote. "Semnani has several good reasons for his passion (such as) siblings and other close relatives living in Tehran. … He spent two years putting together the report, which was released at an opportune time."

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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