Swans Commentary » swans.com June 20, 2005  



US Foreign Policy Toward Iran And Iran's Nuclear Program


by Ardeshir Ommani
American-Iranian Friendship Committee





[Ed. This is a slightly edited transcript of a speech Mr. Ommani delivered at WESPAC, Westchester's Peace and Action Coalition, on March 5, 2005.]


(Swans - June 20, 2005)   Vice President Dick Cheney once said that the country that controls the Middle East oil can exercise a "stranglehold" over the global economy.

Especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. has increasingly resorted to force, rather than diplomacy and economic leverages, as the primary means to deal with challenges that stand in the way of its strategy of control of the world's essential energy resources, its geopolitical domination, nation-building, privatization of industrial and finance capital of other countries and the easy availability of foreign markets. It goes without saying that the U.S. can only achieve those objectives if its targets are not prepared nationally or otherwise to defend themselves from US threats of economic and geopolitical containment, or the tactic of sewing division among the nationalities of a given nation, such as in Iraq, or outright military attack.

No wonder that the first issues of contention raised by the U.S. in the international organization such as the U.N. with its Human Rights Commission, and its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are the violation of human rights and the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) by the countries of the so-called Third World.

As the world witnessed in dismay, with all the self-styled and cynical charges of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction by the U.S., twelve years of severe economic sanctions pushed by the U.S., carried out by the U.N., control of Iraq's airspace in the North and the South by the U.S. and the U.K., the true objectives of the U.S. were not the safety of the peoples of the Middle East or the so-called international community, but occupation of Iraq, destruction of its infrastructure, establishment of a pseudo government subservient to the United States, privatization of its essential resources, control of its oil and creating a dependent capitalist market for the products of the imperialist countries.

The same scenario, but slightly in a different form, is marshaled against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Knowing that the world, fully aware of the tragic lessons of Iraq, will firmly reject the spurious charges, the U.S. has claimed that Iran is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by engaging in the process of purchasing materials, equipment, and the enrichment of uranium with the intention of building nuclear weapons. Just as in the case of Iraq, the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have visited Iran numerously and expressed satisfaction with its compliance more than once.

Iran has been party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1970, according to which it is entitled to receive technical assistance, equipment and materials from the nuclear or non-nuclear member states and the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring agency. So far, a total of 187 countries have joined the Treaty, including five members of the nuclear weapons states. To everyone's surprise, the state of Israel is among a few who have refrained from joining the Treaty, and has never been even criticized by the U.S., or referred for economic sanctions to the United Nations Security Council. Apparently, some countries are above the landmark international treaties and feel no obligation towards nuclear disarmament.

According to IAEA's confidential report obtained by Reuters and published on November 13, 2003, "There was no evidence that Iran's nuclear program was for anything but peaceful purposes." It is interesting to note that in response to the IAEA report, US Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that this was "impossible to believe." Wasn't the world a witness to a similar US reaction to the chief of IAEA, Mr. Mohammed El Baradei's judgment concerning the absence of WMDs in Iraq, immediately before the US invasion of that country? Just as in the case of Iraq, for destroying the credibility of such safeguards to the Treaty as IAEA and spreading mistrust and cynicism, John Bolton launched a fierce attack on Tehran and the U.N. agency by stating that a "massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities" made "sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program" (BBC News, 11/13/03). Furthermore, Iran has agreed to the IAEA's demand for accepting an Additional Protocol that allows the agency to carry out intrusive inspections of any sites without prior warnings. On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that, according to the Arms Control Association's Fact Sheet of January 2005, "The U.S. has not yet adopted the necessary implementing legislation for the Additional Protocol to become law."

Yet, it is the U.S. and its client state, Israel, that constantly threaten the security of the people of Iran. In the two weeks leading up to Iraq's electoral circus under occupation, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice, now Secretary of State, and the corporate media following in their footsteps, reminded the rest of the world, but especially the American people, that Iran is a threat to world peace and security of the Middle East region, Western Europe, and even the United States, ten thousand miles away!

We need only look at a single day to see the vast amount of political attacks and propaganda carried out against Iran: on January 18, 2005, the BBC New agency announces that the U.S. is concerned over Iran's human rights; US special forces are operating inside Iran; and Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker magazine reveals the US plans of the coming wars and the probable attacks on Iran by the Israeli forces. Choosing randomly between the dates, on January 24, the world learns that a US Internet company under pressure from its government, violates the contract and "terminates" the Iranian website. On the same day, the head of Israel's Mossad (its intelligence agency), Meir Dagan, said that Iran's Nuclear Program was nearing the "point of no return." On January 30, 2005, Bush, in his State of the Union Address, calls Iran the "world's primary sponsor of terror" that is trying to develop nuclear weapons. In the next breath, he has the audacity to address the people of Iran by saying that, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." Three days later, on February 3, 2005, the Boston Globe asks the frightening questions: "Onward to Iran?" "Is Iran Next?" The article states that the Americans (the organizations of the U.S.) keep growling a war option, which Foreign Minister Jack Straw of Britain called "madness." A day later, the Jerusalem Post states that John Bolton, during his visit to Abu Dubai, said that Israel might attack Iran's nuclear sites, because the "Jewish state has a history of such actions."

In response to all these threats and psychological warfare, on February 7, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, says that "Iran will retaliate and accelerate its efforts to develop nuclear technology if attacked by the U.S. or Israel."

As we see, in a span of barely two weeks, tens if not hundreds of propaganda attacks, mixed messages, and innuendos are leveled against Iran, trying to destabilize the country and encourage Israel to do the same that it did to Iraq in 1981, i.e., bombing its nuclear energy facilities.

The differences between the U.S. and Iran are the direct outcomes of the U.S.'s quest for domination over the Middle East on the one hand, and the Iranians' aspirations for independence, equality, economic progress, genuine people's democracy and social justice on the other, which in February 1979 culminated in the overthrow of the Shah, one of the two main US pillars for the control of the Persian Gulf Oil. The second pillar has been the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is in this context that the US charges and schemes against Iran, such as building a nuclear bomb, being part of an "axis of evil," being a "de-stabilizing force" and "sponsoring terrorism" have to be analyzed.

The question of nuclear technology is merely a part of a larger U.S. agenda and that is its strategy for an exclusively monopolistic control of the oil and gas resources of the Persian Gulf states and the monolithic geopolitical domination over the Middle East and Central Asia.

For a clear and comprehensive understanding of the true nature of US foreign policy towards Iran during the periods before and after the 1979 Revolution, the issue of nuclear energy must be separated from the question of nuclear weapons production. And, secondly, we must discuss the problem of nuclear technology in the context of US foreign policy during the Shah's rule, and Iran's future energy requirements.

Iran's interest in nuclear energy, research, and know-how began in the mid-1960s under the direct tutelage of the U.S. within the framework of turning Iran the way of Israel, into a regional and nuclear power for containing the movement of Arab Socialism and their orientation towards the Soviet Union. With the technical assistance of the U.S., the first nuclear research facility, namely, the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) was built in Tehran University in 1967, and managed by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), which was founded in 1974. Immediately after the founding of TNRC, the U.S. sold a 5-megawatt research reactor to Iran that was installed at the Amirabad Technical College in Tehran, which runs on 93% highly-enriched uranium. The reactor could produce up to 600 grams of plutonium per year in its spent fuel. Simultaneously, the U.S. sold hot cells to Iran, which could be used for separating plutonium from the spent fuel, and then used for the production of atomic bombs. The question that remains to be asked is why the U.S. sold the hot cells to the Shah.

Iran became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on July 1, 1968, which went into effect on March 5, 1970. Article IV of the Treaty states that "Nothing in the Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty." Furthermore, Article IV continues that "All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy."

As can be seen readily, no article in the Treaty authorizes one or even a handful of countries to deny the inalienable rights of the non-nuclear members to research, development, and production of nuclear energy, using the self-serving pretence of suspicion and mistrust. It is a well-known fact that the U.S. is the only country that has used the atomic bomb twice on the people of Japan, and has threatened 37 times to use nuclear bombs against other nations.

Let's return to the history of Iran's nuclear energy. According to the declassified US government documents, cited extensively by Mohammad Sahimi, Professor and chairman of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in his authoritative paper, "Iran's Nuclear Program," the US government in the mid-1970s advised "Iran to expand her non-oil energy base" by reasoning that "Iran needed not one but several nuclear reactors to acquire the electrical capacity that the Stanford Research Institute" paper in 1973 "had proposed, and expressing interest in US companies' participation in Iran's nuclear energy projects."

Emboldened by Washington's encouragement, the Shah planned to build 23 nuclear power plants throughout the country, and no authority in the U.S., France, or West Germany disputed the Shah's extensive and expensive projects on the basis of the fact that Iran was rich in oil and natural gas deposits, the reasoning that recently Condi Rice provided for the redundancy of plans for nuclear energy in Iran. At the time of the Shah, the only reason that the plan for the construction of such a huge project could not be enacted upon was that the price of oil in the world market fell considerably, and the Shah's government was not financially capable of paying for it.

However, in 1974 the Shah's government signed a contract with (West) Germany's Kraftwerk Union, a subsidiary of Siemens, to begin the construction of two 1200-megawatt nuclear reactors at Bushehr, a city in the south-western part of Iran. Soon, in 1975 to be exact, the Atomic Energy organization of Iran signed a contract with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the training of the first group of Iranian nuclear engineers. Meanwhile, West Germany, France, the U.K. and the U.S. trained thousands of nuclear specialists from around the world. Iranian nuclear personnel received their training in Italy, Belgium, Canada, as well as the U.S. Mark D. Skootsky, in his June 1995 research paper on "U.S. Nuclear Policy Toward Iran," writes that "while these specialists were being trained in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in order to achieve the Shah's plan for 23 nuclear power reactors, the knowledge they gained could also have been used for a secret nuclear weapons program," as it did in India.

According to Mohamad Sahimi, the classified documents mentioned above contained the information that in an address to the October 1977 symposium named "The U.S. and Iran, an Increasing Partnership," Mr. Sydney Sober, a spokesman for the US State Department, proudly announced that the Shah's government was about to purchase eight more nuclear reactors from the U.S.

According to Mark Skootsky, Iran signed "extendable ten-year fuel agreements with the U.S., Germany and France." In addition, it purchased a ten percent share of an enrichment facility that was in the process of being built in France by the Eurodif consortium, whose founders included France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. Above all, Iran loaned $1 billion to the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) toward construction of a gaseous diffusion enrichment facility at Tricastin, France, according to Skootsky. In the absence of the 1979 Revolution, these deals would have been a gateway for Iran's access to enrichment technology and a large quantity of the highly enriched uranium, produced in the Tricastin plant. The gap between the possession of hydrogen hexafluoride and building nuclear bombs would have been very short, and this was well known to all parties involved in the arrangements.

"According to Dr. Akbar Etemad, who was the founder and first President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran from 1974 to 1978," writes Mohamad Sahimi, "the TNRC carried out experiments in which plutonium was extracted from spent fuel using chemical agents."

By 1979, when the Revolution toppled the pro-U.S. monarchial regime, the Shah had reached contracts for a total of six nuclear power reactors with France, Germany and the U.S. The two 1200-megawatt German light-water power reactors at Bushehr were partly finished. The reactor Number 1 was 90% complete and 60% of its equipment was also installed, while Number 2 reactor was 50% complete. The Iraq-Iran war brought heavy damage to the core areas of both reactors.

After the Iraq-Iran war, the Islamic Republic of Iran, under President Rafsanjani, reinitiated Iran's nuclear energy program and immediately approached Kraftwerk Union to complete the Bushehr project or ship the reactor components and technical documents that Iran had paid for. However, under US pressure, the German government, and Kraftwerk Union refused to honor the contract or even return the money. Left in the cold, Iran filed a lawsuit in 1996 with the International Commerce Commission, asking for $5.4 billion in compensation. But the case is still unsettled.

On May 5, 1987, Iran and Argentina signed agreements concerning the delivery of enriched uranium. The $5.5 million deal would have provided Iran with a new core for its U.S.-sold five megawatt research reactor in Tehran University so that the reactor would operate on 20% enriched uranium. The contract also included the Argentine export of the 20% enriched uranium to Iran. In September 1980, the International Atomic Energy Agency approved the transfer of 115.8 kilograms of uranium, which was within the IAEA safeguards.

Although the U.S. was unsuccessful in blocking Argentina from selling the 20% enriched uranium to Iran, it succeeded in preventing that country from fulfilling other aspects of its contractual obligation in early 1992. Again, under heavy pressure from the U.S., Argentina backed out of the deal by the end of that year.

Once before, as early as the mid-1980s, writes Sahimi, "a consortium of companies from Argentina, Germany, and Spain submitted a proposal to Iran to complete the Bushehr Number 1 reactor, but huge pressure by the United States stopped the deal. The US pressure also stopped in 1990 Spain's National Institute of Industry and Nuclear Equipment to complete the Bushehr project."

After exhausting all the avenues in the West in search of finding a country or a company that would not be intimidated by the threats of the U.S. and begin the work on Bushehr's nuclear energy project, Iran turned to the Soviet Union, and then Russia, to finish the job.

Following a preliminary study of the project, the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy signed a comprehensive contract with Iran in January 1995 to bring the reactor to fruition. Iran and Russia also studied the feasibility of constructing a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility in Iran. Immediately after the signing of the contract, the Clinton administration repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, launched a far-reaching campaign to convince, intimidate, and use even economic and diplomatic pressure to force Russia out of the contract.

Having failed in its scheme of depriving Russia from establishing a friendly relationship with its southern neighbor and the financial gain emanating from the deal, Washington began claiming that the plutonium that would be produced in the process would be used by Iran for making nuclear weapons. In order to neutralize the US opposition, Russia suggested to retrieve the spent fuel, and Iran also agreed to return the rods to Russian authorities for a price. As if this concession was not enough, the U.S., in collusion with Israel, claimed that the working of the reactor would give the Iranian scientists the opportunity to learn the arts of nuclear science and technology. Of course, according to the US and Israeli governments, the same criterion does not apply to the Israeli scientists.

In other words, as long as the Shah was a partner of Israel, and a puppet of the United States, it could engage in developing all sorts of nuclear energy and devices. But Iran, after the revolution, does not deserve and cannot be trusted with any technological, economic and social advancement, according to Washington and Tel Aviv. Furthermore, countries like Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and 80% of the humanity have to be kept backward so that they don't ever dream of independence, equality, social change and especially revolution. People engaged in such changes will be branded by the US Empire as "terrorists," despots, dictators, and rogue nations to be disposed of.

The US import-export limitations, sanctions against countries and companies which may invest in the Iranian oil and gas industries, and sabotage in the construction and expansion of its nuclear energy, along with bellicose diplomatic and political pressures, has left Iran with no choice but to develop friendly relations, not only with the biggest economies of Europe, Germany, France and the U.K., but particularly with Russia, China and India.

For many reasons, including geopolitical and economic gains, Russia and China have expanded their cooperation tremendously with Iran in the last two decades. Currently, the ongoing technological, informational and diplomatic exchanges from Moscow and Beijing with Iran have frustrated Washington and Tel Aviv in their psychological war and propaganda attacks against Iran.

China, due to its monumental industrial expansion and inexhaustible need for fuel, and Iran, with its need for low-cost industrial products, have grown to be sound economic and diplomatic partners. "China is currently Iran's second largest export partner and third largest import partner," writes Andy Maron in worldpress.org of February 11, 2005.

"According to the International Atomic Energy Agency," continues Andy Mason, "China has probably provided nuclear technology to Iran." Russia, in comparison to China, has been transparent in its technological and material supports to Iran's nuclear energy. Russia has remained firm in its position that, as long as Iran remains a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has every right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Russia's cooperation with Iran in the field of nuclear energy has been also profitable to Moscow. The bold Russian effort in rehabilitating the Bushehr Project not only has saved the reactors from complete ruin and stopped Iran from experiencing a total loss, but has also brought $800 million revenue to the Russian nuclear establishment. As a result of this cooperation between the two countries, a new contract for seven more generating units is planned. This contract that could bring Russia close to $10 billion is not a deal that Moscow could walk away from, due to U.S. pressure of any sort.

The Chinese and Russian pro-Iranian stance, other than economic benefits, has its roots in resisting the US military domination of the region. Politically and diplomatically, both are not close friends with Iran's enemies, who may appear under the banners of "democracy" and "human rights."

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About the Author

Ardeshir Ommani is a retired high school math educator with Master degrees in Political Economy (New School for Social Research) and Math Education (Long Island University). An activist in the anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle for over 40 years, including against the Vietnam War, he was a co-founder of the Iranian Students Association in the 1960s, which contributed to the struggle against the Shah of Iran. In November 2004, he co-founded the American-Iranian Friendship Committee. Mr. Ommani and his family live in Armonk, New York, where he is very active in the anti-war movement against the US war and occupation of Iraq.



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Published June 20, 2005