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Iran's Nuclear Energy Program. Part V: From the United States Offering Iran Uranium Enrichment Technology to Suggestions for Creating Catastrophic Industrial Failure


By Muhammad Sahimi


In a series of articles that were posted on Payvand in October 2003, the author provided a brief history of Iran's nuclear program (Part I); described the general outline of the arguments that justify for Iran nuclear energy as an economically viable source of energy (Part II), and explained the crisis that was emerging at that time in the relationship between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (Part III). In Part IV, posted on Payvand on December 7, 2004, the author presented a detailed economical analysis of Iran's nuclear energy program.

The goal of the present article is twofold:

(a) We describe in detail the key role that the US played in the 1970s in starting Iran's nuclear program. We show that not only did the US push the Shah to buy nuclear power plants (NPPs) from the US, but was also willing to offer Iran the technology for uranium enrichment if Iran agrees to buy eight US-manufactured NPPs. This should be compared with the present state of affairs whereby the US and its European allies are pressuring Iran to refrain from utilizing its uranium enrichment facilities and, instead, import enriched uranium for its NPP.

(b) We then compare what we describe in (a) with the present positions of the US neoconservatives and their sympathizers, which reveal the extent to which they are willing to inflict CIVILIAN casualties and economic damage on Iran to stop it from starting the Bushehr reactor.

Giving wide public exposure to the neoconservatives' and their sympathizers' thinking is, in the author's opinion, particularly important since, as the author has pointed out in his articles over the past three years, Iran's main antidemocratic forces - the monarchists and cultists - have aligned themselves with these groups. Therefore, it is essential to learn more about the fantasies of the neoconservatives and their sympathizers, which in turn will help us become more informed about the true face and colour of their Iranian allies who are willing to do anything to grab power in Iran.

The United States-Iran Nuclear Relations in the 1970s

It was presumably 1955 when the first discussions on developing a nuclear program for Iran took place. The first concrete step, however, was taken in 1957 when the US signed an agreement with Iran [1] on civilian nuclear cooperation. This was promoted as part of the US Atoms for Peace Program that was supposed to provide technical assistance to the signatories, as well as leasing them enriched uranium, and carrying out joint research on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In the same year, the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), that consisted of Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Britain, and the US moved its Institute of Nuclear Science from Baghdad to Tehran (after General Abdolkarim Ghassem's military coup d'etat in 1958, Iraq withdrew from CENTO).

In 1959 the Shah ordered establishment of a nuclear research center at Tehran University, Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC), and began negotiating with the US to purchase a 5-megawatt (MW) reactor for the Center. To this date, the Center remains one of Iran's main nuclear research organizations.

In the late 1950s the US Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to store nuclear bombs in Iran (presumably due to the victory of the Cuban revolution, the rise of Fiedel Castro to power, and the support that he began receiving from the Soviet Union). In February 1961, shortly after President John F. Kennedy took office, the US State Department opposed the JCOS suggestion; it was never carried out [2].

In September 1967 Iran received from the US 5.54 kgr of enriched uranium, of which 5.16 kgr contained fissile uranium isotopes (which could, in principle, be used in a nuclear bomb), to use in its research reactor at TNRC. In addition, Iran received 112 kgr of plutonium, 104 kgr of which were fissile isotopes [3]. The safeguarded 5 MW nuclear research reactor, a pool-type, water-moderated reactor that was supplied to Iran by the US firm GA Technologies started full operations at TNRC in November 1967, using 5.58 kgr of 93% enriched uranium. The fuel was provided by the US firm United Nuclear Corporation. In addition, the US supplied Iran hot cells which are [4], "heavily shielded rooms with remotely operated arms used to chemically separate material irradiated in the research reactor, possibly including plutonium laden 'targets'." On July 1, 1968, the first day that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signature, Iran signed the Treaty. It was ratified by the Majles (the Iranian parliament) on February 2, 1970.

The US-Iran agreement, Cooperation Concerning Civil Uses of Atoms, that had been signed in 1957 (see above) was extended on March 13, 1969 for another 10 years. The first announcement on Iran's intention for obtaining NPPs was made in December 18, 1972 [5], when Iran's Ministry of Water and Power began a feasibility study for constructing a NPP in southern Iran.

The 1973 war between the Arab countries and Israel, and the subsequent huge increase in the price of oil, provided the Shah's government with considerable resources. In fact, 1974 proved to be a very busy year for Iran's atomic energy program! The Shah had originally envisioned Iran to produce, by 1990, 10,000 MW of electricity by NPPs. However, a 1974 study by the Stanford Research Institute concluded that Iran would need, by 1994, to produce 20,000 MW of electricity by NPPs. Thus, in March 1974 the Shah announced [6] plans for generating 23,000 MW of electricity, "as soon as possible," using up to 23 NPPs, with a target date of 1994. To achieve his goal, the Shah established the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), appointed Dr. Akbar Etemad, a Swiss-trained physicist, as its first chief, and announced that the AEOI, like everything else, would be run directly under his command.

The Shah had proposed to the US for many years the establishment of a Joint Economic Commission (JEC) for regulating and expanding Iran's commercial relations between the two countries. Up until 1974, the US had always turned down the Shah's suggestion on the ground that, having a free-market economy, the US government had no role to play in the commercial relations with Iran. Instead, the Shah had established many such JECs with the communist countries. However, after the severe increase in the price of oil during 1973-1974, the US was looking for a way to recoup billions of dollars that it was spending on importing oil and, therefore, it suddenly became very interested in establishing a JEC with Iran! In a SECRET letter, dated April 13, 1974, to Amir Assadollah Alam, the long-time Imperial Court Minister and confidante of the Shah, Mr. Richard Helms, the then US ambassador to Iran, wrote [7]:

"On March 14 and April 4, 1974 I discussed in audience with His Imperial Majesty my Government's genuine interest in finding ways to deepen and broaden the already strong ties between the Imperial Government of Iran and the United States. I am pleased to describe to you in more comprehensive detail my Government's views on ways in which we can mutually enrich the relationships between our Governments. I would Greatly appreciate this message being forwarded to its High Destination..... Secretary [of State Henry A.] Kissinger looks forward yo discussing these matters personally with His Imperial Majesty at a fairly early date...."

Mr. Helms then went on to suggest the establishment of a JEC, the same commission that the US had resisted for years (!):

"There is considerable scope for expanded cooperations between our countries in the economic field. In order to provide proper focus and suitable high-level official guidance, we suggest the establishment of a Joint Economic Commission at the Cabinet level. For our part, we contemplate that the United States member of the Commission would be the Secretary of Treasury...."

Mr. Helms then proposed the formation of several working groups that "could address general areas of concern or specific projects," including technology transfer, petrochemical development, communications, and political and security matters. But the first and most important working group that he proposed was the NUCLEAR ENERGY PRODUCTION GROUP, for which he wrote,

"We have noted the priority that His Imperial Majesty gives to developing alternative means of energy production through nuclear power. This is clearly an area in which we might most usefully begin on a specific program of cooperation and collaboration. Accordingly, we suggest that this be the first working group under our Joint Economic Commission. The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission is prepared at an early date to visit Tehran with a team of experts to discuss ways and means by which we can most actively cooperate in this field based on our own experience."

As pointed out in detail in Part IV of this series, the fact is that constructing NPPs in Iran in the 1970s had no economic justification whatsoever. This had made the Shah very sensitive to the critics' criticism - which had considerable validity - that nuclear contracts were being imposed on Iran by the US. Mr. Alam, the Shah's confidante, also expressed his grave concerns to him by telling him that [8],

"It is not in the interest of Shahanshah's Independent National Policy that such suggestions [Mr. Helm's] be proposed and be called a contract,"

to which the Shah responded [8],

"We will expand our relations that we already have, and nothing more,"

just as Mr. Helms had suggested to the Shah in their private meeting and mentioned in his letter to Mr. Alam (see the next paragraph). Even from the US perspective, although the Shah was its close ally at that time, selling Iran nuclear technology was also a very sensitive subject, hence the secret nature of Mr. Helms' letter to Mr. Alam. The sensitivity can be seen in a paragraph of his letter where, under the title PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENTS, he stated that,

"In the ordinary course of events, our joint initiatives in the fields mentioned above will naturally receive a certain amount of attention. Some general reference to our expanded cooperation might well take place during Secretary [of State Henry A.] Kissinger's next visit, but it is my personal view that we should handle these joint endeavors as natural outgrowths of the already close and friendly relations between the Imperial Government of Iran and the United States....."

At the end of his letter, Mr. Helms emphasized the US eagerness to participate in Iran's nuclear program:

"The Secretary [of State Henry A. Kissinger] has asked me to underline emphatically the seriousness of our purpose and our desire to move forward vigorously in appropriate ways...."

In May 1974, Dr. D.L. Ray, the Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, travelled to Iran during which he mentioned the possibility of establishing REGIONAL uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities for Iran.

The next month, the Shah declared that Iran will have nuclear weapons, "without a doubt and sooner than one would think" [9]. The Shah first backed off [10], but later on qualified his earlier statement, saying [11] that Iran has

"no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but if small states began building them, then Iran might have to reconsider its policy"!

According to Dr. Akbar Etemad (the first Chief of the AEOI from 1974 to 1978), the TNRC carried out experiments in which plutonium was extracted from spent fuel using chemical agents [12]. Note that the most important use for plutonium is in a nuclear bomb. It is also believed that the Shah had assembled at the TNRC a nuclear weapon design team. According to Mr. Alam [13], in the mid 1970s the Shah ordered the establishment of a ``University of Military Sciences and Technology.'' The mission of this university, which was supposed to be in Esfahan and controlled solely by Iran's armed forces, was to carry out research and development in the area of chemical and nuclear weapons. The Shah had even authorized stealing the necessary science and technology from other countries, if need be, in order for Iran to fully acquire the know-how of making chemical and nuclear weapons. None of these activities did, of course, provoke any reaction by the US.

On March 3, 1975, Iran and the US signed an agreement worth about $15 billion, according to which the US was, among other things, to build EIGHT NPPs in Iran with a total capacity of about 8,000 MW. The agreement was signed by the US Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, and Iran's Finance Minister Mr. Houshang Ansari. The fuel for the reactors was to be supplied by the US.

On March 14, 1975, in National Security Study Memorandum 219 signed by Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, President Gerald R. Ford directed [14]

"a study of the issues involved in reaching an acceptable agreement with the Government of Iran which would allow nuclear commerce between the countries - - specifically, the sale of the U.S. nuclear reactors and materials, Iranian investment in the U.S. enrichment facilities, and other appropriate nuclear transactions in the future."

About a month later, President Ford instructed the US negotiators to offer Iran uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities. Specifically, National Security Decision Memorandum 292, dated April 22, 1975 and signed by Mr. Kissinger, stated [15] that the US shall

"- - Permit U.S. materials to be fabricated into fuel in Iran for use in its own reactors and for pass-through to third countries with whom we have Agreement."

In addition, the US was willing to allow Iran to invest in the US uranium enrichment facility (Iran had proposed investing $2.75 billion in an enrichment facility in the US [16]). This is stated in the Memorandum [15]: The U.S. shall

"- - Agree to set the fuel ceiling at a level reflecting the approximate number of nuclear reactors planned for purchase from the U.S. suppliers. We would, as a fallbak, be prepared to increase the ceiling to cover Iran's full nuclear reactor requirement under the proviso that the fuel represents Iran's entitlement from their proposed investment in an enrichment facility in the U.S...."

The US was also willing to allow Iran to reprocess the spent fuels [15] (whic produce plutonium): The US shall

"Continue to require U.S. approval for reprocessing of U.S. supplied fuel, while indicating that the establishment of a multinational reprocessing plant would be an important factor favoring such approval...."

Around the same time, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology signed a contract with Iran for providing training for Iranian nuclear engineers. At that time, the AEOI had a staff of about 150 nuclear physicists, about half of whom were from Argentina. The Shah increased the 1976 budget of Iran's AEOI to $1 billion from about $31 million in 1975.

In National Security Decision Memorandum 324, dated April 20, 1976 and signed by General Brent Scowcroft, President Ford authorized the following negotiation position for the US with Iran. The US side should [17]:

"Seek a strong political commitment from Iran to pursue the multinational/binational reprocessing plant concept, according the U.S. the opportunity to participate in the project....."

Note that when President Ford was offering Iran such nuclear concessions, Dick Cheney, the present Vice President, was the White House Chief of Staff, and Mr. Donald Rumsfeld was the US Defence Secretary. Therefore, the same Donald Rumsfeld who was closely involved with pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran in the 1976, and the same Donald Rumsfeld who went to Baghdad in December 1983 to inform Saddam Hussein that the US, although officially neutral in the Iran-Iraq war, was going to tilt towards Iraq (after which the US provided strong military and intelligence support to Saddam Hussein), now has a leading role in the invasion of Iraq and threatening Iran with military strikes.

Around the same time, Mr. Jeffrey Eerkens, a US uranium enrichment expert, travelled to Iran to obtain funding for an invention of his for a special laser that could be used for uranium enrichment. In fact, Mr. Eerkens obtained in 1978 a license from the US Department of Energy to sell four lasers to Iran [18]. The lasers were shipped to Iran in October 1978 (only five months before Islamic Revolution's victory!). The IAEA reported recently that Iran had experimented with this technique about 10 years ago. However, apparently, the Eerkens lasers proved to be unworkable as a uranium enrichment instrument [19].

On April 12, 1977, Iran and the US signed an agreement to exchange nuclear technology and cooperate in nuclear safety. In an address to the symposium [20], "The US and Iran, An Increasing Partnership," held in October 1977, Mr. Sydney Sober, a representative of the US State Department, declared that the Shah's government was going to purchase EIGHT nuclear reactors from the US for generating electricity.

During his now-famous trip to Tehran on January 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter and the Shah reached a new bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation. The US agreed to grant Iran "most favored nation" status for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels. Iran agreed to buy 6-8 light-water nuclear reactors from the US (subject to approval by the US Congress).

On July 10, 1978 (only 7 months before the Islamic Revolution's victory) the draft of the US-Iran Nuclear Energy Agreement was signed. The agreement was supposed to facilitate cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and to govern the export and transfer of equipment and material to Iran's nuclear energy program. Iran was also to receive American technology and help in searching for uranium deposits [21]. On October 18, 1978, James R. Schlesinger, the US Energy Secretary, sent the agreement to President Carter for his signature. By then, however, Islamic Revolution had swept Iran, and the Shah had informed the US Ambassador Richard Sullivan that his plans for NPPs were on hold. Finally, in early 1979, the US stopped its supply of highly enriched uranium to Iran. Since Iran started its nuclear energy program in the early 1980s, the US has been completely hostile towards it.

The Neoconservatives' Fantasies for Dealing with Iran's Nuclear Program

We now move the clock forward for about 30 years to the present times to see what the neocons and their sympathizers are saying about Iran's nuclear energy program. We begin with a quote about the neocons [22]:

"The neocons hate two things: To be wrong and to be ignored."

It is now an indisputable fact that Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. But, that never stopped the neocons and their sympathizers from advocating invasion of Iraq, which ultimately succeeded when the invasion began in March 2003. The disaster in Iraq has not, however, discouraged the necons and their sympathizers. They now have fantasies about Iran as if Iranians are not already suffering enough in the hands of Tehran's right wing. Too many articles are being published by the necons and their sympathizers describing their fantasies about Iran. All one has to do is taking a look at what such publications as the Weekly Standard, the National Review, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, the Washington Times, and many other publications and websites contain about Iran, or do a Google search on Messrs Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and others. The goal of this part of the article is not to review what they write about Iran - it will take books to do so - but only to provide clues to neocons' and their sympathizers' thinking and their "action plans" for Iran's nuclear energy facilities, and compare them with the US policy towards Iran's nuclear program in the 1970s.

Before doing so, however, the author would like to point out that, having been a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists for nearly two decades - an organization dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons - he is only too aware of the danger that such weapons pose against the world, if they are in the hands of extremists. Therefore, the question is NOT whether Iran, under its present political conditions, should or should not have nuclear weapons. Rather, the point of this part of the article is to give wider public exposure to the neocons' and their sympathizers' fantasies about Iran, particularly among Iranians. Since they know very well that Iran is not Iraq to be overrun, and because they were bitten by "allies" such as Ahmad Chalabi and are well-aware that their Iranian allies - the monarchists and cultists - have no base of support inside Iran, they have begun having fantasies!

Exposing the neocons' and their sympathizers' fantasies is also important from another perspective: When it comes to opposing the spread of nuclear weapons (and it is not even certain yet whether Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons), the US has a double standard. Aside from Israel's arsenal (which includes biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons) which no US politician dares to question or even officially acknowledge, the US does not oppose Pakistan's nuclear arsenal - an immense threat to the stability of that part of the world, because Pakistan is an essentially failed State in a chaotic state. Its nuclear-armed military, populated by Islamic extremists, created the Taliban and still shields many of its leaders. Osama bin Laden could not have hidden for so long without the support of at least some elements of Pakistan's military. Pakistan has a sectarian war in which its majority sunni population has been murdering the shiite minority, and its schools teach Islamic radicalism. Abdul Ghadeer Khan, the founder and owner of Pakistan's nuclear supermarket, could not have operated freely for so long without the support of at least some elements of Pakistan's military. Even now, Pakistan does not allow any foreigners, including experts and inspectors of the IAEA, to interview Mr. Khan. However, instead of trying to alleviate this dangerous situation, the US has granted Pakistan "special friend" status.

But, the US double standards do not end with Israel and Pakistan. The US has exported nuclear technology to China; has offered a non-aggresion pact and economic incentives to North Korea, and never objected to Argentine and South Africa (which developed 16 nuclear bombs in the 1980s) acquiring nuclear technology and know-how. It was recently announced that South Korea and Taiwan both have been involved with enriching uranium, producing plutonium, and even nuclear bomb making, yet the revelation did not provoke any reaction by the US. Brazil, a signatory to the NPT, had until very recently refused to allow the IAEA full inspection of its uranium enrichment facilities that are under construction, yet, although Brazil provided nuclear materials to Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell declared on October 5, 2004, that Brazil's behavior "does not concern the US."

Here, we review the positions of two pundits regarding Iran's nuclear energy program. They are not at the American Enterprise Institute, the hotbed of neoconservatism, and may not consider themselves as neoconservative pundits. However, as we show below, their positions resonate nicely with those of the neocons.

The first pundit whose "positions" regarding Iran's nuclear energy facilities we would like to discuss is Mr. Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute. In a recent book chapter [23] entitled, "The Challenges of U.S. Preventive Military Action," Mr. Eisenstadt suggested the following covert actions, among others, against Iran's nuclear facilities (see pages 121 and 122 of Ref. [23]) (the emphasis with capital letters is mine):

"harassment or MURDER of key Iranian SCIENTISTS or technicians;"

"introduction of FATAL DESIGN FLAWS into critical reactor, centrifuge, or weapons components during their production, to ensure CATASTROPHIC FAILURE DURING USE;"

"introduction of destructive viruses into Iranian computer systems controlling the production of components or the operation of facilities;"

"damage or destruction of critical facilities through SABOTAGE..."

There are at least three important aspects of the above covert options to consider:

(a) One wonders whether Mr. Eisenstadt's suggestion for murdering Iranian scientists or technicians is not tantamount to state-sponsored terrorism. If so, it appears that in Mr. Eisenstadt's view terrorism is committed only by weaker countries or groups against powerful nations!

(b) Likewise, it appears that Mr. Eisenstadt does not consider sabotage as either state-sponsored terrorism, or against international laws. It appears that in his view, international laws are good only so long as they advance the interests of powerful nations!

(c) It is completely clear that Mr. Eisenstadt has no notion of what constitutes a catastrophic failure in an industrial complex. We are talking about a system which includes nuclear reactors and nuclear materials. Any catastrophic accident or system failure in any large-scale industrial complex, let alone a nuclear complex, is one that has immense consequences in terms of loss of lives, long-term health problems, human suffering, and economic and environmental damage. We only need to recall what happened in Bhopal, India - a non-nuclear accident - and in Chernobyl, Ukraine - a nuclear accident - to see the consequences of a catastrophic industrial failure. The people of those areas are still paying with their lives the cost of those accidents, with Chernobyl's total casualty reaching over 30,000.

To further boost his case for the type of covert actions he was proposing, Mr. Eisenstadt stated that [23],

"it might not be possible for Iranian authorities to determine, for instance, whether the death of a scientist was due to natural or un-natural causes, or whether damage to a critical facility was due to an industrial accident or sabotage."

Consider the reasoning: Mr. Eisenstadt seems to be of the opinion that the people who run Iran's nuclear program know nothing about anything. He appears to have forgotten that the same Iranian authorities managed to set up the complete cycle for enriching uranium over a period of 18 years and hide it from the world.

It came to the author's attention that Mr. Eisenstadt, in an e-mail that he sent to the panelists of the panel, "Assessing the Iranian Nuclear Program: Technical Capabilities and Intent," which was part of a workshop entitled, "Iran's Nuclear Program" (held on Tuesday November 9, 2004, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.), tried to put a spin on what he had stated in his article quoted above. In that panel Mr. Eisenstadt's proposal for creating a catastrophic failure was questioned and criticized by Professor Najmedin Meshkati of the University of Southern California, an internationally-recognized authority on safety of nuclear reactors. In response to Professor Meshkati's criticism, Mr. Eisenstadt stated the following [24] in his e-mail:

"Had I been there [in the panel] I would have pointed out that the term 'catastrophic failure' is used in industry to describe 'failure, often sudden and without warning, that jeopardizes the acceptable performance of an entire system or assembly.' (This definition is from the website, which describes itself as the worldwide search engine of the chemical industry). "Catastrophic" refers to how the failure affects the operation of the system, not its impact on the people operating the facility or living in its vicinity. There are no doubt ways to sabotage a nuclear power plant (if one were inclined to do so and had appropriate access) to prevent reactor start-up or to force it to shut-down without creating a hazard to the work force or the peoples of the region."

The author has been involved with the chemical and petroleum industry for thirty years. In addition to being a professor of chemical engineering, carrying out research (funded by leading funding agencies in the US) and publishing extensively (over 220 papers and 4 books) in these areas, the author has also been, and currently is, a consultant to many industrial coorporations. Mr. Eisenstadt's "clarification" is, in the author's opinion, nothing but hair spiting and distorting what is widely known, and does nothing but adding insult to the injury of his original suggestions. The suggestion that one can cause catastrophic failure in a nuclear facility "without creating a hazard to the work force or to the peoples of the region" is absolutely outrageous.

Perhaps one of the best responses to the "clarification" of Mr. Eisenstadt, and his claim that he was only discussing some possibilities, was given by Dr. Guive Mirfendereski, an international laws expert and a frequent commentator on Iran and the Middle East. In an e-mail to Mr. Eisenstadt, Dr. Mirfendereski wrote [25]:

"You are not in a scientific conference where all manner of theories are proposed, or in a sci-fi convention. Since the conditions of flawlessness of execution are never met, a catastrophic failure will produce catastrophic consequences. To even suggest such a thing in theory is reckless and without regard to the human toll that it will engender. Assume that the catastrophic failure occurs in Bushehr and before you know it the Iranians [who work there] fail to manage the failure properly - the Bhopal or Chernobyl style cloud or waterborne contamination then begins to waft over into the Persian Gulf and the neighboring countries, which include Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Iraq, where we [the US] have troops and will have for a foreseeable future. Will you then stand up and say, oops we goofed, the intel was faulty? Instead of coming up with Agent-Orange type solution inspired by an over-exaggerated sense of Bond-esque machismo, maybe the time has come for you and your cohorts to talk about befriending a country without whose friendship in the past twenty-odd years we [the US] have managed to screw up everything we touched in the Middle East - ironically to the ultimate detriment of the welfare of the citizens of a certain country that wags our [the US'] national policy."

The depth of Mr. Eisenstadt's lack of understanding of what is happening in the Middle East and what his proposals might do to that region can be seen where he states in his article that [23]:

"Successful U.S. prevention would require exceptionally complete intelligence; near flawless military execution; and deft post-strike diplomacy to mitigate an anti-American nationalist backlash, deter retaliation, and, most importantly, ensure that military action does not poison pro-American sentiment or derail the movement for political change in Iran. The complex, daunting, and somewhat contradictory nature of these challenges (e.g., successful prevention could harm short-term prospects for political change and complicate long-term prospects for rapprochement with a new Iran) only underscores the importance of exhausting diplomatic options before giving serious consideration to military action."

In other words, Mr. Eisenstadt believes that the US can cause a catastrophic failure in Iran's nuclear energy facilities, with unforeseen human, economic, and environmental consequences, but if the US only has "deft post-strike diplomacy" it can prevent a backlash and piosoning of pro-American sentiment, or derailment of the movement for political change in Iran. What Mr. Eisenstadt is saying is, in fact, rehashing of what all the neocons have been saying: That the reason for the anti-US feelings in the Middle East is just bad public relations, and has nothing to do with what the US has actually been doing there. In other words, as a Bush Administration official recently stated, the US should "create reality" as it goes ahead with its policies in the Middle East.

The second pundit whose position regarding Iran's nuclear energy facilities we discuss is Mr. Patrick Clawson. He is deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank. Similar to Mr. Eisenstadt, Mr. Clawson has been advocating sabotage, and creating industrial accidents in Iran's nuclear energy facilities. In a recent article Mr. Clawson stated that [26]:

"In an ideal world, the United States could disrupt Iran's nuclear program through covert means, such as corrupting software programs."

In another recent article [27] Mr. Clawson was quoted as going further, stating that:

"The idea that the only contingency plan available is to use U.S. air raids is not true. Given the shoddy design of the Russian nuclear plants whose blueprints Iran is using for its facilities, one could well imagine that there could be catastrophic industrial accidents."

However, it was in the Workshop in Washington (mentioned above) that Mr. Clawson stated his position most "eloquently." His remarks followed up Mr. Henry Sokolski's response to Professor Najmedin Meshkati's inquiry about suggestion for sabotaging Iran's nuclear system and Mr. Eisenstadt's written statements quoted above. The following remarks were transcribed verbatim from the C-SPAN live and then re-broadcast of the Workshop on Iran's Nuclear Program. Mr. Clawson said (the emphasis with capital letters are the author's) [28]:

"Look, if we could find a way in which we could introduce computer viruses which caused the complete shutdown of the Bushehr system before it became operational, that would be DELIGHTFUL."

"If we could find ways in which these very complicated centrifuges, which are spinning at such high speeds, could develop stability problems and fly apart, and the cascade [of the centrifuges] could be DESTROYED, I think that would be DELIGHTFUL."

The readers surely note that empty centrifuges do not spin! They only spin at high speeds when they contain uranium hexafluoride which is in gaseous state. So, destroying the cascade of the centrifuges only implies rapidly spreading the uranium compound everywhere, from which Mr. Clawson would derive delight. He continued:

"And, indeed, if we could find a way to create an industrial accident of the scale of the Three Mile Island which did not cause a single fatality, which would prevent Bushehr from becoming operational, I think that would also be very HELPFUL."

So, the contention is that a nuclear accident of the type and scale of the Three Mile Island would not cause any fatality! Clearly, Mr. Clawson has not done his homework. The author invites Mr. Clawson and the interested readers to watch the award-winning video, "Three Mile Island Revisited" [29]. To quote, the video

"directly challenges the claim of the nuclear industry and government that 'no one died' from the core meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979, America's worst nuclear disaster. Through the testimony of area residents and scientific experts, the documentary presents compelling evidence that cancer deaths and birth defects increased in the area surrounding the Pennsylvania plant."

The author also suggests that Mr. Clawson and the interested readers read, "People Died at Three Mile Island," chapter 14 of a seminal book [30] to learn about the chilling facts about this nuclear accident, from birth defects and increased rate of child mortality, to increased cancer deaths in that area.

Mr. Clawson then continued,

"So, there are a whole variety of mechanisms that could be used to stop Iran's nuclear program, that would be much less dangerous than some of the other methods that we are talking about. We are talking about military strikes. I hate to tell you this, but military strikes kill people, and that fact we have to take into consideration."

So, Mr. Clawson was apparently worried about loss of human lives as a result of military strikes. But he immediately revealed his true colour (if he already had not by making the statement about a Three Mile Island-type of accident):

"If we could find ways to bring about industrial accidents, that offer good prospects of not endangering human life, but may UNFORTUNATELY CAUSE SOME COLLATERAL DAMAGE, then that's a plan that we have to consider."

Therefore, Mr. Clawson immediately contradicted himself and conceded that industrial accidents of the type he is talking about do cause some (how much?) collateral damage.

After the 1995 agreement was signed by Iran and Russia for completing the Bushehr reactor, the Clinton administration began charging that the plutonium that one can extract from the nuclear waste that the reactor would produce could be used by Iran for making nuclear weapons. However, this issue was addressed by Iran and Russia, when they negotiated an agreement by which the nuclear wastes from the Bushehr reactor would be returned to Russia. In fact, the Bushehr reactor, at which most of Messrs Eisenstadt and Clawson fury and covert plans are aimed, is believed by many experts to be incapable of producing plutonium suitable for making a nuclear bomb. For example, according to Thomas Stauffer [31],

"The reactor at Bushehr is the wrong kind of nuclear reactor for producing weapons-grade fissile material. It will produce the wrong kind of plutonium.... It can be operated only in the wrong way with regard to yielding plutonium, and it is the wrong kind of reactor as well, in the sense that a facility such as Iran's is easily amenable to close surveillance, not lending itself at all to any covert diversion - of even the wrong kind of plutonium."

However, the neocons and their sympathizers would have none of these. The only thing that would satisfy this group is the complete destruction of Iran's nuclear energy facility, regardless of its human, environmental and economic consequences. Thus, having "successfully" completed their "Project for the New Iraqi Century," the neocons and their sympathizers have begun having fantasies about Iran. We already have neocons among Iran's right wing in Tehran who have been trying to suppress Iran's democratic movement. We should look forward to seeing Iranian neo-monarchists and neo-cultists as well, the US neocons' natural allies.


It is clear that the Frankstein that the US now calls Iran's nuclear program was conceived by the Shah and his government, with the direct assistance and strong encouragement (many believe pressure) by the US. Not only did the US want the Shah to develop nuclear infrastructure and build nuclear reactors (hence inspiring him to start the work for building nuclear bombs), but also offered him uranium enrichment technology, the main point of contention between the US and its European allies, and Iran. That was, of course, because the Shah was the US' dictator, having put him in power after he had been run out of Iran in 1953. The present reactionary right wing in Tehran is home grown. That appears to be the main difference between the Shah and his regime and Tehran's present right wingers.

Nearly 27 years ago, when the author moved to the US for his graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the neocons and pundits such as Messrs Clawson and Eisenstadt were considered as belonging to fringe groups on the far right. Today, such groups are gradually becoming the "mainstream" of the American politics. With the neocons being in power for the next four years, we may have to develop new meanings for "fringe groups," "far right," etc. In that case, the author shudders at the thought of what the new "fringe groups" or the "far right" may constitute, if the lunatic neocons represent the "mainstream."


[1] US Department of State, "Atoms for Peace Agreement with Iran," Department of State Bulletin 36 (April 15, 1957).

[2] G.A. Morgan, "The Current Internal Political Situation in Iran," in Digital National Security Archive, secret internal paper dated February 11, 1961.

[3] Digital National Security Archive, January 29, 1980, "US Supplied Nuclear Material to Iran."

[4] D. Albright, "An Iranian Bomb?," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, vol. 51, No. 1 (January 1995).

[5] "Nuclear Plant Study Started," Kayhan International (December 19, 1972).

[6] Tehran Magazine (March 18, 1974), page 2.

[7] A.A. Alam, "Alam's Diaries", Volume 4, edited by A. Alikhani (Maziar Press, Tehran, 2001), pp. 54-58. Mr. Alam had left a copy of the letter with his diaries, which is reprinted in the book. These documents may also be found in, "Issues and Talking Points: Intensified Bilateral Cooperation," Department of State Briefing in Digital National Security Archive;

[8] A.A. Alam, "Alam's Diaries", Volume 4, edited by A. Alikhani (Maziar Press, Tehran, 2001), page 7.

[9] "More Fingers on Nuclear Trigger?" Christian Science Monitor (June 25, 1974).

[10] According to Ref. [9], Iran's embassy in France issued a statement, denying that the Shah made that statement.

[11] Der Spiegel, February 8, 1975.

[12] A. Etemad, "Iran," in, "European Non-Proliferation Policy," edited by H. Mueller (Oxford University Press, London, 1987), page 9.

[13] A.A. Alam, "Alam's Diaries", Volume 1, edited by A. Alikhani (Maziar Press, Tehran, 2001), page 107.

[14] See President Gerald R. Ford's Presidential Documents at

[15] See President Gerald R. Ford's Presidential Documents at

[16] Department of State Secret Report, "Current Foreign Relations: US-Iran Commission cements bilateral ties; Iran and Iraq agree to settle differences." See,  

[17] See President Gerald R. Ford's Presidential Documents at

[18] L.S. Spector, "Going Nuclear: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons 1986-1987" (Ballinger Publishing, Cambridge, 1987), page 46.

[19] L.S. Spector and J.R. Smith, "Nuclear Ambitions: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 1989-1990" (Westview Press, Boulder, 1990), page 205.

[20] A. Etemad and N. Meshkati, "The US-Iran Nuclear Dispute: Dr Mohamed ElBaradei's Mission Possible to Iran," Iran News (July 13, 2003).

[21] Department of State Memorandum, "Iran: The US-Iran Nuclear Energy Agreement," October 20, 1978.

[22] This beautiful and insightful quote is not the author's. He read it in an article but, unfortunately, could not locate its original source. The author would be grateful to any reader who can provide him with the original source of the quote.

[23] "Checking Iran's Nuclear Ambitions," edited by H. Sokolski and P. Clawson (Carlisle, PA, U.S. Army War College, 2004). The document can be accessed on-line at: Those readers who may feel depressed after reading Mr. Eisenstadt's chapter in this book, may consider reading the chapter by Mr. Rob Sobhani for some relief and entertainment. (That chapter is, however, the subject of a forthcoming article by the author.)

[24] The author is grateful to Professor Najm Meshkati for sharing with him the e-mail on December 6, 2004.

[25] The author is grateful to Dr. Guive Mirfendereski for granting him permission, on December 6, 2004, to quote him here.

[26] P. Clawson, "How to Rein in Iran Without Bombing It," the Los Angeles Times (Friday October 15, 2004).

[27] S. Efron, "U.S. Options Few in Feud With Iran," the Los Angeles Times (Monday December 13, 2004).

[28] The author is grateful to Professor Najm Meshkati for his invaluable help with transcribing what Mr. Clawson stated.

[29] The video was produced by Steve Jambeck and Karl Grossman, and is about 30 minutes long.

[30] H. Wasserman and N. Solomon (with R. Alvarez and E. Walters), "Killing Our Own, the Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation" (Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1982).

[31] T.R. Stauffer, "Unlike Dimona, Iran's Bushehr Reactor Not Useful for Weapons-Grade Plutonium," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (September 2003), p. 28; see,

About the author:
Muhammad Sahimi is Professor & Chairman of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In addition to several other scientific organizations, since 1986 he has been a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and a member of its Partners for Earth Program. He has been a visiting professor in Australia, Europe, and the Middle East, and a consultant to many energy firms around the world. Portions of this article and a shortened version of Part IV will appear in the Fall issue of Harvard International Review.

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