By Muhammad Sahimi, Los Angeles
Since February 2003 Iran's program for constructing the complete cycle for
producing enriched uranium - the fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear power
plants (NPPs) - has been the subject of intense international debates. Over
this period, the experts and inspectors of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) have been visiting Iran on a regular basis to inspect its nuclear
facilities. The information and data that have been collected by the IAEA have
revealed sustained and determined efforts by Iran since 1985 for constructing
the complete cycle for producing enriched uranium. The Bush administrtation has
been arguing that the primary purpose of Iran's nuclear program is developing
nuclear weapons. The European Union (EU), which has very extensive commercial
relations with Iran; Russia, which is completing the construction of a NPP in
Bushehr (on the shores of the Persian Gulf), and Japan, which has signed a
lucrative oil agreement with Iran for developing Iran's giant Azaadegaan oil
field, have all pressed Iran hard, demanding that it reveal all the details of
its nuclear program.
In a series of articles that were posted on Payvand.com in October 2003, the
author provided a brief history of Iran's nuclear program (Part I); described
in broad terms the reasons that justify Iran's nuclear energy program as
economically, politically, and environmentally viable (Part II), and explained
the crisis that was emerging at that time (October 2003) in the relationship
between Iran and the IAEA (Part III). In Part IV, posted on Payvand.com on
December 7, 2004, the author presented a detailed economical, political, and
environmental analysis of Iran's nuclear energy program, using the most
reliable statistics on Iran's current energy consumption and resources. Part V,
posted on December 22, 2004, described in detail the key role that the United
States (US) played from the 1950s to the 1970s in starting Iran's nuclear
program. We showed that not only did the US push the Shah to buy its NPPs, but
also offered Iran the technology for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of
spent nuclear reactor fuel if Iran agreed to buy eight US-manufactured NPPs,
assertions that were repeated later on in an article published in the
Washington Post . We also compared the history of the US involvement with
Iran's nuclear program with the current thinking of the neo-conservatives and
their sympathizers on how to prevent the Bushehr reactor from operating, a
reactor that, under no conceivable circumstances, can be used for making a
nuclear bomb .
A major goal of the series has been to debunk the "argument" that the US
neo-conservatives and their allies have been making, namely, that given Iran's
vast oil and gas reserves, it does not need nuclear energy. The
neo-conservatives and their allies, ranging from Israel to Iran's
anti-democratic groups (from the terrorist cultist group to the monarchists)
and quasi-democratic groups (those whose words wish seemingly nothing for Iran
but a secular democratic republic, but whose deeds indicate otherwise ) are
the only groups that are still hanging onto this absurd argument . The
analysis presented in Parts II and IV of this series (and their short versions
published elsewhere [5,6]) have made their impact: Iran's nuclear energy
program has been transformed from one perceived not to be needed by, or
suitable for, Iran to one for which the EU is willing to GUARANTEE the supply
of nuclear fuels and advanced nuclear technology (see below), provided that
Iran gives up its right for having the complete cycle for producing enriched
Another goal of this series has been to inform the public, especially the
Iranians who live outside Iran, about the benefits and perils of the nuclear
energy program that the present Iranian government is pursuing. At the same
time, giving wide public exposure to the neoconservatives' thinking about Iran
is particularly important.
The Board of Governors (BOG) of the IAEA has had periodic special meetings to
review the progress in assessing Iran's nuclear program. In its special
meeting held on Monday November 29, 2004, the IAEA reported to the BOG its
latest findings on Iran's program, and due to the Paris agreement that Iran had
signed with the EU troika - Britain, France, and Germany - for suspending its
uranium enrichment program, no further special meeting of the BOG of the IAEA
was supposed to be scheduled; that is, Iran's case before the BOG was supposed
to have gone back to being a normal, un-urgent case.
However, as usual, recent developments have taken unexpected turns, as a result
of which Iran's case before the BOG of the IAEA has, once again, become
special. The reason for the latest twist in this saga is that, in mid August,
after Iran rejected the long-awaited proposal by the EU troika for curtailment
of its uranium enrichment activity in return for economic and political
concessions (see below), it restarted the Esfahan facility for converting
uranium yellow cake to uranium tetra- and hexafluoride - gaseous compounds (at
elevated temperatures) that are used to produce enriched uranium. However, Iran
relaunched the process after informing the IAEA which is now monitoring the
Esfahan facility. The relaunch of the Esfahan facility was against the Paris
agreement according to which Iran was obligated not to start any part of the
complete cycle for producing enriched uranium, so long as it was negotiating
with the EU troika.
It must be emphasized that producing uranium tetra- and hexafluoride is NOT
considered by the IAEA as part of the uranium enrichment process. But, in the
highly politicized and polarized environment that exists between Iran, the EU
troika, and the US (which has worsened since the election of Mr. Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad as Iran's new President), even a process as harmless, by itself, as
producing uranium compounds causes much tension. We must also realize that
the production of tetra- and hexafluoride in Esfahan is apparently still beset
by technical problems. Various reports indicate that the uranium compounds
produced there are not suitable for enrichment (see below).
In response to Iran's action, the EU troika has angrily suspended its
negotiations with Iran, taking the case back before the BOG of the IAEA, and
threatening Iran with a referral to the United Nations Security Council.
We must, however, realize that the only valid basis for referring Iran to the
Security Council is its breach of the nuclear non-proliferation regime as
described in the NPT. However, the IAEA has yet to find any evidence that Iran
was or is engaged in a nuclear weapons program. In fact, the IAEA just
announced that its tests vindicated Iran's claims that traces of highly
enriched uranium found two years ago at Iran's nuclear facilities are from the
equipment imported from Pakistani (see below).
The goal of the present part of the series is twofold:
(1) We describe the developments that have led to the present state of affairs
between Iran and the EU troika. In the author's opinion, much has been made of
the proposal that the EU troika has submitted to Iran, whereas a careful
reading of the proposal reveals that while Iran is being asked to give up some
of its fundamental rights under the NPT agreement, when it comes to the most
important part of an overall agreement between the EU troika and Iran, namely,
the security aspects, the EU proposal falls severely short; it does not offer
Iran any concrete security guarantees. At the same time, there has been little
discussion of what the author considers a reasonable proposal that Iran made
last March to its EU counterparts regarding its nuclear fuel cycle, which was,
however, ignored completely by the EU troika and the US.
(2) We then discuss whether it is in Iran's national interest to start its
full nuclear fuel cycle without reaching a formal agreement with the EU troika
and, through them, the US.
Fall 2003: Iran's Weak Position and the Sa'd Abaad Agreement
On October 21, 2003, Iran signed the Sa'd Abaad agreement with the European
troika. According to this agreement,
"The Iranian authorities reaffirmed that nuclear weapons have no place in
Iran's defence doctrine and that its nuclear programme and activities have been
exclusively in the peaceful domain. They reiterated Iran's commitment to the
nuclear non-proliferation regime and informed the ministers that:
a. The Iranian Government has decided to engage in full co-operation with the
IAEA to address and resolve through full transparency all requirements and
outstanding issues of the Agency and clarify and correct any possible failures
and deficiencies within the IAEA.
b. To promote confidence with a view to removing existing barriers for
co-operation in the nuclear field:
i. having received the necessary clarifications, the Iranian Government has
decided to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol and commence ratification
procedures. As a confirmation of its good intentions the Iranian Government
will continue to co-operate with the Agency in accordance with the Protocol in
advance of its ratification.
ii. while Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to
develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes it has decided voluntarily to
suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the
These were important PRACTICAL concessions made by Iran. What did Iran gain in
return? According to the agreement,
"The Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany welcomed the decisions of
the Iranian Government and informed the Iranian authorities that:
Their governments recognise the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of
nuclear energy in accordance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
a. In their view the Additional Protocol is in no way intended to undermine the
sovereignty, national dignity or national security of its State Parties...."
which are nothing but stating the rights that Iran already enjoyed under the
Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Therefore, in essence, Iran gained
nothing practical by signing the Sa'd Abaad Agreement, except postponing a
serious confrontation with the West. The question then is, why was Iran willing
to sign such an agreement which was clearly indicative of its weak position (at
that time)? Several factors contributed to Iran's decision to sign the Sa'd
Abaad Agreement, some of which are as follows.
(1) Iran had not told the world about its nuclear energy program for 18 years.
Although in terms of Iran's legal obligations towards the NPT, hidding the
nuclear facilities was NOT illegal , the fact is that the world was
suspicious of Iran. At the same time, even if Iran was, or still is, trying to
make a nuclear bomb (and this is still unclear), most experts agree that it is
still years away from achieving this goal , simply because Iran does not
appear to have solved all the technical problems regarding the enrichment
process (see below). Therefore, temporary transparency and openness could help
Iran learn more about the process.
(2) In October 2003 the US and Britain had appeared to be the absolute victors
in Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime had been overthrown swiftly, and there was not
yet any strong indication that the Sunnies, together with foreign terrorists,
would fight back and create the mess that Iraq is today. President Bush had
already declared "the end of major combat operations," and had boasted about
"mission accomplished." His approval rating was high, and there was still
strong support by a majority of Americans for invasion of Iraq. In short, Mr.
Bush's "faith-based propaganda"  was still working, and had not broken down
(3) The claim that Iraq had a "robust nuclear program"  was still
believable. The search for the program had only begun recently, and many
believed that it would be discovered sooner or later. Therefore, why would the
world not believe the same claim about Iran?
(4) The energy market, and in particular the oil market, was not nearly as hot
as what it is today. The oil price was in the $30 range (compared with the
$60 range today), and there was still considerable oil excess capacity,
implying that if Iran's oil exports were eliminated, other oil exporters could
increase their production and compensate for the loss, just as they had done
for Iraq's production. Moreover, there was "serious" talk of increasing Iraq's
oil production to 4 million barrel/day, which has, of course, never
(5) Internally, the Majles, Iran's parliament, was still controlled by vocal
reformists some of whom did not want any nuclear energy program (for example,
some members of the Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, and the Islamic
Iran Participation Front), while the rest, although supporting the program,
were advocating complete transparency in dealing with the IAEA (with which the
author agrees completely). Moreover, Mr. Mohammad Khatami was still Iran's
President, a man who wanted to make detente with the West not confront it.
In summary, Iran was in an extremely weak situation, and HAD TO sign the
Sa'd Abaad Agreement.
Summer 2005: Iran's Strong and Defiant Position
What has changed in little less two years that has made Iran confident (or,
perhaps, overconfident) that it can confront the West and come out ahead?
Consider the following:
(1) Unlike Fall 2003, the world now knows much about Iran's nuclear program.
Yes, there are still serious issues to be resolved (see below), but the fact is
that the IAEA has not been able to find any credible evidence - a smoking gun
so to speak - that would indicate that Iran is trying to make a nuclear bomb.
(2) Unlike Fall 2003, the insurgency in Iraq is in full swing with no end in
sight, which has resulted in high US casualties, as well as huge civilian
casualties among the Iraqi population. Even the Taliban are making a come
back in Afghanistan. President Bush's approval rating has tumbled to high
thirties or low forties, some of the lowest by any president. Nearly two-third
of Americans now believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and that it
has made the US LESS secure.
(3) No nuclear weapon, or any "robust program" for making them, was ever
discovered in Iraq. Given that right before the invasion the IAEA had
declared that there was no such program in Iraq, and that it has also failed
to find the same in Iran, it would be difficult to believe that Iran is making
a nuclear bomb unless, of course, new dramatic evidence is uncovered.
(4) The oil market is in turmoil. The oil price is in the neighbourhood
of $70/barrel, and there is almost no excess capacity in other oil exporting
nations left to compensate for Iran's exports - currently about 2.7 million
barrel/day - if they are lost due to a confrontation between Iran and the US.
At the same time, Iran will make about $60-70 billion in exports, and its
foreign debts and obligations are minimal, only about $10 billion. In short,
Iran's vulnerability to a worldwide economic sanction (as unlikely as it is)
could not be any less.
(5) Through relatively democratic elections, a Shiite-dominated government is
now ruling Iraq, led by men who spent years in Iran in exile. When Iraq's
Prime Minister, Dr. Ebrahim Al-Jafari, who speaks Persian fluently, visited
Iran recently, he put a wreath on Ayatollah Khomeini's grave. He admitted
Iraq's responsibility and fault for starting the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, and
asked Iran to help it train its armed forces. When Mr. Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's
(former) Foreign Minister, visited Iraq recently, he visited Ayatollah Ali
Sistani, the most powerful man in Iraq, if not in the entire Shiite world.
Ayatollah Sistani has never granted an audience to any Western official. At the
same time, radical Iranian elements and factions can create immense problems in
Iraq, way beyond what is currently happening there.
(6) China and India, the two most populous nations, have signed huge contracts
with Iran, worth well over $100 billion, to import oil and gas from Iran, hence
making them dependent on Iran. India is the largest democracy in the world,
while China is the up-and-coming superpower. Hence, these countries provide
Iran with political support. In particular, it is plausible (but not certain)
that China may veto any resolution against Iran, if its nuclear energy program
is referred to the UN Security Council. Russia might do the same, since it has
great stake in its nuclear copperation with Iran. But, their veto is not by
any means guaranteed.
(7) The emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), consisting of
China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The
SCO goes back to 1996 when China initiated the Shanghai Five, which included
all the current SCO members except for Uzbekistan. The purpose of SCO is to
form a network of cooperation among the member States, including military
security, economic development, trade and cultural exchange. In its most recent
meeting on July 5, 2005, the SCO invited Iran to participate as an observer,
which Iran did. Iran is likely to join the SCO sometime in the near future,
which will provide it with further political support. The SCO has started
asserting itself and flexing its political muscles, with Uzbekistan recently
asking the US to evacuate its military forces out of the country, which the US
will do soon. Clearly, if the US troops leave Central Asia, it will be an
important positive development for Iran.
(8) Iran has started receiving the proceeds from its oil exports in Euro rather
than dollar. Over a period time, it will stop receiving dollar altogether,
and will completely switch to Euro. This will not only provide more financial
stability and security for Iran's foreign exchange reserves, but also will have
a negative impact on the oil market in New York.
(9) Internally, the Majles, the presidency, the armed forces, and the judiciary
are all controlled by Iran's right wing. Although Iran's right itself is
factionalized, but history indicates that when it comes to a common enemy, it
becomes completely united.
Thus, Iran is in a strong position which explains its belligerence and
defiance. At the same time, unlike what is claimed in the Western Press, Iran's
defiance is NOT due to the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad as its new president,
rather, as the above discussion should make it clear, is due mostly to the
Iran's Proposal to the EU Troika
In addition to the above, what contributes to Iran's position strong is the
following. For sometime Iran was focused on providing the EU troika with the
"objective guarantees" of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. In fact,
on March 23, 2005, Iran submitted to the EU troika a plan of objetive
guarantees with the following elements :
(1) Spent reactor fuels will not be reprocessed by Iran, so that no plutonium
can be extracted to be used for bomb making.
(2) Iran will forego plutonium production through a heavy water reactor.
(3) Only low-enriched uranium will be produced.
(4) A limit will be imposed on the enrichment level, to be used solely as
fuel for reactors.
(5) A limit will be imposed on the amount of enrichment, restricting it to
what is needed for Iran's reactors.
(6) All the low-enriched uranium will be converted immediately to fuel rods for
use in reactors (fuel rods cannot be further enriched).
(7) The number of centrifuges in Natanz can be limited, at least at the
beginning. The full operation of the fuel cycle will be incremental, beginning
with the least sensitive part, such as uranium conversion.
(8) The IAEA will have permanent on-site presence at all the facilities for
uranium conversion and enrichment.
Items (1)-(7) that Iran has offered to limit, or to give up altogether, are
actually allowed by Article IV of the NPT. Therefore, any objective person who
is even remotely familiar with producing fuels for nuclear reactors would agree
that what Iran proposed in March 2005 was a substantial, if not complete, step
towards providing the EU troika and the US with the "objective guarantees" that
they are supposedly looking for. In fact, item (8) goes even beyond the
provisions of the Additional Protocol on the NPT that Iran signed in December
2003, and has been implementing ever since. At the minimum, Iran's proposal
could have been the basis for further negotiations. But, the EU negotiators
never responded to Iran's offer; they simply ignored it, hence demonstrating
their nations' utter arrogance .
The Proposal of the EU Troika to Iran
The long-awaited proposal by the EU troika, "The Framework for a Long-Term
Agreement," was submitted to Iran in early August. In the author's opinion,
the proposal does contain several important elements. For example,
(1) it tries to force Iran to commit to combating terrorism (article 9), hence
stopping many adventuresome aspects of Iran's foreign policy over the past
twenty five years, such as supporting radical groups in the Middle East, which
have done nothing but grossly damaging Iran's national interests;
(2) it recognizes Iran's right to developing the infrastructure for peaceful
use of nuclear energy and research (articles 14 and 15) (these rights have,
however, been recognized by the NPT);
(3) it recognizes Iran's right to have access to "international nuclear
technology market" (article 18);
(4) it offers to provide expert help for safety aspects of Iran's program
(5) it offers to facilitate Iran's access to the international market for
nuclear reactors fuels (article 23);
(6) it offers to help Iran develop a "buffer store" of 5 years of fuel supplies
for the reactors in case either the supplies dry up, or the suppliers refuse to
provide Iran more fuels for the reactors (article 30), and
(7) it proposes a mechanism for addressing the situation that arises in (6)
(articles 27-29), although the mechanism is tedious.
However, certain aspects of the EU proposal are either against the existing
international agreements, or their language is vague and leaves a lot to be
desired. For example, the proposal demands that Iran (emphasis with capital
"make a legally binding commitment not to withdraw from the NPT and to keep
all Iranian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguarded UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES"
The commitment not to withdraw from the NPT is even against the NPT itself,
which allows the member States to withdraw from the agreement, subject to
giving a 90 days notice to the IAEA, if the States believe that abiding by the
terms of the NPT threatens their national security, and withdrawing from the
NPT is in their "Supreme Interest."
At the same time, why is Iran's case so different that requires new skewed
interpretation of the NPT's provisions, or creating new obligations for Iran
that do not even exist in the international agreements regarding nuclear
weapons? If Iran has violated certain aspects of the Safeguards Agreement by
not reporting to the IAEA what it has been doing (which is still a matter of
debate), it has not been the LONE violator. Over the past year alone, the IAEA
has reported that South Korea, Taiwan, and Egypt have, at various times,
violated the provisions of the NPT by secretly engaging in experiments on
uranium enrichment and even bomb making. Brazil, a country that provided
nuclear assistance to Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980, refused, for a long
time, granting permission to the IAEA to visit and inspect its uranium
enrichment facilities under construction. Where is the international outcry
over these violations?
Therefore, if Iran is to make a commitment not to withdraw from the NPT, the
logical first step is to revise the terms of the NPT agreement, so that the
commitment would become binding for ALL the member States, not just Iran. In
addition, the revisions must address the all important issue of what to do
about nuclear powers that are NOT signatories to the NPT, namely, India,
Israel, and Pakistan, all in Iran's vicinity, with the latter two posing
great threats to Iran's national security.
In addition, the "Political and Security Co-Operation" section of the EU
proposal leaves a lot to be desired. Let us review a portion of it (article 4):
"Within the context of an overall agreement and Iran's fulfilment of its
obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),
the United Kingdom and France would be prepared to reaffirm to Iran the
unilateral security assurances given on 6 April 1995, and referred to in
United Nations Security-Council Resolution 984 (1995). Specifically:
the United Kingdom and the French Republic would reaffirm to Iran that they
will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States Parties to the
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an
invasion or ANY attack on them, their dependent territories, their armed
forces, or other troops, their allies or on a State towards which they have a
security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon
State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State...."
Such guarantees actually leave open the possibility of a nuclear or even
non-nuclear attack on Iran because, as is clear in the above paragraph,
immediately after promising not to attack Iran, a long list of "exceptional"
cases which can provoke an attack is mentioned. Moreover, Iraq was invaded
and occupied not through a nuclear attack, but by conventional forces. So, the
question is, where is the guarantee that Britain and France (and, for that
matter, Germany) will not participate in a war similar to the invasion of Iraq
using conventional forces?
Even if full guarantees, with no ifs, buts, and exceptions, are provided, where
is the guarantee that the US will not attack Iran? Where is the guarantee that
its proxies, such as Israel, will not attack Iran? The proposal is silent about
these aspects, except where it states that (article 4b):
"the United Kingdom and the French Republic would recall and reaffirm, as
Permanent Members of the Security Council, to seek immediate Security Council
action to provide assistance, in accordance with the Charter [of the UN], to
any non-nuclear State, party to Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons, that is a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of
aggression in which nuclear weapons are used."
In other words, the proposal guarantees nothing when it comes to the use of
conventional forces, and even in the case of an aggression in which nuclear
weapons are used, all the EU troika will do will be seeking "immediate
Security Council action," presumably after tens (if not hundreds) of thousands
of innocent people have already perished during the aggression.
The New IAEA Report and its Absurd Demands
As mentioned above, two years ago the EU troika insisted through the Sa'd Abaad
Agreement that Iran must "voluntarily" sign the Additional Protocol to the NPT,
which Iran did and began implementing. But, in his September 3, 2005 report to
the BOG of the IAEA  entitled, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards
Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran", Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the
IAEA, has reported on the following item:
(1) Iran has submitted to the IAEA comprehensive declarations with respect to
its nuclear facilities, including design information (article 5).
(2) In view of Iran's steady cooperation and increasing transparency, resolving
the outstanding concerns (see below), the IAEA believes that Iran's nuclear
issue "would be followed up as matters of routine safeguards" (article 6).
(3) Other than some delays and slowness in providing information on the
design aspects, "no additional failures have been identified" by the IAEA
(4) Certain aspects of Iran's previous declarations, especially the
"outstanding issue" of the sources of contamination of Iran's equipment with
high-enriched uranium which has turned out to be Pakistan (as had been widely
believed), have been verified (article 12).
(5) Several Iranian "transparency measures," well beyond the Additional
Protocol, are reported, including allowing inspection access to Iran's military
bases (article 37).
(6) The report cites "good progress" in Iran's "corrective measures" since
October 2003 (article 43).
(7) The report declares that, "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has
been accounted for, and therefore such material has not been diverted to
prohibited activities" (article 51).
(8) The report confirms again again that Iran's uranium enrichment facilities
at Natanz have remained suspended; that the converted uranium had been
relocated to safe storages, and that the uranium hexafluoride "remained under
agency seals" (article 59).
(9) It admits that, "the agency's legal authority to pursue the verification of
possible nuclear weapons-related activity is limited" (article 49).
This is, of course, a basic problem of the non-proliferation regime which
transcends Iran, but is being selectively applied to Iran. After admitting this
general shortcoming, the report states that Iran's transparency (emphasis with
capital letters added)
(10) "should extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement
and Additional Protocol and include ACCESS TO INDIVIDUALS, documentation
related to procurement, dual-use equipment, certain MILITARY-OWNED WORKSHOPS
and research and development locations" (article 50).
Such demands are clearly pure political pressure far beyond any requirements
demanded by the NPT and its Additional Protocol. In fact, Iran is being asked
to comply with demands that are reminiscent of what Iraq was being asked to do
in the months leading to its illegal invasion by the US and Britain. In
essence, what the report is demanding is that Iran should reveal its sensitive
military information. If Iran were to go along, where would the demand list
In addition, it is not even clear why, with so many positive aspects of
Iran's cooperation with the IAEA reported by the IAEA, Iran should accede to
such additional demands. This is particularly baffling in view of the IAEA's
own discovery about Iran's deals with Pakistan's Abdul Ghadeer Khan, indicating
that Iran turned down his offers of nuclear-weapons designs in the 1980s, which
should reinforce Iran's position that it is not interested in acquiring nuclear
weapons. What happened to President Bush's declaration at the National Defense
University on February 11, 2004 that, "I propose that by next year, only States
that have signed the Additional Protocol be allowed to import equipment for
their civil nuclear programs"?
Lack of Mutual Trust and the Emerging Crisis
Given the above, the question is: What is REALLY at issue in the confrontation
between Iran, the EU troika, and the US? The issue, as Dillip Hiro  put it,
"Do Third World countries have the right to develop and use all nuclear
technology, including enrichment, as authorized by the Nuclear
Non-proliferation Treaty, or not?"
Iran believes that the answer is an unequivocal "Yes," and is not alone in its
stance: The Non-Aligned Movement, which has a membership of 116 nations (and
includes such important nations with nuclear technology as Brazil, India, and
South Africa), agrees. So, whether intended or not, Iran has become the
champion of the developing nations, willing to stand up to the Western world.
Moreover, whether we like it or not, Iran's stance has won it quiet admiration
by Non-Aligned nations, as they fear that the limitations that the EU and the
US are trying to impose on Iran could be extended to them eventually.
The EU troika does not deny the right. But it (and the US) wants Iran to give
up its rights under the NPT FOREVER (article 34 of the EU proposal) in return
for the commitments described above.
Why do the EU and the US want Iran to give up its right for having the complete
cycle for producing enriched uranium? Their main argument is that, since Iran
hid its nuclear energy program for 18 years, it has, in essence, given up that
right. In essence, it is, more than anything else, an issue of trust between
two hostile sides. As President Bush stated in a news conference on April 28,
2005, at the White House,
"America recognises that we cannot trust the Iranians when it comes to
enriching uranium . . . they should not be allowed to enrich uranium."
In the author's opinion, there is not much merit to the argument that, "we do
not trust Iran because it hid its nuclear program." To see why consider the
(1) As explained in Part II of this series, beginning in 1982, Iran started
pursuing Germany to complete the reactors in Bushehr. It tried any and all
the reasonable (and some not so reasonable) approaches in order to get Germany
live up to its obligations; it never succeeded. If anything, Iran's efforts
were indicating clearly to the West that it WAS pursuing a nuclear program. At
the same time, the (West) German intelligence agency was the first to declare
in 1984 that, "Iran was only TWO YEARS away from a nuclear bomb" .
(2) As noted in Ref. , under the provisions of the Safeguard Agreement of
IAEA, building the Natanz facility and not declaring it were NOT illegal
(though they were clandestine), so long as 180 days before introducing any
nuclear materials into the facility Iran notified the IAEA, which Iran did long
before the 180 days period. As has been emphasized in this series of articles,
the difference between being clandestine and illegal has not been understood in
the Western press; constructing the Natanz facility is constantly referred to
as Iran's "breach of its obligations."
(3) The truth is that the EU troika and the US do not wish Iran to have the
uranium enrichment facilities, REGARDLESS of what Iran does or does not. To see
this one only needs to consider Iran's proposal of March 2005. At the same
time, does anyone really believe that if, in 1985, Iran had declared its
intention for constructing its present enrichment facilities, the US and the EU
troika would have rushed in to help it, or even allowed Iran to proceed? It is
difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any scenario under which this would
have happened. So, the issue is not one of hiding something, rather not wanting
Iran to possess the enrichment facilities and technology under any
However, Iran's reactionary right has done too many things to make the world
suspicious or distrustful of Iran, some of which, in the author's opinion, are
(1) The hardliners have suppressed Iran's democratic movement and violated, on
a steady and consistent basis, the personal, social, political, and economical
rights of Iranians. In fact, in the author's opinion, lost in the international
fury over Iran's nuclear energy program has been the fact that, respect for
human rights and a democratic political system are the most effective deterrent
against the threat that any aspiring nuclear power run by an undemocratic
government may pose to the world. When the US strongly pushed the Shah to start
Iran's nuclear energy program at a time that it had no economic justification
(see Parts II and IV of this series), instead of pushing him to undertake
meaningful political reforms, it helped creating the Frankstein now called
Iran's nuclear program.
A democratic political system in Iran greatly reduces and even eliminates the
threat that its nuclear program may pose to the world because, in the author's
opinion, the danger per se is not that Iran may have nuclear weapons (which it
does not), but that some of its most important power centers and
decision-making process are shrouded with secrecy. A free press in Iran - a
pillar of human rights - will reveal nuclear adventures that Iran's hidden
power centers may pursue against Iran's national interests .
Since 1970s, when the Shah started Iran's nuclear program, India, South
Africa, North Korea, Pakistan, and Israel have joined the nuclear club. In the
1980s South Africa's apartheid regime produced nuclear bombs, but the
democratic government of Nelson Mandella dismantled them. India, has developed
a nuclear arsenal, but not many perceive world's largest democracy as a threat
to the world. The same is true about Israel.
But, North Korea's nuclear arsenal is a threat because its regime is highly
secretive and its leader a recluse. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is extremely
dangerous (even if the US does not acknowledge it) because Pakistan is an
essentially failed State. Its nuclear-armed military, populated by Islamic
extremists, created the Taliban which supported Osama bin Laden. Pakistan has a
sectarian war in which the majority Sunni population has been murdering the
Shiite minority, and many of its schools teach Islamic radicalism. Could Abdul
Ghadeer Khan, the founder and owner of Pakistan's nuclear supermarket, have
operated freely for so long without the support of some elements of its
military? Could he have operated in a democratic Pakistan with a free press to
reveal the depth of his dangerous enterprise?
Aside from the nature of Iran's hardliners which cannot be conducive to
building trust between Iran and the international community, several questions
about Iran's nuclear energy program remain unresolved:
(2) When did Iran obtain the design for the advanced P-2 centrifuges? Why did
it not pursue its construction? or, has it?
(3) Why did Iran experiment for sometime uranium enrichment using lasers?
Surely, laser enrichment is not economical, and can be justified only in the
framework of a military program for which there is no limit to the budget that
can be spent.
(4) Why was the Bandar Abbas uranium mine not declared to the IAEA for quite
some time? How much uranium deposits does Iran possess, any way ?
(5) At least three companies - Kaalaa-ye Electric, Pars Taraash, and Faraayand
Technic - supposedly having nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program - have
turned out to be providing support for it. Iran must be prepared to address
the issue of such companies in a systematic way, because it is likely that the
IAEA will press Iran on this issue in the future.
But, this is not the complete story, but only half of it. The lack of trust
between Iran, the EU, and the US is also due to the other half of the story,
which is about the "guarantees" given by France, Germany, and the US to Iran
that later on turned out to be "non-binding." Consider the following (which
represents just the tip of the iceberg) :
(1) As described in Part I and mentioned above, Germany was supposed to build
two nuclear reactors in Bushehr. The construction of the reactors was begun and
made considerable progress. But Germany stopped the work after the Iranian
Revolution. It neither paid Iran back what it owed, nor did it finish building
the reactors, nor delivered the parts that had already been purchased and paid
(2) Iran paid in 1975 $1 billion to buy 10% of Eurodif, a French company that
produces enriched uranium. In return Iran was supposed to receive enriched
uranium for its reactors, but has never received any. France was also supposed
to construct nuclear reactors in Khuzestan province, but it never did.
(3) The Shah spent billions of dollars in the 1970s to purchase US made
weapons. The US was obligated to provide Iran with the spare parts for the
weapons. But, when the Iran-Iraq war began, the US refused to supply Iran
with the spare parts which had already been paid for. But the US did not stop
there. Donald Rumsfeld travelled to Baghdad in December 1983, had a friendly
meeting with Saddam Hussein, and informed him that the US, although officially
neutral, was going to "tilt" towards Iraq. The US then started supplying Iraq
with detailed information on troops movement in Iran, and other valuable
(4) Historical factors also play important roles in the distrust of the
Europeans by Iran. The Golestan and Turkmenchaay Treaties, signed in 1811 and
1827 between Iran and Russia, forced Iran to give up, under force, a large
portion of its historical territories. Later on in 1867, the British empire did
the same to Iran when it used force to separate Afghanistan from Iran. The 1953
coup d'etat overthrew the government of Iran's national hero, Dr. Mohammad
Mosaddegh. These historial events, with gigantic implications, have left deep
scars on Iran's historial memory.
Therefore, the lack of trust between Iran, the EU, and the US is mutual. While
the EU nations have many good reasons to distrust Iran, they also have a track
record of promises that they had made to, and obligations that they had
towards, Iran, which were broken and violated later on.
Iran's Technical Problems: A Reason for Caution
While the Western Press has been trying to create a menacing image of Iran's
nuclear energy program, now that the Esfahan facility has started operating
again, the reality, which should prevent the EU from panicking, is quite
different. The fact is that Iran faces many difficulties in operating both the
Esfahan and Natanz facilities [19,20], with the latter facility being currently
sealed, anyway. Iran had major problems with the Esfahan facility in 2004 when
it produced uranium hexafluoride, which was unsuitable for enrichment because
it contained impurities that prevent its enrichment. Another problem is
obtaining suitable materials for handling and storing uranium hexafluoride,
which is in a solid state at room temperature, but makes a transition to the
gaseous state at about 135 F. Whether Iran has overcome such difficulties is
not known yet. A third problem Iran is facing is about its centrifuge facility
at Natanz. Apparently, Iran has been unable to keep the centrifuges running for
a sufficient length of time at the required speeds.
At the same time, most experts believe that the IAEA inspections and safeguards
will prevent Iran from directly using facilities declared to the IAEA for its
weapons program (if one exists), so long as Iran does not withdraw from the
NPT. A November 2004 report by the CIA supported these assertions. However, if
Iran's program is referred to the Security Council, and the Council imposes
tough sanctions against Iran (the possibility of which AT PRESENT is remote),
Iran may withdraw from the NPT and expel its inspectors. Then, what Iran's
hardliners do next is anybody's guess. It is not in the interest of the world
to arrive at such a frightening moment.
Summary: Is Defiance in Iran's National Interest?
In the author's opinion, although Iran's current position is very strong, it is
not in its national interest to be referred to the UN Security Council. The
reason is threefold:
(1) Although Russia and China are both opposed to referring Iran's nuclear
program to the United Nations Security Council, their veto of a resolution
against Iran is NOT guaranteed. An approved resolution, even if it is mild,
will be used by the War Party in the US as an exuse for staging military attack
(2) If the Security Council does pass some resolution against Iran, it will
have the legitimacy of the UN and, therefore, Iran will be isolated. In short,
Iran must realize that, (i) it cannot afford to lose in the court of public
opinion, and (2) while it might win the current battles with the EU troika, it
may lose the ultimate war at the Security Council.
(3) Although Iran is entitled to having the complete cycle for producing
enriched uranium, it does not have any urgent need for it. The fuel for the
Bushehr reactor has been guaranteed by Russia, and any new reactor to be
constructed in Iran is years away. Thus, once again, there is no need to
put Iran in a position where the War Party in the US may become tempted to
attack it, which would inflict immeasurable damage on Iran's industrial and
population centers. Protecting Iran against such attacks is far more important
than having the cycle for enriching uranium: Without a prosperous and safe Iran
it makes no sense to speak of uranium enrichment.
At the same time, the EU and the US must also realize the following:
(1) Referring Iran to the Security Council is not in the interest of the
international community, because in that case Iran may carry out its threat of
withdrawing from the NPT. That would destroy the already troubled
non-proliferation regime and, instead of full transparency, the IAEA will find
Iran back in the pre-2003 era.
(2) In addition to being economically viable and necessary, Iran's nuclear
energy program also has to do with nationalism and pride. If the EU and the US
ignore this aspect, it will cause lasting repercussions, setting back the
relations between Iran, the US, and the EU for a long time.
(3) In the author's opinion, the way to address the problem of Iran's nuclear
program is not by threatening it with military strikes, but by providing Iran
with incentives to move towards a democratic and transparent political system
which would make its nuclear program benign. The Achiles' heel of Iran's
hardliners is not their possible violation of Iran's international nuclear
obligations that may drag them before the Security Council to bring about their
eventual fall, but their violation of human rights of Iranians, including
suffocating Iran's independent press.
(4) It is no accident that Iran's nuclear program began accelerating in 1997
when Mohammad Khatami was elected president, and began implementing a program
of reform and more transparency. Since then, instead of helping Iran's
fledgling democratic movement, which would have inevitably led to transparency
in its nuclear program, the US has been hurting it. Whereas Mr. Khatami
proposed people-to-people dialogue between the US and Iran, the US has
prevented Iranian scholars and authors from publishing their work in the US.
Whereas Iran greatly helped the US in the war in Afghanistan, the US bestowed
upon it the "honour" of being a member of "Axis of Evil!" In return for the
overwhelming victory of Iran's democratic forces in the 2000 elections for the
Majles, the US lifted sanctions against importing Iranian pistachios! The US
repeats the claim that Iran does not need nuclear energy because it has plenty
of oil and natural gas, yet it has blocked the US oil companies to invest in
Iran's oil industry. It is because of such contradictions in the US policy
towards Iran that it is difficult for ANY Iranian leader to trust the US.
The proposals by Iran and the EU both have many positive elements. The Natanz
facility remains suspended and sealed, and Iran faces many technical
difficulties to operate a complete uranium enrichment cycle. Hence, there is no
reason for the EU to panic just because the conversion of the yellow cake to
uranium tetra- and hexafluoride, which the IAEA does not even consider as part
of an enrichment process, has started. Through patience, flexibility, and
mutual understanding, the two proposals can be combined into one coherent
proposal that satisfies Iran's aspirations and the EU's and the US' concerns.
References and notes
 See, Dafna Linzer, "Past Arguments Don't Square with Current Iran Policy,"
the Washington Post, March 27, 2005.
 See Parts IV and V of this series for detailed discussions of this point.
See also, 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, as well as,
 A good example of such quasi-democratic groups is an Iranian political
journalist based in Europe and his cohorts in Los Angeles. They repeat,
VERBATIM, whatever non-sense the neo-conservatives claim about Iraq and
Iran. The same people had a "joyous" (sickening to the author though) scream on
an Iranian satellite TV channel on March 19, 2003 - the day the US and Britain
began their illegal invasion of Iraq - stating their hope and dream that, "Iran
will soon have such a day." What has been happening in Iraq since then has not,
of course, made them reconsider their "wish," simply because they do not
understand a simple fact: Without defending Iran's national interests, it is
meaningless to speak of democracy and human rights.
 On July 5, 2005, at a joint news conference with France's Foreign Minister
Philippe Douste-Blazy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "the United
States does not see the need for a civilian nuclear program in oil-rich Iran,"
despite the fact that in the same news conference she said that the US strongly
supports the EU-Iran neogotiations, and that the EU has recognized Iran's right
and need for NPPs. To read about the news conference see,
 M. Sahimi, P. Mojtahedzadeh, and K.L. Afrasiabi, "Iran Needs Nuclear
Reactors," International Herald Tribune, October 14, 2003.
 M. Sahimi, "Forced to Fuel: Iran's Nuclear Energy Program," Harvard
International Review, Volume XXVI (No. 4), Winter 2005, p. 42.
 According to the original IAEA Safeguard agreements, Iran was not obligated
to declare the start of construction of the Natanz facility for uranium
enrichment. These agreements stipulate that, only 180 days before introducing
any nuclear material, must Iran declare the existence of the facility.
Therefore, construction of the undeclared Natanz facility is NOT by itself a
violation of the NPT. In addition, the NPT does allow Iran to legally build any
nuclear facility, including one for uranium enrichment, so long as it is
declared to, and safeguarded by, the IAEA, and is intended for peaceful
 The latest US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program
states that Iran is about 10 years away from making a nuclear bomb. See,
Dafna Linzer, "Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb," The Washington Post,
August 1, 2005. To view the article, see,
See also Refs.  and  below.
 This phrase was taken from F. Rich's column, "Falluja Floods the
Superdome," The New York Times, September 4, 2005.
 This is the phrase that Vice President Dick Cheney used frequently prior
to invasion of Iraq.
 Excellent discussions of Iran's proposal are given by G. Prather (a
physicist who has worked in the Departments of Energy and Defence). See, for
example, "What the Neo-Crazies Knew," August 13, 2005, in
See also Prather's August 8, 2005 article, "EU vs. Iran: Who's Right?" at
 See also, T. Parsi, "Europe's Mendacity Doomed Iran Talks to Failure,"
the Financial Times of London, August 30, 2005. To view the article, see
 For a thorough analysis of the IAEA report see, K.L. Afrasiabi,
"ElBaradei's Report Deconstructed," September 7, 2005, at
 Dillip Hiro, "Iran's Nuclear Ambitions," the Nation Magazine, September
12, 2005. To view the article see, www.thenation.com/doc/20050912/hiro
 D. Leglu, Liberation (Paris), April 29, 1984.
 See also, Shirin Ebadi and M. Sahimi, "In the Mullahs' Shadow," the
Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2005.
 Estimates on Iran's natural uranium deposits vary widely. They range
anywhere from enough deposits to produce fuel for only one 1000 MW reactor for
6-7 years, which is what the US claims (hence pointing out that such small
deposits do not justify an enrichment program, unless it is for military
purposes), to much larger amounts cited in Part II of this series. The true
amount is likely to be something in between.
 See also, F. Mokhtari, "Coping with Iran's Nuclear Ambitions," the
Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2005. To view the article see,
 P. Kerr, "Back to Normal, Iran Nuclear Abilities Limited," Arms Control
Association, September 6, 2005. To view the article see,
 See also, A. Cowell, "Nuclear Weapon is Years off for Iran, Research Panel
Says," the New York Times, Wednesday September 8, 2005, p. A11.
About the author:
Muhammad Sahimi is Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science,
and NIOC Professor of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles. Since 1986 he has been a member of the Union of
Concerned Scientists - an organization dedicated to preventing the spread of
nuclear weapons - and a contributor to its Partners for Earth Program. He has
also been a visiting professor in Australia, Europe, and the Middle East, and
a consultant to many energy firms around the world. In addition to his
scientific work, his political articles have appeared as book chapters, on
various websites, and in such publications as the Los Angeles Times and the
Wall Street Journal.
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