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Iran needs nuclear energy for its economic survival

by Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh (source: CASMII)

Editor's note: Professor Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh (CASMII UK) delivered this speech in the meeting of the European Parliament in Brussels on 4th July entitled, "IRAN: Alternative to Escalation". The conference was convened by “The Greens/European Free Alliance”.

            Professor Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh


Three days ago I returned from Tehran where I witnessed how introduction of petrol rationing resulted in riots which in turn signalled crisis point in Iran’s energy problems which can no longer be denied or ignored. This in the context where billions of dollars of Iran’s oil export revenues is spent importing refined oil from Russia and elsewhere and the government having difficulty expanding oil refining industries because of well placed reluctance in refining for domestic use the oil that is meant to be for export.

Yet, the United States of America still argues that Iran's real purpose for pursuing its nuclear energy program is to develop nuclear weapons and that with its huge oil and gas reserves it has no real need for nuclear energy. This had been propagated in international political arena mainly by Israeli sources, to the extent that Washington’s adherence to it has turned an economic issue into one of the most complicated political conflicts of our time.

When the current administration came into power in the United States, propaganda against Iran’s nuclear energy program reached its dangerous proportion and Israeli leaders went as far as claiming in early years of 21 century that Iran had manufactured 6 nuclear bombs. Even those who should know better claim that Iran, both now and in the foreseeable future, can easily meet its energy needs without recourse to nuclear sources. In order to see the real nature of this controversy it is of consequence to know that:

1- Iran's nuclear history pre-dates the current Islamic government. It originated in the mid-1970s, when encouraged by the US, the last Shah of Iran unveiled plans to purchase several nuclear reactors from Germany, France and the United States to generate electricity. The Shah's government awarded a contract to a subsidiary of the German company Siemens to construct two 1,200-megawatt reactors at Bushehr. This project is supposed to have been completed by Russia after about three decades of exploitation of Iran.

At the time, the United States encouraged Iran to expand its non-oil energy base. A study by the Stanford Research Institute concluded that Iran would need, by the year 1990, an electrical capacity of about 20,000 megawatts. The first cadre of Iran's nuclear engineers was trained at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In recognition of Iran's energy needs, the final draft of the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Energy Agreement was signed in July 1978 - several months before the Islamic revolution. The agreement stipulated, among other things, US export of nuclear technology to Iran and material and help in searching for uranium deposits.

2- Iran's present electrical requirements are far larger than had been predicted and Iranian cities suffer from hours of power cut for saving energy. With an annual growth of 6 percent to 8 percent in demand for electricity and a population estimated to reach 100 million by 2025, Iran cannot possibly rely exclusively on oil and gas for its energy need. On the other hand, Iran’s aging oil industry, substantially denied of foreign investment largely because of the unilaterally imposed sanctions by US, has not been able even to reach anywhere near the pre-revolution production level of 5.5 million barrels per day. Of Iran's 60 major oil fields, 57 need major repairs, upgrading and re-pressurizing, which would require $40 billion over 15 years. Iran's current production level of 3.5 million barrels p/d is increasingly geared toward domestic consumption, which has grown by more than 280% since 1979 revolution. If this trend continues, Iran will become a net oil importer by 2010, a catastrophe for a country that relies on oil for 80 percent of its foreign currency and 45 percent of its annual budget.

3- Opponents of Iran's nuclear program often argue that Iran should opt for the more economically efficient electricity from natural gas-fired power plants. Such arguments are also not valid. A recent study by two MIT professors indicated that the cost of producing electricity from gas (and oil) is comparable with what it costs to generate it using nuclear reactors - not to mention the adverse effects of carbon emissions or the need to preserve Iran's gas reserves to position Iran in 20 or 30 years as one of the main suppliers of gas to Europe and Asia.

4- Why should Iran deplete its nonrenewable oil and gas resources when it can, much like the energy-rich United States and Russia, resort to renewable nuclear energy? Nuclear reactors have their problems, and they will not resolve Iran's chronic shortage of electricity. Yet they represent an important first step in diversifying Iran's sources for energy (1).

The US-Israeli Dimension

Sadly, with their fear of an Iranian bomb, the United States and Israel as well as some of their allies in Europe have failed to see Iran's legitimate quest for nuclear energy, which is important for a meaningful dialogue with Tehran, to deter it, from the perceived possibility by the west, of expanding its nuclear technology to bomb making. Even Ahmadinejad’s call for partnership with the West, to the extent of involving the United States in Iran’s uranium enrichment process, fell on deaf ears; a prospect that could provide the West with the best opportunity to establish direct control over that process and prevent increase in its enrichment grade and its inappropriate use. Instead, the West preferred to turn Ahmadinejad’s ideologically motivated remarks about: the occupying regime of Jerusalem should cease to exist in the page of time, into a propaganda tool against Iran’s intentions with regard to its nuclear energy program (2).

A small corrective step has been taken by the European Union, whose high representative for foreign affairs actively put on practice the recently emerged international consensus that the issue of Iran’s nuclear energy program is to be settled through diplomacy and negotiations on the basis of the package of incentive offered to Iran in exchange for a temporary suspension of her uranium enrichment activities and full nuclear transparency. This is wiser than the coercive approach, which seeks to cast doubt on Iran’s territorial integrity and to dispossess Iran of nuclear know-how altogether, which represents complete disregard for Iran's energy need and her security worries (3).

Thus Iran's decision whether to pursue nuclear development is a matter of striking a balance between national interests and legitimate security worries. Hence the West should do what they can to diminish Iran's fears and to encourage a viable security arrangement in the Persian Gulf region in tandem with the United Nations. Confidence-building measures — such as guaranteeing Iran's integrity or acknowledging Iran's constructive conflict-management role in the region — would achieve a lot more toward Iranian continuing nonproliferation than war or years or even decades of sanctions.

This, in turn, requires a willingness by the United States to recognize Iran's important role in regional stability, as demonstrated by its cordial relations with the government of Hamid Karzai in Kabul and its endorsement of the elected government in Baghdad as well as negotiating with US on Iraqi security. Another positive signal would be to support Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization. A combination of security guarantees, economic benefits, support for Iran's legitimate right to peaceful nuclear technology and the olive branch of diplomatic normalization have a much better chance of keeping Iran on the path of nonproliferation than any other approach. Hence, it is of consequence to realize that the crisis over Iran’s nuclear energy program is a crisis of choice, not necessity (4) and threats are not the way to influence Iran (5).

“Nation change” replaces “regime change”

Politicians in Washington have made no secret of the fact that they prosecuted the issue of Iran’s nuclear energy program to a large extent as an excuse to implement their well publicized strategy of “regime change” against the two regimes of Islamic Republic in Iran and Baath regime in Iraq. The United States succeeded to change the Baath regime in Iraq by creating one of the most fearsome terrorist crises in the Middle East, but it has failed to carry that policy out in respect of the regime in Iran. This failure must have been the core reason for Washington and Tel Aviv to engage in clandestine subversive operations inside Iran encouraging separatist movements among Pan-Turk, Pan-Kurd and Pan-Arab terrorist organizations in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Khuzestan of Iran. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Shimon Perez brought this information to the open by publicly admitting that his country and the United States are involved in operations aimed at disintegration of Iran (6). That is to say; even if it were the case that President Ahmadinejad ideologically did remark, as has been attributed to him, that the state of Israel ought to be wiped off the map,, it is Israel and the United States who are actively trying to wipe the state of Iran off the map. They broke international rules and regulations in order to make a legal case against Iran’s nuclear energy program continued at UN Security Council level in order to pave the way for legalizing economic sanctions or military actions against Iran (7).

The European Dimension

In order to prove that Iran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the United States enforced an extensive investigation of suspected sites in Iran by the IAEA. Three European powers (Britain, France and Germany) seemingly critical of the heavy-handed way America treated the issue of Iran’s nuclear energy program, offered to mediate, but soon began to demonstrate a one-sided policy of serving the pleasure of the US administration. As soon as Washington alleged that the Iranians hide their nuclear bombs or nuclear bomb making facilities from the IAEA investigators before their arrival in Iran, the EU3 asked Iran to sign the additional protocol in 2003 giving international investigators free access to all sites in the country without Iran's prior knowledge or seeking their permission for investigation. The Iranians decided to meet this challenge by signing the said protocol, and reports of subsequent IAEA investigations also suggested finding no evidence of wrong doing in respect of nuclear weapon production allegation. In spite of US displeasure of the IAEA's impartial investigations and reports and threats against its Director General Dr El-Baradei's future in his job, reports of investigations throughout the years from 2003 to 2005 too cleared Iran of allegations of wrong doing.

Moreover, it was on the basis of these inspections and reports carried out according to the Tehran agreement between Iran and EU3 in 2003 that the IAEA Board of Governors passed resolutions in 2004 whereby recognized Iran's pledge of peaceful use of nuclear energy (8). Disappointed by these results from the IAEA investigations, some of the most influential Western media began a campaign of misinformation and disinformation. These propaganda campaign has in deed deprived international public opinion of the awareness that should Iran succumb to such illegal demands, she would have left a dangerous precedence allowing big powers interfering in peaceful internal affairs of smaller nations and would have given up her own independence in respect of use of nuclear energy and will become dependant on the supplies of nuclear fuel from other countries and that will put her national sovereignty and independence at a peril. The fact that Iran agreed in November 2004 in Paris to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment activities was a voluntary measure taken in agreement with EU negotiators in order to build confidence with EU and IAEA. But that was to be used in 2005 as a pretext to refer the case to the UN Security Council to condemn Iran solely on the basis of suspicions.

Though US and EU3 managed to get the UNSC issue punitive resolutions against Iran, they were confronted by the international community unanimously demanding the issue of Iran’s Nuclear Energy program to be settled through diplomacy and negotiations.

Though the IAEA investigations of the country proved that apart from raising some questions that needed clear answers from Tehran, no evidence was found indicating an Iranian intention of using nuclear industry for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, on the instruction of political leaders in Washington and in the European Union, the IAEA referred Iran’s dossier to the UN Security Council by invoking Chapter seven of the UN Charters against the clearly pronounced advice of the UN Secretary General who stated that the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for debating Iran’s case as the IAEA Board of Governors was then the authority to discuss the matter. Chapter VII of the UN Charter specifies that a country can be referred to UNSC under that chapter only if ‘threatened the peace’, ‘broken the peace’, and/or ‘undertaken acts of aggression’. Not only the IAEA did not accuse Iran of any of those instances, but the documents the IAEA included in the dossier in support of its referral consistently confirm that no evidence had been found that would incriminate Iran of trying to use its nuclear industry for strategic purposes. Hence, by trying to put on trial Iran’s nuclear energy program in a process legally unjustifiable, the UN Security Council has indeed put on trial its own integrity and credibility. This has made the international community to emphatically demand for a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear energy crisis through diplomacy. But a negotiated settlement has proved to be impossible because of the obstruction by the US president Bush who has imposed his precondition that for any negotiation with Iran must be subject to Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment process. Buy doing so in reality the United States has made sure no negotiation would commence with Iran as: if Iran was to be forced to bring to a complete halt its uranium enrichment activities as a pre-condition for negotiations, what would be left there for Iran to talk about?

Perhaps in addition to the advice by IAEA chief El Baradei that: "Sanctions have to be coupled at all time with incentives and a real search for a compromise based on face saving, based on respect", a new regime should replace current situation of escalation which has arisen from imposing precondition for negotiations. Europe did a very bad job of its so-called mediation by trying to impose on Iran the US precondition instead of negotiating a way out of the stalemate created by that precondition. The united Europe is in deed well placed to overcome the stalemate by adopting a more independent position as an honest broker and try to find an alternative regime that can be more in keeping with Iran’s progress in producing enriched uranium as has been indicated by Mr. El Baradei of the IAEA recently. Perhaps an effective international control of the level and degree of Iran’s enrichment process can be worked out through actual US or EU partnership with Iran in her uranium enrichment industry and production of nuclear fuel.


1- For more on these, see; Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh et all “Iran needs nuclear power”, International Herald Tribune, Opinion, Tuesday, October 14, 2003, as retrieved on 29 Jun 2007 16:53:26 GMT.

2- Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, Letter to President George W. Bush, London 17 April 2006.

3- See Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi, Iran’s nuclear program: A crisis of choice, not necessity, International Herald Tribune, Friday, August 12, 2005.

4- For more on this subject see:

5- See “Threats are not the way to influence Tehran”, by Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh and Kaveh Afrasiabi, International Herald Tribune, Friday July 2, 2004.

6- Shimon Perez in interview with Fox News as reported by ISNA semi-official news agency: Sunday December 03, 2006.

7- Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, War on Iran will lead to World War III as US Neo-Cons also admit, speech at a conference on “Iran and US War Drive in Middle East”, organized by CASMII at London University, Monday 25 September 2006.

8- The Echo of Iran, No. 188, March 6- April 15, 2005, page 11.

... Payvand News - 7/9/07 ... --

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