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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ahmadinejad's lie exposed

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frequently claims that the US and other Western powers were perfectly willing to let Iran have nuclear weapons under Shah Reza Pahlavi, but not under Ahmadinejad. Recently disclosed documents from the Ford and Carter administrations expose Ahmadinejad's assertions as a lie. The US strongly opposed the Shah's attempts to obtain nuclear weapons, while the Germans and the French continued to sell nuclear equipment to Iran.
In fact, Washington was involved in a long-standing and frequently behind-the-scenes diplomatic tussle with the shah over the purpose of his nuclear program. Recently declassified documents from the Carter and Ford presidential libraries; the departments of defense, energy, and state; and the National Security Council (NSC) show that every element of today's impasse between the U.S. government and the Islamic Republic was also present in the negotiations with the shah. These range from Iran's insistence on its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) right to a "full fuel cycle," its complaint that the United States was singling it out for guarantees no other country was required to give, and finally the U.S. offer to make Iran part of an international consortium to enrich uranium outside Iran, the so-called "Russian solution." The shah repeatedly insisted that at least he did not want a nuclear bomb -- yet he was adamant that Iran not be treated as a second-class citizen. These negotiations, details of which have not been published before now, don't just expose the regime's lies about the alleged U.S. double standard, they also offer a useful guide for Western negotiators in navigating the waters of Iranian nationalism, both real and feigned.

Iran's nuclear program began in 1959 with a small reactor given by the United States to Tehran University as part of the "Atoms for Peace" program announced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1953. But that only whetted the Iranian monarch's appetite: With his increased oil revenues, and with his new vision of Iran as the hegemonic force in the region, a nuclear program became for Shah Pahlavi the symbol of progress and power. He summoned Akbar Etemad, a trained nuclear physicist, to the royal court in 1973, told him of his desire to launch a nuclear program, and asked Etemad to develop a master plan.

Two weeks later, the shah met with Etemad again. He quickly read the 13-page draft document Etemad had prepared, then turned to the prime minister and ordered him to fund what turned out be one of the most expensive projects undertaken by his regime. There was no prior discussion in the Majlis, where the constitutional power of the purse lay, or in any other governmental body or council. Like every major policy decision in those days, it was a one-man act. Thus was launched Iran's nuclear program.

The shah's plans called for a "full-fledged nuclear power industry" with the capacity to produce 23,000 megawatts of electricity. By 1977, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) had more than 1,500 employees (who were, on the shah's orders, allowed to become the highest-paid government employees). Pahlavi had arranged for the training of Iranian nuclear experts around the world (including a $20 million endowment at MIT), engaged in an intensive search for uranium mines in Iran and all over the planet, and launched several nuclear research centers across the country. AEOI was in those days one of the most heavily funded programs in the country. In 1976, its budget was $1.3 billion, making it, after the country's oil company, the single biggest public economic institution in the country.

While Germany and France showed immediate eagerness to sell Iran its desired reactors, the United States was initially reluctant to sell any, "without conditions limiting [the shah's] freedom of action," according to the text of a U.S. governmental memo. The German company Kraftwerk signed the first agreement to build the now-famous Bushehr reactor with an initial completion date of 1981 and an estimated cost of $3 billion. As Bushehr was located in a dangerous zone that was prone to frequent and strong seismic activity, extra funds were set aside to protect the site against the dangers of an earthquake. It was said at the time that the German government was so eager to find a foothold in the Iranian market that it guaranteed Kraftwerk's investment against any loss. U.S. companies, on the other hand, were barred from these contracts until Washington's concerns about the shah's intentions were addressed.

The shah was adamant that Iran should enjoy its "full rights," as he put it at the time, within the NPT -- an agreement Iran had immediately signed upon its formulation and that calls for non-nuclear states to forfeit the search for a nuclear bomb in return for easy access to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. But Iran not only insisted on the right to have the full fuel cycle, it also was interested in processing plutonium -- a faster way to a nuclear bomb than enriched uranium.
Sounds familiar doesn't it? Except for the last paragraph, he's spot on. With respect to the last paragraph, I'd like to see more evidence of Iranian democrats eschewing nuclear weapons. From what I've seen so far, they're pretty coy about the subject.

Read the whole thing.

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