U.S. must not fall for nuclear weapons charges against Iran

By Claude Garrod August 8, 2010

The United States' military machine is facing a severe problem in the not-too-distant future. We are reducing our forces in Iraq to a mere 50,000 very soon and to nearly zero one year later. We're also scheduled to start reducing our forces in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.

Unless we find some new theater of combat for these idled soldiers, there will quite predictably develop political pressure to transfer some of the scarce federal spending to domestic purposes, such as schools, hospitals, roads and bridges.

However, it appears that those people who would be adversely affected by such a move have found a convenient method of avoiding that looming disaster. Last week, on CNN, former CIA director Michael Hayden stated that, although an attack on Iran had previously been considered 'way down on the list,' such an attack now 'seems inexorable.'

After the exposure of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as a complete fraud, it seems absolutely amazing that the American people can still be so gullible that the government would attempt to pull the same stunt again. However, there's now talk about the clandestine nuclear bomb program in Iran. Let's look at the history and legality of the Iranian nuclear power program.

In 1967, the U.S. constructed at Tehran University a small research reactor for use by the Iranian government, which then was under the control of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a brutal dictator who had been imposed on the Iranians by a CIA and British military coup in 1953.

In 1967, the Iranians signed and soon thereafter ratified the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

At that time, a study by the Stanford Research Institute warned that, by 1990, Iran would require about 20,000 megawatts of electrical power. The U.S. encouraged Iran to generate much of that power via nuclear power plants and promised assistance in setting those up and training personnel. Iran then would be able to simply sell its excess oil, which at the time was commanding high prices.

The shah soon announced an ambitious plan to build up to 23 nuclear plants over the next few decades. The first two were to be at Bushehr and constructed by Siemens, a German company, and Bechtel, an American company. In July 1978, an agreement was signed under which the United States was to build eight other nuclear reactors for the shah's government.

In 1979, when the shah was deposed by the Islamic revolution, construction of the two plants at Bushehr, which were 50 percent and 90 percent completed, was halted.

In 1980, with the encouragement and support of the U.S. and our allies, Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, attacked Iran. During the war, which lasted eight years and inflicted huge casualties and damage on Iran, the plant at Bushehr was attacked six times and badly damaged. For a time after the war, the Iranian government had neither money to, nor interest in, resuming work on its nuclear power project.

When the president of Iran, Akbar Rafsanjani, approached Siemens to complete the Bushehr project, which had already been paid for, the German government, under pressure from the U.S., refused to do the work or repay the money.

Attempts by Iran to get nuclear plants built by other countries - including Argentina, Spain, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia - were thwarted by intense American pressure on those countries. All of those plants would have been under close supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency and were strictly allowed, and even guaranteed, by the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

Finally, Iran signed, in January 1995, a contract with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy to finish the reactors at Bushehr, but that work has not been completed yet, although it is scheduled to be done soon. There are thus very good reasons why Iran, which has stores of natural uranium, believes any arrangement to have its nuclear fuel come from the outside would leave it as a hostage to the United States.

Our justification for economic sanctions and the threat of military attack are alleged Iranian violations of the treaty; it is therefore useful to describe some of the treaty's provisions. (The full treaty is available on the Internet.) Two articles are particularly relevant to our discussion:

** Article III: Each non-weapon state will negotiate an agreement with the IAEA for the application of its safeguards to all nuclear material in all of the state's peaceful nuclear activities and to prevent diversion of such material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

** Article IV: Nothing in this treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this treaty.

Article III describes the 'safeguards agreement' to be negotiated between the signatory and the IAEA. This may be different for different countries. The safeguards Iran agreed to in 1970 required the country to notify the IAEA of any nuclear facility at least six months before the introduction of any nuclear material into the facility.

In 2003, when Iran's nuclear centrifuge facility at Natanz was revealed, no nuclear material had been introduced and thus there was no violation. But why was the Natanz facility constructed secretly? Isn't that suspicious? Not really; it is clear that any attempt to build this facility openly would have generated intense American activity to prevent its establishment.

What Iran clearly has violated is the United Nations Security Council's demand that it abrogate its legal right, both under the treaty and as a sovereign nation, to process its own uranium, under IAEA supervision, for fuel to power its nuclear power stations. It is the Security Council action, brought about by intense U.S. pressure, that is patently illegal.

- Claude Garrod is a member of the Davis Peace Coalition. This column appears every other month.