May 23, 2013
‘The Iran Agenda’
Posted on Dec 3, 2007
By Reese Erlich
In this excerpt from his new book, “The Iran Agenda,” veteran independent journalist and Truthdig contributor Reese Erlich challenges the conventional wisdom on Iran’s nuclear ambitions as he investigates the drive for war.
United States Tells Iran: Become a Nuclear Power
Top Democratic and Republican leaders absolutely believe that Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons. And one of their seemingly strongest arguments involves a process of deduction. Since Iran has so much oil, they argue, why develop nuclear power?
James Woolsey typifies the view. The director of the CIA under both George Bush (the elder) and Bill Clinton said, “There is no underlying reason for one of the greatest oil producers in the world to need to get into the nuclear [energy] business ... unless what they want to do is train and produce people and an infrastructure that can have highly enriched uranium or plutonium, fissionable material for nuclear weapons.”¹
In an op-ed commentary, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger wrote, “For a major oil producer such as Iran, nuclear energy is a wasteful use of resources,” a position later cited approvingly by the Bush administration.²
But U.S. leaders are engaging in a massive case of collective amnesia, or perhaps more accurately, intentional misdirection. In the 1970s the United States encouraged Iran to develop nuclear power precisely because Iran will eventually run out of oil.
A declassified document from President Gerald Ford’s administration, for which Kissinger was secretary of state, supported Iran’s push for nuclear power. The document noted that Tehran should “prepare against the time—about 15 years in the future—when Iranian oil production is expected to decline sharply.”³
The United States ultimately planned to sell billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear reactors, spare parts, and nuclear fuel to Iran. Muhammad Sahimi, a professor and former department chair of the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Southern California, told me that Kissinger thought “it was in the U.S. national interest, both economic and security interest, to have such close relations in terms of nuclear power.”4
The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis
By Reese W. Erlich
Polipoint Press, 192 pages
The shah even periodically hinted that he wanted Iran to build nuclear weapons. In June 1974, the shah proclaimed that Iran would have nuclear weapons “without a doubt and sooner than one would think.”5 Iranian embassy officials in France later denied the shah made those remarks, and the shah disowned them. But a few months later, the shah noted that Iran “has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but if small states began building them, then Iran might have to reconsider its policy.”6
If an Iranian leader made such statements today, the United States and Israel would denounce them as proof of nefarious intent. They might well threaten military action if Iran didn’t immediately halt its nuclear buildup. At the time, however, the comments caused no ripples in Washington or Tel Aviv because the shah was a staunch ally of both. Asked to comment on his contradictory views then and now, Kissinger said, “They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn’t address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons.”7
Kissinger should have added that consistency has never been a strong point of U.S. foreign policy.
Nukes and Party-Mad Dictators
To fully understand the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy, we must travel back to the era of bell-bottoms, funny-looking polyester shirts, and party-mad dictators.
In the early 1970s, Iran’s repressive dictator was perhaps most famous for his prodigious partying. In October 1971, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian empire with a lavish, three-day party on the site of the ancient city of Persepolis. Luminaries such as Vice President Spiro Agnew, Britain’s Prince Philip, and Ethiopian dictator Haile Selassie consumed twenty-five thousand bottles of French wine, five thousand bottles of champagne, and massive quantities of caviar flown in by Maxim’s of Paris. Iran’s per capita income was only $350 per year; the party cost an estimated $100 million.8 The excesses of the party helped fuel anger against the shah at home and abroad.
But in those days, successive U.S. presidential administrations were tickled pink with the shah’s regime. As far as the United States was concerned, the shah had a stable government that was modernizing an economically and religiously backward society. True, he ran a brutal dictatorship unconstrained by elections or an independent judiciary. The National Security and Intelligence Organization (SAVAK), his secret police, was infamous for torturing and murdering political dissidents. But the shah made sure that Iran provided a steady supply of petroleum to U.S. and other Western oil companies. He had his own regional ambitions and also acted as a gendarme for the United States.
Need an ally for Israel in the surrounding Arab world? The shah entered into military and intelligence agreements with the Israelis starting in 1958. Got a rebellion in the Gulf state of Oman? In the early 1970s, the shah sent three thousand troops to put down the leftist rebels9 and to ensure the region’s oil fields remained safe for him and the United States. Iran became America’s single biggest arms buyer. It bought $18.1 billion worth of U.S. arms from 1950 to 1977.10
U.S. anticommunist diplomacy, military expansion, and business profit all melded together nicely. And that’s where nuclear power comes in.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the shah began to worry about Iran’s long-term electric energy supplies. Iran had fewer than five hundred thousand electricity consumers in 1963, but those numbers swelled to over two million in 1976.11 The shah worried that Iran’s oil deposits would eventually run out and that burning petroleum for electricity would waste an important resource. He could earn far more exporting oil than using it for power generation.
Hermidas Bavand, second in command of Iran’s Mission to the United Nations under the shah and now a professor of international law at Allameh Tabatabaee University in Tehran, told me that the position of the shah on nuclear power was almost identical to that of the current Iranian government. Back then, proponents of nuclear power said Iran had to prepare for the day when the oil runs out. Secondly, said Bavand, “Iran had to keep up with scientific and technological” progress in the world. And Iran craved international prestige. Bavand said, “Many countries—Brazil, Argentina, Israel—were developing nuclear energy. So they thought that Iran should have nuclear power” as well.12
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