May 22, 2015
‘The Iran Agenda’
Posted on Dec 3, 2007
By Reese Erlich
Successive Republican and Democratic administrations in the United States backed the shah’s elaborate plans to make nuclear power an integral part of Iran’s electrical grid, in no small part because he would buy a lot of his nuclear equipment from the USA.
The United States established Iran’s first research reactor in 1967 at the University of Tehran. In November of that year, the U.S. corporation United Nuclear provided Iran with 5.85 kilograms of 93 percent enriched uranium.13
By the 1970s, nuclear power was becoming increasingly unpopular in the United States and around the world, as hundreds of thousands of people marched and blockaded nuclear facilities. Even before the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, the antinuclear movement pointed out that many reactors were unsafe. In addition, the industry had no long-term, secure method for transporting and storing nuclear waste produced at the reactors. Massive demonstrations and rising costs meant U.S. nuclear power companies were having a hard time getting permits to build reactors. Eventually, the permitting process stopped altogether.
Permits never seemed to be a problem in Iran, however. In 1974, Richard Helms, then U.S. Ambassador to Iran and later head of the CIA, wrote to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, “We have noted the priority that His Imperial Majesty gives to developing alternative means of energy production through nuclear power. This is clearly an area in which we might most usefully begin on a specific program of cooperation and collaboration.”
Helms went on to write, “The Secretary [of State Henry Kissinger] has asked me to underline emphatically the seriousness of our purpose and our desire to move forward vigorously in appropriate ways.”14
General Electric and Westinghouse ultimately won contracts to build eight reactors in Iran. By the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the shah had plans to buy a total of eighteen nuclear power reactors from the United States, France, and Germany.15
The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis
By Reese W. Erlich
Polipoint Press, 192 pages
Evidence has emerged since the 1979 Iranian revolution that the shah did more than make embarrassing public references to building nuclear weapons. Documents show that Israel and Iran had discussed modification of Israel’s Jericho missiles, which could have been fitted with nuclear warheads.16 A research report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, an organization founded by conservative Democrat and former senator Sam Nunn, explained that the shah was suspected of experimenting with nuclear weapons design, plutonium extraction and laser-enrichment research.17
Nuclear expert Sahimi argued that presidents Nixon and Ford “would not have minded if the shah developed the Bomb because the shah was a close ally of the United States. Remember, Iran had a long border with the Soviet Union. If the shah did make a nuclear bomb, that would have been a big deterrent against the USSR.”18
Neither Sahimi nor other experts say the shah had actually developed a nuclear bomb. But the United States denounces the current Iranian government for activity at least as suspicious as that carried out by the shah.
Since the United States wasn’t terribly concerned about an Iranian Bomb in the 1970s, it also wasn’t worried about Iran’s enriching its own uranium. The United States gave approval when the shah bought a 25 percent stake in a French company making enriched uranium. But the shah wanted to build enrichment facilities inside Iran, as well. No country wants to be reliant on others for fuel whose absence could shut down a portion of its electricity grid. The United States actually encouraged Iran to enrich its own uranium.19
Today when Iran demands that it be able to enrich uranium for nuclear power purposes, under strict international supervision, the United States says that’s proof Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Consummate Inspector
Mohamed ElBaradei looks every inch the international diplomat. The Egyptian keeps his shoes shined and suits sharply pressed. Glasses and a balding pate give him the look of authority. Indeed, he has steered the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through very troubled waters in recent years. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, ElBaradei correctly said Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapons program. In retaliation, the Bush administration tried to block his reelection to head the IAEA. ElBaradei gathered widespread international support, however, and beat back administration efforts. He won reelection to his post at the end of 2005.
Oh, and did I mention that he and the IAEA won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005?
I was on the phone from Oakland when ElBaradei entered the radio studio at the UN headquarters in New York to be interviewed by Walter Cronkite for a radio documentary I was producing about nuclear weapons. I was surprised that ElBaradei expressed an almost teenage giddiness about being in the presence of Cronkite.
“It is an honor to be here with you, Mr. Cronkite. I watched your news broadcasts for many years as a young man.”20
There was something special about listening to these two eminent authorities in their fields. Cronkite had long reported on nuclear issues and was very concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation. When Cronkite asked ElBaradei about Iran, the answer was succinct.
“Some people suspect [the Iranians] have the intention to develop a nuclear weapon,” said ElBaradei. “This is a matter of concern to us. But this is not [an] imminent threat.”
ElBaradei, unlike successive U.S. administrations, bases his conclusions on facts unearthed through analysis of data and on-the-ground inspections. As a signer of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran followed the treaty requirements to allow IAEA inspectors into its nuclear facilities. ElBaradei has criticized the Iranian government for lack of transparency and restricting some access in recent years. But ElBaradei has never accused Iran of planning to make a nuclear weapon.
So if the guy in charge of inspecting nuclear sites says he has no proof Iran is developing the Bomb, why are so many people in the United States convinced that it is? For that understanding, we’ll have to go back to the years just after the Iranian revolution of 1979.
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