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‘The Iran Agenda’
Posted on Dec 3, 2007
By Reese Erlich
The IAEA report was hardly a smoking gun. But the Bush administration huffed and puffed that Iran’s failure to uphold the Security Council resolution meant the world should impose more sanctions. On March 24, 2007, the UN Security Council voted to impose another round of sanctions, prohibiting the sale of Iranian weapons to other countries and freezing the overseas assets of more Iranian individuals and organizations.
The United States failed to get any backing for military attacks on Iran to enforce the sanctions. The March resolution even restated the UN position that the Middle East region should be nuclear free, a criticism of Israel’s large nuclear arsenal.
U.S. officials told the New York Times that the new sanctions went beyond the nuclear issue. “The new language was written to rein in what [U.S. officials] see as Tehran’s ambitions to become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf and across the Middle East.”38
Apparently, no one can hold that job except the United States.
No Nukes? Not Enough
The real dispute between the United States and Iran has little to do with Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. The Bush administration declared Iran to be part of the “axis of evil” and has been pursuing a policy of “regime change,” a euphemism for the U.S. overthrow of an internationally recognized government. The United States has adopted different tactical positions, sometimes calling for a tightening of sanctions, other times threatening military strikes. But the long-term goal is installation of a friendly regime.
The American people now know that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. But back then, the threat of WMDs served as a powerful argument to convince Americans of the need for regime change. The phony nuclear weapons issue plays precisely the same role in U.S. plans for Iran.
The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis
By Reese W. Erlich
Polipoint Press, 192 pages
Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei said the United States “has used nuclear energy as an excuse. If Iran quits now, the case will not be over. The Americans will find another excuse.”39
Let’s say Iran stopped all nuclear programs tomorrow and that was verified by international inspectors. The United States could start a new campaign based on its current claim that Iran is “the most active sponsor of state terrorism” in the world.40 Iran could give terrorist groups chemical weapons. Iran has missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv and U.S. military bases in the Middle East. Iran presents an immediate danger because of its support for terrorism. Time for regime change.
Is Iran currently developing nuclear weapons? No. Could it do so sometime in the future? Sure. According to ElBaradei, some forty-nine countries “now know how to make nuclear arms,” including Japan, South Korea, and other U.S. allies. Neither the United States nor the UN Security Council can militarily prevent each of those countries from making a Bomb, said ElBaradei. “We are relying primarily on the continued good intentions of these countries, intentions which are in turn based on their sense of security.”41
The only way to ensure Iran doesn’t make nuclear weapons is to devise a political, not a military, solution. If the people of Iran have a government that truly represents them, and the United States ceases its hostility and negotiates in good faith, Iran won’t see a need to develop nuclear weapons.
So What Would You Do?
When I speak at college campuses and before community groups, someone inevitably asks me a legitimate question: “OK, U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program is wrong. If you were president, what would you do?” Glad you asked.
First, no more demonizing Iran. I would apologize for years of U.S. aggression against Iran. I would offer to return the billions of dollars in illegally frozen Iranian assets now held by the United States, lift all existing sanctions against Iran, and offer to restore full diplomatic relations.42 That would get Iran’s attention. More important, it would set the basis for easing tensions on issues such as nuclear weapons.
I would announce plans to reduce the unconscionable number of nuclear weapons maintained by the United States in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Most Americans have no idea that the Non-Proliferation Treaty not only limits other states from obtaining nuclear weapons but also requires disarmament by the existing nuclear states, including the United States.43
Then I would do something neither side expects. I would tell them we will phase out our nuclear power reactors for safety reasons and because we can’t safely store nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants in the United States aren’t even hardened against an airplane crash, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refuses to require it.
Then I would suggest that Iran not develop nuclear power. Nuclear reactors and their tons of radioactive waste are disasters waiting to happen. Iran is already planning to have 20 percent of its electricity supplied by hydropower by 2021. Iran has the potential to develop a lot more wind and geothermal power as well.44 In the meantime Iran could harness its tremendous natural gas resources as a relatively efficient source of electricity generation.
I don’t know how Iranian leaders would react. These suggestions would certainly spark a lot of discussion among Iranians, a debate now largely nonexistent.45 Journalist and opposition leader Akbar Ganji is one of the few Iranians I met concerned about the safety of nuclear plants. “I am very worried that something like Chernobyl will happen to Iran,” he told me. “If that happens, the Iranian people will pay the heaviest price.”46
I would like to see Ganji’s views prevail. But if, after a genuine debate, Iranians decided they wanted nuclear power, so be it.
The IAEA has procedures that allow countries to develop nuclear power, subject to strict international inspection. On March 23, 2005, Iran offered a plan to Britain, France, and Germany that would have allowed Iran to develop nuclear power and engage in uranium enrichment. Iran agreed not to reprocess nuclear fuel, to produce only low-enriched uranium, to limit the number of centrifuges, and to guarantee on-site inspections by the IAEA.47 That proposal could serve as the basis for honest negotiations.
Should the world simply trust Iran’s leaders? No. We don’t have to assume good faith. The IAEA is quite capable of detecting NPT violations, because radioactive particles inevitably show up in water and soil. Over a period of time, and allowed full access, the IAEA can detect illegal nuclear activity. Since even U.S. intelligence agencies agree Iran is many years from building a Bomb, why not allow the IAEA to do its job?
In the long run, the people of Iran must change their government and revisit the nuclear power issue. I hope they choose to develop safer forms of energy. But that’s a decision to be made by the people of Iran, not rulers in Washington.
Reese Erlich is a foreign correspondent who writes regularly for the Dallas Morning News, CBC Radio, and ABC Radio (Australia). This chapter is excerpted from his book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis, Polipoint Press, 2007.
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