Iran had a democracy before we took it away

Chris Hedges, June 22, 2009.

Chris Hedges is a former Mideast bureau chief of The New York Times.

Iranians do not need or want us to teach them about liberty and representative government. They have long embodied this struggle. It is we who need to be taught. It was Washington that orchestrated the 1953 coup to topple Iran’s democratically elected government, the first in the Middle East, and install the compliant shah in power. It was Washington that forced Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a man who cared as much for his country as he did for the rule of law and democracy, to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. We gave to the Iranian people the corrupt regime of the shah and his savage secret police and the primitive clerics that rose out of the swamp of the dictator’s Iran. Iranians know they once had a democracy until we took it away.

The fundamental problem in the Middle East is not a degenerate and corrupt Islam. The fundamental problem is a degenerate and corrupt Christendom. We have not brought freedom and democracy and enlightenment to the Muslim world. We have brought the opposite. We have used the iron fist of the American military to implant our oil companies in Iraq, occupy Afghanistan and ensure that the region is submissive and cowed. We have supported a government in Israel that has carried out egregious war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza and is daily stealing ever greater portions of Palestinian land. We have established a network of military bases, some the size of small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, and we have secured basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. We have expanded our military operations to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. And no one naively believes, except perhaps us, that we have any intention of leaving.

See rest of article at:

See also “The Secret History of the C.I.A. in Iran,” at :

Rick Steves on Iran, terrorism and American hard-liners

Travel guru Rick Steves wants Americans to get over themselves. He wants us to shed our jingoistic ego and vote for politicians who want America to act as a global good neighbor. His agenda is epitomized in his recent TV special on Iran. At the request of a friend in the United Nations to help “build understanding between Iran and the U.S.,” Steves has produced a neighborly portrait of the demonized country. Characteristic Steves-on-the-street interviews open closed minds to the sophistication of Iranian citizens and their lack of antipathy toward Americans. Steves recently gave a talk about Iran in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was heading home to Washington state when Kevin Berger, a journalist with, interviewed him in the Tulsa airport.

Kevin Berger: Conservatives continue to harp that the U.S. shouldn't negotiate with Iran, and they call Obama weak for even appearing agreeable toward the country. What can your Iran show say to American hard-liners?

Rick Steves: When I made the show, I was not interested in endorsing or challenging the complaints we have about Iran’s government. Maybe they do fund terrorism, maybe they do want to destroy Israel, maybe they do stone adulterers. I don’t know. I just wanted to humanize the country and understand what makes its people tick.

When I came home ... I realized [Iran] is a proud nation of 70 million people. They are loving parents, motivated by fear for their kids’ future and the culture they want to raise their kids in. I had people walk across the street to tell me they don't want their kids to be raised like Britney Spears. They are afraid Western culture will take over their society and their kids will be sex toys, drug addicts and crass materialists. That scares the heck out of less educated, fundamentalist, small-town Iranians, which is the political core of the Islamic Revolution and guys like [President] Ahmadinejad.

After all, this is a country that lost a quarter of a million people fighting Saddam Hussein, when Iraq, funded by the United States, invaded Iran. And they remember the invasion like it was yesterday to them. ... That’s a huge scar in their society.

I just feel we underestimate the spine of these people. They will fight and die to defend their values. And their values are not to destroy America and Israel. Their values are to defend their way of life against Western encroachment. Because of recent history, they have grounds to think America threatens them. So it would be dangerously naive to think we could “shock and awe” them into any kind of submission. ...

I was actually scared to go to Iran. ... I thought people would be throwing stones at us in the streets. And when I got there, I have never felt a more friendly welcome because I was an American. ...

Did you edit out any scenes that might have portrayed Iranians in a negative light?

No ... we went through streets with angry anti-American posters. We showed that. You see the “Death to America” thing.

I do want to make clear that Iran is not a free society. They traded away their freedom for a theocracy, out of fear. It’s just like Americans. We don’t want to torture people, we want to have civil liberties, we don’t want our government reading our mail. But when we have fear, we let fear trump our commitment to our civil liberties and decency. We allow torture, we allow the government to read our mail. It’s not because we’re bad, it’s because sometimes fear is more important than our core values. And Iran is afraid. They’ve given up democracy because they know a theocracy will stand strong against encroaching Western values.

In a 2004 essay “Innocents Abroad,” you wrote: “To even consider the terrorists’ concerns — U.S. military out of Islam, Arab control of oil, security for Palestine — is out of the question in today’s America. But the passions are strong enough and technologies of mass horror are accessible enough that radicals/heroes/terrorists/martyrs from angry lands … will certainly strike again if no one listens to their concerns.” That sounds like you were being sympathetic to terrorists. Were you?

No. I’m trying to be empathetic to what motivates them. We think they’re terrorists, but we have to remember that 96 percent of the planet is not American. And most of them look at us like an empire. When I write about us being an empire, it touches a nerve more than almost anything else I write. I get so much angry feedback.

But I don’t say we’re an empire. I say the world sees us as one. I say there’s never been an empire that didn’t have disgruntled people on its fringes looking for reasons to fight. ...

We shot from the bushes at the redcoats when we were fighting our war against an empire. Now they shoot from the bushes at us. It shouldn’t surprise us. ... But there’s lots of people who wish they had more than one life to give for their country. We diminish them by saying, “Oh, they’re terrorists and life is cheap for them.” They’re passionate for their way of life. And they will give their life for what is important to their families.

As a travel writer, I get to be the provocateur, the medieval jester. I go out there and learn what it’s like and come home and tell people truth to their face. Sometimes they don’t like it. But it’s healthy and good for our country to have a better appreciation of what motivates other people. The flip side of fear is understanding. And you gain that through travel.

But even saying you’re trying to understand terrorists’ motives still grates. Don’t you think?

Yeah, people don’t like to hear that. They think it’s showing weakness to the terrorists. But we have to think more carefully about why we are angering so much of the world. I’m just trying to say, Hey, look, we’re four percent of this planet; we’ve spent as much as everybody else together on the military; and we’ve got military bases in 130 countries. Yet only we can declare somebody else’s natural resources on the other side of the planet are vital to our national security. Only we can be pissed off if they elect a government that nationalizes their own natural resources.

We wonder, Why didn’t God give us those resources? I don’t know what motivates us to think we’ve got rights to their natural resources. This is poignant stuff, and a lot of Americans don’t want to hear it. But I just want to come home and remind my neighbors that we’ve got to work with this world. Our military and economy is not strong enough to have a unilateral foreign policy. We’re not strong enough to go it alone. ...

The irony is we make the future more dangerous by not talking to the rest of the world. We can be a part of the family of nations. We don’t need to be a pushover. We can promote our values in a respectful, civilized way. That’s just more pragmatic and more productive. ...

We think we can coerce people into going along with us, but all we do is isolate ourselves. And the world moves on without us. If the world moves on without us, one day we’ll wake up and we’ll find we’re rich only in weaponry, and everybody else is rich in other ways. Then our little house of military cards will collapse on itself, and we’ll be a second-rate nation.

Rick Steves Iran film, can be ordered for $19.95 from his website: Click on “DVDs”. This article is edited from, March 20, 2009, and appeared in PeaceMeal, May/June 2009.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Iran threatens legal action over U.N. sanctions

UNITED NATIONS – Iran has threatened legal action against Western states to seek compensation for losses it said it had suffered from U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program. The threat came in a 20-page letter from Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, obtained by Reuters on March 26. The letter rejects as illegal the latest sanctions resolution, passed on March 3, and says Tehran would not comply with it. That resolution ratcheted up earlier sanctions imposed for Iran’s refusal to suspend nuclear enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power stations or nuclear bombs. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, does specify that parties to the treaty have an “inalienable right” to develop “production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

The new resolution extends travel and financial curbs on named Iranian individuals and companies. In a point-by-point rebuttal, Mr. Mottaki’s letter denounced the resolution as contrary to the U.N. Charter and international law. It said Iran had acted within its rights and its critics had failed to prove it was seeking nuclear weapons. Sponsors of the resolution “should, as a minimum step, admit their mistakes, apologize to the great nation of Iran, correct their behavior, and above all, compensate all the damages they have inflicted” on Iran, the minister said in his letter. “These countries should accept the responsibility for their actions and must be held accountable.”

Mottaki did not directly identify the countries concerned but other paragraphs of his letter indicated he was referring to the United States, Britain, France and Germany — the principal backers of the resolution. He did not specify where Iran might seek legal redress. A U.N. spokesman said only that Mr. Ban had received the letter.

The letter said that as a result of an earlier suspension of uranium enrichment under Western pressure, Iranian factories had been closed, workers laid off, and planning for energy needs disrupted. Iran later rescinded the suspension.

“Now, given the fact that the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities has been proved, the question arises of who should compen-sate these huge damages,” Mottaki said. Iran says it has been given a clean bill of health in reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Western countries dispute that.

However, a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released in December, representing the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen. Rather than painting Iran as a rogue, irrational nation determined to join the club of nations with the bomb, the NIE states Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.”

Iran’s letter to Mr. Ban dwelt on a clause of the resolution calling on countries to inspect cargoes to and from Iran of aircraft and vessels owned or operated by two named Iranian companies if they believed they were carrying prohibited goods. Western diplomats have said some Security Council members were concerned about possible legal implications of the inspections provision.

Mottaki said a clause in the resolution that seeks to preempt legal action by Iran violated a U.N.-sanctioned right of people to have recourse to courts. His letter repeated earlier statements that Iran would ignore the resolution, which was passed by a 14-0 vote with one country, Indonesia, abstaining.

– edited from Reuters and The New York Times
PeaceMeal, March/April 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

How the Pentagon planted a false Hormuz story

Analysis by Inter Press Service (IPS), January 15, 2008

On the morning of January 6 (Washington time), five small and apparently unarmed Iranian speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, buzzed three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader policy decision of the Bush administration, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the encounter into a sensational story alleging military aggressiveness by Iran, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.

The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by a Pentagon media official, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the Navy itself. The Navy then disseminated a short video into which was spliced the audio of a radio call warning that U.S. warships would “explode” in “a few seconds.” Although it was ostensibly a Navy production, IPS has learned that the ultimate decision on its content was made by top officials of the Defense Department.

No information about the incident was released to the American public for 31 hours. The reason for the delay of more than a full day is that the incident was not significantly different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant, who asked not to be identified, told IPS that he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are “just not a major threat to the U.S. Navy by any stretch of the imagination.”

Just two weeks earlier, on December 19, the USS Whidbey Island, an amphibious warship, had fired warning shots after a small Iranian boat allegedly approached it at high speed. But that incident had gone without public notice.

With the reports from 5th Fleet commander Vice-Adm. Kevin Cosgriff in hand early the morning of Monday, Jan. 7 (Washington time), top Pentagon officials had had all day to discuss what to do about the Strait of Hormuz encounter. The result was a decision to play it up as a major incident, which came just as President George W. Bush was about to leave on a Middle East trip aimed in part at rallying Arab states to join the United States in an anti-Iran coalition.

That decision in Washington was followed by a news release by the commander of the 5th Fleet on the incident at about 4:00 a.m. Washington time Jan. 7. It was the first time the 5th Fleet had ever issued a news release on an incident with small Iranian boats.

The release reported that the Iranian “small boats” had “maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of [sic] the Hopper [the lead ship of the three-ship convoy].” But it did not suggest that the Iranian boats had threatened the ships or that it had nearly resulted in firing on the Iranian boats. On the contrary, the release made the U.S. warships handling of the incident sound almost routine: “Following standard procedures,” the release said, “Hopper issued warnings, attempted to establish communications with the small boats and conducted evasive maneuvering.”

The release did not refer to a U.S. ship being close to firing on the Iranian boats, or to a call threatening that U.S. ships would “explode in a few minutes,” as later stories would report, or to the dropping of objects into the path of a U.S. ship as a potential danger. That initial press release was ignored by the news media, however, because later that Monday morning, the Pentagon provided correspondents with a very different account of the episode.

At 9:00 a.m., Barbara Starr of CNN reported that “military officials” had told her that the Iranian boats had not only carried out “threatening maneuvers,” but had transmitted a message by radio that “I am coming at you” and “you will explode.” She reported the dramatic news that the commander of one boat was “in the process of giving the order to shoot when they moved away.” CBS News broadcast a similar story, adding the detail that the Iranian boats “dropped boxes that could have been filled with explosives into the water.” Other news outlets carried almost identical accounts.

The source of this spate of stories can now be identified as Bryan Whiteman, the top Pentagon official in charge of media relations, who gave a press briefing for Pentagon correspondents that morning. Although Whiteman did offer a few remarks on the record, most of the Whiteman briefing was off the record, meaning that he could not be cited as the source.

In an apparent slip-up, however, an Associated Press story that morning cited Whiteman as the source for the statement that U.S. ships were about to fire when the Iranian boats turned and moved away — a part of the story that other correspondents had attributed to an unnamed Pentagon official.

Subsequently, on Jan. 9, the U.S. Navy released excerpts of a video of the incident in which a strange voice appears to threaten the U.S. warships. A separate audio recording of that voice, which came across the VHF radio channel open to anyone with access to it, was spliced into a video on which the voice apparently could not be heard. That was a political decision, and Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros of the Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office told IPS the decision on what to include in the video was “a collaborative effort of leadership here, the Central Command and Navy leadership in the field.”

“Leadership here,” of course, refers to the secretary of defense and other top policymakers at the Pentagon. An official in the U.S. Navy Office of Information in Washington, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that decision was made in the office of the secretary of defense.

That decision involved a high risk of getting caught in an obvious attempt to mislead. As an official at 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain told IPS, it is common knowledge among officers there that hecklers — often referred to as “Filipino Monkey” — frequently intervene on the VHF ship-to-ship channel to make threats or rude comments.

One of the popular threats made by such hecklers, according to British journalist Lewis Page, who had transited the Strait with the Royal Navy is, “Look out, I am going to hit [collide with] you.”

By Jan. 11, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was already disavowing the story that Whiteman had been instrumental in creating only four days earlier. “No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats,” said Morrell.

The other elements of the story given to Pentagon correspondents were also discredited. The commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser Port Royal, Capt. David Adler, dismissed the Pentagon’s story that he had felt threatened by the dropping of white boxes in the water. Meeting with reporters on Monday, Adler said, “I saw them float by. They didn’t look threatening to me.”

The naval commanders seemed most determined, however, to scotch the idea that they had been close to firing on the Iranians. Vice-Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of the 5th Fleet, denied the story in a press briefing on Jan. 7. A week later, Cmdr. Jeffery James, commander of the destroyer Hopper, told reporters that the Iranians had moved away “before we got to the point where we needed to open fire.”

The decision to treat the Jan. 6 incident as evidence of an Iranian threat reveals a chasm between the interests of political officials in Washington and Navy officials in the Gulf. Asked whether the Navy’s reporting of the episode was distorted by Pentagon officials, Cmdr. Robertson of 5th Fleet Public Affairs would not comment directly. But she said, “There is a different perspective over there.”

Inter Press Service is a global agency that provides independent news and analysis in a more in-depth way than is common in the mainstream news media. The article has been edited.

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Attack on Iran would upset oil markets

A U.S. military attack on Iran would have dire consequences in petroleum markets, say a variety of oil industry experts, many of whom think the prospect of pandemonium in those markets makes U.S. military action unlikely despite escalating economic sanctions imposed by the Bush administration. The small amount of excess oil production capacity worldwide would provide an insufficient cushion if armed conflict disrupted supplies, experts say, and petroleum prices would skyrocket. Moreover, a wounded or angry Iran could easily retaliate against oil facilities from southern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz.

As the Bush administration tightened U.S. financial sanctions on Iran over its alleged support for terrorism and issued new warnings about Tehran’s nuclear program, oil prices reached a record $99 a barrel on November 21.

From 1987 through 2002, world prices for crude oil fluctuated around $20 a barrel (inflation adjusted). Since 2003, there have been steady price increases as the war in Iraq dragged on and conditions there deteriorated. Prior to the U.S. invasion, Iraq was producing 2.2 million barrels of oil a day. It is currently producing roughly 1.7 million barrels a day.

“If [another] war breaks out, anticipate that all hell will break loose in the oil markets,” said Robin West, chairman of PFC Energy, a Washington oil consulting firm.

“It will be chaos. ... I can’t really see it,” said Abdulsamad al-Awadi, an oil trading consultant and former executive at Kuwait Petroleum. “Having been in the marketplace for almost 30 years, I can’t see a scenario for it.”

“If it’s a clinical strike like the one that Israel carried out on the Syrian installations and no one admitted to doing it, you’d have a fierce reaction from Iran, but it would probably die down,” said Leo Drollas, chief economist at the Center for Global Energy Studies, a London think tank founded by former Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani. “If it were a botched job with lots of targets and civilians dying and Iranians retaliating ... it could escalate and the price of oil could shoot up to God knows where.”

Mustafa Alani, an oil analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said, “There’s very little [OPEC] can do if there’s an attack on Iran or something of that nature. In that case, prices will double, perhaps go to $300 a barrel.”

Ominous warnings about oil prices have preceded other conflicts in the Persian Gulf, and spikes in crude prices proved temporary. But during earlier conflicts in the region — the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Gulf War in 1991, and even the initial U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 — the world’s oil-exporting countries had enough capacity to make up for the oil exports disrupted. Not so this time. Demand has grown, and output has fallen in many oil-producing countries.

“Can the world do without Iranian oil exports at the present time? The answer is: just,” said a senior planning executive at a major European oil company who spoke on condition of anonymity because the company’s policy is to not discuss oil prices publicly. “There is enough spare capacity to offset Iranian exports, but it would be very tight. If every spigot were open everywhere, including Saudi Arabia, that should just about cover it. But it’s not comfortable.

“That’s just arithmetic,” he added, “but is it all as simple as that? The question is: What would the Iranians do in retaliation?”

He and others noted that Iran would not need to attack well-guarded facilities in places like Saudi Arabia or harass tankers in the U.S.-patrolled Strait of Hormuz. It could simply collaborate with Shiite forces in southern Iraq to cut off Iraq’s production, further weakening its neighbor while driving up prices for its own exports.

Almost all of the world’s excess oil production takes place in Saudi Arabia, which is capable of boosting output by a little more than 2 million barrels a day. Iran produces 2.5 million barrels a day.

“Certainly when you lose 2.5 million barrels a day of Iranian production, which is the most likely case scenario, that will literally just make the market go berserk,” al-Awadi said. Asked whether the companies he worked with had contingency plans, he said, “The oil industry does not have contingency plans. We are not military people.”

Most industrialized nations do have contingency plans; they have strategic petroleum reserves that could be tapped during an emergency. The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was tapped during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has nearly 700 million barrels, enough to cover about two months of U.S. oil imports from all sources.

Although the Bush administration is not openly threatening a military strike against Iran, President Bush recently spoke of needing to avoid “World War III,” and Vice President Cheney said that the United States would “not stand by” while Iran continued its nuclear program. “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Bush is “committed to a diplomatic course on Iran,” but she added that White House patience is “not limitless and allies need to know that.”

– edited from The Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Pentagon ‘three-day blitz’ plan for Iran

 The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert. Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said in August that U.S. military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

Mr. Debat was speaking at a meeting organized by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. In an interview, he said the U.S. military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus.”

According to one well placed source, the White House favors rapid, overwhelming force, should military action become necessary. But Mr. Debat believes the Pentagon’s plans for military action involve the use of so much force that they are unlikely to be used and would seriously stretch resources in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One Washington source said the “temperature was rising” inside the Administration. President Bush was “sending a message” to the Iranians and to members of the United Nations Security Council, who were trying to weaken a tough third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a U.N. ban on uranium enrichment.

Iran’s combative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, maintains their enrichment program is solely for the development of civilian nuclear power — a right guaranteed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But President Bush believes Iran is moving toward acquiring a nuclear weapon — something CIA experts believe Iran is not capable of doing before the next decade. President Bush recently intensified his rhetoric against Iran, accusing Tehran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” He warned that the U.S. and its allies would confront Iran “before it is too late.”

Israel, with hundreds of undeclared nukes, has warned it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and has made preparations for airstrikes itself. It is said to be ready to attack if the U.S. doesn’t.

The pro-military Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., believes Iran is already fighting a proxy war with the United States in Iraq. The Institute released a report in August that explicitly uses the term “proxy war” and claims that with the Sunni insurgency and Al-Qaeda in Iraq “increasingly under control,” Iranian intervention is the “next major problem the coalition must tackle.”

An opposing stand has been taken by retired U.S. Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, former Commander of U.S. Central Command overseeing Iraq, who was ousted for opposing a military escalation there. He maintains that the United States can contain a nuclear-armed Iran without a military attack. In a Sept. 17 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he said, “There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran. Iran is not a suicide nation. ... I don’t believe the Iranians intend to attack us with nuclear weapons. We have the power to deter Iran should it become nuclear.”

Having contained the Soviet Union with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War, to say the United States cannot now contain a potential nuclear-armed Iran is absurd.

– edited from The Sunday Times (U.K.) and The Washington Post
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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How to fix Iran

Joseph Cirincione

The present crises with Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons proliferation are serious, but such problems cannot be solved one country at a time. As a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes:

“Attempting to stem nuclear proliferation crisis by crisis — from Iraq, to North Korea, to Iran, etc. — ultimately invites defeat. As each deal is cut, it sets a new expectation for the next proliferator. Regime change by force in country after country is neither right nor realistic. The United States would bankrupt and isolate itself, all the while convincing additional countries that nuclear weapons would be their only protection. A more systematic approach that prevents states within the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] from acquiring the nuclear infrastructure needed to produce nuclear weapons is the only real sustainable option.”

While the specifics vary from country to country, a comprehensive approach is needed to all the threats we face from new nations acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran, the most difficult case, can serve as a model of how such an approach could work.

Plans of the Iranian government to build between six and twenty nuclear power reactors and all the facilities needed to make and reprocess the fuel for these reactors predate the Islamic Republic. The United States, in fact, provided Iran with its first research reactor in the late 1960s and encouraged Iran in its nuclear pursuits. In the 1970s, this encouragement included agreement by senior officials such as Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Cheney that Iran could develop its own facilities for enriching uranium and for reprocessing the spent fuel from nuclear reactors. Then-ruler Shah Reza Pahlavi developed plans to build 22 nuclear power reactors with an electrical output of 23,000 megawatts. Iran’s current leaders say they are merely continuing these plans.

Whatever its true intentions, it will not be easy to convince Iran that while it could proceed with construction of power reactors, the country must abandon construction of fuel-manufacturing facilities. It will likely require both the threat of sanctions and the promise of the economic benefits of cooperation. This is the package of carrots and sticks that made up the negotiations between the European Union and Iran. Calibrating the right balance in this mix is difficult enough, but the package itself is probably not sufficient to seal a deal.

Iran or any country’s reasons for wanting its own fuel cycle capabilities are similar to the reasons some countries want nuclear weapons: security, prestige and domestic political pressures. All of these will have to be addressed in order to craft a permanent solution. Part of the security equation can be addressed by the prospect of a new relationship with the United States that ends regime change efforts. Iran would need some assurances that agreements on the nuclear program could end efforts by the United States and Israel to remove the current regime. The United States has told North Korea that it has no hostile intentions toward the state and that an end to that country’s program would lead to the restoration of diplomatic relations. Similar assurances will be needed for Iran.

But there is also a regional dimension to the situation. Ending a potential threat from an Iranian nuclear program will require placing the Iranian decision in the context of the long-standing U.S. goal of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. It will be impossible for a country as important as Iran to abstain permanently from acquiring the technologies for producing nuclear weapons if other countries in the region have them. Iran’s leaders will want some assurances that there is a process under way that can remove what they see as potential threats from their neighbors, including Israel.

Ridding the region of nuclear weapons (Israel’s) will be difficult, but it is far better than the alternative of a Middle East with not one nuclear power but two, three or four of them and with unresolved territorial, religious and political disputes — a recipe for nuclear war.

Some Iranians see the current negotiations as a new effort by the West to again place them in a dependent relationship. Iran, nor any nation, will not permanently acquiesce to a discriminatory regime that adds to the existing inequality — allowing some countries to have nuclear weapons while others cannot — by now allowing some countries to make nuclear fuel while others cannot.

The immediate need is to get the process going, so that states in the region can have some viable alternative to the pessimistic view that the Middle East will never be nuclear weapons free. Part of the solution to a “nuclear-ready Iran” is to encourage Israel to initiate a “Middle East nuclear restraint effort” that would begin by shutting down the Israeli production reactor at Dimona. Israel should then show that it is willing to take further steps, including dismantling all its fissile-producing facilities and handing over control of its weapons-usable fissile material to the International Atomic Energy Abency, as long as other states in the region do the same.

In order for this or any similar plan to succeed, there will have to be a concurrent effort to change fundamentally the way nuclear fuel is produced and reprocessed. Doing so would satisfy a nation’s security considerations that it does not have to build its own facilities in order to have a secure supply of fuel for its reactors. Reforming the current system will require overcoming billions of dollars worth of corporate and national investments and core national commitments to the present methods of producing and disposing of nuclear fuel. Thorough reform, however, is the only sure way to prevent more and more nations from acquiring the technology that can legally bring them right up to the threshold of nuclear weapons capability.

Moreover, these discussions must take place in a world where nuclear weapons are being devalued as measures of security, status, and technical achievement. Just as it is fruitless for parents to try to convince their children not to smoke while they are reveling in a two-pack-a-day habit, it will be impossible for other nations to refrain permanently from acquiring nuclear weapons while they remain the currency of great power status. As the Carnegie authors concluded, “The core bargain of the NPT, and of global nonproliferation politics, can neither be ignored nor wished away. It underpins the international security system and shapes the expectations of citizens and leaders around the world.”

Breaking the nuclear weapons habit will not be easy, but there are ways to minimize the unease some may feel as they are weaned away from dependence on them. The United States and Russia, who account for over 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, have such redundant nuclear capability that it would not compromise any vital security interests to quickly reduce down to a level of 600 total warheads each. If accompanied by reaffirmation of the ban on nuclear testing, removal of all weapons from rapid-launch alert status, establishment of a firm norm against the first use of these weapons, and commitments to make the reductions in weapons irreversible and verifiable, the momentum and example generated could fundamentally alter the global dynamic.

Joseph Cirincione is the Vice President for National Security at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and teaches at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. This article is an edited excerpt from the chapter “Nuclear Solutions” in his new book Bomb Scare ( 2007, Columbia University Press, New York).

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– PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

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