Iran’s Nuclear Threat: Real or Fiction? (Part II)

The next step in the process of analyzing Iranian Nuclear Program is to look at a proposition advanced by the neocons and their AIPAC supporters. They charge that contrary to her NPT responsibility, Iran had kept its Uranium Enrichment Programs secret for a number of years until they were discovered by a laptop that was presented to the Germans by an unidentified individual.

This, I will call “The Myth of Secrecy in the Iranian Nuclear Program.” and in the following paragraphs, I intend to show that not only the Iranians did not hide anything once they decided in the 1980s to restart their nuclear program, the US and her allies were given every opportunity to participate in the development and construction of nuclear reactors in Iran, which would have provided them with significant control on the reactors and their products, but they have always refused to do so.

In an attempt to restart their program the Iranians took the following steps:

1- In 1982, Iran began pressing the German authority and Siemens to complete the two nuclear reactors in Bushehr that the Shah had contracted to Germany, but had been left incomplete after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Iran tried hard to convince Germany to live up to its obligations; but did not succeed. This was a clear indication to the West that Iran had decided to restart its nuclear power program, and was doing so with utmost transparency.

2- In 1983, exactly 20 years before Iran announced to the world the existence of the Natanz facilities for Uranium Enrichment, it had asked the IAEA to provide it with technical assistance in setting up a pilot plant for the production of UF6, uranium hexafluoride that is used for uranium enrichment. Although the work on converting uranium oxide, U3O8, into UO2, had begun during the Shah’s reign with assistance from France’s ENTEC, nevertheless, Iran asked the IAEA for help under Article XI.A of its Statute that affirmed:

“Any member or group of members of the Agency desiring to set up any project for research, or development of practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes may request the assistance of the Agency in securing special fissionable and other materials, service, equipment, and facilities necessary for this purpose. Any such request shall be accompanied by an explanation of the purpose and extent of the project and shall be considered by the Board of Governors.”

In response to the Iranian request, the IAEA dispatched a team of experts to Iran, who recommended that the Agency should help ENTEC’s scientists gain practical experience with the matter, and provide expert services in a number of areas, including the fuel cycle. The report stated clearly the IAEA’s intention to:

“Contribute to the formation of local expertise and manpower needed to sustain an ambitious program in the field of nuclear power reactor technology and fuel cycle technology.”

However, the technical assistance never materialized, because when in 1983 the recommendation of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the US government then “directly intervened” to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. “We stopped that in its track,” said a former US official. [1] Therefore, not only did the IAEA know of the post-revolutionary Iran’s intentions for restarting their uranium enrichment program, it also violated both the spirit and the letter of the NPT, its own Statute, and its obligations toward Iran by buckling under the US pressure and refusing to go forward with the recommendations of its own experts.

3- As was explained in part I, between 1982 and 1995, in an attempt to restart its nuclear program, Iran openly approached a number of western countries asking for assistance, but was prevented in doing so by the US. The US also convinced Russia in the early 1990s not to sell Iran a centrifuge plant. In the late 1980s the US pressured a number of companies from Argentina, Germany and Spain who had submitted a proposal to Iran to complete the Bushehr-1 reactor, not to go ahead with the deal. In 1990 the US also stopped Spain’s National Institute of Industry and Nuclear Equipment from completing the Bushehr project.

In 1994 under pressured from the US, the Czech firm Skoda Plzen that was discussing the terms for supplying Iran with reactor components withdrew from the negotiation. Iran’s attempt to buy nuclear power reactor components from an unfinished reactor of Poland was thwarted due to the US pressure and threat of economic retaliation.

4- After the 1995 agreement was signed by Iran and Russia, the Clinton administration tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Russia to cancel the agreement.

David Albright, the President of the Institute for Science and International Security, has stated that, the US knew in the early 1990s that Iran was trying to import the parts for a centrifuge plant. [2]

He cites for example, the Italian Intelligence report in early 1992, stating that Sharif University of Technology in Tehran had put an order in 1991 for a centrifuge component. According to Albright the US believing that the technical problems being too complex for Iran to overcome and that Iran would not be able to set up a uranium enrichment facility any time soon, ignored the report.

After Iran announced officially in February 2003, the existence of the Natanz’s facility, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, said:

“This comes as no surprise to us, as we have been aware of this uranium exploration project [in Saghand, Yazd] for several years now. In fact, a senior IAEA official visited this mine in 1992.”

One should also recall that the German, the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agencies have been pontificating since 1984 that Iran was only two years away from a nuclear bomb.

So, how was it that Iran was only 2 years away from the bomb, but was not even suspected of having a nuclear program? All these facts clearly show that the US and the West knew about Iranian uranium enrichment program but ignored it because they simply did not believe that Iran could do it. The US charge of secrecy is politically motivated and is contrary to historical facts. It appears that between 1982 and 1995 Iran made its intention loud and clear, but the US decided not to hear this for political reasons that only now have become clear.

From their experience with the IAEA in 1983 and others, Iranian leaders learnt that they could not restart their nuclear programs with full transparency, because the US would stop the effort at its inception. So, if Iran’s uranium enrichment program went “underground,” after being fully transparent, it was driven there by the US and its allies.


[1] For more information on this issue see M. Hibbs, US in 1983 Stopped IAEA from Helping Iran Make UF6, Nuclear Fuel, August 4, 2003.

[2] D. Albright, What the United States Knew, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 60 (No. 2), p. 63, March/April 2004.

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One Response to Iran’s Nuclear Threat: Real or Fiction? (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Once More, The Specter of a US and/or Israeli Military Strike Against Iran Loom « Rob Prince's Blog

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