IRAN: the Nuclear Assumption

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| July 22, 2008      


IRAN: The Nuclear Assumption It is widely assumed, though yet to be proven, that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The Iranian government has repeatedly, consistently, adamantly, and categorically denied any interest in nuclear weapons. No one is obliged to believe such denials, but they are conspicuously absent from the discourse on this very critical issue.

In reality, Iran not only denies any interest in nuclear weapons, but has repeatedly called for the creation of a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East and the end of all nuclear weapons in the world. Iran has even officially stated that nuclear weapons would undermine their security. High ranking Iranian officials have spoken often of the uselessness of such weapons.

As examples, they cite nuclear weapons states such as:

1) the Soviet Union, which collapsed despite having nukes
2) Israel, whose nukes cannot ensure security within their own homeland
3) the United States, hopelessly stuck in Iraq even though it has a massive nuclear arsenal
4) Pakistan, whose domestic turmoil and political instability persist despite possessing nuclear arms

While Iran condemns nuclear weapons on strategic, religious and moral grounds, Bush and other leaders talk constantly about Iranís "nuclear weapons ambitions", "desire to have a nuclear weapon", or its "nuclear weapons program". Like Iraqís elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction, these allegations are often repeated by the mainstream media as if they were undisputed facts. Indeed, the prevailing narrative for years has been that Iranís nuclear energy program is just a cover for a weapons program, and that their claims to the contrary are no surprise because, of course, theyíre evil, dirty stinking liars. Bush himself has said that Iran needs to "come clean" with the international community about its "hidden", "covert", "non-transparent" nuclear weapons program, calling Iran "untrustworthy".

"The discussion of nuclear weapons is not in Iran", states Supreme Leader Khamenei as quoted by Iranian state media. "Our officials have said it, the people have accepted it, governments have said it, and I have repeatedly said we are not after nuclear weapons."

"We have made it clear that at the highest level, Iran does not want nuclear weapons, nor does it want to pursue development, stockpiling or acquisition of these inhuman weapons", former United Nations representative Javad Zarif told the press at the UN in 2006.

"We consider it [nuclear weapons] unhumanitarian, illogical, inefficient, and illegitimate", said Iranís former Deputy Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili, now Iranís Chief Nuclear Negotiator, in a December 2006 Boston Globe interview.

"Iran has never had, doesnít have, and will not have any nuclear weapon program", Iranís current UN ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told Charlie Rose in December 2007.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has tirelessly made the same claim in speeches domestically and abroad, including twice at the United Nations in New York, in several public letters, and in numerous interviews. "We donít need weapons at all", Ahmadinejad said in a September 2006 interview on NBC TV. "Weíre strong enough to defend ourselves. And we support peace."

In his September 2005 speech before the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad branded the nuclear innuendo as "nothing but a propaganda ploy", blaming "hegemonic powers" who "have misrepresented Iranís healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons". Furthermore, he called on the UN to form a committee dedicated to the global disarmament of all nuclear weapons states, and concluded, "The Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates its previously and repeatedly declared position that in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited."

In November 2005, the Iranian government released a lengthy dissertation, "An Unnecessary Crisis: Setting the Record Straight About Iranís Nuclear Program", as a full page ad in the New York Times. "[T]he hysteria about the dangers of an alleged Iran nuclear weapon program rest solely and intentionally on misperceptions and outright lies", it argued. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to non-proliferation and the elimination of nuclear weapons, and considers nuclear weapons and capability to produce or acquire them as detrimental to its security. Iran will continue to abide by its obligations under the NPT and will continue to work actively for the establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East."

Much has been made of Iranian rhetoric. If the rhetoric is so crucially important, then Iranís frequent, public condemnations of the building, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons should be duly noted.

No matter how many times Iran denies pursuing nuclear weapons, many choose to play dumb and pretend as if they said otherwise. Some in the media appear to be hoping to trick an Iranian official into revealing a weapons program with a careless slip of the tongue.

During a September 2007 interview, CBS Newsí Scott Pelley repeatedly badgered Ahmadinejad to answer if his country was pursuing nuclear bombs. Finally, Pelley accused him of dodging questions. "[W]hen I ask you a question as direct as "Will you pledge not to test a nuclear weapon?" you dance all around the question, pressed Pelley. "You never say 'yes'. You never say 'no'."

Actually, Ahmadinejad had already said, in response to a question of whether it was Iranís goal to build a nuclear weapon, "It is a firm 'no' ", and delivered his standard anti-nuclear diatribe ("..the nuclear bomb is of no use", "..we donít need a nuclear bomb", "..we donít need such weapons. In fact, we think that this is inhuman", "We have not diverted from a peaceful path", etc.).

In 2006, CNN broadcast a speech by Ahmadinejad in which he is said to have decried the Westís campaign to "deprive us to have nuclear weapons", rather than "nuclear technology". CNN was immediately banned from reporting in Iran until it retracted the mistranslation the following day.

CNNís own report on the controversy covered its subsequent apology:

"In a written statement, CNN said it "apologized on all its platforms which included the translation error, including CNN International, CNNUSA and CNN.com, and also expressed its regrets to the Iranian government and the Iranian ambassador to the U.N."


After this, the CNN ban was lifted. However, the entire official apology is nowhere to be found on CNNís web site.

Some members of the media try the persuasion route, explaining how since Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers, hostile enemies, heavy U.S. military presence, and, like Iraq, was named part of the Axis of Evil, why wouldnít they want a nuclear deterrent? By making the case for Iran to have a nuclear weapon as a lure, they expose a key flaw in reasoning: itís easy to present a powerful argument for why Iran should join the nuclear club, even if you donít want them to attain membership.

When Ahmadinejad was questioned about nukes in Scott Macleodís September 2006 Time magazine interview, he got a typical anti-nuke response. Seemingly determined to convince Ahmadinejad of the folly of his ways, Macleod prodded, "But you were attacked with weapons of mass destruction by Iraq. You say the U.S. threatens you, and you are surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons." Ahmadinejad wouldnít budge. "[H]eís on some kind of an anti-nuclear bomb campaign", Macleod later commented in an interview for Time about the experience.

In a May 2006 interview, the German magazine Spiegel made a pathetic attempt to confuse the wily Ahmadinejad into spilling the beans:

AHMADINEJAD: Weíre fundamentally opposed to the expansion of nuclear-weapons arsenals. This is why we have proposed the formation of an unbiased organization and the disarmament of the nuclear powers. We donít need any weapons. Weíre a civilized, cultured people, and our history shows that we have never attacked another country.

SPIEGEL: Iran doesnít need the bomb that it wants to build?




Despite Iranís efforts to convince the world of its "peaceful" nuclear activities, U.S. President George W. Bush, entitled to his own facts, claims that Iran admits it wants nukes. Bush has offered up this ruse for several years, to wit:

"After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon."
August 6, 2007- at Camp David with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

"...theyíve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people — some in the Middle East."
March 2008 Radio Farda interview

"...such as announcing they want to destroy countries with a nuclear weapon."
March 2008 Voice of America interview

"...I donít believe non-transparent regimes that threaten the security of the world should be allowed to gain the technologies necessary to make a weapon. And the Iranians have said, 'we want a weapon'."
January 26, 2006 - White House press conference

"...itís very important for us to take the threats coming out of the mouth of the President of Iran very seriously. Heís a person that is, you know — constantly talks about the use of force to — on Israel, for example, and Israel is our very firm and strong ally."
- September 20, 2007 - White House press conference

"I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements arenít real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon."
October 17, 2007 - White House press conference

"As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And weíve convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that thatís unacceptable behavior."
January 6, 2007 - confirmation of General Petraeus

"But you donít have the trust of those of us who have watched you carefully when it comes to enriching uranium, because you have declared that you want to destroy democracies in the neighborhood."
-June 16, 2008- London News conference with Gordon Brown

"Youíve threatened countries with nuclear weapons. Youíve said you want a nuclear weapon."
-January 14, 2007- CBS TV 60 Minutes interview, asked what would he say to Ahmadinejad


On another occasion, Bush indicated that Iran already possessed nuclear weapons:

"We know that weíve got common goals that make sense for both our peoples. Two such goals are Iran, convincing the Iranians to get rid of its nuclear weapons."
-White House press conference, February 14, 2007, speaking on US-Russia relations





In December 2007, the new National Intelligence Estimate reported that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in early 2003. A jubilant President Ahmadinejad hailed it as a "victory for the Iranian nation", and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called claims that Iran ever pursued nuclear weaponry "a big lie", viewing the report as tantamount to a confession of prior U.S. deception. Iranís state news agency IRNA called on the U.S. to apologize to Iran, and its embassy in Thailand issued a statement celebrating the NIE release, which "clearly proves that Iranís nuclear program is completely peaceful."

Clearly, this is a regime that would like the world to believe that they are not pursuing nuclear weaponry.

The Bush administration claimed that the NIE report changed nothing, yet in the months prior to the NIEís long-postponed release, Bushís rhetoric began to re-emphasize uranium enrichment itself, "capacity" and "knowledge" as red lines that Iran could not be permitted to cross. "Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon", insisted Bush at a White House press conference immediately following the NIE release.

"This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons", says the report self referentially, yet U.S. foreign policy towards Iran does make that assumption—no matter what 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, the Iranian government, or the International Atomic Energy Agency say to the contrary.

"We havenít seen indications or any concrete evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and Iíve been saying that consistently for the last five years," said IAEA Director General and Nobel Prize recipient Mohamed ElBaradei in May 2008. While in Paris a couple weeks later, President Bush was asked about the possibility of more sanctions for Iranís continued uranium enrichment. "...[T]hey refuse to abandon their desires to develop the know-how which could lead to a nuclear weapon", said Bush, emphasizing the term "know-how". "...[W]e canít trust you [Iran] to enrich".

If Iran has truly admitted to wanting nuclear weapons as Bush claims, then thereís no need to modify the talking point from the "desire to have a nuclear weapon" to the "desire to develop the know-how which could lead to a nuclear weapon."

Iran, of course, maintains that its nuclear program is for energy and peaceful purposes only, a claim scoffed at by US-Israeli officials, who question the absurdity of an oil rich country requiring alternative sources of energy. Former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said Iran has "oil coming out of their ears", and Vice President Dick Cheney has offered the head-scratcher that Iran is "already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

For an answer to Cheneyís question, letís turn to AIPACís June 2008 memo on "The Iranian Threat":

"Despite sitting on some of the largest oil reserves in the world, Iran has been forced to import 40 percent of its refined petroleum-gasoline and diesel-because of a lack of investment in its oil refining infrastructure. The high cost of importing gasoline, combined with large price subsidies given to Iranian citizens, has forced Iran to ration gasoline. The regimeís decision last year to ration gasoline led to protests against Ahmadinejad. These protests included Iranians taking to the streets to burn gas stations. Limiting the sale of gasoline to Iran will severely impact Iranís economy and could lead to dramatically greater domestic pressure on the regime to change course."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concurs, telling the crowd at the June 2008 AIPAC conference, "While Iran may be a large oil exporter, it imports almost half of its refined oil products. Sanctions can be imposed on the export of gasoline to Iran and they can be imposed on countries which refine gasoline for Iran."

Of course, Cheney already knows full well of Iranís growing energy needs. Thirty years earlier, the Gerald Ford administration of which Cheney was Chief of Staff had a policy opposite to the Bush administration. The Shah was strongly encouraged to build nuclear reactors, whose enriched uranium could have led to the production of bombs.

So, in review: Iran has a hidden nuclear weapons program that it openly admits to. Although it might be in Iranís interest to have a nuclear deterrent, theyíll be nuked if they even think about it. The NIE significantly downgraded the threat from Iran, but that just goes to show how great a threat they are. Iran doesnít need energy, but the best way to weaken them is to deprive them of energy. And just because the intelligence was so wrong about Iraq is no reason to doubt the intelligence about Iran. Any questions?




Related links:

Experts Agree: Iran is Not Iraq

Ayatollah Khamenei: Iran Does Not Want Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Media and the Road to War With Iran



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