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There are many Irans



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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August 18, 2009

LONDON - Let’s exaggerate. Iran has been singled out for persecution over its alleged nuclear bomb making programme because in 1979 its Revolutionary Guards took the staff of the U.S. embassy hostage, causing outrage in America with even the esteemed Walter Cronkite ratcheting up the tension, putting up on the screen, as he read the nightly news, the number of days they had been incarcerated. The sitting U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, was deposed, tarred with the brush of utter failure.

Something of an exaggeration that this was the sole or even the most important factor in building a pro bomb lobby in Iran. Still it has a grain of truth: Iran has been singled out unfairly. The West and Russia are engaged in discriminating against it.

Brazil has had a nuclear enrichment programme for decades (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant, several laboratory-scale facilities, a reprocessing facility to make plutonium, and a missile programme). In the 1980s it built two nuclear devices. Three years ago I asked the chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Brasilia if Washington was worried about Brazil. “Not at all”, he replied, “In the early 1990s Brazil dismantled its nuclear weapons’ programme, and Argentina, its supposed enemy, has done the same.” “But”, I insisted, “Brazil still has its enrichment programme and a reprocessing facility”. “We have no worries about Brazil”, he answered. “We see eye to eye.” However Brazil still resists, in part, the probing eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog.

In 1979 the attitude of the Carter Administration towards Pakistan, then attempting to build its bomb, was almost as harsh as towards Iran today. It suspended all military aid, even though the Taliban were a lurking potential threat. However, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December Carter persuaded Congress to restart a large-scale arms programme. For the next decade, in return for Pakistan’s help in building up the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan who later went to work for Osama bin Laden, Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s effort to build nuclear weapons.

Only in 1990, with the Soviets driven out of Afghanistan, did President George Bush (Senior) decide to cut off military assistance. This was reversed under his son, George W. Bush, as Washington wooed Islamabad for help in defeating the Taliban and hunting down Al Qaeda members. Not only was the bomb tolerated, not much fuss was made when the U.S. discovered that Pakistan was acquiring nuclear knowledge and missiles from North Korea.

Likewise, there has been Washington’s long refusal to acknowledge what it has always known, but pretended not to, that Israel in the early 1960s built a secret nuclear reactor in the Negev desert.  Israel has never lacked an adequate conventional force but its unnecessary nuclear weapons have been a constant provocation to both the Arab states and Iran.

Even when the West has only offered peaceful nuclear assistance meant for nuclear power development, sometimes the recipient has used that as a base to go on to a nuclear weapons’ program. South Africa is a good example. During apartheid days U.S. aid included the construction of a nuclear research reactor, the supply of highly enriched uranium and the training of nuclear scientists. Providing these skills gave key scientists tremendous political influence. In 1968 they convinced the government to fund the construction of a pilot enrichment plant. In 1968 they persuaded it to allow them to develop nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union did the same with North Korea, training nuclear scientists and completing construction of the Yongbyon research reactor in 1965. Later Pyongyang used this facility to produce plutonium, which was then used to explode a nuclear bomb three years ago.
Something similar happened with India. In 1955 India built its first research reactor using British-supplied designs. A year later Canada supplied India with a research reactor. Next the U.S. provided a key ingredient, heavy water, and trained over a 1000 Indian nuclear scientists. In 1961 India began construction of a reprocessing plant designed to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.

Pakistan began to develop its bomb after Munir Ahmad Kahn, chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and other top scientists were trained in the U.S.. Canada and West European countries helped construct and operate enrichment centres.

The West and Russia need to rethink more than the Obama Administration thus far is doing. They should offer all the civilian nuclear cooperation Iran can swallow in return for open books and regular intrusive inspections of all facilities old and new. And they should offer to end all political and economic estrangement.

There is no good reason why if the West plays its cards well it couldn’t help Iran become another Turkey, democratic, pro Western and bomb free.

But first the West and Russia must raise the curtain on their past, and in Brazil’s case present, hypocrisy and irresponsibility.



Copyright © 2009 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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