Mahdi Ahouie: 2-Iran’s nuclear program, Bushehr, Non Proliferation Treaty

Introducing Mahdi Ahouie

Mahdi AhouieMahdi Ahouie (Tehran, 1977) is Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue in Geneva.

He has obtained a PhD in International Relations at L’Institut de Hautes Études Internationales et du Développement (HEID, University of Geneva).

In the second part of a series of four interviews, Dr Ahouie gives his views on Iran’s nuclear program. He elaborates on the history of Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s rationale behind obtaining enriched uranium and the position of the US in this regard. Dr Ahouie further explains the role of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the Non Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The other parts of this interview are:


Why is its nuclear program important for Iran?

Unlike many stereotypical analyses of this matter, which put the emphasis on the [non-existing] imminent threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb, I’d like to look at it from a psycho-political perspective and in a historical and geopolitical context. In my opinion, the Iranian nuclear program is first and foremost a matter of national pride. It is a means to show to the world powers that Iran is capable to meet its highest technological needs, even in a field as complicated as nuclear energy, without having their support.

Psychologically speaking and to put it very simply, this is a way to prove oneself and to show one’s own capabilities to the hostile or unsupportive “Other.” There is no way to prove that Iran has followed a nuclear program for military purposes. Some may argue otherwise, but it’s important to notice the long history behind Iran’s nuclear program and not to look at it only in the context of today’s political situation.

The nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The support, encouragement and participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran’s nuclear program continued before the 1979 Iranian revolution, which resulted in the establishment of a small research reactor in the University of Tehran.

In the mid-1970s and during the last years of the Shah’s reign, Iran signed a contract with West Germany to build two nuclear power plants in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, in order to provide for part of Iran’s increasing domestic energy consumption. Iran also acquired 10% share in a European nuclear consortium in France, in exchange of which Iran was supposed to receive enriched uranium. However, after the Iranian revolution, the Germans refused to hold to their commitments and they totally halted construction of the Bushehr reactor under pressure from the United States, despite the fact that Iran had paid Germany in full, totaling billions of dollars.

France, too, refused to give any enriched uranium to Iran and didn’t return Iran’s investments. Iran was denied uranium which it was entitled to as a joint owner in the French international enrichment facility also because of US pressure. The United States itself cut off the supply of highly enriched uranium fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which forced the reactor to shut down for a number of years.

Iran’s nuclear activities were temporarily suspended during the 1980s as a result of Iran-Iraq war. However, no Western countries responded positively to Iran’s numerous requests for assistance to complete the Bushehr plant at the beginning of 1990s. Finally, the Russians reached an agreement with Iran in 1995 to resume work on the partially complete plant. Since then, billions of dollars have been spent, but the Russians have also delayed the completion of this project for several years, each time with different excuses.

The question is why Western partners simply pulled out from the Bushehr project despite their previous commitments to Iran and without taking any responsibility? No-one has ever had doubts that the Bushehr reactor was merely supposed to be a power plant with no military use. So, why did the Western countries refuse to cooperate with Iran in this peaceful project? This behaviour by itself provided another reason for Iranian government to have further mistrust towards the Western powers as potential partners.

Iran’s current nuclear program is aimed at producing enriched uranium to be used as fuel in nuclear power plants. The Western countries argue that once Iran has reached the enrichment technology, it might be able to use it for the production of a nuclear bomb. Therefore, they have urged Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium and import it from developed countries instead. Beside the fact that these suspicions are mostly political, the Iranians wonder how they could possibly trust Western countries to provide Iran with necessary nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant while they simply refused to participate in its building in the first place. And how it would be possible to make sure that they will not block the fuel’s export to Iran at any time for political blackmailing purposes?

As a result, it has become important for Iran to reach the capability of enriching uranium to the level that it can provide the nuclear fuel for Bushehr and any other future plants on its own. It’s only in the context of this historical background that one might understand the reason behind Iran’s current persistence in following a completely independent and perhaps sometimes less transparent nuclear program. It’s difficult to believe that Iran would be willing or able to produce sufficient amount of highly enriched uranium needed for making nuclear bombs any time in the early future. But if Western powers are concerned in this regard, then they themselves must be held responsible for having forced Iran towards a resistant and defensive position through their antagonizing policies and double standards.

Why do speak of “double standards” regarding the US stance towards Iran’s nuclear program?

Iran is amongst the first countries of the world which joined the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, and since then, it has been going under constant investigations and surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the UN nuclear watchdog. Some of Iran’s regional neighbours, such as Israel, India, and Pakistan, despite having reached nuclear weapons, have never signed the NPT and they have never allowed any inspections to their nuclear facilities. However, they have also never been under any strong pressure by Western powers to give up their nuclear programs, even though it is proven that they are in possession of several nuclear warheads. The United States, in particular, is to blame in this regard.

Not only Washington has never even slightly pressured Israel to be liable about its secret nuclear arsenals, it has also recently signed an agreement with India for mutual nuclear cooperation. Pakistan, too, has been receiving US political and economic support as a regional ally. As a result, it seems the US opposition towards Iran’s nuclear program is not a matter of principle for the sake of regional and global security and disarmament, but it only derives from political reasons.

So, when it comes to US regional allies, it doesn’t even matter to have military nuclear arsenals and nuclear warheads. That is the meaning of double-standards regarding US position on Iran’s nuclear program. Principally, it is hypocritical and dishonest for the United States to adopt such a policy, which has only further alienated the Iranians.

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