A nuclear train without brakes

The historical narrative paints a clear picture: Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and shows no signs of being deterred

Nucleariran
How do you stop a nuclear train without brakes?
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Wahied Wahdat-Hagh
On 7 March 2013 16:07

Some years ago now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “Our nuclear train has no brakes.” Some people laughed about it; some were concerned; and some still are.

It is not clear whether Yukiya Amano, chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog (International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA), falls strictly in the latter category, although he did this week demand access to Iran’s Parchin military site. “Without further delay”, he added.

As was to be expected, the demand was rejected, keeping the military base, which is possibly used for the development of nuclear weapons, shrouded in mystery. What is more, Olli Heinonen, Deputy Director-General for Safeguards at the IAEA can’t rule out the possibility that Iran has further secret sites.

At the same time, Fereidun Abbasi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that Iran has built, and will install, centrifuges of a new generation in its nuclear plants.

It should be recalled that Ali Khamenei, the "leader" of Iran, ultimately makes the decisions over the nuclear programme, and not the nuclear negotiators – though they can give an indication of the leadership’s thinking. But as well as keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear scientists,  sometimes it is worth keeping an eye on the Friday preachers when looking to determine the final destination of Iran’s ‘nuclear train’.

The Friday prayers in the “Islamic Republic Iran” are in many ways a form of propaganda; a chance for preachers to propagate the policies of the dictatorship in the name of religion and revolution. But on March 1st, the propaganda reached a new dimension: a nuclear dimension.

Ayatollah Kazem Sedighi delivered a “sermon” and stressed that "Iran will never go one step back from its obvious nuclear rights." He added: "The percentage of our enrichment is nobody's business," reported Farsnews.

Sedighi said: "The talks between Mr Jalili and 5+1 have shown that the positions of Iran are consistent and unwavering." He confirmed, however, that this time the "5+1 positions were more realistic than in the past."

Then he said: "But some news agencies have told nonsense that Iran had agreed to stop the 20 percent enrichment. This talk is without any basis. The Iranian nation is nuclear." Iran would enrich Uranium according to its needs and “is not afraid of any power."

He recalled that President Obama had said that the U.S. would never allow Iran to gain nukes. Sedighi commented that "Iran is not waiting for the permission of the American president."

Sedighi noted that the U.S. could not prevent Pakistan, India and North Korea from building nuclear bombs. Hence, in the case of Iran, the United States would again be powerless to do anything. He also stressed that only the leader of the Islamic system decides on the question of atomic bomb.

Right on cue, the masses screamed in reply: "Death to Israel, Death to America".

The historical narrative

After the last round of negotiations with the 5+1 group in Almaty, the Islamic Republic had reason to celebrate. The Iranian negotiators gained time yet again. And they have every reason to hope the next round on March 17th and 18th will go the same way.

The question is: who has used the negotiations hitherto in the best form for its own interests? Considering that Iran has pursued its nuclear programme fully and is psychologically disposed to think that the West must rethink its own strategy, the answer should be fairly clear.

According to a recent IAEA report, Iran has enriched 280 kg of uranium (UF6) and has enriched 167 kg of Uranium to a level of 20 percent, which, through further enrichment, can be used for a bomb. And it is now being reported that Iran is also to produce heavy water in its plant at Arak.

Notably the combination is suspect, because heavy water reactors can be operated with natural uranium. Moreover, it is worth noting that an enrichment level of 20 percent is not required for commercial use, which doesn’t go beyond three to five percent.

The Islamic Republic is running a double game: Iran has a public and a secret nuclear programme.

In public, it was known that construction of the light-water reactor in Bushehr began 2002, with the help of Russia. Between February and May 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted inspections, while Iran announced than uranium enrichment plants were to be completed in Natanz and Arak.

But in 2003 the IAEA realised that part of the Iranian nuclear programme was secret. In November of that year, the IAEA announced that Iran had confessed to producing plutonium. The IAEA declared that Iran had maintained an unannounced, sophisticated and illegal uranium enrichment program since 1985. (Illegal because Iran had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970.)

By 2004, satellite pictures were published, which indicated a military nuclear programme. After the foreign ministers of the Troika Germany, Britain and France traveled to Iran and achieved nothing, the European Union and the U.S. government threatened to send the Iranian file to the UN Security Council.

Russia, then as now, decided to employ a dubious policy and sent fuel rods for the reactor in Bushehr. By this point, the European governments had offered economic incentives to Iran, and hoped for compromise. A recurring theme, in a familiar tale, its efforts were in vain. Iranian politicians have only one goal: to develop their agenda without compromise.

After President Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, Seyyed Hussein Mousavian left the Iranian negotiating team and was replaced by Saeed Jalili, a war veteran. Tellingly, in May 2007 Mousavian was arrested. He got a five-year work prohibition, having apparently talked ‘too much’ with foreign leaders. But while Mousavian now plays the role of defending Iran in the media from his base at Princeton, the Iranian nuclear programme continues.

Indeed, in July 2006, the UN Security Council Resolution 1696 was adopted against Iran and in the following years Iran's foreign policy became increasingly aggressive. The regime spoke of peace and at the same time supported Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and also the militant forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On December 23rd, 2006, resolution 1737 of the UN Security Council followed. And yet, the more decisively the UN Security Council condemned Iran, the harder the reaction, because the regime can’t abandon its totalitarian goals, without thereby giving up its ideological legitimacy; the aggressive foreign policy, not to mention the terror against its own people, rests on the precondition of the existence of the Islamic dictatorship.

Of course, we’ve had more resolutions since: March 2008 brought with it resolution 1803; September of the same year spawned resolution 1835. These were followed up in June 2010 (resolution 1929), June 2011 (1984), and June 2012 (2049). Step by step, the sanctions were tightened.

But nuclear negotiations with Iran have ultimately failed. Some might still hope for the success of future negotiations, but it is becoming an increasingly popular view to suggest that one must accept Iran will get a nuclear bomb.

Indeed, on February 27th 2013, some 10 years after Iran made promises to the UK, Germany, and France, the Western media reported that Iran is most likely pursuing a ‘Plan B’ to build a plutonium bomb.

Accepting the likeliness of this scenario does not mean ignoring the fact that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime are a threat to peace in the region and in the world.

And so the question remains: how to stop a nuclear train without brakes?

Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy

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