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The Iranian Threat That Never Was

By Sheldon Richman | Future of Freedom Foundation | March 26, 2014

If you take politicians and the mainstream media seriously, you believe that Iran wants a nuclear weapon and has relentlessly engaged in covert efforts to build one. Even if you are aware that Iran signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, you may believe that those who run the Islamic Republic have cleverly found ways to construct a nuclear-weapons industry almost undetected. Therefore, you may conclude, Democratic and Republican administrations have been justified in pressuring Iran to come clean and give up its “nuclear program.”

But you would be wrong.

Anyone naturally skeptical about such foreign-policy alarms has by now found solid alternative reporting that debunks the official narrative about the alleged Iranian threat. Much of that reporting has come from Gareth Porter, the journalist and historian associated with Inter Press Service. Porter has done us the favor of collecting the fruits of his dogged investigative journalism into a single comprehensive and accessible volume, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

A grain of truth can be found at the core of the official story. Iranian officials did indeed engage in secret activities to achieve a nuclear capability. But it was a capability aimed at generating electricity and medical treatments, not hydrogen bombs.

Porter opens his book by explaining why Iran used secretive rather than open methods. Recall that before the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran was ruled by an autocratic monarch, the shah. The shah’s power had been eclipsed in the early 1950s by a democratically elected parliament. Then, in 1953, America’s Eisenhower administration sent the CIA in to foment civil discord in order to drive the elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, from office and restore the shah’s power.

During his reign, the shah, a close ally of the United States and Israel, started building a nuclear-power industry — with America’s blessing. Iran’s Bushehr reactor was 80 percent complete when the shah was overthrown.

When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became Iran’s supreme leader in 1979, he cancelled completion of the reactor and stopped related projects. But “two years later, the government reversed the decision to strip the [Atomic Energy Organization of Iran] of its budget and staff, largely because the severe electricity shortages that marked the first two years of the revolutionary era persuaded policymakers that there might be a role for nuclear power reactors after all,” Porter writes.

The new regime’s goals were “extremely modest compared with those of the shah,” Porter adds, consisting of one power plant and fuel purchased from France. Take note: the Iranian government did not aspire to enrich uranium, which is the big scare issue these days.

Iran brought the IAEA into its planning process, Porter writes, and an agency official, after conducting a survey of facilities, “recommended that the IAEA provide ‘expert services’ in eight different fields.” Porter notes that the IAEA official said nothing about an Iranian request for help in enriching uranium, “reflecting the fact that Iran was still hoping to get enriched uranium from the French company, Eurodif.”

Had things continued along this path, Iran today would have had a transparent civilian nuclear industry, under the NPT safeguard, fueled by enriched uranium purchased from France or elsewhere. No one would be talking about Iranian centrifuges and nuclear weapons. What happened?

The Reagan administration happened.

Continuing the U.S. hostility toward the Islamic Republic begun by the Carter administration, and siding with Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s military attacked Iran, the Reagan administration imposed “a series of interventions … to prevent international assistance of any kind to the Iranian nuclear program.” Not only did President Reagan block American firms from helping the Iranians; he also pressured American allies to participate in the embargo. This was in clear violation of the NPT, which recognizes the “right” of participating states to acquire nuclear technology for civilian purposes.

No wonder Iran turned to covert channels, most particularly A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani who “was selling nuclear secrets surreptitiously.” This would have been the time for Iran to buy weapons-related technology — however, Porter writes, “there is no indication that [Khan’s Iranian contact] exhibited any interest in the technology for making a bomb.”

This is indeed a manufactured crisis.

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IAEA has no right, duty to visit military sites: Salehi

Press TV – December 21, 2013

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have neither the right nor any duty to inspect Iran’s military and missile sites, a senior Iranian official says.

“The agency’s inspectors have no right and [no] responsibility to do it. There is no authority in the world [responsible] for inspecting such facilities, and there is no treaty in that regard, either,” Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday.

“The IAEA is not in a position to conduct such inspections,” he underscored, dismissing certain media reports which quoted him as saying that the agency’s inspectors will visit Iran’s missile industries for more transparency.

In November, Iran and the IAEA agreed on a road map based on which Iran would, on a voluntary basis, allow IAEA inspectors to visit the Arak heavy water plant and the Gachin uranium mine in Bandar Abbas, in southern Iran, despite the fact that Tehran is under no such obligation to do so under the Safeguards Agreement.

The voluntary move is a goodwill gesture on the part of Iran to clear up ambiguities over the peaceful nature of its nuclear energy program.

Salehi further denied charges leveled by certain Western countries suggesting a diversion in Iran’s civilian atomic work.

“Such accusations are unfounded given the IAEA’s inspections and [Iran’s] broad transparency moves and cooperation,” the AEOI head said.

The United States, Israel, and some of their allies have repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Washington Fears Iran

By Sharmine Narwani  | Al-Akhbar | 2013-06-12

“Tehran has developed technical expertise in a number of areas – including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles – from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” reads Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s April 2013 report to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

Then comes the statement usually ignored by mass media: “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

The fact that Iran is not producing a nuclear bomb – nay, hasn’t even decided if it wants to – has not deterred the US government from slapping the Islamic Republic with the most punishing unilateral sanctions in history.

While the Iranian economy struggles to adjust to periodic US sanctions “upgrades,” a significantly devalued currency and restrictions in global financial transactions have suddenly challenged even Iran’s famed adaptability to these kinds of externally-imposed pressures.

But something is awry. There is no implosion in Iran. How is that possible with off-the-chart hikes in the price of basic goods, unaffordable housing in congested urban areas, increased youth unemployment? Instead, Iranians who love nothing better than to complain about government and economy, have grumpily rallied against these foreign efforts to pit population against state.

According to results of a Gallup poll in February, 85 percent of Iranians claim sanctions have hurt their livelihood either “a great deal” or “somewhat.” But 70 percent of those polled blame external parties (the US, western European countries, Israel, and the UN) for this suffering; remarkably, only 10 percent blame their government and their leaders. Instead of sanctions forcing a change in Iran’s calculation about pursuing nuclear enrichment – which is a stated US goal – 65 percent of Iranians favor a continuation of the country’s nuclear power capabilities.

As former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El Baradei astutely observed before leaving his 11-year post: “The line was, ‘Iran will buckle under pressure.’ But this issue has become so ingrained in the Iranian soul as a matter of national pride. They talk about their nuclear program as if they had gone to the moon.”

Instead of changing tack and identifying novel ways to gain favor with Iran’s population while pressuring their leaders, the US administration went off the rails last week and upped the sanctions ante – targeting for the first time Iran’s rial currency and its auto industry, a large source of domestic jobs.

No – there can no longer be any mistake about what that means. Washington isn’t trying to change Iran’s “calculations” about “its nuclear program.” It is trying to break Iran’s back.

“Let Them Try”

“US power and reach is in decline,” says Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads the Majlis’ (parliament) foreign affairs and national security committees, and cheerily expects to out-maneuver, out-last, and out-smart the Americans.

As with all decision makers in Iran, any discussion of US sanctions gets you a slow smile and a political lesson.

“The new realities in Iran don’t seem to be apparent to the US after 33 years. They’re still focused on regime change, sanctions, cyber war, military operations. The result of this strategy has been to the US detriment (financially draining) and to our advantage,” explains Boroujerdi.

In this period, “Iran gained incredible technology. The US didn’t want us to have nuclear capability – and we have done so from the basics to where we are now in a peaceful nuclear program. They tried to restrict our knowledge and our development. In these three decades we obtained advanced technologies ourselves – building and launching satellites, developing nanotechnology from scratch, developing a domestic arsenal of weapons,” he continued.

“We used Iranian brainpower, our youth; we have attained the unattainable – we changed the process. How many other countries could have done this?”

That’s the crux of it. David vs Goliath. The nimble, determined developing nation upstart facing down the global bully and a crumbling Empire. That image can inspire passion here in Iran – which may explain some of those earlier Gallup numbers and the upward tick in polling data for presidential candidates who talk tough on negotiations with the US.

In short, many Iranians feel the US and other Western nations want to stunt their independence, development, and scientific progress – keeping the country “backward and needy;” a dumping ground for stale Western products and services in exchange for the petrodollars of a one-commodity economy.

“Nuclear” Saves Lives in Iran

I visit a University of Tehran campus that houses the first nuclear medicine center in the country. This is the teaching nexus from which most of the nation’s nuclear medicine specialists graduate. It is a relatively new specialty – a few decades old – but already there are 130 nuclear medicine centers around Iran and an equal number of specialized doctors.

“Nuclear medicine is a real peaceful use of nuclear energy,” explains Dr. Mohsen Saghari who heads the center and is also the president of the Iranian Society of Nuclear Medicine. “We basically use radioactive materials for diagnostics and therapeutic purposes – we do all the treatments and scans (bone, heart, liver, spleen, renal, breast, thyroid, lungs) at this facility.”

As I quickly learned, nuclear medicine is several things: For the purpose of diagnostics, when administered into the body these radiopharmaceuticals can “image” disease at the cellular level, thereby detecting illness earlier than via x-ray, CT-Scans or MRIs, for instance, which rely on the visible manifestation of disease for detection to be possible.

It is like radiology from the inside – instead of the external radiation passing through your body to capture an image from an x-ray, in nuclear medicine, external cameras capture images from the radiation emitted by a radiopharmaceutical administered into a patient.

Nuclear medicine is also used for the purpose of therapeutic treatment. These are specialized drugs that emit short distances of radiation thereby reducing undesirable side effects.

At the center that day, I saw maybe 20 patients and family members in a seating area awaiting a scan or outpatient treatment, mostly for thyroid cancers and hyperthyroidism, according to the medical professional who took me on a tour.

“Most of the procedures we do here are complementary, but in a few cases, they are the only procedures and nothing else can substitute them,” says Saghari. “But because of sanctions we have problems. If we want radioactive materials or equipment, they won’t sell them to us.”

So Iran decided to make its own.

Most of his center’s radioactive materials are produced by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which fuels up those nuclear reactors that make people in Washington and Tel Aviv all wobbly-kneed and shrill.

Saghari showed me a sealed vial – or “cold kit” – that contained a few pinches of a powdered substance. Iran makes that part of the drug too because the newer US (unilateral) sanctions have made it hard for Iranians to trade in Western currencies and transact through most banks. The vial remains sealed until radioactive material is injected into it – which then makes it an active radiopharmaceutical used in diagnostics and treatment.

As my notes recall, 90 percent of these diagnostic procedures require a synthetically-produced chemical element called Technetium, which is produced at Iran’s nuclear plants via a process using 20 percent enriched uranium and then extracted from the nuclear rod fuels to create the necessary medical isotopes.

Says Saghari, “Even in the black market, the importation of chemotherapies and high-tech medications have largely stopped with the latest rounds of sanctions.”

So Iran relies on its own nuclear power plants to fill in – and eventually altogether replace – imports. “Sometimes we get shortages, at the present time they can produce.”

Not a lot of countries produce radiopharmeceuticals. Saghari named just Canada, the US, England, France, Russia and China. Like others leading the charge toward self-sufficiency in Iran, he anticipates that one day Iran will be producing competitive, lower-cost radiopharmeceuticals for export.

“Each week we see 20 to 24 new thyroid cancer patients – last month I had 94 inpatients, 876 diagnostic scans performed and 700 outpatients for thyroid illnesses,” he says, flicking through some administrative papers to try to give me an accurate count. “Every year in Iran about one million people get referred for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.”

“So of course we are going to make it ourselves,” insists Saghari.

Baa, Baa, Cloned Sheep

A 2010 Canadian report on the “geo-political shift in knowledge creation” claims scientific output has grown 11 times faster in Iran than the global average – faster than in any other country in the world. I recall reading this tidbit three years ago and wondering how that could be right. In previous trips to Iran, I couldn’t say that I ever noted visible signs of ‘unusual progress.’

I don’t think most Iranians think much about this either. Discussing my interviews with friends and acquaintances during my visit, most seemed surprised, even shocked that this much development was going on under their noses. The Iranian government, good or bad, suffers acutely from an inability to communicate its value propositions to the wider population. Which really, quite frankly, cripples it when faced with the well-oiled spin-machines of hostile Western and Arab states seeking to vilify the Islamic Republic.

Every Iranian has an opinion on the country’s nuclear energy program for the simple reason that this is the one ‘development project’ they all know about…so rarely is it out of the international headlines.

This kind of hyper-scientific growth is essential, says Dr. Hamid Gourabi, president of the Royan Institute, a leader in stem cell and reproductive biomedicine in Iran: “Scientific progress can make countries independent – and apply pressure on others.”

If you think his message has political undertones, you are right. It is something I hear in all my meetings. “After the revolution, we decided instead of being dependent on oil, we should diversify into sciences and other areas.”

Royan, a quasi-governmental institute, was established to solve a basic problem: young Iranian couples with fertility problems were having to travel outside the country and spend large sums of money to conceive. The organization started with very basic fertility treatments in 1991 and two years later the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) child was born in Tehran. With a 40 percent success rate, the institute now does more than 4,000 cycles every year – in Europe there are less than ten clinics that perform more than 1,000.

Royan was playing catch-up with some of its early endeavors. In 2006 it cloned its first sheep, followed by two transgenic kid goats called Shangool and Mangool (named after popular children’s characters in Iran), and then by calves – each using slightly different biotechnologies.

Gourabi’s institute is not ultimately interested in replicating other’s successes though – it wants to forge its own way. He tells me about some important thinking that went on in Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami from 1997-2005: “We wanted to expand in sciences, technologies – Khatami didn’t think Iran could advance ‘car-making’ for example – we wanted to go into areas where Iran can bring leadership.” But, he says, ultimately, “the scientific community is the main impetus behind this – they push the government.” Then he adds with a twinkle that Iran’s Supreme Leader “Khamenei has a huge interest in science.”

Since then Royan has branched out in all sorts of directions. Stem cell research is today the most advanced part of what the group does, and Iran, according to Gourabi, is now only the 8th nation in the world to produce scientific output on stem cells.

He also confirms that “sanctions have been a key motivator” for the rush to development. “One of the products we need cost us a million dollars to import. Now we produce it ourselves, it costs us very little. Iran sells biotech to other countries – we offer a lower cost than most companies.”

Gourabi, whose institute has been denied laser technology-based products by the US’ restrictive sanctions regime, says with some confidence: “We will end up producing these drugs for ourselves, so pirating and patent-busting becomes prolific. And they (the West) lose a good market for their products.”

He’s not worried about isolation either: “Sanctions do affect our work – time is important in science and sanctions cause delays – but we are contributing in a big way to the global scientific community now, and this collaboration helps us.”

Nanotechnology 101

A decade ago, Iranian decision makers and scientists were trying to solve a large problem: “In less than 100 years, we will run out of all these oil resources. How do we have an economy then?”

The prevalent thinking was that Iran needed to develop sectors that would help it create a “knowledge-based economy” where it could establish itself as a global leader. The country had underperformed on IT and biotech, so it took its time in studying the potential of nanotechnology. Three years later it decided to plunge in.

“Our mission was to be among the top 15 countries in the world in all rings of the ‘value chain’ – all the way from developing the human resources to commercialization and wealth creation,” say Dr. Seyed Mehdi Rezayat and Dr. Ali Beitollahi, senior officials at The Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC).

“Today, more than 14,000 are engaged in Iran’s nanotech industry – a decade ago you couldn’t count the number of people on two hands who understood what it meant,” laughs Beitollahi.

The data starts flowing. In the past five years, Iran has registered 95 patents for nanotechnology products and processes. Dozens of Iranian universities have been corralled into creating graduate and doctoral programs in advanced nanotech. Because of sanctions and embargos, Iranians are making sophisticated machinery that they otherwise would have bought. Twenty five Iranian companies have now commercialized nano equipment because nobody would sell it to them.

In a short time, the Islamic Republic has become one of only six nations involved in nanotech standardization – all others are Western countries (US, UK, Canada, Germany) with the exception of Japan.

The applications in nanotech are broad. From eco-efficiencies like coating glass that keeps heat out, to strengthening building materials in earthquake prone areas, to creating cancer drugs to water filtration and desalinization.

“In high-tech you can get much more advanced benefit than from commercial technologies,” says Rezaiat. “Every kilogram of cement is just a few cents. The main cost of things is knowledge and technology, so why should a country like Iran stick to cement?”

“We learned a lot of lessons from our previous lack of achievement,” he reflects, adding, “We used to buy turnkey projects and we didn’t even know what was inside.” Now, says Rezaiat, “Nano has become a model for the country. We started from scratch – we will look, learn about everything.”

Why Washington Fears Iran?

A rigorous report published last week on Iran sanctions by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says the following:

“There is a growing body of opinion and Iranian assertions that indicates that Iran, through actions of the government and the private sector, is mitigating the economic effect of sanctions. Some argue that Iran might even benefit from sanctions over the long term by being compelled to diversify its economy and reduce dependence on oil revenues. Iran’s 2013-2014 budget relies far less on oil exports than have previous budgets, and its exports of minerals, cement, urea fertilizer, and other agricultural and basic industrial goods are increasing substantially.”

A year ago I wrote an article titled “How Iran Changed the World.” In it I warn that continued economic pressures on Iran will produce the unintended consequence of undermining Western hegemony very decisively.

The US, after all, is aggressively challenging the Islamic Republic at a time when the entire Western financial and economic order is teetering on the brink of collapse, with no apparent safety net in sight.

Iran is an extremely resourceful country of 78 million people, a huge export market for any nation keen to bolster its treasuries, and has major strategically valuable commodities – oil and gas – that people are keen to buy.

The tighter the sanctions, the more likely that Iran and its trading partners will seek innovative ways around them. In effect, by putting the screws on this important country (Iran is today the head of the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement and increasingly protected by the emerging BRICS economies), the US is encouraging the development of alternative financial and economic practices that will fundamentally undermine – perhaps even destroy – its own global order.

Every global power throughout history has ended its reign at the hands of an adversary, whether on the battlefield or in a grand power play that goes wrong. What Washington rightfully fears is that its three-decade-long tussle with the Islamic Republic is unwinnable – which is nothing short of defeat for the world’s last superpower.

Unable to get off its current trajectory of escalation, the US continues to seek new, illogical, increasingly indefensible ways to squeeze Iran’s population. But the fact is that sanctions simply don’t work: Iran is not going to stop its nuclear enrichment. Iranians aren’t going to eject their government.

This will not end well for the US. Iran…I’m not so worried about.

This is the second in a two-part series on my 2012 research trips to Iran to discover what makes the Islamic Republic so resilient in the face of Western economic and political pressures. You can read Part 1, “Why Arabs Need Iran” here.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

June 12, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 2 Comments

No proof of Iran decision to build nuclear weapons: Russia

Press TV – October 24, 2012

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says there is no evidence suggesting that Iran has made any decision to militarize its nuclear energy program.

In an interview with the Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta on Tuesday, Lavrov said Iran’s nuclear energy program is under the full supervision of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the country is enriching 4.5-percent uranium to meet its fuel needs, Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Lavrov emphasized that the production of nuclear fuel is not a violation of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and confirmed the legitimacy of Iran’s bid to produce 20-percent enriched uranium to provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

Iran decided to enrich uranium to 20-percent level to provide fuel for TRR, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients, after potential suppliers failed to provide the Islamic Republic with the required nuclear fuel.

On September 17, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Fereydoun Abbasi, said Iran has no intention of enriching uranium above the 20-percent level.

Abbasi added that Iran started producing 20-percent enriched uranium when it could not obtain fuel for TRR from international market due to sanctions imposed against the country.

The Iranian official added that the main objective of 20-percent enrichment is to produce radiopharmaceuticals, but certain parties are trying to connect Iran’s nuclear activities to non-civilian purposes.

The United States, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Iran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program, but Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the NPT and a member of the IAEA, it is entitled to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

In addition, the IAEA has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s nuclear energy program has been diverted toward military objectives.

October 24, 2012 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment