The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) recently informed the world that Iran is not building nuclear weapons. The report confirms what International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohammed El Baradei and other close observers of the Iranian nuclear program have been saying since 2004: Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons but in the deterrent value inherent in the knowledge of mastering the nuclear fuel cycle.
However, the Bush administration is not likely to let a silly thing such as an NIE report change its policy towards Iran. Instead of utilizing such an opportunity to mend US-Iranian relations, President Bush has again opted for the same “eyes wide shut” approach he used before launching the debacle we now call the Iraq war. The fifty-year-old time bomb of a relationship between the US and Iran could have been diffused with a little finesse and acknowledgment of Iran’s peaceful goals and maybe a lifting of the sanctions. However, Bush continues to live up to the hypocrisy and double standards that Iranians have come to expect from a haughty superpower.
By continuing to punish Iran with sanctions for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), claiming that Iran’s civilian energy program is being used to covertly develop nuclear weapons (even though the merits of such accusations are now found to be untrue), the United States risks losing all credibility. Making matters worse, the United States faces accusations of its own for violating provisions of the NPT. At the heart of these accusations are the secret nuclear weapons sharing agreements negotiated by the United States in which it agrees to provide nuclear weapons to be deployed by and stored in other NATO states. As a result of these agreements, the United States provides 180 tactical B61 nuclear bombs for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey, thus violating Article I and II of the NPT. Such violations have received an outcry from Iran and others, accusing the US of engaging in hypocrisy, charging one country of not abiding by the treaty while being in violation themselves.
The argument laid out by the State Department is that the volatile dynamics of the region necessitate a high degree of prudence in regards to allowing any sort of nuclear capabilities in the region. However, such prudence should not be looked at within a vacuum. In 1967, President Gerald Ford accepted Iran’s need for nuclear power to provide for the growing needs of its economy and to free the remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals. In fact, President Ford signed a directive offering Iran the chance to buy and operate a US-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Iran’s needs for its economy have since increased exponentially; therefore, its desire to develop nuclear technology to provide for its growing need is expected and reasonable.
Unfortunately, a change in Iranian governance plays a major role in the light that the intentions of Iran are perceived in regards to its nuclear desires. And while the US-Iran relations were strong between the Shah and Ford, thus justifying the difference in the stance of today’s administration, subsequent US actions have not been so kind. Thus, given the history of the relationship between the two countries, it is not so inconceivable to see why Iran has been hesitant to open itself to US demands, even though it has had nothing to hide.
Iran has not forgotten the 1957 US-sponsored coup d’état that removed its popularly elected Iranian leader Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, who wanted to nationalize the Iranian oil fields and ban oil drilling contracts to foreign governments. Threatened by the prospect of losing interests in Iranian oil, the United States overthrew Mossadegh and helped institute a dictatorship under the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Bitter, the Iranians saw the overthrow of Mossadegh as undermining the very democracy that the United States harps about to the Middle East. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later that Iran was able to shake off the dictatorship of the Shah and regain control of their country through a Revolution. However, victory was short-lived, and in 1980, Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, leading to a war that lasted eight years and cost a million lives. The US implemented a policy of support for Saddam Hussein, providing technological aid, intelligence, the sale of dual-use and military equipment, and committed the US Navy to safeguarding the flow of oil out of (and the flow of money and arms into) Iraq. To make matters worse, the United States engaged in selling secret arms to Iran on the side. The Iranians saw the engagement by the United States in both sides of the conflict as a lesson for future dealings: alliances with the United States were never to be trusted.
Not surprisingly, Iran has, as a result, dealt with the United States at an arm’s length and with extreme caution. Double standards, hypocrisy, and mistrust have been a part of US-Iran equation and continue to hinder any progress that may be attainable in regards to settling the Iranian nuclear issue.
The United States, instead of branding Iran as an “axis of evil”, needs to acknowledge Iranian interests in providing for the economical needs of the country and come up with a viable solution that balances such interests with those of the international community. The United States must come to the negotiation table in a humble manner, acknowledge its previous shortcomings, and deal with Iran as a state with legitimate needs and provide a means of resolving them instead of forcing the demands of the West down their throat. Only then can Iranians and Muslims expect a peaceful ending to this dilemma.