Iran’s Nuclear Program: Facts Americans Need to Know

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No one has presented any concrete evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This has been asserted in every inspection report of Iran carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and our own American National Intelligence Estimate.

New American Media  The recent news that Iran is in the process of building a second uranium enrichment facility sent politicians and the press into a tizzy. Consequently, the American public is once again being barraged with half-truths and misstatements about Iran’s nuclear program.

In the spirit of public service, here are 10 basic facts about Iran’s nuclear energy program that Americans desperately need to know.

1. No one has presented any concrete evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This has been asserted in every inspection report of Iran carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and our own American National Intelligence Estimate.

2. Iranian officials have renounced nuclear weapons as un-Islamic and unnecessary for Iran’s defense. Iran has not launched a first strike against any nation for more than 300 years, and it will not attack Israel or any other nation. It will, however, defend itself.

3. Iran would have to build numerous facilities to process nuclear material before it could even think about producing a weapon.

4. The facility discovered last week in Qom is incomplete, non-operational and has not had any nuclear material introduced into it. It is designed, not as a weapons manufacturing plant, but as a mini-version of the enrichment facility at Natanz. It was probably intended as a back-up if Natanz were bombed.

5. The Iranians make a strong claim that they were not required to report the facility until 180 days before fissile material was introduced. It is simply not true that they are in unambiguous violation of their “international obligations,” as asserted by President Obama.

6. The United States knew about the Qom facility four years ago and chose not to reveal its knowledge. In fact, if the facility were illegal, the United States was obliged to reveal it. Either the facility was not illegal, or the United States is itself in violation of its treaty obligations.

7. The Qom facility was not “exposed” by the United States. It was revealed by a voluntary letter from Iran to the IAEA several days earlier than the American announcement.

8. If operational, the Qom plant would at best be able to produce enough raw fissile material to produce only one bomb per year. In order for such a bomb to be built, the enriched uranium would still have to be sent through numerous non-existent processing facilities before emerging as a weapon. By contrast, Israel, Pakistan and India all have large stockpiles of nuclear warheads ready to launch.

9. Iran actually needs nuclear energy to generate electricity, as it asserts. Currently, Iran uses natural gas for its electricity generation. As Iran’s crude oil supplies dwindle, that gas is needed to “re-inject” the oil fields to increase oil production. It is also more profitable for Iran to sell the remaining gas abroad in liquid form than to use it to generate electric power.

10. Iran will not give up nuclear enrichment under pressure. The nuclear energy program was started nearly 40 years ago under U.S. ally Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iranians of all ages and all economic classes take pride in the development of nuclear energy as proof of Iran’s scientific and engineering prowess. They see efforts to curtail this as attempts by the West to suppress their progress. Whoever is elected president in Iran in the future will enthusiastically support the nuclear program.

So, why have our national leaders misled the public about this program? One reason is that Iran has become the universal bogeyman for American politicians. No one has ever lost a vote by attacking Iran and many have been attacked for seeming to be “soft” on Iran. Moreover, Israel and its supporters have successfully promulgated the equation that to be less than hostile to Iran is to be anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. Neoconservatives in the Bush administration also had plans for regime change in Iran dating back to the early 1990’s, and portraying Iran as a nuclear menace would build public support for an attack on the Islamic Republic.

Americans may think that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists because of the clever rhetoric used by Iran’s detractors—even Obama. Phrases like, “We must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” or “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, the world is in danger,” are weasel phrases designed to mislead the public. The same tricks were used to convince the public that Iraq was behind the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington.

One thing is certain. If the American public does not wake up and realize that it is being deceived on Iran, either Israel or the United States or both could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran would retaliate, and the world conflagration would truly begin.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Minn. He is past-president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years and is author, most recently, of “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other,” (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

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