Perspective: Iran's Peaceful Nuclear Ambitions

November 1, 2003

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
Iran's use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes dates back to mid-1970s. Of course, Iran revealed its willingness for peaceful nuclear activities in 1953 when then US president Dwight Eisenhower suggested establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

Iran was among the first countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran had based its nuclear plans on three pivots; Joint investment with a British company in a South African uranium mine, purchasing 10% of shares from a French company and building Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. Iran's Atomic Energy Organization clinched a US-brokered deal with German KWU in 1975 for building a nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

In the wake of the 1979 revolution, Germany unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Tehran and Germany launched shuttle diplomacy through 1979-1987 to resume the project but the German side bowed to US pressure and scuppered the deal but agreed to pay damages. Afterwards, Russia undertook the project. Anyhow, Iran faced the 1980-1988 Iraqi imposed war and it had to focus on more significant issues than the power plant. Iraqi warplanes bombed Bushehr project on several occasions and struck heavy damage.

The United States imposed tough sanctions against the Islamic Republic and countries like Germany and Japan refused to invest in Bushehr Power Plant. Russia signed a $800 million deal with Iran to complete the project. After the internecine conflict ended thanks to a UN-brokered ceasefire, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization moved to use nuclear energy in agricultural, medical, environmental and industrial fields under the first five-year national plan (March 1990-1995).

1. Using atomic energy for supplying electricity

2. Achieving the technological savvy for design and manufacture of reactors

3. Training nuclear experts and transfer of technological know-how

4. Offering nuclear services in industrial, medical and environmental fields

5. Radiological protection of the environment

6. Procuring the prime materials required for nuclear fuel cycle

In parallel with Iran-Russia cooperation on completion of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, the Iranian government decided to launch new nuclear facilities in Tehran, Isfahan, Arak and Natanz. Iran is a signatory to NPT which allows members to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The treaty also urges nuclear powers to provide technological aid to NPT signatories for peaceful activities.

Iran presented the Feb 1996 disarmament conference with a draft treaty and demanded adoption of a nuclear test ban treaty. Such unprecedented decision by a Non-Aligned Movement country accelerated talks for prohibition of nuclear tests. In the meantime, Iran spearheaded moves for clearing the Middle East of any weapons of mass destruction. One can easily conclude that Tehran's efforts for achieving nuclear technology pursued peaceful goals and not development of arms of mass destruction. Senior Iranian officials have made it clear that Iran has closed its eyes on nuclear arms for securing the country because, it maintains, such weapons spread threat and horror in the region. Moreover, Islam bars Iran from having access to nuclear weapons while the US government and Zionist lobbies have spared no efforts to deprive Iran of access to peaceful nuclear technology, hinder Iran's economic development and inculcate into the minds that Iran's Islamic establishment does not meet social requirements. To this effect, Russia came under heavy US pressure since it struck the deal with Iran.

Washington imposed sanctions on ten Russian companies for transfer of nuclear technology to Iran in 2000 and 2001. The US also sanctioned a Chinese company and threatened Japanese, Argentinean, North Korean, Moldavian, Ukrainian and Pakistani companies to cease cooperation with Iran or face sanctions. The United States did not shy away from pressuring the International Atomic Energy Agency to halt its technical cooperation with Iran. Consequently, the IAEA ended its $16 million soft loan to Iran. The countries with nuclear technology failed to cooperate with Iran and Tehran chastised the Western nations and refused to sign an additional protocol to NPT for short-notice and intrusive inspection of its nuclear facilities.

The IAEA has regularly sent inspection teams to the Islamic Republic and they have confirmed peacefulness of Iran's nuclear activities but the Western nations failed to meet their commitments within the framework of NPT. The IAEA governing board adopted a hard-hitting politically-motivated and non-technical resolution against Iran and set a deadline for the country to demonstrate the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities. The Western nations drew up the resolution in the hope that Iran would reject the resolution to let them take the case to the United Nations Security Council for international sanctions against Iran. That was when the European countries sought to settle the disputes through talks but the United States stonewalled a visit to Tehran of foreign ministers from EV big three -- the United Kingdom, France and Germany. The three largest European governments offered a nuclear carrot to Iran and Tehran accepted. Simultaneously, four permanent members of UN Security Council -- France, Russia, china and Britain -- endorsed Iran's sovereign right to use peaceful nuclear technology. In response, Tehran agreed to sign the controversial additional protocol.

The Tehran visit of EU foreign ministers was a great victory for Europe against the United States. Iran and EU released a statement in Tehran. According to the statement, Iran agreed to present the nuclear agency with a list of imported equipment contaminated with enriched uranium in order to dispel doubts looming on its nuclear ambitions. The Europeans promised to help Iran in its nuclear programs.