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Iran and its nuclear problems

By Ardeshir Ommani New America Media | Last updated: Nov 22, 2009 - 12:58:15 PM

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Seldom in the 30 years of U.S. hidden and open hostility towards Iran triggered by the 1979 Revolution that ousted the Shah's regime, has the prospect of détente between the two countries been so enticingly within reach. But unfortunately the U.S. and its western allies are recklessly close to shattering the hopes of the world's progressive and peaceful humanity by its plan of ordering Iran to hand over eighty percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) in one bulk shipment. Under the cover of conceding to provide Iran with a certain quantity of 20 percent uranium for use in its clinical medical reactor, the U.S.-France demand, was in fact, actualization of the age-old dictum of denying Iran its right to uranium enrichment, by taking the process out of Iran's hands.

On October 1, 2009 U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, met Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This meeting took place in the context of a summit between Iran's delegation and the so-called 5+1 countries: U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany. It is important to know that the meeting between the U.S. and Iranian diplomats was only the 2nd direct encounter between high-ranking representatives of the two countries in the last 30 years. In itself, this is a positive phenomenon in the relations between the two countries.

This historic meeting took place in Geneva, Switzerland, and was held just six days after President Barack Obama on September 25th, at the G20 Summit in Pittsburg, dramatically announced that the U.S. had made a surprising “discovery” that Iran secretly had established a second nuclear enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, and for that reason, he, (flanked by France's President Sarkozy and Britain's Prime Minister Brown) threatened Iran with punitive additional sanctions on its financial and energy sectors. But unfortunately President Obama was wrong on two counts:

1) The site is not yet equipped with any nuclear centrifuges to enrich uranium and

2) The existence of the Fodor site (in Qom) had already been reported by Iran to the IAEA, and was 18 months ahead of the required reporting according to Agency Regulations.

The last week of September coincided with the 64th annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, in which Iran's President Ahmadinejad also participated. During his visit to the UN, he publicly raised the need of Tehran's aging nuclear reactor for nuclear fuel rods with 20% enrichment. This reactor that was sold by the U.S. to Iran during the Shah's regime, produces radioisotopes that are needed for treating cancer patients and also has application in the field of agriculture.

In a meeting at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel President Ahmadinejad raised the issue with a group of former American diplomats, journalists, and heads of Think Tanks (such as the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) and stated that Iran is ready to purchase the fuel rods. One of the former diplomats asked President Ahmadinejad what would he do if the West refused to sell Iran the fuel. Iran's president answered the question by asking the diplomat what would the U.S. do if it was put in that situation? The dinner guest replied, “You mean Iran will enrich its own uranium for the 40 MegaWatt Tehran reactor?” Ahmadinejad answered, “We will do what the U.S. would have done faced with the same condition.”

Today, this still remains one of the hottest questions, if only on the surface, given the array of issues in the region and central Asia.

Following the early October meeting in Geneva, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on October 19, 2009 hosted a meeting of representatives from Iran, Russia, France and the United States at the Agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The reason that the IAEA was chosen as the venue for the talks was because Iran had reported its need for the nuclear fuel rods to Mohamad ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, the proper channel and institution governing such issues, and for facilitating such a purchase, by raising Iran's need with possible suppliers.

But what did the group come up with? The U.S., Russia and France in effect disregarded Iran's request to purchase the 20% enriched uranium and recommended a course of action that Iran had to respond to by Friday, October 23, otherwise, the deal, they threatened, would be off. In this deal, they urged Iran to ship out 80% of its 3 ½ % Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), i.e., 1200 Kg to Russia by the end of the year, whereby Russia would further enrich the fissionable material up to a 20% level. Subsequently, Russia would then send the enriched 120 Kg uranium now at 20% purity to France, which would turn the material into metallic nuclear-based fuel rods and finally would ship the rods out to Iran.

As you see, a simple transaction has been turned into a lengthy run-around for Iran, whose legal rights had already been disregarded by the Big Power manipulation of the IAEA's statutes and framework. Secondly, how could Iran be certain that France would return the entire fuel rods to Iran, given the bitter experience that in the past France reneged on a previous contract deal with Tehran after Iran had already paid for the materials? Thirdly, what would happen to the Tehran reactor and the patients if the nuclear core goes cold by early 2010, given that the U.S.-France-Russia plan could take up to 18 months to complete? Such a scenario is not unprecedented, where western powers (specifically the U.S. and France) have signed nuclear enrichment contracts, only to delay providing the agreed upon nuclear material.

In 1956 the United States signed an agreement with India in which the United States agreed to sell heavy water for India's CIRUS reactor, and additional agreements in 1963. After numerous delays, the United States supplies the Tarapur Atomic Power Station (TAPS) with enriched uranium pursuant to its 1963 pledge to provide the facility with 19 tons of enriched uranium annually. A second consignment of 19 tons is delayed indefinitely, however, due to India's refusal to accept full-scope safeguards for all its nuclear facilities.

Finally, if Russia, France and the U.S. do not trust Iran, why should Iran trust these countries with its 1200 Kg of enriched uranium? Based on the last 30-year U.S. foreign policy approach to Iran, filled with threats, insinuations, misinterpretations, military encirclement, and two raging wars on Iran's borders – Afghanistan and Pakistan – who should be trusting whom?

A logical and fair solution to the issue of the agreement is for the West to let Iran keep one half of its own enriched uranium and send the other half to Russia for enrichment. At the same time, the U.S. and its western allies should agree to sell Iran the needed amount of 20%-enriched uranium for use in Tehran's medical laboratory reactor.

We must add that Iran was among the first signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), whose Article 4 states that “Nothing in the Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all parties to the Treaty to develop, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes…” Secondly, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, countless times has repeated that Iran has never tried to divert any amount of fissionable materials toward military application; thirdly, according to even the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report issued in November 2007, Tehran halted its alleged nuclear weapons program in Fall 2003; and fourthly, it took Iran 12 years to produce one and a half metric tons of uranium with 3 ½ percent purity. Is it logical to any scientist that Iran would be able to transfer the existing stock of uranium into 93% purity necessary for making an atomic bomb? Furthermore, wouldn't it be suicide for a country with a single bomb to face the U.S. or Israel with their 6500 and 220 nuclear weapons respectively? [See: Coutry Overview: India Nuclear Import / Export"]

Lastly, as a matter of principle, Iran has repeatedly declared that it rejects a defense doctrine that has nuclear weapons as one of the components of its arsenals. At the United Nations and in both its domestic and foreign policy statements, Iran has repeatedly called for a “nuclear weapons-free Middle East zone.” This call has not been listened to by anyone of the powers asking for Iran's enriched uranium.

Ardeshir Ommani is an Iranian-born writer and co-founder of the American Iranian Friendship Committee, (AIFC),

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