Why Iran Won't
Budge on Nukes
By NAHID SIAMDOUST Wed Aug
6, 3:10 PM ET
When U.S. officials appeal to the Iranian people over
the heads of its regime, they like to assume that Tehran's defiance on the nuclear issue
reflects only the extremist position of an unrepresentative revolutionary
leadership. Plainly, they haven't met Dr. Akbar Etemad,
who ran the nuclear program of the Shah's regime, which was overthrown in the
Islamic Revolution of 1979. The scientist who first launched Iran's nuclear
technology program under a U.S.-backed regime in 1974 today urges the regime
that stripped him of his job to reject any international demand that it halt
told an academic conference in Toronto last
weekend, "Iran already
stopped nuclear enrichment at the behest of Europe for more than a year [a
reference to Tehran's
suspension of enrichment between late 2003 and mid-2005, to allow negotiations
with the European Union]. And what happened? Nothing."
Iran delivered its response to
the latest Western offer on the nuclear issue to E.U. officials in Brussels on Tuesday, and
reportedly avoided any mention of a freeze on uranium enrichment.
and the U.S. have made clear
that the consequence of Iran
turning down the current offer will be a push for further U.N.
sanctions against Tehran.
In an interview with TIME,
the Swiss-educated scientist who lives in Paris
and heads a group of prominent Iranian exiles that lobby against a military
attack on Iran, said the solution to the nuclear standoff lay in
re-establishing relations between Washington
Although a senior U.S.
diplomat joined the European-led delegation that met with Iranian officials in Geneva recently, Iran's response to the nuclear
proposal may make it difficult for the Bush Administration to create a
Surprising as it may be to
hear a member of the Shah's deposed regime support the stance of the Islamic
Republic in a confrontation with the West, there is widespread concern among
Iran experts that the current Western strategy of demanding that Iran forego the
right to enrich uranium has created a diplomatic dead end.
Writing in the International
Herald Tribune last week, Trita Parsi,
President of the National Iranian American Council, and analyst Anatol Lieven, argued that
insisting Iran give up its right to any uranium enrichment is untenable, and
instead suggested that the Western powers base their demands on the rights and
limitations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - which would allow the
international community "to place a verifiable cap on Iranian enrichment
and other nuclear capabilities well short of weaponization."
agrees that the NPT, which governs the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy under
the supervision of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, holds the
key. "The Americans, when they need the NPT, they talk about it; when they
don't need it, they throw it away. You don't do that with an international
treaty," he said. Iran
is a signatory to the NPT, on the basis of which it is being held accountable
by the United Nations Security Council over transparency issues. But the NPT
allows signatories the right to enrich uranium, under IAEA supervision, for
peaceful purposes. The U.S. and its allies fear that even building a peaceful
enrichment capability would allow Iran to covertly produce weapons-grade
materiel, and have argued that Tehran's violations of transparency and
disclosure requirements of the NPT should mean it has forfeited its right to
enrich uranium. But that argument has so far not been embraced by the U.N. or
the IAEA, which reports there is "no evidence that Iran was
working actively to build nuclear weapons."
Even though Iran's known uranium enrichment activities occur
under the scrutiny of IAEA inspectors, the U.S.
and its European allies and Israel
of pursuing nuclear weapons capability. The charge infuriates Dr. Etemad. "With the Shah, we also came to the conclusion
was in great need of nuclear energy because our population was steadily growing
and our gas and oil will run out.
That's why even though I was
in the old regime, I should be fair to the new regime
because they are following the same line. To speak frankly, with its bellicose
behavior the West is pushing Iran
towards nuclear weapons, even if they don't want them now."
The latest proposal from the
Western powers hoped to break the deadlock by retreating from its demand that Iran shut down
its enrichment activities as a precondition for talks. Instead, the new
proposal suggests that Iran
simply refrain from expanding its current enrichment program for six weeks,
during which time the U.N.
Security Council would
refrain from imposing new sanctions. And in that "freeze-for-freeze"
interim, the two sides would negotiate a more comprehensive deal. But there's
no sign thus far that Tehran
is prepared to accept even that proposal.
"The Europeans say stop
enrichment and we'll talk, but the Iranians already did that and nothing
happened," said Dr. Etemad. "At the time of
the Shah, we signed contracts with both France
and even then they didn't deliver. If I were in the current regime, I wouldn't
trust the West. They don't even give Iran civilian airplane parts, which
is costing hundreds of lives; why should they believe that they will give them
enriched uranium?" If that's the position of a liberal critic of the
regime, it's likely that the stance of the current Iranian leadership on the
nuclear issue enjoys widespread support among Iranians.
To be sure, many Iranians
also fear the consequences of continued defiance. "What if this hard line
means war?" asked daytime- mechanic, nighttime-taxi driver Bahram, 24, in Tehran recently, echoing
concerns heard from a number of ordinary Iranians.
"For years now, they
are threatening us with an attack," Dr. Etemad
said, adding, "This is humiliating. We are not ants," referring to an
Esquire interview with Admiral William Fallon about Iran back in March, in
which he is reported to have said, "These guys are ants.
When the time comes, you
"If you're weak, they
attack you," says the scientist. "If you're not weak, they won't
attack you. We have to be a strong country and end these humiliating threats.
And being strong means not listening to the foreigners." View this article