The Roots of Iran’s Nuclear Secrecy


For years we’ve heard the steady drumbeat of news stories like this:

Over 18 years, Iran secretly assembled uranium enrichment and conversion facilities that could be used for a nuclear energy program or to construct an atomic bomb. (Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2004)

And this was among the least alarmist stories. The thrust of the sensational coverage, instigated by hawkish American politicians, has been that for almost two decades, beginning in the mid-1980s, Iran secretly enriched uranium in order to make a bomb.

What’s the real story? For that we have to turn to Gareth Porter’s definitive Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

In fact, Porter writes, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in 2003 that during those 18 years, Iran had enriched uranium only briefly in 1999 and 2002. “Instead of referring to the brief few months of experiments testing centrifuges,” Porter writes, “news coverage of the [IAEA] report suggested that Iran had been continuing to enrich for nearly two decades.” The Bush administration was happy to encourage this false belief.

But truth be told, Iran did not tell the IAEA about everything. As a signer of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has obligations to notify the agency of certain activities. Porter acknowledges that Iran did not always keep the IAEA fully informed. Is this proof that Iran was preparing to make nuclear warheads? Porter provides overwhelming evidence that the answer is no. Moreover, some things, like the Natanz enrichment facility in Isfahan province, did not have to be disclosed at the point others revealed them. In the case of Natanz, no nuclear material was yet present.

What possible reason could Iran have had for working in secrecy? Simply put, from the 1980s onward the U.S. government was determined to thwart Iran’s efforts to build even modest a civilian nuclear program. Why? Iran was regarded as an enemy of America because its 1979 Islamic revolution had overthrown a loyal U.S. client, the repressive shah of Iran, whom the CIA had undemocratically restored to power a quarter century earlier.

In violation of the NPT, U.S. diplomats stopped other countries from supplying Iran. With no open channels from which to obtain what it needed for its nuclear program, Iran turned to covert channels.

Specifically, why did Iran keep Natanz under wraps? “Iran’s secrecy about Natanz,” Porter writes,

was linked to both the continued US political-diplomatic interventions to prevent Iran from having an independent enrichment capability and the initial threats Israel had made, in the late 1990s, to use military force against the Iranian nuclear program. Iran’s decision-makers were clearly calculating that notifying the IAEA about the Natanz facility would trigger hostile responses by the United States and/or Israel that would put the successful opening and operation of the facility at risk.

Iran’s fear of attack was not paranoia. In 1981 Israel had attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, which was “explicitly designed by the French engineer Yves Girard to be unsuitable for making bombs,” according to Harvard University physicist Richard Wilson, who inspected the reactor after the attack. (Emphasis added.) Porter adds, “Israeli officials circulated rumors through diplomatic channels and planted stories in the news media of plans for a strike against [Iranian] nuclear targets.”

But, Porter comments, “The Natanz facility was too big, and located too close to a main highway, to remain covert.” This is not consistent with nefarious intentions. Besides, U.S. satellites were watching, and the Iranians knew it.

Similarly, Iran strove to keep uranium and equipment purchases from China and others secret: “Each of the previously unreported nuclear experiments that Iran finally declared to the IAEA in 2003 involved supplies of nuclear technology or material, or both, that Iran knew would come under heavy US political-diplomatic pressure if the suppliers’ role were to be discovered by the United States.”

Yet, even with Iran’s concealment, the IAEA concluded in 2003, “To date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme.”

Comments Porter, “But the Bush administration ridiculed that conclusion, and news media coverage tended to support its skepticism.”

However, in 2007 the U.S. intelligence community declared that whatever weapons research the Iranians might have been engaged in had ceased four years earlier.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon