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What Americans Don't Know About Iran

The Ayatollahs’ Overlooked Anti-WMD Fatwas

by SHELDON RICHMAN

When the Obama administration refused to grant a visa to Iran’s designated ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Aboutalebi, it was continuing a long-running hostile U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic. After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, a group of Iranians held 52 Americans hostage in the former U.S. embassy for more than a year. Aboutalebi served as anoccasional translator for the hostage-takers, but this hardly makes him “an acknowledged terrorist,” as anti-Iran hawk Sen. Ted Cruz has alleged.

One can condemn the hostage-taking and still recognize that the American government did terrible things to the Iranian people from 1953 to 1979. And it has kept on doing them. There have been far more aggrieved Iranians than Americans in the two countries’ relationship.

The visa denial seems strange considering that the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran about its nuclear-power program. Progress is being made, despite the vigorous lobbying of those in America who apparently will stop at nothing to scuttle the talks.

But even with the hopeful negotiations, the Obama administration refuses to talk straight about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

For example, in 2007 and 2011, America’s 16 intelligence agencies issued national-security estimates finding that any research the Iranians had been doing on nuclear weapons was terminated in 2003 — perhaps not coincidentally, the same year the U.S. military overthrew Iran’s archenemy, Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the mainstream media never tell the American people this. Wouldn’t you think that’s a critical piece of information for evaluating the U.S.-Iran relationship?

This is not all that American officialdom and the media are quiet about. But thanks to investigative journalist Gareth Porter and his new book,  Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, much more of this important information is now available to all.

For example, did you know that Iran’s two supreme leaders since the revolution, Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, each in his time issued fatwas against weapons of mass destruction? Khomeini specifically addressed chemical weapons, while Khamenei’s declaration was aimed at nuclear weapons.

The story behind Khomeini’s anti-chemical-weapons fatwa, which Porter relates, is worth knowing. In 1980 Iraqi President Saddam Hussein launched an attack and a brutal eight-year war against Iran. Among the weapons Saddam used against Iranian forces — with the help of American intelligence relevant to targeting and damage assessment — were chemical agents.

Yet Iran never responded in kind. It certainly could have. “Iran’s chemical sector was quite advanced and perfectly capable of producing the same range of chemical weapons that Iraq was using in the war,” Porter writes. He continues, “The real reason for Iran’s failure to use chemical weapons was not the inability to formulate the necessary mix of chemicals but the fact that Ayatollah Khomeini had forbidden it on the grounds of Islamic jurisprudence.” Porter notes that, according to a senior foreign-ministry officer, military leaders wanted to discuss a chemical retaliation against Iraq, “but Khomeini refused to allow it on the ground that it was forbidden by Islam.”

How is this relevant to today? Porter writes,

The fact that Iran was constrained by Khomeini’s interpretation of Islamic law during the duration of the war sheds light on the role of Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, in declaring nuclear weapons also forbidden by Islam.

Porter points out that Khamenei had it easier than his predecessor because there was already political opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Long before Khamenei took office, Khomeini had condemned nukes on the grounds that they were signature weapons of the superpowers he disdained: the United States and Soviet Union.

Moreover, Iran’s leading politicians realized that nuclear weapons would be useless. “Those two points — the inutility of nuclear weapons, which implied their irrelevance to regional politics, and the fact that other powers would still have many times more such weapons — represented the core elements of a ‘realist’ strategic argument against possession of nuclear weapons that would later be articulated in greater depth.”

In early 2003, Khamenei “began to couch his anti-nuclear weapons stance in terms of Islamic principles.” Of course this was entirely consistent with his predecessor’s fatwa against chemical weapons — as well as with all the hard evidence anyone has been able to produce.

Americans should know this.

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