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The Weapon of Choice

The accusation of possessing “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) has become the US government’s weapon of choice in its attempts to overthrow independent governments in the Middle East. The occupation of Iraq was barely complete when we were told that the Iraqi WMD, which could not be found anywhere in Iraq, had been moved to Syria. Given the absurdity of the accusation, the claim was quietly and quickly dropped in favor of a more vulnerable pray, Iran.

The attempt to remove the Iranian government from power is, of course, not new. At least since the early 1990s, the neocons and their Israeli associates had tried to overthrow the Iranian government for its support of the Palestinian resistance movements and the Lebanese Hezbollah by accusing Iran, among other things, of pursuing WMD. For example, when the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was pressured by the US corporations to seek “a road map leading to normal relations” with Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) asked its members to flood US Congressional leaders with tailor made letters or email messages that read:

Representative and Senators:

I am writing to express my opposition to making further unilateral gestures toward Iran before it ends its support for international terrorism, opposition to the peace process and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. (AIPAC, 2000)

The campaign of trying to overthrow the Iranian government by accusing it of pursuing WMD, however, did not go far until certain pieces fell into their proper places: the neocons came to power, two hijacked planes on September 11, 2001, created that “catastrophic and catalyzing event”-which the neocons had alluded to in their “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” manifesto-and Iraq was invaded and occupied. Now the campaign against Iran could get fully underway.

On May 7, 2003, the New York Time quoted an unnamed US Administration official as saying: “It’s not just that Iran is speeding up its nuclear plans. It’s also that we’ve only recently learned some things about their program that have been going on for two years. There’s also a lot of hammering from the Israelis for us to take this problem seriously.” Indeed, according to Israel’s top military intelligence official, General Aharon Zeevi, the “main danger to the existence of the state of Israel is the nuclear program Iran persists in developing, because the country also has surface-to-surface missiles” (Agence France Presse, April 26, 2003).

The Israeli hammering paid off. The US government put pressure on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to declare Iran in “major violation” of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a treaty which Israel, a nuclear power, has never signed (Reuters, May 15, 2003). At the same time, one after another member of the Administration came forward on a daily basis to talk about the Iranian nuclear program and its alleged danger to the world. On May 15, 2003, for example, Condoleezza Rice said, in her usual convoluted manner, that if IAEA inspectors “find what preliminary suggestions say they found in Iran and, knowing what we know about the programs, then there has to be some consequence for that . . . Non-compliance is pretty clear.” She had, of course, repeated this line earlier, particularly in her speech at the annual conference of AIPAC (The Financial Times, April 1, 2003). At the same conference, John Bolton, the Department of State undersecretary, stated that the “estimate we have of how close the Iranians are to production of nuclear weapons grows closer each day” and that in “the aftermath of Iraq, dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program will be of equal importance” (Daily News, April 1, 2003). In a trip to Moscow to put pressure on the Russian government to stop helping Iran in building a power plant in Bushehr, Bolton repeated the same accusation and stated that Iran is “in violation of the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty,” according to Reuters on May 5. A day later, the same source reported that the Iranian atomic energy agency chief, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, has denied the charge and insisted that Iran’s “nuclear program was purely peaceful and that it was to make the country self-sufficient.” The neocons, however, did not take no for an answer and continued the hammering. The pressure was so intense that by the end of May the Iranian government, as well as the Russians, invited the United States to join Moscow in building a nuclear power plant in Iran” (Associate Press, May 30, 2003). But the neocons did not take this invitation for an answer either and kept on pushing.

The hammering became even stronger in the month of June, when the IAEA was scheduled to publish its report on Iran’s implementation of NPT safeguards agreement. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia on June 5 that “Iran will possess weapons of mass destruction at the end of 2005 or early in 2006” (Agence France Presse, June 5, 2003). Then a host of usual suspects in the US government were paraded incessantly to talk about Iran’s impending development of nuclear weapons. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, went so far as to imply that the threat from Iran was eminent when he said on June 11 that even though Iran does not yet have nuclear bombs, “the assessment is that they do have a very active program and are likely to have nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time” (Associated Press, June 5, 2003). The chief neocon himself, Richard Perle, also used the opportunity to advocate installing a US-Israel friendly government in Iran by saying that “the best way to deal with the Iranian nuclear program would be to ‘liberate the Iranian people'” (Reuters, June 16, 2003). Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister and the US’s junior partner in manufacturing wars, also joined the chorus. On June 13, according to The Times, an aid to the Blair stated that the “prime minister believes this [Iran’s WMD] is a matter of huge concern.” The pressure was now building up for the IAEA to declare Iran to be in “major violation” of NPT.
In order to put even greater pressure on the IAEA, there were numerous “leaks” by the US government of the IAEA’s report prior to its release. For example, on June 18, Associate Press stated that the U.S. Representative to the IAEA, Kenneth Brill, has criticized Iran by saying that the “United States finds the substance of the . . . report deeply troubling,” and although the “investigations are continuing, the report already confirms that Iran’s nuclear program is cause for great concern.” The same article quoted President Bush as saying that “he and other world leaders would not tolerate nuclear weapons in Iran.”

On June 19, 2003, the IAEA finally released its report to the public. Despite massive pressure from the US and its allies, the report did not mention any “major violation” of NPT by Iran. Instead, it mentioned “failures” on the part of Iran to declare some import of natural uranium in 1991, activities involving processing of and use of this material, facilities where such material was received and stored, and failure to provide in a timely manner information on waste storage. The report went on to say that while “these failures are in the process of being rectified by Iran, the process of verifying the correctness and completeness of the Iranian declaration is going on.” In its summary statement, the IAEA Board of Governors then stated that the “Board welcomed Iran’s reaffirmed commitment to full transparency and expected Iran to grant the Agency all access deemed necessary by the Agency in order to create the necessary confidence in the international community.” The summary concluded that the “Board welcomed Iran’s readiness to look positively at signing and ratifying an additional protocol, and urged Iran to promptly and unconditionally conclude and implement an additional protocol to its Safeguards Agreement.”

This was not the damning report that the neocons and their Israeli partners had pushed for. The additional protocol would, of course, make it easier for the US and Israeli intelligence agents, in the garb of IAEA experts, to collect information on how to overthrow the Iranian government, as was the case in Iraq in the 1990s. However, the report was not strong enough to legitimize waging a military attack on Iran or forcing the UN to institute economic sanctions against it. The neocons and their Israeli partners were quite disappointed with the report.

But this did not mean that they would give up using the accusation of possessing or developing “weapons of mass destruction” as weapon of choice in overthrowing another government in the Middle East. As long as the Iranian government has not said “uncle” to the dynamic duo, it is immaterial whether it does or does not sign the additional and intrusive protocol, or whether the IAEA would give it a cleaner bill of health next time. A day after the report, John Bolton still said in an interview with the BBC that the “United States reserves the right to take military action to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons” (Reuters, June 20, 2003).

SASAN FAYAZMANESH is Associate Professor of Economics Department of Economics California State University, Fresno. Email: sasanf@csufresno.edu

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Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: sasan.fayazmanesh@gmail.com.

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