Nuclear Hypocrites

For weeks, the mainstream media have been filled with accusations that Iran’s nuclear program presents an alarming threat to the U.S. and the world. And a string of U.S. officials are threatening military action against Iran for refusing to “cooperate.”

Dick Cheney promised that Iran would suffer “meaningful consequences” if it refused to abandon its nuclear program–words slightly less stark but no less menacing than U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) John Bolton’s threat of “tangible and painful consequences.”

But the media have ignored some essential facts about the brewing “crisis” between the U.S. and Iran.

The U.S. is striving to get a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Iran stop its nuclear program. But the truth is that Iran hasn’t violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or any other international obligations.

“Let me remind everybody that nothing Iran is accused of doing is illegal,” said Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who challenged the Bush drive to war against Iraq, in an interview last month. “We’re condemning Iran for doing that which is permitted under a treaty which it has signed and entered into in force, and has UN inspectors on the ground verifying Iranian compliance.”

The NPT explicitly allows nations to enrich uranium to provide energy for civilian power plants. But the U.S. refuses to believe Iran’s many pledges that its nuclear facilities are for this purpose and endlessly repeats the claim that Iran could field a nuclear weapon soon.

Iran’s announcement in April that it had successfully set up 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium spurred U.S. officials to assert that Iran could produce a nuclear weapons in 16 days–an absurd claim slavishly repeated by the U.S. media.

In reality, Iran would need 16,000 of these centrifuges to refine enough uranium for a weapon–and Iran doesn’t have enough uranium for this purpose. Although Iran has indigenous uranium deposits, they are contaminated by the element molybdenum, which Iran does not have the technology to remove.

A more realistic approximation came in the 2005 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which stated that Iran is at least 10 years away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. And this assessment depends on two key assumptions–that Iran already has an active nuclear weapons program, and that the “international atmosphere” were conducive to Iran obtaining the necessary raw materials and technical support–neither of which are true.

In an attempt to defuse the controversy around its nuclear program, Iran offered to limit itself to procuring no more than 3,000 centrifuges–an offer that the U.S. refused to accept.

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While Iran hasn’t violated the provisions of the NPT, the same can’t be said of the U.S.

Kennedy-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara declared last year that the U.S. is nothing short of a “nuclear outlaw.” “I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous,” said McNamara.

Since 1999, when the Senate rejected the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the U.S. has developed a new generation of “mini-nukes,” also called “bunker busters,” which U.S. officials have openly threatened to use against Iran–a clear violation of international law and the NPT.

The U.S. is in flagrant violation of the NPT’s provisions calling on nuclear powers “to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.”

According to the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), “Thirty-seven years after agreeing to these conditions, the U.S.–the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons against human beings–spends $40 billion a year to field, maintain and modernize nuclear forces, including an arsenal of 10,000 warheads, 2,000 of which are on hair-trigger alert.”

Of that number, the U.S. has some 480 nuclear weapons based in Europe–making it the only nuclear power that still deploys nuclear warheads outside its borders. U.S. war plans include the strategic handover of 180 of these weapons to other non-nuclear countries, such as Germany, Italy and Turkey, for deployment by their militaries–another clear violation of NPT provisions.

And, according to FAIR, “When details of a secret White House planning document, called the Nuclear Posture Review, were leaked in 2002, they revealed that the Bush administration intended to create and test new nuclear weapons, and outlined a broad array of contingencies under which the U.S. might use nuclear weapons.

“Among these contingencies: Using nuclear weapons against countries with no nuclear weapons capacity, such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. (To be fair, Presidential Directive 60, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1997, had earlier added these countries to nuclear targeting lists, canceling assurances that went back to 1978 that the U.S. would not use nuclear force against a non-nuclear country.)”

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The U.S. refusal to consider Iran’s proposal to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone exposes what all the U.S. hype about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program is really about.

On the surface, Iran’s proposal appears to fit U.S. aims. In fact, the U.S. used UN Security Council Resolution 687, passed in 1991, which for “establishing in the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction” as justification for its 2003 war on Iraq.

But Israel is currently the only nuclear power in the Middle East–with an arsenal of some 300 nuclear weapons. The U.S. doesn’t want to eliminate nuclear weapons in the Middle East–so long as they remain in the hands of an ally.

That’s why the U.S. gave a green light to Iran’s nuclear program back in the 1970s, before the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, Muhammed Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by a popular uprising in 1979.

“The White House staffers, who are trying to deny Iran the right to develop its own nuclear energy capacity, have conveniently forgotten that the United States was the midwife to the Iranian nuclear program 30 years ago,” wrote nuclear weapons expert William Beeman in January. “Every aspect of Iran’s current nuclear development was approved and encouraged by Washington in the 1970s. President Gerald Ford offered Iran a full nuclear cycle in 1976, and the only reactor currently about to become operative, the reactor in Bushire, was started before the Iranian revolution with U.S. approval.”

Today, the U.S. faces different circumstances–some of its own making.

The disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq not only failed to cement Washington’s hold on the country’s huge oil reserves and give it a strategic foothold of the Middle East, but it brought to power Shiite religious parties with ties to Iran’s Shiite establishment. This inadvertently strengthened Iran’s influence in Iraq and the region, creating fears in the U.S. and among its Arab allies of a “Shiite crescent,” stretching from Iran through Iraq to Lebanon and Syria.

So when the U.S. raises alarms about Iran’s nuclear program, it’s the responsibility of the antiwar movement to raise even louder alarms about U.S. aggression.

“[B]e careful of falling into the trap of nonproliferation, disarmament, weapons of mass destruction; this is a smokescreen,” said Ritter in an April interview with San Diego CityBeat. “The Bush administration does not have policy of disarmament vis-à-vis Iran. They do have a policy of regime change…

“It’s the exact replay of the game plan used for Iraq, where we didn’t care what Saddam did, what he said, what the weapons inspectors found. We created the perception of a noncompliant Iraq, and we stuck with that perception, selling that perception until we achieved our ultimate objective, which was invasion that got rid of Saddam.”

The U.S. wants to sell its war in Iran by using the language of nuclear disarmament. But its threats to use nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike, its support for a nuclear-armed Israel and its own massive nuclear arsenal make the U.S. itself the biggest threat to peace and justice in the Middle East and around the world.

ERIC RUDER writes for the Socialist Worker.