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What did Iran do to us to merit heavy U.S. sanctions? The media doesn’t ask this question. Oh yeah, 30-plus years ago Iranian zealots grabbed some CIA and Embassy folk in Teheran and held them hostage, and then let them go, and Reagan took credit. But before we plunge into military conflict with Iran, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu extols, the press might indulge its public in some useful historical review – they forgot some important history – to try to deal with the alleged threat of “nuclear mullahs” as Bill Keller called Iran’s religious leaders.
Maybe, start with questions like: What did we do to Iran and what role did our government have in fostering its nuclear program? And why does Israel’s insistence on U.S. backing become so important to U.S. policy?
Go back to 1953 when the CIA overthrew Iran’s freely elected government because Prime Minister Mosadegh wanted to nationalize British and U.S. oil companies in order for Iran to get a fair share of the revenue. In his elected place, the CIA installed a loyal-to-Washington Shah, a dictator who did U.S. bidding. Indeed, Shah Pahlevi’s loyalty ran so deep that Washington shared U.S. nuclear knowledge with Iran. Does no mainstream journalist recall how the United States eagerly backed Iran’s early nuclear program?
In the 1970s, the Shah said his country would build, with U.S. help, some 23 nuclear power stations, which would be running by 2000. The Shah looked ahead to the era when world oil supplies would dwindle, and thus make, “Petroleum much too valuable to burn … We envision producing, as soon as possible, 23,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear plants,” he announced.
The U.S. government gave U.S. nuclear-energy companies a green light to sell their knowledge and technical support to Iran. With their blessings, the Shah also established close ties to European companies, who hustled to Teheran to do business. Germany’s Erlangen/Frankfurt and Kraftwerk Union AG helped Iran build its first plants, and earned substantial profits. In 1975, the Europeans arranged a joint venture of Siemens AG and AEG to construct a $6 billion pressurized water reactor nuclear power plant in Iran.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed a directive offering Tehran the chance to buy a complete nuclear fuel cycle and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. Dick Cheney was then White House Chief of Staff and Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense. Ford’s strategy paper said the “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” The Shah also signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with apartheid South Africa under which Iranian oil money financed the development of South African fuel enrichment technology in return for South African enriched uranium.
Why, after such a history, would anyone act surprised that Iran wants to continue its nuclear program? Indeed, a 1974 CIA proliferation assessment stated “If [the Shah] is alive in the mid-1980s … and if other countries [particularly India] have proceeded with weapons development we have no doubt Iran will follow suit.”
Western leaders did not predict, however, the political turnaround that occurred with the Iranian revolution. The fiercely pro western orientation of the Shah quickly turned as millions of Iranians backed a nationalist and anti American ideology in which the country’s leaders rejected both western ideology and the legitimacy of its regional representative, Israel. Teheran denounced the very idea of a Jewish state and began to refurbish the old plans to produce nuclear power, which the U.S. and Israel now claim is a cover for a nuclear weapons program. The Ayatollah Khamenei, however, has condemned nuclear weapons and denies nuclear weapon ambitions. “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said “considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin. We proposed the idea of [a] “Middle East free of nuclear weapons” and we are committed to it. This does not mean forgoing our right to peaceful use of nuclear power and production of nuclear fuel.”
The U.S. government has led a world movement to punish Iran for not complying with IAEA rules, and the Treasury Department now threatens sanctions on foreign banks and companies that deal with their Iranian counterparts. It will cut them off from all business with the $15 trillion-a-year U.S. economy. He said, “nuclear weapons are an unforgiveable sin”
Israel possesses large quantities of nuclear weapons, and has repeatedly invaded Lebanon, and indeed occupied its neighbor for 17 years. Israel fears a nuclear Iran would spread its influence through the region and neutralize Israel’s nuclear monopoly. No sane person wants nuclear proliferation, but what gives the U.S. and Israel the moral credibility to start a war so that Iran never develops nuclear weapons. Such a posture assumes moral facts not seen in evidence. The world’s largest nuclear weapons possessor, and the only nation to use them against two civilian Japanese targets, also stands on a dubious moral podium. The U.S. continued testing its nukes in areas where people lived. The downwinders” in southern Utah and northern Arizona got drenched with fall out from the Nevada tests and suffered unacceptable numbers of cancer victims. In U.S. Trust territories, Washington evacuated Marshall Islanders and forced to leave their homes. The Pacific U.S. nuclear tests gave off lots of radiation. In 2004, the National Cancer Institute of the United States conducted an expert assessment of the expected number of cancers among the Marshallese, and concluded in its report thereon that as much as 9 per cent of all cases of cancers expected to develop among those residents alive between 1948 and 1970 might be attributable to exposure to the radiation caused by nuclear tests. Specifically, according to the report, an estimated 530 “excess” cancers (those beyond the expected projections in a population) would be expected in the people living in the Marshall Islands during the testing period and, owing to the latency period of cancer.” (Calin Georgescu, Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, “on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes.”)
Nuclear weapons are bad, just as the Iranian Ayatollah characterized them. And the United States has exclusively used them, and then tested them. Its political leaders knew the tests could hurt humans. We stand on a pedestal of nuclear immorality when we threaten Iran.
Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP will screen in Toronto on September 25 at 7pm, Room 224, Dalhousie Student Union Building 6136 University Avenue, and in Halifax on September 25 at the University.