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The Nuclear Showdown - Part 2: The Battle Over Enrichment

By       Message Tim Buchholz       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Tensions appeared to be easing between the United States and Iran. The U.S. has hinted at creating an embassy in Iran, the first since the 1979 hostage crisis. According to an article by Ewen MacAskill from July 18th in the Sydney Morning Herald, "The U.S. plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 28 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by the President, George Bush." Anderson Cooper of CNN says in his “Morning Buzz” report from July 17th, “Washington would open a U.S. interests section in the Iranian capital, not a FULL Embassy, but a halfway house to setting up a full embassy.” And Ewen MacAskill goes on to say, “Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, indicated earlier this week that he was not against the opening of a U.S. mission.” 

The U.S. also sent its third-ranking diplomat to hear Iran’s answer to the latest incentives proposal in Geneva. The U.S. had previously insisted they would not negotiate directly with Iran until it halts its enrichment program. According to a BBC News Report from July 19th entitled “U.S. Sets Nuclear Deadline for Iran,” the U.S. did not get the answer they hoped for. So the diplomats gave Iran two weeks to make a decision or face further sanctions. We are now passed the two week deadline and further sanctions are being pursued by the U.S. and her allies. Again, it appears they did not get the answer they wanted. The BBC News Report mentioned above quotes State Department spokesman Sean McCormack as saying, "We hope the Iranian people understand that their leaders need to make a choice between co-operation, which would bring benefits to all, and confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation."  

While these steps show signs of improvement in relations between the two countries, the U.S. and its allies are not retreating on their demand that Iran freeze its enrichment program, and Iran will not back down on what they feel is their right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to make their own nuclear fuel. Iran’s President doesn’t seem too concerned over the threats of new sanctions. In an article in the AP from July 28th entitled “U.S. to wait and see on Ahmadinejad,” the President is asked if Iran would suspend enrichment to gain international acceptance. He says Iran already enjoys, “very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world. For the continuation of our lives and for progress, we do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries.” So, we are at a standstill.  

While Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, with no intention of developing nuclear weapons, the U.S. and her allies still believe Iran plans to covertly make a nuclear bomb. The United States feels Iran cannot be trusted because they had a secret nuclear program for nearly twenty years that they finally disclosed in 2002. Iran feels they cannot trust the West’s guarantees, as every attempt to acquire the technology legally has been blocked by the U.S. Iran says they kept their program secret because they feared the U.S. would try to intervene.  

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Iran had started construction of nuclear reactors with the help of the United States in the 1960’s under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, an ally of the U.S. But after the revolution of 1979, the new government did not feel Iran needed nuclear power. According to Mohammad Sahimi’s article, “Iran’s Nuclear Program, Part I,” this left two reactors incomplete. Then the reactors were further destroyed during the Iran/Iraq War. Luckily, some of the major equipment had not been installed. Sahimi says, “in fact two steam generators were stored in Italy, while the pressure vessel for Bushehr-1 was stored in Germany.” After the war and the revolution ended, Iran’s government again turned to nuclear power. The government then set about repairing and rebuilding the reactors. Mohammad Sahimi goes on to say, “The first reconstruction and development plan proposed and carried out by President Hashemi Rafsanjani's government, coupled with Iran's chronic shortage of electricity that went back to the early 1970s, and the rapid growth of her population, were three major reasons for Iran to restart her nuclear program for obtaining electricity.”  

Iran asked the German company Kraftwerk Union, who had been building the reactors until the revolution of 1979 and held some of the equipment yet to be installed, to finish the job, but the German government denied their request, under U.S. pressure. Iran then attempted to reclaim the equipment it had already paid for from Germany, but the German government again denied their request, again under U.S. pressure. Sahimi writes that Iran then filed a complaint with the International Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1996 “asking for $5.4 billion in compensation for Germany's failure to comply.” He says that as of 2003, this case remained unsettled. And according to Wikipedia, “The U.S. was also paid to deliver new fuel and upgrade its power in accordance with a contract signed before the revolution. The U.S. delivered neither the fuel nor returned the billions of dollars payment it had received.” There was also a lawsuit filed by Iran against the mainly French company Eurodif, which is a uranium enrichment company that Iran had invested over 1 billion dollars in for rights to 10% of the production. This too was denied and Iran filed suit against France, finally receiving 1.6 billion dollars in 1991. The U.S. also stopped Argentina, Russia, China and the IAEA from helping the Iranian nuclear program.  

So, the United States does not trust Iran, but I think we in the west do not realize that Iran doesn’t trust us either. Iran wants to enrich their own uranium so that they are in control of their own energy needs. Here in the U.S., both presidential candidates are calling for an end to our dependency on foreign oil. The candidates are also both pushing the U.S. to reduce their carbon footprint, especially after the latest G8 convention, where the U.S. signed a treaty promising to cut their carbon emissions in half by 2050. One of the ways the U.S. plans to do this is with more nuclear power.  

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In an article by AP writer John Miller on July 27th called “Companies race to open new uranium enrichment facilities in U.S.,” Miller writes, “Two U.S. companies, General Electric and United States Enrichment Corp., or USEC, along with their European rivals, Urenco and Areva, are pushing billions worth of new U.S. enrichment plants or technology so they do not miss the new uranium boom.” He goes on to say that, “Opponents including the Union of Concerned Scientists fear that investment sends the wrong message to countries like Iran, which is under international pressure to halt its own uranium enrichment efforts. The scientists' group argues that it is unclear the United States really needs new facilities, when it could just import nuclear fuel from elsewhere.” Miller says that the U.S. currently imports most of its enriched uranium, some of which comes from Russia in a program called “Megatons for Megawatts.” In this program, “warheads are converted in Russia to nuclear fuel and then shipped to the United States.” But this deal ends in 2013, so new uranium processing plants will be shooting up all across America to fill the new demand. (The U.S. could of course dismantle its own nuclear weapons and use that fuel, which the taxpayers have already paid for, but we all know that won’t happen.) He says, “As enrichment fever grows, however, the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington is watching with unease, because it believes this activity undermines U.S. credibility with Iran.” He quotes Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the group, as saying,” The U.S. has said Iran doesn't need nuclear power because of its oil and natural gas reserves. Iran turns around and says, 'We want to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, just like you do.' There's this kind of double-talk.” 

There is also the recent nuclear deal with India that caused riots and fighting within the Indian government. In an article from July 22nd’s AP by Matthew Rosenburg called, “India’s Government Survives Confidence Vote,” Rosenburg writes, “India's government survived a bruising political battle to win a confidence vote Tuesday, reviving a landmark nuclear energy deal with the United States that is at the center of an emerging partnership between the world's two largest democracies.” He says, “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress party fought hard to secure victory, and appeared to cut back room deals when all else failed. An airport was named after one lawmaker's father, another was promised a high-level job and — rival politicians allege — many others received millions of dollars in bribes.” After the votes, which passed at 275 to 256, Rosenberg quotes the Prime Minister as saying this deal will, “send a message to the world at large that India is prepared to take its place in the committee of nations.” India has yet to sign the NPT Treaty and has also performed nuclear tests, but the U.S. is pushing for the deal. 

The U.S. is also reviving a long dormant deal with Turkey. According to August 8th’s “Today’s Zaman,” an English-language paper in Turkey, “US President George W. Bush has approved a cooperation deal with Turkey concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy, saying that private-sector proliferation worries have been addressed, the White House has announced.” This article quotes President Bush as saying, “In my judgment, entry into force of the Agreement will serve as a strong incentive for Turkey to continue its support for nonproliferation objectives and enact future sound nonproliferation policies and practices. It will also promote closer political and economic ties with a NATO ally, and provide the necessary legal framework for US industry to make nuclear exports to Turkey's planned civil nuclear sector.” 

Why is the U.S. pushing for deals with Turkey and India and pushing for sanctions against Iran? Because they are our allies? Why does that override Iran’s right internationally to the same inspections and guidelines that will allow Turkey and India nuclear power. Is it just because India and Turkey are willing to buy it from other countries and Iran wants to make its own?  In a BBC News Report from September 2006 entitled “Q&A: Uranium Enrichment,” they ask the question “Who is already enriching uranium?” They answer, “According to the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, six organizations operate commercial-scale enrichment plants. They are: China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), which has two centrifuge plants in China, Eurodif, a joint venture between Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, with one diffusion plant in France, Minatom, the Russian state organization, with four centrifuge plants, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), with one centrifuge plant, Urenco, a joint venture between companies in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, with centrifuge plants in each of the three countries, The United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a US firm with a diffusion plant in Kentucky.” They say, “Both Pakistan and India enrich uranium on a smaller scale. Argentina's enrichment program is said by experts to be more or less dormant.” They also say Brazil and Australia are on their way. The report says Israel is suspected of having a plant but this has not been confirmed. 

So our two main enemies of our most recent World War are enriching uranium. Our Cold War counterpart is not only enriching uranium, but breaking down their nuclear weapons and selling us the enriched uranium.  

The report next asks, “What controls are there on uranium enrichment?” The report answers, “Nations which are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have the "inalienable right" to make nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, through enriching uranium or separating plutonium.” Iran has signed this treaty. The report further states, “However, there are three states - India, Israel and Pakistan - which are known to possess nuclear weapons but have never joined the treaty.”

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So the U.S. pushes for a deal with India, who already has weapons, and supports Israel, who is hiding their’s, but fights to deny Iran the right to make its own fuel. It’s is also interesting to note that the countries pushing for sanctions, The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, are all on the above list of countries already producing enriched uranium on a commercial level.  

In a recent NPR interview, Rami Khouri, Editor of “The Daily Star,” one of the leading English language newspapers in the Middle East, says that the Middle East’s biggest problem with the U.S. is consistency. He says the U.S. takes sides, when instead it should treat its role like an umpire in baseball. He suggests that Condoleezza Rice, who he says is a big sports fan, should read the umpire’s rule book before going into negotiations. He says in the rule book, rules are not based on power. You treat both sides the same, and before you make a call you get all the facts, and discuss the biggest ones with the other umpires on the field.

I don’t know Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons; I hope they are telling the truth. I also do not know if the U.S. is trying to profit in this battle or do what they genuinely think is best for the world, and not just the U.S. and her allies. I hope. What we do know is the image the U.S. is presenting to the world. Calling for more nuclear power at home, pushing through deals with other countries in Iran‘s backyard, and then denying an inalienable right to a NPT signatory country. The U.S. should try to win the rest of the world’s trust a bit more before it forces its hand against what it feels is another enemy. Present that face of peace and democracy that we advertise in our brochures. Take our troops out of Iraq by the deadline Iraq is asking for, and replace them with UN Peacekeeper’s to train Iraqi soldiers if we have to. Stop building the largest embassy in the world in Iraq and stop pushing for backhanded deals with big oil contracts, proving you didn’t go there just for oil. And allow Iran to enrich its own uranium, for its own national pride and security, under the same guidelines the rest of the world gets to do it. And maybe the world will trust our intentions a little more, and the tight rope we walk might just get a little stronger.  

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Tim is a some-time activist living in Ohio who thinks things should be a little bit more fair. He has also worked as a musician and an actor, performing throughout the US, Europe, and Japan.

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