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Iran's Nulcear Program

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 Iran has clashed with the West and Israel in the last decade over its nuclear enrichment program. The country insists that its nuclear program is ex  clusively for peaceful purposes. The West and Israel suspects that Iran is trying to develop WMD under the guise of nuclear energy production. And some critics of the Western Iran policy suspect that the West is only seeking a regime change in Iran under the cover of preventing proliferation of weap  ons of mass destruction. The mistrust between Iran and the West that has been building up on both sides over a century expresses itself through the nuclear standoff. Right before President Ahmadinejad ascended to power, the EU3 , Britain, France, and Germany, engineered a joint proposal to allow Iran de  velop nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes but in compliance with the UN Non-proliferation Treaty. The proposal would stop all uranium enrich  ment activities in the country. The Western countries would supply the enriched fuel necessary for reactors to generate electricity or for legitimate research and medical purposes.


The Iranians rejected the proposal immedi  ately. The proposal would mean that they would be dependent on Europe for their energy needs indefinitely. From the Iranian perspective, by hold  ing the key to Iran's access to nuclear energy, the West would be able to enforce its way squarely on the country, if the day comes when fossil fuel is no longer available. Western countries have been dependent on Middle Eastern petroleum more than a century, but the West has had the political leverage and military strength to enforce a steady flow of oil westwards. As a weak country, an agreement that put the Islamic Republic at the mercy of a stronger power for its energy needs is synonymous to risking its long-term sovereignty. The Islamic Republic and the West have long lists of griev  ances against one another, and the countries that will be able to control Iran's access to energy, when Iran's petroleum reserves are ended in future, will be able to set the political agenda.


The Western media portrait of Iran's position is that different West  ern countries have extended a hand of friendship, offering Iran a way out of the gridlock, while Iranian authorities have been evasive and stubbornly seeking to build nuclear weapon. But the media fails to understand that the nuclear standoff is a real impasse caused by actions of both sides, and not just an expression of Iranian evasiveness. From the Western perspective, Iran has nothing to worry about, if it is not in pursuit of nuclear weapons. But even if Iran is truly not pursuing WMD and is only interested in peace  ful nuclear energy, no easy solution can be found to this problem unless one realizes that there is much more involved in the nuclear standoff than a mere cat-and-mouse game.


If history has taught the Iranian policymakers one thing, it is that they cannot rely on Europe for issues so significant to their national security, such as access to energy. America would not rely on Europe for its national security; why should Iran? As the historian, Nikki Keddie, points out, Iranian leaders early in the last century never built a capacity to defend Iran's interests. They relied instead on foreign protection. As a result, the British, Russians, and other European powers frequently intervened in the internal affairs of Iran, constantly threatened its central government to win conces  sions, and nearly colonized the country.


The modern history of Iran is filled with broken promises by the European powers as well as frustrated efforts by the Iranians to live in peace with the Europeans. This is past history, but the wounds seem fresh still. To understand what history can do one needs look no further than the Europe itself. Not only the EU is still plagued with mutual mistrusts and memories of past misdeeds on the account of bitter European rivalry in the past few centuries -- there is a large repertoire of ex  amples to back this claim --, but also interestingly Norway is one of the two or three countries in Europe, which did not join the EU as a fully integrat  ed member state because its history of being trampled by the Danish and Swedish kings until 1814 still scares its people to join the club of big powers.


Iranians have only themselves to blame for their long history of weakness. Incompetent kings, corrupt central government, lack of democracy, and re  gressive culture enabled the Western powers to suppress Iran's population and extort its government for favors. Nevertheless, history's lesson for Ira  nian policymakers of the modern generation is that giving away their right to enrich uranium without securing mechanisms that guarantees the flow of nuclear fuel to their reactors will be the same as giving the West a blank check to withhold the fuel in case of a future dispute to pressure Iran. No such guarantees can be made indefinitely. Iran does not have the capacity to defend its rights, if promises are broken in the future. The country has been put under sanctions and its assets have been frozen in foreign banks. The country has been under the threat of coup, invasion, and isolation. The Islamic Republic bitterly remembers its role in assisting the US forces in Afghanistan post 9/11, only to be named an axe of evil. Iran's history does not leave much room for trust.


From the Western standpoint, Iran's recent aggressive behavior seems counterproductive to its nuclear ambitions. The more aggressive the country is, the more the West is convinced that Iran should never be allowed to gain nuclear technology that can potentially be used in weapon development. From the Iranian perspective, the Western behavior seems counterproductive to Western ambition for curbing in the Iranian nuclear program. Sanctions and threat of invasion simply convinces Iranian policymakers that they cannot rely on the West and encourages them to pursue their nuclear program more vigorously. In any way, exces  sive pressure on Iran to sign a deal will not necessarily produce a legally solid foundation for nonproliferation, as Iran could in the future back away from the deal citing that it signed the dotted line under duress.


The Islamic Republic knows, as indicated above, that if it gives in to pressure, there is no reason for the West not to use its leverage again to score other wins in the future, such as to curb in Iran's support for Hezbollah or Hamas, Iran's trade relations with Chavez's Venezuela, etc. Whatever one may think about the behavior of the Islamic Republic, it would never voluntarily put itself in a situation that would force it to abandon its ways. If Iran is truly intend  ing to build WMD, the West's effort to isolate the country, makes it more insecure and more fixated on getting a fat man of his own. As Ahmadinejad has pointed out clearly, "[we] know well that a country backing down one iota on its undeniable rights is the same as losing everything-- Even if the Iranian nuclear program is truly for peaceful purposes, Ahmadinejad under  stands that curbing in on this issue means nothing less than opening up the flood gates for more US pressure.


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Hamid Karimianpour is the author of Nation Building or Democracy by Other Means, Algora Publishing, 2011.

Karimianpour studied economics and philosophy at the University of Oslo in Norway. He moved to England, where he obtained an MBA degree (more...)
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