Editor’s note: The recently released National Intelligence Estimate says Iran had “suspended its nuclear weapon program.” But Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program never existed, writes NAM contributing editor William O. Beeman. Beeman is professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota and author of “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.”
Iran has never had a proven nuclear weapons program. Ever. This inconvenient fact stands as an indictment of the Bush administration’s stance on Iran.
The recently released 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran “suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003” caught the Bush administration flat-footed. In his panic, Bush grasped desperately at the idea that the weapons program may have once existed. However, the report does not offer a scintilla of evidence that the weapons program was ever an established fact.
Designating 2003 as the date that Iran “stopped” its program is telling:
this is the year the Bush administration first decided to create a case for attacking Iran based on the purported danger of its nuclear program.
In February 2003, the U.S. government-designated terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known as the MEK (or MKO) “revealed” the existence of Iran’s nuclear facilities to Washington. The MEK, which had been purged from Iran during the period following the 1979 revolution, took up residence in Iraq under the protection of Saddam Hussein. The MEK, sometimes identified as an “Islamic Marxist” organization, is dedicated to the overthrow of the current Iranian government. It has been assiduous in courting American lawmakers to recruit U.S. support for its cause. Legislators such as Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have championed this cause, and neoconservatives Patrick Clawson and Daniel Pipes lobbied for its removal from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations in order to use the MEK in the Bush White House drive for regime change in Iran.
Subsequently, the Bush administration claimed that Iran had “concealed” its weapons program for decades, and began a campaign to shut down all nuclear development.
In fact, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) grants all nations the “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear development. Further, it does not require any nation to report its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until fissile material, such as uranium, is actually introduced into the facility.
Iran did indeed have a brief reporting lapse. It revealed the start of its nuclear enrichment experiments at the time they began, rather than announcing this to the IAEA 180 days before experimentation as was required. This was in 2003, and it was the only serious breech of protocol.
The National Intelligence Estimate now identifies 2003 as the date when the weapons program stopped — literally at the point when the Bush administration first became aware of it.
2003 was two years before the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was more than a year before the United States began to lobby for U.N. economic sanctions against Iran. Claiming that “international pressure” had caused Iran to modify its behavior, the Bush administration tried desperately to justify its exaggerated characterizations of the danger Iran posed to the world. The only event that the Bush administration can now claim as constituting “international pressure” is the May 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
If the international community understands that Iran never had a weapons program, President George W. Bush’s statement that Iran could start the program up “again” is clearly absurd.
It is now clear that the Bush administration’s campaign to convince the world of the danger of Iran’s purported immanent nuclear weapons was a sham. The campaign was one in a series of public pretexts to effect regime change in the Islamic Republic. No amount of equivocation, or bluster about Iran’s “continuing” danger can mask the fact that American credibility on this issue has been irrevocably damaged.
The only positive outcome of this debacle may be that the Bush administration may finally accept that differences with Iran can only be solved by actually talking to the leaders of the Islamic Republic. Restoration of diplomatic relations, even at a low level, will begin the process of reducing the hostile atmosphere that has been created, and will start the long, slow process toward the restoration of productive and peaceful relations.
New America Media, News Analysis, William O. Beeman