U.S. Must Back Down on Iranian Uranium Enrichment

There’s really only one solution. Only one way for Obama to get himself out of the box his predecessor Bush, Dick Cheney and the neocons have put him in. He has to affirm Iran’s inalienable right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium.

Somewhere along the road American public opinion, which history shows can be easily persuaded of things that just aren’t true, has bought several highly questionable propositions:

1. Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

2. Iran’s nuclear program can have only one purpose, the production of nuclear weapons.

3. The Iranian leadership wishes to, and has threatened to, wipe Israel off the face of the map.

4. Given all of the above, Iran’s progress towards nuclear enrichment must be stopped in order to prevent a second, “nuclear” Holocaust.

These propositions — Big Lies that that become better established with each retelling — are in fact easily refutable.

1. The U.S. intelligence community itself doesn’t believe that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. In November 2007 all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that declared “with high confidence” that Iran had suspended any such program as of 2003. Dick Cheney’s office tried to suppress that report and with George Bush told the chagrined Israeli government he would ignore it. (Recall that Cheney and the neocons surrounding him insisted with equal vigor in opposition to IAEA evidence to the contrary that Iraq had an active nuclear program in 2001 that could produce a “mushroom cloud over New York City”?)

We’re not talking about some liberal blogs challenging the Bush-Cheney claims here. We’re talking about the Central Intelligence Agency, Army Military Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, etc. Highly trained, professional, critically-thinking researchers whose best judgment is: Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program.

Repeat (because this is so important): U.S. intelligence doesn’t believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

2. Cheney on many occasions insisted that Iran, with its vast petroleum wealth, could only have one reason to seek nuclear power. But successive U.S. administrations from the 1960s urged Iran, when it was ruled by the Shah (whom the CIA had placed in power), to develop a nuclear energy program. U.S. corporations such as General Electric were deeply invested in that program.

3. Iran has rarely attacked another country in the last thousand years, and never in modern times. On the contrary it has been the victim of aggression, most notably in the Iran-Iraq War, when Saddam Hussein, attacked in 1980. The U.S. supported Iraq; Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam twice, offered aid including satellite intelligence crucial to the Iraqi war effort. The idea that Iran aspires to initiate war with a country a thousand miles away because of ingrained anti-Semitism among the leadership is very questionable. Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, with representation in the Parliament (Majlis). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not called for Israel to be “wiped of the map” but once quoted Ayatollah Khomeini (who died in 1989) as stating that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must [vanish from] from the page of time.” As Professor Juan Cole explains, “Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope — that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah’s government.” The claim that Iran has “repeatedly stated its intention to destroy the state of Israel” is pure alarmist propaganda peddled by those calling openly for the bombing of Iran!

4. Iran’s advancement towards nuclear enrichment is a progress towards something realized not only by countries with nuclear weapons (including, one must emphasize, Israel, which unlike Iran never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty) but by Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Germany, and the Netherlands. Again: nuclear enrichment is not a crime but an inalienable right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty whereby nations agree not to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for assistance in developing peaceful nuclear programs under carefully monitored conditions. The rules allow them control over the entire “nuclear fuel cycle” under IAEA inspections.

The idea that Iran is a special exception to the rules is an obvious conceit of the Bush-Cheney era propaganda. The idea that if normal rules apply, and Iran proceeds as usual and gets its nuclear reactors online, nukes will forthwith rain down on Israel (with its 200 warheads) and produce a second Holocaust (frying Israeli Jews and Palestinian alike) is wild, paranoid fantasy.

So let Obama say, unequivocally: We recognize and respect Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program monitored by the IAEA, to enrich uranium, to master the nuclear cycle—just like any other normal nation.

Should he not do so, the burden is on him to explain why, as the candidate of “change” and “hope,” who on Inauguration Day told the Muslim world he would seek “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect” he continues the Bush-Cheney policy of vilification, insinuation, and Zionist pandering in connection with this issue.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu. Read other articles by Gary.

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