Iran asks the world to nuclear party
By Safa Haeri
VIENNA - As it becomes
increasingly cornered over its nuclear program, Iran has
come out fighting, issuing an open invitation to
countries to participate in the construction of its
"Not only do we invite
you, we also welcome whole-heartedly countries to invest
in our nuclear program for civilian purposes," Mohammad
Hossein Mousavian, the secretary of the political
department of Iran's Supreme Council on National
Security (SCNS), told Asia Times Online.
Mousavian, the right-hand man of Hasan Rohani,
the powerful secretary of the SCNS and Iran's top
nuclear negotiator with both the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Union's so-called
Big 3 (Germany, France and the United Kingdom), described
the offer as "an exceptional and historical occasion" that is open
to France and Germany in particular, as well as Britain
and the United States if they wish to invest in Iran.
a stated aim of having 7,000 megawatts of nuclear power
online by 2020, accounting for 10% of the
country's power-generation capacity at that point. To achieve this, it
plans to build at least six more plants besides the one
under construction in the port of Bushehr, on the Persian
Gulf, with assistance from Russia. This plant will consist
of a 1,000MW pressurized-light-water reactor and is
scheduled to go online in 2005.
determination to act on what it calls its "legal right"
to produce fissile uranium for nuclear energy has put it
at odds with much of the world community, especially the
US, which suspects that the country is determined to
develop a nuclear bomb.
for countries to invest in huge, multibillion-dollar
nuclear projects goes first to France and Germany
because these two nations are already familiar with
Iran's nuclear market, as Germany was almost finished
building Iran's first nuclear-powered plant and France
had started building two others in the oil-rich province
of Khouzistan when the Islamic Revolution of 1979 halted
Speaking to Asia Times Online in Vienna
on the sidelines of the latest meeting of the IAEA's
board of directors on the question of Iranian
nuclear programs, Mousavian said that besides inviting
the West's main exporters of nuclear plants to take
a "substantial part" in Iran's nuclear projects,
Tehran is also ready to offer them a "golden package" that
would include full cooperation in fighting international
terrorism and restoring peace and security in the region,
as well as in trade and investment.
that should the West, mostly Europe, not respond to
Iran's offer, the likelihood is that Russia will
consolidate its position in the country, adding to the
$1 billion deal it already has at the Bushehr plant.
"Obviously, the Iranians are not very happy with
Russian nuclear technology, which they consider aging
and dangerous. At the same time, they are determined to
go ahead with the project - they are looking to diversify
their sources of energy through nuclear plants for
electricity. Hence their call to France and Germany to
take the opportunity," an Iranian analyst explained to
Asia Times Online on condition of not being named.
According to Mousavian, a career diplomat, a
country that has such an extremely important nuclear
project cannot depend on foreign countries for the fuel
needed for its atomic reactors. Hence Iran's
determination to master the full cycle of enriching
uranium, which is an essential step in the production of
But for the Iranian analyst, "the
matter is of high importance for Iran because once this
technology is fully mastered, it changes its stature in
the region, particularly facing the Arabs and the
But what about Israel, which already has
"Israel is a political enemy with
which we don't have a border. But Arabs don't like us.
See what they write in their papers," he explained,
referring to a recent article in the Saudi
English-language Arab News in which veteran journalist
Abdul Rahman al-Rashid alleged that Iran's efforts to
become a nuclear power were aimed at the Arabs, not
Iran does not share borders with Israel
and has had no hostile contact with it. It is only
supporting forces that fight Israel. Its developed
weapons cannot be sent to these parties to fight
Israel. Then who are the targets of these
sophisticated weapons? There is only one logical
answer: neighboring countries. And they are already
paying the cost. They are the ones scared by Iran's
race to build weapons. They don't scare Israel.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami warned the international community that Iran is
ready to end its cooperation with the IAEA if the United
Nations nuclear watchdog refuses it access to nuclear
technology for civilian purposes.
international community has to acknowledge our natural
and legal right and open the path for understanding ...
so we can accept comprehensive international supervision
and we can continue our path to acquire nuclear
technology for peaceful purposes," the president said,
warning that "otherwise we will continue on this path
even if the result is the cutting off of international
He was referring to the
latest resolution passed on the weekend by the 35 members of
the Vienna-based IAEA calling on Iran to stop all its
uranium-enriching activities and ratify the Additional
Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
the resolution, approved unanimously but
without vote-taking after days of intense, behind-closed-doors
debates between delegates from the
UK, France and Germany and members of the
Non-Aligned Movement on the one hand and the United States on
the other, did not mention US proposals for giving
Iran an October 31 deadline and a "trigger mechanism"
aimed at the issue being referred automatically to the
UN Security Council for strong economic sanctions.
Addressing a parade marking the beginning of
"Sacred Defense Week" for the anniversary of the
outbreak of war with Iraq in 1980, Khatami said, "We
have made our choice and it is now the turn of others to
choose," a reference to the IAEA, which gave Iran until
November to come clean on its nuclear intentions and
ratify the Additional Protocol, which allows for a more
aggressive IAEA inspection regime. A clause in the NPT
permits any country to withdraw on three months' notice.
North Korea withdrew in 2001, allowing it to proceed
with the separation of plutonium from spent uranium and
presumably the development of a nuclear bomb.
However, Khatami assured that Iran was not after
making nuclear weapons. "If we are under supervision or
not, we will in no way try to acquire nuclear weapons
because it is against our religion and culture. We are
opposed to nuclear weapons," he said.
Analysts said that while the president's warnings on the
IAEA might be for domestic consumption, it was
the declaration of vice president and head of Iran's
Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, that
sent alarm bells ringing in Washington, Israel, the EU and
"Some of the amount of the 37 tons has
been used," Aqazadeh told journalists before the IAEA
meeting, referring to a quantity of yellowcake, or
uranium oxide, which Iran had earlier indicated it
planned to convert into uranium hexafluoride gas, the
feedstock for enriched uranium. This uranium gas is
enriched by being fed into supersonic centrifuges, a
process that Iran says it has begun in defiance of IAEA
have been successful but these tests have to be
continued using the rest of the material," Aqazadeh
said, adding that although Iran does not accept the
latest resolution of the agency's directors, it will
continue to be fully open to inspections.
In a brief edict issued eight years ago
to the Revolutionary Guards, Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, who in his capacity as the leader of the
Islamic Republic is also the overall commander of the
Iranian armed forces, banned the use of mass destruction
weapons, most particularly the chemical and biological
arms that Iraq had deployed extensively against Iranian
soldiers during the 1980-88 war.
informed Iranian experts canvassed by Asia Times Online
say that contrary to some Western and Israeli science
and intelligence sources that put Iran two to five years
from the atomic bomb, it would take the country about 10
years to make its first nuclear weapon. "To produce an
atomic bomb, one needs more than 64,000 modern
centrifuges running together with much other equipment
24 hours a day, but to our knowledge, Iran has but 164
pilot centrifuges," one expert said, speaking on
condition of not being named.
Americans and Israelis, in particular, insist that the
ruling ayatollahs' main goal is to divert their nuclear
technology to developing an atomic bomb for use against
the Jewish state. Some years ago, Ayatollah Ali Akbar
Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who is still the
second-most influential man in Iran's clerical-ruled
republic after Khamenei, proposed that Muslim nations
drop an atomic bomb over Israel.
Hoseyn Shariatmadari, a high-ranking intelligence
officer appointed as the editor of the evening daily
Keyhan, threatened Israel with trained suicide squads,
which he described as "Iran's most devastating weapon".
"Israel knows well that in case it makes the slightest
mistake, it would face a catastrophe the likes of which
it has never seen in its short life," said
Shariatmadari, adding, "They [Israelis] have not yet
faced our volunteers to martyrdom, a force that is much
more devastating than anything one can imagine."
In an interview this month with
the Qatari television station Aljazeera, Admiral
Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian defense minister,
quoted high-ranking officers as suggesting preemptive
strikes against Israel and US forces in the Persian Gulf.
"We will not sit [with arms folded] to wait for what
others will do to us. Some military commanders in Iran
are convinced that preventive operations, which the
Americans talk about, are not their [US] monopoly,"
Shamkhani warned in the interview when asked about the
possibility of a US or Israeli strike against Iran's
A day before, acting
Revolutionary Guards commander General Mohammad Baqer
Zolqadr stated that in the event of an Israeli attack on
Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel's nuclear site would
be next. "If Israel fires one missile at the Bushehr
atomic power plant it should permanently forget about
the Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps
its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible for
the terrifying consequence of this move."
A banner at Tuesday's military parade stating
"Israel must be wiped off the map" was draped on the side
of a Shahab-2 missile, while a banner saying "We
will crush America under our feet" was on the side of
a trailer carrying the latest Shahab-3
missile, correspondents reported from the Iranian capital, Tehran.
The Shahab-2 missile, whose name means "meteor" or "shooting
star" in Farsi, is thought to be capable of carrying
a one-tonne warhead at least 1,300 kilometers, well
within range of Israel. "The Shahab-3 missiles, with
different ranges, enable us to destroy the most distant
targets," said an official commentary accompanying the
parade, which was carried live on state television.
Against this background, the
Israeli liberal newspaper Ha'aretz reported on Tuesday that Israel
is to buy some 500 "bunker buster" bombs from the US in
a deal worth $139 million. Though Ha'aretz said Israel
has similar weapons already, which it has used
against Palestinian extremists in Gaza, the British news
agency Reuters quoted unnamed official sources as saying
the bombs could be used to destroy Iran's nuclear
facilities. "This is not the sort of ordnance needed for
the Palestinian front. Bunker busters could serve Israel
against Iran or possibly Syria," Reuters quoted official
sources as saying.
the military designations GBU-27 or GBU-28, bunker busters
are guided by lasers or satellites and can penetrate up
to 10 meters of earth and concrete. Israel may
already have some of the bombs for its US-supplied F-15
fighter jets. The Pentagon told Congress that the bombs
were meant to maintain Israel's qualitative advantage,
and advance US strategic and tactical interests.
Israel regards Iran as its greatest
strategic enemy and has issued thinly veiled threats of
military action to try to stop Tehran's nuclear program
if diplomatic efforts fail. According to US experts,
Israel can and is planning to repeat against Iran's
nuclear facilities the early 1981 operation of its air
force that destroyed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor,
which was under construction by French companies.
But many experts and intelligence agencies,
including Israel's Mossad, have their doubts on the
feasibility of such a strike. With Osirak in mind, the
Iranians have dispersed their facilities throughout the
country. "The fact is that in that case [Osirak], Israel
had all the plans and benefited from the ongoing
Iran-Iraq war. But the revolution of 1979 ended the
American and Israeli presence in Iran, and today one can
assume for sure that the American and Israeli
intelligence on Iran is next to zero," Reuters quoted
the source as saying.
To assure that Iran has no
hostile intentions with its nuclear projects, Mousavian,
a former ambassador to Germany, proposed that the IAEA
install sophisticated equipment in Iran that keeps
uranium-enriching activities at a "soft" 3.5%.  "The
agency has this material and we invite it to install it
at all our facilities and keep them under their constant
inspection," Mousavian said.
Note (1) Most present-day
reactors (light-water reactors) use enriched uranium
where the proportion of the U-235 isotope has been
increased from 0.7% to about 3% or up to 5%. For
comparison, uranium used for nuclear weapons would have
to be enriched in plants specially designed to produce
at least 90% U-235.
Safa Haeri is a
Paris-based Iranian journalist covering the Middle East
and Central Asia.
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