Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif called Tuesday for “seriousness and realism,” for the June talks, adding that the P5+1 should beware of “illusions which might be exerted on them by some pressure groups and people outside the negotiations.” They can eschew these illusions and demonstrate the requisite realism by realizing that–until rapprochement is reached with the U.S.–Iran will have need of an indigenous enrichment capability because Tehran cannot trust the international community (even a friendly Russia, as Gareth Porter explains) to fulfill their end of any fuel bargain. Robert Einhorn, in his appeal for Iran to get real over its nuclear future and its enrichment expectations, finds a happy medium that I’m sure would satisfy Iran and the P5+1:
“If Iran is serious about having an advanced civil nuclear program in the long run, it makes little sense either to operate large numbers of obsolete first-generation centrifuges or to compete with much more experienced and lower-cost foreign enrichment operations in an effort to provide fuel for its power reactors (which require many times more fuel and enrichment capacity than research reactors). A wiser strategy is to use a relatively small number of its current centrifuges to meet near-term research-reactor requirements, rely on more cost-effective foreign suppliers to address the much greater enriched-uranium needs of its power reactors (as countries like Japan do), and make progress toward a more advanced civil nuclear program in the future through domestic research and development and collaboration with Russia and the West.”
What a great recommendation since Iran is already on the same page, wanting all along to resume the international collaboration that has been denied it for decades. This is something the Khameini government would very likely go for but what if they don’t entirely? Einhorn foresees problems, writing that if Iran “instead insists on an overly ambitious, inefficient, and expensive approach not justified by realistic civil nuclear requirements but consistent with a desire to have a rapid breakout capability—it will not only ensure a stalemate in the negotiations but raise serious questions in the international community about its motivations.” First off, if Iran decided to enrich above an amount for “practical needs” as determined by the U.S. it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Although it’s usually argued that Iran has no excuse to enrich a lot of uranium when it’s so energy rich in oil and gas, anyone with a memory extending to the Seventies should know better.
Dafna Linzer tells us the seldom heard story of the U.S.’s nuclear policy towards Iran during Gerald Ford’s presidency. In this much overlooked Washington Post piece, we find out that the Ford administration heeded the arguments of the Shah that Iran couldn’t rely on its domestic oil supply for its surging energy needs and must seek an alternative. The administration approved of Iran’s precaution in deciding to build a sprawling nuclear power industry and U.S. corporations “led by Westinghouse, stood to gain $6.4 billion from the sale of six to eight nuclear reactors and parts.” Tehran makes the same case to this day and it’s no less valid now than it was then. But Washington has selective amnesia because Iran went from friend to foe and so has to pretend that mullahs running the country mean any reason they give for advancing enrichment is just a cover for making nukes.
A Ford administration strategy paper that Linzer cites hits on another reason (aside from Iran is an adversary) why Washington wants to constrict Iran’s enrichment. It noted that the “introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.” It’s the freeing up of those reserves that Washington fears. Being able to do that would make Iran–already an influential regional power–into a global one. As a major energy exporter, Iran would become well off enough to join the ranks of Russia, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in a group of leading developing countries that has been nicknamed ‘BRICS’. The US, in its attempt to stem any challenge to its ‘benevolent global hegemony,’ doesn’t want these up-and-comers becoming any stronger and so haltering Iran’s economic potential is why this geopolitical kabuki production about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program has lasted longer than most Broadway plays.