Every news piece on the P5+1’s negotiation with Iran never neglects to remind us that the West has suspicions about Iran’s uranium enrichment and that Tehran denies the allegations that their civilian program is a cover for making nukes. We also hear of how difficult these negotiations are due to decades of distrust between the U.S. and Iran. Mark Hibbs sums it up saying, “The powers are asking Iran to do a lot of things because they don’t trust Iran,” and “Iran hasn’t agreed to do some of these things because they don’t trust the powers.” I can certainly understand Iran being skeptical of the West’s intentions but what I don’t get is how the U.S. can claim Iran is so untrustworthy when it has completely kept the interim nuclear agreement. The IAEA’s monthly report on Iran confirms its adherence to the terms of that agreement’s extension. Why is it that Iran can do all that has been asked of it and yet gets no credit for this?
Okay, an objector might say, Iran may be keeping its word but the trust issue has always been more about the underground nature of their nuclear program’s development. That’s the position of General Hugh Shelton, the 14th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Since the 1990s, Iran has hoodwinked the international community over its nuclear program time and time again,” Shelton writes. There can be no give-and-take when negotiating with those shady Iranians since any “concessions by the international community will only encourage the mullahs to resort to deceit, denial and concealment again.” True, Iran had to be secretive about progressing on its civilian program but, as Josh Ruebner notes, this was only “a posture ineluctably adopted after the Reagan administration aggressively denied Iran access to nuclear technology permitted to it as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” Washington violated the NPT by this prohibition and Iran was forced to go below the radar to secure the peaceful technology to which it was entitled.
But here’s the biggest reason why Washington’s suspicions and mistrust are way off base: Iran had the ability to build nukes for years before the Obama administration enacted crushing sanctions and Supreme Leader Khameini never chose to make a mad dash for nukes. “While many in the policy community have not been able to bring themselves to accept this fact, the U.S. intelligence community has insisted clearly and consistently since 2008 that Iran has the capability to build a bomb,” writes Graham Allison. In a Wikileaks cable detailing the discussions at a meeting of international nuclear experts in April 2009 the U.S. representative states “Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose.” Ah, but Iran only refrained because they feared the U.S.’s military option, you say? Not likely—Iran would have thought all such threats a bluff since the U.S. wasn’t about to open up a third front in the Middle East.
The Iranian government would’ve known (as the Bush administration did) that effectively stopping the nuclear program would require a full-scale invasion and occupation of a country bigger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The path was therefore clear and opportunity could not have been knocking louder for Iran to get the bomb but still Khameini refused. Washington must know this so why can’t Iran be believed when its leaders repeatedly renounce all nuclear weapons ambitions? In a review of Gareth Porter’s “Manufactured Crisis”, Josh Ruebner explains why the U.S. must “persist in divining a malign intent to Iran’s nuclear program”:
“And, of course, there were the neoconservative ideological proclivities of the George W. Bush administration, which infamously deemed Iran to be part of an “axis of evil” and overtly sought regime change in Tehran, a stance that “perversely” skewed U.S. policy “toward provoking Iran to accelerate its enrichment program,” writes Porter.”
Porter is right on the money. Indeed, the neocons and other hawks have hoped that Iran could be egged into producing nukes as an excuse for war and the ensuing regime change. That was the inspiration for tempting Iran with Operation Merlin and for former UN ambassador John Bolton encouraging Iran to abandon the NPT. I don’t think Washington is seriously pursuing regime change in Tehran any longer but for some the dream isn’t dead. General Shelton hasn’t given up and he has pinned his hope on “a viable alternative to the Islamist regime”—the MeK. As the general sees it, “we owe” this recently de-listed Iranian terrorist group “a chance to build a secular, democratic, non-nuclear Iran.” Fat chance of that though—the only thing less popular in Iran than the MeK might be the Shah’s descendants and assuming by some miracle the MeK gained power, they’d be as democratic as the Shah was.
However unserious it may be, it’s time to drop the regime change nonsense. Iran will change in its own time and on its own terms. The focus now should be on Washington working together with Iran to stabilize the Arab world so ISIS can be prevented from expanding further. Say, that’s an interesting topic. What circumstances permitted ISIS to grow and become so powerful in the first place?