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Scholar Mehdi Sarram says though Russia is committed by contract to deliver low-enriched energy to Iran until 2021, why should Iran buy it from the Russians if they can produce it themselves?

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

We are discussing nuclear development of Iran and Iran’s nuclear needs, and we’ve been having a conversation with Mehdi Sarram. Mehdi Sarram was born in Iran. He came to the U.S. to study at the University of Michigan. He went back to Iran, became assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tehran. In 1981, he worked for the Department of Safeguards at IAEA before becoming a U.S. citizen. Since 1988, he has been in the United States working for the U.S. nuclear industry. He has over 30 scientific publications, including his book Nuclear Hypocrisy, Lies, and Deception. He’s now joining from Carlsbad, California.

Thanks again for joining us.


PERIES: So one of the questions that we have been trying to tackle here is that currently Russia is providing fuel to the Bushehr reactor in Iran. Why not push for a deal so that it would provide for enriched uranium that Iran needs, imported rather than produced domestically? Wouldn’t this satisfy both the U.S. demand for lower breakout capacity and allow Iran to develop its energy and nuclear energy needs for the country?

SARRAM: The simple answer’s yes. Russia is committed by contract to provide low-enriched fuel, about 4 percent enriched, plus/minus, to the year 2021, just around the corner, seven more years, has no commitment.

Iran, as I believe we discussed earlier, is looking for options, national independence. That was partly the reason for the conflict with the West in the past 35 years–independence of the country. They may want to buy nuclear plants larger than Bushehr from South Korea, from Japan, maybe from Russia. But Russia cannot be considered to be the supplier of all the nuclear power plants that Iran wants to build. The previous regime, by the way, had planned to build 23,000 megawatt electric–that’s about 20 nuclear power plants. Right now we have one. When I say we is Iran. So independence, options, not becoming dependent on one country. Price is important. If you have only one supplier, there’s no competition.

So I think Iran is correct for all the reasons I mentioned and the matter of national pride. They say, we want to control our own destiny; this is our country; we want [a build plan (?)].

By the way, when you have even a ton, tons of 4 percent enriched uranium, this is not weapon grade. Weapon grade is 90 percent plus. So you could have all the 4 percent enriched uranium in the world that Iran can produce from its centrifuges, and nobody should be concerned. That’s me talking to you as a safeguard expert.

PERIES: Now, Mehdi, let me take this up. You have now mentioned a few times the issue of national pride. Often in the Western press, even the New York Times editorial board once claimed that the negotiations aren’t moving ahead fast enough, because [of] Iran’s national pride. Now, this is referred to often. What do you mean by it, and what do they mean by it at The New York Times?

SARRAM: Yeah, it could be different. New York Times is American journalists, and I’m an Iranian American, so I have the benefit of both cultures. Every country has national pride. I’ve been to 38 of them. When I was in South Korea, they have a national pride. They’re making things on their own. They want to feel good that this is our product; we are not importing that from America, China, or Japan.

Iran–I refer to this case–please consider the conflicts that Iran has had with the West as a whole, primarily the U.S. in the past 35 years. It’s a matter of independence. We want to do things our way. This is our country. This is what we do. This is what we don’t do.

PERIES: Well, I have experienced this myself. And I’ve been to Tehran, I’ve been to the University of Tehran. I’ve spoken with students. There is certain pride in the scientific training and development that they have and the fact that they should be able to develop the energy needs for their country and be able to bring it to fruition and address these needs nationally rather than importing it, as you said, from Russia or elsewhere. And what capacity does Iran have? What intelligent scientific laboratories do they rely on for this kind of independence? And has these negotiations, this international and the IAEA gaze on Iran, prevented, if not inhibited, the development of their national independence?

SARRAM: Absolutely. You know, we don’t have time to go and discuss the legality about the UN Security Council sanctions and otherwise, ’cause Iran was not a threat to world peace and security, and they just put all these sanctions. Yes, when you put sanctions–and no country in the world has been imposed more sanctions than Iran by E.U., by the U.S., by Security Council.

Now, there’s a university called Sharif in Tehran. When 16 of their graduates come to Stanford, they all get accepted right there. They start working. It’s not that Iranians are smart. They have a 10,000 year heritage, culture, proud nation. They have survived. Persians are survivors, and they will survive no matter what. Therefore you’re right: when Iran cannot import the material, or even Google and Yahoo! and then Apple, they put sanctions, they cannot get parts for planes, for universities for research. So give Iranians a little bit of credit that under sanctions for 35 years their enrichment technology is decades, decades ahead of the region. I’m not going to go through the list of the countries. Except for Israel, India, Pakistan, the extended Middle East, there’s no other country that has achieved this enrichment technology on their own.

So if you ask me, are they going to give up the option to have enrichment technology in Iran, the answer is no. They’re not going to give up. They may give up somewhere else. I can’t speak for the government of Iran. But knowing how they think, they don’t want to depend on one country called Russia. They will continue with the enrichment, they will justify how much they need for two, five future nuclear power plants, and it’s that simple.

PERIES: Right. It’s much bigger than the science of it all.


PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us.

SARRAM: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure having this talk with you. Thank you.

PERIES: You’re most welcome.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Mehdi Sarram was born in Iran, came to the US in 1961 to study nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan. After receiving his post graduate degree in 1967, he went back to Iran and became an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tehran as well as the supervisor of the American supplied 5 MW nuclear research reactor. In 1974, he transferred to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and became the director of nuclear safeguards and security. He left Iran in 1981 and worked for the department of safeguards at IAEA and then came to the US in 1982. He became a US citizen in 1988 and has been working for the US nuclear industry since then. He has traveled to 38 countries and has 46 years nuclear experience. He has over 30 scientific publications.