Contextual Content

What are Iran’s nuclear rights?

"Iran wants to put itself in a position such that if an international crisis arises and there is an external threat to the national security of Iran, Iran can be in a position to make a nuclear weapon in an emergency as a deterrent against a foreign threat. Otherwise, Iran has no intention whatsoever of making a nuclear weapon, because Iranian leaders are fully aware that if they cross the line and somehow they make nuclear weapon, that will start a very bad nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which will ultimately will not be in Iran’s benefit or in any body’s benefit in that region."

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Story Transcript

CARLO BASILONE (VOICEOVER): Thursday saw the second day of long-range missile tests by Iran, responding to Israeli air force military exercises in June that the Pentagon called a possible rehearsal for an air strike on Iranian nuclear energy facilities, this at a time when the US Congress is pushing through a bipartisan resolution, H362, that calls for more economic sanctions against Iran, including an embargo against any imports of refined petroleum and stringent inspection requirements on everything Iran by land, sea, or air. This would require a naval blockade by the US, which some call an act of war against Iran. A similar resolution is being considered in the Senate. The Real News Network’s senior editor, Paul Jay, spoke to scientist, author, and professor Muhammad Sahimi of the University of Southern California and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Thank you for joining us, Professor Sahimi.

PROFESSOR MUHAMMAD SAHIMI, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having me on your program.

JAY: Underlying the American argument that Iran is a threat and a danger is the fact that the IAEA and ElBaradei—at least they use this as their argument—never completely closes the door on the idea that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. And let me read you a quote from ElBaradei from an interview he did with Der Spiegel in 2008, just a few weeks ago. "They have concealed from us," speaking of Iran, "in the past, but that doesn’t prove they are building a bomb today. They continue to insist that they are interested solely in using nuclear power for civilian purposes. We have yet to find a smoking gun that would prove them wrong. But there are suspicious circumstances and unsettling questions. The Iranians’ willingness to cooperate leaves a lot to be desired. Iran must do more to provide us with access to certain individuals and documents. It must make a stronger contribution to clarifying the last unanswered set of questions—those relating to a possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program." (Spiegel, June 11, 2008.) So ElBaradei has not said definitively there’s no program. Why can’t he say this? And what is he talking about?

SAHIMI: Well, there are several issues that they need to address. First of all, it is repeated again and again that Iran had a secret nuclear program for nearly 20 years, and Iran deceived the international community about this nuclear program. But if you look at the issue from the standpoint of what the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and Iran’s safeguards agreement with the international atomic agency say, we see that Iran, while not telling or declaring to the international community that it was setting up a nuclear program, it wasn’t actually obligated to say so, because according to the subsidiary arrangement of Iran’s safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the only obligation that Iran had towards the agency and the international community regarding the construction of this nuclear facility in Natanz and Iraq was that 180 days before introduction of any nuclear material into those facilities, Iran was obligated to inform the agency, and Iran actually did that. In February of 2003, Iran formally announced the existence of those facilities and asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the facilities. And then, in summer of 2003, Iran started introducing nuclear material into those facilities. So from a legal point of view, Iran did nothing wrong. Iran did not violate this obligation.

JAY: But ElBaradei himself, who’s clearly a very critical figure in this drama, he himself does not seem persuaded that there is no program. He doesn’t seem to be persuaded they’re getting enough cooperation. Is Iran holding back now things that ElBaradei needs to be able to give them a completely clean bill of health? And if they are, why are they?

SAHIMI: I believe they are holding back, and I believe they are holding back for two reasons. One is that because the international community argues that Iran has violated from a legal point of view some of its obligation, Iran is retaliating back by saying, "If you want to argue with us from a legal point of view, then we also don’t have any obligation that has to do with additional protocol. As long as we haven’t signed the additional protocol and we haven’t ratified it, we have no obligation to tell you more than what we already have told." That’s one reason, I believe, and that’s my personal view. The second view is the fact that Iran is trying to buy time. Anybody with any objectivity can see that, that Iran is trying to drag this process to buy time, so that it can complete its mastering of nuclear fuel enrichment technology. So for these two reasons, Iran is not, perhaps, cooperating at the pace that it should. But I emphasize again, in my opinion, there is no nuclear weapon program in Iran, a secret one. In my opinion, Iran has no intention of making a nuclear weapon. Iran wants to put itself in a position such that if an international crisis arises and there is an external threat to the national security of Iran, Iran can be in a position to make a nuclear weapon in an emergency as a deterrent against a foreign threat. Otherwise, Iran has no intention whatsoever of making a nuclear weapon, because Iranian leaders are fully aware that if they cross the line and somehow they make nuclear weapon, that will start a very bad nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which will ultimately will not be in Iran’s benefit or in anybody’s benefit in that region.

JAY: Please join us for the second part of our interview with Professor Sahimi.

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