Iran-US nuclear issues: Same mistrust 40 years later

Iran-US nuclear issues: Same mistrust 40 years later

Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 15

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

The documents from the archives of the US Department of State recur us back to mid-70s of the last century when Iran was considered a special and important partner in the US foreign policy. The fragmented pieces reconstruct the atmosphere round the Iran-US nuclear power program that was planned to be implemented between the states.

However, comments and estimations given in the documents lead to conclusion that even at the time of Shah, Washington had a sense of mistrust towards Iran as the Shah could finally obtain essential elements needed to develop nuclear weapons. At the same time we can see the opposite – a fear of losing Iran as a valuable partner and major oil producer.

Maybe, reading the 40-years old documents will help better understanding nowadays events.

From: Action Memorandum from the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (Sievering) to Secretary of State Kissinger, Washington, December 6, 1974

The Shah, as part of his proposed nuclear power program, has already announced his intent to procure eight nuclear power plants from the U.S. and five from France. Iran signed letters of intent this month with a German and a French firm for a total of four nuclear power plants. Also, at our instigation, approaches have been made by the Bechtel Corporation to Iran to encourage the Shah’s investment (on the order of $300 million) in a private uranium enrichment plant to be built in the United States.

Consequently, our posture in approaching Iran with a draft agreement for cooperation should take into account that too strong a position on our side may induce the Shah to deal with others, while too weak a position may make Congressional approval impossible to attain.

From: Report Prepared by an Ad Hoc Interagency Working Group, Washington, undated

In brief, we are facing a serious dilemma since we are proposing to Iran more rigorous controls over plutonium than we have heretofore included in our other agreements including those with states that are not party to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). While these special safeguards might be satisfactory to Congress they are proving unacceptable to Iran since the GOI (Government of Iran) views them as discriminatory, in light of her status as an NPT party.

We do not discount the possibility that a continued impasse on the accord could result not only in a decision on Iran’s part to transfer its nuclear business elsewhere, but also in a more serious deterioration in U.S.-Iranian relationships. Failure to reach agreement with Iran because of insistence on restrictions which may prove unacceptable to them, could injure rather than promote our nonproliferation objectives, by forcing Iran to rely on less cautious suppliers.

From: Minutes of a Verification Panel Meeting, Washington, April 19, 1975

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: We have a fairly tough policy point with respect to the Iranians. Our priorities are about to clash. The Iranians will argue their principal economic concern—benefits from access to nuclear power—against whatever it does to nonproliferation.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, if we don’t sell it to them, the French will.

Dr. Iklé: What if the Shah decides to get it from Europe?

Mr. Ellsworth: There is 100% support in Congress for an agreement with controls.

Secretary Kissinger: Suppose the agreement says never to have national reprocessing?

Mr. Ellsworth: That’s a subject of further study.

Secretary Kissinger: What is the ideal position?

Dr. Iklé: Multilateral reprocessing.

Secretary Kissinger: But that’s pure ideology.

Dr. Iklé: What do you think about the chance of bilateral processing?

Secretary Kissinger: I think a 50–50 chance would be realistic.

Dr. Iklé: Then there is not much left in the Suppliers Conference. Also, Congress will object.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: That’s the question we need to decide.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, we might just as well stand for what we believe is right and let Congress take the blame.

From: National Intelligence Estimate, Washington, May 9, 1975

Specific problem areas include:

—the Shah’s efforts to maximize oil prices and the buying power of oil;

—arms procurement and the pressures that the Shah may levy to ensure his perceived military and security requirements are met;

—the growing number of Americans in Iran, expected to reach about 50,000 by 1978;

—Arab-Iranian rivalries forcing the US to choose sides;

—the question of safeguards for nuclear equipment and fuels.

The Shah’s preoccupation with keeping ahead of regional rivals raises the question of his intent to develop nuclear weapons. Iran is a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has also proposed a UN resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. But India’s nuclear testing program is probably giving the Shah second thoughts about Iran’s renunciation of nuclear weapons. Moreover, his proposed nuclear power program would give him some of the essential elements needed to develop the weapons.

We can expect, therefore, that Iran over the next decade will make a major effort to acquire facilities and develop the know-how and technology to manufacture nuclear weapons, but without taking a firm decision to undertake actual production. The Shah would hope that by avoiding a definite program to produce nuclear weapons he would forestall problems with the US over his nuclear intentions.

From: Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford, Washington, January 26, 1976.

While our first round of negotiations, which were held in Tehran last April, were positive and hopeful, the Iranian position appears to have hardened significantly in the interim. In April, the only serious issue separating the two sides was Iran’s desire to assure that it could reprocess US plutonium in a national plant if a multinational facility could not be established. However, recently we were advised by the head of the Iranian AEC that several of our proposals have been rejected, and that the Shah is unwilling to accept any safeguards other than those required by virtue of Iran’s obligations as a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Two additional complicating factors are the prospect that the FRG and France will be willing to supply nuclear reactors with less rigorous safeguards than proposed by the US, and the crisis we are currently experiencing in our bilateral relations with Iran. Several serious problems, particularly those concerning oil revenues and the escalating cost of US-supplied military equipment, have shaken the Shah’s confidence in Iran’s special relationship with the US, thereby magnifying the importance he will attach to the success or failure of efforts to obtain acceptable terms from the US for a nuclear agreement.

The approach would be on a broad philosophical level, pointing out to him the hazards to worldwide stability, in which Iran has such a major stake, if nuclear weapons or the capability to produce them continue to spread. (In this regard, the Shah undoubtedly is apprehensive about India’s demonstrated nuclear explosive capacity and Pakistan’s well-advanced efforts to obtain a reprocessing plant; but he would be most concerned about the future nuclear capabilities of his Arab neighbors.)

From: Memorandum to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft), Washington, January 30, 1976

Iran is considered to be a possible site for a regional multinational reprocessing center for the Middle East. This position is not devoid of risk since Iran appears stable only by comparison with its neighbors, and its political complexion could change overnight. However, all of the agencies agree that we should be prepared to accept Iran as a potential reprocessing site, with the caveat that the facility should, as a minimum, be co-owned and co-managed by at least one of the major supplier nations.

From: Memorandum from the Administrator of the Energy Research and Development Administration (Seamans) to President Ford, Washington, March 15, 1976.

The discussions opened by the Shah receiving and reading the President’s letter. The Shah then proceeded to make the following points:

—He agrees with the President but “what more do you want me to do?”

—Iran signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty after serious consideration and it intends to abide by all of its terms.

—Iran has no reason to develop nuclear weapons. It could never have sufficient capability to deter the Soviet Union or to fight back.

—Iran does not understand why the U.S. does not trust Iran to develop fully its peaceful nuclear power program.

At no point, however, did the Shah recede from his basic principle that no further controls on Iran were necessary in so far as nuclear weapons were concerned. They had signed the NPT and would live up to their undertakings.

From: Memorandum of Conversation, Bonn, May 23, 1976

Participants: Vice Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher, State Secretary Peter Hermes, Secretary Henry A. Kissinger, Counselor of the Department Helmut Sonnenfeldt and others.

Kissinger: The more I think about regional reprocessing, the less I like it. Maybe we shouldn’t sell any.

Hermes: Is that being realistic?

Kissinger: How will they get them?

Hermes: In ten years, the need for reprocessing is there.

Kissinger: Binational plants don’t help because if they try to kick you out—Brazil, Iran—what can you do?

Genscher: It’s a question of confidence.

Kissinger: It’s very hard to predict what they’ll do.

Hermes: The controls are not just binational, but international.

Sonnenfeldt: But there is no sanction.

Genscher: That’s the problem—execution.

Sonnenfeldt: It’s a problem even with regional plants.

Kissinger: If Pakistan and Iran make them together, that complicates it. If Saudi Arabia joins, it will be worse. In Latin America, who do you trust? Who’s a brake on Brazil? If Argentina and Bolivia join, they may have a vested interest to kick you—or us—out.

Genscher: We’ll let you soon have our position.

Kissinger: A moratorium acceptance would help. Moratorium acceptance plus some of these three other things would help with your Iran agreement.

Hermes: On July 1, the time runs out for the contract for the reactors. If we don’t do it, the French will.

Kissinger: The French told us the opposite. That you were pushing them.

From: Intelligence Report, Washington, March 1977

Prestige: The demands of LDCs (less developed countries) for more control over international arrangements affecting their fortunes and futures and their dissatisfaction with the existing international political and economic system have led many states to give priority attention to enhancement of their global or regional stature. And for some countries, most notably India and Brazil, but probably Argentina and Iran as well, the prestige associated with actual or potential nuclear status has furnished a particularly strong incentive for developing a nuclear weapons capability.

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