Gareth Porter, Middle East Eye, January 12 2015
First denying Iran’s nuclear rights and then using suspect intelligence to build a false picture of its programme
For more than three decades, the United States and its European allies have committed one fundamental error after another in the process of creating a commonly held narrative that Iran was secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. The story of how suspicions of the Iranian programme hardened into convictions is a cautionary tale of political and institutional interests systematically distorting the judgments of both policymakers and intelligence analysts.
Too many of these basic errors have been committed along the way to cover them all in a single article. But four major failures of policymaking and intelligence represent the broad outlines of this systematic problem.
1. Denial of Iranian rights, followed by denial of the truth
The first failure, which set in train all the others, involved the US trying to strangle the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic in its cradle and then blithely acting as though it bore no responsibility for the resulting shift in Iranian nuclear policy. It all started with a decision by the Reagan administration early in the Iran-Iraq war in 1983 to put diplomatic pressure on its allies to stop all nuclear cooperation with Iran. France was pressed to forbid a French-based multilateral consortium from providing the nuclear fuel that Iran had counted on for its lone nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
2. The intelligence goes wrong
The CIA and other Western intelligence agencies began to drift away from reality on the Iran nuclear issue in the early 1990s, when Western intelligence agencies were gleefully poring over intercepted telexes from Sharif University in Tehran seeking various “dual use” technologies – those that could be used either for a nuclear programme or for non-nuclear applications. They had found that the telex number on many of the messages was that of the Physics Research Centre, which was known to do research for the Iranian defence ministry. That was enough to convince them that Iran was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme.
3. Ignoring the Fatwa against chemical weapons
The belief of Western governments that Iran must have pursued nuclear weapons has been based on their ignorance of a pivotal historical episode that should have caused them to question that belief. During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Saddam’s troops attacked Iran with chemical weapons many times, killing 20,000 Iranians and severely injuring 100,000. Yet Iran never retaliated with its own chemical weapons, as Joost Hiltermann’s A Poisonous Affair, the authoritative source on chemical attacks in that war, has documented.
4. Refusing to acknowledge the weaponisation evidence is tainted
For nearly a decade, the international politics of the Iran nuclear issue have revolved around intelligence documents and reports of Iran nuclear weapons work. A 1,000-page cache of documents that surfaced in 2004 showed the redesign of Iran’s Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear weapon and high explosives experiments that could only be used for nuclear weapons. More incriminating intelligence documents followed in 2008-09. The IAEA has now been investigating them for nine years.q