The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the P5+1countries (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) on July 14, 2015 marks a new chapter in the history of Iran’s nuclear program. Two decades of distrust around the purposes of Iran’s nuclear program, and the harsh policies enacted as a result by the US, EU and UN, based on the belief that Iran had the ambition to weaponize its nuclear activities, were replaced by a comprehensive resolution among the parties of the new deal. Yet the question is how the coercive policy of the Western powers towards Iran pivoted in the direction of a new policy based on cooperative diplomacy. Finding the correct answer to this question requires knowing more about the Iranian nuclear program, as well as about the relations between Iran and the rest of the world:
The first sign of the defrosting relationship between Iran and the United States started on September 27, 2013 when President Obama made a phone call to his Iranian counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani. It was the highest level contact between Iran and the United States since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. For the first time after its overthrow of the former ruler of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah, who was a main ally of the U.S. in the Middle East, the United States acknowledged it had made a comprehensive decision to deal directly with Iran. But standing in the way of this, first and foremost, was the obstacle of Iran’s suspected nuclear activities.
Iranian Nuclear Program Grew Step by Step under the Pressure of Western Powers
It was 1970 when the Iranian parliament ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an international accord that pledges the non-nuclear weapon states will not build nuclear weapons and that the nuclear weapon states will disarm and assist the non-nuclear states with peaceful nuclear technology. Prior to that, in 1967, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the former ruler of Iran, built Iran’s first nuclear reactor (the Tehran Research Reactor-TRR) with the help of the United States. The TRR had the capacity of enriching uranium up to 93 percent. After 7 years, in 1974, Mohammad Reza Shah established the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). At the same time Shah also announced the 20 year goal of the AEOI, which included the construction of 23 nuclear power plants. This dream of Mohammad Reza’s did not come true; he was overthrown by the Islamic Republican Revolution in 1979.
After the revolution, the relationship between Iran and the U.S deteriorated, and American run nuclear projects in Iran were halted. In 1987, the Iranian nuclear program was reintroduced with the help of Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network helped Iran build a model P-1 centrifuge. In the same year, 1987, the AEOI signed an agreement with Argentina’s Applied Research Institute to convert the process of enriching uranium in the Tehran Research Reactor from 93 percent to less than 20 percent. This project was completed in 1993.
The U.S. Congress passed the Iran-Iraq arms Nonproliferation Act in 1992. This act banned any transfer of dual use goods and technology that can be applied to develop biological, chemical, nuclear or advanced conventional weapons to Iran and Iraq. Another round of sanctions was imposed against Iran by the U.S. Congress in 1996; these sanctions prohibited any U.S. or foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector of more than twenty million dollars in any one year.
In 2002, an anti-Iranian government terrorist organization named Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) held a press conference announcing that Iran was building two nuclear plants near Arak and Natanz. This revelation was widely reported by Western media. The United States, and most Western states, charged Iran with pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, they offered minimal or no supporting proof for their claim. Following that, President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union Address called Iran a part of “the axis of evil”. Iran declared that its program was intended for peaceful purposes but this statement was not acceptable to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international safeguards inspectorate of the NPT. Iran’s late notification concerning the Arak and Natanz sites caused the IAEA Board of Governors to adopt a resolution which required Iran to suspend all its nuclear activities and allow IAEA inspectors to visit and monitor all nuclear plants. Iran agreed to meet the stipulations of the new resolution.
In 2004, after signing an agreement in Paris with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, Iran suspended its nuclear activities. Because of that, the IAEA Board of Governors did not refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). One year later Iran began producing uranium hexafluoride at its Isfahan facility. Following this activity Germany, France, and the United Kingdom stopped the negotiations with Iran. One month later, the IAEA adopted a resolution based on its concerns about Iran’s noncompliance with its obligation to the NPT. This resolution prepared the way for a new action from the IAEA. By February 2006, the IAEA referred Iran’s nuclear issues to the United Nations Security Council. The first round of sanctions by the UNSC was imposed on Iran in December 2006 when the UNSC adopted resolution 1737. Three months later, the UNSC adopted resolution 1747 in order to tighten the sanctions on Iran.
The Bush administration received a dismaying surprise when the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which concentrated on Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, was released. According to this official intelligence document, Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been stopped in 2003. In part of his speech, Bush called the 2007 NIE an embarrassment that tied his hands on the military side. The 2007 NIE has been reaffirmed every year since.
In 2008 the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1803 to expand the existing sanctions on Iran. It was in October 2009 that Iran declared it was willing to send 75 percent of its total low-enriched uranium to be turned into fuel for a reactor that was designed for medical research. A couple of days later an anti-Iranian terrorist group named Jundallah, which has been supported by the United States, exploded a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commanders, killing dozens of Guard members and civilians. The United States’ supportive response to this terrorist attack froze the October deal. Following that incident in the spring of 2010, Brazil and Turkey proposed a plan, asking Iran to send 2,640 pounds of low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel not applicable to making weapon. This deal also was killed when a fourth round of economic sanctions, UN Security Council resolution 1929 (arms embargo), and other sanctions through the U.S. Congress (the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act, which prevented investment and trade with Iran’s energy sector) were imposed against Iran. Later, the Brazilian president released a copy of an earlier letter that President Obama sent to her, encouraging her to make the 2010 spring deal with Iran.
The European Union adopted its first round of sanctions against Iran on July 2010. These sanctions covered trade, financial services, energy, and transport. Two years later the European Union banned all member countries from importing oil from Iran and prohibited insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil. The last version of sanctions against Iran imposed by the U.S. Congress was in 2011, when they passed legislation that allowed the United States to put sanctions on foreign banks if they engaged in business with the Central Bank of Iran.
This review of the history of Iran’s nuclear program demonstrates that the Western powers applied a confrontational policy through imposing unjust sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear activities. This confrontational policy stayed in place even after the 2007 NIE report and after Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, announced that Iran had not had any active nuclear weapons program since 2003. The western powers used the accusation of Iran’s nuclear ambition to produce nuclear weapons to isolate Iranians from the world. During those years, they were punishing Iran by imposing all kinds of sanctions –even though Iran was complying with the rules of the international community to overcome that unfounded accusation. Yet one must still ask why they changed their minds and then held their hands out towards Iran.
Without any doubt, the global political order has changed; we are no longer living in a unilateral world exclusively run by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). On the other side of the world, China and Russia are rising powers, holding their hands up, and asking other states to join their anti-NATO Eurasian integration campaign. For them, Iran is an ideal ally, for several reasons. First, they see Iran as a strong country located at the very heart of the greater Middle East. Second, Iran is home to the world’s third largest conventional oil reserves. Third, Iran has control of the Strait of Hormuz, a bottleneck on the world’s most important sea oil route. Forth, the Iranian plateau’s location fits into the New Silk Road project; Iran connects the Caucasus to the Indian Ocean. Thus, it seems rational that the United States and European Union would try to block the creation of an alignment between Russia, China, and Iran. The best and most divisive way for them to pull this coalition apart is to stay next to Iran — even closer than China and Russia.
The Iran nuclear deal will avert a disastrous war, guarantee Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, stabilize and strengthen the global economy, and eliminate unjust sanctions which have harmed the Iranian people for years. Regardless of these benefits, the nuclear deal with Iran will allow the Western powers to preserve NATO’s influence. That is the only reason that could have guided the Western powers to Vienna to sign the agreement of July 14, 2015 with Iran — despite their real negative feelings about this deal.
Rashin Khosravibavandpouri is an Iranian-born journalist. She is currently a M.S. candidate at Suffolk University and an intern at Massachusetts Peace Action