Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Emerging Role as a Mediator on Iran's Nuclear Activities

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Emerging Role as a Mediator on Iran's Nuclear Activities

Article excerpt

Iranian nuclear activity has revived debates about the efficiency and reliability of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime in general and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in particular. Furthermore, most Western countries regard Iran's nuclear activities in the context of regional security, and of Islamism and anti-Americanism in the vulnerable and war-prone region of the Middle East. This is why Iran's nuclear ambitions have attracted more attention than those of North Korea. Moreover, the importance of Iran's nuclear activity is due to the possible future ramifications in the region. It is argued that Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia (and perhaps Syria and Iraq) would pursue a national nuclear fuel cycle, or even develop a nuclear bomb, if Iran does not abandon its nuclear ambitions and this would be a nuclear nightmare for Israel and America. Proponents of this view point to different examples in the region to prove their point, including Egypt's eagerness to reinvigorate its nuclear activities, Turkey's reaffirmation of Iran's right to use peaceful nuclear energy, Syria's suspicious activities in the destroyed Al Kibar complex, (1) and Saudi Arabia's undeclared negotiations with Pakistan on the nuclear issue. To Western commentators, these examples are sufficient evidence to conclude that Iran's insistence on its continuation of uranium enrichment may have consequences for regional stability and international security.

Iran's Nuclear Program and Non-Proliferation Trends

Iran's civilian nuclear power program was started in the 1970s with the construction of the Tehran Nuclear Research Reactor (TNRC). The United States, France, the United Kingdom and Germany supported Iran's nuclear activities in the context of the bipolar Cold War and Iran's pro-Western foreign policy at that point. These countries agreed to Iran's procurement of enriched uranium from a multinational enrichment company, Eurodif, and signed different nuclear agreements with Iran. (2) All of these agreements were signed when it was clear that producing fissile energy was cheaper than nuclear energy. America, France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and India had all agreed to sell nuclear technology to Iran in 1970s. (3) However, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, almost all of these countries stopped nuclear cooperation with Iran and the Iranian government decided to halt its nuclear activities after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980 and arguments over its benefits among the new revolutionary power elites. The cooperation between Iran and other countries in 1970s over nuclear power lead to four main conclusions which can be used to evaluate the current debates.

First of all, the international cooperation in the 1970s meant that the West was ready to transfer nuclear knowledge to other countries, including Iran, and that they accepted the possibility that having nuclear reactor technology could encourage its holders to develop other nuclear-related technologies. Second, these Western countries sold nuclear reactor technology to Iran even when it was clear that Iran had vast oil and gas resources. At that time, the Shah of Iran had said that Iran was trying to use nuclear energy in order to save fossil-fuel resources for future generations. Moreover, after the oil crisis in the early 1970s nuclear energy was more acceptable as an alternative to fossil fuel. The Shah believed that oil was a strategic asset and that Iran should not sell it cheaply. (4) These views were published in the Western and Iranian media, and in none of these countries was it said that Iran does not require nuclear power. Both the Shah and the West justified the abovementioned nuclear cooperation in the context of long-term development of Iran and its increasing energy needs in order to industrialize and develop. Third, recently released documents demonstrate that in the middle of 1970s, the US intelligence community was concerned about the risks of nuclear proliferation and the possibility of Iran's peaceful nuclear program being diverted towards military use. …

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