The head of the Orchid Office apparently thought he needed a
little extra emphasis to make his point. The place was somewhere in
Iran, shortly after Jan. 14, 2004. The occasion was a status report
on activities of the Orchid Office - also known as "Project 111,"
Iran's effort to take a missile nose cone and outfit it with
something that looks very much like a nuclear bomb.
The heart of the report was an update on such technical tasks as
the development of a nose cone chamber of proper size. But the
Orchid Office chief may have wanted to convey what he felt to be the
historical importance of Iran's weapon activity. So he headed the
first slide of his presentation with a motto, written in Farsi:
"Fate changes no man unless he changes fate."
Fifty years after the shah first began to pursue nuclear energy
technology, Iran's leaders may now be trying to change their
nation's fate via acquisition of the most powerful weapons known to
Remember the "may." Tehran denies that it wants nuclear weapons,
and says it is only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The account of the Orchid Office report came from intelligence
acquired by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency.
That and other information in IAEA hands indicating weaponization
activities is fake, says Iran. Iran's leaders may be split on the
issue. It's possible - even probable - that they haven't yet decided
whether to take the final step and actually produce a bomb.
But US officials are proceeding on the assumption that Iran wants
nuclear weapons. They say that Tehran has hidden too much about its
activities for them to think otherwise - and that today's Iranian
leadership may see nukes as a prize capable of raising their nation
to the world's top ranks.
There's a "widespread belief among experts that Iran's governing
fractions perceive a nuclear weapons capability as a means of ending
Iran's perceived historic vulnerability to invasion and domination
by great powers, and as a symbol of Iran as a major nation,"
concludes Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the
Congressional Research Service, in a new report on Iran and US
HOW DID IRAN REACH THIS POINT? The answer is more complicated
than a quick glance at today's headlines might suggest. For one
thing, Iran's nuclear efforts did not begin recently. They date back
"Over the course of 50 years, perhaps the Iranian program could
be described as 'fits and starts,' " says Sharon Squassoni, a senior
associate in the nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace.
Ironically, the United States was Iran's first major supplier of
nuclear technology. Washington signed a nuclear cooperation
agreement with the shah - a staunch American ally - in 1957, under
President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program. Construction of a
US-supplied research reactor began in the Tehran suburbs in 1960 and
went critical, with US-supplied highly enriched uranium as fuel, in
But the shah wanted more than a nuclear toy. He had grandiose
plans for a network of 23 nuclear power reactors by the 1990s, with
much of the equipment purchased from US suppliers. And as recently
declassified documents make clear, the course of nuclear
negotiations between the shah and an array of US officials was far
US worries were like those of today: Officials thought it
possible that Iran would build on nuclear power programs to develop
A secret 1974 Defense Department memo, declassified and posted
online by the National Security Archive, noted that stability in
Iran depended heavily on the shah's personality.
"An aggressive successor to the Shah might consider nuclear
weapons the final item needed to establish Iran's complete military
dominance of the region," noted the memo.
The shah became increasingly irritated as a series of US
presidents objected to his desire to reprocess spent reactor fuel on
Iranian soil. …