Iran's Perspective: National Rights and Nuclear Weapons

By Yaphe, Judith S.; Lutes, Charles D. | McNair Papers, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Iran's Perspective: National Rights and Nuclear Weapons


Yaphe, Judith S., Lutes, Charles D., McNair Papers


I absolutely offer the world the assurance that Tehran is not after nuclear arms but will not forsake its absolute right. (9)

--Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, December 2004

The IAEA can inspect wherever they wish, any time they want to make certain that Tehran's use of uranium enrichment is not used to make nuclear weapons.... Iran has been always pushing for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Basically this means that it is forbidden based on our ideology, based on our Islamic thinking it is forbidden to produce and use nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction. (10)

--Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, February 2005

Evidence revealed by Iran, the International atomic energy agency (IAEA), and independent researchers and scholars over the past few years indicates that the Islamic republic of Iran began its efforts to acquire nuclear capability--including weapons production--nearly 2 decades ago, during its 8-year war with Iraq. While discussion of the evidence and technology is beyond the scope of this paper, scientists who have reviewed the content of declared programs as well as commercially available imagery of other elements agree that Iran has decided to produce nuclear weapons and will soon reach the point where it must decide several key issues: what kind of nuclear weapon it wants; whether it should continue or temporarily suspend the activities necessary to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), separate plutonium, and build an indigenous nuclear reactor, which are defined as enrichment- and reprocessing-related activities; or whether it should accede to American, British, French, and German demands that it cease these activities. (11)

If Tehran has decided to go forward with weapons research and production--and we think it has--it will need to consider how much activity can be carried out as a member of the nuclear non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) and how to upgrade its technology. According to an American physicist studying Iran's projects, Iran would like access to better technology and more time to complete ongoing projects. Its most advanced sensitive nuclear project involves gas centrifuges, sophisticated devices to enrich uranium. Its European-origin centrifuge (made by Urenco) is out of date, and Iran needs time to build more. In his opinion, Iran could decide to pursue an enrichment plan while under NPT safeguards, as the treaty permits, thereby delaying the time when it must cease further work or break its NPT commitment. When Iran revealed its centrifuge program to the IAEA in early 2003, it had almost reached an industrial scale at the Natanz facility, near Kashan in central Iran. It had also violated its IAEA safeguards agreement multiple times. (12)

Few governments or agencies are convinced that the purpose of Iran's large nuclear program is purely peaceful. When Iran declared to the IAEA in 2003 that it began its gas centrifuge program in 1985 during its bloody war with Iraq, it was widely assumed that this decision was part of a planned effort to make HEU for nuclear weapons. Iran claimed that the only purpose of its centrifuge program was to make fuel for the German-supplied Bushehr power reactor, but by 1985 Germany had suspended all work at the reactor, at least until the war with Iraq ended. After the war, Germany did not resume construction. Ten years later, Russia signed a contract to finish the reactor. Yet throughout the decade, even when the fate of the reactor at Bushehr was uncertain, Iran accelerated its gas centrifuge program.

Although no one has produced a "smoking gun" proving that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, the timing, scope, and long secrecy of the program have led many observers to conclude that Iran either had or has one. In any case, once it finished its uranium enrichment or reprocessing facilities, Iran could decide to obtain nuclear weapons and proceed quickly to produce nuclear explosive materials in these facilities. …

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