Just as Rumsfeld and the Reagan administration were buddies with Saddam in the 1980s, guess who helped Iran in the 1970’s with its nuclear program?
Yup, the Ford Administration – with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Paul Wolfowitz responsible for nonproliferation issues at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and Chief of Staff Dick Cheney leading an aggressive push to provide nuclear equipment and materials to the Shah.
Yes, things are different now – but not different enough to ignore the parallels between now and then. With the Shah (a brutal regime that the US supported), there were “business opportunities” in Iran. Opportunities that Kissinger, and high level officials in the Ford administration wanted to utilize in the region.
At the beginning of last year, Juan Cole had a posting by William O. Beeman, author and professor of anthropology and Middle East studies at Brown University which outlines some of the background of the US/Iran deals in the 1970s. He discusses the “investment opportunities” in Iran, as well as the interests of Bechtel and other US contractors who could have dealings in the region. He also mentions how the US wasn’t just giving its tacit approval either:
Despite current White House denials of U.S. instigation of the program, there is absolutely no question that the United States did not oppose Iran's nuclear development in the 1970's--even to the point of facilitating training for Iran's senior engineers at MIT, CalTech and other U.S. institutions. Nor is it in question that the Bushire plant was started before the revolution with the United States' blessing.
Of course, Iran getting nuclear weapons isn’t a good idea – not by a longshot. But then again, neither is any country having nuclear weapons (as I pointed out a few weeks back). And there is a difference between 30 years ago and now (notwithstanding the little mess that BushCo created next door in Iraq). An article from last month by Roland Flamini who has a long paper trail with respect to the Middle East, notes the following:
The difference between then and now was that (1) the shah, who ruled from 1941 to 1979 (except for a brief period in 1953), was a key American ally in the Middle East, whereas under the ruling Shiite ayatollahs, Iran is considered very much an adversary; (2) anti-Israel statements from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leave little doubt where any new nuclear missiles would be pointed, but in the 1970s contemporary press reports said Iran planned to purchase Israeli surface-to-surface Jericho missiles that could be equipped with nuclear warheads; and (3) the shah's Iran had initiated its nuclear energy program in 1957 with American help and encouragement.
While there are ample examples of Ahmadinejad’s lack of influence despite his defiant rhetoric, the current situation should not necessarily be taken at face value. After all, it does bear repeating that Iran is not stupid. An interview with Noam Chomsky published earlier this week talks in detail about Iran, Iraq and a number of other foreign policy areas. He talks about the current situation with Iran as a result of US fear of it asserting its energy independence more so than its nuclear weapons program – even though nobody is saying that Iran should have nuclear weapons. But he does say the following:
The United States, as we know, overthrew the parliamentary government, installed a brutal tyrant, was helping him develop nuclear power, in fact the very same programs that are now considered a threat were being sponsored by the U.S. government, by Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kissinger, and others, in the 1970s, as long as the Shah was in power. But then the Iranians overthrew him, and they kept U.S. hostages for several hundred days. And the United States immediately turned to supporting Saddam Hussein and his war against Iran as a way of punishing Iran. The United States is going to continue to punish Iran because of its defiance. So that's a separate factor.
While Kissinger indicated that there wasn’t a thought of weapons proliferation, Charles Naas, who was deputy U.S. ambassador to Iran in the 1970s didn’t agree with that. In the Washington Post article linked above, he said that proliferation was high in the minds of technical experts, but the deal was attractive from a commerce perspective – and the overall relationship was very important. How important? Well, US companies (including Westinghouse, among others) stood to gain over $6 billion from the sale of nuclear reactors and parts. Additionally, Iran was to have invested over $1 billion more in the US for a stake in a private uranium enriching facility in the US that would supply much of the uranium fuel for the reactors.
Of course, this begs the question that if proliferation was not considered to be important, then why the deal between Iran and the Ford administration included:
Under the second U.S.-Iranian agreement, the United States offered to sell Iran a reprocessing facility that could extract plutonium, which could be used for weapons construction, from nuclear reactor fuel.
Oh and by the way, at the same time, Iran had purchased a 10% interest in a European uranium enriching company from France. Now, if this were to happen today, under these circumstances (which granted is different from 30 years ago) – wouldn’t this administration not only be threatening Iran but also threatening France for dealing with Iran in this manner?
The situation changed under the Carter administration, and completely fell apart when the Shah was overthrown, the American hostages were taken and diplomatic relations stopped (except for the little matter of Iran-Contra). And while this is nothing really new, it does show, once again, the complete hypocrisy of those same exact people who are rattling cages now about Iran (and who were doing the same thing about Iraq a few years ago). What was fine then is suddenly the biggest threat to the US now.
And to think – the same names on the US side keep coming up when it comes to weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs. The same names who made deals 20 and 30 years ago, only to use those deals as a pretext to bomb those countries into oblivion.