West’s Useless Threats against Iran's Nuclear Program

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cyrus Faizee
Expert on Middle East & US Affairs

The West has continued its threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran since the former US President George Bush made his famous speech labeling Iran as part of the Axis of Evil in 2002. That address ushered Iran's relations with Western countries into a new phase of serious confrontation. West’s threats have been diverse and covered a wide range from mere political pressure to economic sanctions. On the opposite, Iran has taken smart initiatives in the face of those threats and sanctions which have rendered them useless. Under the present circumstances, Iran is in for a new wave of sanctions and threats which the West claims can prevent Iran's pursuit of its nuclear program and make Tehran change its behavior. (1) Since Iran's nuclear program is the main cause of the country’s standoff with the West, this article will see into this subject as well as West’s threats and sanctions. It also reviews this issue against its decade-long backdrop to see whether West’s sanctions have been effective.

Iran's policies toward the West have been different under former president, Mohammad Khatami, and his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and ranged from extensive to limited cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Western powers governing it. In the first part of that policy, which aimed to reduce tension with the West, Iran did its best to cooperate with IAEA and the West, though the results were unremarkable and even humiliating. Tehran, however, hoped that in return for suspension of its nuclear program, the West will give it important concessions to make up for the suspension. In parallel, Iran sought to reconcile and build confidence with the West in its international and regional policies. At the end of that period, results were quite disappointing.

In 2002 and in line with reports provided by the terrorist Mojahedeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO) to CIA officials about Iran's nuclear program, which depicted the program as a crisis and major threat to the West, the then US president, George W. Bush, packed Iran with Iraq and North Korea as the Axis of Evil. Iraq was soon occupied by the United States and UK as one side of that Axis. Iran moved fast to manage that tense atmosphere and turn it into a peaceful one. As a result, avoiding of tension became number one priority of Iran's foreign policy. However, Iran's nuclear case was taken up by IAEA in November 2003, as a major case of Iran's “secrecy.” In reaction, Tehran said it was committed to pursuing a “peaceful” nuclear program. This goal, Tehran said, would be pursued as the country’s “inalienable right” in line with the content of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). IAEA insisted that Tehran should accept the Additional Protocol to the NPT which included more important requirements for Iran's cooperation with IAEA and called for snap inspections of Iran's nuclear sites. According to an agreement between Tehran and three European countries (UK, France, and Germany), which represented IAEA's Board of Governors, the Board accepted that in return for limited (six-month) suspension of Iran's nuclear program as a “confidence-building” measure, the program would be considered peaceful with no need to report it to the United Nations Security Council. (2) Gradually and after the lapse of two years of voluntary suspension, Iran decided to resume its nuclear activities defying the West’s insistence that such a move will be taken as Iran's diversion toward a military nuclear program. (3)

After President Ahmadinejad came to power, Iran decided to take bolder and more resolute stances in the face of the West’s raising expectations which can be rightly called “steadfastness” policy. The goal of that policy, in fact, was neither restricting Iran's cooperation with IAEA, nor putting a limit to West’s expectations. By that time, Tehran had reached the conclusion that “regime change” was the main logic underlying the United States’ official policy toward Iran under President George Bush. According to that logic, Iran's nuclear program provided the West with good excuses for regime change and incentive packages proposed by the West contained few real motivations and compensations. As time went by, those incentives shrank in size and even became irrelevant. Security incentives, for example, were gradually proposed. In the meantime, the United States was badly stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq and even could use Iran's security assistance to put the situation of those countries in order. (4) Ali Larijani, the newly appointed secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, announced that accepting the West’s incentives in return for suspension of Iran's nuclear program was similar to exchanging a “pearl” with a “lollypop.”

Reporting Iran's nuclear case to the Security Council was the West’s reaction to Iran's steadfastness. This was the maximum level of the West’s threat against Iran at that time. On the whole, the Security Council has so far adopted four resolutions, 1737, 1747, 1803, and 1929, against Iran's nuclear program which were then dismissed by President Ahmadinejad as worthless “scraps of paper” and “illegal.” Iran's envoy to IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, also said the resolutions were illegal. He added, “Article 1230 of [IAEA] Statute stipulates that a country which has received [nuclear] material and equipment from IAEA will be reported to the Security Council only after it is found in noncompliance of its international obligations while Iran has never received such material and equipment from IAEA…. According to a clause in the Board of Governors’ resolution, which was included by member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, suspension [of Iran's nuclear activities] has been announced as a voluntary, confidence-building, and non-binding measure and there is no reason to continue suspension on the insistence of other parties…. European countries told us to suspend our [nuclear] activities so that they would find a solution to the problem. Later on, however, they sought to suspend all [our nuclear] activities and even related academic courses and, therefore, we ended the suspension.”

As West’s ambitions in Iran continued to soar, Tehran became more resolute. In its negotiations with the West, Iran emphasized on two points: firstly, recognition of its right to enrich uranium and continue its peaceful nuclear program, and secondly, negotiations should be based on cooperation, not hostility and tension. Although Iran has constantly announced that the door is open to negotiations, it has never stopped to underline two points which have been mentioned as important by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. The first point that the leader said about Iran giving up its nuclear program was: “It is quite clear that the Islamic Republic would not relinquish the Iranian nation's indisputable right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Nobody would be able to renounce the Iranian nation's right. This is something belonging to the Iranian people, and nobody would be able to deprive our nation of this legitimate right.” (5) Then, turning to UN sanctions imposed against Iran under the pressure of Western powers, the Leader said, “They were speaking about smart and crippling sanctions, but we see that their sanctions were neither so smart nor so crippling. The same sanctions caused us to become self-sufficient in many areas. They encouraged us to increase our scientific activities. They led to great achievements in manufacturing industrial, military and other products in the country. They encouraged us to invent new ways of countering these sanctions.” (6)

Under President Obama, this issue was followed in two different stages. In the first stage, in view of the general atmosphere of détente that prevailed in the world and also influenced political conditions in the United States, Obama tried by putting emphasis on dialogue and diplomacy to act on this issue in a new manner. In this stage, mutual insistence by Tehran and Washington on dialogue and diplomacy and problems faced by the United States as a result of the country’s unilateral policies and recourse to force, provided ample reason for following the new approach. In any case, although Obama started off with dialogue, he switched to pressure tools and resorted to sanctions and other hostile measures as soon as his government became established. Serious stances taken on street unrest that followed Iran's presidential elections in 2009, was needed by Obama to change his policy. As a result, that issue was tied to Iran's nuclear program and was considered by the Iranian officials as blatant intervention in Iran's internal affairs. Obama’s insistence on this issue led the United States and its allies in IAEA and the Security Council to conclude that Tehran is not willing to comply with IAEA's regulations and is moving toward militarization of its nuclear program.

At present, the West is reacting to Iran's nuclear program by exerting political pressures and imposing economic sanctions. In addition, officials in Tehran believe that assassination of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists happened after IAEA leaked information related to them to Western intelligence agencies.

Although Western sanctions have provided Western media with a good opportunity for anti-Iran propaganda, they have not been practically able to stymie Iran's nuclear program and have not even caused important problems for Iran's economic or oil production development plans. As time went by and sanctions grew in proportions, Iran has been striving in two fronts. Firstly, it has reduced economic dependence on European partners by turning to East Asian countries and Russia. Secondly, Tehran has been trying to indigenize many of its needed resources by replacing imports with domestic production. Therefore, sanctions have practically increased Iran's economic awareness and the country has diversified supply sources to meet its various economic needs. Inside the country, sanctions have created suitable motivations for self-sufficiency.

All told, the main goal of the West is to pursue economic sanctions not as a political measure, but as a legal one. Review of the history of sanctions will show that the Islamic Republic has been constantly under sanctions which have continuously grown tougher and tougher. On the other hand, sanctions have never been able to bring Iran to its knees in any field. Therefore, sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the West in general, are just a normal phase in their effort to show hostility toward the Islamic Republic. Regardless of how effective sanctions are, they will soon fail in the face of economic initiatives worked out by Iran which are the result of lessons that the country has learned in the past few decades. Meanwhile, as the Leader has emphasized, “An example, is [Iran's] nuclear right…. In this very point on which the enemy has focused, if the [Iranian] nation backs down, if officials back down and give up this definite and clear right, there is no doubt that the way will be paved for enemies to encroach upon [our] national rights.” (7)


(1) “Statement by the President on Today’s Iran-related Sanctions”, White House, Office of the Press Secretary (January 23, 2012); available at

(2) Hassan Rowhani, the then secretary of Supreme National Security Council and Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, announced that during Sa'dabad talks, foreign ministers of three European nations (UK, France, and Germany) promised that Iran's nuclear case will not be reported to the Security Council and even if it was reported under the US pressure, European countries would veto a possible resolution; see: “I Made Europeans Promise to Veto the US Plan,” an interview with Hassan Rowhani by Seyedeh Ameneh Mousavi and Alireza Khamesian; E’temad newspaper, October 24, 2011

(3) The Leader’s account is quite interesting, “In the nuclear conflict, Americans were firmly insisting until a few months ago that Iran stop all its nuclear activities. That was what they did to Libya. They wanted us to wrap it up and offer it to them on a silver platter and declare that we will not continue our nuclear activities. Recently - a few weeks ago - they found themselves in such a [desperate] situation that they were forced to say that Iran must immediately stop its nuclear activities. You must note that there is a great deal of difference between the two. There was a day when they were not prepared to tolerate the existence of even five centrifuges in Iran. The Iranian negotiators who went to Europe were prepared to agree on twenty centrifuges, but the parties disagreed. The Iranian negotiators had then tried to persuade them to let us have at least five but the Europeans disagreed again. Even if they had suggested one centrifuge, they would have refused. Today, there are 3,000 operational centrifuges in Iran and many more are ready to be installed. They say we must stop it as it is. This is another failure for the US…. They constantly pressurized us to shut down this and that company, but the last straw came when they asked us to shut down the U.C.F facility in Isfahan as well. They had prepared the ground with their previous requests. At that time, I told the officials that if we agreed to that request, they would later on ask us to wrap up and offer all uranium mines to them so that they were assured that we did not intend to make an atomic bomb!

Of course, this process of withdrawal brought us an advantage - it was not totally useless. The advantage was that both we ourselves and the global public opinion got a taste of the statements and promises of European and Western rivals. Today, whenever somebody asks us to temporarily suspend our nuclear activities, we tell them that we did it once - for two whole years! We suspended our activities for two years. And what was the result? First they asked us to suspend our activities temporarily. They told us to suspend our nuclear activities voluntarily. We suspended our activities thinking that it was voluntary and temporary. Later on whenever we tried to appeal against this suspension, they shamelessly set off a worldwide uproar against us in the press, the media and political assemblies claiming that Iran wanted to break the suspension agreement. Suspension turned into a sacred cow which Iran had no right to approach. We went through this experience. It is no longer a new experience. They finally told us that this temporary suspension was not enough and that we had to forget about nuclear activities altogether. Europeans who had told us to suspend our activities for six months - when they saw that we agreed to their request - said that we had to do away with nuclear energy altogether. This process of continual withdrawal brought us this advantage - it was a valuable experience for us and the world's public opinion. But it was anyhow a withdrawal. We withdrew.

At that time, in a televised meeting with the officials, I declared that if they kept up the process of their continual requests, I would personally intervene, which I finally did. I said that we had to put an end to this process of withdrawal and turn it into a process of progress and that the first step had to be taken by the administration that had made the withdrawal, which they finally did. The first step towards progress was taken by the previous administration: they decided to resume the activities at the U.C.F facility in Isfahan, which was thankfully followed by the subsequent advances, and the process continued up to the present time; See: “Leader's Speech to a Group of University Students from Yazd Province,” The Center for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei; January 3, 2008;

(4) Important measures were taken in this regard by both parties to improve the situation in Iraq under George Bush and most reports which were proposed for policymaking emphasized that cooperation of Tehran was necessary. For example, see: Baker and Hamilton Report and a detailed report containing proposals of the US academics and politicians in: James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, “The Iraq Study Group Report”, (December 2006); available at; Zbignew Brzezinski and Suzanne Maloney, Iran: Time for a New Approach (Washington, D.C.: Council on Foreign Relations, 2004)

(5) Leader's Speech to Residents of the Holy City of Qom; The Center for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei; 09/01/2006;

(6) Supreme Leader’s Speech in a Meeting with President Ahmadinejad and Cabinet Members; The Center for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei; 29/08/2011;

(7) Seyed Ali Khamenei, “Address to Professors and Students at Elm-o Sanat (Science and Technology) University;” The Center for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei; 15/12/2008;

More By Cyrus Faizee:

*Promoting Democracy through Dictators’ Funds:

*The End of High-Intensity Warfare Strategy?:

*The United States: From Liberalism to Global Imperialism:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم