Jeffrey LewisEconomics of Energy Independence for Iran

The National Laboratories provide all kinds of support to the nation’s intelligence community. But try getting them to talk about it.

When the Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck tried to write about the support that Los Alamos and Sandia provide, he discovered that a memorandum went out reminding employees at one lab that they were strictly forbidden from acknowledging this support.

John tells me that sources were “willing to confirm … the existence of a memo about not confirming the existence of something. I’m not sure, but I think there’s a postmodernist manifesto in here somewhere.”

Anyway, the resulting story offers a few details about an unclassified report, The Economics of Energy Independence for Iran, authored by employees of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory:

While Iranian leaders say the program is peaceful, many in the international community fear it is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

So the question before the labs was this: Does Iran’s claim to be pursuing nuclear energy rather than bombs make economic sense?

The answer, according to a report by Los Alamos National Laboratory expert Jeff Bedell and colleagues at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was a resounding “no.”

The Journal obtained a copy of the report, which is unclassified but has not been made public.

The sponsoring agency hasn’t been named, and its only appearance in the public record is a short description published last spring on a State Department Web site and a footnote in an unclassified report from the House Intelligence Committee [aka Fleitz of Fancy].

I’ve posted the full text for readers, and provided relevant hyperlinks in John’s story.

Update: One of the authors asked me to take down the file, on the grounds that he was attempting to publish it. I’ve done so. I will post a link to the published article when it comes out.

Here it is:


  1. hass (History)

    This isn’t the final word on the economics of Iran’s nuclear program of course. For one thing, the strategic value of having an independent source of energy cannot be evaluated on solely economic grounds. Secondly, the issue is now a matter of protecting Iran’s sovereignty. Third, other people who have investigated the economic angle have reached conclusions that favor Iran. For example:

    “In the absence of a ‘smoking gun’, Washington often says the fact Iran is the No. 2 producer in OPEC and sits on the second biggest natural gas reserves in the world is enough to make its atomic ambitions suspicious. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee of Britain’s parliament said last March that based on a study it commissioned: ‘It is clear … that the arguments as to whether Iran has a genuine requirement for domestically produced nuclear electricity are not all, or even predominantly, on one side.’

    Some US arguments against Iran ‘were not supported by an analysis of the facts’ the committee added, noting that much of the natural gas flared off by Iran – which US officials say could be harnessed instead of nuclear power – was not recoverable for energy use….”Reuters 3/4/2005 – Iran’s Arguments for Nuclear Power Makes Some Sense by Paul Hughes

  2. hass (History)

    what’s with the center-justification of comments?

  3. asdf (History)

    Nice report, but it has a lot of talk about the “making economic sense” and less about “making independence sense”

    a choice quote:> “There may well be a civilian nuclear power> program that makes economic sense for Iran,> based on continued acquisition of Russian> VVER-1000 reactors of the type recently> constructed at Bushehr. A nuclear fuel cycle> using such reactors and imported fuel built in> (and ultimately repatriated to) Russia> could be economically viable and prove a vital> part of an energy independence strategy> for Iran.”

    An independence strategy based on being dependent on Russia? Well if its good enough for the EU… Oh, right, it isn’t! Thats why the EU looks at the very Iranian gas this report is so enthusiastic about. I guess its okay as long as you do not plan to have a democratic uprising. That didn’t work out so well for the Russian gas of the people behind the orange revolution. (made possible by the same people who want an Iranian uprising, and possibly a Russian one, or so Putin fears)

    And Putins clan better stay in power and strapped for cash as well. Any coloured revolutions or even relatively minor shifts in Russia and Iran could have a problem.

    Extra sobering is that the methods of keeping the protesting age kids in line almost look so similair. With Putin discovering the loyal youth gangs that proved so successful in beating up Iranian protesters while Iran is learning about the wonders of large scale telecommunication surveillance that Putin inherited perfected during the Soviet days.

  4. Andy (History)


    I agree that other factors besides economic are important. I think an important factor from the Iranian perspective is national prestige, and I can certainly see that as a valid motivation. Nationalism certainly played an important role in the French, Pakistani and Indian programs, among others.

    However, the biggest concern I see in the report is not economic, but the low uranium reserves in Iran. Although Iran did announce in May that new sources were discovered (I haven’t yet seen information on the quality or quantity of the discovery), I don’t see why Iran would build extensive and expensive enrichment infrastructure knowing the limited uranium reserves available, especially when relatively cheap fuel is available on the open market. Iranian claims of total energy independence ring hollow when they don’t have the natural resources to support that independence. Perhaps the newly discovered reserves may assuage the problem somewhat, but it seems Iran is making a huge gamble that further domestic reserves will be discovered. I also wonder why Iran did not, and does not, build reactors first, fuel them from the international market, and then work on the problem of domestic fuel supply. Such a plan would surely make nuclear energy available to the Iranian people much sooner than the course of action the government is currently pursuing without sacrificing the goal of energy independence.

    Finally, I could see nuclear energy as an important part of a long-term Iranian energy plan, but the Iranians seem to be sacrificing their short and mid-term energy needs in the attempt to build a nuclear infrastructure quickly. Iran still imports many refined petroleum products. Considering that cars and military equipment do not run on nuclear energy, I wonder why Iran is not putting more effort into refining. Refined petroleum products are strategic assets necessary for any modern military to function, and are therefore central to the security of the State, but Iran seemingly neglects this area in favor of nuclear infrastructure. If Iran wanted true energy independence, why does it not first secure its ability to refine enough product to meet domestic needs?

  5. yale

    The whole idea of Iran gaining “Energy Independence” with nuclear power by having control of only the power plants is nonsense.

    Imagine if, in our country, the only part of the petroleum fuel supply system that American’s can own and operate are the gas stations?No oil wells, no tankers, no refineries, no train tanks, no storage facilities, no fuel delivery trucks. Nada, zilch.

    On top of that, the gas stations are under constant and minute observation, coupled with no-warning intrusive searches by uncontrolled foreign nationals.

    And, at the whim of the outsiders, the supply chain halts and the gas stations lock-down. And the outsiders have the unrestricted right to crash the economy or even invade the country if they feel that their terms are not being obeyed.

  6. hass (History)

    Actually Iran has never claimed that it would seek “total energy independence” using only domestic uranium. In fact, Iran has offered to limit the enrichment to maintain a stock intended to make up for shortfall in imported uranium which is enriched in Russia. This was offered by Iran but dismissed by the US which insisted that there should be “not one spinning centrifuge” in Iran. Also, Iran can always import raw uranium ore for its reactors as Iran’s neighbors are quite rich in the stuff (which I suppose suggests that Iran’s reserves may also be significant) Also, the amount of reserves of Uranium which can be recovered economically depends on the price of the stuff – and the price has been increasing significantly on the market. Finally Iran is indeed putting efforts in building increased refining capacity – one does not necessarily exclude the other – but is facing financing problems due to sanctions – so ironically, the sanctions are making nuclear power look better for Iran!

  7. yale

    hass-my reference was not to Iran’s goals, but to that report that stated:

    “A nuclear fuel cycle
    using such reactors and imported fuel built in
    (and ultimately repatriated to) Russia
    could be economically viable and prove a vital
    part of an energy independence strategy
    for Iran.”

    Being absolutely dependent on outsiders is totally incompatable with being “vital
    part of an energy independence strategy
    for Iran.”

    You cannot have it two ways. All nuclear power technologies are inherently and unavoidably proliferative. Nuancing various schemes by their (minimal) differences in proliferation-resistence is simply re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

    Any nuclear power (or large research) facilities that Iran possesses will give them the direct means to the Bomb.

    LWRs, HWRs, centrifuges, whatever. Dancing about with treaties, agreements, incentives, whatever, ignores the ultimate reality of PHYSICS.


  8. CKR (History)

    The problem with analyses like this, as partially pointed out above, is that they focus on economics and assume that countries follow only rational strategies, whether those strategies are economic or nationalistic.

    The problem with disentangling what a country may actually be doing is that we don’t know how heavily they’re weighting the various factors.

    A rational analysis of US actions, for example, would point out its low and diminishing levels of petroleum reserves, its refusal to allow drilling in ANWR and offshore, and its continuing reliance on petroleum from unstable and unfriendly countries, requiring more military than it otherwise might need. The analysis could point out funding going into support of expensive military hardware (petroleum-powered) that is suited far more to Cold War-style conflicts, rather than redirecting that funding to projects that might make a difference in petroleum dependence. Finally, the report might note that the only petroleum-alternative projects strongly supported by the President are those using hydrogen as an energy carrier, although it is frequently identified by politicians as a fuel source.

    What conclusion one might come up with from all of this, I’m not sure, but I suspect that an Iranian national laboratory could make it look like all this supports an invasion of Iran.

    One more caution: this is only one report, the one that Fleck got his hands on. You can bet there are similar reports from other national laboratories that may or may not come to the same conclusions, along with other reports on other aspects of Iranian policy. A rational national leadership would take them all into account.

  9. b (History)

    All the economic variables in all these reports are very often subject to change. Any national strategy to build on those is doomed.Ux has increased in price from $10 only 5 years ago to nearly $50 now.

    It is impossible to build 30-50 years project on such rational “economic” factors and no sane country does.

    So why would anybody expect Iran to do so.

  10. pete

    There are many good reasons for believing Iran may have been or still is working on nuclear weapons. The dubious plutonium experiments, the secrecy surrounding the PHRC. The obvious economic, or may be better commercial, irrationality of the Iranian enrichment project is in my view only a supporting reason of secondary importance. There are too many plausible reasons for the Iranian enrichment programme to be non-military. It may be ill-conceived and never lead to any economic advantage, be it savings on foreign currencies, technological development through spin offs or strategic energy independence in the future. But there have been many expensive and controversial projects all over the world that never lead too much. I am sure we all can mention a few in our vicinity, be it a war in Iraq or a local highspeed railroad that shortens 50 km traveling with 2 minutes. Despite good reasons not to start them, those projects anyway were funded and implemented. Prestige, industrial or bureaucratic lobbying and personal financial or political interests may have been the driving forces for such seemingly irrational projects. This may very well have been the case in Iran too. The AEOI is as far as I know a powerful organization, its leaders take up high positions in the Iranian political structure. I find it therefore still plausible that important Iranians genuinely believe Iran or they themselves will gain from a civilian nuclear programme. Does anyone know of a good study of the role of lobbies in Iran in general and the power of the AEOI in particular?

  11. Allen Thomson (History)

    > The National Laboratories provide all kinds of support to the nation’s intelligence community. But try getting them to talk about it.

    Sigh. Google the following:

    “International Technology Division” Alamos

    “Z Division” Livermore

    OF COURSE they provide their expertise as an input to intelligence assessments. Taxpayers should take to the streets with torches and sharp implements if they didn’t. (During my gummint years, I was particularly fond of ITD, but nothing against Z Division.)

  12. John Smith

    Ultimately, what does it matter? The question isn’t “what do they want to do” but rather “what we trust them to do”. The answer is simple: we don’t trust them at all.That’s because according to the fine people in charge of Iran, they want Israel to be destroyed, but are not a threat to it. Sorry guys, this is a recipe for getting blown to very small pieces. Noone is buying the “we want them to die but won’t try to kill them” story.Even if Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, it’s acting in a way which will inevitably lead to war.

  13. Amir (History)

    This report raises a good point and reveals a very ineresting aspect of Iran’s nuclear program: If Iran is interested in independence in its nuclear program, then it should have its own supply of uranium. Apparantly, based on the current figures, Iran does not have the viable supply she needs to run her own reactors.

    I think it is a fair point. However, there are some issues that need be considered:

    1. The current uranium mines are not necessarily the only uranium mines. It wasn’t a long time ago that a new mine was discovered and there might be more.

    2. Iran is not located in an isolated planet. Countries buy steel and turn it into cars. Countries buy oil and fuel their factories. Similarly, Iran can buy additional uranium and make nuclear fuel for its reactors.

  14. Max (History)

    Iran ….acting in a way which will inevitably lead to war ?


    If anyone is marching to War, it is the US & Co.

  15. Max (History)

    The UN Resolution 1696 (and the preamble) makes interesting reading in the light of recent media reporting which has failed to mention the comments by Iranian representative JAVAD ZARIF (which are a matter of historical record).

    Just straight reporting of this resolution, the discussions, the comments made by each representative, could be performed in just one newspaper article and one TV news programme.

    However, we get much made of John Bolton’s comments and nothing of the Iranian’s viewpoint.

    (Javad Zarif, who stated:

    “He said it was not the first time that Iran’s endeavours to stand on its own feet and make technological advances had faced the stiff resistance and concerted pressure of some powers permanently represented in the Council. Iran’s struggle to nationalize its oil industry had been touted in a draft resolution submitted in October 1951 by the United Kingdom and supported by the United States and France as a threat to international peace and security. That draft had preceded a coup d’état, organized by the United States and United Kingdom, in a less veiled attempt to restore their short-sighted interests. More recently, Saddam Hussein’s massive invasion of Iran in 1980 had not troubled the same permanent members to consider it a threat to international peace and security.”)

    The Iranian comments show that Iranian elites fully understand for them what is at stake here.

  16. hass (History)

    John Smith says “We don’t trust them” but I’m not so sure why “they should trust us” – after all if we’re talking about threats to “wipe out” others, remember that the US has explicitly threatened a genocide on Iran:

    “During an impromptuApril 18 press conference,President George W. Bushwas asked if his assertionthat “all options are on the table” regardingIran included the possibility ofa nuclear strike. Bush reiterated, “Alloptions are on the table. We want tosolve this issue diplomatically, and we’reworking hard to do so.” In no uncertainwords, the president of the UnitedStates directly threatened Iran with apreemptive nuclear strike. It is hard toread his reply in any other way.”FROM: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist Sept-Oct 2006

  17. Anon (History)

    Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen’s lastest lede in The Bulletin is indiscriminate, but Hass’s reading of it is even moreso.

    To be sure, the president’s “all options are on the table” message is meant to communicate his administration’s resolve, and its willingness to pursue political, economic and even military sanction if diplomacy fails. But Norris and Kristensen would have the Bulletin’s readers believe that, in their words, a “preemptive nuclear strike” is the only thing the U.S. government is contemplating today.

    Hass goes further: Even an ambiguous , implicit threat against an alleged nuclear weapons program, in his/her view, equals a threat of “genocide.”

    Moreover, Hass implicitly negates—and even retroactively justifies—statements from Iranian elites proposing to wipe Israel “off the map.”

    It’s not surprising to read this from someone who consistently argues that the Iranians have a so-called right—even after having hid a fuel program for two decades, and even after having been found in noncompliance with the IAEA BoG—to do anything and everything fuel-making-wise but actually combine fissile material with a nuke explosive device.

    Or, for Hass, perhaps this is still too restrictive a reading of the Iranian’s so-called rights.

  18. hass (History)

    Funny – had Ahmadinejad said that that nuking the US was an “option on the table” there wouldn’t be such hair-splitting and downplaying as by Anon. But in any case, the threat of nuking Iran on a first-strike basis goes back before Ahmadinejad’s election – back to the leaked US Nuclear Posture Review of 2002 and Joint Nuclear Operations Doctrine.

    While Juan Cole has questioned the oft-claimed “wipe out Israel” statement attributed to Ahmadinejad, there’s simply no question that it is Iran that has been explicitly threatened by a real threat of being wiped out.

  19. hass (History)

    By the way, dropping “bunker buster” nukes on Iran would result in up to 10 million dead – according to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Academy of Sciences.

    Yes, President George Walker Bush has said that causing 10 million deaths is “an option on the table” – and they say Ahmadinejad is mad.

  20. Anon (History)

    What’s funny, Hass, is how you see the Iranians as doing absolutely no wrong.

    Let’s put aside the fact that Iranian-supplied shaped charges are killing Americans, as well as innocent Iraqi Shia and Sunni, every day.

    The Iranian government hid a nuclear fuel program from the IAEA and the world at large for two decades. The IAEA Board of Governors found Iran in noncompliance. Ahmadinejad not only denies the Holocaust (do you think the Holocaust happened, Hass?), but also has threatened to wipe Israel “off the map.”

    You see this all as benign. Now that’s funny.

  21. John Smith

    If Iran wanted peace, they would at least let the IAEA inspectors poke their noses into every suspect rubbish pit in Iran. If the IAEA then found nothing, there would not be a case for war.However, the Iranians are just too proud (or just too far up their…) to contemplate anything of the sort. I.e. there will never be conclusive proof either way, which means war. What makes this certain is that unlike the leadership of any other country on Earth, these guys actually talk about the Mahdi, Allah and destorying Israel during policy speeches. You don’t have to like Bush, but he isn’g going to wake up one morning and talk about the Second Coming as something guiding his policies. Even if there is a one in a million chance of Khamenei or Ahmadinejad being irrational and getting nuclear weapons to boot, it just ain’t a chance the US or Israel are willing to take.

  22. hass (History)

    Spitting bile at me and implying that I’m a holocaust-denier isn’t particularly convincing, but in case you’re actually interested in some facts:

    1- Bush administration’s repeated claims about Iranian IEDs shipped to Iraq have been discounted by the US military, and the British even apologized to Iran for making that claim. (See January 5, 2006 by the “Anger as Britain Admits it was Wrong to Blame Iran for Deaths in Iraq ” in the Independent Jan 5 2006) Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace flatly contradicted Bush’s allegations in Mar 2006

    2- Iran has permitted more inspections than it was legally obliged to permit.

    “Iran has continued to facilitate access under its Safeguards Agreement as requested by the Agency,and to act as if the Additional Protocol is in force, including by providing in a timely manner therequisite declarations and access to locations.” (IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards report of 31 January 2006)

    In fact the Bush administration doesn’t accuse Iran of having nuclear weapons program but of “intending to create the capability” of building nukes, so no amount of inspections will suffice anyway since no inspector can see into the future (as the IAEA itself has stated)

    3- As for the secret nuclear program, Iran resorted to secrecy after the US repeatedly thwarted Iran’s overt attempts to acquire the technology which it was legally entiteld to have by forcing the IAEA and other countries to withdraw from contracts with Iran. Iran was under no obligation to disclose the construction of Natanz and Arak since they weren’t within the 180 time limit specificed by Iran’s safeguard agreement, and finally Iran’s enrichment plans were never a secret; and IAEA inspectors had planned to cooperate with Iran in 1983 on the program until the US pressured them to stop, IAEA inspectors were invited to vist Iran’s uranium mines in 1992, and Iranian radio had declared the discovery of uranium for enrichment in 1982.


    “Although Iran is a party to the nuclearNonproliferation Treaty and has concluded acomprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, ithas not concluded an Additional Protocol to itsagreement. The Additional Protocol would provide formore rigorous inspections, including inspections ofundeclared nuclear facilities. On December 13,ElBaradei called upon Iran to conclude such aprotocol. Iran, however, is not required to allowvisits to the Arak and Natanz sites under its currentagreements with the IAEA.

    – IAEA to visit two ‘secret’ nuclear sites in IranArms Control Today January 1, 2003

    “A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State assertedin a press briefing last week that Iran was out ofcompliance with its IAEA obligations because it hadfailed to notify the IAEA of its intent to build thefacilities 180 days prior to construction.

    IAEA officials told NuclearFuel Dec. 18 that was notthe case. Rumyantsev’s assertion that Iran did notviolate its commitments ‘’was correct,’’ one officialsaid.

    In 1992, after the Gulf War, the IAEA Board ofGovernors recommended by consensus that member statesprovide design information to the IAEA 180 days inadvance of construction. Iran, however, singularlyraised objections to that. Compliance with the board’srecommendation, an IAEA official said, has since been‘’voluntary.’’ A similar provision is contained in theAdditional Protocol for integrated IAEA safeguards,which thus far Iran has refused to join and which sofar is not binding.

    Infcirc-153, the model safeguards protocol for memberstates of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT),including Iran, discusses facility design informationin Articles 42-47. But any specific requirement on amember state for reporting design information andnotification to the IAEA of an intention to constructa nuclear facility subject to safeguards is handled inconfidential Subsidiary Arrangements, which areannexed to the safeguards agreement and arecountry-specific.

    In the case of Iran, the Subsidiary Arrangements forInfcirc-214—Iran’s safeguards agreement with theIAEA—require Iran to notify the IAEA of any newnuclear facility and to provide information on thedesign no later than 60 days prior to the introductionof nuclear material into the facility.

    In early safeguards agreements such as Iran’s—itdates from 1974—member states were allowedconsiderable freedom in notifying the IAEA of newnuclear facility construction, said one former U.S.official, ‘’practically right up until they loadedfuel.’’ More recent agreements require notification inadvance. For example, the Subsidiary Arrangements forArgentina and Brazil under the Brazilian-ArgentineAgency for Accounting & Control of Nuclear Material(Abacc) regime, dating from 1994, specified that thetwo countries must give notification ‘’at the time thedecision is made to construct an installation,’’ hesaid.”

    “Iran did not have to declare that it was building apilot plant until 180 days before it expected tointroduce nuclear material into the plant.”

    Furor over fuel; Iran. Bulletin of the AtomicScientists May 1, 2003 Albright, David; Hinderstein, Corey

  23. Max (History)

    Anon said:—What’s funny, is how you see the Iranians as doing absolutely no wrong.

    Let’s put aside the fact that Iranian-supplied shaped charges are killing Americans, as well as innocent Iraqi Shia and Sunni, every day.

    Just as US made/supplied weapons have wiped out over 100,000++ innocent civilians in Iraq. Weaponry is a business & we know who is King of the Weaponry Business Hill. Please cite your refs for Iranian weapons supply.—The Iranian government hid a nuclear fuel program from the IAEA and the world at large for two decades.

    After the 1979 Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to restart its nuclear programme using indigenously-made nuclear fuel. In 1983 the IAEA planned to provide assistance, until it was forced to terminate the program under U.S. pressure.The Iraq/Iran War (ably lengthened/assisted by the US) put Iran’s nuclear issues somewhat on hold, & ongoing blocking (mainly by the US) of Iran’s nuclear programme ambitions resulted in Iran pursuing it’s programme in a somewhat ‘cloaked’ manner.—The IAEA Board of Governors found Iran in noncompliance.

    What about the actions of non-NPT signatories Israel, India or Pakistan, is that acceptable to you?—Ahmadinejad not only denies the Holocaust, but also has threatened to wipe Israel “off the map.”

    Oh, those old chestnuts which have been rigorously de-bunked, but nonetheless are rigorously offered up by those with an ATTACK IRAN aganda (see previous comments in prior thread).—You see this all as benign. Now that’s funny.

    I don’t see Hass’s comments as benign or your reasoning as funny.

  24. Udo Stenzel (History)

    Yale says:

    “All nuclear power technologies are inherently and unavoidably proliferative.”

    No, they aren’t. A CANDU reactor fueled with natural uranium or waste from LWRs doesn’t get you one step closer to Teh Bomb without a PUREX reprocessing plant. Same for LWRs, without PUREX, their plutonium byproduct is useless for Teh Bomb. In addition, if the plutonium is to be used in an explosive, the reactor has to be run on an inefficient fuel cycle.

    Look at what Iran is doing: they are building an LWR and a CANDU, but no PUREX plant. See?

    The enrichment plant, however, is dual use. Can’t be helped, but if they’re indeed fuelling LWRs, there won’t be capacity left to produce weapons grade uranium.

    Also, if Iran wanted Teh Bomb fast, they’d do what the US and Great Britain did: build air cooled, graphit moderated “piles” fuelled with natural uranium, which produce plutonium, but no electricity. PUREX would still be needed, and they’d be building that, too. Fact is, they aren’t.

  25. Udo Stenzel (History)

    John Smith said:

    “If Iran wanted peace, they would at least let the IAEA inspectors poke their noses into every suspect rubbish pit in Iran.”

    Pardon?! Iran did let the IAEA inspectors sniff around everywhere, and they did not find anything suspect. The IAEA still wanted Iran to stop uranium enrichment, thereby violating the NPT. And now Iran’s full compliance with the NPT is a cause for war?!

    Nonono, Iran behaved correctly. The IAEA, the USA and most of the so called civilized world broke the NPT by not following through with nuclear disarmament and by imposing unreasonable demands. If the US really wanted peace, they’d be in compliance with the NPT.

  26. Anon (History)

    Hass: Ahmadinejad, whom you described as more sane than the U.S. president, denies the Holocaust and even put on a Holocaust cartoon exhibition in Tehran. I didn’t imply you were a Holocaust denier. I asked you, point-blank, whether or not you agree with Ahmadinejad. You still haven’t answered the question.

    It’s laughable that you would deny that the possibility that the Iranian government supports Shia militias in Iraq, and has never supplied them with shaped charges or any other materiel. It’s quite possible: “I have seen reports of [Iranian] involvement and presence there as trainers to train these terrorists and extremist groups,” Brigadier General Michael Barbero, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on August 23, 2006. “I think it’s irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of the [Shi’ite] extremist groups, and also providing advanced IED technology to them.” []

    Noting how the Iranian government “has permitted more inspections than it was legally obliged to permit,” you and Udo Stenzel cite this as if this washes away two decades of hidden Iranian nuclear activities. Yet, ever since the Iranian government’s M. ElBaradei has said that this sort of openness is necessary for any possibility of peaceful, diplomatic resolution of this. “There is a need to encourage Iran to co-operate fully and demonstrate full transparency,” the DG said on June 18, 2003. “The objective is not to cling to legalities; it is to build confidence through transparency.” He added: “I have made it clear that without these protocols our hands are tied, particularly with regard to the verification of the absence of undeclared activities. But in addition to the protocols I would like to see as much transparency as possible. The point was made during this meeting that if a country has nothing to hide, there is no reason not to provide access. It is really in the interest of each country to be as transparent as possible, because that is the way to create confidence. The greater the transparency, the greater the confidence.”

    ElBaradei has consistently repeated this message in the years since. On September 19, 2005, ElBaradei described Iran’s case as “a special verification case that requires additional transparency measures. Two decades of concealed activities have created a situation that makes it imperative for the Agency´s investigation to go beyond the confines of the safeguards agreement and the additional protocol. This is a prerequisite for the Agency to be able to reconstruct the history and nature of all aspects of Iran´s past nuclear activities, and to compensate for the confidence deficit created.”

    The Iranian government is having any of this, however. They’d prefer to make ElBaradei’s mission impossible by escalating.

    Unlike John Smith, I don’t think war is inevitable. (In fact, I think that the current administration could easily end up kicking the can down the road to the next one.) If the Iranian government really wanted calm waters, it would do all the things that the IAEA and the Board of Governors have asked.

    The bottom-line is that—because of the Iranian government’s delays, evasions, deceptions and unwillingness to build confidence—the IAEA still cannot verify that Iran has declared fully its nuclear activities, or conclude that Iran doesn’t have hidden nuclear enrichment sites. But apparently you can.

  27. hass (History)

    The facts speak for themselves. You can press the “Mad Ahmadinejad” thing only so far, but the fact remains that it was Bush that threatened to nuke Iran and not vice versa. Iran did implement the Additional Protocol and did show more “transparency” than required – and all that got them was more demands to abandon enrichment anyway. And finally, when the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff says that he does’t have any evidence that Iran is giving bombs to the insurgents (as if the iraqis are too dumb to make shaped charges or lack explosives?) then I tend to believe him but of course you’re free to ignore that too. By the way, trying to use the Holocaust to score points is just too contemptible to countenance.

  28. Lurker

    Frankly Anon. even if I do not agree with all of Hass points, he provides solid sources for his arguments where as you have resorted to baiting him with the holocaust and hysteria fanning about Ahmedinejad with the discredited lie about ‘wiping out’ israel. FYI the Iranian president is not in charge of the Iranian military but Crazy Bush is and we have seen what he is capable of doing in Iraq.

    Iran suspended enrichment for 2&half years during the Paris Agreement negotiations and implemented the A. Protocol and has since offered to place extreme limits on its enrichment program. At that time El Baradei stated that most of the issues of concern were being resolved but certifying Iran as nuke-free would take time. Even until January 31 Iran still allowed inspections under the AP. So what did the EU-3 do? They violated the Paris Agreement and demanded that Iran abandon enrichment anyway. Predictably Iran withdrew the extra transparency it had provided to the IAEA. And now Bush has offered to negotiation with Iran but only if Iran gives up enrichment. It is pretty obvious that Bush is intentionally trying to provoke the Iranians to leave the NPT.

    Even El-Baradei has said there is no reason for treating Iran’s nuclear dispute as a crisis.

    Sorry Anon, but hysteria about Ahmedinejad isn’t going to cover these issues up.

  29. Anon (History)

    Hass/Lurker: The facts certainly do speak for themselves.

    1. Nazila Fathi, who translated Ahmadinejad’s October 2005 speech for the New York Times, stands by “off the map.”

    See Ethan Bronner with Nazila Fathi, “Just How Far Did They Go, Those Words Against Israel?” The New York Times, Jun 11, 2006. pg. 4.4.

    After eliciting views from various scholars, including scholars in Tehran, Bronner and Fathi write, “Translators in Tehran who work for the president’s office and the foreign ministry disagree with [Juan Cole and the Guardian’s Jonathan Steele, who deny the “off the map” translation]. All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his Web site (, refer to wiping Israel away.”

    Bronner and Fathi conclude: “So did Iran’s president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so.”

    2. Contrary to the claims by you and the Iranian foreign ministry, Iran—not the EU-3—violated the Paris Agreement when it resumed uranium conversion.

    See Statement by the United Kingdom on behalf of the European Union at the IAEA Board of Governors, 9 August 2005

    This violation so alarmed the IAEA’s Board of Governors that they issued a resolution, repeating earlier calls for Iran to stop nuclear fuel activities until the IAEA can answer all of its outstanding questions.

    See GOV/2005/64, August 11, 2005.

    The Iranian government, apparently uninterested in any confidence building, continued conversion and then restarted enrichment. That is, they escalated.

    3. ElBaradei, having time and again urged the Iranian government to suspend activities related in any way to enrichment and reprocessing, concluded in GOV/2006/53 (August 31, 2006) that “Iran has not addressed the long outstanding verification issues or provided the necessary transparency to remove uncertainties associated with some of its activities. Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities; nor has Iran acted in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol.” The Dee Gee added: ”[T]he Agency remains unable to make further progress in its efforts to verify the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations with a view to confirming the GOV/2006/53 peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

    See GOV/2006/53 (August 31, 2006).

    If the Iranian government doesn’t want a crisis, then it, at minimum, will suspend nuclear fuelmaking as ElBaradei, the IAEA, the BoG and now the UN Security Council have asked. But you—and the Iranian government—apparently think they’re all full of it.

  30. abcd


    I would be cautious in employing the term “genocide” to refer to Bush’s insistence on keeping “all options on the table” with regard to dealing with Iran.

    Genocide, in legal terms, carries specific referrence to a coordinated and deliberate policy designed and implemented to inflict damage upon a specific ethnic group so as to bring about its demise. I have a feeling this is not exactly what Bush – however frightening he might be – has in mind when he says he will keep “all options on the table.” (“Genocide” was not even the goal of the only instance of atomic bomb attacks in history.)

    Also, on the note of Ahmadinejad’s call to “wipe” Israel “off the map,” I don’t know that Juan Cole alone renders the final verdict on the translation issue. Just curious, are there any other Farsi/English speakers who have commented on this issue?

    In any case, even if Ahmadinejad did not literally threaten to “wipe Israel off the map,” what could he possibly have meant when he later suggested “the Zionist regime” be given a home in Europe or Alaska?

  31. John Smith

    It’s getting rather hot in here, but I’ll try to lead the dicsussion down a rational path again. So, point by point:1) The IAEA inspectors were not allowed to look everywhere they wanted. The Iranians were not necessarily obliged yo grant them access to particular places, but it’s still important they refused. It’s not getting them any trust points with anyone, not just the US.2) The Iranians can make a bomb by producing HEU in centrifuges and then weaponising it. Noone doubts this, what people don’t know is how good Iran’s centrifuges etc. are and whether they want the bomb.3) The NPT is not relevant to war planning. If Iran can be in compliance and still theoretically be able to make a bomb, war remains inevitable. Most likely, it will never be possible to prove that Iran is compliying or not.4) Leaving this to the next government would make war even more certain, were this at all possible. If the Iranians aren’t faced with any problems now, they might as well get nuclear weapons, because nobody is stopping them.5) Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have made enough statements to suppport the irrationality argument regardless of whether the “wipe out” one was correctly translated or not.6) There isn’t a single good argument out there for trusting Iran not to make nuclear weapons. Which is why those against war aren’t arguing for trust, but rather for things like “we’re just as bad as them” or “it ain’t our business”. All of this is talk, the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons within 10 years is a fact (it may be 10 months or 30 years, I doubt the CIA has more facts on Khamenei’s bomb than it had on Stalin’s).

  32. Max (History)

    Here is a paper (PDF ALERT!) by Tom O’DonnellThe political economy of the U.S.-Iran crisis: Oil hegemony, not nukes, is the real issue

    (Mr O’Donnell has a Phd in Nuclear Physics)

  33. hass (History)

    If Israelis constitute an ethnicity, then certainly Iranians constitute an ethnicity too. Saying that killing 10 million of them is “an option on the table” consitutes a threat of genocide even within the legal term, and therefore a violation of the Genocide Convention, not to mention a violation of the International COurt’s ruling prohibiting the first-use of nuclear weapons, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the UN Charter and the Negative Security Assurances and the Nurnberg Code.

    Under the specific terms of the Paris Agreement the EU-3 had to respect Iran’s rights under the NPT which includes Article 4. In fact the EU3 were initially criticised by the US for accepting that Agreement. When the EU-3 demanded that Iran abandon enrichment, that was a violation of the Paris Agreement, and Iran was free to return to enrichment. Iran was never under any obligation to indefinitely suspend enrichment anyway – the Iranians had made it quite clear that they expected the Paris Agreement negotiations to only last a few months.

    The “transparency” that El Baradei refers to are measures that according to El Baradei himself “go well beyond” Iran’s legal obligations. Iran was willing to show this transparency but only if in return its rights are respected. They haven’t been.

    Juan Cole and lots of others have pointed out that the exact statments was that Israel should “disappear from the pages of history” but however you want to interpret it, the fact remains that Bush has actually threatened Iran with genocide directly and without any questions about translations. And considering that Israel has nukes pointed at Iran, I for one am not going to get my underwear in a bunch about Ahmadinejad’s spouting off since Israel and the US are directly threatening Iran’s existence right now, and not with just a lot of hot air either.

    The Iranians “could” indeed make bombs one day – so “could” lots of other countries including countries that have been caught violating their safeguards (Taiwan, S. Korea, Egypt) and so “could” countries that are now developing enrichment capabilities (Brazil, Argentina, S Africa – soon to be more) so if “coulds” are reasons for war, then the US is in for a long fight with everyone on the planet.

    The NPT is not irrelevant. The whole purpose of the IAEA and the inspections is to acertain whether the stuff is being used for civilian purposes. Iran has abided by the NPT and allowed inspections, and has offered to allow even more inspection. Are we going to say that no country can ever develop any technology since it “could” be used to make WMDs and darn the NPT?

    I could go on and on but there’s little point.

  34. Mark

    Iran’s foreign policy has been judged to be quite rational, and the rationality of the war-mongers has to be questioned.

    “Past experience shows that the radical Iranian regime, headed by the most extreme of them all, Ayatollah Khomeini, behaved with absolute rationality at the moment of truth…Iranians, in spite of being Muslims, are not fundamentally different from other people in the world.”Ha’aretz 7 Sep 2006

    While Iranian foreign policy making since the 1979 revolution has been erratic and even hostile to the interests of the United States, it has been anything but irrational and unintelligible

    Pragmatism in the Midst of Iranian Turmoil

    Authors: Ray Takeyh,

  35. Anon (History)


    1. Sohrab Mahdavi (a prominent Iranian-born translator), Siamak Namazi (an Iranian-born bilingual consultant), and Ahmad Zeidabadi (a political scientist in Tehran) all translate Ahmadinejad’s words as “off the map.” Moreover, according to the NY Times, “All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his Web site (, refer to wiping Israel away.”


    I would hope that these Iranians’ command of Farsi is at least as strong as Juan Cole’s, if not yours as well.

    2. Whereas Ahmadinejad explicitly and incontrovertibly called to wipe Israel “off the map,” the U.S. president did not, as you claim, threaten to the lives ten million people.

    The U.S. president remarked that “all options are on the table.” This ambiguous remark—an ambiguous cliche is probably a more apt description—can mean almost anything. Yet you interpret to mean one, and only one, thing: an explicit declaratory threat to use not a kiloton, but a megaton bunker buster, with an intent of indiscriminately taking the lives of 10 million innocent Iranians.

    You claim to draw this number from a study sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), but, so far as I can tell, you claim is a gross exaggeration, if not a flat-out lie. You inflate the largest, absolute worst-case number that they cite by roughly nine million.

    Page 2 at

    You rail against hysterical debate. Yet you debate hysterically when you so blatantly distort the NAS study’s findings for emotional effect.

    3. You flagrantly distort the record of Iran’s rejection of the Paris Agreement. In late July/early August 2005, Iran informed the IAEA that it was going to resume uranium conversion. The EU-3, which—along with the IAEA—saw conversion as a violation of the Paris Agreement, subsequently expressed its concern to the IAEA Board of Governors in a letter.


    Then, it offered an extremely (and, in my opinion, overly) generous package to Iran, which would have established a temporary ten-year moratorium on Iran’s nuclear fuel activities IN RETURN from stunning amount of assured political, economic, energy and technological assistance.


    The Iranian government’s response? “Piss off!” as it converted uranium, and thus escalated the situation to new heights.

    4. The issue is not simply whether, as you say, the Iranian government “could” someday make nuclear weapons. By framing the issue so, you bury what must be, for you, some deeply uncomortable facts: the two decades of deception and secrecy in the Iranian’s nuclear fuel program; and, in the IAEA’s view, Iran’s continuing NONCOMPLIANCE.

    You conclude by making what I find to be a roundly astonising claim, especially coming from you: “The NPT is not irrelevant.”

    In blindly defending Iran’s noncompliance with the IAEA and its two decades of deception, and blatantly distorting the facts in their defense, you, sir or madam, are completely undercutting your very claim. You’re making nonproliferation totally irrelevant.

  36. John Smith

    President Bush said “all options are on the table”, not that the US might kill x Iranians (why ten million people and not one hundred people or seventy million people?). There is no further point in talking to you, hass.

    Mark, sorry to be blunt, but O’Donnel is a physicist, not an economist and is in no better position to talk about oil hegemony than my grandma.As regards pragmatism, let’s take down the Pacific News article bit by bit:1) Iran has lost feror since 1979. Partially right, but essentially wrong. No mention of the Basij-led “Cultural Revolution” here, first promulgated in 2004.2) Iran is extremely hostile to Russia. For example, it is virtually impossible for a Russian to be allowed to even enter Iran unless he is working at Bushehr.3) The Tajik civil war ended because the Kulyabis won, not because of outside intervention, all though Russia did aid the Kulyabis. The Iranians had no influence over Masood, unlike what the article hints at.4) Iran is a friend of Armenia because its leadership despises Azeris and is afraid of an uprising in Iranian Azerbaijan if there is a realistic prospect of unification. Armenia is a natural enemy of Azerbaijan, so Christianity is of minor significance.5) Iran is much more concerned with Shias in Pakistan and India than the Kashmir issue. Both Pakistan and India have claimed that Iran supports Shia radicals in those countries.6) The normalization of realtions with the Gulf states is very relative, Iran aggressively maintains its territorial claims in the Persian Gulf.7) Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas, thus directly undermining the Middle East peace process.8) There is no reason to believe that an Iranian first strike leads to MAD. No Western country will ever launch a nuclear attack on Iranian cities, as it is impossible to justify this.9) The ethical teachings of whatever never stopped a single war.10) Iran supports Shia terrorists and prosecutes Sunni ones, plus always acts through proxies. This does not constitute peaceful intent.11) Iran has only had an aggressive government since 1979 and had to fight a costy war with Iraq till 1988. 18 years of no aggression (all coming during a period of American hegemony) are no proof of good intentions.

  37. hass (History)

    The up to 10 million dead figure comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the National Science Academy. I can’t help but notice how when Ahmadanejad passes wind, it is construed as a “threat to Israel’s existence” and yet when the President of the United States explicity states that nuking Iran is an option on the table, we’re not supposed to read that as a threat. Talk about ideological blinders. The rest of the world and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists see it otherwise.

  38. Anon (History)

    Hass: You, who unconditionally defends the Iranian government’s two decades of deception and continuing noncompliance against the IAEA, would criticize someone else as having “ideological blinders”? The wonders never cease.

    1. I had already cited the relevant National Academy of Science (NAS) study:

    Now I’m citing the relevant Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) backgrounder:

    If you can take off your ideological blinders for a second, why don’t you show where either the UCS or NAS estimate that an earth-penetrating warhead attack against an Iranian facility would kill “up to ten million.”

    Or were you just grossly exaggerating (non-ideologically, of course) the numbers by as much as tenfold for emotional effect?

    2. You would claim to speak for “the rest of the world.” But when it comes to Iran’s clear violation of the Paris Agreement, the EU’s “sweet” deal to Tehran to smooth things over, and subsequent calls from ElBaradei, the IAEA, the IAEA’s Board of Governors, and the U.N. Security Council for Iran to suspend nuclear fuel activities until its continuing noncompliance with the IAEA is sorted out—in these cases, for you, “the rest of the world” doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

    Ideological blinders, indeed.

  39. Jacobo (History)

    Well, things spun wildly out of control here…

    Is anyone willing to take on the MA thesis that Mark cited? That work, while more complicated than an Ahmedinejad versus Bush evil contest, offers better explanatory power than either of those two guy’s egos.

  40. Amir (History)

    It seems that many of you have problems with translation of Ahmadinejad’s well known statement, “Israel should be wiped off the map”.

    As a native Persian speaker, I would say the translation is just fine. However, the conclusion some of you have drawn does not seem to be compatible with the Persian wording. It is a passive tense and, therfore, is not, in any decipherable language, a direct threat.

    Now, listen to what he (Ahmad-in-jacket) said to Mike Wallace. (this particular issue is discussed during the last 2 or 3 minutes of part 1, and continues in part 2 for another couple of minutes):

    Let me summarize my perception of what this not-so-experienced politician is trying to say (which, I think, is the official point of view of the Iranian government):

    Iranian government wants all residents of what they call “the occupied Palestine” (including Jews, Moslems, and Christians) to take part in a democratic election and choose one government, may it be called Pales-Rael or Israe-Stine. (I made these names up!). No matter what the result of that election would be, there is not going to be any Israel anywhere on the map. (remember that the society in that region is a moslem-majority).

    Now, read Ahmadinejad’s line over: “Israel should be wiped off the map”. Do you see any physical threat? Doesn’t the intentional use of a passive form make sense to you?

    Although this and every other view may be subjective, it is worth listening to.

  41. hass (History)

    1- Thinking critically is not “unconditionally defending the Iranians”
    Sorry but these sorts of ad hominems and aspersions won’t silence anyone anymore, nor will accusations of “appeasement” or “soft on terror” etc that the Bush admin like to use; we had enough of this in war on Iraq, thank you very much.

    2- Accusing someone of resorting to creating an “emotional impact” is rich coming from someone who tried to label me as a Holocaust denier.

    3- You can’t even bring yourself to admit that Bush did in fact threaten to nuke Iran as the article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist stated and any reasonable reading of his statement can show, so you’re trying to “catch me” in an issue of 1 million versus 10 million dead? Is 1 million dead any less of a genocide? Is threatening to kill up to 1 million people “acceptable” to you?

    4- As I have understood the articles about the matter, it was up to 1 million immediately dead, 3 million dead from radioactivity within 2 weeks, and “up to” 10 million final figure. I don’t pretend to be an expert but frankly 1 million or 10 million its still genocide. George W Bush threatened a GENOCIDE, and there’s no other way to read his statement.

    “My calculations are that up to 9 or 10 million people could be killed with that type bomb.”

    “However, the number of deaths could exceed a million, and the number of people with increased cancer risks could exceed 10 million.”

    4- According to the explicit text of the Paris Agreement it was voluntary and non-binding (so Iran can’t have “violated” it by exercising its right to continue enrichment) and furthermore that the EU were obligated to respect Iran’s nuclear rights under the NPT (and there’s nothing in the NPt requiring Iran to give up enrichemtn).

    In fact the Iranians had made it clear at the IAEA Board of Governors meetings, at the Seventh Review Conference of the NPT and their Note Verbale to the IAEA that any attempt by the EU/E3 to turn their voluntary, temporary suspension of uranium enrichment activities into a permanent cessation would be ‘incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Paris Agreement and therefore unacceptable to Iran.’

    And what did the EU do? The violated the explicit terms of the Paris Agreement with some half-baked worthless offer that even a European analyst characterized as “an empty box in pretty wrapping” while demanding that Iran give up enrichment.

    “Sweet deal” indeed! LOL!!!

  42. Lurker

    Denial that Bush threatened nuking Iran is simply untenable & the rest of theworld does saw it as a threat too, not just the authorsof the article in the Bulletinof the Atomic Scientist

    That’s how it was reported worldwide“US President George W. Bush refused to rule outnuclear strikes…”

    Nuclear first strikes are officially part of our doctrine – and a violation of international law. It was leaked in 2002 the Nuclear Posture Reviewprobably intentionally.

    The Washington Postreported it toothat nuking Iran is treated more than just an option:“Pentagon planners are … contemplating tacticalnuclear devices.”

    Seymour Hershreported the same thing:

    “The attention given to the nuclear option has createdserious misgivings inside the offices of the JointChiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers havetalked about resigning.”

    And based on polls the world sees Bushas a greater threat than Iran.

    The Germans

    The South Koreans

    The Arabs

    The Canadians?!

    The Europeans in general

    In fact Europeans in 15 countries thought the greatestthreat to world peace, greater than North Korea,Iran or Afghanistan…is Israel

  43. John Smith

    Bush refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict with Iran which is at the moment purely hypothetical. Therefore, porttraying this as a threat is a distortion of facts.A doctrine of pre-emptive nuclear warfare violates no law, international or otherwise, as there are no laws which deal with the matter. So you don’t have a valid point. Equally, aligning oneself with rampant hatred of America and the Jews doesn’t get you anywhere.

  44. hass (History)

    John Smith, funny how you’ve slipped in the “pre-emptive” qualifier. In fact not even under the broadest definition of the word is there anything “pre-emptive” about dropping nukes on Iran’s enrichment facilities, so don’t spin what Bush said. His statement constituted a direct and incontrovertible threat of genocide, and everyone who isn’t trying to avoid that conclusion sees it for what it is.

    Whether it is legal or not, I suggest you read the Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996 of the International Court of Justice on the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons

    And note “Security Council Resolution 984”:

    And note the definition of Crimes Against Peace under the Nuremburg Principles.

    Needless to say an attack on Iran would also constitute a violation of the UN Charter and the “collateral damages” from the estimated 1 million dead would also be a war crime.

    In fact even planning such an attack is a Crime Against Peace and a breach of 984 – so the Bush administration apparently has already committed these crimes.

    In fact Dr. Gary Sick of Columbia University noted in an interview recently that the US has totally abrogated its own obligations under the NPT while making demands on Iran that go beyond the NPT.I guess the US has effectively declared that it is no longer bound by its Negative Security Assurance, right after the signatoriesw agreed to indefinitely extend the NPT – huh? Yeah, and they say the Iranians “can’t be trusted”! LOL!

  45. Anon (History)

    Hass, if Iran were to use fissile material gained from nuclear fuelmaking or elsewhere to build a nuclear explosive, would you condemn it?