Iran’s nuclear program was never intended to be for civilian purposes
The question of whether Iran’s nuclear program is intended for civilian purposes or for developing nuclear weapons is one of the most pressing issues when it comes to regional and global peace and security. The response to this question will define what policies other governments ought to pursue toward the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions.
The Iranian leaders frequently claim that the country’s nuclear program has always been intended solely for peaceful civilian purposes. Tehran repeatedly resorts to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s statements to buttress its position. In a 2010 letter to the International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament, Khamenei reportedly wrote: “We consider the use of such weapons as haram (religiously forbidden) and believe that it is everyone’s duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster.” The supreme leader also states on his official website that the production and use of nuclear weapons are banned by Islamic laws: “Both Shariah and aqli (related to logic and reason) fatwas dictate that we do not pursue them.”
But if we meticulously examine the history of Tehran’s nuclear program, it becomes crystal clear that it was intended for developing nuclear weapons from the outset. Why else would the regime’s nuclear file be filled with secrecy and clandestine activities, when the Iranian leaders could actually benefit if they disclosed all their nuclear sites?
If Iran’s nuclear program was genuinely set up for civilian purposes, the regime would have declared its nuclear sites and received technological assistance under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the Iranian government is a party. The World Nuclear Association points to the advantages its members get if their nuclear program is peaceful, stating: “The NPT was essentially an agreement among the five nuclear weapons states and the other countries interested in nuclear technology. The deal was that assistance and cooperation would be traded for pledges, backed by international scrutiny, that no plant or material would be diverted to weapons’ use. Those who refused to be part of the deal would be excluded from international cooperation or trade involving nuclear technology.”
It has been conclusively found by intelligence agencies and the IAEA that the regime has conducted nuclear weapons research.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
But Tehran, from the beginning, decided to conceal its nuclear activities. For instance, its clandestine nuclear activities at two major sites, Natanz and Arak, were first revealed in 2000 by Iranian opposition group the National Council for Resistance of Iran. In 2017, the NCRI also released critical information showing that Iran’s nuclear activities had continued at the highly protected Parchin military base. The group stated that a location at Parchin was being secretly used to continue the country’s nuclear weapons project. It said: “The unit responsible for conducting research and building a trigger for a nuclear weapon is called the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact, known by its Farsi acronym as METFAZ.”
There are currently four covert nuclear sites in Iran that the international community is aware of. The International Atomic Energy Agency last week reported that: “The director general is increasingly concerned that even after some two years the safeguards issues outlined in relation to the four locations in Iran not declared to the agency remain unresolved.”
In addition, while the Iranian authorities have always denied seeking nuclear weapons, it has been conclusively found by intelligence agencies and the IAEA that the regime has indeed conducted nuclear weapons research. For example, the IAEA in 2011 detailed what kind of work Iran had carried out: “The information indicates that Iran has carried out the following activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device: Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear-related and dual-use equipment and materials by military-related individuals and entities; efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material; the acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network; and work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.”
In addition, Israel’s seizure of documents from a nuclear archive in Tehran in 2018 directly pointed to the military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. The Institute for Science and International Security subsequently warned: “Iran intended to build five nuclear warheads, each with an explosive yield of 10 kilotons and able to be delivered by ballistic missile.”
It is clear that Iran has always intended to produce nuclear weapons. Therefore, governments must devise policies toward the regime based on such an understanding.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh