Tuesday, September 29, 2009

William O. Beeman--Iran's Nuclear Program: Facts Americans Need to Know (New America Media)

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Facts Americans Need to Know

New America Media, News Analysis,
William O. Beeman,
Posted: Sep 29, 2009

The recent news that Iran is in the process of building a second uranium enrichment facility sent politicians and the press into a tizzy. Consequently, the American public is once again being barraged with half-truths and misstatements about Iran’s nuclear program.

In the spirit of public service, here are 10 basic facts about Iran’s nuclear energy program that Americans desperately need to know.

1. No one has presented any concrete evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. This has been asserted in every inspection report of Iran carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and our own American National Intelligence Estimate.

2. Iranian officials have renounced nuclear weapons as un-Islamic and unnecessary for Iran’s defense. Iran has not launched a first strike against any nation for more than 300 years, and it will not attack Israel or any other nation. It will, however, defend itself.

3. Iran would have to build numerous facilities to process nuclear material before it could even think about producing a weapon.

4. The facility discovered last week in Qom is incomplete, non-operational and has not had any nuclear material introduced into it. It is designed, not as a weapons manufacturing plant, but as a mini-version of the enrichment facility at Natanz. It was probably intended as a back-up if Natanz were bombed.

5. The Iranians make a strong claim that they were not required to report the facility until 180 days before fissile material was introduced. It is simply not true that they are in unambiguous violation of their “international obligations,” as asserted by President Obama.

6. The United States knew about the Qom facility four years ago and chose not to reveal its knowledge. In fact, if the facility were illegal, the United States was obliged to reveal it. Either the facility was not illegal, or the United States is itself in violation of its treaty obligations.

7. The Qom facility was not “exposed” by the United States. It was revealed by a voluntary letter from Iran to the IAEA several days earlier than the American announcement.

8. If operational, the Qom plant would at best be able to produce enough raw fissile material to produce only one bomb per year. In order for such a bomb to be built, the enriched uranium would still have to be sent through numerous non-existent processing facilities before emerging as a weapon. By contrast, Israel, Pakistan and India all have large stockpiles of nuclear warheads ready to launch.

9. Iran actually needs nuclear energy to generate electricity, as it asserts. Currently, Iran uses natural gas for its electricity generation. As Iran’s crude oil supplies dwindle, that gas is needed to “re-inject” the oil fields to increase oil production. It is also more profitable for Iran to sell the remaining gas abroad in liquid form than to use it to generate electric power.

10. Iran will not give up nuclear enrichment under pressure. The nuclear energy program was started nearly 40 years ago under U.S. ally Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iranians of all ages and all economic classes take pride in the development of nuclear energy as proof of Iran’s scientific and engineering prowess. They see efforts to curtail this as attempts by the West to suppress their progress. Whoever is elected president in Iran in the future will enthusiastically support the nuclear program.

So, why have our national leaders misled the public about this program? One reason is that Iran has become the universal bogeyman for American politicians. No one has ever lost a vote by attacking Iran and many have been attacked for seeming to be “soft” on Iran. Moreover, Israel and its supporters have successfully promulgated the equation that to be less than hostile to Iran is to be anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. Neoconservatives in the Bush administration also had plans for regime change in Iran dating back to the early 1990’s, and portraying Iran as a nuclear menace would build public support for an attack on the Islamic Republic.

Americans may think that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists because of the clever rhetoric used by Iran’s detractors—even Obama. Phrases like, “We must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” or “If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, the world is in danger,” are weasel phrases designed to mislead the public. The same tricks were used to convince the public that Iraq was behind the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington.

One thing is certain. If the American public does not wake up and realize that it is being deceived on Iran, either Israel or the United States or both could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran would retaliate, and the world conflagration would truly begin.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Minn. He is past-president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years and is author, most recently, of "The 'Great Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other," (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Monday, September 28, 2009

William O. Beeman speaks on Iran on Minnesota Public Radio

I appeared today (September 28) on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program talking about Iran, the recent "discovery" of the nuclear facility at Qom and its implications for future relations with Iran. You can access the program directly below.


Bill Beeman

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Willaiam O. Beeman--New U.S. Economic Sanctions Against Iran Will Backfire (New America Media)

New U.S. Economic Sanctions Against Iran Will Backfire

New America Media, News Analysis,

William O. Beeman, Posted: Sep 24, 2009

The U.S. Congress, with the support of the Obama administration, may think it is getting tough with Iran through a series of resolutions supporting increased economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The effect of these measures will be exactly the opposite of what Congress intends. In fact, besides having no tangible effect, they are actually being welcomed by Iran’s leaders.

The U.S. sanctions provide cover for stern, unpopular economic measures the Iranian government wants desperately to enact, but can’t in the current political climate. Having the United States to blame makes these moves justifiable to the restive Iranian public, already in turmoil over the contested July 12 presidential election.

The most foolish of the U.S. measures is a proposed resolution to embargo gasoline imports to Iran. Lobbyists who oppose Iran and its policies have told Congress that Iran does not produce enough gasoline for its internal needs, and must import it from abroad. This is true.

What the U.S. Congress does not understand, however, is that the Iranian government subsidizes the gasoline it imports so the cost to the public is roughly 10 cents per liter, or just short of 40 cents per gallon. The cost is ruinous and the government has acted to curb the costs. In 2007 the government imposed rationing on the public -- 100 liters per month for individuals and 600 liters per month for taxicabs and other transport vehicles. Moreover, a program of equipping vehicles for natural gas is well underway. The free market is also active. For those who need more than the allotted 100 liters of gasoline, it can be purchased on the open market for approximately $2 (U.S.) per gallon.

The Iranian government aims to completely eliminate gasoline imports by 2013, and it is making significant progress toward that goal. In order to progress, they would like to introduce further rationing, and transfer gas purchases gradually to free-market prices. However, they know that they will meet tremendous public resistance. When rationing was initially introduced, there were public protests, and threats of public transportation strikes.

In this light, the U.S. Congress’ call for sanctions allows the Iranian government to further ration gasoline and blame America for the need to do it.

Of course, American calls for an embargo are futile anyway, and the Iranian leaders know very well that pointing fingers at the United States to justify rationing would be a cynical charade. Gasoline is sold through independent brokers worldwide. These are private entrepreneurs operating under very few restrictions. The idea that any U.S. measure would stop gasoline imports into Iran is a practical absurdity, short of blockading the Straits of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

Other sanctions have made life somewhat more uncomfortable for the Iranian middle and lower economic groups, but they have not stopped banking or trade. Anything available in the United States is also available in Iran, albeit at elevated prices. When prices go up in Iran due to inflation resulting from bad government economic policies, once again Iranian leaders blame the United States.

The international community is also not likely to support further economic sanctions against Iran. Russia and China in particular have lucrative trade agreements with Tehran, and expect to expand these relationships in the future. Moreover, each has a veto on the United Nations Security Council where such measures must be ratified.

The most disturbing aspect of the American call for tougher economic sanctions is that no one can say what they are designed to accomplish. Some see them as a measure to force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. However, Iran maintains that uranium enrichment as an inalienable right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), if used for peaceful purposes. Since there is no concrete evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and Iranian leaders have themselves denounced the manufacture of nuclear weapons, Iranians are adamant that they will not be forced into doing something that no other signatory to the NPT is being required to do.

Although Iran’s internal politics are chaotic at present, in the long run the United States must engage Iran in dialogue about a whole host of issues – refugees, drug trafficking, environmental issues, regional security and containment of disease, to name just a few. The persistence of the Congressional clamor for these ineffective and meaningless sanctions only serves as a barrier to more productive relations.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. He is past president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, and former director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His most recent book is “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other” (University of Chicago Press).