for anyone interested in the Iran nuclear kerfuffle, a group that might hopefully include the U.S. Congress or the D.C. foreign policy apparatus, albeit this book rather clearly shows these two groups have been disinterested in any facts. Lacking until the publication of this book has been a comprehensive time line review of how events in this standoff came to be; media coverage of events has been sporadic, superficial, and often factually incorrect (even by the NYT, Washington Post, LA Post) and most articles are mere messaging channels for propaganda-with-a-purpose emanating either out of D.C. or Tel Aviv. For over a decade the American public has been exposed to "startling new revelations" of Iran's nuclear weapons intent, only to see these charges disappear with time - to be replaced by more new-and-exciting allegations that in turn... As a semi-serious student of this ongoing battle I've put minimal credence in media reports but held the quarterly IAEA reports in high regard; unfortunately, as Porter demonstrates, this organization had and has an anti-Iran agenda. One of its most effective tools has been to "never close the book": The IAEA will ask for specific information on a suspected activity, Iran then provides a full answer, the IAEA agrees there is no problem, but refuses to close this file, saying it may come back at some time in the future to "reconsider." At other times its reports simply omit mention of a closed item (like the alleged nuclear trigger activity at Parchin) thereby leaving it open. The aim of this game is to never give Iran a clean bill of health despite the country's full cooperation, thereby allowing sanctions to continue to gnaw at Iran's economy to achieve the real objective - regime change.
This book is a real page-turner, clearly written, and the amount of research that went into it a bit mind boggling. While there are dozens of revealing episodes, I'll land on a few that may be representative: After the 1979 Revolution Iran ceased work on the Bushehr nuclear power plant (about 80% complete) as it was viewed as one of the Shah's unnecessary projects. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) that under that Shah employed nearly 900 engineers and had a $3 billion-plus budget was virtually disbanded. (The Shah had plans for 20-plus reactors by the mid 1990s that was A-OK by the USA. The Tehran Research Reactor that the US supplied in 1967 ran on bomb-grade HEU; in cooperation with Argentina Iran downgraded the fuel load to 20% U-235 in 1987.) Facing severe electrical shortages, two years later it was decided to proceed with Bushehr. The Shah had paid a German firm $4.7 billion to construct Bushehr and $1.18 billion to France for a 10% ownership in Eurodif, a uranium enrichment project that was to supply the Iranian reactor with its fuel. The U.S. pressured both countries to refuse to honor their commitments, and France went as far as to refuse to return the billion-plus dollar deposit. Iran then approached the IAEA for technical assistance to bring Bushehr into operation but was denied because of U.S. pressure. American actions were in clear violation of Article IV of the NPT, and as Porter notes, "Instead, the US national security bureaucracy was simply substituting its own unilateral interests and policy for its legal obligations."
The decision by the Reagan administration to deny Iran its rights granted as a signatory of the NPT was clearly the genesis of the nuclear weapons issue and yet another example of a circular firing squad so often formed by the foreign policy folks in D.C.: Had the US allowed the original German-French deals to proceed not only would have the power plant come on stream in short order (later complicated when Saddam bombed it) but, more importantly, Iran would have had a source of fuel for the plant, i.e., there never would have been a reason for Iran to begin enrichment about twenty years later. But, some may say, reactors like Bushehr produce plutonium - if Iran was seeking a nuke this "peaceful" application of nuclear fuel could be used for a bomb. Not. "Reactor grade" plutonium is totally unsuited for weaponizing, no country has ever built a bomb from this plutonium source - and I will spare the reader a tutorial on reactor core nuclear decay cascade to prove why.
Two other events: First, 1989. That year saw the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, Khamenei selected as Supreme Leader and Rafsanjani elected president who was openly committed to integrating Iran into the global economic system (and spoke excellent English). The election of George H.W. Bush saw a more open approach to Iran based "strict reciprocity" mentioned in his first State of the Union speech. Long story short, by December 1991 Rafsanjani had succeeded in getting the last of US hostages freed in Lebanon. Through intermediaries in January 1992 Bush let the Iranians know that it might be possible to take Iran off the terrorist list, reduce economic sanctions, and compensate Iran for the July 1988 shoot down of an Iranian civilian Airbus by the USS Vincennes which had killed all 290 Iranian passengers and crew. The following month this list was expanded to consider allowing the sale of some airplanes and spare parts, lack of the latter which had severely impacted the Iranian air force in the Iraq-Iran War. In April this whole deal fell apart, according to National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft because "new intelligence" showed that Iran was embarking on a new course of terrorist actions and military aggressiveness. This new intelligence included the alleged assassination of an Iranian national in Connecticut by Iranian agents, an anticipated wave of Hezbollah terror in Europe and a lot of other garbage. There were two vocal proponents of Iran as a terrorist state "developing a capability to produce WMD and seeking to acquire nuclear weapons" - the CIA and the DOD. When Robert Gates returned as CIA director in late November 1991 he immediately launched a media campaign on the nefarious intents of the Iranian state - because he knew about the imminent Bush deal; only Bush, Baker, Scowcroft and Gates knew of the high-level meetings on this issue. As for the information used by Gates, he "substituted his own views for those of the intelligence community," not the last time this would happen by spokespersons of future administrations. The Pentagon soon joined Gates in this media crusade. Gates had no love for Rafsanjani for having revealed the 1986 secret visit of NSC staff to Iran in connection with the Iran Contra plan - an episode that almost cost Gates his career, but Porter concludes this combined intelligence-DOD attack on Iran was occasioned by the disintegration of the USSR: With the Cold War over, both agencies faced potentially large budget cuts so a new enemies list had to be created. Thus ended a possible comprehensive peace with Iran 22 years ago.
Second,the Gulf and Iraq wars and their bearing on the US disposition towards Iran. With the fall of the USSR and the lightning victory over Saddam in Kuwait the rise of the neocons started to take place in D.C., their views explicated in the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). PNAC saw American military might at a "unipolar moment, a colossus astride the world, and our troops as the cavalry on the new frontier," or, as Michael Leeden put it, the US "should pick up some crappy country and throw it against the wall just to show the world whose boss." The game plan went as this: Saddam would be overthrown, turning Iraq into a base for projecting power into the rest of the Middle East, resulting in regime changes in those countries that had not been de facto allies of the United States. Bush's neocon advisors believed Iran's population was seething with revolt against the regime and a show of the effectiveness of US military power would shake the foundations of the regime in Iran. In 2003 Iran sent a detailed two-page proposal for direct negotiations on the full range of issues through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. There was no reply to this proposal save to chastise the ambassador for forwarding it. With the situation in Iraq not following the neocons' utopian visions a harsher stance toward Iran seemed in order - both Rumsfeld and Cheney persuaded Bush that Iran was aligned with al-Qaeda,[!] and as one long-time Iran observer (Hillary Mann Leverett) noted, "They were not really interested in trying to keep Iran's enrichment program in check. We were on the march, so it didn't matter if they enriched. No focus on the nuclear issue was required because after regime change we might not want to oppose nuclear weapons by Iran." In sum, because the invasion of Iraq achieved the opposite of what the neocons anticipated Iran fell into the cross hairs, where it has been ever since.
As a final and then I'll put a cork in it: Until the election of Rabin as Israeli PM in June 1992 Israeli-Iranian relations were relatively benign - Israel was a major weapons supplier to Iran in the Iraq-Iran War and continued to sell weapons to Iran until 1992. When defense minister in 1987 Rabin held out hopes for a better relationship with Iran, but upon becoming PM did a 180 and the anti-Iranian invective started to flow. Why? Rabin began pushing his platform of negotiating with the PLO, an overture that was sure to be met with adamant resistance by certain elements in Israeli society - and one of them assassinated Rabin four years later. To overcome these doubts about peace talks with the PLO a larger threat had to be created that required portraying Iran and the Shiites in the region in the most lurid terms possible. As one observer noted, "If you don't make peace with these guys [the Palestinians], look what's coming next -Islamic fundamentalism with nuclear arms behind them." The election of Netanyahu in 1996 marked another round of Israeli agro-talk against Iran, but this time for a different reason - Clinton was pressing Bibi to implement the agreements reached in the Oslo Accords but Netanyahu believed he could dodge and weave on this issue by holding up the existential threat emanating from Iran. Unlike Rabin, Bibi had no intention of negotiating with the PLO and Iran gave him cover. In sum, Israel's new found hostility towards Iran in the 1990s had nothing to do with threats from Iran, but were ploys used for domestic politics - not that the Iranians were impervious to this criticism, a factor that led to the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad. In Netanyhau's second and current term he has used the threat of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. Another red herring - Israel couldn't do it even if it wanted to as a full-fledged strike would require over twenty more air refueling aircraft than they have, among other things. Both the Israeli and US military know full well this is an empty threat, yet this claim has not been refuted. Why? You can find out in the book - has something to do with (surprise!) the US Congress.