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Publication: The New American
Author: Mass, Warren
Date published: May 7, 2012

Iran: Iraq All Over Again?

ITEM: The Canadian Globe and Mail for April 9, 2012 reported:

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was up to Iran to show that its claim of rejecting nuclear weapons is "not an abstract belief but it is a government policy."

"And that government policy can be demonstrated in a number of ways, by ending the enrichment of highly enriched uranium to 20 per cent, by shipping out such highly enriched uranium out of the country, by opening up to constant inspections and verifications," she said at a conference in Istanbul to seek ways to aid opposition forces in Syria - iran 's main Arab ally.

ITEM: Reuters news service for April 9, 2012 reported: "The United States and its allies suspect Iran 's nuclear programme is hiding attempts to develop an atomic weapons capability and Washington has not ruled out military action against Tehran if diplomacy fails."

CORRECTION: Reports such as these impel us to quote two of Spanish- American philosopher and essayist George Santayana's most illuminating sayings: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"; and "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

Have Americans succumbed to some sort of mass amnesia?

What else could explain the failure of a significant portion of the American public instantly to recognize the current beating of war drums directed at Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the Obama administration as the same rhythm pounded out by the Bush administration toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq only nine years ago?

Let us consider a few parallel similarities.

As the quote from Secretary Clinton indicates, U.S. foreign policy places the burden of proof on Iran to prove that it is not developing nuclear weapons, not a simple matter considering the difficulty of proving a negative.

And the Reuters quote indicates possible ominous consequences for Iran should it fail to prove its innocence satisfactorily: "Washington has not ruled out military action against Tehran if diplomacy fails."

Clinton's predecessor, Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell, delivered a now-historic speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, in which he urged the council to take action to enforce Iraq's compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which had been adopted unanimously by the Security Council on November 8, 2002 to warn Saddam Hussein that he had "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" as detailed in several previous resolutions. Powell noted that the purpose of 1441 was "to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction."

Powell stated that one of his purposes in addressing the council was "to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq's involvement in terrorism."

While much has been made of Saddamera Iraq's alleged stockpile of "weapons of mass destruction," usually identified as being chemical or biological in nature, the Powell speech prefigured the West's current charges against Iran by focusing on Saddam's supposed nuclear weapons building program, as well. To cite one such assertion:

In 1 995, as a result of another defector, we find out that, after his invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had initiated a crash program to build a crude nuclear weapon in violation of Iraq's U.N. obligations.

Saddam Hussein already possesses two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb. He has a cadre of nuclear scientists with the expertise, and he has a bomb design.

Since 1998, his efforts to reconstitute his nuclear program have been focused on acquiring the third and last component, sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion. To make the fissile material, he needs to develop an ability to enrich uranium.

Uranium enrichment has been a key haggling point between the present Iranian government and Westerners who view Iran's plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent fissible uranium (U-235) with alarm. However, what this level of enrichment actually means in terms of Iran's ability or intent to build nuclear weaponry is lost on a public that has little understanding of what enrichment levels are needed for various purposes.

In general, uranium used as fuel for plants generating electricity is enriched to a level of three to five percent fissible uranium (U-235), but anything up to 20 percent is still described as low-enriched uranium (LEU). Uranium used in research reactors (such as for medical research) is commonly enriched to levels of 12-19.75 percent. Iran has reportedly begun the process of enriching uranium fuel to a 20-percent level of U-235 required for a reactor in Tehran that is used to make medical isotopes. Any level of enrichment of 20 percent or greater is considered "highly enriched uranium" (HEU). However, about 90-percent enrichment is needed for producing nuclear weapons.

By ignoring or glossing over the high level of enrichment needed for nuclear weaponry, and by portraying 20-percent enrichment as worrisome, Western officials, with the help of a complicit media, have undoubtedly planted a false impression in the minds of many that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program by pursuing 20-percent enrichment. After all, if this were not the case, then why would Hillary Clinton claim that Iran could demonstrate its rejection of nuclear weapons "by ending the enrichment of highly enriched uranium to 20 per cent, by shipping out such highly enriched uranium out of the country"?

Without a basic understanding of the enrichment levels needed for particular applications, this report from the Christian Science Monitor for April 9 could leave readers witfi the impression that Iran does not need to enrich uranium beyond 3.5 percent - unless the intent is to build nuclear weapons:

Feyredoon Abbasi, who heads Iran's atomic energy agency, said Iran's enrichment to 20 percent purity was only necessary to fuel the Tehran research reactor and that once that need was met it was "even possible to reverse to only 3.5 percent," he told the Associated Press. The lower level of enrichment is all that is required for civilian power generation, which Iran insists is the goal of its nuclear program.

And if it is assumed that a program to enrich uranium to 20 percent only makes sense in the context of a nuclear- weapons program, then the assessment in this April 10 CNN report sounds obvious:

In early March, the head of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency, which reports to the UN] said there were indications that Iran was engaged in the development of nuclear weapons.

"Iran is not telling us everything. That is my impression. We are asking Iran to engage with us proactively, and Iran has a case to answer," said Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA.

A common thread found in statements made by Western and UN-based spokespersons is near-certainty that Iran is committed to producing nuclear weapons. Recalling that Colin Powell's 2003 UN speech exhibited an even greater degree of certainty that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction, it is interesting to consider how Powell later regarded that speech, once all the facts had become clear to him and he had time to reflect on them.

"Colin Powell Regrets Iraq War Intelligence," al Jazeera headlined a story based on an interview Powell granted to the Middle Eastern-based website on the 1 0th anniversary of the 9/1 1 attacks. "It turned out, as we discovered later, that a lot of sources that had been attested to by the intelligence community were wrong," Powell added. "I understood the consequences ofthat failure and, as I said, I deeply regret that the information - some of the information, not all of it - was wrong," he told the news agency. "It has blotted my record, but - you know - there's nothing I can do to change that blot. All I can say is that I gave it the best analysis that I could."

"I gave that speech on four days' notice based on an intelligence estimate that had been done months before and provided to Congress, and every word in that speech was gone over by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and his deputy director and all experts," Powell said.

With U.S. troops still not removed from Iraq, and still under fire in Afghanistan, it would be well for Americans to heed Santayana's warning and remember the notso-distant past when false information and a political agenda took the United States into combat for no legitimate purpose.

- WARREN MASS

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