It sounds like something one of my old school teachers would say. It may have been good advice but it always sounded somewhat hypocritical. No doubt it must be how Iran must be feeling in its fight for the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purpose.

It was a point mentioned on a recent BBC radio programme following a speech by Gordon Brown, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (and likely successor to prime minister, Tony Blair) that he would support spending £25-30 billion to maintain the UK’s Trident nuclear defence arsenal. The question raised in the programme was: “What kind of message does this send to countries like Iran who are being told they must not develop any kind of nuclear programme?”

Iran ratified the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. Its nuclear programme began in the Shah’s era, including a plan to build 20 nuclear power reactors. Since February 1992 Iran has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities. But in 2003, the IAEA discovered Iran had conducted some nuclear research, including enrichment tests back in the late 1980s. Following the discovery, Iran voluntarily suspended nuclear fuel research as well as uranium processing and enrichment as part of negotiations with France, Germany and the UK.

Since the discovery, the US and others in the West have suspected Iran of attempting to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran claims it only wants to produce low-grade enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Meanwhile, Iran has continually insisted on its right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, despite being threatened with sanctions and being hauled before the UN Security Council.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council, recently said that settling Iran’s nuclear case requires resistance, tolerance, certain knowledge, high intelligence and active diplomacy. Addressing the First Conference on Oil, Gas and Energy in the 20-Year Vision Plan at Sharif University of Technology, Rasfanjani said the issue of energy should not be restricted to oil and gas. “The Iranian nation should not be deprived of nuclear energy.” He added: “Iran is among rich states with respect to fossil fuel resources while enjoying an acceptable situation in terms of solar and wind energy.”

In a separate announcement, Energy Minister, Parviz Fattah said the country would expand its electricity industry with the capability achieved in uranium enrichment. Two nuclear plants, in addition to Bushehr, will be constructed this year. The country has a 20-year “Vision Plan” which will see the building of 18 more nuclear plants. “There are more prospects of a blackout in the country in the coming summer as 1700 MW of electricity needs to be added to the network,” said the minister.

This strategy is no different to that held by many other nations. For example, in June, China and South Africa were due to sign an agreement to cooperate on peaceful nuclear technology. South Africa is a leading producer of uranium. China is embarking on an ambitious nuclear programme, which will see it add around 40 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2020. One South African government official said China could be a “significant market” for its uranium ore concentrates. The agreement will seek to broaden cooperation on nuclear issues, especially as China and South Africa have similar French-built nuclear plants. Meanwhile, in a G8 Summit scheduled for July, it is believed that Russia wants to include a statement on the need for nuclear power, although not all countries are in agreement. Speaking at a meeting ahead of the summit Igor Shuvalov, a spokesperson for Russia’s G8 said: “Energy security cannot be achieved without further developing nuclear energy.”

It will be interesting to see if the Iran situation comes on to the summit agenda. In the meantime, the UN continues to negotiate with Iran. On June 23rd, UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe said that UN Secretary, Koffi Annan had expressed satisfaction over his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr. Annan said Iran’s position was that its interest in nuclear was “purely for peaceful purposes”. He said that Iran was taking proposals put forward by the 5+1 Group “very seriously”. In a nearly hour-long meeting with Motaki in Brussels, Annan said he did not think an answer would come from Iran before the next G8 Summit in Russia in July.

While we wait, I cannot help put think the current scenario could make a good cartoon or scene from a science fiction movie. Picture it – the US and its allies observe warily as aliens leave their spaceship. Only, in this scene, the ‘aliens’ are Iranians.

Junior Isles,
Publisher & Editorial Director