Like most Iranians, view the Geneva accord as a significant achievement and hope it can lead to a peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear dispute. And I find the occasion appropriate to remind Iran watchers of the surreal evolution of the Islamic Republic’s attitude toward the value and importance of the country’s nuclear program.
Today, all factions of the Iranian regime take pride in Iran’s technological achievement and proclaim uranium enrichment as a right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Thirty four years ago, in contrast, Ayatollah Khomeini was so adamantly opposed to the nuclear program initiated under the late Shah that a judge appointed by him accused the Shah’s foreign minister, Abbas Khalatbari, of treason for signing a contract with Siemens of Germany to construct a nuclear energy complex in Bushehr and agreeing to loan one billion dollars to French Atomic Energy Commission to build a uranium enrichment plant in Tricastin, France. Under this agreement, Iran pledged to buy a certain amount of the uranium produced at Tricastin in exchange for having success to Eurdif enrichment technology.
Khalatbari was convicted of the charge and executed in March 1979. The daily Jomhori-e Islami, the official organ of the Islamic Republican Party, founded by Khomeini’s clerical lieutenants, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reported Khalatbari’s execution on its front page with the headline: Nuclear Reactors: Obvious Treachery Against Our People. Next to these words are photos of Khalatbari and his dead naked body.
At the time, the editor of Jomhori-e Islami was Mir Hussain Mousavi, the man who served as the Islamic Republic’s prime minister for eight years and has been under house arrest since 2009 for charging fraud in the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Five years after Khalatbari’s execution, the Islamic Republic revived the country’s nuclear program and, in 1995, recommitted Khalatbari’s “treachery” by giving a billion dollar contract to Russia to rebuild the Bushehr reactor. At the same time, the regime began a secret program, with assistance from Pakistan and North Korea, to develop domestic enrichment technology.
- Mansour Farhang is professor of international relations at Bennington College, Vermont.