IRAN: Rumsfeld puts Tehran 'on notice'

Issue 

BY DOUG LORIMER

"Iran should be on notice that attempts to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down", US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared on May 27. Rumsfeld's comment was part of a steadily mounting campaign to make Iran the next target for US-engineered "regime change".

This campaign involves accusing the Iranian government of "interfering" with Washington's efforts to impose a pro-US puppet regime in Iraq. Since late April, US officials blamed Iranian "meddling" for widespread protests by Iraqi Shiites against the US occupation of their country.

Washington has also levelled the same sort of accusations against Tehran as were made against Baghdad prior to the US invasion — that Iran is seeking "weapons of mass destruction" and is supporting Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Washington's accusation that Tehran has a "secret" nuclear weapons program centre on the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr and facilities for enriching uranium fuel at Natanz. Iranian officials insist that the reactors and facilities to produce nuclear fuel are intended to meet the country's rapidly growing energy needs and to allow the increased exports of Iran's vast oil and gas resources to maximise foreign currency earnings.

Construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant was started in 1975 by the German company Siemens. After the February 1979 revolution, in which the working people of Iran in their millions overthrew the US-backed monarchy of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (who was installed in 1953 in a CIA-organised coup), Siemens pulled out of the project.

Work on the plant resumed only in 1995, under an US$800 million agreement between Tehran and Moscow. The first reactor is scheduled to begin operation next year.

Because of pressure from Washington, Iran has been unable to import from Europe the 100 tonnes of enriched uranium needed to bring the plant on line. So Iran has begun construction of its own uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Nothing Iran has done is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran signed in 1970.

Unable to provide evidence to the contrary, US officials have sought to bolster their accusation that Iran's nuclear power program is really aimed at developing nuclear weapons by claiming that, because of the country's large reserves of oil and gas, it does not need a nuclear power industry.

Former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani pointed out that before the 1979 revolution, the US rulers had encouraged the development of nuclear energy. "Americans advised Iran to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity during the former regime and submitted plans for building power plants", Rafsanjani told reporters on May 19. "Now they tell us Iran does not need nuclear power since it has abundant oil and gas. Why is it we needed atomic plants at a time when our daily oil production stood at 6 million barrels, and now that only 3.5 million barrels of crude is produced we do not need such plants?"

Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said on May 28 that the US was not competent to judge his country's nuclear work. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency "is the only competent body to supervise activities of member states on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons", Kharrazi said. The IAEA inspected Iran's nuclear facilities in February and is due to present a report on them to the Vienna-based agency's board on June 16.

Without providing any evidence, US officials have accused Iran of "harbouring" al Qaeda leaders. Two days after the May 12 terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press briefing, "Of course, they have senior al Qaeda in Iran — that's a fact". Rumsfeld repeated this assertion on May 21, declaring: "There's no question that there have been, and are today, senior al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy."

The next day, United Press International reported that unnamed "US intelligence officials are now telling reporters the bombings in Riyadh were planned by al Qaeda leaders in Iran. These allegedly include Saif al Adel, an Egyptian the CIA regards as al Qaeda's current No. 3 leader."

However, journalists visiting Tehran with Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer reported on May 27 that Iranian authorities had detained al Adel. According to a report in the May 28 Sydney Morning Herald: "Iran is thought to want to handover al Adel to Washington, in return for senior leaders in the anti-Iranian terrorist group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK)...

"It is understood that in talks with [Downer] ... Iran proposed a deal to take significant action on al Qaeda if the US cracked down on the militant MEK. Formerly funded by Saddam Hussein, the MEK is based in northern Iraq but did not come under heavy attack during the US-led invasion."

Tehran wants the MEK leadership deported to Iran for trial over numerous assassinations and bombings. However, Pentagon officials, particularly deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and undersecretary for policy Douglas Feith, reportedly favour using the MEK as the core of an opposition military force to overthrow the Iranian government. They are also pushing for Washington to support Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah who lives in exile in California, as the leader of a pro-US regime in Tehran.

Immediately after the US conquest of Iraq, Wolfowitz's ideological ally William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, pushed for a US campaign aimed at "regime change" in Iran. On May 5, Kristol wrote that the US was "already in a death struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq" and that "the next great battle ... will be for Iran."

From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.

Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.