Iran's nuke threat: Taking a page from N. Korea's playbook

By Christopher W. Holton
Special to World
Sunday, December 7, 2003

Some in the West, particularly in the European Union, view the United Nation’s IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) censure of Iran for concealing details of its nuclear program as a great victory for diplomacy.

Unfortunately, nothing in the IAEA statement truly holds Iran accountable for its actions and the prevailing attitude surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions could lead the world down the same slippery slope that led to North Korea building nuclear weapons while the free world hoped for the best.

At issue in Iran is whether or not the radical Islamist theocracy desires to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran, along with some members of the United Nations, claims that its nuclear program is strictly for the purpose of providing an alternative energy source. Today, the Ayatollahs claim that nuclear weapons are even against their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, there are years of historical evidence that Iran’s nuclear program is in fact a weapons program.

Almost ten years ago, citing sources within Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, respected New York Times columnist William Safire reported that hundreds of Russian scientists were in Iran building nuclear reactors and that since Iran sits on a sea of cheap oil, its only reason for building a nuclear reactor was to produce plutonium for bombs.

The Iranians, of course, denied this charge.

In January 1994, the Clinton administration’s Undersecretary of State for International Security, Lynn Davis, told USA Today that “Iran’s actions leave little doubt that Tehran is intent upon developing nuclear weapons capabilities.” Davis went on to say that “Iran’s nuclear acquisitions are inconsistent with any rational civil nuclear program.”

In the wake of such statements and under increasing pressure from America and its allies, Iran claimed that its nuclear program was entirely peaceful and they insisted that they had no desire to have nuclear weapons.

True intentions revealed?

However, if one digs deep enough, one finds more sinister motives — out in the open for all to see. Probably no one has done a better job of digging than Kenneth R. Timmerman who, in 1995, wrote Iran’s Nuclear Program: Myth and Reality, which was published by the Middle East Data Project. He found four alarming statements by two Iranian leaders and two other world leaders with regard to nuclear weaponry — statements that leave little doubt as to the Iranians’ true intentions.

In February 1987, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini uttered these words in a speech before his country’s Atomic Energy Organization:

“Regarding atomic energy, we need it now. Our nation has always been threatened from the outside. The least we can do to face this danger is to let our enemies know that we can defend ourselves. Therefore, every step you take here is in defense of your country and your revolution. With this in mind, you should work hard and at great speed.”

That certainly doesn’t sound as if the Ayatollah wants nuclear power to air condition his mosque!

An even more overt statement came a year later. In a broadcast over Tehran radio in October 1988, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Hashemi Rafsanjani, made this chilling declaration that called for the development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons:

“We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of chemical, bacteriological and radiological weapons.”

It was only after Iran’s nuclear program began to grow and the Iranians began to secure the assistance of Russia and China that denials about belligerent intentions started popping up. But there is no getting around the fact that the scope and size of Iran’s nuclear program is way beyond what one would reasonably expect from an oil-rich nation. Between 1988 and 1995, Iran started construction on no fewer than 15 nuclear facilities. That is the kind of active program that one would expect from a country in a severe energy crisis — or one that is hell-bent on having nuclear weapons.

A lot more evidence of Iranian nuclear intentions surfaced during the 1990s. German and French security officials reported that, from 1992 to 1995, they foiled several attempts by Iranian intelligence agents to purchase equipment needed to create an atomic bomb. But perhaps the clearest evidence spilled out in January 1995 in a nuclear deal signed between Iran and Russia. After the U.S. strongly protested the agreement, Russian President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged that the agreement did in fact contain a military “component” and he announced that he was voiding that portion:

“But it is true that the contract does contain components of civilian and military nuclear energy. Now we have agreed to separate those two. In as much as they relate to the military component and the potential for creating weapons grade fuel and other matters — the centrifuge, the construction of shafts — we have decided to exclude those aspects from the contract.”

Such statements make Iranian claims that they do not desire to have nuclear weapons appear to be bald-faced lies. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the U.S. not pressured Russia on the agreement. Would Iran already have a bomb?

There is even more evidence. Ukrainian President Leonid Kucha was quoted as saying that Iran was seeking help from his nation to build nuclear weapons:

“We need oil from Iran because Russia is strangling us. We have no intention of responding to the repeated request by the Iranians to share with them know-how on nuclear weapons, or to sell them any equipment in this field.”

President Kucha made it sound as if Iran was almost desperate in its efforts to build nuclear weaponry.

Lest you believe that this is Bush administration “neo-con” scare mongering, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program was recognized long ago by members of the Clinton executive branch. Way back in 1994, the head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, John Hollum, predicted that Iran would have an atomic bomb in ten years — in other words, 2004. And an authoritative report by the Monterey Institute of International Studies written in 1995 quoted unnamed U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials as saying that they believed Iran would be nuclear-armed in a ten year time frame — in other words, 2005.

Either way, we are getting perilously close.

Perhaps that is why the Iranians are now going to great lengths to conceal the true nature of their nuclear program, perhaps so that they can avoid a confrontation with the West before they have a nuclear bomb.

The Iranians seem to be using the playbook that North Korea successfully used to become a nuclear power. First the Iranians feign cooperation, then they prevaricate. They insist that their nuclear program is entirely peaceful, then claim to reserve the sovereign right to do as they wish with nuclear power. One day we may wake up and the Ayatollahs in Iran will suddenly announce that they have The Bomb.

An Iran armed with nuclear weaponry would pose a unique combination of problems for the U.S. and even our erstwhile allies in Europe. Unlike North Korea, Iran is not an isolated remnant of a dead political ideology. On the contrary, Iran is at the forefront of the dangerous, expansionist Islamist political movement that has brought terrorism to peaceful and freedom-loving nations around the globe. Moreover, unlike North Korea, Iran is heavily involved in world commerce due to its large oil reserves, meaning that Iran has a separate weapon to wield to intimidate the West. Furthermore, Iran has a robust ballistic missile program, thanks in large part to North Korean assistance. Already Iran can threaten the entire Middle East with its arsenal and some experts believe that their missiles may soon be able to target all of western Europe.

All of this seems disturbingly similar to the ingredients that went into the recipe that allowed North Korea to join the nuclear club — except that Iran is much more formidable in other ways.

But nothing should worry us as much as Iran’s longstanding ties to militant Islamist terrorist groups. Not only has Iran sponsored murderous organizations such as Hezbollah, but there is a growing body of evidence that points to growing ties and cooperation with Al Qaida.

Skeptical observers liked to point out that Saddam Hussein was supposedly a natural enemy of the Islamists who would be foolish to share any weapons of mass destruction capability with them. What will those same skeptics say about the radical Ayatollahs who rule Iran? If their regime becomes threatened from outside or within, will they hesitate to bestow their arsenal on the terrorists that they have been sponsoring for decades? What will prevent them from doing so? Their love of their fellow man?!

If they do arm their terrorist armies with their terrible weapons, our options will be non-existent. Then it will likely be too late.

Christopher Holton is the Editor of and serves on the World Tribune Board of Advisers. He has been writing about national security, defense issues and economics for more than a dozen years. He is a full-time direct response marketing consultant and lives in New Orleans with his wife and five children. He can be reached at

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts
Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives

See current edition of

Return to World Front Cover