Neither Bush Nor Blair Is In A
Position To Take A High Moral Line On Iran's Nuclear Programme
by Tony Benn
ZNet, December 05, 2005
Britain has played a leading role in the
negotiations with Iran about its nuclear programme and the risk
that it might lead to the development of an atomic bomb, and may
well seek to take the matter to the UN security council.
Given that the prime minister himself
is determined to upgrade Trident and appears to be committed to
a new series of nuclear power stations, his position as the defender
of the non-proliferation treaty is not very credible, and if we
are to understand the depth of western hypocrisy on this question
we should look back at the history, which has been conveniently
Thirty years ago, on January 7 1976, as
secretary of state for energy I went for a long discussion with
the Shah in his palace in Tehran, and much of the time was spent
discussing the plans he had to develop a major nuclear-power programme
I had been well briefed on his proposals
by Dr Akbar Etemad of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation,
who had told me that he intended to build a 24 megawatt capacity
by 1994, which was bigger than the programme Britain itself had
at that time, and he expressed an interest in the centrifuges
that are essential for reprocessing, while assuring me that he
was anxious to avoid nuclear proliferation. My diary covering
my talk to the Shah about the sources of his nuclear technology
reveals that he told me that he was "getting it from the
French and the Germans and might even get it from the Soviets
- and why not?"
It was only a year later that Dr Walter
Marshall of the Atomic Energy Authority, my own adviser, announced
that he was also the Shah's adviser on nuclear policy, and had
prepared a scheme under which the Shah would order the Westinghouse
pressurised-water reactor (PWR) if Britain would do the same,
and that Iran was prepared to put up the money - a plan that I
was determined to fight. It was actually being suggested as part
of this deal that Iran would become a 50% owner of our nuclear
industry for the purpose of building the PWRs.
Marshall had, without any authority from
me, apparently suggested that Britain abandon our advanced gas
cooled reactors and order up to 20 PWRs, and I formed the impression
that he took the view, as many in the nuclear industry did, that
proliferation was inevitable and there was not much you could
do about it. Indeed he almost said as much.
For all these reasons I was totally opposed
to this whole idea, and what was most worrying to me was the virtual
certainty that it would lead to nuclear proliferation and the
development of atomic weapons by Iran. It was never approved.
Sir Jack Rampton, my permanent secretary, who seemed to be as
keen as Marshall on the adoption of the PWR, and who was directly
consulted by the prime minister, was clearly pressing this approach,
and Jim Callaghan himself wanted me to go along with it.
At a cabinet committee meeting held on
May 4 1977, Jim, while expressing his concern about nuclear proliferation,
argued that we should not reject the Iranian approach since he
thought that either the Germans or the French would take it up.
An added complication arose when it turned
out that since nuclear power was, under Euratom, seen by the Foreign
Office as being within the legal competence of the European commission,
the British government might be unable to take its own view.
Most astonishing of all, in the light
of the present discussions, is that the problem of Iran developing
such a huge nuclear capacity caused no problems for the Americans
because, at that time, the Shah was seen as a strong ally, and
had indeed been put on the throne with American help.
There could hardly be a clearer example
of double standards than this, and it fits in with the arming
of Saddam to attack Iran after the Shah had been toppled, and
the complete silence over Israel's huge nuclear armoury, which
is itself a breach of the non- proliferation treaty.
The International Atomic Energy Agency
and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, were recently awarded the Nobel
peace prize for their work on non-proliferation, but since that
treaty provided that the nuclear-weapons states should negotiate
their own disarmament agreement, which has not happened, it is
clear that for them the NPT does not matter.
Now there is a proposal to report Iran
to the UN and ElBaradei could find himself in the same position
as was Hans Blix, the Iraq arms inspector who was used by Washington
for its own purposes, with the US seeking a UN resolution to condemn
Iran and then, if that fails, acting unilaterally using force,
as in Iraq.
If the problems now being discussed can
be dealt with in a practical way through the IAEA, there is a
real chance of an agreed solution, and that is what we should
be demanding since neither Bush nor Blair is in a position to
take a high moral line.
As I am strongly opposed to nuclear weapons
and civil nuclear power, these comments should not be taken as
endorsing what Iran is doing; but Britain's past nuclear links
with Iran should encourage us to be very cautious and oppose those
whose arguments could be presented as justifying a case for war,
which cannot be justified.
Tony Benn was the secretary of state for
energy from 1975-79
Global Secrets and Lies
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