Iran and the Pro-Mullah Lobby's Arguments: Nothing But An Illusion
28 March 2015
By Amir Taheri
Campaigning for a deal on the Iranian nuclear issue, the pro-mullah lobby in
the West, especially in the United States, often cites three claims in
support of President Barack Obama's appeasement of Tehran.
The first is that a deal will help the ''reformist'' wing of the regime led
by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani—which already controls the
presidency through Hassan Rouhani—to capture other levers of power and embark
on a genuine program of change aimed at returning Iran to normality.
Rafsanjani is cast as a moderate, a turbaned version of Deng Xiaoping,
capable of closing the chapter of the revolution and forging business-like
relations with the US. Much is made of Rafsanjani's recent statements that he
has always favored collective leadership and that once the ''Supreme Guide''
Ali Khamenei is shown the door, he would press for a collegial system and the
end of ''one-man rule'' in Iran.
The first step in that direction was supposed to come last Monday when
Rafsanjani sought to get himself elected president of the Assembly of
Experts—a body of 86 mullahs who can elect and dismiss the ''Supreme Guide.''
So sure were they of Rafsanjani's victory that a number of Tehran newspapers
financed by his faction came out with headlines screaming ''Hashemi
Returns!'' even before the assembly had convened.
This faction spread a rumor that Khamenei was terminally ill and might not
last more than two years, thus leaving Iran's future in the hands of
Capturing the Assembly of Experts was supposed to be the first step in a
victorious march that would enable the Rafsanjani faction to win control of
the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, the 290-member ersatz
However the Assembly of Experts elected Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi—one of
Rafsanjani's oldest foes and a close associate of Khamenei—as its new
president with 47 votes to 24.
The Rafsanjani faction's hopes of winning control of the parliament next year
are unlikely to prove any better. Several polls show that even if the faction
manages to mobilize all those who voted for Rouhani—33 percent of those
eligible to vote—it still would not be enough to secure a majority of the 230
seats on offer.
The second claim, paradoxically, is built on a fatwa supposedly issued by
Khamenei forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. Thus, while Obama hopes that
Rafsanjani will eventually evict Khamenei, he is basing his policy on a fatwa
issued by the latter.
Since no one, and certainly not Obama, has seen the fatwa in question it is
hard to assess its political importance. However in real terms the fatwa,
supposing it does exist, is nothing more than an opinion and is thus devoid
of legal authority.
The third claim is that the nuclear project is popular with the Iranian
people and that by accepting a nuclear Iran the US would gain popularity
there. However, ultimately there is no evidence to back that claim. The issue
has never been properly discussed in any public forum, not even in the Majlis.
In fact, successive governments, including under the Shah, have suppressed a
number of reports warning against the dangers of a nuclear project,
especially with reference to the threat that earthquakes pose to nuclear
installations on almost all parts of the Iranian Plateau.
More importantly, perhaps, the nuclear program will make Iran dependent on
the outside world for its energy needs as never before.
The first form of dependence concerns the building of nuclear power stations.
Iran has possessed the technology and the skilled labor force to build
hydroelectric and oil or natural gas-fueled power stations since the 1970s.
However, it has absolutely no capacity for constructing, let alone designing,
nuclear power stations. The only way it can achieve that capacity is through
years of cooperation with one or more of the older industrial nations.
The second form of dependence stems from the fact that the enriched uranium
needed for operating Iran's only nuclear power plant—located on the Bushehr
Peninsula—must conform to codes developed and enriched by Russia. The uranium
Iran is enriching cannot be used at Bushehr. This means that Russia could
shut down the Iranian plant whenever it wishes to do so.
The third form of dependence stems from the fact that Iran's uranium ore
deposits, located close to the Lut desert, can provide fuel for two or three
power plants but for no longer than a decade.
This means that even if Iran were able to design and build its own nuclear
power plants, it would still be dependent on imports of uranium ore or
so-called ''yellow-cake'' uranium to ensure its fuel beyond the first 10
years. (The average life of a nuclear power plant is 40 years). Thus, Iran
has enough ore to make 100 or so bombs, but not enough to provide fuel for
two or three medium-sizes nuclear power plants.
The fourth form of dependence Iran will experience is related to its
inability to handle spent fuel from nuclear power plants. At present only six
countries have the technology to reprocess spent fuel. Iran would therefore
be forced to depend on their goodwill to get rid of the spent fuel from its
putative nuclear power plants.
Finally, Iran would face a fifth form of dependence.
Nuclear power plants have to be de-commissioned and mothballed after three or
four decades but remain dangerous for several centuries. As a British
government study showed in 2013, de-commissioning a nuclear plant is costlier
than building one. Managing the environmental effects of de-commissioned
nuclear power plants is also a costly process that is at present mastered by
only six or seven nations.
Obama's hope is that by making a deal he will enable Rafsanjani's
''moderate'' faction to win the power struggle in Tehran and initiate a
change of behavior by the Khomeinist regime.
That, many agree, is nothing but an illusion. In his address to the US
Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also seemed to share this
As Aristotle observed 25 centuries ago, character is action. In other words:
You are what you do! A regime's nature dictates its behavior. As Saadi
Shirazi—the famous poet of Shiraz—noted almost eight centuries ago, a
scorpion does not sting because it wants to be a bad boy; it does so in
accordance with its nature.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated
in Tehran, London and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily
Kayhan in Iran (1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the
Sunday Times. In 1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the
International Press Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a
contributor to the International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall
Street Journal, the New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the
French magazine Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus.
Between 1989 and 2005, he was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt.
Taheri has published 11 books, some of which have been translated into 20
languages. He has been a columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's
latest book "The Persian Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and