In a debate which has been dominated by Israel’s security concerns, Peter Beaumont poses a question that too few analysts ask: What does Iran really want?
Writing in 2009, Kayhan Barzegar, an expert on Iran who has taught both in Tehran and in the US, described what he called the “paradox of Iran’s nuclear consensus“. He was attempting to lay bare the complex and competing historical, political and strategic considerations behind the theocratic regime’s nuclear decision-making processes.
Referencing two centuries of internal criticism of Iran’s failure “to acquire substantial power, influence and wealth”, Barzegar cites more recent history that has persuaded many Iranians, not least in the country’s elites, that the west, and Britain and America in particular, have long conspired to throw obstacles in the way of Iran’s development both economically and as a major regional player.
From an Iranian point of view, there is ample evidence of this: from the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh’s government in a CIA and MI6-led coup in 1953, after he nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, to western resistance to the shah’s Esfahan steel manufacturing project to President Clinton’s killing off a $1bn deal for the US energy company Conoco to develop offshore oil fields. It is a suspicion that has been amplified by the country’s post-Islamic revolution politics.
Indeed, one of the bleakest of historical ironies is that the early revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini actually halted the western-supported civil nuclear programme in place under the shah and it was only persuaded that it needed to acquire nuclear weapons technology because of Iran’s massive losses in the war with Iraq, then supported by the US, which saw Iran targeted with chemical weapons.