"There's no doubt the US posture regarding the Iranian "nuclear threat" is rife with hypocrisies. The US, after all, remains the only state to actually deploy nuclear weapons in war, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US has also conducted well over 1,000 nuclear tests, the latest coming as recently as December. And if all that weren't enough, the U.S is currently in the midst of upgrading its vast nuclear arsenal - the largest in the world," said Ben Schreiner in an interview with Fars News Agency.
Ben Schreiner is a freelance journalist and writer whose writings mostly cover the US foreign policy and international politics. His articles and writings have appeared on al-Akhbar English, Asia Times Online, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Z Magazine.
With only a few days to the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the group of six world powers in Kazakhstan, Fars News Agency conducted an interview with Ben Schreiner to explore the different aspects of Iran's nuclear program and the sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and its European allies.
What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: The US hostility toward Iran is seemingly because of Tehran's pursuit of a nuclear program which Washington and its allies claim might one day in future find military dimensions. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the intelligence agencies of the United States and European countries have so far failed to present confirmable evidence to substantiate their claims that Iran is after nuclear weapons. What are these hostilities, sanctions and war threats really for? Don't the American statesmen really know that Iran does not pursue a nuclear weapons program?
A: Well, as you mentioned, Western intelligence agencies are all in agreement that 1) Iran has no nuclear weapons program and 2) Iran is not actively pursuing such a program. So, I think it's reasonable to assume American policy makers are aware of what their own intelligence has to say. In fact, we've often heard as much publicly from American officials. Just earlier this month, for instance, outgoing US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Iran has "not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon." And, of course, one can go back and find similar remarks from other US officials as well. So given this, we really need to go beyond the nuclear issue to properly understand US hostilities toward Iran.
In fact, the US targeting of Iran is really a perfect example of what the well-known American dissident and author Noam Chomsky has deemed the "Mafia principle" of US foreign policy. That is to say, nothing is held to be more dangerous to American planners than successful defiance. For if a nation is allowed to successfully defy the US, it is feared that others might follow suit. Thus, defiance is never to be tolerated. And so when the Islamic revolution occurred in 1979, overthrowing a US client regime, the Mafia principle went into effect. And of course the US has had sanctions on Iran ever since.
That said, I think imperialist motives are also influencing the Western hostilities towards Iran. For sitting atop the world's third largest oil reserves and the world's second largest natural gas reverses makes Iran a particularly appealing target. Moreover, as the West remains mired in economic crisis, it has once again resorted to external aggression in an attempt to regenerate global capitalism via the "creative destruction" of war. And to this end, we have already seen the NATO war in Libya, the French-led war in Mali, and the ongoing Western targeting of Syria. But even after these military adventures the crisis remains, and thus the threats against Iran continue to ratchet up.
Q: Iran has always complained that the United States exercises double standards on the nuclear disarmament issue. Firstly, the United States is the largest possessor of nuclear weapons in the world, and secondly, it prevents IAEA from investigating Israel's underground nuclear facilities and its stockpile of atomic warheads. Do you agree with Iran that America's behavior is hypocritical and duplicitous?
A: There's no doubt the US posture regarding the Iranian "nuclear threat" is rife with hypocrisies. The US, after all, remains the only state to actually deploy nuclear weapons in war, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US has also conducted well over 1,000 nuclear tests, the latest coming as recently as December. And if all that weren't enough, the U.S is currently in the midst of upgrading its vast nuclear arsenal - the largest in the world, as you note. So, I think any objective observer would be able to see that a far greater nuclear threat comes from Washington than from Tehran.
Of course, another matter in terms of hypocrisy is that fact that Israel - the country supposedly facing an "existential threat" from Iran - is already a nuclear power, with as many as 200 warheads. But not only that, in addition to refusing international inspection of its nuclear facilities, Israel refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has repeatedly blocked efforts to form a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. If there is a rogue nuclear state in the Middle East, then, it is Israel.
Q: In 2010, Iran agreed to a Turkish-Brazilian plan for shipping 1,200 kilograms of its Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) stockpile to the Turkish soil in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. It was a confidence-building measure but only in a matter of few weeks, the United States and its Western allies imposed a new round of sanctions against Iran at the Security Council and impeded the chances of reconciliation. So it sounds like that the West does not seek a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the controversy over Iran's nuclear program. What's your viewpoint on that?
A: I'm not sure I would say that the US is necessarily opposed to a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. I think it is really more that the US wants any resolution to occur on its own terms. That said, it's clear that the terms the US has laid out are unacceptable to Tehran and are leading down a path toward confrontation.
But to address the 2010 enrichment deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil, I think it was the fact that such a deal excluded the US and the West that it was so quickly mocked and scorned by Western officials. The US in particular was afraid that any deal struck outside it purview would come to threaten its regional hegemony, and thus it had to be killed, as it was.
Q: Some political commentators believe that Iran's nuclear program is only a pretext for putting pressure on Iran and damaging it as an integral part of the resistance front against Israeli Zionism and American imperialism and expansionism. Would you please share with us your perspective on that?
A: I agree that the nuclear issue is largely a pretext used to target Iran. And like I mentioned previously, Iran has long been a target of the US.
I think it's also important, though, to understand the true nature of the "Iranian threat" as seen by the US political elite. For the real fear, and it is a genuine one, is that a nuclear-capable Iran would threaten American hegemony in the region. A nuclear-capable Iran, for instance, would become immune from Western military intervention. A nuclear-capable Iran would also help bolster the resistance front and threaten Israel's "freedom" to launch incursions into Gaza and southern Lebanon. A challenge to Israeli and US military superiority in the Middle East, in other words, is at the heart of what the West really fears, not a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv.
And we can indeed see the fear of a rising Iran when we look at Western policy towards the Syrian crisis. As many in the West have argued, the crisis in Syria is an opportunity to weaken the resistance axis by expelling Iran from the Arab world. And it is hoped that by severing Tehran's ties with Damascus, Iran will perhaps become so isolated and weakened it will be forced to abandon its nuclear program. I doubt very much whether such a strategy will work, but containing Iranian influence in the region is clearly driving Western policy in the Middle East.
Q: The United States has always asked Iran to make concessions on its nuclear program while knowing that its demands are not legally or politically justifiable. For example, it has demanded that Iran should halt all its uranium enrichment activities, whereas all the signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are allowed to enrich uranium to low degrees for research purposes. Why does the United States make such requests while showing no flexibility and willingness to lift the sanctions?
A: I think this comes back to the fact that, in large measure, the targeting of Iran has little to do with the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue, though, is certainly quite useful in providing cover for imperial pursuits. The American public, for instance, more readily supports sanctions against Iran when it is presented as all part of an effort to curb nuclear proliferation. But if the nuclear issue with Iran were to be resolved, I think the support in the US for sanctions and threats against Iran would dry up. So, in this sense, the nuclear issue is vital for the US to continue its targeting of Iran.
Q: The American officials have tacitly admitted that they have imposed the hard-hitting sanctions on Iran to pit the people against the government and create social unrest in the country. Have they succeeded in their goal? Could they make the Iranians pessimistic about their government?
A: If we look at polling from Iran, we see that a majority of Iranians blame sanctions on the West and not their own government. So, if the goal is truly to turn Iranians against their government, I think it's clear the sanctions have been an unmitigated failure. And I wouldn't anticipate this changing.
But despite the claims from Western leaders regarding the purpose of sanctions, sanctions are really more about punishing the people of Iran more than anything else. It comes back to the Mafia principle I discussed earlier: successful defiance must be punished. We can see this same principle at work in American policy towards Cuba. After all, the US has placed Cuba under economic embargo for over 50 years. And even though the "threat" of communism receded with the end of the Cold War, the embargo remains in effect to this day. Cubans, we see, must be punished for their nation's defiance; dissent is not to be tolerated.
What's remarkable about such a despicable policy of collective punishment is the fact that American officials don't really shy away from their crimes. As US Vice-President Joe Biden recently commented on Iranian sanctions, "Iran's leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation." The notion that the sanctions are the fault of the Iranian leadership aside, the tacit acknowledgement Biden makes here is that the direct aim of the sanctions is to impose economic deprivation on ordinary Iranians. This is clearly criminal.
Likewise, we can note the remarks once made by US Senator Mark Kirk. Kirk, a co-sponsor of nearly every Iran sanctions bill in the US Senate, averred back in 2011 that, "It's okay to take the food out of the mouths of" innocent Iranians. So, once again we see the motive of sanctions being collective punishment more than anything else.
Q: What do you think about the upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the Group 5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States)? Are the six world powers going to take a more realistic and logical approach towards the talks and refrain from bullying Iran and the policy of carrot and stick?
A: I highly doubt we'll see much of a change from the West in the coming talks in Almaty. We of course saw the offer of direct dialogue made by Vice-President Biden in Munich, but that was followed by yet further sanctions, what even the New York Times described as constituting "economic war." And the US press is now reporting that US lawmakers are already working on the next round of sanctions. So, it appears the US is content with a policy of offering little more than sticks.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari