Iran nuclear deal at stake as Europeans back US on Saudi attack

A woman standing next to an anti-US slogan painted at the former US embassy in Tehran.
A woman standing next to an anti-US slogan painted at the former US embassy in Tehran. RFI/Jan van der Made

The UK, Germany and France now agree that Iran was behind recent drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which caused massive damage and a slump in production. Iran denies the charges, saying that Yemeni rebels were behind the attacks.


Governments of the UK, Germany and France issued a joint statement “condemning in the strongest terms” the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, saying “it is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack,” but not giving any evidence supporting the allegation.

Iran denies being responsible for the attacks and has called the European statement “baseless”. Tehran maintains that Houthi rebels in Yemen created the drones that were used in the attack.

Continued commitment

Meanwhile, Iran is still in contact with the remaining members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, after the US withdrew unilaterally.

In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani highlighted the duties and responsibilities of the other signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency. Rouhani called on France and the other co-signatories to save the international agreement, despite the US withdrawal.

In their joint statement, France, the UK and Germany reiterate their conviction that the time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme. But they reconfirm that the three are still committed to the deal agreed with Iran on 14 July 2015.

Just before the joint statement was published, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the first time, in an interview with NBC Television, echoed US President Donald Trump’s words, saying that “If the joint agreement was a bad deal   and I’m willing to accept that, it had many, many defects   then let’s do a better deal.”

Did the US give Iran nuclear know-how -- and the bomb?

The Iranian nuclear program was kickstarted by the US in the 1957 under President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, a cold war program that was aimed at balancing fear of nuclear war with prospects for the peaceful use of uranium.

1970s advertisement of Boston Edison, a company that made nuclear plants
1970s advertisement of Boston Edison, a company that made nuclear plants Boston Edison

In 1967, the Tehran Nuclear Research Center, equipped with a US-made 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor fueled by highly-enriched uranium started operating. One year later, Tehran signed the Non Proliferation Treaty allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear sites.

In March 1974, the Shah unfolded plans to build 23 nuclear plants by the year 2000, claiming the energy would be used as a substitute for oil. Loans worth billions and nuclear cooperation agreements were signed with the US, France, Germany, South Africa and others.

1979 Revolution

Work on Iran’s nuclear programs came to a virtual standstill after the 1979 Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini installs an anti-western theocracy and most western nuclear companies pull out, but continued with Russian and Chinese help.

The first time allegations that Iran was making an A-bomb surfaced in 1984 with reports of the the West-German intelligence agency, but the IAEA did not notice anything. In the meantime, Iran obtained nuclear know-how from Russia and China, installing a 915 Mw water reactor with Russian help in the already existing Bushehr complex.

Some notable conspiracy theories have added to the mysteries surrounding Iran’s suspected development of an atomic bomb.

“Merlin” program

Investigative journalist James Risen of the New York Times reported in his 2006 book “State of War” that the CIA may have helped Iran constructing a nuclear bomb.

Under an operation codenamed “Merlin” a Russian defector working for the CIA was to pose as a disgruntled nuclear scientist who wanted to sell ultra-secret designs of the A-bomb to the Iranians.

However the the CIA had re-authored the plans, inserting fatal flaws, hoping that the Iranians would create a faulty bomb and slow down their nuclear program.

Instead, Risen thinks, the Iranians saw the flaw, and the blueprints in fact helped them to construct a bomb. The CIA whistleblower who talked about the “Merlin” program to Risen, Jeffrey Sterling, received a 3 ½ year prison sentence and was released in 2018.

People's Mujaheddin

The opposition Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, a group that fought against the Shah, and later against the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini, claimed during a press conference in Washington in 2002, that it had proof, based on satellite pictures, that Iran was running two top-secret projects, in Nataz and in Arak.

One year later, the IAEA reported that Iran had not declared certain uranium enrichment procedures, but Iran maintains until today that its nuclear program is peaceful and has enriched uranium to less than 5 percent, consistent with the fuel requirements for a civilian nuclear power plan.

The allegations eventually led to the stringent sanctions, negotiations and the joint agreement that was signed in 2015. But increasing criticism, spearheaded by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resulted in the US unilaterally walking away from the deal.

Today, with the three European signatories of the joint deal backing the US on its suspicions of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia, a return to the original commitments of the deal seem more remote than ever.

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