Inside Story

I thought that I might as well post this, since I went to the trouble of writing it. This was my “paper” that I presented in my Middle Eastern Media class.

Joining the Club

Middle East Perspectives on a Nuclear Iran

Introduction

The Iranian nuclear program was initiated in 1957 with the Iran-United States Agreement for Cooperation concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy, as part of the United States’ “Atoms for Peace” program. Backed by the Shah, it continued steadily through the next twenty years, including an extensive nuclear purchase program that was supervised by Western powers. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 put a halt to development, as it was not a priority for the new administration. However, the mid-1980s and 1990s saw cooperation with both North Korea and China, and the birth of nuclear weapons suspicion. In 2002, Russia began construction of a contracted reactor at Bushehr, under IAEA safeguards, followed by the official unveiling of enrichment activities by Iran in 2003. Through the next three years, the Islamic Republic scuffled with the IAEA, suspending and resuming its enrichment program until 11 April 2006, when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that laboratory samples of uranium had successfully been enriched to the 3.5% reactor-grade level.

The significance of this issue may be simplistically classed under two themes: control and potential. If Iran had the ability to produce nuclear fuel from uranium ore, its dependence upon outside sources would be vastly lessened, in turn depleting the amount of control the outside world has upon Iran’s program. The country’s accountability for the internal supply and use of enriched uranium would be greatly reduced. Reactor-grade uranium needs only to be additionally cycled through centrifuge cascades to reach the 90% weapons-grade level. This potential, along with the possible actions of a nuclear-armed Iran, engenders concern in both the region and the international community. This media watch project evaluated reactions from mainly Iranian sources to the 11 April announcement, and their general views on a nuclear Islamic Republic.

Iran Daily

The Iran Daily, published by the Islamic Republic News Agency, is “based on and aimed at securing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s national interests”, as proclaimed by the IRNA. Founded in 1934, it presents the official government stance on daily news within Iran. Its audience is comprised of Iranian citizens, authorities, and publications, for which it functions as the ‘mother source of information dissemination’”.1 Its websites are presented in Persian, the official language, English, and Arabic.

On 12 April 2006, the Iran Daily published its coverage of President Ahmadinejad’s historical announcement, headlined, “Iran Joins Nuclear Technology Club: Fuel Cycle Complete”2. The 500-word article was essentially a summary of the president’s speech, filled with quotes from both Ahmadinejad and the Iran Atomic Energy Organization head Gholamreza Aqazadeh. With such phrases as “joined the club”, “demand of the Iranian nation”, and “’product of sufferings, resistance and endurance of the great Iranian nation” in reference to the enrichment accomplishment, the article evokes a strong nationalist sentiment, coupled with pride in advancement, elitism, and sacrifice. It also imbued the nation with nobility and a high moral standing through the use of statements like, “[the] advancement and might of Iran has always been at the service of peace, calm and security for our neighbors and the inhabitants of the planet…”. Remarkable is the complete absence of analysis, issue background, or technical explanations. Very little attention is give to the actual application of the newly-enriched fuel, except for mentioning nuclear reactors and electricity within quote summaries of the president and the IAEO head.

The following day, an opinion piece was published in the Iran Daily’s “Perspectives” column, entitled “End of Nuclear Apartheid”. Mohammad Reza Erfanian, a regular journalist for the paper, elaborates on the racial implications of the title; especially on the practice of large, imperialistic powers “dictating to weaker nations”. Like the article of the day before, he gives Iran a high moral stance and declares that “today the free world with thousands of years of history and civilization is unwilling to tolerate curbs or conditions on access to science and technology,”3 classifying Iran with the “free world”. The nation is presented as a victim, held back from its right to scientific progress by other countries, specifically the U.S., who are themselves unwilling to be accountable to international oversight. However, an exemplary Iran, backed by the will of its people, will dauntlessly press on toward technological equality.

Editor: Myself

Iranian expatriate Hossein Derakhshan’s weblog, Editor: Myself, is a very different media source, providing the individual viewpoint of a journalist who is still loyal to his nation. He wrote for a reformist Iranian newspaper until 2000, when it was shut down by authorities. Derakhshan left for Canada, where he currently resides and blogs for Newsweek and the Washington Post, in addition to encouraging blogging as a means of Iranian reform.4 His first Persian blog was founded in September 2001; he currently writes in both Persian and English. Read by Iranian nationals and expatriates, the blog received 35,000 pageviews a day, until the implementation of a more discriminating filtering system within Iran.

On 24 October 2006, Derakhshan was interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Hour, where he was asked quite explicitly about the nuclear program and the possibility of nuclear weapons. His response was that, due to both regional and international threats, having nuclear weapons was a necessary deterrent. He maintains an internationalized, practical view on the program, and believes that the United States is an imperialistic nation, determined to bring Iran into a state of dependence. In an earlier blog post, he states that “even if Iran becomes the most peaceful, secular and progressive, yet still independent state on the planet, the U.S. would be unable to tolerate it.”5

In the 12 April 2006 issue, New Scientist magazine published an opinion article by Derakhshan: “Iran’s Nuclear Fantasy”. He republished it on Editor: Myself on the same day, in reaction to the enrichment announcement. Not mincing words, the op-ed pointed out that Tehran controls public opinion by preventing any sort of discussion of the need for nuclear energy despite large oil reserves, or of the safety risks involved in processing uranium and operating reactors. The administration, Derakhshan says, also ties the nuclear issue to ancient history and national pride.6 As the guardian of the ancient Persian Empire, it has the duty of leading the Iranian people to further glory, and expands from nuclear advancement to scientific progress in general.

Al-Arabiya

For a regional perspective, the media outlet Al-Arabiya was used in place of Al-Jazeera, which does not archive news articles back to 11 April 2006. Supported by the Middle East Broadcasting Center of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Al-Arabiya was established in March 2003. Like Al-Jazeera, it covers regional issues relevant to its Middle Eastern satellite audience, has been known to broadcast statements from militant groups, is banned from reporting in Iraq, and has websites both in Arabic and English. It has, from time to time, faced allegations of bias, due to the fact that there is considerable Saudi ownership of the outlet.

Shortly before 11 April 2006, Bahraini journalist Sawsan Al-Sha’er was interviewed regarding the Iranian nuclear program, as she had been in a group invited to tour the facilities. The interview, as translated from the original Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute, was short, but allowed Al-Sha’er to express concern. She noted vagueness and ambiguity surrounding the presentation of the nuclear program by Iranian officials, and believes that even the nuclear reactor at Bashehr poses a threat “to the entire region”.7 She found it extremely significant that only Shi’ite journalists were invited to visited the facilities; Sunnis were excluded. Perhaps it is more likely for a citizen of the smallest Arab state, once claimed by Iran, to be skeptical of Iranian intentions, but it is also interesting that nuclear weapons were never mentioned in the interview, or even “Iranian officials” by name. The questions never delved very deeply into the topics mentioned, as if there were a certain unwritten code that must not be breached.

Conclusion

This survey of various sources revealed differing views on the necessity of a nuclear Iran, each with their own reasons and biases. Each chose a different aspect to emphasize, with variations in phrasing depending on purpose, audience, and location. Also noticeable was the directness of each response, perhaps related to the cultural context in which each was placed; either North America or the Middle East. When viewing responses such as these, one must not only read what is said, but also what is not said.

So yeah, not the greatest, but the length requirements were short, so I really had to take in the scope. If you badly want a bibliography, contact me.

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