Iran-US Relations: The Nuclear Spat
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Dec , 2017

(Graphic courtesy:

The spat is about US suspecting Iran secretly working on nuclear programme despite limits imposed by Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015.[1] The US believes Iranian theocratic regime is using Mr. Obama’s handiwork to legitimize the terrorist state,[2] facilitate and conceal its continuing nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programme, and acquire valuable resources from gullible negotiating partners.

On 19 September at the UN General Assembly session President Trump lacerated the deal as an “embarrassment; and the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”[3]

Iran – US relations soured after CIA and pro-Shah elements engineered dismissal of Left (Jibh-e-Milli)- led regime of Musaddegh in 1953.[4]  Ever since, Iran never ceased disliking the US. The 444 day-long saga of hostage-taking of about 52   American functionaries at the US Embassy in Tehran in the aftermath of Islamic revolution of 1979 reflected the outpouring of the venom of hatred.

Iran’s senseless animosity towards Israel and abhorrence of Saudi monarchy are two main motivating forces for Iran to go in search of nuclear capability. Hostility towards Israel emanates from her innate desire of stealing a march over Arab countries in practical implementation of Quranic injunction that a good Muslim works towards the destruction of Banu Israel. Again, Iran stubbornly nurses the obsession of telling the Arabs that she is far more Islamic than they are. Iran’s dislike for Saudi monarchy stems from the fact that she considers monarchy as the bastion of American menacing presence in the Gulf.  Iran believes it undermines her stature in the Gulf region.[5] These two perceptions have become catalyst to Iran’s hunt for a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s aspiration for nuclear capability goes back to more than a decade prior to the onset of the revolution. In 1974 she reportedly invested $1 billion in a French uranium enrichment plant owned by Eurodif, a European consortium.[6]

Iran’s carried forward her nuclear programme with assistance from Russia, China and Pakistan throughout 1990s. She received uranium enrichment technology through the black market network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan.[7] Beginning in 2002, Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program was moved to Natanz, the location chosen for a 1,000 centrifuge pilot plant and a commercial-scale facility intended to house over 50,000 centrifuges with capacity to produce nuclear fuel for power plants using uranium enriched from three to five percent U-235.

For the first time in 2002 an Iranian Resistance Group detected the existence of two nuclear sites.  They got alerted when they came to know that Iran was producing enriched uranium to fuel nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor. The site included a uranium mine at Saghand, and a yellow cake production plant near Ardakan.[8] Iran was working on 1000 megawatt nuclear reactor at Bushehr and heavy water plant at Arak. However, her sustained contention was that she was developing her nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. Nevertheless, in October 2003, after initial denials, Iran admitted she had used 1.9 kg of UF6, allegedly imported from China in 1991, to test centrifuges at Kalaye.[9] Warhead design and the like are far more likely at military sites like Parchin where IAEA’s access is barred.

Taking a serious note of this situation, Jack Straw, a former British Foreign Secretary told Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, that the idea of bringing Iran to talks on nuclear proliferation began at a meeting in his official residence in London with the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.[10] Though interim agreement was drawn by P5+1 in 2013 yet at that time the IAEA had asserted that Iran violated NPT and the SC should take action.

There emerged the idea of creating an ad hoc group to work out a deal with Tehran, by-passing both the IAEA and Security Council.  Rice was receptive and initiated a “bold move” by inviting the then secretary of Iran’s High Council of National Security Ali Ardeshir Larijani to Washington but the proposal fell through when the supreme religious leader of Iran ordered cancellation of the visit.

Iran secretly moved forward with her nuclear programme on one hand and continued denying any intention of manufacturing nuclear weapon on the other. It ultimately resulted in the UN imposing economic sanctions on her.

P5+1 deal of 2013 remained where it was but behind the curtain contact was not severed. Obama administration decided for a break through because a defiant Iran was inching towards producing the weapon of mass destruction.[11] Secret talks between the US and Iran went on in Oman. Ultimately, on 14 July 2015 the rather controversial Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) putting a limit to Iran’s nuclear programme against lifting of sanctions was worked out with Iran by the US, UK, Russia, France, China and Germany and the EU.

The hawks in the US lost no time in expressing reservations about the deal.  More vociferous sections of American press found many faults with the deal arguing that it did not serve the interests of the US as was expected and desirable. For example, Bolton, the former US representative at the UN published a number of articles strongly denouncing supporters of the deal for their failure to understand how the deal took no cognizance of loopholes in it that would let Iran proceed unhindered with her ambition of producing the bomb secretly.

President Trump questioned the merit of the deal from the very beginning.  In his address to the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2017 he pointedly named North Korea and Iran as two countries posing threat to peace and that they were tyrannical towards their citizens. Obviously, he was not going to make certification to the Congress about Iran sincerely implementing the terms of the deal. He would like to withdraw from the deal because he said the deal was “an embarrassment” to the US and that US had never signed a deal like that which did not safeguard country’s interests.[12] He also raised the issue of military dimensions which Iran could extract from the deal. He refused certification which has to come after every 90 days, and referred the Iran nuclear deal to the Congress for reconsideration. However, while declining certification that was due in October, Trump says the US would not walk out of the deal. Knowledgeable sources report that before sending it to the Congress Trump administration did good deal of talking with the Congressmen.

Supporters of the deal assert that the IAEA categorically said in its one or two recent reports that it had not found Iran violating any commitment and had dismantled whatever had to be dismantled. Some leading academics with expertise in nuclear technology also believe that Iran has not made any violation.

Trump has not pinpointed any specific violation of the deal from Iranian side. It appears that the President wants to emphasize political dimension of the case because there is a strong suspicion lurking in the mind of US administrative echelons that in all probability, Iran could shift enrichment of uranium and entire nuclear programme to a third country to avoid detection.

Pro-withdrawal segments contend that Iran is in close liaison with North Korea and it would not be surprising if she continues her nuclear programme in some cave in a North Korean mountain. The manner in which Iranian nuclear experts were given VIP treatment in Pyongyang sometimes back raises many doubts.

Iran experts believe that she has tremendous capacity of hiding most sensitive activities of nuclear programme and that in a situation of need she can produce a bomb within a couple of days. Trump argues that escape routes in the deal have not been plugged.

Observers are discussing the possible repercussions of the US withdrawal from the deal. The crucial question is that assuming the US walks away will re-imposition of sanctions on Iran find favour with the European partners of the deal? Secondly, once the US withdraws from the deal the deal will be dead. In that case nothing prevents Iran from   walking in the footsteps of Korean dictator? Lastly what will be the impact on regional and international strategy once Iran-US spat escalates dangerously?


[1] ‘Remarks by President Trump on Iran Strategy’ The White House Press Release, 13 October 2017. Also read  ‘Iran accused over nuclear plans’ BBC News 15 Oct. 2005. 

[2] Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway’ by Osh Meyer, Politico Investigation, 04/24/2017. 

[3] ‘Trump is conflating Pyongyang with Tehran. The results could be catastrophic’ by Trita Parsi, The Guardian, 13 Sept. 2017.

[4] CIA admits role in 1953 Iranian coup’, Saeed Jamali Dehjgan et al, The Guardian, 19 August 1953. 

[5] ‘U.S. Adds Forces in Persian Gulf, a Signal to Iran’, The New York Times, July 3m 2012.   

[6] ‘ A History of Iran’s Nuclear Program’, Iran Watch, (A website published by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control) August 9, 2015

[7] Levy, Adrian and Catherine Scott-Clark, Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. New York. Walker Publishing Company. 1977: page 112. Print. Also see ^ Jump up to:a b “The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News”. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2016. 

[8]  See fn 6 supra

[9]  ‘How the US Fired Jack Straw’, by William Rees-Mogg in Global Policy Forum,  August 7, 2006.

[10]  For some insights into how China clandestinely transferred parts of nuclear technology and centriguges to Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, see the excellent study titled ‘HOW CHINA IS BEHIND THE NUCLEAR PROGRAM OF IRAN—AND EVERY OTHER ROGUE STATE; by Gordon G Chang in Tablet of  January 3, 2014, website 

[11] ‘Iran nuclear deal: Obama’s desperation is showing. And it’s dangerous’, by Senator Marco Rubio in Fox News (Opinion) of April 29, 2015. 

[12]   2:12…/trump-un-general-assembly-iran-sot.cnn 19 Sept. 2017 President Donald Trump calls Iran nuclear deal an embarrassment to the US.  

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left