The march toward a nuclear Iran


by Ray Takeyh

For years it was assumed that economic sanctions and diplomacy would produce a pliable negotiating partner in Iran. But Iran’s truculence has effectively undermined the once-popular notion, while a degree of confusion and consternation has gripped the international community. The often-unstated hope is that denial of critical technologies and sabotage can slow the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program until, somehow, an alternative strategy, or an agreement, emerges. The thinking has been that time is on our side and that Iran’s weak scientific foundation can be further derailed through such pressure. Contrary to such presumptions, however, Iran’s scientific infrastructure has grown in sophistication and capability in the past two decades.

Iran is an outlier in the history of proliferation; nearly every middle power that obtained the bomb has had substantial assistance from an external patron. China acquired from the Soviet Union not just technical advice but also the means of building a nuclear reactor, weapon designs and a supply of ballistic missiles. China in turn provided Pakistan sufficient enriched uranium for two bombs, helped with the construction of its enrichment facility and plutonium reactors, and furnished bomb designs. Israel received from France a nuclear reactor, an underground plutonium reprocessing plant and weapon designs. India, which has long claimed its nuclear program as an indigenous accomplishment, conveniently leaves out the fact that it received a nuclear reactor from Canada and 20 tons of heavy water from the United States. Isolated and ostracized, South Africa came closest to Iran’s predicament, as it had to rely largely on internal resources for constructing the bomb; but it did receive from Israel tritium, which is critical for the explosion of thermonuclear weapons.

Although Iran received Russian assistance for completion of a light-water reactor that cannot be misused for weapons purposes, and, more ominously, rudimentary centrifuges from the A.Q. Khan network, Tehran never enjoyed the type of external patronage that other proliferators garnered. Moreover, no other state has confronted such systematic attempts to place stress on its nuclear program through denial of technology and computer virus penetration. (Indeed, if Pakistan and Israel had faced the obstacles confronting Iran, their paths to the bomb would have taken much longer.) That Iran has crossed successive technical thresholds, has managed to sustain an elaborate and growing enrichment network, and is about to unveil a new generation of centrifuges are all indications of its scientific acumen.

What made this possible? The 1980s were a calamitous decade for science in Iran as a revolutionary assault on the universities and the prolonged war with Iraq deprived the educational sector of funds and state support. But this changed in the 1990s, despite sanctions and export controls that were imposed on Iran after the 1979 revolution, as the political elite — conservatives and reformers — sought to revive scientific research. New organizations such as the Zanjan Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences and the Institute for Theoretical Physics and Mathematics were created; old institutions such as Sharif University of Technology were revived. The Atomic Energy Organization, which was protected by Hashemi Rafsanjani even in the heady days of revolutionary turmoil, enjoyed a new management team and greater state allocations. In a country where politics is often a blood sport, reformers and reactionaries have found common ground in their commitment to scientific development. The results have been impressive: The number of scientific papers produced by Iranian scholars in internationally recognized journals has increased dramatically, while many universities have sufficient resources and faculty expertise to offer their own doctoral programs.

Rather than suffering shortfalls or inhibitions from curtailed funding as a result of sanctions, the state has proved a generous patron of sciences. Iran’s scientists have emerged as strong nationalists determined to transcend fractious politics and provide their country the full spectrum of technological discovery, including advances in nuclear science. Iran’s pariah status has ironically engendered an esprit de corps within its scientific community. Researchers resent being shunned by their international colleagues, are annoyed at being excluded from collaborative efforts with Western centers of learning and are angered at the targeted killing of their colleagues. In today’s Iran, rulers and scientists have crafted a national compact whereby the state provides the resources while the scientists furnish their expertise. A dedicated corps of scientific nationalists is committed to providing its country with the capacity to reach the height of technological achievement and, in the process, provide the mullahs with the means of building the bomb.

Exact estimates vary, but in the next few years Iran will be in position to detonate a nuclear device. An aggressive theocracy armed with the bomb will cast a dangerous shadow over the region’s political transition, but the consequences will not be limited to the Middle East. An Iranian bomb is likely to unleash the most divisive partisan discord in this country since the 1949 debate about who lost China. In the end, neither the turbulent order of the Middle East nor the partisan politics of Washington can afford an Islamic Republic armed with nuclear weapons.

First published in WashingtonPost.com.

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.



No More American War!

by AliAlavi on

Since the  1950's U.S has been invading and bombing and killing innocent people around the globe in order to push their interest(with stupid claim on delivering freedom)  and suck those countries out of their wealth and resources in order to advance the wealthiest pro-Israeli's.   They then threw some bread crumbs for the politically naive american middle class... Their dirty rotten tricks and their butchery includes but not limited to  Chile, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Granada, ... Iraq (Remember the claim of Weapons of Mass destruction?)  and now . .... Iran.

Iran is THE ONLY country that have slapped U.S in the face, taking over their spying operation in the form of U.S Embassy and kicking them out for good.  The Americans  have been pissed off about that for all these years and even though everybody in the Middle East neighborhood is armed to the teeth (including the funny Israels) with Nuclear arms, they have come up with the stupid claim, exactly like the case of lies they gave in Iraq about WMD in order to kill millions of Iraqis and saying that Iran is building Nuke bombs.

So not only the U.S is pissed off about the U.S getting the hell kicked out of Iran in 1979, they are pissed off that the Iranians have shown all the countries in the world "The emperor has no clothes... " and you could slap U.S in the face and they can not do a damn thing.


Whatever the U.S people hear from their government and their Israeli leaders, the U.S government will not be able to win any war with Iran ... since it is the U.S that is going down... the Banks and Investment firms have sucked the life out of the Americans and they think they can start another war and make some more money from abroad... but they are wrong.... The American people should not be fooled into another war where they loose their children to another stupid war... 


Mohammad Alireza

You have no evidence Mr. Takeyh!

by Mohammad Alireza on

Mr. Ray Takeyh:

You have succeeded in making Iran a bigger target for all those rabid Zionist neocon warmongers.

When they dig out the corpses of women and children from the inevitable collateral damage look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if your article played any part and if you betrayed your fellow Iranians.

The answer should be easy.


Really buddy?

by Onlyiran on

What about the U.S.?  did you ever think, or say, on this site, or elsewhere, that the U.S. was about to attack Iran?

PS -- I would chose my wordes wisely, because I have, shall we say, "evidence" of your thoughts handy. :-)) 


Hallucinate much?

by hass on

Ummm...actually I never thought that Israel would attack Iran so go take your medication and stop your hallucinations



by Cost-of-Progress on

I'm all confused about these "nationalist scientists"? So these "nationalists" who put Islam before Iran (why else would they support such tyrannical regime build the bomb?) are OK with the way the islamist pukes have handled the affairs of their ancestral land that they are willing to overlook the mismangement of resources, brutal unemployment, lack of personal freedom, religious intolerence, pollution, incompetence in governance and rampant corruption just so that they could have nukes?

Silly me, I always thought that nationalism means Country First not religion - let alone an alien religion!

Reminds me of some other "nationalists" who post on this site.....





Also Hass

by Onlyiran on

You and your ilk have been screaming for the past 32 years that the U.S. and Israel are about to attack Iran.  Sometimes you even give a specific month for the attack.  What happened there buddy?


 public opinion formed

by vildemose on

 public opinion formed and based on propaganda is worthless. Any Iranian with a ounce of brain would not want this extremely costly and dead end endeavor to stop.

Germany to abandon nuclear power by 2022




"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx



by AMIR1973 on

They've been saying Iran will build a bomb for more than 30 years now.

How long has the IRI been trying to get that piece-of-garbage Russian reactor in Bushehr to become operational? Let's not mistake the utter lack of competence of a bunch of Islamist animals for lack of intention on their part. I'm sure that never-ending, always a work-in-progress piece of junk in Bushehr is also very popular among Iranians. (I can't think of a better use of billions of dollars in a Third World country like Iran than to spend it on a reactor which still hasn't produced any electricity after all these years!)


"Estimates vary" LOL!

by hass on

Yes, they sure do! They've been saying Iran will build a bomb for more than 30 years now.

Fact is, the nuclear program is massively popular amongst the people of Iran. Deal with it.


what world is he living in?

by asadabad on

He boasts that Iran has some serious scientific acumen.  How does he know this?  Virtually every word that comes out of the IRI spokesman's mouth is a lie.  The government always exaggerates any military/scientific accomplishment.  Even the CIA cooks the books when it feels it would be in America's interests.  

The reality is this: Iranian military hardware is nothing but outdated russian equipment and the missiles are north korean ripoffs. The nuclear plant in Bushehr isn't even running because of Russian reluctance.  If there was some serious skill at home, then clearly this wouldn't be the case.  Obviously the USA doesn't want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I think that Russia/China have a greater incentive to see Iran w/o nukes given their closer proximity.


 Fred: I was stunned when

by vildemose on

 Fred: I was stunned when I saw his name. Is this really the same Ray?? What has changed??


"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." - Groucho Marx


Covering all the bases

by Fred on

At one time, this Ray Takiyeh was saying Islamist Rapists are many many years away from the bomb, now he is singing another tune.

He was for the “grand Bargain” that NIAC lobby, his favorite lobby, was pushing, and then he sort of backed out of that too.

He was for sanctions before he was against it, before he was for it.

He and his wife, Suzanne Maloney, have mastered talking out of both sides of the mouth and covering all the bases.


Among this crowd of Iran "specialists", this "nationalist  scientists" working for the anti-Iran Islamist Rapists is the newest craze. 

Ari Siletz

Makes sense.

by Ari Siletz on

Western policies that accept alienating the Iranian nation as "collateral damage" come with an "unaffordable" price tag.