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February 02, 2006 Edition 4

The Persian bomb: forbidden by all
Yin Gang

The Indian and Pakistani nuclear test competition in May 1998 met with world-wide condemnation. Israel was especially afraid of the birth of the "Islamic bomb", worrying that Pakistan's nuclear weapons technology would proliferate to Arab countries. Yet India and Pakistan have not been asked to give up their nuclear weapons, because the world believes theirs are "fixed-targeted bombs" or "bombs for sole objective", hence no threat to third nations.

Articles in this edition
No moral high ground - Ghassan Khatib
Iran's nuclear challenge - Ramin Jahanbegloo
The Persian bomb: forbidden by all - Yin Gang
The Iranians will find a solution - an interview with Helena Dunaeva
The entire world is taking a totally different attitude to the development of Iranian nuclear technology, and the Iranians have been pushed into a corner under hard world-wide pressure.

After Iraq's nuclear reactor was destroyed by the Israel Air Force in 1981, the balance of the Iraqi-Iranian nuclear race that started in the 1950s was broken. No one talks about an Iraqi A-bomb anymore. Meanwhile, facing the rapidly-developing Iranian nuclear project, the potential "Persian bomb" worries not only Israel, the US and Europe, but also Arab countries and even remote China.

In understanding the future of the Iranian nuclear project and the forthcoming UN discussion on the topic, we had best classify existing and potential nuclear weapons according to their owners.

The first kind is the nuclear weapons of the great powers, the US, Russia, the UK, France and China. All five are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and were the main victors of WWII. They shoulder the main responsibility of keeping world peace. Although their nuclear bombs are not fixed-targeted, they play a common mutually effective deterrent role, and have functioned to avoid a nuclear war and eventually gain acceptance by international society.

The second kind is the aforementioned bomb for sole objective. Other nations can tolerate this type of bomb in the hands of India or Pakistan. The third type is the "doomsday bomb", possessed by isolated countries like Israel and South Africa before 1994. Both countries faced existential threats from their neighbors, and it is believed they developed nuclear weapons only for that doomsday scenario. As long as doomsday was avoided, these bombs would not be used. Indeed, the existence of this kind of bomb was also tolerated by international society.

In March 1993, when negotiations between South Africa's President FW de Klerk and the ANC's Nelson Mandela brought a permanent end to the racist apartheid regime in the country, de Klerk announced that South Africa's nuclear weapons had been destroyed. In this way we can expect that the destruction of Israel's doomsday bombs will also be on the agenda if and when all Arab countries realize permanent peace with Israel.

The last is the "absolutely forbidden bomb". In March 1970, six months after Libya's Moammer Qaddafi took power, he sent his deputy Abdul Salam Jalloud to China looking for a Chinese nuclear bomb at a price of $100 million in order to "solve the Arab-Israel conflict once and for all." But Qaddafi's demand was flatly refused by Chinese Premier Zhou En Lai, and Libya was forced to give up its own nuclear project 30 years later.

Similar instances occurred in Argentina and Brazil, both of which abandoned their nuclear weapons projects under international pressure. North Korea, together with Iran, is now moving in the same direction. The latent North Korean nuclear bomb is simply a nightmare to all north-eastern Asian countries. Nor can America tolerate it. Our analysis leads us to conclude that no matter how the Iranian nuclear crisis develops, a Persian bomb cannot possibly come into existence.

China apparently opposes the proposed sanctions against Iran at the moment, but China also rejects a Persian bomb. The fact is, China has withdrawn all its assistance for Iranian nuclear projects. China signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran on September 10, 1992 in Beijing and announced its intent to supply two 300 MW pressurized water reactors to Iran. The business contract for the reactors was later reached in Tehran on February 21, 1993.

The Chinese reactor sale seems to have stimulated Russia, which signed a new contract with Iran in January 1995 for a 1000 MW reactor and related nuclear fuel. As a direct consequence of those deals, both China and Russia came under heavy pressure from the American and Israeli governments. Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored the pressure and concluded more reactor sales contracts with Iran, while China changed its position and froze negotiations with Iran immediately after President Bill Clinton announced sanctions on US-Iran investment and trade on April 30, 1995. Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen reportedly told US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in May that China had canceled the 300 MW reactor sale. Furthermore, on October 29 the same year the White House stated: "We have received assurances from the Chinese that they will not engage in any new nuclear cooperation with Iran and that the existing cooperation--there are two projects in particular--will end." Later, in a 1998 report, the CIA verified to the US Congress that in 1997 China had halted all cooperation with Iran related to building a uranium conversion facility.

Apparently, China maintains a circumspect and responsible position on the Iranian nuclear issue even at the price of serious harm to its relationship with Iran. It is reasonable for China to keep a distance from the position of other big powers, but this does not mean China will insist on a different position in the future.

At present, the ball is in the Iranian court. Iran must understand that real civilian utilization of nuclear power is acceptable, subject to the terms of the NPT and with comprehensive monitoring by IAEA, but that under no circumstances is a Persian bomb to be produced. This is unacceptable not only to America and Europe, Israelis and Arabs, but also to Asians, indeed to everyone.- Published 2/2/2006 © bitterlemons-international.org

Yin Gang is a research professor of the Institute of West Asian and African Studies, under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He also serves as deputy secretary general of the Chinese Association of Middle East Studies.

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