Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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February 11, 2003

Iran, as Predicted by GIS, Announces its Nuclear “Poison Pill”: Acknowledges Domestic Nuclear Self-Sufficiency

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. The Iranian Government, as exclusively forecast by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on January 29, 2003, announced on February 9, 2003, that it had self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel, the basis of an autonomous nuclear weapons program. The announcement was meant as a means of bolstering its strategic safeguards against a possible US attempt to intimidate it militarily, or, indeed, to invade Iran in the wake of the anticipated US-led conflict with Iraq. 

The Iranian announcement was of great political-strategic significance because of its timing, and because of the impact which the acknowledgement of the nuclear resources would have on domestic and international planning with regards to Iran. 

[See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, January 28, 2003: Iran Reported Considering Declaration on Nuclear Status as “Poison Pill” Against Possible US Intervention, and Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, December 12, 2002: Iran’s Military Nuclear Capability, Highlighted by Exclusive 1992 Report, Now Critical Part of Persian Gulf Strategic Planning.]

However, the extreme caution with which the Iranian leadership made the announcement meant that it lacked the impact — both with regard to the international community and to Iranians themselves — of the November 17, 2002, announcement by the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea (DPRK) about its nuclear weapons program. 

The announcement by Pres. Hojjat ol-Eslam (Ali) Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani on February 9, 2003, announced Iran’s development of uranium deposits near the central city of Yazd and the construction of an array of plants to process the fuel. Iran had been importing some uranium from Russia. However, the “announcement” was contrived: the Iranian uranium resources have been known, and exploited, for some time. The timing of the announcement was, however, specifically designed to bolster the perceived strength of the ruling clerics in Iran both to the domestic audience — in what is an extremely delicate internal situation — and to the US.

The fact that the Iranian leadership only announced the existence of domestic resources of uranium, rather than admitting to a nuclear weapons research program, meant that Tehran was approaching the watershed nuclear posture very cautiously. It is likely that the clerical leadership intended to gauge the reaction to the announcement before making statements more bold in nature. This, according to GIS analysis, indicates a high degree of nervousness on the part of the clerics, rather than any new confidence; a bravado designed to deter foreign and domestic opponents to the clerics.

In 2002, in the face of insistent demands from the US Government, the Russian Government said that it was demanding the return of all spent fuel from Iran as a condition for pressing ahead with a nuclear power station in the southern port of Bushehr which is being built with Russian help.

Pres. Khatami noted: “We cannot leave our future in the hands of others who can be the target of all manner of influences. ... It is for us Iranians to decide if we prefer to use our own (nuclear) fuel although that will in no way change our agreements with (the Russians).” He said that the nuclear program was “long-term” and that Iran remained committed to developing nuclear energy for peaceful ends. Nonetheless, the underlying message was clear: that Iran’s military nuclear program — now widely accepted in the US and Russia, but not openly acknowledged — was now on the same basis as that of, say, India and Pakistan. 

Similarly, the North Korean (DPRK) announcement on November 17, 2002, of its military nuclear program failed to acknowledge the existence of actual, deployed nuclear weapons, but the underlying message was equally clear. It has been confirmed by highly-reliable sources that the DPRK has indigenously-built, deployed nuclear weapons, and that Iran has deployed nuclear weapons, based on devices obtained from Kazakhstan in the early 1990s. An indigenous Iranian nuclear weapons capability is now believed to be imminent.

[See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, November 19, 2002: DPRK Acknowledges Possession of Nuclear Weapons, Confirming Consistent GIS/DFA Reporting. Possibility of Link to Saddam’s “Surprise Weapon”.]

Pres. Khatami said that the “major reserves” of uranium ore some 200km (125 miles) from Yazd would be serviced by an array of facilities, and acknowledged that a uranium oxide plant had already been completed in the central city of Isfahan, and that this would be complemented by an enrichment plant under construction near Kashan to its north. Work had also begun, he said, in Yazd province on a plant to produce concentrated “yellow cake”, while a further facility at an undisclosed location would complete the cycle, turning out finished fuel entirely made in Iran. In fact, GIS sources report that this development has been underway for some time.

The timing of the disclosure, however, was linked with the DPRK’s November 17, 2002, announcement and with the impending US-led war against Iraq, with the objective of dividing US strategic concentration and allowing the DPRK and Iran to de facto elevate their strategic postures without penalty from the US.

The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, said that the Iranian Government remained ready to submit its nuclear plants to international inspection to disprove US-led “propaganda” that it was engaged in a covert weapons program. In fact, the US Government had gone to great lengths — particularly during the Clinton Administration — to deny that Iran had a serious nuclear weapons program, or that it held former Soviet nuclear weapons in its inventory. 

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman downplayed any immediate concerns, saying the UN agency placed no controls on the mining or processing of uranium, only on its enrichment.