However, the ambiguous result of the Istanbul summit was taken for granted, according to many experts who have dealt with Iran’s nuclear program from the beginning. Thus, Iran’s insistence on continuing its nuclear program for "peaceful” ends and bringing conditions taking into account its current position once again confirmed doubts on the real goals and scope of Iran’s nuclear program. The Istanbul summit also showed us that differences between the parties are continuing and that a probable agreement cannot be achieved in the foreseeable future.
It is quite possible to trace Iran’s nuclear endeavors back to the early days of the Cold War years. During the Shah era until the 1979 Islamic revolution, the West – and namely the United States – constituted the major supporter of Iran’s development of nuclear technology. For example Iran’s first ever research reactor was supplied by the U.S. in 1967. Therefore until the Islamic Revolution, Iran’s goals of employing nuclear technology for peaceful means was not a problem for the West, and Iran received technical and financial support to this end. Thus, Iran was the right choice for the U.S. to support by all means in order to create a regional stronghold to preserve and protect Western interests following the British withdrawal from the Gulf against Soviet expansion in the region. To this end, Iran received not only the most sophisticated weapons from the U.S. but also support for its nuclear program. Until the Islamic revolution Iran mostly complied with the terms of the West, became a party to the NPT in the early 1970s and as part of the treaty, committed to use nuclear technology for peaceful means. Conversely, alleged nuclear-power Israel never became a party to the NPT; nor did India and Pakistan.
Iran’s ambitions in the Gulf began to be perceived as a major threat when people driven by an anti-Western ideology seized power in Iran and Iran’s alignment with the West changed rapidly. Following 1979, Iran has always constituted a threat to Western and U.S. interests in the region. Therefore, throughout the Iran-Iraq War, the West and mainly the United States implicitly supported Saddam Hussein and simply played one problem off against the other.
Thus, the elimination of Saddam and the annihilation of Iraq strengthened Iran’s desires to become a hegemon. The real problem stems from the conflicting visions, goals and priorities of the West and Iran regarding how stability can be achieved in the Gulf. Therefore, Iran’s nuclear policy, whatever its goals and aims, is in fact a secondary problem or a part of this clash of interests in the region. The real problem for the West in general is Iran’s traditional expansionist goals, which aim to turn the Gulf into a Persian Gulf with rich, satellite Arabic states. This also means that a nuclear Iran will not only steer the regional political and economic developments but also establish its control in the oil-rich region and its transport routes to Western economies.
Hence, the Western reaction to Iran’s nuclear ambitions should be evaluated within this framework. As was the case with Saddam and his plans of establishing control of the oil resources of the Gulf is the case this time for Iran. As such, Iran’s nuclear program is perceived by the U.S. and the Western powers as the preliminary step for Iran’s desires to become a regional hegemon.
Secondly, if Iran continues to develop its missile programs in parallel with the nuclear program, Iran will be able to threaten vital U.S. allies in the region and in Europe as well. Hence, the revised U.S. missile defense site plan is also a clear sign of NATO’s and European countries’ early step forward to create a nuclear missile-free zone against Iran.
*Cem Birsay is an academic at Işık University’s Department of International Relations.