To fete the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gleefully announced his nation will enrich uranium to 20%.
The bombastic Ahmadinejad seems to delight in provoking howls of outrage from the West. They were not long in coming.
Western media and politicians loudly denounced Iranís latest nuclear effort, claiming it would put Tehran within striking distance of achieving the 85-90% enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the Florida-based US Central Command has been busy reinforcing US military units and Arab allies in the Gulf to counter any potential Iranian retaliation for an American attack.
In fact, the latest Iranian-American brouhaha was pretty much a tempest in a nuclear teapot.
Iran will only enrich 22 lbs of low-grade uranium to 20% level in order to fuel a small research reactor in Tehran to produce medical isotopes for cancer treatment and imaging. Iran insists it has no plans to produce nuclear weapons.
Tehran has offered to swap its low enriched uranium for fuel rods from Europe and Russia. But Iran says the swap must be simultaneous, while the US-led Western powers demand Iran hand over its 22 lbs of uranium first, then get the fuel rods at some later date Ė if it behaves.
This rather silly fracas comes as Iran slowly develops a nuclear power industry to produce what it maintains will be electricity. Iranís oil is being depleted. Forty other nations are at similar or more advanced stages of nuclear power generation. This is all quite legal under UN nuclear agency rules.
Both UN nuclear inspectors and US intelligence say there is no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Documents purporting to show Iran working on nuclear warheads have been debunked as fakes.
But this did not stop US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from insisting Iran was working on nuclear weapons. Apparently, she puts more credence in Israelís intelligence estimates than those of the United States.
She also blasted Iran for becoming `a military dictatorship,í seemingly heedless of the fact that Egypt, one of Americaís key Arab allies, has been a military dictatorship for decades. Or that Washington is now all smiles and hugs with the ghastly dictatorship in Uzbekistan where opponents of the regime are boiled alive. Such selective morality is a leading cause of anti-Americanism around the globe.
Meanwhile, nuclear-armed Israel and its American partisans warn Iran is rapidly developing nuclear weapons and demand severe sanctions or war. European nations with rightwing governments also support the US position Ė more out of fear of the economic disruptions a US-Iranian conflict would bring than out of fear of Iran, a major European trading partner.
Why does Iran keep provoking Western anger, defying the Security Council, inviting sanctions, and risking devastating Israeli attack when it could simply buy fuel rods from Europe that cannot be used for nuclear weapons?
Thirty-one years ago Iranians overthrew the hated, US-backed monarchy of Reza Shah Pahlavi. The revolution was led by an exiled Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and an old university friend of mine, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. This historic uprising was ignited by Iranianís anger at being misruled by a Western-installed despot who mocked Islam, allowed his rapacious family to loot the nation, and spent billions on US and British arms when his people went hungry and illiterate.
The dreaded US and Israeli-trained secret police, Savak, kept the Shah in power through a reign of terror and torture. Iranians later blamed the US and Britain for engineering and financing Saddam Husseinís 1980 invasion of Iran which cost one million Iranian casualties.
In the 1970ís, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld went to Tehran to offer to sell the Shahís regime 31 nuclear reactors. Israel reportedly offered to swap medium-range missiles with nuclear warheads for oil. But after the revolution, Iran was declared a `terrorist regimeí when Khomeini demanded that Mideast oil money be shared by its people rather than go to 1,400 Saudi princes and other US-supported monarchies, and championed the Palestinian cause.
Nuclear power has become Iranís key national issue. Ali Khamenei, Iranís current spiritual guide, claims Britain and the US are determined to deny the Muslim world modern technology in order to keep it backwards, weak, and forced to buy Western arms and exports. Imperial Britain did the same to India, keeping its colony economically backwards for two centuries,
For most Iranians, developing nuclear power means breaking out of their Western-imposed technological ghetto and modernization. Itís a matter of profound national pride and defiance: Iran was repeatedly invaded by Britain and Russia, its governments were overthrown by Western powers, and its oil exploited.
Nuclear technology offers independence, and, potentially, weapons for self-defense, if Tehran so chooses. This writer has long believed that one day Iran will opt to deploy nuclear weapons for self-defense. The Western and Israeli claim that Tehranís `mad mullahsí are intent on inflicting worldwide nuclear doomsday is ludicrous and absurd.
To Western dismay, most of the current Iranian protest movementís leaders back its nuclear program. If Ahmadinejad were replaced, Iranís nuclear efforts would continue unless the US and Britain managed to achieve their strategy of imposing a new, compliant royalist regime in Tehran.
In the Iranian view, if France and Britain, and neighbors Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and India (now with US help) can have nuclear arms, why canít Iran at least boil water for tea using nuclear energy?