Speaker Series Report:
Emily Johns and Milan Rai, editors of Peace News
The talk began with a brainstorm of what the average person on Prince’s Street’s preconceptions about Iran would be. Listed were Nuclear war/bomb makers, oil, ancient culture, oppression of women, carpets/rugs, and spicy food. This was followed by the speaker’s story of her visit to Iran 7 years ago. Her family then were “weeping and wailing” about her going somewhere dangerous. Another preconception? Is it really that dangerous? The speaker questioned what it is about Iran that makes it and the preconception of it as somewhere dangerous. She compared it to Northern Ireland, where perceptions are of a dark, concrete and hostile environment. In reality Iran is green and peaceful, she said. She then introduced us to her illustrated work ‘Drawing paradise on the axis of evil’.
Emily Johns: Drawing Paradise & Poetry
The word paradise is a Persian word, and comes from Iran. Iran is a country of ‘walled gardens in paradise’. There are many gardens of quadrants with ponds or a canal in the middle. These walled gardens date back 2500 years, and encompass the human vision of paradise, the four elements and a deep, rich symbolism of Iran from its long established culture. Iran’s roots are in its gardens.
However present day Iran has problems with pollution, and although much of the country is desert, the cultivation of plants is of key significance. Shiraz wine comes from Iran too, despite the fact that for the Muslim population a ban on alcohol applies. Other religious people in Iran can and do drink however.
The physical symbolism of the gardens is matched by the spoken/written symbolism of poetry, which is a massive part of Persian culture. In 2003 a terrible earthquake hit Iran. Much of the city of Bam collapsed. A 97 year old woman and a young boy were buried for ten days before being brought out alive. They ‘kept going’ by reciting poetry. It is part of the culture to have ‘enormous reservoirs’ of poetry. Hafiz was a love poet whose tomb is a destination for internal tourism and pilgrimage. Visitors recite poems by Hafiz about relationships, love and life. People have an intense relationship with the tomb, the poet, and poetry. Another example of the depth of Persian culture: 7 years ago president Ahmadinejad wrote to George Bush in a typically Persian style using layered and metaphoric language, a totally different way of expression than can be found in Western politics. Bush was baffled.
Milan Rai: Iran and Nuclear Weapons.
Iran mines its own uranium ore. Out of the ground the level of uranium 235, the isotope needed to produce bombs, is 0.7%. This is then enriched to 5% which can be used for nuclear fuel. The 5% is then enriched to 20% which is the enrichment level appropriate for research reactors, where isotopes are generated for use in cancer treatment and diagnosis. 20% enrichment is at a ‘civil level’. The next step is 90% enrichment, which makes the uranium weapons grade. The conversion from 0.7% to 5% is a bigger jump (and therefore harder to achieve) than the jump from 20% to 90%. And Iran has already achieved the jump to 20%. At 20% weapons grade enrichment most of the work is done. Storage of 240 kilograms of enriched uranium is considered a threat because this amount is sufficient to produce enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon and that could be done easily. However, knowing this is considered a threat, when Iran gets 180kg of the stuff they turn it into oxide, thus taking it off the table. Israel has explicitly stated that they would attack Iran if they get to the 240kgs.
In 2010 Iran turned down a deal which would have rid the world of the threat from Iran whilst simultaneously allowing Iran to get and use nuclear power safely. The deal was to swap 1200kgs of 5% enriched uranium for 20% enriched fuel rods which can be slotted in for use as nuclear power but which cannot be used for making bombs. The conditions were that all 1200kgs had to leave the country in one go, and that they had to be received before the fuel rods were given in return. Iran refused the deal, declaring a lack of trust of “the West”. Later, Brazil and Turkey attempted to build trust and confidence, and President Obama wrote in a letter that this would resolve the situation. But when Iran accepted the swap deal the UK and the US dismissed it stating that 1200kgs was insignificant. It was a missed opportunity. Iran reacted by going enriching to 20% themselves, claiming that this extra nuclear capacity would be used in naval reactors, while in reality this gave Iran bargaining power, enabling them to offer to reduce their nuclear capacity in exchange for alleviation of sanctions.
Although Iran’s track record of nuclear activity isn’t spotless, there is no evidence of nuclear material being used to produce bombs. Also, Iran have signed up to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, and other countries who have not may pose a more realistic threat, yet Iran is being targeted and punished with threats of war and sanctions. But a viable solution has been proposed but not accepted: set up an international consortium, where ownership of nuclear facilities from the top to bottom is monitored internationally, to ensure that Iran does not go to the 90% level of enrichment. What Iran wants is to be a nuclear threshold state, like Japan, with the capability of making nuclear weapons, but only a capability not to be actualised. There is nothing in the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to prevent Iran from being a nuclear threshold state.
Reported by Patrick Hawkes