Iran Nuclear NewsAn old letter casts doubts on Iran’s goal for...

An old letter casts doubts on Iran’s goal for uranium


New York Times: A forgotten letter in which the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, cited a need for nuclear weapons has stoked a debate over whether to negotiate with the West and raised questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions today. The New York Times

Published: October 5, 2006

TEHRAN, Oct. 4 — A forgotten letter in which the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, cited a need for nuclear weapons has stoked a debate over whether to negotiate with the West and raised questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions today.

Within hours after the letter appeared Friday on the Web site of the news agency ILNA, the word “nuclear” was removed, apparently after a call from the Iranian National Security Council.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly insisted that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, sharply criticized the release of the letter. “Those who think they can weaken the will of the people for construction and development by questioning their values will fail,” he said Sunday, “and they only show their lack of wisdom and commitment.”

The letter, which had been previously published elsewhere, was written in 1988, near the end of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. It was brought to light again on Friday by the former Iranian president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to defend himself against hard-line critics who accuse him of ending the war when Iran was on the brink of victory.

But the letter has also been used by moderates to bolster the case for nuclear talks with the West. Iran faces sanctions for defying the United Nations Security Council’s demand that it halt its uranium enrichment, which the United States says is part of a weapons program.

In the letter, Ayatollah Khomeini outlined the reasons Iran had to accept the bitter prospect of a cease-fire in the war, which had ground down to a stalemate, with about 250,000 Iranians dead and 200,000 disabled. It did not specifically call for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, but referred indirectly to the matter by citing a letter written by the officer leading the war effort, Mohsen Rezai.

“The commander has said we can have no victory for another five years, and even by then we need to have 350 infantry bridges, 2,500 tanks, 300 fighter planes,” the ayatollah wrote, adding that the officer also said he would need “a considerable number of laser and nuclear weapons to confront the attacks.”

Ayatollah Khomeini determined that the nation could not afford, politically or economically, to continue the war, and in a famous public statement compared the decision to “drinking a chalice of poison.”

ILNA, the Iranian Labor News Agency, removed the word “nuclear” within a few hours of putting the letter on the Web, after receiving a call from the Iranian National Security Council, according to a reporter with the agency. The reporter insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution.

The letter was released as part of a debate about who was most instrumental in persuading Ayatollah Khomeini to end the war. That argument, in turn, reflects growing tensions between moderates, led by Mr. Rafsanjani, and military figures, who are expanding their power in the government of President Ahmadinejad.

“The letter is purely part of a domestic argument,” said Mohammad Atrianfar, the director of the daily Shargh, an opposition paper that was shut down last month, and a close aide to Mr. Rafsanjani. “Mr. Rafsanjani is very worried because he feels that military and intelligence figures are coming to power and want to alienate the clergy by blaming them for the damages caused during the war.”

Hard-liners have criticized Mr. Rafsanjani for disclosing what they said was a classified document and casting doubt over what was termed by many a holy war. He has denied the accusations, saying the letter was made public in 1988 and later published in a book.

But the letter has provided an opportunity for moderate voices to warn about the risks Iran takes in defying the United Nations, comparing the consequences to what happened during the war with Iraq. They argue that, when confronted with the realities of the war, Ayatollah Khomeini decided that the confrontation was not sustainable.

On Saturday the daily Kargozaran, a paper aligned with Mr. Rafsanjani, called the letter evidence of “Iran’s realistic understanding of the international situation,” and concluded that the “experience should become a basis in the decision makings, including Iran’s nuclear plans.”

Mohsen Armin, a reformist politician, said hard-line politicians who welcomed confrontation with the West should learn a lesson from the letter so they would not have to “drink a chalice of poison” themselves, ILNA reported.

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