As the possibility of a UN-backed plan aimed at limiting Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons has been given a glimmer of hope—in not being rejected outright by the Iranian government—it is worth considering why Iran is being singled out so acutely and unfairly over its nuclear policy.
Clearly, the west and Russia are engaged in discriminating against it. Brazil has had a nuclear-enrichment programme for decades (including a large ultracentrifuge enrichment plant, several laboratory-scale facilities, a reprocessing facility to make plutonium, and a missile programme). In the 1980s it built two nuclear devices.
Three years ago I asked the chief of mission at the US embassy in Brasilia if Washington was worried about Brazil. “Not at all,” he replied. “In the early 1990s Brazil dismantled its nuclear weapons’ programme, and Argentina, its supposed enemy, has done the same.” “But,” I insisted, “Brazil still has its enrichment programme and a reprocessing facility.” His answer: “We have no worries about Brazil. We see eye to eye.” However Brazil still resists, in part, the probing eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog.
In 1979 the attitude of the Carter administration towards Pakistan—then attempting to build its own bomb—was almost as harsh as towards Iran today. It suspended all military aid, even though the Taliban were a lurking potential threat. However, when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December of that year, Carter persuaded congress to restart a large-scale arms programme. For the next decade, in return for Pakistan’s help in building up the anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan (who would later work for Osama bin Laden), Washington turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s effort to build nuclear weapons.
Only in 1990, with the Soviets driven out of Afghanistan, did President George Bush (senior) decide to cut off military assistance—a decision reversed under his son, as Washington wooed Islamabad for help in defeating the Taliban and hunting down al Qaeda members. Not only was the bomb tolerated, but little fuss was made when the US discovered that Pakistan was acquiring nuclear knowledge and missiles from North Korea.
Likewise, there has been Washington’s long refusal to acknowledge what it has always known, but pretended not to; that in…