Past Is Prologue: President Bush's Executive Order against Iran

To get a sense of how dangerous Iran’s nuclear program is, it is important to take a look at the Islamic Republic’s history.

The disclosure and documentation of the Islamic Republic (I.R.) of Iran’s nuclear activities originally caused the George Bush administration years of great consternation.  The issue was pressing and crucial enough, particularly in the post-September 11 era, during which the animosity of jihadist Islamic doctrine resurfaced and has since been advocated by the I.R. against the civilized and free world.  President Bush, in his State of Union speech in 2002, mentioned that the I.R., as a member of the “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea, were all hostile to the West.  The I.R.’s hostility to the U.S. and Western democracy was witnessed in its earlier days, when it occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took innocent Americans hostage shortly after it came to power in 1979, resulting in an unforgettably grave hostage crisis.

In February 2003, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield noted the I.R. as the “world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” at a security conference in Munich, where the most crucial item discussed on his agenda was the I.R.’s nuclear program.  Although the I.R. had always claimed that its nuclear activities were peaceful, shortly after Rumsfield’s remarks, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made the decision to report the I.R. to the U.N. Security Council.

Despite the I.R. being adamant about continuing its uranium enrichment program, the Bush administration had made it very clear that such would not be tolerated.  At the White House in March 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney warned of meaningful consequences if the I.R. did not back away from an international confrontation over its disputed nuclear program.  And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a U.N. Security Council review was imminent and rejected any compromise that would allow the I.R. to process nuclear fuel that could be used for weapons.  In regards to military actions against the I.R., including possible air strikes on nuclear facilities, American officials stated that although the government had no plans for using military force in this situation, it would not rule it out, and Cheney reiterated that the U.S. was “keeping all options on the table.”

When it was stated that Tehran’s nuclear file would make it to the U.N. Security Council for review, the I.R.’s President Mohammad Khatami said, “Our nation has made its decision to fully use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and all have to give in to this decision made by the Iranian nation.”  This was his response to a 35-nation board meeting of the IAEA in Vienna in early March 2003, where the issue was debated before being sent to the U.N. Security Council.

In late March 2003, the file and case on the I.R. were indeed reported to the U.N. Security Council, who warned of economic and political sanctions if the I.R. did not abandon its nuclear program or else allowed inspectors to enter Iran.  War would be a last resort.  The I.R.’s literal response to this – particularly to the U.S., which had pressed the issue with the U.N. Security Council – was to threaten the U.S. with “harm and pain,” implying terrorist actions in retaliation for the referral of their ambiguous nuclear program to the UN Security Council.

In response to an I.R. official’s comments, White House press secretary and spokesman Scott McClellan said, “I think that provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world.”  Greg Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said, “Their behavior has only contributed to mounting international concerns about their pursuit of nuclear weapons.”  Both the U.S. and the EU were greatly perturbed by this issue.

After referring the I.R.’s atomic activities file to the U.N., the first serious and formal discussion of the I.R.’s atomic outlook took place in Paris in October 2003 between the president of the I.R. and three major European countries including France, England, and Germany, to be known as the EU-3.  The outcome was a shaky agreement in November 2004 that the I.R. claimed temporarily suspended its enrichment activities, testing processes, and expansion of new centrifuges.  However, shortly thereafter, I.R. officials in January 2005 for the first time refused to continue cooperating with the international inspectors from the IAEA.

As a compromise, the EU-3 suggested a ten-year suspension of I.R. atomic activities in return for the fuels that it needed for its first atomic reactor under construction, but the I.R. declined the offer.  George Bush in June 2005 signed a presidential executive order that would place the I.R. atomic energy organization under the U.S. sanction list.

There was yet another crucial reason why the Bush administration was so concerned with the I.R.’s nuclear program.  For years, the U.S., including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had accused the I.R. of interfering in Iraq after the American-led war (the second Gulf war) toppled and removed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power.  The weapons of the Iraqi insurgency that had done the most damage to American soldiers and had taken the most lives – the IEDS, or improvised explosive devices (bombs) – were actually traced back to the I.R.  The I.R. not only had been interfering in Iraq, but had also manufactured and supplied most lethal weapons of the Iraqi militant insurgency in Iraq against the U.S. troops.  This in itself was an act of war.  Thus, the U.S. was actually and still is at war with and being attacked by the I.R. – not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon and Afghanistan.

An alternative solution to the issue then was proposed by Russia: to “allow the I.R. to enrich a limited amount of uranium on Russian soil,” per Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.  The enriched uranium would then be shipped back to Iran.  It was assumed that this approach would prevent the I.R.’s nuclear program from being misused for nuclear arms should the I.R. desire to go that route.  This more diplomatic solution has in principle been supported to this date by the U.S., although it has been rejected by the I.R.  Interestingly, in early January 2015, the media, citing diplomats, stated that the U.S. and the I.R. had agreed to ship enriched uranium that could be used to make atomic arms to Russia.  However, the I.R. immediately denied any agreement regarding this issue. 

The only remaining option was economic and political sanctions during the Bush era.  If those were ineffective, then an attack to the atomic sites in Iran would be considered.  The Bush administration was very concerned about the I.R.’s nuclear program, especially since the I.R. is led by a radical Islamic government, which has been the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Rumsfeld in Munich also mentioned that “Washington and its allies were doing everything possible to ensure that terrorists did not get a hold of weapons of mass destruction,” which he described as a nightmare scenario.  He continued, “the world would change overnight if a handful of terrorists managed to obtain and launch a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon.”  He added, “While we oppose the actions of the I.R. regime, we stand with the Iranian people who want a peaceful democratic future.  They have no desire to see the country they love isolated from the rest of the civilized world.”

Mansour Kashfi, Ph.D. is president of Kashex International Petroleum Consulting and is a college professor in Dallas, TX.  He is also author of more than 100 articles and books about the petroleum industry worldwide.

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