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  • The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir by Seyed Hossein Mousavian
  • Olli Heinonen (bio)
The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, by Seyed Hossein Mousavian. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2012. 612 pages. $19.95.

This book is a useful read for anyone interested in the debate surrounding Iranian nuclear issues. Mousavian1 tells the story from an Iranian perspective of the recent history of Iran's nuclear policy and its interactions with the international community. Domestically, he also compares the nuclear dossier being handled under Presidents [End Page 312] Khatami and Ahmadinejad's tenures. The book proposes a "mutually acceptable and comprehensive" package to resolve the issues peacefully and provide for the beginning of a thaw in US-Iran relations.

Mousavian's book, in providing an Iranian angle on the nuclear dossier, supplements the memoirs of Mohamed ElBaradei2 on his take heading the IAEA, and articles of the late French scholar Thérèse Delpech,3 which provide insights to the EU3, P5+1, and IAEA process.

Written at a time when Iran's nuclear issue, a subject of diplomatic efforts since 2003, remains unresolved, it would be reasonable to glean what explanations the book can provide to this end. Meanwhile, Iran has steadily progressed toward nuclear weapons capability and continues to disregard UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions. It is subject to increasingly tightened international sanctions and censure. Can Iran move away from steps that have caused its economy to tailspin and walk away from an isolated path?

Negotiations — the Iranian side

The path of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program is littered with proposals; just putting together the EU-3, P5+1, and Iranian public proposals during last 10 years, there have been about 20 such plans floated, each with different variations.

Within the context of negotiations, Mousavian relays the intricacies of the Iranian decision-making process, and the potential for any particular group or faction to pull the rug from under another's feet. As Mousavian also notes, although all Iranian governments are divisive, they all have pushed for Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology-whether under Mir Hossein Mousavi, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, or Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Mousavian's assertion, as consistent with the Iranian government's position, lays out the position that Iran is entrenched in preserving its nuclear rights. What constitutes such rights and its insistence to demonstrate such rights, on the other hand, have been presented in the book as taking on different emphasis under the various Iranian presidents.

Negotiations — but still building capacity

In 2003, when the IAEA investigations on the nuclear program started, Iran had only tested a small number of centrifuges, and the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan was under construction. According to the latest IAEA report from November 2012, Iran had installed more than 10,000 centrifuges at Natanz, 2,140 centrifuges at Fordow, and it had produced 550 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) feed material at Isfahan.

In following Iran's building of its nuclear capacity, different understandings of terms being negotiated have also served as an advantage for Iran. In 2003, Iran agreed to suspension of enrichment related activities. It was, however, not clearly spelled out as to what exactly constituted suspension. According to ElBaradei's memoir, he saw suspension as halting the introduction of gas into centrifuges. Yet, this view would have differed from his technical department's assessment at the Agency. Another terminology that was subject to differing interpretations amongst the negotiators and Iran was the issue of objective guarantees, and with that, its level of acceptability.

Negotiations — conflicting messages

In his book, Mousavian highlights a number of conflicting messages sent by various Tehran officials; some resulting from Iranian communication problems, others as intentional. Cutting through such communication fog of the unintentional and the intentional has beset dealings with Iran that, going forward, continue to make the case for coming to a common understanding amongst the negotiating parties a challenge.

In another example, there were also [End Page 313] missed deals cited, such as the delivery of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, though each side had reasons for not ultimately seeing it through. In October 2009, Iran appeared...


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