In two days time, six-power talks on Iran and its putative military nuclear programme are to be held in Germany, so I thought a little background to this show of international indignation might not go amiss…
In 1974, in the midst of the cold war, America gave France permission to provide Iran, whose northern border was unprotected from a possible Soviet missile attack, with enriched, weapons-grade uranium. Eurodif (European Gaseous Diffusion Uranium Enrichment Consortium), founded in 1973 by French industrialist, Georges Besse, still produces 25% of the world’s used enriched uranium. In 1975 Sweden, one of the five founding countries, withdrew from Eurodif and France agreed to offer Sweden’s 10% share to Iran. The Shah, Reza Pahlavi contributed an initial one billion dollars and then two years later a further 180 million dollars towards the cost of building the consortium’s uranium enrichment plant, in exchange for which his nation was granted the right to buy up to 10% of its precious output.
When the Iranian Revolution brought the Mullahs to power in February, 1979, two months before the Eurodif plant was due to begin production, France no longer felt inclined to honour the contract. Ayatollah Khomeini cancelled the Shah’s nuclear power programme due to lack of funds but reiterated his country’s claim to 10% of Eurodif’s enriched uranium output. When Mitterrand came to power in 1981, he continued to ignore Iran’s claim and so the regime in Teheran decided to use coercion. For ten years France was repeatedly targeted by Iranian-backed terrorism both on her soil and abroad. In an attempt to keep France’s conflict with Iran out of the news, most of the attacks, carried out by Hezbollah, were attributed to the western world’s bogeyman at the time, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Eight French hostages taken by Hezbollah in Beirut and a series of bomb attacks in Paris finally put an end to France’s reluctance to honour the Eurodif contract and on December 29, 1991 Mitterrand terminated this secret war and signed an agreement re-establishing Iran’s rights to her 10% of weapons-grade uranium. France also refunded Iran over 1.6 billion dollars.