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of Iran as an irrational fundamentalist theocracy that cannot be trusted with nuclear capabilities. Iran’s refusal to give up its ambition to master the full nuclear fuel cycle has been thus interpreted as a sign of the government’s intent to pursue highly enriched uranium for development of nuclear weapons. Material ambiguities surrounding uranium and its varying uses have been appropriated by the US to equate the acquisition and possession of uranium with intent to produce bombs. Yet, in order for uranium to become “weapons-usable, it must be mined as ore, processed into yellowcake, converted into uranium hexafluoride, enriched, and pressed into bomb fuel.”5 Thus, nuclear materiality has produced ambiguities, which have been translated into different claims about the future. The US rhetoric, however, has backfired providing the Iranian government with additional proof for Iranian claims that foreign powers’ perpetuation of an outdated and unjust system has led to “nuclear apartheid.”6 Thus, IAEA negotiations, instead of enticing Iran to submit to the will of the West, have provided Iran with a site to openly make a case for their national sovereignty and security. At the same time, increasing US pressure and saber rattling has threatened Iran’s security interests, uniting the nation against foreign intervention. As a result, the government has tightened its power grip, punishing deviant views on the nuclear issue and ready to convict any voices of dissent with espionage and disloyalty to nezam (the revolutionary system), while benefiting from the opacity that has come to engulf Iran’s socioeconomic and political problems on the ground. Thus, the external discourse, while hostile to the government, has in fact strengthened the Islamic Republic’s regime stability. This essay aims to analyze the representation of Iran’s nuclear program in domestic and international politics and to examine the various appropriations of technology for political goals. The intent is to illustrate the plurality of meanings that are ascribed to Iran’s nuclear ambitions while examining the extent to which these parallel discourses open or close democratic spaces. The multi-discursive field of Iran’s nuclear debate must be understood within the context of a nuclear state’s ambiguities and the uncertainties cultivated by the 5 6 112

Gabrielle Hecht, “Nuclear Ontologies,” Constellations 13.3 (2006): 320. Kasra Naji, Ahmadinejad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 126. Seyedsayamdost -Technologies of Ambiguity

US administration in the post 9-11 era to conduct its “War on Terror” campaign. Although Iran-US relations had eased during Khatami’s “dialogue of civilizations” presidency, the US strategy to penalize Iran by including it in an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea had drastic domestic and international consequences for Iran. Two dominant polarized discursive trends emerge from an analysis of the multi-discursive debate surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. Internally, the government has made use of nuclear ambiguity to herald Iran’s nuclear program and hail its achievements in light of sanctions. This view has given rise to an internal discourse that has revived revolutionary ideals of independence from the West while fomenting national unity. The external debate, however, has been heavily polarized and dominated by a hostile US rhetoric that has used nuclear ambiguity to perpetuate an image of Iran as a threat to global security. The internationalization of Iran’s nuclear debate has led to UN Security Council Resolutions entailing socioeconomic sanctions and US calls for military threats. These actions, perceived by the Iranian government as a threat to its national security, have both united the Iranian nation and strengthened state stability. The first part of this essay traces the genealogy of Iran’s nuclear technology acquisition, historically contextualizing major phases of the program.7 Analyzing how Iran “enacts itself domestically,”8 the next section investigates the use of nuclear technology by Iranian politicians, in particular Ahmadinejad, to unite the nation. Drawing on Hecht’s analysis of nuclear power in France, it is argued that current day Iran is using nuclear technology “to regain its former glory.”9 Thus, the imagery of Iran’s ancient civilization is linked with a nuclear and modern future Iran receiving long justified international respect. To understand “how Iran is ‘enacted’ from without,”10 the following section examines how foreign powers have used nuclear 7 Krige and Barth argue that the various phases of a nuclear program should be read within their contexts and not “as logical steps on the path to an ‘inevitable’ outcome, the acquisition of nuclear weapons.” John Krige and Kai-Henrik Barth (eds.), Global Power Knowledge (Osiris 21, 2006), 11. 8 Adib-Moghadam, Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 29. 9 Gabrielle Hecht, The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1998), 2. 10 Itty Abraham, “The Ambivalence of Nuclear Histories,” in Global Power Knowledge, 51. Northwestern Journal of International Affairs


NJIA 2011  

Northwestern Journal of International Affairs 2011 Edition

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