On Dec. 8, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower addressed the U.N. General Assembly about an issue of existential importance.
“The dread secret and the fearful engines of atomic might are not ours alone,” the new president warned the world’s leaders.
A global arms race had taken off between the U.S. and its allies and the Soviet Union. As the Cold War unfolded, these world powers possessed enough atomic weaponry to destroy human civilization many times over.
Therefore, Eisenhower argued, it was imperative for the United States to “seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes.”
The world’s military powers must also “make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency,” which would distribute nuclear technology to developing nations so they could develop peaceful nuclear energy programs.
Eisenhower’s landmark speech was remembered as Atoms for Peace. And one of the first countries to take advantage of the offer was Iran in 1957.
In this episode of History As It Happens, John Ghazvinian, the executive director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the roots of Iran’s nuclear program as talks resume in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear accord.
Mr. Ghazvinian does not expect the latest round of talks among Iran, the U.S., and three European nations to bear fruit.
“Atoms for Peace is not only still relevant, it is the absolute core of this disagreement. The Atoms for Peace speech … laid the groundwork for the entire architecture of international nuclear diplomacy for the remainder of the 20th century and is still at the core of the disagreement between the United States and Iran,” said Mr. Ghazvinian, the author of “American and Iran: A History, 1720 to Present.”
In Mr. Ghazvinian’s view, Iran does not want to build a nuclear bomb. Instead, the Islamic Republic wants to hold onto its nuclear capability as leverage in its dealings with its immediate neighbors, including nuclear-armed Israel, as well as the West.
To listen to the full interview about the possible restoration of the 2015 nuclear accord and the history of Iran’s nuclear program, download this episode of History As It Happens.