Forty-five years ago, the United States sold my country a research reactor as well as weapons-grade uranium as its fuel. Not long afterward, America agreed to help Iran set up the full nuclear fuel cycle along with atomic power plants. The U.S. argument was that nuclear power would provide for the growing needs of our economy and free our remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.
That rationale has not changed.
Still, after the Islamic Revolution in our country in 1979, all understandings with the United States in the nuclear field unraveled. Washington even cut off fuel deliveries to the very facility it supplied. To secure fuel from other sources, Iran was forced to modify the reactor to run on uranium enriched to around 20 percent. The Tehran Research Reactor still operates, supplying isotopes used in the medical treatment of 800,000 of my fellow Iranians every year.
But getting to this point was not easy. In 2009, we put forward a request to the International Atomic Energy Agency for fuel for the reactor as its supply was running out, threatening the lives of many Iranians. When we agreed to exchange a major portion of our stock of low-enriched uranium for reactor fuel in 2010 — a proposal by the Obama administration — the response we got from the White House was a push for more U.N. Security Council sanctions.