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The roots of Iran's nuclear program

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Ironically, the United States was Iran's first major supplier of nuclear technology. Washington signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the shah – a staunch American ally – in 1957, under President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program. Construction of a US-supplied research reactor began in the Tehran suburbs in 1960 and went critical, with US-supplied highly enriched uranium as fuel, in 1967.

But the shah wanted more than a nuclear toy. He had grandiose plans for a network of 23 nuclear power reactors by the 1990s, with much of the equipment purchased from US suppliers. And as recently declassified documents make clear, the course of nuclear negotiations between the shah and an array of US officials was far from smooth.

US worries were like those of today: Officials thought it possible that Iran would build on nuclear power programs to develop weapons technology.

A secret 1974 Defense Department memo, declassified and posted online by the National Security Archive, noted that stability in Iran depended heavily on the shah's personality.

"An aggressive successor to the Shah might consider nuclear weapons the final item needed to establish Iran's complete military dominance of the region," noted the memo.

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