Iran has remained a focus of West’s bitter criticism since its 1979 revolution for all the right or wrong, but understandable, reasons. This revolution brought down the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran who was the most trusted ally of the West. Iran has done nothing to correct its image; in fact it has been trying hard to strengthen West’s perception of post-revolution Iran being rogue state. It has allowed itself to be isolated from the rest of the world. This government has been anti-Israel and has been talking openly to destroy Israel and inflict damages to the US interests. Its nuclear ambitions are perceived to be directed against Israel and the USA and the West is hell-bent stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons’ developing program at all costs. There is a looming danger of surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
It is a common perception that the “dirty bomb” initiative which is being pursued by the present government of Iran, would have been supported by the West in shah’s time. Evidence, however suggests that it was the Shah, darling of the West, who had embarked upon acquiring nuclear bomb and the West had tried its best to block his initiative. Foreign Policy has reported that Washington was involved in a long-standing and frequently behind-the-scenes diplomatic tussle with the shah over the purpose of his nuclear program. Recently declassified documents from the Carter and Ford presidential libraries; the departments of defense, energy, and state; and the National Security Council (NSC) show that every element of today's impasse between the U.S. government and the Islamic Republic was also present in the negotiations with the shah.
These range from Iran's insistence on its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) right to a "full fuel cycle," its complaint that the United States was singling it out for guarantees no other country was required to give, and finally the U.S. offer to make Iran part of an international consortium to enrich uranium outside Iran, the so-called "Russian solution." The shah repeatedly insisted that at least he did not want a nuclear bomb -- yet he was adamant that Iran not be treated as a second-class citizen. These negotiations, details of which have not been published before now, don't just expose the regime's lies about the alleged U.S. double standard, they also offer a useful guide for Western negotiators in navigating the waters of Iranian nationalism, both real and feigned.
According to the report, Iran's nuclear program began in 1959 with a small reactor given by the United States to Tehran University as part of the "Atoms for Peace" program announced by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1953. But that only whetted the Iranian monarch's appetite: With his increased oil revenues, and with his new vision of Iran as the hegemonic force in the region, a nuclear program became for Shah Pahlavi the symbol of progress and power. He summoned Akbar Etemad, a trained nuclear physicist, to the royal court in 1973, told him of his desire to launch a nuclear program, and asked Etemad to develop a master plan.
Two weeks later, the shah met with Etemad again. He quickly read the 13-page draft document Etemad had prepared, then turned to the prime minister and ordered him to fund what turned out be one of the most expensive projects undertaken by his regime. There was no prior discussion in the Majlis, where the constitutional power of the purse lay, or in any other governmental body or council. Like every major policy decision in those days, it was a one-man act. Thus was launched Iran's nuclear program.The shah's plans called for a "full-fledged nuclear power industry" with the capacity to produce 23,000 megawatts of electricity. By 1977, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) had more than 1,500 employees (who were, on the shah's orders, allowed to become the highest-paid government employees). Pahlavi had arranged for the training of Iranian nuclear experts around the world (including a $20 million endowment at MIT), engaged in an intensive search for uranium mines in Iran and all over the planet, and launched several nuclear research centers across the country. AEOI was in those days one of the most heavily funded programs in the country. In 1976, its budget was $1.3 billion, making it, after the country's oil company, the single biggest public economic institution in the country.
The detailed report “The Shah’s Atomic Dreams” is available at Foreign Policy.