Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Is Counterproductive and Wrong

Wednesday's assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi-Rowshan makes nuclear negotiations more difficult and a nuclear Iran more likely

iran Jan12 P.jpg

A policeman walks past the car belonging to Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan / Reuters

Mostafa Ahmadi-Rowshan was on his way to a ceremony on Wednesday commemorating the second anniversary of the death of one of his colleagues, nuclear physicist , who had been assassinated by a remote-controlled explosive outside his home. As his sedan drove down in Tehran's morning rush hour traffic, two assailants riding on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car. A few seconds later, it detonated, killing the 32-year old scientist and his driver and sending shock waves across the country.

Rowshan was indeed involved in Iran's nuclear program. He was the deputy director of the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and led its procurements department. He had previously worked at the Iran's covert centrifuge research and development center in Kalaye Electric Company. Iran's past history of concealment and defiance has fueled international concerns about the country's intent to acquire nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment, an activity that can fuel both reactors and weapons, is at the crux of Iran's nuclear crisis. But Rowshan's scientific credentials and affiliation with Iran's atomic energy organization do not provide justification for his abhorrent killing.

Although the Iranian regime has blamed the United States and Israel for the "heinous act," whoever perpetrated this murder was no friend of the U.S. This mishap occurred in the wake of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's call on Iran "to return to negotiations with the P5+1," the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. The statement deplored Tehran's decision to start uranium enrichment at a bunker facility in Fordow, but it reiterated that the goal of U.S. policy is "reaching a comprehensive, negotiated solution that restores confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program." The assassination clearly undermines this objective.

vaez fergunson inset photo.jpgMostafa Ahmadi-Rowshan with his son / Farsnews

Notwithstanding Secretary Clinton's immediate reaction to the assassination by categorically denying "any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran," Tehran blamed the bombing on "America and the criminal Zionist regime." A disturbing saying, fueled by livid nationalism, spread across Iran like wildfire, "They save our sailors, but kill our scientists." The phrase refers to the humanitarian-cum-diplomatic rescue operations by the U.S. navy in the Persian Gulf that has saved the lives of Iranian mariners in the past few days. The goodwill gesture that countered Iran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz to global oil traffic has been largely ruined by the coldblooded murder.

This is the fourth Iranian scientist who has been mysteriously murdered in the past two years. Such acts of terrorism are unlikely to significantly delay or deter Tehran's nuclear program. It is implausible that Iran's expansive cadre of nuclear scientists depend on one or several individuals. Most of these scientists were educated at Iranian universities and are thus replaceable. Rather, it is the adverse effects and ramifications of these terrors that are most likely to be felt outside of Iran.

Presented by

Ali Vaez & Charles Ferguson

Ali Vaez directs the Iran project at the Federation of American Scientists, where Charles D. Ferguson, author of Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know, is president.

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