November 01, 2006

Iran's "Nuclear Facilities" Open to Tourists

The Iranian regime is just brilliant. Taking their cue from the Soviet Union's "potemkin village" tours, they have just opened their nuclear facilities to tourist groups.

Under a scheme to encourage more tourists to visit the country, a tourism official in this western province on Tuesday announced that visas may now be issued through the Internet starting Tuesday (today).

Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO) Deputy Mohammad-Sharif Malekzadeh told IRNA on the sidelines of a local gathering here that tourists from any country of the world may now apply for and receive visas to enter Iran via the Internet.

He said that the process of visa issuance will be carry out through an Internet site recently opened.

Malekzadeh said the scheme has been made possible through a clear order of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who last month invited foreigners to come and see Iran's nuclear sites.

Nuclear tours are now part of the country's tourist attraction program and foreign scientists, elites and intellectuals can visit these sites anywhere in the country anytime, said the official.

He added that various foreign groups, including a group of British tourists, have so far announced their desire to joint tours to Iran's nuclear facilities.
Absolutely brilliant. Some people might actually be convinced by this scheme. Plenty have been fooled into believing Iran is a "democracy."

What do you think? Should I pretend to be a "useful idiot" and tour Iran's nuclear facilities? (The ones they let tourists, see, that is.) It should be fun interviewing people who choose this for their next holiday.

Should I go on Iran's Propaganda Tour?
No, go somewhere else in Iran
No, go back to Beirut and South Lebanon instead
No, go to Baghdad instead
No, go to Afghanistan instead
Free polls from
Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 1, 2006 10:48 PM

Of course you should go!
But all the other choices are fine, too -- especially Baghdad.
And other places in Iran.
And Afghanistan.
And, um, er, Beirut & S. Lebanon (especially to talk to Hezbollah again?)(would that be least safe?)

No Gaza option? Or Jerusalem or West Bank?
Just go...
and write back soon, and often.
With a few pictures.
Pretty please.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 2, 2006 12:01 AM

go michael. be a "useful idiot." this may be your only chance to visit iran.

then go to other parts of iran and interview the people there too.

Posted by: john marzan at November 2, 2006 12:22 AM

A few things:

1) talk to some people who knows a thing or two about nuke reactors before going. IIRC, there's a Uni near Portland (OSU?) with a research reactor, they might be willing to talk to you about what distinguishes a research reactor from a power-generating reactor from a plutonium-producing reactor. Basically, what's important, what's not, and how to tell the difference.

2) the other thing to keep an eye on is how closely they monitor you while on the tour. Do they let you take pictures? Will you have a minder? Do they let you talk to random people? (not just in the facility, in the town, as well) Do random people not want to talk to you? (ditto)

3) don't forget that they may assume you are a spy. Don't take it personally, and don't get in trouble just to satisfy our curiousity. Leave the spooky stuff to the professional spooks.

Posted by: rosignol at November 2, 2006 12:45 AM

I voted yes!!!


1. When opportunity knocks, open the door!
2. This doesn't preclude the other possibilities.
3. You get to report both on Iran AND their propaganda! (And maybe a few dupes you meet too.) And, it might give us some insight to some other stories soon to come out from Iran.
4. Perhaps they got the idea here.
5. It would be great if you could meet ET (the blogger linked above).

Posted by: Yafawi at November 2, 2006 01:42 AM


Have you considered Yemen or the Horn of Africa ever?

Or Central Asia, Western India or the Caucasus?

Haha, thats a lot of choices - just curious.

Posted by: Rommel at November 2, 2006 06:40 AM

I echo the comment that this may be the last chance to see Iran for awhile. And I still remember how much you learned about the real Hezbollah guy after the face to face interview in his Beirut office. My guess is that you might even get priority given your blogging media status. On the other hand, that might bring a swift rejection. Besides, they may restrict what you look at, but they can't restrict what you see and hear, if you know what I mean.

It doesn't sound like a lengthy stay is planned for the tourists in Iran, so you'd still have plenty of time to traipse on over to the other 'vacation' hotspots, as well. Hey, you're in the neighborhood, so why not?

Posted by: allan at November 2, 2006 07:44 AM

Absolutely you should go, but reserve any serious commentary (Duh!) until you return. We're sure as shit ain't hearing anything from anywhere else...

Oh, and did you hear that Roggio is getting an Iraq embed? Are things loosening up over there?

Posted by: Ted at November 2, 2006 08:13 AM

You should go, Michael, if for no other reason than to interview the type of folks who would go on such a tour. I have a sneaking suspicion they would be very similar to those who took part in Stalinist-era tours for Westerners of the Soviet Union. Just give your name as Walter J. Duranty and everything will be fine! Seriously, though, I agree with the others, it may be your last chance to go.

Posted by: Chad at November 2, 2006 08:15 AM

"No, the plants aren't for making nukes, they're for our tourism industry!" By the way, the "real" Potemkin villages were likely fiction spread by anti-Potemkin folk, although I know you're referring to the Soviet-era tours dubbed "Potemkin" by Westerners.

Posted by: calbaer at November 2, 2006 11:48 AM


Really? When I took a course on Russian history (up to 1812) my professor spoke at length about the Potemkin village story as though it were never in dispute. This was a year ago. Are there new revelations or is he just another second rate tenured jackass like all the others I've had?

Posted by: Rommel at November 2, 2006 12:25 PM

While this is undoubtedly a rare opportunity to see Iran from the inside, I don't believe the "tour" will yield much (if any)legitimate insight as to the true nuclear situation within the country. Of course, like you've said, interviewing the "tourists" would surely be entertaining.
With that said, I would advise you not to spend time and resources on such a trip. Personally, I believe areas of growing conflict such as Afghanistan have gone essentially unreported and ignored for too long. It is that kind of conflict that deserves the attention of such a skillful journalist as yourself.

Posted by: Colin at November 2, 2006 12:26 PM

I would assume that your safety will be assured while on the Magical Mystery Tour of the nuke plants. The last thing Iran will want is an ugly PR incident involving one of their guests. What are the odds of returning via Lebanon or Israel? Or even Kurdish Iraq for that matter?

Posted by: lindsey at November 2, 2006 12:26 PM

Don't go back to places you have already been.
Personally I second Colin. Afghanistan deserves way more attention than its getting. Be sure to read "Soldiers of God" and "Ghost Wars" before you do though.

What happened to Algeria btw? I thought that had been on the iteniary... the Maghreb is still very much a mystery to most Americans and deserves some reporting!

Posted by: Rommel at November 2, 2006 06:03 PM

Algeria is still on the itinerary. All these places are, actually. I just want to get a feel for what people are most interested in first.

It might take a long time to get an Iranian visa, and they might tell me no. So I can't promise anything here, least of all the order I'll visit these places.

The thing about Algeria is that it is requiring more homework and more planning than anywhere else. So I can't do it next no matter what.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at November 2, 2006 06:16 PM

Who am I to say? And why ask? If you need to ask, stay put. Stay put until you're sure. Life, politics, everything is wherever you are. The patten runs through everything.

Another thing to consider: will you be another human shield? With Iran complaining about too many foreign troops on too many of her borders and the US, GB and others in joint maneuvers in the Gulf, that's an important consideration.

Posted by: Abu Nudnik at November 2, 2006 07:40 PM

Sorry for being repetitious Michael, but I strongly urge you not to go anywhere you are not sure of. It simply isn't worth the risk with no reward or a questionable reward in sight. The fact you are asking makes one assumption obvious: that you feel you must go somewhere. If I were you, I'd question that assumption. Why go anywhere at all? Go where you are sure and when. Everything else constitutes a hazard. There will be plenty of action to report on in the future. Lastly, think last of us, and what we need. We don't need your blood. God bless.

Posted by: Abu Nudnik at November 2, 2006 07:48 PM

I appreciate the concern for my safety. Truly. But if I were to follow that advice of yours, Abu Nudnik, I wouldn't go anywhere in the Middle East, ever.

And yet...I need to go there. Why? The real answer is because I just do, vague as that is.

I could give you all sorts of reasons. The first is, simply, that it's my job now, at least part of the time. Another is that I need to "get out of the office." Another is because I think I'm good at it and I want to get better. Still another is that I learn more from traveling than from reading. I enjoy watching history happen and being in the middle of things. Also, believe it or not, the Middle East can be fun if you go to the right places. Libya isn't fun, but Beirut and Tel Aviv are. I could go on and on.

The short answer is I go because I feel I have to. It didn't used to be that way for me, but it is now.

Have you seen Jarhead? There's a scene where the sergeant says "I love this job!" while watching a Kuwaiti oil well burning at midnight. The main character asks Sarge why he loves his job. Sarge says look at that oil well burn. How many people get to see shit like that?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at November 2, 2006 08:05 PM

It occurs to me that this tour may also be for internal consumption. Iranians do want their government to have nuclear power and they've never been told that the US/UN opposes nuclear weapons not power.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at November 2, 2006 09:19 PM

I would really love to hear your description of Iran, but there is something nauseating about taking part in anything sponsored by the original Death-to-America government.

If you can do what you do in Iran, then go.

Don't go if you will be stuck on a propaganda itinerary with a tour group of useful idiots. Your writing is valuable because it is real journalism, i.e. an attempt to describe subjects objectively and comprehensively. If you will not have the opportunity to do that in Iran, then your time would be better spent elsewhere.

Posted by: Matthew M at November 2, 2006 10:53 PM

Even if you're on an Iranian PR tour, with rabid Bush-haters willing to fawn on any leader who complains about the US imperfections -- it would be good for you to go, too.

Your reading public needs you to go, too. Whether Iran is the best place is sort of like choosing between colors on a new car, after yours has been totalled. The world would be enriched by your writing on any of the choices you choose, even that least-good one of staying in Oregon.

I suggest choosing Iran now, with a backup or two if it becomes harder to arrange or takes longer.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at November 3, 2006 01:03 AM

I am tempted to say you should go to Afghanistan, because the commenters are right that that conflict is severely underreported. Are things going good, bad, indifferent? The best I can surmise is that the death rate for NATO and local government troops is quite a bit lower than Iraq, since we'd assuredly be hearing about it otherwise.

But, I think I vote for the Iranian tour. Ahmadinejad is the Kruschev of the day, and nobody over here has a good idea of how relatively open Iranian society is or isn't, the level of repression the regime engages in, the true feelings of the dissidents, etc. You are probably one of the few independent experts on such subjects and I'm sure many of us would be very interested to see what you find in that country.

Posted by: Stacy at November 3, 2006 10:02 AM

Ever thought of going to Turkmenistan? You'd get all the insanity of Hezbollahstan without as much of a threat of war or death. And, if you're itching for nuclear fuel production, perhaps there's a museum at the home of the former nuclear power station at Aqtau in Kazakhstan. (High five!)

As for the origin of Potemkin villages, I'd suggest reading - it's not an academic source, but it makes for good reading.

Posted by: calbaer at November 3, 2006 01:27 PM

I voted 'yes', but then wondered what's to be learned. You'll be free to look and ask questions, just as foreigners were at Mao's Dazhai.
But ask to visit any number of known facilities in Iran. You won't see them.

Posted by: W Elms at November 3, 2006 01:41 PM

Iran is a wonderful country with wonderful people... unfortunately, their government does not represent them accurately. You can gleen important stories without official escorts. If you go, I recommend Isfahan and Shiraz over Teheran.

Posted by: bains at November 3, 2006 07:53 PM

You have made your mind up so. . . Get a body stain dip. You are quite light in color.

Carry the Muslim book and know some of the themes. Join a Mosque and carry the card.

Ok, a little tongue in cheek, but sometimes details can give you an edge if things get tight.

Someone suggested not saying anything critical while you are there. Seems essential if you ever get searched.

There are Muqtada al Sadr style behaviour police about and that is where the gamble comes in.

[ my comment months ago ]
. . .care to know a little more about respected author Steven Vincent who lived in and wrote about Basra? Steven who had a blogsite called RedzoneBlog and was suddenly whisked away by police in a white Toyota, then found later by the roadside. . . Basra, a safe place?

===== Thoughts that arise when thinking about a visit to Iran.

For a Conservative majority. = TG

Posted by: TG at November 4, 2006 02:40 PM

The tours provide a shield of tourists against any attack on these facilities

Posted by: sol vason at November 4, 2006 06:39 PM

Michael - going to Iran right now is kind of like going to Germany in 1937. The focal point of a global conflict... but one in which a Journalist may find himself suddenly shorter by a head. And there is the question of whether you can actually sniff out anything real.

Have you thought about France? The Banlieues Civil War is a historical event with almost no coverage, and you'll be both less likely to become cephalically challenged and more likely to find important and interesting truths.

And you'll have better booze there :)

Posted by: The Raccoon at November 5, 2006 08:45 AM

TG wrote...

> Get a body stain dip. You are quite light in color.

That's a poor joke. How many Iranians have you met?

Posted by: Faried Nawaz at November 6, 2006 03:58 AM

TG wrote...

> Get a body stain dip. You are quite light in color.

This is a poor joke. How many Iranians do you know?

Posted by: Faried Nawaz at November 6, 2006 04:00 AM

You should go. Ahmadinejad is offering a bounty of $20 per head for every American who visits and the nuclear sites are close to some of Iran's real treasures. When you go, make sure you go to the village of Natanz and see the mosque and tomb there. The tomb is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Posted by: Esther at November 6, 2006 05:15 AM

BTW, TG does not know what he is talking about. Wait til you hear how critical Iranians are themselves.

Posted by: Esther at November 6, 2006 05:21 AM

Or you can go back to Kurdistan. They have a new tourist campaign with the slogan, "come see what's happening in the other Iraq".

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