US Dismisses Nuclear Report on Iran

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi 

The much-anticipated report on Iran by the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was released this week confirms "substantial progress" in Iran's cooperation with the agency and the steady resolution of disputed issues and, yet, the US government has reacted swiftly by belittling Iran's cooperation and maintaining its aggressive push for a new round of United Nations sanctions on Iran.

By arguing that "selective cooperation is not enough", to paraphrase the US's envoy to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, the US now hopes that the report's other finding, that Iran has not suspended the enrichment-related activities as demanded by the UN, will suffice to persuade the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, chiefly Russia and China, to endorse tougher Iran sanctions.

But, this may not be so easy in light of the depth and scope of Iran's genuine cooperation, the IAEA's confirmation of consistency of new Iranian information with their own independent investigations, and the sheer absence of any evidence of nuclear weapons proliferation in Iran. The report states:

The agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the agency with access to declared material, and has provided the required material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities ... Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner and provided clarification and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan [of Iran and the IAEA].

Still, despite the leap forward in Iran-IAEA cooperation signifying a qualitative improvement in the area of Iran's nuclear transparency, eg, the fact that all of the 266 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) "remain under agency containment and surveillance", the US government and aspects of its media allies have opted to focus on IAEA head Mohammad ElBaradei's claim that the agency's knowledge of Iran's nuclear program is "diminishing" solely due to the lack of implementation of the intrusive Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"UN losing grip on Iran nuclear plan," the CNN headline on ElBaradei's report read, followed with the spin, bolstered by commentators sounding the US government's position, that the IAEA has admitted "it was no longer in touch with how Iran's nuclear program was developing".

That is certainly stretching it, since a careful scrutiny of the nine-page IAEA report conveys the opposite impression - of the agency's near complete mastery of knowledge of all aspects of Iran's nuclear program. Case in point, the report cites several recent visits to Iran by IAEA delegations, seven "unannounced" inspections of facilities, finding "no indication of any UF6 reconversion and casting activity in Iran", and confirming that "there has been no indication of ongoing reprocessing related activities at those facilities".

With respect to lingering "outstanding issue", such as Polonium-210, sources of contamination, etc, the report positively cites progress according to the work plan's timetable, ie, answers will be provided within "the next few weeks".

Compared to his previous reports, ElBaradei's new report is distinguishable by fresh details on the long-sought information on the history and development of Iran's uranium-enrichment technology. With respect to P-1 centrifuges, the IAEA has "concluded that Iran's statements are consistent with other information available to the agency concerning Iran's acquisition of declared P-1 centrifuges".

The IAEA has been checking with Pakistan, the source of Iran's purchase of P-1 centrifuges, and the report states conclusively that "information provided by Iran on these purchases and the quantities is consistent with the agency's findings".

As for Iran's limited experimentation with the more advanced P-2 centrifuges, the report states that "environmental samples taken at declared research and development location and from equipment did not indicate that nuclear material were used in those experiments".

Equally important is the information in the report that the IAEA has made arrangements to "verify and seal the fresh fuel foreseen for the Bushehr power plant". This, indeed, goes to the heart of Iran's contention, cited in the report's preliminary statements, regarding past bitter experience with foreign nuclear contractors, forcing the country to push for nuclear fuel self-sufficiency.

Irrespective, the ElBaradei report ignores its own introductory statements and ends by an obligatory call on Iran to adopt the "confidence-building measures required by the Security Council, including the suspension of all enrichment-related activities".

Yet, this statement is problematic on two counts. First, Iran has already adopted several confidence-building measures resulting in an unprecedented nuclear transparency, thus fulfilling important aspects of the UN Security Council resolutions. Second, the IAEA's confirmation of the absence of any illicit nuclear activity on the part of Iran is not without consequences with respect to Iran's NPT right to possess a nuclear fuel cycle, just as several other nations, such as Japan and Brazil, do. In fact, Iran's transparency and rights-based enrichment deprive the current UN sanctions of a lion's share of their legitimacy.

At this point a policy conclusion: if the IAEA and the UN are serious about gaining Iran's acceptance of their demand for suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities, then a prior agreement on the duration and the precise purposes and objective of this suspicion must be worked out beforehand, given Iran's concern that it has already complied with that confidence-building measure when it suspended its uranium-enrichment activities for two years.

A legally non-binding, ie, voluntary, suspension aimed as "confidence-building" is one thing, an indefinite, time non-specific, suspension approximating termination, which is by all indications what the US and its European allies are seeking without the benefit of an iota of international law behind them, quite another.

Reacting to the IAEA report, the British government has emulated the US by calling on Iran to "come clean", as if it is not. Iran has repeatedly reminded the world that the IAEA has given a "clean bill of health" to only a small fraction of member states and that minor transgressions, particularly those successfully corrected, do not muster to a breach of the NPT, yet Iran is punished by sanctions and threats of war and destruction as if it has.

The International Herald Tribune has dubbed ElBaradei's report as a "mixed report", but that too is a mischaracterization, since there is nothing ambiguous about its admission of Iran's cooperation. What Western governments and their media adamantly refuse to accept is that a sea-change in Iran's cooperation with the IAEA has occurred that, in effect, changes the calculus of coercive diplomacy with regard to Iran.

Hypothetically, Iran can suspend its enrichment activities for as little as a few weeks and then restart and legitimately claim that it has fulfilled its obligations under the Security Council resolutions, thus totally undermining the sanctions regime. It is not Iran but the sanctions regime that needs a "regime change" toward nuclear democracy, one representing equal nuclear rights for all, away from the present caste hierarchy that, in turn, perpetuates the unequal distribution of global power.

The longer the Iran crisis lasts, the more flagrant the contradictions of the nuclear world order and the greater the pressure by a bulk of the international community to force the nuclear weapon states to meet their own obligations to the NPT. For instance, by pursuing real, practical disarmament, endorsing nuclear weapons free zones, pledging no first use, instead of threatening the rest of the world with their dangerous nuclear doctrines.

Similarly, Iran can re-adopt the Additional Protocol without any fear, since it has already complied with several IAEA requests paralleling the terms of this protocol, eg, for complementary visits, well beyond its treaty obligations.

Lest we forget, whereas in this report ElBaradei places much faith in the agency's ability to get a full picture of Iran's nuclear program only through "the full implementation of the Additional Protocol", this is at variance with his earlier statements that put the bar considerably higher, by urging Iran to take steps "beyond the Additional Protocol".

Clearly, the time to stop making excess demands on Iran smacking of double standards has arrived. [1])In his "balancing act", ElBaradei has also contradicted his agency's earlier doubt on US intelligence (traced to a lap top) regarding Iran's missile system and re-entry vehicle, by citing the latter in his report as one of the lingering issues. To open a parenthesis here, the nuclear expert, David Albright, who had similarly questioned that particular piece of intelligence, refers to it in his new article on Iran published in Arms Control Today without a hint of his earlier skepticism.

Given the politically-induced shortcomings of ElBaradei's report, all eyes are now on the upcoming meeting of the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, with Iranian officials, who would rather see the nuclear file closed and "normalized" back in the IAEA. That is unlikely to happen as long as Europe lacks the political will to part ways from the US, irrespective of ElBaradei's important findings suggesting the non-necessity of a crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

1. It is noteworthy that the US has cut its own special deal with the IAEA respecting the Additional Protocol, in effect circumventing its intrusiveness in the name of "national security", as a result of which there are today two separate Additional Protocols, one for the nuclear weapon states and one for the nuclear non-weapon states, as if the latter have no military secret to keep that could be jeopardized by the expanded surveillance method of Additional Protocol.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.


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