The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has just released an important new expert report on Iran’s nuclear program, specifically on the Parchin site of much recent interest to the IAEA. The report is a must-read for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the expertise of the author, Robert Kelley. Kelley is a nuclear engineer and a veteran of over 35 years in the US Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex, most recently at Los Alamos. He managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was seconded by the US DOE to the IAEA where he served twice as Director of the nuclear inspections in Iraq, in 1992 and 2001.
Rarely, if ever, has such a technically qualified person spoken publicly on this important topic.
The SIPRI report dramatically revises the standard narrative in the mainstream western press about what is known about the Parchin site, and what – if anything — needs to be done about it. It also perfectly contextualizes the relative (un)importance of the IAEA gaining access to the site, and what the IAEA — and P5+1 countries — stands to gain or lose in the process of making a mountain out of a molehill on this issue. As Kelley states, “a careful review of the evidence available to date suggests that less has been going on at the site of interest than meets the eye.”
The dispute centers on “the IAEA’s request to visit a large military production complex located at Parchin, near Tehran. The request is part of the agency’s efforts to resolve questions about whether alleged Iranian nuclear activities have what IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has called ‘possible military dimensions’.” Note the “possible” there. Specifically, the IAEA says it has secret information (which it will not share, even with Iran) from a member state’s intelligence agency indicating that Iran may have constructed a large steel chamber in one of the buildings for conducting conventional high explosives experiments—some of which may have involved natural (not enriched) uranium—which could be associated with a secret program to do research on nuclear bombs. As Kelley explains in the SIPRI report the whole scenario is a bit of a stretch from a technical standpoint.
“A chamber such as the one claimed to be in the building is neither necessary nor particularly useful for developing a first-generation nuclear weapon. Such development tests have normally been done outdoors for decades.”
“There are a range of experiments involving explosives and uranium that a country presumably would conduct as part of a nuclear weapon development programme. Most of these are better done in the open or in a tunnel. They include basic research on neutron initiators using very small amounts of explosive and grams of uranium and on the very precise timing of a neutron initiator using a full-scale conventional explosion system and many kilograms of uranium. The alleged chamber at Parchin is too large for the initiator tests and too small for a full-scale explosion. If it exists at all, it is a white elephant.”
And if someone is going to build a chamber like the one alleged in the secret evidence passed to the IAEA, they will want to do experiments and make measurements. They will want to measure things with, for example:
· very high speed optical cameras
· flash X-ray systems (like an X-ray strobe light which gives you one x-ray of implosion in a very short time)
· neutron detectors
· Various electric timing and pressure detectors.
The collar that is shown in the alleged graphic of the chamber gets in the way of the optical, X-ray and neutron measurements. So it would be better not to have it there at all. The collar of the alleged chamber also means that when the chamber is used up to its design capacity it could well fail on the ends, the entrance door or the windows and cable ports for the measurements.
But before highlighting more of the take-aways from the SIPRI report, let me first briefly mention what other former senior IAEA officials have said about how the IAEA is handling the Parchin issue more broadly.
Firstly, let’s recall that the IAEA has already visited Parchin twice in 2005 and found nothing – although they did not go to the specific area they are now interested in. However, the IAEA could have gone to that area even in 2005 – they simply chose to go to other sites on the military base. As the IAEA report at the time summarized:
“The Agency was given free access to those buildings and their surroundings and was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual use equipment or materials in the locations visited.”
When the IAEA last went to Parchin, Olli Heinonen was head of IAEA safeguards and led the inspections – the methodology for choosing which buildings to inspect is described in an excellent Christian Science Monitor article which is worth reading in its entirety, but I quote the relevant bits:
“At the time, it[Parchin] was divided into four geographical sectors by the Iranians. Using satellite and other data, inspectors were allowed by the Iranians to choose any sector, and then to visit any building inside that sector. Those 2005 inspections included more than five buildings each, and soil and environmental sampling. They yielded nothing suspicious, but did not include the building now of interest to the IAEA.
“The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available,” recalls Heinonen, who led those past inspections. “When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building.”
Would the Iranians really have risked exposing some nefarious nuclear weapons-related work at Parchin by making all of Parchin available to the IAEA in 2005?
“Also unusual is how open and specific the IAEA has been about what exactly it wants to see, which could yield doubts about the credibility of any eventual inspection.
“I’m puzzled that the IAEA wants to in this case specify the building in advance, because you end up with this awkward situation,” says Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s head of safeguards until mid-2010.
“First of all, if it gets delayed it can be sanitized. And it’s not very good for Iran. Let’s assume [inspectors] finally get there and they find nothing. People will say, ‘Oh, it’s because Iran has sanitized it,’” says Mr. Heinonen, who is now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “But in reality it may have not been sanitized. Iran is also a loser in that case. I don’t know why [the IAEA] approach it this way, which was not a standard practice…”
As for the typically tendentious reporting on this topic, which almost always casts Iran in a negative light, the words of Hans Blix, former head of the IAEA, bear repeating:
“Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA and later of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has also expressed surprise at the focus on Parchin, as a military base that inspectors had been to before.
“Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site,” Mr. Blix told Al Jazeera English… “In a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”
One of the reasons that Mr. Blix says that is because normally the IAEA does not have the legal authority to inspect undeclared non-nuclear-materials related facilities, in a nation – like Iran — that has not ratified the Additional Protocol. The IAEA can call for “special inspections” but they have not done so. They can also choose arbitration, as specified in the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, but again they have not done that.
In fact, the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement between Iran and the IAEA states quite clearly that its “exclusive purpose” is to verify that nuclear material “is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Nothing else – that is it exclusive purpose. It does not cover conventional explosives testing, as suspected at Parchin (according to secret information given by a third-part intelligence agency). The IAEA itself has admitted that “absent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited.”
Regarding the secret information from an unidentified intelligence agency, it is useful to keep in mind that in the past, forgeries have been passed along to the IAEA. (And, if recent leaks that the IAEA is using mathematically flawed graphs in its case against Iran are to be believed, the IAEA’s case is further weakened.)
So as Hans Blix stated, Iran has been more cooperative than other countries would be in the same situation, and indeed more cooperative than it legally needs to be. It has shown great goodwill by allowing the IAEA a visit to Parchin in 2005. And let’s not forget that in 2004, Brazilian authorities refused to give IAEA inspectors full access to the Resende uranium enrichment facility with nary a peep out of the “world community”.
But coming back to the SIPRI report, a couple more of the highlights:
“The IAEA says that Iran did very complex experiments involving explosives and many fibre-optic detectors and possibly uranium. However, the IAEA says these experiments were not done at Parchin but rather 500 km away at Marivan. In any case, the experiments at Marivan described in great detail by the IAEA would not use uranium.”
And has Iran demolished the building at Parchin that the IAEA wants to visit as some “experts” have claimed?
“No. Some reports implied that Iran had destroyed the building, but this is incorrect. The IAEA claims that five buildings on this site have been demolished but this cannot be seen in satellite imagery. Iran did demolish a small outbuilding on the same site that appears to have been a garage. It was probably demolished to make way for a new road that is being built at the Parchin complex. Another small structure, probably a garage or material store was reported destroyed but is still in place in the latest satellite imagery…The building of interest for the IAEA remains standing.”
“Iran has engaged in large-scale bulldozing operations on about 25 hectares near the Parchin building. This includes the bulldozing of old dirt piles to level a field 500 metres north of the building of interest. However, there has been no such activity in the area west of the building, except for removing some parking pads within about 10 m of it. The fact that the building’s immediate vicinity has been largely untouched on the west side strongly suggests that the purpose of the earth-moving operations was for construction and renovation work and not for ‘sanitizing’ the site by covering up contamination.”
What about the pink tarps mentioned by ISIS, supposedly to prevent satellites from viewing the inside of the buildings ?
“In the summer of 2012 Iran began major renovations at the site. Workers decreased perimeter security by tearing down fences, demolished one outbuilding and began renovation of two buildings. They covered both buildings with pink styrofoam insulation…One building is completely covered with insulation and the other is about 60 per cent covered. Raw materials can be seen on the ground nearby. The buildings were then reroofed and are at different stages of renovation even today.”
A picture of the pink insulation is shown in the report.
Kelley concludes, “The impasse over the Parchin visit has taken on a symbolic importance that is distracting attention from the IAEA’s efforts to address a range of questions about the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear programme… The IAEA is stretching its mandate to the limit in asking for access to a military site based on tenuous evidence.”
And, of course, let’s keep in mind that these allegations, suspicions and “concerns” (as opposed to actual legal issues) that the IAEA has about Parchin date from about a decade or more ago – if they are true at all. And that they relate to conventional explosives testing.
As for any current worries about nuclear weapons work in Iran, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has confirmed that he has “a high level of confidence” that no such work is going on now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also weighed in: “Are they [Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” And Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. Adding, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”
There are a number of other problems in the IAEA reports on Iran: For example, the agency keeps saying in its reports that it cannot “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” nor that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” But the agency cannot be expected to do this – that is not its job. Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director of Safeguards at the IAEA summed it up well: “The Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting.”
In fact, not only is it legally problematic to fulfill such a verification, it is a logical impossibility: The agency cannot prove the absence of something. There can always be somewhere in Iran where the IAEA has not looked. In fact, no one can reasonably task the IAEA to prove a negative in any country, whether it be in Brazil, Argentina, or the 49 other nations for which it is still evaluating the absence of undeclared nuclear activity.
The only real concern with Iran at the moment is that it is stockpiling 20% enriched uranium and that it could — if it decided to weaponize in the future — further enrich it to weapons grade. This is a worry about a future potential, not something that is happening now. Brazil and Argentina could do similar things. Japan could leave the NPT and breakout also. This breakout potential is a well known and inherent flaw (or a “feature”, depending on one’s perspective) of the NPT. If the P5+1 countries (all nuclear-armed, aside from Germany) would like to close this loophole, they should consider a bold new “NPT 2.0” Treaty, such as the one I outlined in an article for Foreign Policy.
Despite the generally alarmist reporting on Iran, it is not at all an eminent threat. For 30 years it has been claimed that Iran is just about to weaponize, when in fact none of those claims have ever panned out. For example, in 1984, Jane’s Defence Weekly quoted West German intelligence sources as saying that Iran’s bomb production “is entering its final stages”. In 1992, Bibi Netanyahu said Iran is 3-5 years from a bomb. He is just as wrong now, as he was then.
What about the claims that Iran’s allegedly covert enrichment plant at Fordow indicates a sinister weaponization intent? Not necessarily — Iran’s perspective on its national security environment is likely different than the view in Washington or Jerusalem. The Iranians may see this location as a defensive measure to protect its legitimate nuclear program. They have surely heeded the lesson from Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s civilian Osirak reactor in 1981: There is no guarantee of safety when it comes to nuclear facilities in the Middle East, not even civilian ones. It’s a rough neighborhood. What is viewed with suspicion in the West may simply be seen as a defensive no-brainer in Tehran.
And, of course, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program was not covert by initial design. Iran’s nuclear program was kicked off in the 1950s with the full encouragement and support of the United States, under the auspices of president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. In 1983, after the Islamic revolution, Iran went – in an overt way – to the IAEA to get help in setting up a pilot uranium enrichment facility. And the IAEA was then very receptive to the idea. According to an authoritative Nuclear Fuel article by the renowned Mark Hibbs, “IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in reactivating a research program to learn how to process U3O8 into UO2 pellets and then set up a pilot plant to produce UF6, according to IAEA documents obtained by Nuclear Fuel.” But, according to Hibbs, “when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the U.S. government then ‘directly intervened’ to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. ‘We stopped that in its tracks,’ said a former U.S. official.”
So, yes, when Iran’s overt attempt was stymied politically, they obtained more covert means to set-up their enrichment facility. Enrichment facilities by their nature can be dual-use, of course, but they are certainly not disallowed under the NPT. And Iran’s allegedly “covert” or “sneaky” behavior may be largely a response to past politicization at the IAEA, and a lesson-learned from Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s civilian nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981. Unfortunately, the politicization has evidently only gotten worse since the 1980s. As representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at an IAEA board of governors meeting in 2010 already noted: “NAM notes with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the director general [Yukio Amano].” (NAM represents over 100 nations, a clear majority of the world community).
Regarding how intrusive IAEA inspectors are supposed to be, the model safeguards agreement (INFCIRC-153), is quite clear:
“The Agency shall require only the minimum amount of information and data consistent with carrying out its responsibilities under the Agreement. Information pertaining to facilities shall be the minimum necessary for safeguarding nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement.”
This completely validates Mr. Hans Blix statement that Iran has already exceeded the typical level of cooperation required of it by letting the IAEA visit Parchin twice: “Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site…in a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”
So, back to current events: Iran is known to be converting part of its 20% enriched UF6 gas to metallic form making a “breakout” that much harder. And Tehran has signaled that it is willing to suspend 20% uranium enrichment if some sanctions are removed: so if the P5+1 countries are serious about their concern about a — completely legal — possible future potential Iranian breakout capability using its 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and they would like Iran to foreclose that option then they should take Iran up on its offer to suspend 20% enrichment by lifting some sanctions. What is definitely not constructive is making a mountain out of the Parchin molehill – a molehill that the IAEA has visited twice before and found exactly nothing at.
Professor Yousaf Butt is a nuclear physicist, and is currently professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect institutional views of CNS or MIIS.Yousaf has a piece just out in Foreign Policy today on how the Parchin obsession may be obstructing progress on the larger Iran issue.
- When Fact Becomes Opinion: Half-Truths, Non-Truths & the Phony Objectivity of the Associated Press (alethonews.wordpress.com)
An Associated Press report from this past week demonstrates how plain facts and provable, documented historical events are often described as subjective perceptions and matters of perspective in the mainstream media whenever an honest presentation and assessment of those facts would serve to reduce the fear-mongering propaganda over Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Writing from Tehran on January 15, 2013, AP‘s Iran correspondent Ali Akbar Dareini reported that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast had declared Iran’s intention to register its long-stated (and officially binding) prohibition on nuclear weapons as a legally-recognized, secular, international document.
“Mehmanparast could not be more definitive in dispelling suspicions that Iran may ultimately develop a nuclear weapon,” Dareini wrote, before explaining that while Iran is confident that “any ambiguities or concerns” regarding its nuclear program can be addressed and resolved as long as “a structured approach” is first agreed upon.
Iranians say they have a bitter memory of allowing IAEA inspections and providing replies on a long list of queries over its nuclear program in the past decade. Now, Tehran says such queries should not be revived or remain open-ended once the IAEA has verified them.
Mehmanparast said Iran provided detailed explanations to IAEA questions on six outstanding issues in the past but instead of giving Iran a clean bill of health, the agency leveled new allegations on the basis of “alleged studies” provided by Iran’s enemies.
Iran uses that term to refer to a list of questions including a dispute at Parchin, a military site southeast of Tehran, where the agency suspects Iran ran explosive tests needed to set off a nuclear charge.
Note the repeated use of the same basic construction: “Iranians say…” and “Tehran says…” and “Mehmanparast said…” and “Iran uses…” The statements made after this routine prefix are therefore presented as subjective declarations coming from Iran and are never qualified or substantiated as facts. In short, they are used as disclaimers, readily understood by a suspicious and ill-informed audience.
The readers of this AP report are therefore intentionally left with the perception that these are simply Iranian contentions and therefore automatically suspect, dubious, disputed or otherwise easily dismissed; after all, the comments all came out of an Iranian government spokesman’s mouth and the mainstream media (and politicians, of course) has spent decades training its readers to believe nothing the Iranian government says or does can be trusted.
While Dareini writes that “Mehmanparast said Iran provided detailed explanations to IAEA questions on six outstanding issues in the past,” he omits that this isn’t just a claim made by the Iranian government. Amazingly, the “bitter memory” that Iranians have about cooperating with the IAEA inquiries only to receive international sanctions and more military threats from the world’s most well-armed and aggressive states is not merely some crazy Persian fantasy! No, it actually happened.
In August 2007, Iran and the IAEA agreed to a “Work Plan” which defined modalities and a timetable in order to “clarify the outstanding issues” in relation to Iran’s nuclear program. With regard to the memorandum of understanding itself, IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei pointed out at the time that although “these outstanding issues are the ones that have led to the lack of confidence, the crisis,” he confirmed, “We have not come to see any undeclared activities or weaponization of their programme.” This conclusion was reached after two years of Iran’s voluntary implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, including a complete suspension of its enrichment program, which allowed intrusive and unfettered access to Iranian facilities for its inspectors.
Despite the constant allegations of nuclear weapons work, the IAEA has confirmed both that “[t]o date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme” and found that ”all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.”
The IAEA has consistently reaffirmed this finding in each of its reports over the past decade.
It too should be remembered that Iran only suspended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol after the EU-3 (now referred to as the P5+1) failed to offer any substantive proposals and reneged on its agreement to acknowledge Iran’s inalienable right to enrich uranium as part of a peaceful, safeguarded nuclear energy program. The proposal eventually brought to Iran by Western negotiators has been described as “vague on incentives and heavy on demands,” and even dismissed by one EU diplomat as “a lot of gift wrapping around an empty box.”
Regarding the Work Plan itself, it affirmed that the “[t]hese modalities cover all remaining issues and the Agency confirmed that there are no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran’s past nuclear program and activities” and that that IAEA had “agreed to provide Iran with all remaining questions according to the above work plan. This means that after receiving the questions, no other questions are left. Iran will provide the Agency with the required clarifications and information.”
In October 2007, ElBaradei confirmed, “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now [in Iran],” adding, “Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weapons program? No.”
By February 2008, due to Iranian cooperation and efforts at transparency, ElBaradei was able to report, “We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran’s enrichment programme” and the IAEA continued “to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”
Nevertheless, the so-called “alleged studies” – information provided to the IAEA by Western and Israeli intelligence agencies that accuses Iran of engaging in research regarding uranium conversion, high-explosives testing that could be linked to the creation of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and ballistic missile designs that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead – remains the sole point of contention and is often pointed to by Iran alarmists and the mainstream press as evidence of Iranian duplicity and intransigence.
As Iran itself has repeatedly noted, according to the Work Plan, the IAEA was obligated to submit “all related documents” regarding these “alleged studies” to Iran and, in return, while reiterating its insistence that these accusations were “politically motivated and baseless,” Iran would “review and inform the Agency of its assessment,” which was acknowledged “as a sign of [Iran's] good will and cooperation.”
As per this agreement between Iran and the IAEA, “no visit, meeting, personal interview, [or] swipe sampling were foreseen for addressing this matter.” Still, in yet another example of constantly moving goalposts, after Iran examined the documents it was allowed to see (far from the “all related documents” as promised in the Work Plan) and delivered a detailed “117-page assessment in which it asserted that the documentation was forged and fabricated,” the IAEA dismissed the evaluation as being too “focused on form rather than substance” and “requested Iran to provide a substantive response.”
That Iran’s assessment wasn’t as substantive as the IAEA may have hoped is perhaps unsurprising considering that the IAEA didn’t provide Iran with “all related documents” as required. In fact, the IAEA openly admitted to concealing most of the alleged documentation from Iran, claiming that it had “received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran” and revealing that while “the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran.”
Furthermore, the IAEA itself “noted that the [IAEA] currently has no information – apart from the uranium metal document – on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies.” The alleged “uranium metal document” referred to is identical to one produced by Pakistan, was neither commissioned nor requested by Iran and, along with other alleged documents, dates to “the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s.”
The IAEA also repeatedly emphasized that, despite all the allegations, “the Agency has not detected the use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard” but still “urged Iran to engage actively with the Agency in a more detailed examination of the documents available about the alleged studies which the Agency has been authorized to show to Iran.”
In a reasonable world, that the IAEA lacks both full access to and authorization over any alleged documentation purporting to show past weaponization research and testing and upon which is based its own claims that it demand Iran substantively explain would cast considerable doubt on the authenticity of such information and clearly demonstrates the dubious integrity and political nature of the allegations themselves. As the Iranian Mission to the IAEA has noted:
The Agency has not delivered to Iran any official and authenticated document which contained documentary evidence related to Iran with regard to the Alleged Studies.
The Government of the United States has not handed over original documents to the Agency since it does not in fact have any authenticated document and all it has are forged documents. The Agency didn’t deliver any original documents to Iran and none of the documents and materials that were shown to Iran have authenticity and all proved to be fabricated, baseless allegations and false attributions to Iran.
Iran has also wondered, “How can one make allegations against a country without provision of original documents with authenticity and ask the country concerned to prove its innocence or ask it to provide substantial explanations?“
In his own memoir, published in 2011, former IAEA head Mohammad ElBaradei echoed that question:
Absurdly, we were limited with regard to what documentation we permitted to show Iran. I constantly pressed the source of the information to allow us to share copies with Iran. How can I accuse a person, I asked, without revealing the accusations against him? The intelligence crowd refused, continuing to say they needed to protect their sources and methods.
Iran, for its part, continued to dismiss most of the allegations as fabrications. Since the Iranians’ cooperation on the work plan had been rewarded with yet more Security Council sanctions, their cooperation on the alleged weaponization studies had been minimal. Their predicament, they said, was that proving the studies were unrelated to nuclear activities would expose a great deal about their conventional weaponry, particularly their missile program. (p. 291)
ElBaradei also lamented the “willingness, on the part of Israel and the West, to treat allegations as fact,” admitting that the IAEA “did not have the tools or expertise, however, to verify the authenticity of documents.” (p. 290)
It should also be remembered that, in early 2007, an unnamed senior official at the IAEA revealed to the Los Angeles Times, “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us [from the United States about the Iranian nuclear program] has proved to be wrong” and has never led to significant discoveries inside Iran. Additionally, the paper noted that “U.S. officials privately acknowledge that much of their evidence on Iran’s nuclear plans and programs remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.”
When, in 2009, “the Israelis provided the IAEA with documentation of their own, purportedly showing that Iran had continued with nuclear weapon studies until at least 2007,” in order to “create the impression that Iran presented an imminent threat, perhaps preparing the grounds for the use of force,” ElBaradei has written that the IAEA’s “technical experts, however, raised numerous questions about the document’s authenticity.” He also pointed out that “[t]he accuracy of these [Israeli] accusations has never been verified; however, it is significant that the conclusions of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate were not changed, indicating that they, at least, did not buy the ‘evidence’ put forward by Israel.” (p. 291)
This history of IAEA allegations and Iranian assessments is completely absent from the recent Associated Press report, leading readers to believe Iran is making claims that can’t be backed up with evidence.
Also, that reporter Dareini states that the “alleged studies” referred to by Mehmanparast is a term used by Iran “to refer to a list of questions including a dispute at Parchin,” gives the distinct impression that this term is not an official one and that only Iran claims the studies in questions are merely “alleged” to have taken place rather than “proven,” “corroborated,” and “authenticated.”
But the term “alleged studies,” is not an Iranian creation. Rather, that phrase is a construction of the IAEA itself; Iran didn’t make it up. The first informal use of the term, referring to “topics which could have a military nuclear dimension” appears to be found in an IAEA Safeguards report on Iran from February 26, 2006.
These “topics,” purportedly revealed in documents taken from a mysterious stolen Laptop of Death, the authenticity of which has long been known to rest somewhere on the spectrum of dubious to fabricated, and which was provided to the IAEA by the United States by way of the MEK by way of the Mossad in late 2005; in fact, information gleaned from the laptop does not even contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead.
It is unsurprising, then, that IAEA chief ElBaradei once stated, “The IAEA is not making any judgment at all whether Iran even had weaponisation studies before because there is a major question of authenticity of the documents.”
The IAEA continued to use the term informally throughout 2006 and early 2007, before elevating the term to an official section heading in its August 30, 2007 report. It was subsequently used as such until May 26, 2008, when the more alarmist phrase “Possible Military Dimensions” superseded “Alleged Studies” in IAEA nomenclature. These allegations, unverified and long considered to have questionable authenticity by the IAEA’s leadership, were suddenly resurrected and “assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible,” when Yukiya Amano (the America’s man in Vienna who has proudly boasted of being, not an objective arbiter of truth and evidence, but as “solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision”) took over stewardship of the agency and began secretly meeting with White House and National Security Council officials before presenting biased IAEA reports on Iran.
Back to the AP report: While Dareini notes that “Tehran has in the past allowed IAEA inspectors twice into Parchin,” he fails to explain that because Parchin is not a nuclear facility, but rather a military complex not safeguarded by the IAEA, it is therefore off-limits legally to its inspectors. When Iran voluntarily allowed two rounds of inspections of Parchin by IAEA personnel in 2005, the agency revealed that its inspectors “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited, and the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations.”
Regarding the current accusations centered around an alleged detonation chamber located at the site (a charge made in documents provided to the IAEA by Israel), nuclear expert and former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has explained, “The IAEA is stretching its mandate to the limit in asking for access to a military site based on tenuous evidence.” Kelley also called the Parchin impasse “a secondary issue” that is deliberately serving Israel and the West as “a distraction for the negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the ‘P5+1′).” He adds (and explores in depth) that “the case for visiting the Parchin site—a matter on which the IAEA continues to insist—is not as clear-cut or compelling as some experts and officials portray it.”
It is undeniable that AP‘s Dareini is nowhere close to the propagandist that his colleague George Jahn is. Considering Jahn contributed “additional reporting” to Dareini’s article, perhaps the problematic sections were his work.
Regardless, for the Associated Press to omit crucial and easily accessible information from its characterizations of Iran’s nuclear program is irresponsible and serves to continually misinform (or under-inform) the public on the facts. And when facts aren’t important, innuendo, allegations and demonization take over, inevitably setting the stage for something far more dangerous: an uncritical and unscrupulous press, aiding and abetting (wittingly or not) the dissemination of propaganda, dutifully presenting a manufactured justification for the supreme international crime, the initiation of (yet another) a war of aggression.
Parchin is a military site that has been in the news lately because the IAEA is insisting on sending inspectors there, and Iran has been resisting the pressure. While this has naturally led many US media outlets to suggest that Iran is hiding something there, Hassan Beheshtipour explains Iran’s position over at IranReview.org
1. No country [would] ever allow the IAEA to inspect its military sites because the agency is missioned to merely visit nuclear sites, and non-nuclear military bases [are not] covered by its inspections [authority].
2. In order to prove its goodwill and reveal [the] falsehood of the Western media propaganda, Iran has already allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the site twice in 2005, and after each visit, the inspectors said nothing illegal had been found there. Olli Heinonen, the deputy to the then director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, had orally promised that if Iran allowed inspection of the military site in Parchin, they would announce once and for all that Parchin is a non-nuclear site and would need no further inspection. However, as the agency’s deputy director general for safeguards changed, the new deputy, Herman Nackaerts, announced in 2011 that Parchin site needs to be inspected again in the light of alleged studies whose information had been provided by some member states of the agency. This issue has caused Iran not to trust the promises given by the IAEA officials anymore.
3. Following three rounds of negotiations with delegates of the IAEA, Iran announced that the agency would be able to revisit Parchin site if two conditions are met. Firstly, they should promise that following the visit, there would be no further request to inspect Parchin again. Secondly, documents related to the agency’s alleged studies should be made available to Iran in order to make it possible for Tehran to evaluate that information and give an appropriate answer. The IAEA, in return, responded to Iran’s logical request by claiming that countries providing information about the alleged studies would not allow copies of those studies to be provided to Iran. As a result, the agency rejected Iran’s request and denied the Islamic Republic of an opportunity to defend itself by alleging that the IAEA, an impartial international organization, is competent enough to verify the studies.
4. The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the IAEA to guarantee that after its inspectors visit the military site at Parchin, there would be no leak of confidential information related to this non-nuclear military site and such information remain secret. This is a result of the background of the IAEA’s performance in similar cases. For example, during the agency’s work in Iraq, information related to non-nuclear military sites of that country were made available to other states a few years before military invasion of Iraq by the United States. Of course, the United States announced that it had not gained that information through the IAEA inspectors, but at any rate, the leak of confidential information about Iraq’s military sites dealt a drastic blow to credit of the agency regardless of the source of the leaked information.
The writer goes on the remind readers that the IAEA and Iran resolved most of the “outstanding issues” between them back in 2007-2008, after they had reached a “Modalities Agreement“ for a step-by-step process of cooperation, and,
At present, Iran is also ready to cooperate with the agency on all issues provided that the cooperation is mutual and based on a correct understanding of Iran’s security considerations.
I should point out here that regarding point no. 3 raised by Beheshtipour, former IAEA head El-Baradei wrote in his memoirs entitled “Age of Deception“ about how ridiculous a thought it was that Iran was expected to rebut evidence that it was not allowed to see. In fact, under the 2007 Modalities Agreement, which led to the resolution of all of the claims against Iran except for the “alleged studies”, Iran agreed to provide an evaluation of these claims if it was presented with the documentation first. However the US has prevented the IAEA from sharing the information with Iran, and in some cases the US has even prevented the IAEA itself from seeing the full documentation which forms the basis of these “Alleged Studies” even though there are signficant doubts about the veracity of these same documents. Iran supplied their promised evaluation in the form of a 117-page document anyway. Under the terms of that Modalities Agreement, this was all Iran was obligated to do, and the IAEA was then bound to conclude the issue. That, of course, is not what happened. Read more here
- IAEA leaks confidential information about Iran: Lawmaker (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Analysis of latest IAEA report on Iran – August 2012 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran: “We Lied!” – not really (alethonews.wordpress.com)
So the latest IAEA report on Iran is out. The media have been trying very hard to put as scary a spin on the report as possible. Here’s my analysis.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 attempt to portray UNSC resolutions on Iran, demanding that Iran give up enrichment, as being “binding”. They further demand that Iran ratify the Additional Protocol.
Sorry, but the UNSC is not legally authorized to make such demands. A very fundamental principle of the international law of treaties is the principle of “voluntariness” – treaties are only binding when a country voluntarily agrees to them, and the UNSC cannot demand that any country sign and ratify a treaty. This is a basic principle of international law: “International treaty law comprises obligations states expressly and voluntarily accept between themselves”
Nevertheless Iran not only implemented the Additional Protocol for a period of about 3 years in the past (with no evidence of any nukes found) but has offered to permanently ratify the treaty as long as its rights under the NPT are also recognized. Thus far, the US has refused.
There are also references to the “Annex” published by the IAEA in the Nov 2011 report which was touted as proof positive of Iranian nuclear perfidy. But as reporters like Scott Peterson and Seymor Hersh pointed out, it was just a repeat of well-known and still unsubstantiated claims that the previous IAEA head Elbaradei had refused to endorse. The same Annex in the news in Sept 2009, having been partially leaked to George Jahn of the AP. Back then, Elbaradei stood accused of “censoring” this “secret annex” which supposedly proved that Iran had an on-going nuclear weapons program, contrary to the NIEs. The IAEA denied there was such a “secret” annex, and the IAEA spokesman characterized it as simply information that was insufficiently verified to be included in the IAEA reports. Apparently, with the replacement of ElBaradei with Amano, this view changed, and the annex was included in the latest report, but under Elbaradei the IAEA issued a press release stating that “it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”
Paragraph 3 attempts to justify the expanded role of the IAEA as the “enforcer” of the NPT on Iran, but in fact if you read the text of Iran’s safeguards agreement you’d see that the role of the IAEA is quite limited — its function is “exclusively” to send inspectors to measure the declared nuclear material in Iran to ensure non-diversion to weapons use — and the IAEA has fulfilled this role already, which is why every single IAEA report on Iran (including this one) states that there is no evidence of such a diversion.
Paragraphss 5 – 7 are mainly about Parchin. The IAEA demands access to this site — even though it is not a declared nuclear facility, and therefore falls outside of the IAEA’s legal inspection authority. However Iran voluntarily allowed the IAEA to inspect this site already in 2005 — twice — with no evidence of any nuclear material or activities found. If the IAEA was serious about the “suspicions” here, all it has to do is present the evidence to the IAEA Board and get a “special inspections” authorization which Iran is legally required to allow — but the IAEA has not done so because the IAEA simply does not have any actual evidence of any nuclear work there. In fact the IAEA officials complained previously that the US intel on Iran’s nuclear program were bogus. Note that the Iranians have not refused another visit to Parchin, but want a “structured approach” to be determined beforehand. This was arranged for the previous IAEA visits to Parchin so why is the IAEA not doing so for this visit?
Paragaph 9 is the key paragraph where the IAEA verifies the non-diversion of nuclear material to non-peaceful uses. This is key, because that’s the relevant standard in determining whether Iran is in compliance with the NPT or not. As Michael Spies of the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy has explained:
The conclusion that no diversion has occurred certifies that the state in question is in compliance with its undertaking, under its safeguards agreement and Article III of the NPT, to not divert material to non-peaceful purposes. In the case of Iran, the IAEA was able to conclude in its November 2004 report that that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes. The IAEA reached this same conclusion in September 2005.
Paragraphs 10-12 admits that all of the nuclear activities in the declared nuclear sites and facilities in Iran are under IAEA safeguards, which again means Iran is in full compliance with the actual requirements of the NPT, even though the UNSC has tried to impose additional demands and restrictions on Iran.
Footnote 14 is interesting because it states that Iran reportedly intends to make several more reactors that manufacture medical isotopes. This again is in full compliance with Iran’s rights under the NPT
Paragraphs 13-16 are about the Natanz enrichment facility, which operates under IAEA safeugards, and specifically paragraph 16 essentially states that the operations are not violating the NPT either, and the uranium is enriched to less than 5% which is low-enriched uranium used for reactors.
Footnote 17 states that a small amount of uranium is enriched to slightly more than 5% due to a “known technical phenomenon associated with the start up of centrifuge cascades”. This was previously misrepresented in the media as evidence of Iranian perfidy when the same phenomenon was found at Fordo, the site where Iran enriches uranium to 20%, but is in fact simply an unavoidable phenomenon: when introducing uranium into the centrifuges, the process takes a bit of time, so some of the uranium initially introduced into the a centrifuge may be enriched to slightly higher levels than the rest. In fact paragraph 26 , which addressese this “overshoot” phenomenon at Fordo, confirms that this “Iran’s explanation is not inconsistent with the further assessment made by the Agency.”
Paragraphs 18-22 are about the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant — again in Natanz, which according to paragraph 22 continues to operate in accordance with the NPT.
Paragraphs 23-26 are about the enrichment facility at Fordo, which makes the 20% enriched uranium for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. It states that Iran has expanded the number of centrifuges there, but that they’re not operating. In any case this hasn’t stopped the media scaremongering about the facility, which operates under IAEA safeguards. Of course, the media scaremongers don’t bother mentioning that Iran would not have had to start 20% enrichment had the US not interferred with Iran’s right to acquire the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in the first place, nor that Iran has already announced plans to covert 1/3 of this material into fuel rods thus precluding their use for bomb-making. In fact Iran has suggested that it would agree to a plan of immediately converting all of its enriched uranium into fuel rods. This is not what a country intent on making nukes would do.
Paragraph 27 states that the IAEA is awaiting information about Iran’s plans to make new reactors in the future. Well, according to Iran’s safeguards agreement, Iran is only required to formally disclose such reactors 180-days prior to the introduction of nuclear material into them. Since these reactors have yet to be built, then Iran is under no obligation to provide any other information – yet.
Paragraph 28 states that Iran is not reprocessing uranium — a process that is used to extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods, and Iran has stated that it has no intention of doing so. Again, no NPT violatons there either.
Paragraphs 29-31 are about the heavy water reactor that Iran is building which according to the report continues “under Agency safeguards”. Specifically Paragraph 31 complains that the IAEA has not been allowed “further access” to the Heavy Water Production plant. However, since heavy water is not fissile material, and the IAEA’s inspection authority is limited to the inspection of fissile material and places where fissile material is stored, Iran is not obligated to allow ANY IAEA inspections of the plant at all – even though it has already done so voluntarily.
Paragraphs 32-37 are about Iran’s Uranium conversion and fuel plate manufacture facilities. It is interesting to note that the report states Iran has been making fuel plates on its own, when a few years ago we were told that Iran could not possibly figure out how to do this, and so any enriched uranium it was making was necessarily intended for nukes rather than reactor fuel (the fact that making fuel plates is a lot easier than making nukes, went unmentioned). Again, nothing violates the NPT here either.
Section H (paragraphs 38-44) are about the continued saga of the “alleged studies” from the Laptop of Death, as well as allegations about Parchin, specifically the “explosives testing container”. Note however that the IAEA report does not state that there were nuclear activities here — rather it refers to “undisclosed nuclear related activities” — which is funny because the IAEA’s inspection authority is limited to nuclear material not “nuclear related” material. The report states that the IAEA has “become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities” since 2002, but in fact Elbaradei stated clearly that the IAEA has no evidence of any such “undisclosed” activities. Furthermore Robert Kelley and others have already debunked a lot of the allegations about this “explosives testing chamber“
In fact, the chamber is far too small to contain explosive proof tests of a full scale mock-up, and far too big to contain smaller tests of research interest. Thus, a container of this size is irrelevant to a Iranian nuclear weapons program.
If you’re interested, here’s what the former IAEA head Elbaradei had to say about these alleged studies.
Section I (paragraphs 45-47) are the IAEA’s complaints that Iran should provide information on plans to build nuclear facilities (such as the Fordo enrichment facility) earlier than what its standard safeguards agreement requires. This is a long-standing technical dispute between the IAEA and Iran about when precisely Iran should provide design information on planned nuclear facilities. For a while Iran agreed, as a gesture of good faith, to adopt a “Modified” version of a safeguard agreement that required it to provide this info earlier than its existing standard safeguards require, but Iran ended that voluntary cooperation after the Paris Agreement negotiations fell apart. Since then, the IAEA has been insisting that Iran is somehow obligated to continue this practice, but this demand is legally questionable. The bottom line, however, remains that regardless of when Iran declares a nuclear facility, the declared facility will still operate under IAEA safeguards and so cannot be used to secretly make nukes anyway, so this is really a side issue and involves no violation of the NPT as long as the IAEA continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material.
Section J (paragraph) 48 says that Iran hasn’t implemented the Additional Protocol, and so the IAEA cannot verify the absence of undeclared material until it does. Which is true, but the same is true for many other nations including Egypt, Argentina, Brazil. However, unlike those countries Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol, and has since allowed inspections that exceed even the Additional Protocol, with no proof of any nuclear weapons work found.
Section K is about other technical matters that involve no violation of the NPT either.
So that’s about it: Iran continues to work on enrichment, and the IAEA continues to verify this program and there’s still no proof of any nuclear weapons work
- Iran’s right to enrichment questioned again (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has an extremely difficult time in evaluating alleged nuclear weapons studies in Iran. While it has done an excellent job in verifying the nuclear material production activities in Iran’s uranium enrichment plants, the IAEA also appears to be willing to risk its technical credibility by insisting on visiting a military site called Parchin, near Tehran. The IAEA renewed its call to be granted access to Parchin during the past week’s negotiations with Iran on a new framework agreement for resuming its investigation of suspected military nuclear activities in the country. For its part, Iran has dismissed the IAEA’s concerns about the Parchin site, claiming that it was sufficiently inspected by the agency in 2005.
The IAEA is focusing on one particular building at Parchin on the basis of member state intelligence contained within its recent report on Iran’s alleged weapons program. This building is said to hold a massive steel chamber designed to contain explosives development tests for implosion-type uranium bombs. The IAEA believes that such a chamber is a unique indicator of nuclear weapons development. The use of such a chamber is actually rare in historical nuclear weapons development and quite inappropriate for Iran. In fact, the IAEA has already reported that the most interesting alleged large-scale nuclear weapons high explosive tests were not conducted at Parchin, but hundreds of kilometers away at site called Marivan.
Parchin is a huge ammunition and explosives plant with perhaps 1000 buildings over an area of 40 square kilometers. Despite the fact that the entire plant shows many classical signatures of explosive operations, the IAEA has chosen to focus on one building alone. The IAEA states in its report that a very large chamber for containing explosive tests was said to have been installed at Parchin and then covered up by a building. It also claims that commercial satellite imagery is consistent with this but the earliest commercial satellite imagery shows only a finished building. The only way the IAEA could make this claim would be if it possessed earlier classified imagery. The IAEA further bolsters its case by using reports from unnamed human sources.
The massive steel explosives containment chamber in the building is said by the IAEA to be able to contain an explosion of 70 kg of high explosives. This is a world-class facility, especially as it was designed 15 years ago with the help of a former Soviet engineer. It is more likely that the container will hold about 10 kg of high explosives detonation. In any case, there are few if any tests involving uranium and high explosives that Iran needs to conduct in a container that is only there to hide traces of uranium.
In fact, the chamber is far too small to contain explosive proof tests of a full scale mock-up, and far too big to contain smaller tests of research interest. Thus, a container of this size is irrelevant to an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Some say that a container for explosives tests is a clear and unequivocal indication of nuclear weapons development. This is incorrect. Most nuclear weapon development tests have been carried out in the open air for obvious technical reasons. The IAEA is therefore risking its technical reputation on tenuous premises.
The reported chamber at Parchin is too big or too small but not the right size. It was designed and built in the late 1990s when Iran might have had a different set of requirements for nuclear weapon design. The most critical experiments Iran might have done in the alleged chamber are far too large for its unbelievable 70 kg high explosive capacity. But those same experiments were done at another test site near Marivan, hundreds of kilometers away, as described in great detail by the IAEA.
The container described by anonymous sources has a massive concrete collar around the middle to contain the huge blast and make it useful for experiments. This collar makes it difficult if not impossible to make the scientific measurements that Iran needs to make in the chamber that was designed. Flash x-ray, optical and especially neutron measurements would be difficult or impossible because of the collar.
The container has wash-down systems and a vacuum pump system that are appropriate for nanodiamond production rather than for explosives tests. It was supposed to have been built by an Iranian company with the capability to build relatively thin-walled pressure vessels for the oil industry. This company could not build a small chamber appropriate to contain a large blast so they would have built a larger, but thinner-walled chamber, to offset the weakness of their vessels.
Since November 2011 there have been press reports that the Parchin site has been ‘sanitized’ to remove traces of uranium. Uranium signatures are very persistent in the environment. Stories that bulldozers are being used to sanitize the chamber are irrelevant. If Iran is using hoses to wash contamination across a parking lot into a ditch, there will be enhanced opportunities for uranium collection if teams are allowed access. If an explosion chamber has been used with uranium and explosives, uranium will be detected no matter how hard the Iranians work to clean it. If a chamber using explosives and uranium has been used inside this building, the IAEA will find the particles as surely as they did in the aftermath of the Syrian reactor bombing.
Ultimately the IAEA is trying to force Iran to grant access to a military site where they have been told that nuclear-related activities have taken place. It is unlikely that the alleged chamber is being used for nuclear activities, if it even exists. If the IAEA succeeds in visiting the site and does not find evidence of nuclear weapons activities, its credibility will be seriously damaged and it will be unable to persuasively make the case for visits to more serious sites of concern inside Iran.
Robert Kelley is a SIRPI Associated Senior Research Fellow and a veteran of over 35 years in the US Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex, most recently at Los Alamos. He managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and was later Director of the Department of Energy Remote Sensing Laboratory, the premier US nuclear emergency response organization. He was also seconded by the USDOE to the IAEA where he served twice as a Director of the nuclear inspections in Iraq, in 1992 and 2001.
Two news reports by major wire services this weekend demonstrate just how pervasive misinformation and propaganda are in the mainstream media when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Reuters reported this week that Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and chief nuclear negotiator for the P5+1, has high hopes for the new round of talks with Iran resuming May 23rd in Baghdad and will approach the meeting as a “serious set of discussions that can lead to concrete results.”
Sounds positive enough, especially when coupled with the statement Ashton made at the end of last month’s meeting in Istanbul. “We have agreed that the Non-Proliferation Treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement, to ensure all the obligations under the NPT are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
However, another comment made by Ashton on Friday is cause for considerable concern. She told reporters in Brussels, “My ambition is that we come away with the beginning of the end of the nuclear weapons programme in Iran. I hope we’ll see the beginnings of success.”
Such a statement is certainly alarming. Despite the hysterical cries of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing acolytes here in the U.S., both Western and Israeli intelligence, along with the IAEA, have consistently confirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
One would assume that the chief P5+1 negotiator would understand and acknowledge this simple – and vitally important – fact. Perhaps Ashton’s recent private audience with Netanyahu in Jerusalem was more dangerous and detrimental to the negotiations than one would even expect.
(Of course, the sheer absurdity of Ashton’s meeting with the Prime Minister of a state that is not a signatory of the NPT, has an undeclared stockpile of hundreds of nuclear warheads, is a constant violator of international law and perpetrator of war crimes, and which is in consistent breach of countless Security Council resolutions gos without saying. That Netanyahu would have any role whatsoever in these discussions, let alone issuing demands to both the U.S. government and Ashton herself, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how designed for failure these negotiations were from the start.)
In one of the most embarrassing examples of published propaganda over the Iranian nuclear program to date, The Associated Press today “reported” that it has obtained an undated “computer-generated drawing” of “an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that U.N. inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted” at its Parchin military complex. The news agency says it was bequeathed this rendering “by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists.”
One version of the AP exclusive contains this detail:
That official said the image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant. The official comes from an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran’s assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful and asserts they are a springboard for making atomic arms.
What mysterious country could that possibly be, one wonders?! The answer is so painfully obvious as to make AP scoopster George Jahn’s attempts at anonymity patently ridiculous and pathetic. Jahn, unsurprisingly, has a long history of silly reporting on the Iran nuclear issue.
This detonation chamber stuff, by the way, has been debunked for half a year now.
The story also notes that former IAEA official Olli Heinonen, who himself has a long history of pushing dubious information about Iran’s nuclear file, said that the computer graphic provided to the press is “‘very similar’ to a photo he recently saw that he believes to be the pressure chamber the IAEA suspects is at Parchin.” Heinonen added that “even the colors of the computer-generated drawing matched that of the photo.”
Pretty convincing, huh? Ok, here‘s the computer drawing this whole thing is about:
That’s it. Really. No, please stop laughing and believe me. That’s really the thing they’re talking about. Yes, seriously. I mean it.
These are the depths to which propaganda about the Iranian nuclear program have sunk. It’s not even clever anymore, it’s just stupid.
Just in case anyone is interested, I have successfully uncovered the true identities of the crack Israeli computer graphics team that came up with that drawing:
- Israel Sets Tough Demands for Next Round of Iran Talks (globalspin.blogs.time.com)
- Nuclear infowar: New ‘evidence’ of Iran’s nuclear ambitions as Vienna talks approach (rt.com)
TheRealNews | April 3, 2012
Gareth Porter: IAEA demanded to see Parchin on recent visit ahead of schedule to make Iran look uncooperative
PALO ALTO (California) – In their recent visit to Iran, the high-level officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) missed a golden opportunity to resolve one of the lingering questions about Iran’s nuclear program, due to the personal intervention of the IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano, whose reports have raised suspicion of a “possible nuclear dimension.”
According to a source close to the Iranian nuclear negotiation team in Iran, during the two-day visit on February 20-21, the IAEA team headed by Herman Nackaerts, the Deputy Director-General for Safeguards, was informed that even though the purpose of the visit was for discussion of a framework to resolve the “ambiguities,” they were invited to visit the site at Marivan, cited in the November 2011 IAEA report for suspected “high explosive” tests pertaining to nuclear weapons — a charge denied by Tehran. Instead of accepting this invitation, and thus putting to rest one of IAEA’s stated concerns, the IAEA team declined the offer after consulting with Mr. Amano in Vienna. Amano ordered the team to return to Vienna immediately.
According to sources in Tehran, if Amano had permitted his team to inspect the Marivan site, then he would have had to mention the agency’s finding in his report due next week. “By personally intervening to torpedo a chance to lay to rest a key IAEA suspicion about Iran, unfortunately once again Mr. Amano proved his bias,” maintains the Tehran source.
Mr. Amano has been criticized in the past as being supportive of U.S. interests regarding Iran’s nuclear activities. On his appointment as head of the IAEA, Mr. Amano was referred to by U.S. diplomats as being “a friend” to U.S. interests, according to secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010.
In addition to failing to mention Iran’s offer to the IAEA inspection team to visit facilities at Marivan, Mr. Amano disingenuously complained of Iran’s failure to allow the IAEA team to inspect the military base at Parchin, despite the fact that in his own November 2011 report on Iran, he admits that the purpose of a visit would be “to discuss the issues identified.” This has led to Western media coverage describing Nackaerts’ trip as a “failure,” and blaming it on Iran’s “intransigence.”
Iranian witnesses suggest otherwise, indicating that the two sides made substantial progress on a six-step “draft modality” that would address the agency’s lingering concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Although no final agreement was reached at the February meeting, Tehran insists that an agreement is still on the table and Iran is willing to implement it. The agreement includes a framework calling for “practical steps” to further Iran-IAEA cooperation, covering a future inspection of Parchin, which incidentally has been previously visited by the IAEA without ever finding anything “unusual.”
“We have had three rounds of negotiations with Mr. Nackaerts, twice in Tehran and once in Vienna, and we are getting very close to finalizing an agreement, barring any negative intervention by certain powers that manipulate the IAEA to perpetuate a crisis environment surrounding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program,” says a Tehran source on condition of anonymity.
Tehran has expressed its readiness to engage in a new round of nuclear talk with the representatives of the “5+1″ nations (i.e., the UN Security Council’s Permanent Five plus Germany). From Iran’s perspective, for the coming talks to be successful the other side needs to be more attuned to Iran’s “confidence-building initiatives” such as the offer to IAEA to inspect a suspected site. Clearly, Mr. Amano must explain why he refused the offer and failed to make public Iran’s invitation.
According to recent admissions by various top US officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Paneta, the United States has no evidence that Iran is attempting to produce nuclear weapons. This means the Iran nuclear crisis is a “crisis of choice” rather than “necessity,” and its resolution requires dexterous diplomacy on the part of both sides.
This is not a time for military threat and intimidation. Given the admission by the IAEA, and reflected in its various reports, there is no evidence of military diversion in the development of nuclear material in Iran. All of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities — allowed under the articles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty — are covered by the IAEA’s routine inspections, as well as surveillance cameras. And Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has offered to suspend the 20 percent enrichment in return for an external supply of nuclear fuel for Iran’s medical reactor.
A prudent Western nuclear strategy toward Iran, one that would respect Iran’s nuclear rights, would continue to insist on Iran’s nuclear transparency, but refrain from threatening Iran with military strikes and or coercive “crippling sanctions.” Iran, like all other nations, has “inalienable rights” that are expressly recognized under the articles of the NPT.
Kaveh Afrasiabi was an advisor to Iran’s Nuclear Negotiation Team (2004-2006), a former political science professor at Tehran University, and author of several books on Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies, including After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction, Iran’s Foreign Policy After September 11, and Iran Phobia and US Terror Plot, A Legal Deconstruction.
Copyright © 2012 Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
- Amano’s New Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran honestly cooperating with IAEA: Britain’s former IAEA envoy to Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- How the Media Got the Parchin Access Story Wrong (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear experts reject IAEA Iran report (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Two days after the high-ranking delegation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returned from their second trip to Tehran within the past month, Yukiya Amano, the agency’s director general, released his official 11-page report. In this report, which unlike the previous one is more brief and practical, the latest developments in Iran’s peaceful activities to produce nuclear energy have been examined. While admitting to Iran’s great breakthroughs and achievements in building nuclear fuel rods – which are to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor for producing medical drugs – the report discusses some details about activities carried out in 15 Iranian nuclear power centres and emphasizes the futility of Iran-IAEA negotiations primarily because of Tehran’s refusal to allow the agency’s officials to inspect the Parchin centre. The present piece will explore and analyze the most important parts of the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.
Analyzing Amano’s Report
1) The IAEA Secretariat’s Repeated Breaches of Its Reports’ Confidentiality
On Friday, 24 February 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency circulated the report written by its director general, Amano, among the agency’s members. Once again, in violation of the IAEA charter, which underscores the confidentiality of the agency’s reports on member states, the full text of Amano’s report about Iran was released to the Western media outlets, so that they use it as material to wage negative propaganda against Iran. Interestingly enough and in spite of the repetition of this patent contravention, no member of the IAEA secretariat or the secretary general himself is willing to provide an explanation why such a confidential and specialist text is published on news websites even before reaching the agency’s members.
2) Parchin Site and the Media Fault-Finding
Amano’s report emphasizes the peaceful nature of those nuclear activities by Iran of which the UN nuclear watchdog has been informed and which are monitored by the agency’s experts. The IAEA, however, expects Iran to go beyond fulfilling its commitments regarding the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the related safeguards agreement and thus allow the IAEA inspectors to visit other sites and centers which are not connected with the country’s nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic is opposed to this request for two simple reasons.
Firstly, based upon the NPT safeguards agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency is only supposed to oversee the declared nuclear sites and in fact is not entitled to request the inspection of a given country’s non-nuclear centers. Secondly, in 2005 the Islamic Republic of Iran allowed the IAEA experts to inspect the Parchin military center to prove its goodwill as well as its willingness to cooperate voluntarily with the agency. At the time, Mohamed ElBaradei, the then secretary general of IAEA, stressed in his report issued a while later that no trace of nuclear work has been found in Parchin. Given this explanation, what motive other than fault-finding can there be behind an attempt to visit the site once again after seven years? Of course, the IAEA officials argue that according to the NPT Additional Protocol, which Iran signed provisionally but voluntarily in 2003, they are entitled to visit any place they wish without limitation and should only inform the Iranian authorities of their plan at most 48 hours before the inspection. Accordingly, they would like Iran to give permission for a revisit to the Parchin site in order to relieve some other members of their doubts about the country’s nuclear activities.
In response to this argument, one should say that the Additional Protocol has not yet received final ratification in the Iranian parliament and the government cannot cooperate with the UN nuclear agency within its framework. Moreover, as Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh says, Tehran has provided the agency’s delegation with the relevant evidence, informing it of the reasons why the allegations raised about Parchin are baseless. According to him,
“Regular inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty have always been carried out and continue to date. The agency’s request to visit Parchin site is different from, and the calls by the agency for the clarification of some questions and ambiguities require an agreement on a framework within which the considerations of both sides should be taken into account.” (1)
Obviously, Iran has a set of conditions for the IAEA inspection of its military centers, which should be met within the framework of a mutual agreement. In other words, the Islamic Republic and 100 other members of the agency that have not yet ratified the Additional Protocol cannot open all their military centers – which have no connection with nuclear activities – to inspectors, who indeed refuse to make any commitment to keep the results of the visits confidential.
In recent years, Iran has invariably raised the significant point that if countries take on international commitments and honour them, then in return they are given advantages and concessions to promote the level of their cooperation. If countries such as Iran should comply with international obligations enforced by global centres of power on them, but in return are not rewarded with concessions but are also subjected to increasing pressure caused by sanctions, then how could Amano and his colleagues expect these countries to find and give a logical answer to their publics about their unilateral collaborations; collaborations that have nothing for them other than increasing commitments?
Therefore, the issue of visiting the Parchin site has simply been raised to make a case for Western media to spread propaganda against the Islamic Republic and influence their audience into believing that since Iran denies permission for the inspection of requested sites, it conducts illegal activities. Such an attempt is made in spite of the fact that the atomic agency’s reports on Iran since 2003 have invariably stressed that all of Tehran’s nuclear work has been under IAEA scrutiny and no deviation from the NPT safeguards has been traced during the period. This means that one cannot question Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities simply by relying upon allegations devised by Tel Aviv or policies adopted by Washington.
3) Implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions
In his latest report, Amano has underlined Iran’s failure to implement the UN Security Council resolutions about its uranium enrichment activities, while the Islamic Republic considers these resolutions illegal and unjust, referring to numerous articles in the UN Charter, according to which sovereign states have the right to determine their own fates. Iran’s peaceful activities regarding the enrichment of uranium have all been fully under the supervision of the UN nuclear watchdog, as testified by its 30 reports, and thus in no sense threaten international peace and security. The US force and the Israeli lobbying have, however, caused seven resolutions to be passed totally unilaterally against Iran in the UN Security Council so far, of which four have imposed extensive sanctions on Iranians. Meanwhile, the United States, Canada, and the European Union have, in concert with Japan, South Korea, and Australia, slapped broader sanctions outside the framework of Security Council resolutions against the Iranian people; sanctions which have no relevance to Tehran’s efforts concerning nuclear energy production and uranium enrichment. The latest round of sanctions included an embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and financial transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, which have caused so much trouble for international markets while they are not yet fully in force. In such unfair circumstances, how can Amano expect Iran to halt its uranium enrichment work?
The part of Amano’s report which highlights Iranian nuclear advancements demonstrates that in spite of wide and severe sanctions, Iran has managed to build nuclear fuel rods successfully and use them in Tehran Research Reactor to produce anti-cancer drugs. This is a very promising development, which should please all those who understand the meaning of dominance and know how delightful scientific confrontation with that monopolistic system is. Amano’s report should equally embarrass and sadden all those who contended, until recently, that Iran would never succeed in building nuclear fuel rods.
In another part of the report where Amano talks about Iran’s failure to implement the UN Security Council resolutions and its continuation of uranium enrichment, he is making a repetition of what has been repeated before. The insistence that Iran should allow the inspection of non-authorized centers according to the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty will not deliver any results other than supplying the material for propaganda against the Islamic Republic. Such a behaviour is in contradiction with the charter of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose main goals are to control and oversee the nuclear activities of member states as well as to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the world.
It seems that if the IAEA manages to free itself of the pressure put upon it by domineering powers, which seek to preserve a monopoly on the production and use of high-level technology including nuclear energy know-how, it can easily reach an agreement with Iran according to a model similar to the previous modality, so that a practical solution is achieved for removing all the existing doubts and ambiguities about Tehran’s nuclear program.
(1) Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), 06/12/1390 (Persian Calendar) [25/02/2012].
More By Hassan Beheshtipour:
*Necessity of Playing with China-Russia Ball in Iran’s Court: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Necessity_of_Playing_with_China_Russia_Ball_in_Iran_s_Court.htm
*Iran-Russia-China Relations: Challenges & Interests?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Russia_China_Relations_Challenges_Interests_.htm
*Iran Sanctions Will Backfire on EU: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_Sanctions_Will_Backfire_on_EU.htm
- How the Media Got the Parchin Access Story Wrong (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran honestly cooperating with IAEA: Britain’s former IAEA envoy to Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
News media reported last week that Iran had flatly refused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to its Parchin military test facility, based on a statement to reporters by IAEA Deputy Director General, Herman Nackaerts, that “We could not get access”.
Now, however, explicit statements on the issue by the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA and the language of the new IAEA report indicate that Iran did not reject an IAEA visit to the base per se but was only refusing access as long as no agreement had been reached with the IAEA governing the modalities of cooperation.
That new and clarifying information confirms what I reported February 23. Based on the history of Iranian negotiations with the IAEA and its agreement to allow two separate IAEA visits to Parchin in 2005, the Parchin access issue is a bargaining chip that Iran is using to get the IAEA to moderate its demands on Iran in forging an agreement on how to resolve the years-long IAEA investigation into the “Possible Military Dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program.
In an email to me and in interviews with Russia Today, Reuters, and the Fars News Agency, the Iranian Permanent Representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Iran told the high-level IAEA mission that it would allow access to Parchin once modalities of Iran-IAEA cooperation had been agreed on.
“We declared that, upon finalization of the modality, we will give access [to Parchin],” Soltanieh wrote in an email to me.
In the Russia Today interview on February 27, reported by Israel’s Haaretz and The Hindu in India but not by western news media, Soltanieh referred to two IAEA inspection visits to Parchin in January and November 2005 and said Iran needs to have “assurances” that it would not “repeat the same bitter experience, when they just come and ask for the access.” There should be a “modality” and a “frame of reference, of what exactly they are looking for, they have to provide the documents and exactly where they want [to go],” he said.
But Soltanieh also indicated that such an inspection visit is conditional on agreement about the broader framework for cooperation on clearing up suspicions of a past nuclear weapons program. “[I]n principle we have already accepted that when this text is concluded we will take these steps,” Soltanieh said.
The actual text of the IAEA report, dated February 24, provides crucial information about the Iranian position in the talks that is consistent with what Soltanieh is saying.
In its account of the first round of talks in late January on what the IAEA is calling a “structured approach to the clarification of all outstanding issues”, the report states: “The Agency requested access to the Parchin site, but Iran did not grant access to the site at that time [emphasis added].” That wording obviously implies that Iran was willing to grant access to Parchin if certain conditions were met.
On the February 20-21 meetings, the agency said that Iran “stated that it was still not able to grant access to that site.” There was likely a more complex negotiating situation behind the lack of agreement on a Parchin visit than had been suggested by Nackaerts and reported in western news media.
But not a single major news media report has reported the significant difference between initial media coverage on the Parchin access issue and the information now available from the initial IAEA report and Soltanieh. None have reported the language of the report indicating that Iran’s refusal to approve a Parchin visit in January was qualified by “at that time”.
Only AFP and Reuters quoted Soltanieh at all. Reuters, which actually interviewed Soltanieh, quoted him saying, “It was assumed that after we agreed on the modality, then access would be given.” But that quote only appears in the very last sentence of the article, several paragraphs after the reiteration of the charge that Iran “refused to grant [the IAEA] access” to Parchin.
The day after that story was published, Reuters ran another story focusing on the IAEA report without referring either to its language on Parchin or to Soltanieh’s clarification.
The Los Angeles Times ignored the new information and simply repeated the charge that Iran “refused to allow IAEA inspectors to visit Parchin military base”. Then it added its own broad interpretation that Iran “has refused to answer key questions about its nuclear development program”. Iran’s repeated assertions that the documents used to pose questions to it are fabricated and were thus dismissed as non-qualified answers.
The Parchin access story entered a new phase today with a Reuters story quoting Deputy Director General Nackaerts in a briefing for diplomats that there “may be some ongoing activities at Parchin which add urgency to why we want to go”. Nackaerts attributed that idea to an unnamed “Member State”, which is apparently suggesting that the site in question is being “cleaned up”.
The identity of that “Member State”, which the IAEA continues to go out of its way to conceal, is important, because if it is Israel, it reflects an obvious interest in convincing the world that Iran is working on nuclear weapons. As former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei recounts on p. 291 of his memoirs, “In the late summer of 2009, the Israelis provided the IAEA with documents of their own, purportedly showing that Iran had continued with nuclear weapon studies until at least 2007.”
The news media should be including cautionary language any time information from an unnamed “Member State” is cited as the source for allegations about covert Iranian nuclear weapons work. It could very likely be coming from a State with a political agenda. But the unwritten guidelines for news media coverage of the IAEA and Iran, as we have seen in recent days, are obviously very different.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.