A giant backward step on Iran By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
"We haven't seen indications or any concrete evidence that Iran is building
nuclear weapons and I've been saying that consistently for the last five
years," Mohammad ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) stated last week at the World Economic Forum in Sharm
Unfortunately, the only thing consistent about ElBaradei is his inconsistency,
reflected in his subsequent report, just delivered to the United Nations
Security Council, which has been widely interpreted as "a grim reminder that
Tehran is pressing ahead with its nuclear program", to paraphrase a New York
Times editorial; the editorial goes on to say that ElBaradei's report
serious concern about evidence [outlined in 18 documents accompanying the
report] that Iran is working on programs with clear military applications".
The report said Iran continued to stonewall investigators looking into
documents alleging its government researched atomic weapons.
But, didn't the same respected chief of the UN's atomic agency admit in his
earlier report, in February, that his agency "has no credible information"
regarding the so-called "alleged weaponization" studies? What magic was pulled
on the IAEA to bestow sudden legitimacy on the admittedly "unreliable" and
"dubious" information (other than the heat of US pressure)? Is this now the end
of the IAEA's hitherto heroic standing up to the external pressures that
threatened to compromise its integrity?
Sadly, ElBaradei's latest report gives a strong impression that this may indeed
be what is in store for the IAEA, which does not bode well either for the
agency's own international prestige or for the future of its relationship with
Iran - which has reacted angrily by calling the report a work of "deception"
and deeply "flawed".
New Majlis (parliament) speaker Ali Larijani - a former negotiator for Iran on
its nuclear case - said in his first address to the legislature, "If they [the
IAEA] want to continue along this path, the Majlis will surely take up the
nuclear case and will set a new line for cooperation with the agency."
Indeed, this report represents a giant leap backward with respect to the IAEA's
performance on the Iran nuclear question, casting serious doubt on the agency's
ability to conduct its business professionally and impartially. It was a mere
two months ago that the agency gave a rather glowing report that declared all
the "outstanding questions" minus the "alleged studies", which were never a
part of the Iran-IAEA work plan in the first place, had been successfully
resolved. Now the IAEA has now responded to the tremendous US backlash in the
form of retracting some of its statements and adopting the US's allegations
basically as facts warranting "serious concerns" about the peacefulness of
Iran's nuclear program.
In so doing, ElBaradei may have done some damage control in his relations with
Washington, yet he has surely undermined the international community's
confidence in his ability to operate independently and objectively, thus
causing a widening perception gap toward the IAEA, between the West and the
developing nations that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
A clue to the bias of this report, ElBaradei fully contradicts himself by on
the one hand stating that Iran's May 14 response to the IAEA's query regarding
the alleged studies "could not yet be assessed by the agency" yet, on the other
hand, puts a negative assessment on it by declaring it inadequate by statements
such as "substantive explanations are required for Iran to support its
A more prudent director general would have issued his report after a careful
assessment of Iran's response, including for example Iran's claim that some of
the studies pertain to conventional military purposes.
Although both this and prior IAEA reports confirm that the "agency has not
detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged
studies", the tone of the latest report is so severe as to thoroughly discount
this important observation as well as the fact that the IAEA has had
unprecedented access to all nuclear facilities in Iran well beyond the scope of
its inspection and verification agreements with Tehran.
Another clue to the report's bias deals with its request for "more information
on the circumstances of the acquisition of the uranium metal document". This
pertains to a 15-page document describing the procedures for the reduction of
uranium hexafluoride (UF6) to uranium metal, which can have weapons
applications. Iran's position is that this was given to Iran, by the
Pakistanis, in 1987 on their own volition and no activities were ever taken on
them. The latter is confirmed in the IAEA's November 2007 report that states,
"The agency has seen no indication of any UF6 reconversion and casting activity
In his February report, ElBaradei stated he was waiting for information from
Pakistan to confirm Iran's response. Now, he admits in his latest report that
the IAEA has indeed received such information that is consistent with Iran's
statements, yet the issue has not been put to rest.
Isn't the real purpose of keeping alive a moot issue, pertaining to a
21-year-old document, anything other than appeasing the Western powers that
thirst in their desire for accusing Iran of nuclear proliferation?
As a result, is it any wonder that US officials and media pundits have turned a
deaf ear to the IAEA's categorical statement that it has not detected any
evidence of military diversion, that it has been able to "verify" the
The weight of disproportionate attention given to the "alleged studies" in
ElBaradei's report facilitates the selective attention seen in the New York
Times editorial, cited above, as well as in a slew of other US editorials, as
if the entire US media have been put on automatic control on an "Iran
offensive" fueled by this report, repeating parrot-like the official Washington
Conspicuously absent in all reports is any reflection on the simple fact that
these IAEA reports cite no evidence of safeguard breaches by Iran. Their
frenzy of spinning things in an anti-Iran direction is clearly directed toward
generating more heat on the recalcitrant UN Security Council members - Russia
and China - to go along with more UN sanctions on Iran. And this while the
previous IAEA report raised hopes that the council would gradually wash its
hands of the Iran nuclear dossier and let it return to its proper forum, the
Wiping out that glimmer of hope by the fiat of his new emphasis on the
"possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program, ElBaradei has also
potentially jeopardized the well-spring of Iran's confidence in his agency,
reflected in the stern statements that Tehran may now reconsider its
cooperation with the IAEA. After all, if the net result of Tehran's nuclear
transparency and cooperation is more fuel to punish Iran, why bother.
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
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.