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    Middle East
     Sep 17, 2008
Big-bang report blasts Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

One week ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has issued a new report that while confirming the agency's full-scope inspection and verification of Iran's nuclear activities, discovering no evidence of any military diversion, is permeated with "serious concerns" and "outstanding questions".

These questions relate to certain "alleged studies" and the overall effect could be a shot in the arm for the flagging "Iran Six" multilateral diplomacy on Iran involving the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany. This could lead to even more sanctions on Iran, or worse, an Israeli or American strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

The IAEA describes a collection of weaponization designs and


documents that suggest Iran has tried to develop a nuclear warhead as "alleged studies" and wants Tehran to identify the factually corrects parts of the documents and those it considers fabricated.

"Iran so far has not been forthcoming in replying to our questions and we seem to be at a dead end there," a senior United Nations official was quoted as saying on Monday.

A senior Iranian official quoted by Reuters retorted that the IAEA was to blame for the impasse and that the nuclear agency should work in a "legal and logical" manner.

A White House spokesman said the report showed "once again that Iran is refusing to cooperate with the international community" and that Iran would face "further implementation of the existing United Nations Security Council sanctions and the possibility of new sanctions" if it did not suspend uranium enrichment. The UN has imposed three rounds of sanctions against Iran and further US and European sanctions have been unilaterally implemented.

Since the outbreak of the Georgia crisis with Russia last month, the efforts of the "Iran Six" have been stalled, given the widespread antagonistic response to Moscow's intervention in the breakaway state of South Ossetia. The latest IAEA report will likely act as a timely, though questionable and partly flawed, glue binding the recalcitrant Russians (and Chinese) to the US-led chariot of sanctions on Iran.

Arab groups such as the Gulf Cooperation Council have recently expressed concerns about Iran's nuclear program. They will now be pleased that the IAEA's often controversial yet ultimately conformist director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, has invoked a seemingly infinite array of "outstanding questions".

This is despite the fact that in his previous two reports ElBaradei closed the books on "outstanding questions" in terms of nuclear transparency between Iran and the IAEA.

This means ElBaradei will not be content to issue a clean bill of health for Iran until it has compromised its national security by disclosing all its military, for example missile, secrets, including the "R&D [research and development] activities of military-related institutes and companies".

ElBaradei at the same time wants people to believe his agency's probing these activities will not expose Iran to the danger of compromising its national security.

To this end he has proposed a "modality" to Iran whereby sensitive conventional weapons secrets would be protected.

The problem is the IAEA's failed record with respect to Iraq, where eventually the US utilized information procured by the IAEA to help justify its invasion in 2003.

The Iraq analogy is hardly misleading. Just as Iraq was pressed to "prove a negative", that is, the absence of a clandestine weapons of mass destruction program, the IAEA is now dead set on denying Iran a clean bill of health as long as it has not satisfied concerns about a similar absence.

Consequently, irrespective of his proposed modality, ElBaradei in his report cites a long laundry list of military-related individuals, institutes and other places that need to be investigated thoroughly before the atomic agency can fully ascertain the "absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran". That places the bar artificially high and well beyond what the report's title, about Iran's nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguard agreement, calls for.

The IAEA is now suddenly firmly sold on the authenticity and trustworthiness of the information regarding the "alleged studies" - much of it provided by US intelligence - even though all outstanding questions were said previously to have been settled in Iran's favor.

Citing information that Iran's alleged experiments involving testing of the detonation of hemispheres of explosives "may have involved the assistance of foreign experts", the IAEA report essentially disregards Iran's May 117-page response to the IAEA. This, in the words of Iran's representative to the agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, "presents multiple evidence" concerning the fake or "fabricated" nature of alleged documents pertaining to the "weaponization studies".

Iran has not been given any of those documents, only their "electronic version", which makes it doubly difficult to prove or disprove their authenticity. Yet ElBaradei is now a full convert to their authenticity, informing us in a footnote that this documentation come from "multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content and appears to be consistent".

None of this washes the taint of a new leap toward subjectivity on ElBaradei's part. First, what if the multiple sources consist of the US's junior partners in their collective crusade to checkmate Iran's rising power, and Israel is one of those sources.

It is irrelevant if the documentation pertains to one or more periods of time, and ElBaradei is outright wrong in using this as a criteria of their authenticity. The same goes for their being detailed, since in today's high-tech surveillance that is taken for granted. As for being "consistent", that only means that the other side has done a good job in putting out believable disinformation. Some of this cannot be disproved short of risking Iran's legitimate military secrets, such as on high-explosives testing and military related activities. ElBaradei states flatly that Iran "might have additional information" regarding these matters that it has stubbornly refused to share with the IAEA.

Putting the Washington-desired spin on all of this is the adjective "gridlock", invoked by some sources close to the IAEA, per an article by American nuclear expert David Albright. He fails to add that this is largely a manufactured gridlock that is less due to Iran "stonewalling" and more the result of a weak agency that continues to allow itself to be manipulated by the big powers. This is irrespective of the IAEA's own admission, repeated no less than 15 times throughout the report, that there is no evidence of military diversion from peaceful nuclear activities.

Iran has made steady progress in mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, which is a right under the NPT, to which it is a signatory. IAEA officials would be hard-pressed to show any other country, such as Japan or Brazil, which has subjected itself to such thorough inspections.

The IAEA report of September 15 says that IAEA inspectors had made 17 unannounced visits at the fuel enrichment plant in Natanz where, per Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the IAEA has installed cameras at the main halls, where the cascades are placed, and all nuclear material is accounted for. In the case of Russian-delivered fuel at the nuclear plant at Bushehr, it remains under the agency's seal.

Still, give the IAEA partial credit. The ElBaradei report repeatedly states that the nearly 500 kilograms of enriched uranium produced by Iran are all "low-enriched" and not highly enriched or "weapons-grade", contrary to misinformation put out by certain Western experts. See The next peace and false bells on Iran Asia Times Online, September 12, 2008.)

This should mean there is little cause for concern about Iran as long as it continues with its NPT obligations and allows systematic inspection of its facilities by the IAEA, per the parameters of Iran-IAEA safeguard agreements.

There is reason to worry when additional unreasonable pressures and threats are added, the latest being the manner in which the IAEA has eschewed its previous glowing appraise of Iran's nuclear transparency in favor of "serious concerns" about the lack of "substantive progress" on the "alleged studies".

Iran could capitulate and satisfy the concerns about making progress by simply admitting to the allegations made against it. The tone of ElBaradei's report leads one to believe the real progress needed is a more independent agency.

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

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