nuclear claims test good
faith By Gareth Porter
VIENNA - The first detailed account of
negotiations between the International Atomic
Energy Agency and Iran last month belies earlier
statements by unnamed Western officials portraying
Iran as refusing to cooperate with the IAEA in
allaying concerns about alleged nuclear
The account given by
Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, Ali
Asghar Soltanieh, shows that the talks in February
came close to a final agreement but were hung up
primarily over the
IAEA insistence on being able
to reopen issues even after Iran had answered
questions about them to the organizations's
It also indicates that that
the IAEA demand to visit Parchin military base
during that trip to Tehran reversed a previous
agreement that the visit would come later in the
process, and that IAEA Director General Yukia
Amano ordered his negotiators to break off the
talks and return to Vienna rather than accept
Iran's invitation to stay for a third day.
Soltanieh took the unprecedented step of
revealing the details of the incomplete
negotiations with the IAEA in an interview with
IPS in Vienna last week and in a presentation to a
closed session of the IAEA's Board of Governors on
March 8, which the Iranian mission has now made
The Iranian envoy went public with
his account of the talks after a series of
anonymous statements to the press by the IAEA
Secretariat and member states had portrayed Iran
as being uncooperative on Parchin as well as in
the negotiations on an agreement on cooperation
with the agency.
Those statements now
appear to have been aimed at building a case for a
resolution by the Board condemning Iran's
intransigence in order to increase diplomatic
pressure on Iran in advance of talks between the
P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia,
the People's Republic of China and Germany) and
Soltanieh's account suggests that
Amano may have switched signals to the IAEA
delegation after consultations with the United
States and other powerful member states which
wanted to be able to cite the Parchin access issue
to condemn Iran for its alleged failure to
cooperate with the IAEA.
Parchin had been
cited in the November 2011 IAEA report as the
location of an alleged explosive containment
cylinder, said by one or more IAEA member states
to have been used for hydrodynamic testing of
nuclear weapons designs.
Iranian account shows that the IAEA delegation
requested a visit to Parchin in the first round of
the negotiations in Tehran January 29-31 and that
it asked again at the beginning of the three
"intercessional" meetings in Vienna for such a
visit to take place at a second negotiating round
in Tehran on February 20-21.
recalled, however, that during three
"intercessional" meetings in February with IAEA
Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman
Nackaerts, and Assistant Director General for
Political Affairs Rafael Grossi, the two sides had
reached agreement that the IAEA request for access
to Parchin would be postponed until after the
Board of Governors meeting in March.
when the IAEA delegation arrived on February 20,
it renewed the demand to visit Parchin, according
to Soltanieh's account.
"At the beginning
of the meeting the first day, they said the
director general had instructed them to give a
message to us that they wanted to go to Parchin
today or tomorrow, despite what we had clearly
agreed two weeks earlier," Soltanieh told IPS.
Soltanieh told the Board of Governors that
the negotiating text on which the two sides were
working at the February 20-21 meeting provided
specifically for a visit to Parchin as well as
other sites in conjunction with Iran's actions to
clear up the issue of "hydrodynamic experiments" -
the allegation by an unnamed member government
published in the November 2011 IAEA report.
In response to the renewed request for a
visit to Parchin, Soltanieh offered to let the
delegation visit the Marivan site, where the same
November report said the agency had "credible"
evidence Iranian engineers worked on
high-explosives testing for a nuclear device.
"We offered Marivan because it was the
next priority," Soltanieh told IPS, referring to
the list of priority issues on which Iran was
expected to take actions to be specified by the
IAEA under the provision of the negotiating text.
But the IAEA delegation rejected the
offer, claiming that it had been given too little
Soltanieh's account reveals that the
IAEA also turned down a request to stay one
additional day to complete the negotiations of the
new action plan. "At lunch hour the second day, we
wanted them to stay another day," he told IPS, and
the delegation told them it might be possible.
But after consulting with Amano, the IAEA
delegation said it could not stay.
change of signals on Parchin and refusal to stay
for a third day of negotiations were followed by
condemnation of Iran as uncooperative by a "senior
Western official" shortly before the IAEA Board of
The official was quoted
by Reuters on March 2 as saying, "We think there
needs to be a resolution that makes clear that
Iran needs to do more, a lot more, to comply with
the agency's requests." The official called Iran's
stance during the talks a "gigantic slap in the
face of the IAEA".
In the end, no
resolution was passed by the Board. Instead, the
P5+1 issued a joint statement urging Iran to allow
access to Parchin but not blaming Iran for the
failure to reach agreement.
negotiating text as it stood at the end of the
February round of talks, which Soltanieh showed
IPS, had relatively few handwritten deletions and
A key provision in the draft
text, which IPS was allowed to quote, says, "Iran
agrees to cooperate with the Agency to facilitate
a conclusive technical assessment of all issues of
concern to the Agency. This cooperation will
include inspections by the Agency, additional
meetings, including technical meetings and visits,
and access to relevant information, documentation
and sites, material and personnel."
primary issue standing in the way of final
agreement, according to Soltanieh, was whether the
IAEA could reopen issues once they had been
resolved. The text shown to IPS includes a
provision that IAEA "may adjust the order" in
which issues were to be resolved and "return" to
issues even after they had been resolved.
The Iranians accepted the right of the
IAEA to adjust the order but did not agree that it
could reopen issues once they were completed
satisfactorily, Soltanieh recalled, because Iran
feared that giving the IAEA that power would lead
to "an endless process".
The other major
issue, according to Soltanieh, was Iran's demand
that the IAEA "deliver" all the intelligence
documents alleging that it had carried covert
weaponization activities to Iran before asking it
for definitive answers to the allegation. The IAEA
delegation said they couldn't produce all the
documents at once, he told IPS.
agreed that the agency could provide only those
documents relevant to each issue when it comes up,
the Iranian diplomat recalled. It is not clear,
however, whether the IAEA has agreed to that
The United States has refused
in the past to agree to turn over the "alleged
studies" documents to Iran - a policy that Amano's
predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, had argued made it
impossible to demand that Iran be held accountable
for explaining those documents.
Soltanieh's presentation to the Board of
Governors, Amano told reporters that some of
Soltanieh's statements had been inaccurate but
appeared to confirm the main points of his
presentation. "In fact, the February talks
initially took place in a constructive spirit," he
said. "Differences between Iran and the Agency
appeared to have narrowed."
On the second
day, Amano said, Iran had "sought to re-impose
restrictions on our work", which he said "included
obliging the Agency to present a definitive list
of questions and denying us the right to revisit
issues, or to deal with certain issues in
parallel, to name just a few."
spokesperson, Gill Tudor, declined to comment on
the accuracy of Soltanieh's account for this
story, saying "(W)e would prefer to let the
director general's words speak for themselves."
In response to a request for comment on
this story, the US State Department deferred to
Amano's account on the talks but said, "(D)espite
the IAEA's best efforts, Iran was unwilling to
reach such an agreement" and had "failed an
initial test of its good faith and willingness to
cooperate by refusing an IAEA request to visit
Gareth Porter is an
investigative historian and journalist
specializing in US 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.