The IAEA Report on Iran

Nima Shirazi – Wide Asleep in America Nov 8, 2011

The leaking of the newest IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program has predictably sent the media into a fear-mongering frenzy.
The Jerusalem Post giddily reports that the IAEA says “the Islamic Republic was working to develop a nuclear-weapon design and was conducting extensive research and tests that could only be relevant for such a weapon.”
The New York Times’ Sanger and Broad published a story entitled “U.N. Agency Says Iran Data Points to A-Bomb Work,” The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick noted the exposure of “secret nuclear research by Iran,” Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl and Sylvia Westall reported that “Iran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be conducting secret research,” Ha’aretz’s Yossi Melman declared that “Iran has been working toward building a nuclear weapon since 2003,” and Associated Press’ George Jahn wrote that “the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency is its most unequivocal yet suggesting that Iran is using the cover of a peaceful nuclear program to produce atomic weaponry.”
The Guardian writes that Iran “may be researching nuclear warhead”, the BBC said Iran is “studying nuclear weapons”, the Financial Times got in on the action by stating that “Iran has sought to design a nuclear warhead and has continued to conduct research on an atomic weapons programme,” the Los Angeles Times reported that “credible evidence indicates Iran may be secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon,” while CNN posted headline “Iran developing nuclear bombs,” despite going on to report that the IAEA has “found no evidence that Iran has made a strategic decision to actually build a bomb.”
Curiously, as of this writing, Commentary’s Michael Rubin has so far stayed away from actually commenting on the report, posting only some excerpts from the document instead, and The Weekly Standard has yet to weigh in at all.
Anyone familiar with the history of IAEA reports on Iran will find very little in the way of revelation in the 13-page “bombshell” that everyone seems to be freaking out about. It’s big on fluff, weak on substance.
Most of the allegations, described for the first time at great length and in minute detail, are resurrected claims, the so-called “alleged studies documentation” – long known to rest somewhere on the spectrum of dubious to fabricated – gleaned from a mysterious, stolen laptop. Because of its questionable origin and authenticity, the IAEA has consistently shied away from giving such information much credence.
As a result, the agency has in the past been accused by “senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials” of “hiding data on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear arms.” In response, IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire issued this statement:
“Regrettably, time and again unidentified sources feed the media and Member States with misinformation or misinterpretation. This time around, there are articles claiming that the Secretariat is hiding information, and that there are sharp disagreements among staff members involved about the contents of the report. Needless to say, such allegations have no basis in fact.”
In 2009, the IAEA “admitted that some of the material in the now-infamous ‘secret annex’ about Iran’s nuclear program exists, but claims it wasn’t verifiable enough to release.” Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reported that “the classified information…was collected as part of the IAEA’s annual volume on Iran but never made the final cut” due to the fact that IAEA authorities “decided they weren’t confident in the authenticity of the information contained in the extra document, and they couldn’t verify what that research had found.”
In October 2009, IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei explained, “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.”
It appears that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, the U.S.’ man in Vienna, who in 2009 said, “I don’t see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this,” when asked whether he thought Iran was seeking nuclear weapons, has decided to change his mind.
For its part, the IAEA does its best to sound serious. By way of introducing the supposedly damning “Annex” section of its new report, the IAEA purports to having obtained “a large volume of documentation (including correspondence, reports, view graphs from presentations, videos and engineering drawings), amounting to over a thousand pages,” documentation “of a technically complex and interconnected nature, showing research, development and testing activities over time.”
The report concludes, “The information which serves as the basis for the Agency’s analysis and concerns, as identified in the Annex, is assessed by the Agency to be, overall, credible.”
The insertion of the word “overall” and without going into specifics about which documents were verifiable and which were not is but one indication that the IAEA itself may not be wholly buying what it’s trying to sell.
Additionally, at the beginning of certain subcategories of the detailed “Annex”, the report gives brief explanations of various aspects of nuclear weaponization, information that one would expect any member of the IAEA Board of Governors to already know. For example, the section about “Nuclear components for an explosive device,” opens with this tutorial: “For use in a nuclear device, HEU retrieved from the enrichment process is first converted to metal. The metal is then cast and machined into suitable components for a nuclear core.” The next section, labeled “Detonator development,” begins, “The development of safe, fast-acting detonators, and equipment suitable for firing the detonators, is an integral part of a programme to develop an implosion type nuclear device.” The section marked, “Initiation of high explosives and associated experiments,” explains that “Detonators provide point source initiation of explosives, generating a naturally diverging detonation wave. In an implosion type nuclear explosive device, an additional component, known as a multipoint initiation system, can be used to reshape the detonation wave into a converging smooth implosion to ensure uniform compression of the core fissile material to supercritical density,” while the “Hydrodynamic experiments” section begins, “One necessary step in a nuclear weapon development programme is determining whether a theoretical design of an implosion device, the behaviour of which can be studied through computer simulations, will work in practice.”
Introductions like these to sections heavy on technicalities and minutiae give the impression that the intended audience for this report is not a panel of experts and Agency ambassadors familiar with nuclear physics, but rather a malleable media and a gullibly alarmist public.
Furthermore, one paragraph of the report states, “In an interview in 2007 with a member of the clandestine nuclear supply network, the Agency was told that Iran had been provided with nuclear explosive design information. From information provided to the Agency during that interview, the Agency is concerned that Iran may have obtained more advanced design information than the information identified in 2004 as having been provided to Libya by the nuclear supply network.” (GOV/2011/65 C4.35)
If true (there are is no source material or footnoted reference available for this particular claim), it’s curious to note that the same year, IAEA head Mohammad ElBaradei told the press in Washington D.C., “I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now.” Shortly thereafter, in February 2008, ElBaradei told the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors, “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.”
In September 2009, the IAEA “reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme,” and a month later, ElBaradei said, “I have been making it very clear that with regard to these alleged studies, we have not seen any use of nuclear material, we have not received any information that Iran has manufactured any part of a nuclear weapon or component. That’s why I say, to present the Iran threat as imminent is hype.”
One wonders what makes the 2007 interview with the “member of the clandestine nuclear supply network” so compelling now.
Despite all the allegations and supposed evidence found in the latest report, the IAEA still “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs [locations outside facilities, all of which are situated within hospitals] declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement,” as it has numerous times a year for nearly a decade. This verification, as affirmed in Article 2 of the IAEA’s 1974 Safeguards Agreement with Iran, is the agency’s “exclusive purpose” with respect to the Iranian nuclear program.
Overall, the release and subsequent fallout of this report, as has been the case so many years now with similar attempts to stoke fear about Iran, feels a lot like this scene from the brilliant 1983 John Landis film Trading Places, with the United States and Israel playing the part of Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and Iran as Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy).

Unfortunately, it appears IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, whose independence and credibility may be irreparably damaged due to his decision to kowtow to Western demands and provide ample fuel to the warmongers’ fire, is unaware that “it ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.”

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