Friday, November 27, 2009

IAEA Censures Iran

The IAEA has voted 25 to 3, with 6 abstentions, to demand that Iran suspend operations at the Fordow enrichment plant until it makes clear to the IAEA how that plant fits into its nuclear program. Part of the resolution also had to do with the question of how much Iran has researched nuclear weapons. That’s from the New York Times article by Alan Cowell and David Sanger; I can’t find a text of the resolution itself yet.

Mohamed ElBaradei’s statement to the IAEA Board focuses on the weapons allegations more strongly than in the past. Those allegations seem to have been growing in his concerns. The provenance of the data they are based on is not clear. First, a rather improbable collection of information on a single laptop (called the Laptop of Death by some of us) was asserted; more recently, the information was said to have been smuggled out of Iran on memory sticks.

There are problems on both sides. As ElBaradei says,
We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us. It would help if we were able to share with Iran more of the material that is at the centre of these concerns. I also believe that prospects for a resolution of these outstanding issues would be enhanced by Iran implementing the Additional Protocol and by the initiation of the hoped for comprehensive dialogue between Iran and the international community.
The United States, holder of the Laptop of Death (or whatever), will not allow more open sharing of this information because of the usually-claimed concerns about sources and methods. There is probably some legitimacy to this claim, along with the issue of classified weapons design information.

But it appears that Iran did some work that was probably weapons-related more than a decade ago. The United States’s 2007 NIE claims that weapons-related work was done up until 2003. If, indeed Iran did weapons work and has discontinued it, it would not hurt for Iran to disclose that, along with some of the details. Countries are very sensitive even about defunct nuclear weapons programs, however: Sweden still will not disclose why it gave up its nuclear weapons program, probably in the 1960s. Sweden, however, unlike Iran, has a long track record that makes this sensitivity less suspicious.

Iran’s response is in Specific Observation 4 of Iran’s statement to the IAEA Board. The response it is narrowly legal and blows some smoke. It basically says that these issues were not a part of the work plan and that Iran has responded to its satisfaction. It would be much better for Iran to lay out an array of defunct programs.

It’s significant that China and Russia voted for the resolution. Like ElBaradei, they may be losing patience with Iran’s dithering. The proposal from the Geneva talks is not part of this IAEA resolution, but ElBaradei’s statement expresses frustration with Iran’s rejection of his proposed solution. The Iranian statement that the normal procedure is simply to exchange money for nuclear fuel (Point 4 on the Tehran Research Reactor) is incorrect; usually the supplier country retains title to the uranium and frequently the supplier insists on return of the fuel for reprocessing or storage.

ElBaradei has given Iran the benefit of the doubt for some time now; many of us were dubious about US claims after the Iraq WMD debacle. But Iran has continued concealment and minimal cooperation with IAEA. There could be legitimate reasons for this, such as concern about revealing bombing targets or disarray within the government. If that is the case, there is another aspect of the Iraq WMD debacle that Iran needs to consider: that Saddam Hussein managed successfully to convince many that he did indeed have WMD, even though he didn’t. Whatever its intentions, Iran seems to be going down that road.

1 comment:

Andy said...

More good analysis Cheryl, thanks.