It is always interesting to read the actual text of reports issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding Iran not only because of what they reveal about Iran’s program, but also because of the interestingly partial way various news organizations and governments end up interpreting or representing the report to audiences they are sure will not read the reports themselves.
The IAEA report that just came out regarding Iran was much anticipated because of the agreement on a work plan between the IAEA and Iran regarding a time frame for the resolution of “outstanding issues” that had remained regarding Iran’s past activities. Based on this agreement Iran was expected to cooperate and effectively divulge information that would allow the IAEA to assess whether or not Iran has come clean on its past activities. This process is still ongoing but the November report was expected to give a hint about the extent of Iranian cooperation.
The IAEA and its director Mohammad ElBaradei were heavily criticized by the United States and several European governments for the work plan because of its focus on Iran’s past activities or breaches and the possibility of the resolution of the questions regarding these past activities undercutting the force of the UN sanctions regime that demands suspension of Iran’s enrichment program. As such, the report issued on November 15 had to be, and is, very clear that “contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities.”
The IAEA report also states that “since early 2006 [this is when Iran suspended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol due to UN Security Council initiated sanctions against Iran], the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As result, the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current programme is diminishing.”
On the remaining major issues relevant to the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program, however, the report paints a cooperative picture of Iran and states: “The Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided on the declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes are consistent with its findings. The Agency will, however, continue to seek corroboration and is continuing to verify the completeness of Iran’s declarations.” This is not a statement of closure of the issue as the Iranian leaders are claiming but is an important steep forward. In fact, the language of Iran providing information that is “consistent with the Agency’s findings” or “information available to the Agency” from other sources is repeated several times in the report regarding a variety of issues.
Also positively reported is Iran’s level of cooperation. The report explicitly states that “Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan. However its cooperation has been reactive rather than proactive.” This I take to mean that Iran has responded to questions and cooperated in specific areas when asked but not before. The IAEA clearly wants Iran to engage in “active cooperation and full transparency” in a proactive manner but the report does not state that Iran’s reactive approach has led to lack of cooperation as agreed upon in the work plan.
Finally, the IAEA is also quite explicit that “the Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.” But, as mentioned above, the Agency wants Iran to implement the Additional Protocol to prevent its “diminishing” knowledge of Iran’s current program (this is by the way something Iran has said, at least in the past, that it will do if Iran’s nuclear dossier returns to the IAEA).
So a close reading of the report suggests that the IAEA is unhappy with Iran’s continuation of enrichment (because it is contrary to the Security Council decisions) and would like Iran to voluntarily implement the Additional Protocol as it did in the past. At the same time, the report suggests good progress on the issue of Iran’s past activities. It also reveals no evidence of diversion to a weapons program despite “a total of seven unannounced inspections” carried out which are beyond Iran’s current NPT obligations (as I understand it, IAEA inspectors have been issued multiple entry visas to enter Iran as they wish).
I lay the report out in detail because I think it is important as a backdrop to the hesitance shown by Russia and China in approving another set of sanctions against Iran before IAEA’s engagement with Iran through the work plan is finished.
But as I said above it is also interesting and quite revealing to see how the report itself is reported. In Iran, the statements about non-diversion and consistency with the Agency’s findings are trumpeted by government officials as an affirmation of Iran’s righteousness. The United States government, on the other hand, has found the report inadequate and in fact has immediately called for a Security Council meeting to discuss a new round of sanctions (a meeting China reportedly initially refused to attend but has now reluctantly agreed to do so after Thanksgiving)
These are expected governmental positions. Perhaps also not too unexpectedly, the American newspapers and news agencies also do seem a bit too willing to tow the U.S. government line. The New York Times, in a piece entitled “Report Raises New Doubts on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” reports that the Agency “said in a report on Thursday that Iran had made new but incomplete disclosures about its past nuclear activities, missing a critical deadline under an agreement with the agency and virtually assuring a new push by the United States to impose stricter international sanctions.” No where in text of this piece, however, there is anything about what these “new doubts” are or where exactly the report has said that a critical deadline has been passed. Also not referred to are the explicit statements about non-diversion of nuclear material and consistency with the Agency’s findings.
The piece goes on to say, “the report made clear that even while providing some answers, Iran has continued to shield many aspects of its nuclear program.” The report says no such thing but the NYT piece takes the report’s reference to Iran’s “reactive rather than proactive” cooperation, mentioned in the paragraph about Iran’s “sufficient” and “timely” cooperation with the work plan, along with the suspension of the Additional Protocol (calling it instead “restrictions Iran has placed on inspectors”) as the reasons for why the “agency’s understanding of the full scope of Iran’s nuclear program is diminishing” and represents this as a "shielding" by Iran.
The Associated Press’ heading is “IAEA: Iran Not Open About Nuke Program,” while the opening of the piece is: “The U.S. called for new sanctions against Iran after a U.N. report Thursday that said the Tehran regime has been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, but is continuing to enrich uranium.”
After several changes in the Internet versions, the Washington Post’s heading ended up slightly less provocative (“U.S. to Seek New Sanctions against Iran: UN Report Faults Tehran’s Input on Nuclear Program”). But the text begins by saying “The Bush administration plans to push for new sanctions against Iran after the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency reported yesterday that Tehran is providing "diminishing" information about its controversial nuclear program, U.S. officials said. In a critically timed assessment, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran provided "timely" and helpful new information on a secret program that became public in 2002, but that it did not fully answer questions or allow full access to Iranian personnel. Iran is even less cooperative on its current program, the IAEA reported.” This reporting is not only flatly wrong regarding what the report said about full access to Iranian personnel but also completely mum, like the reporting from AP and NYT, about the reasons for the “diminishing” information (the suspension of the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol which was instigated by the Security Council action).
If you are wondering if there is reporting that accurately uses the language used by the IAEA findings, I think the BBC piece entitled “Mixed UN Nuclear Report for Iran,” although short and still mum on the reasons for why the Additional Protocol is no longer voluntarily implemented by Iran, gives a relatively accurate description of the issues involved. So it can be done! Why it is not, make a guess….