The full text of the much awaited IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities can be found here. It is an important report that finally brings an end to almost all the technical issues that in the past five years have concerned the IAEA regarding Iran’s declared civilian nuclear program. Last August the Agency and Iran laid out a Workplan to resolve issues that related to Iran’s past activities and on every issue, except one, Iran’s responses were deemed by the IAEA as either consistent with the Agency’s own finding or not inconsistent with them.
In this report the Agency once again states unambiguously that it “has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.” It also states that on the issues of Polonium-210 experiments and Gchine mine, contamination at a technical university and procurement of a former head of Iran’s Physics Research Center (PHRC). Hence, the conclusion: “the Agency considers those questions no longer outstanding at this stage,” repeated by ElBaradei’s in different words in this video (transcript here) “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 program.”
Now, it can be argued that there is some ambiguity in the report regarding the use of the expression “not inconsistent with” instead of “consistent with,” with the former requiring further questioning and reporting particularly since much of it relate to the procurement activities of the Physics Research Center, an institution also under questioning regarding Iran’s alleged undeclared activities. Still the extent of IAEA’s acknowledgment of the plausibility of Iran’s explanations of past activities is an important breakthrough for that country.
The report also suggests that Iran has effectively and voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol in the past few months, allowing the IAEA extensive inspections and access. But as discussed by Mohammad ElBaradei in the IAEA video, as well as in the report, this voluntarily implementation on a short terms basis is not sufficient for IAEA’s purposes of monitoring Iran’s present declared program. IAEA wants Iran to sign the Additional Protocol. Iran has said that its previous offer of signing the protocol is no longer on the table so long as Iran’s case at the UN Security Council. In short, Iran’s position is that it cannot be forced to sign an international agreement but it may consider doing so if the Western countries begin treating Iran’s nuclear program in the same way they treat other country’s nuclear programs. This position will be maintained even more steadfastly now that almost all the outstanding issues about Iran’s declared program have been resolved.
The one issue that has not been resolved involves “alleged studies” done by Iran that can be connected to weaponization ("Alleged studies" is the way they are identified by the IAEA but not surprisingly by the New York Times which talks about these studies as “evidence …that strongly suggested the country had experimented with technology to make a nuclear weapon.” For a look at the media coverage of the report see here). These studies come out of a laptop that was reportedly given to the U.S. intelligence by an Iranian “walk-in” source who stole the laptop from someone else (see earlier stories and analyses on the stolen laptop and documents here, here, and here. The most troublesome aspect of the information in the laptop was the plans for “the design for a missile re-entry vehicle, which could have a nuclear military dimension.”
In the Workplan signed in August 2007, Iran agreed to assess the documentation generated out of the laptop that alleges weaponization-related studies (not an actual experimentation with technology as NYT suggests) provided it was given the documentation. The language used in the work plan is interesting and worth mentioning:
“Iran reiterated that it considers the following alleged studies as politically motivated and baseless allegations. The Agency will however provide Iran with access to the documentation it has in its possession regarding: the Green Salt Project, the high explosive testing and the missile re-entry vehicle. As a sign of good will and cooperation with the Agency, upon receiving all related documents, Iran will review and inform the Agency of its assessment.”
The interesting thing about all this was that the Agency was not able to give Iran the documentation required for Iran to make its assessment until early February (February 3-5) and when it did so it was only partial documentation because the country in possession of the documents, namely the United States, either would not give the documents to the IAEA or would not give the IAEA permission to give the documents to Iran until then. It was only on February 15, or a mere one week before the publication of the current report, that Iran was informed that the IAEA is ready to give Iran a second batch of documents (reportedly a large amount of them dumped by the United States on the IAEA’s lap on that same day).
Iran’s response to the first batch of documents, which included subsequent clarifications to further IAEA questions, was that they were fabrications (with names of non-existent individuals and offices). Iran has yet to respond to the IAEA further requests of meeting over the second batch of documents released on February 15 for obvious shortage of time but there is reason to believe that after seeing the first batch of documents, Iran may not want to continue to play the game as its mid-February response stated explicitly that its assessment that the documents are fabricated was final (Note that in the above quoted section of the Workplan, assessment of the documents was the only thing Iran promised).
So here are a few questions to ponder at this point:
1. Why was the Bush Administration so late in dumping the documents on the IAEA? Were the documents suspect as suggested by initial reports about them? Was it because the U.S. did not want to be blamed for stifling the Workplan? And/or was it because once it became clear that the IAEA was about to announce all outstanding issues related to Iran’s past declared activities resolved, the Bush Administration felt that the late release of these documents were the only instruments it had to keep the Iran file going?
2. What is the IAEA expected to do if Iran insists that the documents are fabricated and IAEA’s own stance remains that these are “alleged weaponization studies that Iran supposedly conducted in the past,” (i.e., it cannot confirm the veracity of the documents) and IAEA has not “detected any use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have any credible information in this regard”? It is true that the IAEA makes an observation in paragraph 39 that the computer image made available to Iran showing "a schematic layout" of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle, as being “assessed by the Agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device.” But it does not (and I assume cannot) make an assessment of whether the information itself is fabricated as Iran claims. Secondly, the Agency admits that neither the documents nor the IAEA can offer a link of these studies to any weaponization program. So for the coming year are we going to be facing a specter of a back and forth between Iran and the IAEA not over Iran’s nuclear program but over documents about alleged studies that no one (except the Iranians) seem to be sure whether they are fake or not? Isn’t this really hanging on to a pretty thin straw?
3. Will the IAEA be pressured to continue this process?
My sense is that this report will be used by both sides in ways that suits their purposes. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has already declared the report a vindication of Iran while the United States will again push and probably get a rather meaningless Security Council resolution that will not go much beyond the previous resolutions in terms of impact but presumably make a political point that the Security Council route is not really exhausted as the Iranian leaders, particularly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, claim.
But the reality is that most people associated with this process are exhausted and ready to move on (with the notable exception of the Bush Administration folks that are just simply exhausted). Perhaps ElBaradei’s last words in his interview gives us some hints about the exhaustion (and exasperation) the IAEA must be feeling regarding the continuation of the general political deadlock and the need to move on after years of what under other circumstances would be considered successful interaction between his Agency and a member country; interaction that has led to the resolution of significant technical issues:
“A durable solution requires confidence about Iran’s nuclear program, it requires a regional security arrangement, it requires normal trade relationship between Iran and the international community. As the Security Council stated, the ultimate aim should be normalization of relationships between Iran and the international community. Definitely the Agency will continue to do as much as we can to make sure that we also contribute to the confidence-building process with regard to the past and present nuclear activities in Iran, but naturally, we can not provide assurance about future intentions. That is inherently a diplomatic process that needs the engagement of all the parties."
I am sure some European governments and the Bush Administration will be upset and once again accuse ElBaradei for going beyond his technical mandate and talking about ways to overcome the deadlock politically and diplomatically. But in this day and age of failed policies shouldn’t calling it as is be everyone’s mandate?