Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IAEA Declares a Gridlock with Iran

Farideh Farhi

With the exception of one potentially important nugget about the possibility of Iran drawing on “foreign expertise” in conducting experiments on a detonator suitable for an implosion-type nuclear weapon, the IAEA's September 15, 2008 report offers little that is different from its previous report.

In many ways, it effectively confirms that there is little else the IAEA can do in probing into Iran’s nuclear program or, given the steady progress on the enrichment front reported, of checking it unless there is a breakthrough in the broader negotiations that have been going on between Iran and the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members plus Germany.

The reference to foreign expertise constitutes a mere two-line reference in a 6 page document. The details of the information obtained by the agency have apparently been relayed to Iran whose clarifications, or lack thereof, would presumably constitute a part of the Agency’s next report. Beyond this new information, the report is a testimony to things remaining the same.

First and foremost, this report, like the previous ones, states the Agency’s ability “to verify non-diversion of declared nuclear material and activities.” This is a clear acknowledgment that Iran has remained committed to its Safeguards Agreement in “providing access to declared nuclear material and providing the required nuclear material accounting reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.” In this regard, the report is a flat denial of recent unsubstantiated claims about the disappearance of nuclear material from Iran’s facilities.

Second, the IAEA continues to be unhappy with Iran’s refusal to implement the Additional Protocol beyond an ad-hoc manner. It wants more intrusive inspections. At times the issue is couched in the language of “transparency measures” that Iran needs to take but the bottom line is IAEA’s desire for Iran to implement the Additional Protocol.

This issue remains part and parcel of IAEA’s catch-22 predicament with Iran. Iran voluntary implemented the Additional Protocol in the past before Iran’s case was referred to the Security Council and has offered in previous negotiations to make it permanent but not until Iran’s case is removed from the Security Council. In short, Iran has remained steadfast in its position that the IAEA will not get what it wants from Iran in order to do its job of inspecting Iran until the Agency becomes the sole judge of Iran’s nuclear program.

A similar dynamic is at play regarding the IAEA’s unhappiness with Iran’s refusal to provide preliminary design information Iran had previously agreed to provide - during the course of negotiations with the EU-3 as a voluntary, non-binding measure - about nuclear facilities it plans to build. On this voluntary commitment, like the temporary suspension of enrichment and voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol, Iran continues to engage in a calculated pull back in protest to the Security Council referral.

As is the case with many other countries, without the Additional Protocol, the IAEA cannot draw a conclusion about the absence of nuclear activities but this is not the same thing as suspecting undeclared activities and material. In fact, as mentioned above, the report is clear that so far the IAEA has not encountered evidence of undeclared activities.

Even regarding the issues related to the alleged studies and “possible military dimensions of Iran’s program,” which from IAEA’s perspective now effectively constitute the only unanswered aspects of Iran’s past activities, the Agency is careful to say has little information “on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear components of a nuclear weapon or of key components, such as initiators…Nor has the Agency detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies.”

Tehran considers the alleged studies found on a laptop a fabrication and has said so to the skeptical IAEA. Being concerned about the ease with which electronic copies can be doctored, Tehran has also insisted that it will not provide further information regarding the alleged studies until Western powers allow the IAEA to provide Iran hard copies of the intelligence for examination.
But the IAEA clearly wants more from Iran, including access to documents and individual scientists and in this report has specified alternative ways Iran and the IAEA can go about clarifying the issue. It is doubtful that Iran will be more responsive in the next round, particularly now that the fate of a new Security Council resolution is up in the air, partly due to US-Russia conflict over Georgia but more perhaps because of the exhaustion of a so far ineffective route.

The only thing the report no longer leaves in doubt is that Iran is making significant progress on developing and improving the efficiency of its centrifuges. It is now running about 3,800 centrifuges, an increase of several hundred in the past four months. It has also boosted the efficiency of its centrifuges, allowing them to be fed more material and face fewer crashes. Iran’s program still cannot be considered fast-paced or based on urgency but does seem to have overcome some of the technical challenges it was facing. As such, the slow pace may suggest more of a choice, perhaps not to alarm Iran’s interlocutors more than necessary.

With an exhausted Security Council process that has so far failed to prevent Iran from its slow and yet steady progress towards mastering enrichment and an inspection process that has effectively reached its end in terms of the further prodding of Iran to do more, it is becoming evident that something else needs to be done to push Iran towards accepting a more rigorous inspection regime. With its September report the IAEA is once again making abundantly clear that this “something else” is beyond its capabilities and will require a transformation in the global political environment within which Iran’s nuclear program can be satisfactorily addressed.

This commentary was originally posted here.


Anonymous said...

The "Modalities Agreement" of August 2007 between Iran and the IAEA clearly states that Iran would assess the "Alleged Studies" claims "upon receiving all related documents".

The US has prevented the IAEA from sharing what little information from the "Laptop of Death" that the US has selectively presented to the IAEA.

So whose fault is that?

Farideh Farhi said...

No doubt lack of permission to pass along documents makes the IAEA's position less than forthright. But at this point even acknowledging the fact that Iran is getting a raw deal is simply that: a raw deal. It does not change the fact that this report essentially accuses Iran of not doing what the IAEA wants it to do. My point simply was that this dynamic - the IAEA complaining and Iran not responding either because it doesn't have the documents or becaue it thinks they are fabricated or simmply because it doesn't want to respond - has now reached a gridlock and the report itself is a manifestation of the gridlock. This dynamic will not change unless there is change in the broader political environment.

Peter Attwood said...

Why does anything need to be done about Iran' nuclear program? No one can deny that Iran is in fullcompliance with the NPT, unlike the United States, which has not the slightest intetntion of obeying its requirement to pursue disarmament.

Unlike Israel, the US, and its other tormentors, Iran hasn't attacked anybody else in the past 250 years. Even if Iran were to get nuclear bombs, the practical effect would be to stabilize the region by deterring American and Israeli aggression. Why is that a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

Fine and important summary and analysis.

hass said...

Actually, the report doesn't say that Iran simply isn't responding. The report says that Iran has filed a 117-page response, said the accusations are fabricated, and that the IAEA's demands would compromise Iran's conventional weapons security concerns. The report also says that the IAEA has made some proposals to address Iran's concerns on these points. There's no mention in the report about whether Iran accepted those proposals or not. We'll have to wait to the next report.

BF said...

Below I reproduce the Comment that I wrote to Radio Zamaneh yesterday in response to the following news item:


Radio Zamaneh being too slow in publishing Comments, as of now the following text has not been published by this Radio.


My Comment:

Of course, Mr Solana is entitled to say what he deems appropriate, but a careful study of the latest IAEA report reveals that this report does not contain anything that could possibly have made Russia and China "quite worried", as AP alleges Mr Solana to have stated. The interested can read the relevant IAEA report here:


Before going into some technical details, it is important to mention that the word "quite", as in "quite worried", is ambiguous and some exploit this ambiguity to their advantage (some also use the word without realising its ambiguity). The word "quite" means both "wholly" and "to a considerable degree", with the former being the older and stricter sense of this word and the latter the prevailing one, especially outside very formal contexts. The following example illustrates that "to a considerable degree" is itself a very stretchable notion. When a person says "I am quite well", that person may even mean "I am not well at all"; a person who truly feels well would unambiguously express this feeling by saying “I am very well”. Given this fact, one is just left to surmise the actual meaning of "quite worried" in the case at hand. As the latter example shows, "quite worried" may even be interpreted as meaning "not worried at all"! One should note that English is not the mother tongue of Mr Solana and, frankly, his spoken English leaves much to be desired.

For the interested, the AP report at issue can be read here:


Now as for the details that allegedly have made China and Russia "quite worried", these details have been summarised in items 23 and 24 in the Summary section of the above-mentioned IAEA report. Reading these details, one clearly sees the anomaly of the Western powers unashamedly playing the roles of law givers, prosecutors and judges, all at the same time. One is reminded of the distasteful adage “Might is right”.

Any person with a modicum of knowledge regarding nuclear energy and nuclear devices should know that implosion devices of which Iran is accused of having experimented with in the past, are simply of no use in conjunction with highly-enriched U-235: the bulk modulus of Uranium is relatively too large for it to be compressed substantially whereby considerably to reduce the critical mass of U-235. And IAEA must know better than any other organisation that Iran only enriches Uranium, and this to 4%, and not other fissile materials that are more compressible than Uranium. In other words, even if Iran has in the past experimented with implosion devices, the insistence by IAEA on a clarification by Iran of these experiments are just utterly irrelevant in the context of the present stand-off between the West and Iran. Russia and China, now allegedly “quite worried”, must also know better.

To any unbiased observer, what we are witnessing is just the continuation of the time-honoured Big Game that has marred Iran’s social, political and economic fabric in the course of the past couple of centuries. It the olden days, we had two powers imposing their will on Iran; in its modern manifestation, this Game involves five + one powers doing the same thing as previously done by two powers, with Iran being in the same old sorry position. The intensification of the economic sanctions already imposed on Iran are certain to cause untold miseries for a large number of people in Iran whose livelihoods depend on their daily incomes, that is those whose loss of incomes even for one day leads to their hunger and further deprivation of a dignified life.

One should read the IAEA report carefully to realise what hypocrisy is at work here. For instance, for Iran to "provide transparency", IAEA demands to interview some individuals involved in some experiments that clearly have some military dimensions. Aside from the fact that such demand has no legal basis in the International Law, no state worth the name is prepared to expose the identity of the individuals involved in her highly classified research efforts; if their identities are disclosed, these individuals are in real danger of being kidnapped for interrogation or even simply assassinated. In other words, IAEA is asking disclosure of what amount to Iran’s vital state secrets, knowing full well that Iran cannot and will not meet the demands. To portray subsequently this not-disclosing of state secrets as signifying lack of transparency on the part of Iran, is just the height of hypocrisy. This is of course not to say that Iran were a transparent country, as the case of Mr Ali Kordan has made it abundantly evident to all.


BF said...


In my previous Comment on this page, "identity" in "identity of individuals" should be "identities".


Anonymous said...

Leave Iran and the Iranian people alone. American/Israeli destruction of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is enough.

Take your weapons and go home, PLEASE. The West set the world on fire, NOT Iran !!

Anonymous said...

How the coming war on Iran will likely unfold. ... What I see unfolding with a war on Iran is the most frightening set of circumstances.

BF said...

Dr Akbar E'temad, the first Director of Iran Atomic Agency (at the time of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi), turns out to share the views stated in my earlier Comment published here above. The interested may read (and/or listen to) the pertinent interview (dated 2 Mehr 1387, or 24 September 2008) at the following address:



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