In their recent visit to Iran, the high-level officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) missed a golden opportunity to resolve one of the lingering questions about Iran's nuclear program, due to the personal intervention of the IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano, whose reports have raised suspicion of a "possible nuclear dimension."
According to a source close to the Iranian nuclear negotiation team in Iran, during the two-day visit on February 20-21, the IAEA team headed by Herman Nackaerts, the Deputy Director-General for Safeguards, was informed that even though the purpose of the visit was for discussion of a framework to resolve the "ambiguities," they were invited to visit the site at Marivan, cited in the November 2011 IAEA report for suspected "high explosive" tests pertaining to nuclear weapons -- a charge denied by Tehran. Instead of accepting this invitation, and thus putting to rest one of IAEA's stated concerns, the IAEA team declined the offer after consulting with Mr. Amano in Vienna. Amano ordered the team to return to Vienna immediately.
According to sources in Tehran, if Amano had permitted his team to inspect the Marivan site, then he would have had to mention the agency's finding in his report due next week. "By personally intervening to torpedo a chance to lay to rest a key IAEA suspicions about Iran, unfortunately once again Mr. Amano proved his bias," maintains the Tehran source.
Mr. Amano has been criticized in the past as being supportive of U.S. interests regarding Iran's nuclear activities. On his appointment as head of the IAEA, Mr. Amano was referred to by U.S. diplomats as being "a friend" to U.S. interests, according to secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks in 2010.
In addition to failing to mention Iran's offer to the IAEA inspection team to visit facilities at Marivan, Mr. Amano disingenuously complained of Iran's failure to allow the IAEA team to inspect the military base at Parchin, despite the fact that in his own November 2011 report on Iran, he admits that the purpose of a visit would be "to discuss the issues identified.” This has led to Western media coverage describing Nackaerts' trip as a "failure," and blaming it on Iran's "intransigence."
Iranian witnesses suggest otherwise, indicating that the two sides made substantial progress on a six-step "draft modality" that would address the agency's lingering concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Although no final agreement was reached at the February meeting, Tehran insists that an agreement is still on the table and Iran is willing to implement it. The agreement includes a framework calling for "practical steps" to further Iran-IAEA cooperation, covering a future inspection of Parchin, which incidentally has been previously visited by the IAEA without ever finding anything "unusual."
"We have had three rounds of negotiations with Mr. Nackaerts, twice in Tehran and once in Vienna, and we are getting very close to finalizing an agreement, barring any negative intervention by certain powers that manipulate the IAEA to perpetuate a crisis environment surrounding Iran's peaceful nuclear program," says a Tehran source on condition of anonymity.
Tehran has expressed its readiness to engage in a new round of nuclear talk with the representatives of the "5+1" nations (i.e., the UN Security Council's Permanent Five plus Germany). From Iran's perspective, for the coming talks to be successful the other side needs to be more attuned to Iran's "confidence-building initiatives" such as the offer to IAEA to inspect a suspected site. Clearly, Mr. Amano must explain why he refused the offer and failed to make public Iran's invitation.
According to recent admissions by various top US officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Paneta, the United States has no evidence that Iran is attempting to produce nuclear weapons. This means the Iran nuclear crisis is a "crisis of choice" rather than "necessity," and its resolution requires dexterous diplomacy on the part of both sides.
This is not a time for military threat and intimidation. Given the admission by the IAEA, and reflected in its various reports, there is no evidence of military diversion in the development of nuclear material in Iran. All of Iran's uranium enrichment activities -- allowed under the articles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- are covered by the IAEA's routine inspections, as well as surveillance cameras. And Iran's President Ahmadinejad has offered to suspend the 20 percent enrichment in return for an external supply of nuclear fuel for Iran's medical reactor.
A prudent Western nuclear strategy toward Iran, one that would respect Iran's nuclear rights, would continue to insist on Iran's nuclear transparency, but refrain from threatening Iran with military strikes and or coercive "crippling sanctions." Iran, like all other nations, has "inalienable rights" that are expressly recognized under the articles of NPT.
Kaveh Afrasiabi was an advisor to Iran's Nuclear Negotiation Team (2004-2006), a former political science professor at Tehran University, and author of several books on Iran's foreign and nuclear policies, including After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy, Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction, Iran's Foreign Policy After September 11, and Iran Phobia and US Terror Plot, A Legal Deconstruction.