Analysis of latest IAEA report on Iran - August 2012

by Cyrus Safdari (source: Iran Affairs)
Friday, August 31, 2012

So the latest IAEA report on Iran is out. The media have been trying very hard to put as scary a spin on the report as possible. Here's my analysis.

Paragraphs 1 and 2 attempt to portray UNSC resolutions on Iran, demanding that Iran give up enrichment, as being "binding". They further demand that Iran ratify the Additional Protocol. Sorry, but the UNSC is not legally authorized to make such demands. A very fundamental principle of the international law of treaties is the principle of "voluntariness" - treaties are only binding when a country voluntarily agrees to them, and the UNSC cannot demand that any country sign and ratify a treaty. This is a basic principle of international law: "International treaty law comprises obligations states expressly and voluntarily accept between themselves".

Nevertheless Iran not only implemented the Additional Protocol for a period of about 3 years in the past (with no evidence of any nukes found) but has offered to permanently ratify the treaty as long as its rights under the NPT are also recognized. Thus far, the US has refused.

There are also references to the "Annex" published by the IAEA in the Nov 2011 report which was touted as proof positive of Iranian nuclear perfidy. But as reporters like Scott Peterson and Seymor Hersh pointed out, it was just a repeat of well-known and still unsubstantiated claims that the previous IAEA head Elbaradei had refused to endorse.The same Annex in the news in Sept 2009 , having been partially leaked to George Jahn of the AP. Back then, Elbaradei stood accused of "censoring" this "secret annex" which supposedly proved that Iran had an on-going nuclear weapons program, contrary to the NIEs. The IAEA denied there was such a "secret" annex, and the IAEA spokesman characterized it as simply information that was insufficiently verified to be included in the IAEA reports. Apparently, with the replacement of ElBaradei with Amano, this view changed, and the annex was included in the latest report, but under Elbaradei the IAEA issued a press release stating that  "it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran"

Paragraph 3 attempts to justify the expanded role of the IAEA as the "enforcer" of the NPT on Iran, but in fact if you read the text of Iran's safeguards agreement you'd see that the role of the IAEA is quite limited -- its function is "exclusively" to send inspectors to measure the declared nuclear material in Iran to ensure non-diversion to weapons use -- and the IAEA has fulfilled this role already, which is why every single IAEA report on Iran (including this one) states that there is no evidence of such a diversion.

Paragraphss 5 - 7 are mainly about Parchin. The IAEA demands access to this site -- even though it is not a declared nuclear facility, and therefore falls outside of the IAEA's legal inspection authority. However Iran voluntarily allowed the IAEA to inspect this site already in 2005 -- twice -- with no evidence of any nuclear material or activities found. If the IAEA was serious about the "suspicions" here, all it has to do is present the evidence to the IAEA Board and get a "special inspections" authorization which Iran is legally required to allow -- but the IAEA has not done so because the IAEA simply does not have any actual evidence of any nuclear work there. In fact the IAEA officials complained previously that the US intel on Iran's nuclear program were bogus. Note that the Iranians have not refused another visit to Parchin, but want a "structured approach" to be determined beforehand. This was arranged for the previous IAEA visits to Parchin so why is the IAEA not doing so for this visit?

Paragaph 9 is the key paragraph where the IAEA verifies the non-diversion of nuclear material to non-peaceful uses. This is key, because that's the relevant standard in determining whether Iran is in compliance with the NPT or not. As Michael Spies of the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy has explained:

The conclusion that no diversion has occurred certifies that the state in question is in compliance with its undertaking, under its safeguards agreement and Article III of the NPT, to not divert material to non-peaceful purposes. In the case of Iran, the IAEA was able to conclude in its November 2004 report that that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes. The IAEA reached this same conclusion in September 2005.

Paragraphs 10-12 admits that all of the nuclear activities in the declared nuclear sites and facilities in Iran are under IAEA safeguards, which again means Iran is in full compliance with the actual requirements of the NPT, even though the UNSC has tried to impose additional demands and restrictions on Iran.

Footnote 14 is interesting because it states that Iran reportedly intends to make several more reactors that manufacture medical isotopes. This again is in full compliance with Iran's rights under the NPT

Paragraphs 13-16 are about the Natanz enrichment facility, which operates under IAEA safeugards, and specifically paragraph 16 essentially states that the operations are not violating the NPT either, and the uranium is enriched to less than 5% which is low-enriched uranium used for reactors.

Footnote 17 states that a small amount of uranium is enriched to slightly more than 5% due to a "known technical phenomenon associated with the start up of centrifuge cascades". This was previously misrepresented in the media as evidence of Iranian perfidy when the same phenomenon was found at Fordo, the site where Iran enriches uranium to 20%, but is in fact simply an unavoidable phenomenon: when introducing uranium into the centrifuges, the process takes a bit of time, so some of the uranium initially introduced into the a centrifuge may be enriched to slightly higher levels that the rest. In fact paragraph 26 , which addressese this "overshoot" phenomenon at Fordo, confirms that this "Iran’s
explanation is not inconsistent with the further assessment made by the Agency."  

Paragraphs 18-22 are about the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant -- again in Natanz, which according to paragraph 22 continues to operate in accordance with the NPT.

Paragraphs 23-26 are about the enrichment facility at Fordo, which makes the 20% enriched uranium for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. It states that Iran has expanded the number of centrifuges there, but that they're not operating. In any case this hasn't stopped the media scaremongering about the facility, which operates under IAEA safeguards. Of course, the media scaremongers don't bother mentioning that Iran would not have had to start 20% enrichment had the US not interferred with Iran's right to acquire the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in the first place, nor that Iran has already announced plans to covert 1/3 of this material into fuel rods thus making precluding their use for bomb-making. In fact Iran has suggested that it would agree to a plan of immediately converting all of its enriched uranium into fuel rods. This is not what a country intent on making nukes would do.

Paragraph 27 states that the IAEA is awaiting information about Iran's plans to make new reactors in the future. Well, according to Iran's safeguards agreement, Iran is only required to formally disclose such reactors 180-days prior to the introduction of nuclear material into them. Since these reactors have yet to be built, then Iran is under no obligation to provide any other information - yet.

Paragraph 28 states that Iran is not reprocessing uranium -- a process that is used to extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods, and Iran has stated that it has no intention of doing so. Again, no NPT violatons there either.

Paragraphs 29-31 are about the heavy water reactor that Iran is building which according to the report continue "under Agency safeguards". Specifically Paragraph 31 complains that the IAEA has not been allowed "further access" to the Heavy Water Production plant. However, since heavy water is not fissile material, and the IAEA's inspection authority is limited to the inspection of fissile material and places where fissile material are stored, Iran is not obligated to allow ANY IAEA inspections of the plant at all - even though it has already done so voluntarily.

Paragraphs 32-37 are about Iran's Uranium conversion and fuel plate manufacture facilities. It is interesting to note that the report states Iran has been making fuel plates on its own, when a few years ago we were told that Iran could not possible figure out how to do this, and so any enriched uranium it was making was necessarily intended for nukes rather than  reactor fuel (the fact that making fuel plates is a lot easier than making nukes, went unmentioned.) Again, nothing violates the NPT here either.

Section H (paragraphs 38-44) are about the continued saga of the "alleged studies" from the Laptop of Death, as well as allegations about Parchin, specifically the "explosives testing container". Note however that the IAEA report does not state that there were nuclear activities here -- rather it refers to "undisclosed nuclear related activities" -- which is funny because the IAEA's inspection authority is limited to nuclear material not "nuclear related" material. The report states that the IAEA has "become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities" since 2002, but in fact Elbaradei stated clearly that the IAEA has no evidence of any such "undisclosed" activities Furthermore Robert Kelley and others have already debunked a lot of the allegations about this "explosives testing chamber"

In fact, the chamber is far too small to contain explosive proof tests of a full scale mock-up, and far too big to contain smaller tests of research interest. Thus, a container of this size is irrelevant to an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

If you're interested, here's what the former IAEA head Elbaradei had to say about these alleged studies.

Section I (paragraphs 45-47) are the IAEA's complaints that IRan should provide information on plans to build nuclear facilities (such as the Fordo enrichment facility) earlier than what its standard safeguards agreement requires. This is a long-standing technical dispute between the IAEA and Iran about when precisely Iran should provide design information on planned nuclear facilities. For a while Iran agreed, as a gesture of good faith, to adopt a "Modified" version of a safeguard agreement that required it to provide this info earlier than its existing standard safeguards require, but Iran ended that voluntary cooperation after the Paris Agreement negotiations fell apart. Since then, the IAEA has been insisting that Iran is somehow obligated to continue this practice, but this demand is legally questionable. THe bottom line, however, remains that regardless of when Iran declares a nuclear facility, the declared facility will still operate under IAEA safeguards and so cannot be used to secretly make nukes anyway, so this is really a side issue and involves no violation of the NPT as long as the IAEA continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material.

Section J (paragraph) 48 says that Iran hasn't implemented the Additional Protocol, and so as the IAEA cannot verify the absence of undeclared material until it does. Which is true, but the same is true for many other nations including Egypt, Argentina, Brazil. However, unlike those countries Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol, and has since allowed inspections that exceed even the AP, with no proof of any nuclear weapons work found.

Section K is about other technical matters that involve no violation of the NPT either.

So that's about it: Iran continues to work on enrichment, and the IAEA continues to verify this program and there's still no proof of any nuclear weapons work

 


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