Analysis of the Feb 2010 IAEA report on Iran

by Cyrus Safdari (source: Iran Affairs)
Friday, February 19, 2010

So here's my analysis of the latest IAEA report on Iran, and how the US media totally mischaracterize it for the purpose of scaremongering.

Paragraphs 2-13 are about the enrichment plants in Natanz. According to the report, they continue to enrich uranium under IAEA safeuguards, and there has been no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses -- so in short, Iran is in full compliance with its NPT obligations. The report specifically says that there have been 35 surprise inspections there too, just to be clear.

The first paragrah specifically mentions the period of time when Iran voluntarily suspended enrichment as a good faith gesture under the terms of the Paris Agreement. Since it leave out some context, here is a brief review of what happened: If you remember, under the terms of that agreement, Iran's good faith gesture was supposed to be reciprocated by an EU-3 offer to negotiate with  Iran on the nuclear issue in good faith, in a manner that recognized Iran's right to continue enrichment. The Iranians made it clear from the start that the right to enrichment had to be recognized, and the temporary suspension of enrichment was not supposed to become permanent. The suspension was supposed to  last for 6 months. Instead, the EU-3 first dragged their feet for 2 years without making any offer, and then when Iran announced the restart of enrichment, they gave Iran an offer that independent analysts called an empty box in pretty wrapping which demanded that Iran permanently give up enrichment. Then the EU3 had the gall to accuse Iran of "violating" the Paris Agrement when Iran refused. So in short, Iran showed flexibility, and was cheated. Those who argue that Iran should suspend enrichment don't seem to remember that we've been down that road before.

Anyway, according to the report, Iran informed the IAEA that it planned to start enriching uranium to 20% and move uraium for that purpose. Th Agency says that modifications to the safeguards are required to continue to certify non-diversion, and the two sides are apparently in the process of negotiating those modifications.

Paragraphs 14-17 are about the Fordow enrichment facility -- the supposedly "clandestine" site near Qom. According to the Iranians, this was essentially a bomb shelter that they decided to use to protect centrifuges in case of an attack. There is some dispute between the IAEA and Iran over when Iran should have disclosed it to the IAEA -- at time iran began construction according to Iran's original safeguards agreement, or at the time they decided to construct it according to the Subsidiary Agrement that Iran had temporarily agreed to implement as part of the Paris Agreement negotiations. This is an on-going dispute with the IAEA but largely a technicality since even the IAEA agrees that there was no nuclear-related activities (or, any activities) at the site.

The media of course like to scaremonger about the Fordow site. They insist that the site was 'clandestine' even though Iran reported it to the IAEA. Then they say that since the facility is "too small" to power a full-fledged reactor, it must be intended to secretly make nukes -- when it was never intended to power a reacto in the first place, being a bomb shelter. I called that the Goldilocks meme. However, as previously mentioned by IAEA director Elbaradei, the site is basically "a hole in the mountain and nothing to be worried about."

Paragraph 18: Reprocessing "Undeclared activites"? this paragraph is about the creation of medical isotopes at the Tehran Research reactor, which has been ongoing. The report says that the facilities continue to be monitored by the IAEA, and there's no evidence of reprocessing -- extracting plutonium from spent fuel rods for possible weapons use -- at the site.

Since this paragraph mentions undeclared activities and the Additional Protocol, it would be a good opportunity to explain those once again. Under the terms of Iran's existing safeguards, Iran is required to declare nuclear activities, and the IAEA inspectors have to verify that those declared activities are not weapons related. This, the IAEA has done so repeatedly, for many years. The IAEA has never found any nuclear-weapons related activities in Iran.

However, since Saddam managed to cheat the IAEA by not declaring all of Iraq's nuclear activities, an Additional Protocol was drafted that allows more stringent inspections, which once completed allows the IAEA to verify not only that all declared nuclear activities are peaceful, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear activities going on.

This report specifically says that while the IAEA can verify that there's no reprocessing going on at the declared facilities in Iran, it can't veify the absence of undeclared activites in other places though -- which is true, since as explained many times before, the IAEA only verifies the absence of undeclared nuclear activities for countries that are bound by the Additional Protocol. Most countries have flatly refused to sign that protocol, including Egypt (where unexplained traces of highly weapons-grade enriched uranium were recently found)

As I long ago mentioned, the IAEA does not formally verify the "absence of undeclared nuclear activities" in ANY country unless they have signed and ratified the Additional Protocol, which allows more instrusive inspections. Iran hasn't, so that leaves Iran amongst about 40 other countries in which the IAEA cannot formally verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material.

Nevertheless, though Iran  has not formally ratified the Additional Protocol, it did implement the Additional Protocol for 2 years and allowd more instrusive inspections -- and no weapons program was found - and has offered to formally ratify the Additional protocol once its nuclear rights are recognized -- but the US flatly refuses.

And, as Michael Spies of the Lawyer's Comittee for Nuclear Policy has explained:

For some it is tempting to declare, based on the inability of the IAEA to presently draw a conclusion on the absence of nuclear activities, that Iran continues to operate concealed facilities and that any such facilities must be for a military program. But the IAEA has cautioned that the lack of a conclusion does not imply suspicion of undeclared nuclear materials and activities, as the matter is frequently spun in the media and by some governments.

 According to the IAEA's own Annual Safeguards Implementation Report of 2004, of the 61 states where both the NPT safeguards and the Additional protocol are implemented, the IAEA has certified the absence of undeclared nuclear activity for only 21 countries, leaving Iran in the same category as 40 other countries including Canada, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. Note especially the last sentence in which it says that the IAEA has to conclude that the nuclear programs of even those countries remain peaceful:

"With regard to 21 States with both CSAs [Comprehensive Safeguard Agreements] and AP [Additional Protocol] in force or otherwise applied, the Agency concluded that all nuclear material in those States remained in peaceful nuclear activities. For 40 other such States, the Agency had not yet completed the necessary evaluations, and could therefore only draw the conclusion that the nuclear material placed under safeguards remained in peaceful nuclear activities."

Finally, I would only add that the IAEA has explicitly said that it has no evidence of any "undeclared" nuclear material or activities in Iran either. For example this is what ElBaradei stated regarding the 2007 NIE:

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei ... notes in particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency´s consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the Agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.

Paragraphs 19-24 Arak reactor and heavy water. According to these pargraphs, Iran is continuing to build a heavy water reactor at Arak. The report states that UNSC has demanded that Iran stop doing so and allow the IAEA to  verify that it has stopped. Iran refuses, naturally. This is again part of the on-going dispute in which the UNSC is imposing demands on Iran that exceed its authority and violate Iran's rights recognized by the Non-Prolifereation treaty. The UNSC has no legal authority to demand that Iran not build a reactor which is fully compliant with its safeguards and NPT obligations, and Iran is doing everything it is supposed to do as far as allowing IAEA inspections in accordance with its safeguards agreement.

There is some reference to the IAEA wanting to test the heavy water Iran says it has produced, and Iran objecting to the tests. Iran is perfectly correct on this point: the IAEA's authority extends ONLY to nuclear material, and not to heavy water or anything else that is not nuclear material. Read Art. 2 of  Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which states that the purpose of the safeguards agreement is for the "exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Paragraphs 25-27 are about uranium conversion -- the process by which raw uranium is turned into yellowcake -- which is then turned into a gas, fed into centrifuges, and concentrted (enriched). there's nothing controversial mentioned here, and the section concludes by saying that the site ahs been inspected and the uranium  at the facility "remains subject to Agency containment and surveillance" exactly as it supposed to be.

Paragraphs 28-35 are about the Subsidiary arrangement mentioend above. The dispute is over which safeguards apply: the ones that Iran temporarily agreed to abide by -- which require Iran to inform the IAEA of plans to build nuclear facilities -- while Iran says that it is going to back to its original safeguards agreement which only required Iran to inform the IAEA of the sites 180-days before nuclear material was introduced into the site. This is an on-going dispute but the bottom line remains that unless there's some diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses, Iran continues to be in compliance with the NPT. The irony is this: the Iranians are expected to inform the IAEA of all the sites they plan on building, knowing full well that the information will be simply fed to the US and Israel for their targetting list. The daily US and Israel threats to bomb Iran constitutte violations of the UN Charter and are war crimes (yes, even the threat itself is a crime) but no one seems to have a problem with them, on the other hand they pick on Iran for not disclosing the targets to make the bombings easie to carry out! LOL!

Paragraphs 36-39: "Transparency" inspections of centrifuge production sites. These paragraphs says that Iran has asked to look at the nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor provided by Russia, and cover some other minor points that are not controversial. The most controversial paragraph is number 39, in which the IAEA demands to be allowed to see the facilities where Iran makes the centrifuges that are used to enrich uranium. In previous reports, this demand was clearly labelled as a "transparency" inspection -- the term "transparency" was used to clearly indicate inspections that go beyond the legal authority of the IAEA. Iran continues to refuse the inspection of centrifuge production facilities, as usual. Much like the IAEA demand to test the heavy water Iran has produced, these fall outside of the IAEA's inspection authority which is exclusively limited to checking nuclear material. Not also the other irony: one of the reasons that it is widely assumed any US or Israel bombing of Iran's nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz would be useless is because Iran can quickly rebuild whatever centrifuges that were destroyed. So natrually, the US is keen on getting the info on the location of the centrifuge production facilities -- the sites that the IAEA is demanding to inspect even thought it falls outside of the IAEA's authority. Note also that the IAEA reported no longer refer to these as "transparency" inspections, thus continuing to mix up legally required inspections with extra-legal demands in its reports.

Paragraphs 40-45 are about "Alleged Studies" into nuclear weaponization that the US claims Iran conduced based on the contents of the so-called "laptop of death" -- or at least that's what the previous IAEA repoorts called it ("Alleged Studies") but lately Amano has taken to calling these "Possible Military Dimensions". The media love these references to the alleged sutides in the IAEA reports because they get to spin it as "IAEA says Iran is engaged in weapons work!" when in fact the IAEA is merely reporting on the allegations provided by others, and in fact the IAEA has consistenly stated that it has no independent evidence to back up any of it.

 These paragraphs basically recount the allegations that Iran was investigating means to make a bomb. The allegations were supposedly based on the "laptop of death" that someone supposedly secretly smuggled out of Iran. The Iranians have said they''d address the allegations as soon as they obtain the documents that supposedly contain them. The IAEA has not been able to provide the documentation to Iran because the US refuses to allow the IAEA to see all of them, or share them with Iran, so Iran is basically being told it has to disprove documents that it is not allowed to see. the US claims -- rather ridiculously -- that it can't allow Iran to see the documents since they contain ifnormation on making nukes---the same documents that supposedly came from Iran, mind you! Gareth Porter reportsthat Israel is probably the source of these documents, but the IAEA has been trying to downplaythe fact that theyre forgeries by getting Iran to respond to the "substance" of the documents instead. Thisis what IAEA head Elbaradei had to say about the documents:

And I have been making it very clear that with regard to these alleged studies, we have not seen any use of nuclear material, we have not received any information that Iran has manufactured any part of a nuclear weapon or component. That’s why I say, to present the Iran threat as imminent is hype.

The Media of course accuse Iran of stonewalling the IAEA for refusing to address documents it is not allowed to see, but  Peter Casey has written:

[Saying] that "Iran refuses to answer" IAEA questions is grossly misleading. As documented in every single IAEA board report since the laptop allegations first surfaced, Iran has consistently and adamantly answered many of the allegations by describing them as baseless and fabricated. In addition, it was only in February 2008 that the U.S. gave the IAEA permission to show any of the documents to Iran to enable it to respond (IAEA Gov/2008/4 at paragraph 37). The U.S. further manipulated the IAEA's efforts by providing "much of this information [to the IAEA] only in electronic form" and "not authorizing the [IAEA] to provide copies to Iran" (IAEA Gov/2008/15 at paragraph 16). The U.S. even refused to give the IAEA itself copies of some material. For example, the U.S. did not let the IAEA have copies of key documents concerning the "ballistic missile warhead" for a "nuclear weapon" ... The agency was "therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran."

And finally we'll skip over to the last section, Paragraph 46-51, in which the IAEA says that Iran hasn't abided by the illegal and ultra vires demands of the UNSC to give up its right to enrich uranium. The IAEA also says that Iran should sign the Additional Protocol -- which Iran (unlike many other nuclear countries) has said it is happy to do but only if its rights are also recognized.

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