So the September 15 2008 IAEA report on Iran is out. Here's what it says.
First of all, the London Telegraph article by the infamous fiction-writer Con Coughlin who cited anonymous experts in claiming that Iran ahad "removed significant quantities of UF6", is flatly disproved by the IAEA report. Paragraph 9 of this report plainly states that all of the UF6 "remains under Agency containment and surveillance."
Secondly, despite media reports claiming that Iran had "blocked" or "stalled" the IAEA are simiarly false - and nothing in the report says anything of that sort. These are value-laden descriptors which don't represent the true state of affairs, where Iran has stated that the "alleged studies" pushed from the so-called "Laptop of Death" were false, provided a 117 page written response to the allegations, was not allowed to actually see the documents making the claims -- and the IAEA had suggested ways to resolve that dispute - and that is all. The report does NOT say Iran rejected the proposed modalities to resolve the issue or "blocked" anything.
The most important paragraph in the report is Paragaph 22 which states:
The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accounting reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities.
You may wonder why this paragraph, way at the end of the report, is the most important one. The answer is this: it means that Iran continues to be in compliance with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty for reasons explained in this post.
Paragraphs 2 through 4 states that Iran's enrichment facilities are operating under IAEA safeguards, exactly as they're supposed to be, producing low-enriched uranium (which cannot be used to make bombs, contrary to all the news report that insist on calculating how many bombs Iran can make with these machines) and were even the subject of 17 surprise inspections. The previous report had said that the same facilities were subject to 14 surprise inspections too. (I should point out that there is a legal limit to the number of inspections that are allowed, since the inspections are not supposed to unduly interfere with the operations of the facilities - I wonder how close to the limit we are now.)
Paragaph 5 and 6 are about reprocessing of nuclear fuel. Iran has said that there is no reprocessing going on at the listed facilities, and the IAEA has affirmed that.
Here, the report also adds that the IAEA can't verify there are no undeclared facilities and so the IAEA can't verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. THis is repeated in Paragraph 23 too. This language has often been seized upon by the Iran bashers to cast suspicion on Iran by innuendo. So let me reiterate the facts: the IAEA does not verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities for any country unless they have signed and ratified the Additional Protocol (which permits more stringent inspections of nuclear facilities.) According to the IAEA itself, there are currently something like 40 other countries for which the IAEA similarly cannot verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities. Some other countries - like Egypt (recently held up by Rice as a model nuclear program) have refused to even sign the Additional Protocol, unlike Iran. That doesn't mean that the IAEA suspects there are any undeclared facilities.
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.
Second point: Iran did in fact voluntarily implement the Additional Protocol by allowing the more stringent inspections for the course of 2 years during the course of the Paris Agreement negotiations with the EU3 - even though it was not legally obligated to do so - and still no evidence of nuclear weapons or undeclared activities was found in Iran (in fact the IAEA complained publicly that the intelligence that the US had given the IAEA of supposedly "secret" Iranian nuclear sites had proven to be bogus.) And, Iran has offered to ratify the Additional Protocol, once its nuclear rights are recognized.
Paragraphs 7 and 8 say that Iran's construction of their planned heavy water nuclear reactor and related facilities continue to be monitored by the IAEA, exactly as they're supposed to be.
Paragraph 9 just describes Iran's uranium conversion efforts. Cconversion is the step before enrichment: raw uranium is turned into yellow cake, then into a gas called UF6 or uranium hexaflouride, before being enriched in centrifuges as nuclear fuel. This paragraph and says that all of the converted uranium remains under IAEA safeguards. There's no mention of any "missing" UF6 as claimed by the Con Coughlin in the Telegraph (actually, the Coughlin article makes a number of confused and contradictory claims, ie: repeatedly confuses UF6 with "enriched uranium.")
Paragraph 10 and 11 are about "preliminary design information" -- the information that Iran agreed as a voluntary, non-binding measure to provide to the IAEA about nuclear facitilies it plans to build in the future, but had not yet built. Iran had agreed to provide this info during the course of the Paris agreement, as it had agreed to allow inspections beyond its legal obligations -- but pulled back when the EU tried to cheat Iran by raising their demands and insisting that Iran turn a temporary suspension of enrichment into a permanent ban on enrichment. Here, the IAEA has request that Iran go back to providing that preliminary information. Tough luck. Why should Iran do more than the NPT requires when it is getting less than what it is entitled to receive?
Paragraph 12 is where the phrases "as a transparency measure" is first mentioned in this report. "Transparency" actually means "inspections beyond Iran's legal obligations" - beyond Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and even beyond the Additional Protocol requirements that are not applicable to Iran anyway. As footnote 6 in the report states, the UN Security Council has demanded that Iran give in to these transparency measures -- but the demand is ultra vires and illegal, since among other things the Security Council does not have the legal authority to force a country to abide by an agreement it has not signed (such as the Additional Protocol.)
You see, under Iran's existing standard safeguards agreement, Iran is only required to allow IAEA inspections of sites which contain (or are meant to contain) nuclear material -- such as the uranium enrichment plants where Iran's centrifuges turn uranium hexaflouride (UF6) gas into low-enriched uranium fuel. Iran does NOT have to allow inspections of other sorts of weapons facilities, such as rocket design sites, or even facilities where other forms of nuclear-related technologies are developed but which do not involve nuclear material. (That is why this very same IAEA report states clearly in Paragraph 21 that it has no evidence that nuclear material was used in these "alleged studies")
According to this paragraph, the IAEA has requested that Iran provide access to non-nuclear facilities, such as the facilities where the centrifuges themselves are manufactured. This is outside of the scope of Iran's legal obligations. And as I have mentioned before, this is precisely the sort of targetting intelligence that the US and Israel would need to attack Iran (since blowing up Iran's enrichment facilities is useless if Iran can then just build more centrifuges and contiue the program.)
Coincidence? You decide.
I should point out that Iran had allowed such "transparency" inspections in the past even though it was not obligated to do so -- the inspection of the Parchin military base for example, long the subject of lurid and baseless speculation, but which turned up exactly nothing -- and had continued to allow such inspections on an "ad hoc" basis according previous IAEA reports -- but does not allow such "transparency" inspections on a regular basis for a number of reasons (Iran probably doesnt' want to set a precedent of being treated as a 2nd class member of the NPT, subject to additional, extra-legal inspections when similar demands are not made on other NPT signatories. And, Iran would not want to give away intelligence to be used for targetting intelligence when Israel and the US regularly threaten to bomb Iran in blatant violation of international law.)
Paragraph 13 simply says that the Bushehr reactor is under safeguards as usual. Iran and Russia have announced that the reactor will become operational in a few months. The interesting point I should mention is this: the IAEA made it clear years ago that the Bushehr reactor is not considered to be a nuclear threat. The Bush administration even conceeded that point. However, as I have mentioned the latest video by the "United Against Nuclear Iran" NeoCon lobbying group has gone back to claiming that Bushehr is some sort of threat. Gotta wonder why... Since Bushehr is not a weapons threat but only produces energy, and as a lightwater reactor cannot be used to secretly make bombs, then obviously these people basically have a problem with Iran having civilian nuclear power rather than just weapons.
Paragraphs 14-21 are about the allegations of the so-called "Laptop of Death" that the US intelligence supposedly obtained from someone who smuggled it out of Iran.These are the paragraphs that the media reports are selectively concentrating on -- totally ignoring the previous paragraphs which state that Iran's nuclear program continues to function under full IAEA safeguards.
Basically, they say that the IAEA wants Iran to address the Laptop of Death allegations in greater detail, even though they have not presented Iran with the actual documents that contain the allegations as required by the August 2007 modalities agreement -- and the IAEA has made some specific proposals for Iran to be able to do so. NOWHERE in these paragraphs does it say that Iran has "blocked" anything. Iran may very well decide to accept the IAEA's proposals -- which the IAEA report itself says are "transparency measures" which means they are outside of what Iran is legally required to do.
Also, note specifically that Paragraph 21 states that the IAEA itself has found
no evidence on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies ... Nor has the Agency detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies.
As a preliminary matter, lets get some facts straight: In August 2007, Iran and the IAEA reached a "modalities agreement" about how Iran would clear up all the outstanding issues regarding its nuclear program with the IAEA. As part of this agreement, Iran said it considered the "alleged studies" claims to be fabrications, but as a good faith measure, would address the claims upon receiving the documentation about the "alleged studies" too. BUT IRAN HAS STILL NOT RECEIVED THE DOCUMENTATION BECAUSE THE US REFUSES TO LET EVEN THE IAEA SEE THE FULL DOCUMENTATION.
Three months later, in its November 2007 report, the IAEA said that Iran had in fact cleared up 9 of the outstanding issues -- with no evidence of a nuclear weapons program having been discovered. In February 2008, despite pressure and false allegations by some Western countries, the IAEA Director ElBaradei declared that all the remaining issues had been cleared up too:
"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 programme" with the exception of a single issue, "and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past."
Needless to say, this was a remarkable conclusion by the IAEA since it effectively gave Iran a clean bill of health about its the so-called hidden past nuclear activities.
So my point is this: while the current IAEA report talks a lot about the "alleged studies" lets not forget the source of these studies, the logically fallacy of requiring Iran to disprive a negative (see Nukie the Nuclear Spaghetti Monster) and lets not forget that after years of the most intensive inspections in the IAEA's history, Iran had come up clean -- no actual evidence of a nuclear weapons program. And that's precisely why the US finally, belatedly and only partially presented the "Laptop of Death" evidence to the IAEA in 2008 (after years of shopping it around as evidence of Iran's perfidy without letting the IAEA actually see it.)
Other than this highly questionable Laptop of Death, no evidence of any nuclear program has ever been found to exist in Iran, as certified by the IAEA itself. (The Russians have been saying that they've never seen any "objective evidence" of a nuclear program either.)
(I'm going to rush things along a bit here are this post is getting too long)
The most important paragraph in the Summary section is Paragraph 23 which I briefly touched upon when addressing Paragraphs 5 and 6 above, and which requests that Iran provide more detailed information on how the alleged studies claims are false, and the IAEA says that the allegations are serious -- but it does NOT say that that Iran has blocked or refused to address them. So we'll have to see how the ongoing negotiations with Iran play out.