By Muhammad Sahimi
Since February 2003, Iran's nuclear program has
undergone what the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) itself admits to be
the most intrusive inspection in its entire history. After thousands of hours of
inspections by some of the most experienced IAEA experts, the Agency has
verified time and again that (1) there is no evidence of a nuclear weapons
program in Iran, and (2) all the declared nuclear materials have been accounted
for; there has been no diversion of such materials to non-peaceful purposes.
Iran has a clean bill of health, as far as its nuclear program is concerned.
This is not what Israel, its lobby in the United
States, and its neoconservative allies had expected. Such a clean bill of health
deprives them of any justification for advocating military attacks on Iran. The
illegal act of sending Iran's nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security
Council and the subsequent, highly dubious
UNSC resolutions against
Iran have also not been effective. So what is the War Party to do?
It has resorted to an international campaign of
exaggerations, lies, and distortions. This campaign involves planting lies in
the major media and on the Internet, making absurd interpretations of what the
IAEA reports on Iran, and issuing dire - but bogus - warnings about the speed at
which Iran's uranium-enrichment program is progressing. Such warnings have been
around for over two decades. In 1984, West German intelligence predicted that
Iran would make a nuclear bomb within two years.
The campaign uses all the instruments of the U.S.
political establishment to advance its agenda. The Bush administration routinely
talked about "Iran's nuclear weapon program" or "Iran's pursuit of nuclear
weapons," without ever bothering to present any credible evidence for their
assertion. Iran's drive for nuclear weapons has become an article of faith even
to President Obama, who, in my opinion, is not pro-war. Leon Panetta, the new
CIA director, recently
said, "From all the information I've seen, I think there is no question that
they [Iranians] are seeking that [nuclear weapon] capability." What
information, Mr. Panetta? Enlighten us, please.
An important base for the campaign has been the
U.S. Congress. Take, for example, the report by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.),
the then chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
issued on Aug. 23, 2006. The first bullet on page four of the report stated,
"Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program for nearly two
decades in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement, and despite its claim to
the contrary, Iran is seeking nuclear weapons."
Not a single word in this statement is true. Iran
did not violate its Safeguards Agreement, signed in 1974 with the IAEA, when it
did not declare the construction of the Natanz facility for uranium enrichment.
The agreement stipulated that Iran was only obligated to declare the existence
of the facility 180 days prior to introducing nuclear materials into the
facility. Iran did just that in February 2003, and nuclear materials were
brought into the facility during summer 2003. The assertion that Iran is seeking
nuclear weapon was a lie then, as it is now. No evidence of a secret nuclear
weapons program has been discovered. Although the U.S. National Intelligence
Estimate released in early December 2007 stated that Iran halted its nuclear
weapons program in 2003, it did not present any evidence that the program
existed prior to 2003.
A caption to a figure on page nine of Hoekstra's
report stated that "Iran is currently enriching uranium to weapons grade using a
164-machine centrifuge cascade at this facility in Natanz." This was another
lie. Neither then nor now, when there are over 5,000 centrifuges at Natanz, has
Iran enriched uranium to weapons grade.
According to the bullet at the top of page 11,
"Spent fuel from the LWR [light water reactor] that Russia is building for Iran
in the city of Bushehr can produce enough weapons-grade plutonium for 30 weapons
per year if the fuel rods were diverted and reprocessed." First of all,
according to the Iran-Russia agreement, the spent fuel will be returned to
Russia. Second, the plutonium from LWR spent fuel is not suitable for making
nuclear weapons. Even if it were, it should not be labeled as "weapons grade,"
because converting it to weapons grade is costly, laborious, and time-consuming.
Third, the IAEA monitors the Bushehr reactor operations. There is no possibility
of overtly or covertly diverting any nuclear materials.
Such lies and distortions forced the IAEA to take
the unusual step of sending an angry letter to Hoekstra. Signed by Vilmos
Cserveny, a senior official at the IAEA, the
"strong exception to the incorrect and misleading assertion" that the IAEA had
removed a senior safeguards inspector for "allegedly raising concerns about
Iranian deception," and branded as "outrageous and dishonest" the report's
suggestion that he was removed for not adhering "to an unstated IAEA policy
barring IAEA officials from telling the truth" about Iran.
The U.S. mainstream media, and in particular the
New York Times, has played a leading role in the campaign of lies and
deceptions against Iran's peaceful nuclear program. One would think that, after
all the lies and exaggerations that Judith Miller and Michael Gordon planted in
the Times about Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the
Times would learn its lesson. Absolutely not!
For example, after the Nov. 15, 2007, IAEA report
on Iran, which, once again, gave Iran a clean bill of health, Elaine Sciolino
and William J. Broad of the Times declared, "Nuclear report finds Iran's
disclosures were inadequate." This was while the IAEA report itself stated
several times that the information provided by Iran was "consistent" with the
IAEA findings. The word "inadequate" was not used even once in the report.
Why did Sciolino and Broad - the "top"
interpreters of what the IAEA really says in its reports - think that Iran's
disclosures were "inadequate"? Because, according to them, Iran had asked the
IAEA for a meeting in December 2007 to provide information about its P-2
centrifuges, and, therefore, had missed the November deadline. However, the
December meeting was about Iran's current activities on its P-2
centrifuge, whereas the November 2007 report was about Iran's past
activities. In fact, regarding Iran's past activities on the design of
the P-2 centrifuge, the same November 2007 report stated, "Based on visits made
by the Agency inspectors to the P-2 workshops in 2004, examination of the
company's owner contract [the company contracted to build the P-2 centrifuge],
progress reports and logbooks, and information available on procurement
inquiries, the agency has concluded that Iran's statements on the content of the
declared P-2 R&D activities are consistent with the agency's findings." So, the
IAEA said one thing, but Sciolino and Broad claimed a completely different
thing. By the way, the article has disappeared from the Times' archives!
Even the Times itself does not believe in it.
But Sciolino did not stop there. After the IAEA
issued a new report on Iran on May 26, 2008, Sciolino claimed in an article the
next day that the IAEA had expressed concerns about Iran's "willful lack of
cooperation." No such words or their equivalent can be found in the report. The
report stated that the IAEA was trying to understand the role of Iran's military
in its nuclear program. Sciolino did not ask any IAEA official why the agency
was not concerned about Brazil's navy controlling its uranium-enrichment program
and limiting IAEA access to its nuclear facilities (in violation of its
obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). She did not ask any
U.S. official why the U.S. was not protesting Brazil's violations of its NPT
obligations. Instead, she fabricated nonexistent statements about Iran.
The campaign has an international dimension too.
The Australian claimed on Aug. 7, 2006, that Iran had tried to import
uranium ore from Congo. Nothing came out of this "report." The conservative
British newspaper the Daily Telegraph has made some of the most blatantly
false claims. For example, on Nov. 16, 2006,
David Blair reported in the Telegraph that Iran tried to get
uranium from Somalia's Islamic forces, in return for arms. To give his report
credibility, Blair quoted UN officials about Iran's military helping Somali
forces. But his claim that Iran wanted uranium in return included no direct
quote. It was just a lie. Even the Bushies did not buy it.
The Telegraph cooked up another falsehood
about Iran's nuclear program, which provoked an angry IAEA response. On Sept.
14, 2008, Con Coughlin, the Telegraph's liar-in-chief, claimed that the
IAEA could not account for 50-60 tons of uranium, which was supposed to be in
Isfahan, where "Iran enriches its uranium." As the Persian proverb goes, "a liar
has a short memory." Coughlin had apparently forgotten the simple and well-known
fact that Iran enriches uranium at Natanz, not Isfahan (where the yellowcake is
converted to uranium hexafluoride). The IAEA immediately issued a statement
through its spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming,
rejecting the report.
Two days earlier, in another article in the Telegraph,
Con Coughlin and Tim Butcher claimed that there were "fresh signs" that Iran
had renewed work on developing nuclear weapons.
Typically, Coughlin quoted unnamed sources, the
existence of whom can never be checked. In other articles in the Telegraph
Coughlin claimed a link between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi
intelligence; alleged that North Korea was helping Iran to prepare a nuclear
weapon test, and said that Iran was
"grooming" bin Laden's
successor, none of which turned out to be true.
Then there is the rabid anti-Iran "group" called
United Against Nuclear Iran. It is supposedly a "non-partisan, broad-based
coalition" from "diverse ethnicities, faith communities, [and] political and
social affiliations." But,
the group's Web site is registered to Henley MacIntyre, who was involved in
Republican National Committee/White House e-mail scandal during George W. Bush's
presidency. Its executive director is Mark Wallace, who worked with John
"Bomb-Iran-for-Israel's-Sake" Bolton when he was the U.S. ambassador at the UN.
Others involved are Richard Holbrooke, who is now President Obama's special
representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Dennis Ross, a longtime
instrument of the Israel lobby. The group has produced a video asserting that
Iran has produced highly enriched uranium, a claim that has been debunked
thoroughly not only by the IAEA, but
also by others.
Another tactic of the War Party has been
spreading rumors and innuendoes about the existence of an internal row in the
IAEA over Iran. For example, in February 2008, just as the IAEA was going to
report that it had clarified Iran's past nuclear activities, unnamed "senior
Western officials" started being quoted saying that some experts within the IAEA
were not happy about the report to be released. It forced the IAEA to depart
from its routine mode of operation and have a senior official call Reuters to
In yet another exaggeration of Iran's nuclear
potential, much has been said recently about the accumulation of low-enriched
uranium (LEU) in Iran. The suggestion is that Iran can enrich its stockpile of
LEU to highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bomb-making.
This claim has been
thoroughly debunked. Briefly, all of Iran's LEU is safeguarded by the IAEA.
Its conversion to HEU would require extensive new designs, reconfiguration, and
reconnection of the centrifuges in Natanz, none of which can evade the IAEA's
watching eyes. Even if Iran could somehow do all of this, it would only be
enough HEU for one nuclear device, which would have to be detonated in a
test. Going from a device to a bomb is a difficult task by itself.
In the latest attempt to cast doubt on Iran's
nuclear program, suddenly cyberspace and the mainstream media are full of
stories about Iran running out of uranium. Up to now, Iran has been using the
600 tons of uranium oxide, or yellowcake, it purchased in the 1970s from South
Africa for conversion to uranium hexafluoride and enrichment at Natanz. The
stories are based on a report by Mark Hibbs in Nuclear Fuel (Dec. 15,
2008). The Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London, another British
newspaper in the business of fabricating stories on Iran's nuclear program,
picked up the story and ran with it. Then there was a third report by the
Institute for Science and International
Security to the same effect. The argument is that if Iran does not have
enough yellowcake and cannot import it, then why does Iran bother to have a
uranium-enrichment program, unless it is for bomb-making?
Iran has been constructing a facility in Ardakan,
which will come online sometime this year, for processing uranium ore into
yellowcake. Clearly, had Iran thought that it would not have enough uranium ore,
it would not have undertaken the construction of the Ardakan plant. In fact, in
Iran announced that there are 1,400 uranium mines in Iran, and last month it
announced the discovery of uranium ore reserves at
three new sites in central Iran. While many sources put Iran's known
reserves of uranium ore at about 3,000 tons, the actual number is at least
The above is only a small part of all the lies,
exaggerations, and distortions of the facts about Iran's nuclear program. All
the sound bites about the West respecting Iran's right to peaceful nuclear
technology are just that, sound bites. The truth is, the West does not want Iran
to have access to advanced nuclear technology. Now that Iran has succeeded in
setting up a domestic nuclear fuel cycle, including designing new centrifuges,
the West wants Iran to dismantle them. Why should Iran give up its legal rights
under the NPT and its sovereign rights to develop its uranium resources and
indigenous nuclear industry?
About the author:
Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science,
and the NIOC professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles, has published extensively on Iran's political
developments and its nuclear program.
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