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02/21/15

Reading the Runes in the Latest Report on Iran's Nuclear Program

By Peter Jenkins (source: LobeLog)

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program contains much that is worth emphasizing. Iran is continuing to account for all its declared nuclear material (and the agency appears to have no reason to suspect the existence of undeclared nuclear material). Iran is also continuing to comply fully with the commitments it made to the United States and others on November 24, 2013 and which it has renewed since.

Much of the commentary on the report on Iran will inevitably highlight Iran’s continuing failure to resolve two concerns the IAEA raised in May 2014. I, however, am surprised, that the IAEA director general omits all mention of two Iranian attempts, since the last IAEA report in mid-November, to address those and some other allegations that the IAEA is investigating.

On December 2, Reuters reported that in a statement to the IAEA Iran had rejected accusations that it was stonewalling IAEA investigations. Instead, Iran had affirmed that it had given the IAEA “pieces of evidence” indicating that documents adduced by the IAEA as reasons for concern were “full of mistakes and contain fake names with specific pronunciations which only point towards a certain IAEA member as their forger.” (The member Iran probably had in mind was Israel).

Yet there is no mention whatsoever of this Iranian rebuttal in the latest report, still less any detailed IAEA rebuttal of the rebuttal. Instead, the director general resorts to an exceptionally bland (and in the circumstances misleading) phrase: “Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the two outstanding practical measures [concerns].”

In effect Iran is being asked to prove its innocence. But when it tries to do so, the evidence it submits is rejected out of hand because it calls into question the evidence that is being used to justify the suspicion of guilt. Is that consistent with due process?

Also surprising is the omission of any mention of Iran’s offer of access to a suspected nuclear site at Marivan, reported by Reuters on December 11. A controversial annex to the IAEA’s November 2011 report referred to one member state having informed the agency that major high-explosives tests were conducted at Marivan in the first part of the last decade.

Since the IAEA has not taken Iran up on the offer, it presumably believes that a visit to Marivan would serve no useful purpose. If that is the case, do they not owe it to Iran to withdraw the November 2011 charge relating to Marivan? If the agency isn’t arranging a site visit, it should explain to IAEA member states that it considers the information provided by “a member state” to have been unreliable or irrelevant.

I raise these questions not to criticise the IAEA secretariat, which continues to do a first-class job in Iran, as professional and objective as ever. Rather, I want to offset the hue and cry that opponents of a nuclear deal will raise over the reference in the latest report to Iran’s failure to provide explanations. I’m suggesting that there is more to this than meets the eye.

Turning back to the positive, Iran is continuing to allow exceptional access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops, and storage facilities. This access has enabled the IAEA to conclude that centrifuge rotor manufacturing and assembly are consistent with Iran’s replacement program for failed centrifuges. In other words, Iran is not manufacturing and diverting rotors to some clandestine enrichment facility.

This is highly significant. Amid the endless furor over the number of centrifuges that Iran should retain under a comprehensive agreement, the public could be forgiven for failing to appreciate that, theoretically, Iran is far more likely to “sneak out”-using a clandestine enrichment facility-than to “break out” under the eyes of IAEA inspectors, using the centrifuges it wants to retain.

I inserted “theoretically” to emphasize that at this point there is no evidence that Iran intends either to break out or to sneak out. And as long as the IAEA retains access to Iran’s rotor manufacturing, assembly, and storage facilities-which it will lose if the opponents of a deal have their way-we can all feel confident of a continuing absence of intention.

In essence, the latest IAEA report contains nothing that would justify the United States and its allies declining to close a deal with Iran in the course of the coming four weeks. I, for one, am rooting for their success.

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About the Author: Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, ADRgAmbassadors, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.

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