Mark HibbsA Bridge Too Far? Syria & GOV/40

I left the M Building at the Vienna International Centre at the end of the day on Thursday just after 6 p.m., as the cleaning brigade arrived to pick up the debris of official statements and coffee cups scattered about the place about an hour after the IAEA’s June Board of Governors meeting wrapped up. The arrival of the Putzkolonne upon my departure for the U1 metro and my hotel was appropriate because by the end of the meeting on Thursday things on the ground were certainly a lot messier than they seemed when the board began meeting on Monday.

The board meeting opened that day with a few fairly ho-hum items–the IAEA’s annual report on the technical cooperation programme, and some doings concerning preparation for a pending ministerial meeting on Fukushima (which doesn’t look likely to be very ministerial)–and the board members on Wednesday walzed into serious verification matters beginning with Iran. We got into Syria late on Thursday morning and what transpired was duly recorded by my friends at Reuters.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

When I arrived in Vienna at the beginning of the week I saw a draft resolution–GOV/2011/40–which had been sponsored by 13 countries–a bunch of Euros plus Australia, Canada, South Korea, and the U.S.–which on the face of it looked pretty straightforward.

On Tuesday evening our time in Vienna, Jeffrey posted the resolution here.

The bottom line is right there in operative paragraph 1.: Syria’s construction of a covert nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour and its clear breach of its Code 3.1 obligation in not submitting the design information to the IAEA in advance of that fact “constitute non-compliance with its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement with the Agency in the context of  Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute”

Open and shut case–right?

It might have been had the road been exceedingly carefully prepared and had things gone well. That wasn’t out of the question because we began the week with a very hard fact that should have supported passage of the resolution by a wide margin: an IAEA investigation that arrived at no resolution for nearly four years because Syria didn’t cooperate. Basta. Sounds like shooting fish in a barrel. Well, it wasn’t.

The U.S. gave the IAEA a bunch of intelligence information which backed its claim that the site was a construction site of a plutonium production reaction that was virtually finished when Israel bombed it in August 2007. The data, we hear, looks pretty good. There are some procedural quibbles regarding some of the environmental sample data. But concerning the task of establishing something like a one-to-one spatial correlation between what was at Dair Alzour and what we know a North Korean plutonium production reactor looks like, the IAEA may have been onto something that looks like a smoking gun at least. Over the last couple of years, before the IAEA reported its findings last month, it had a satchel full of extremely close-resolution photographs of the site taken over time.

DG Yukiya Amano agrees that the data looks solid but he has got to be more than a little careful. We’ve been there before: In 2002, his predecessor Mohamed Elbaradei had reaffirmed the IAEA’s conclusion that, Iraq, in the crosshairs then, had given up on trying to acquire nuclear weapons. President Bush and General Powell claimed they had intelligence to the contrary and went to war with Iraq. They were wrong. Before that, more generally, back in the 1990s and after the first Gulf War, the safeguards buzz in Vienna was all about empowering the IAEA to use intelligence data to look for non-declared, hidden activities. A bunch of member states–including a few important US allies–then kicked up a ruckus about how the IAEA could become hooked on data provided by big powerful countries like the United States with so-called “national technical means” to collect intelligence. So there’s a little sensitivity in the VIC about intelligence information. As there should be.

So what does Amano do after he succeeds ElBaradei in late 2009 ? Two things at once. The first is, he gives Syria about a year to decide to clear the air over Dair Alzour. That’s a lot of time in this business. But he’s willing to give it to them because he narrowly escaped a defeat in the election to the Director-Generalship at the hands of G-77 states. At least a few of these were spoiling for a fight after South African Ambassador Abdul Minty lost the election at the hands of the same states who now want to turn up the heat on Damascus.

While Amano is giving Syria time, he’s also collecting and sifting through the U.S. intelligence data which is beginning to accumulate. But he’s also hunting for, and getting, data from other sources to validate findings of the super-secret stuff. For instance, the Department of Safeguards found some pretty interesting and unclassified French satellite radar information.  At the end of last month, Amano tells the board the IAEA thinks that building at Dair Alzour was a reactor. The U.S. and the others then put forth a draft resolution making note of that fact, calling Syria out of compliance, and bringing the matter to the attention of the UN Security Council, which is what the IAEA Statute says is supposed to happen in such a case.

So on Monday, we see a resolution with 13 sponsors. For it to pass, according to the IAEA Statute, it needed a simple majority. I was told on Monday that, by all accounts, the simple majority was there. When it came to a vote on Thursday afternoon around 4 p.m., that turned out to be the case. The sponsors had their majority. As U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies explained to the Vienna press corps after the vote, in fact the resolution’s sponsors did better than that, because “we got a result of nearly three-to-one in favor.” In fact they recorded 17 votes in favor against just six opposed. That meant that, beyond the 13 sponsors, they picked up a few more supporters. Singapore, in nuclear matters a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with a difference; Cameroon–for reasons that escape me; the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is working hand in glove with key resolution drafting states to set up its nuclear power program; and, finally, Japan, which didn’t get on to the resolution bandwagon until late because it is understandibly beset with other more immediate nuclear problems these days. The nay-sayers were Azerbaijan, China, Ecuador, Pakistan, Russia, and Venezuela.

That’s where things get a little complicated. There are a bunch of wrinkles. What are they? For now I’ll just list ’em, because I’m about to walk out the door and down the street and get on a bus at Schwedenplatz to take me to the Vienna airport.

  • To begin with, there are 35 countries on the board. The resolution referring Syria to the UNSC passed with fewer than half the members supporting it.
  • The resolution passed with just three of the P-5 countries on the board signing on. Russia and China opposed it. That wasn’t a surprise, especially after NATO took a strong interest in the future of Muammar Qaddafi.
  • Then there are all those abstentions–11 of them: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Jordan, Kenya, Niger, Peru, South Africa, Tunesia, and Ukraine. Mongolia was absent.
  • The resolution reported Syria to the UNSC without the benefit of a firm judgment from the IAEA Department of Safeguards and the DG that that thing at Dair Alzour was a reactor. Amano told the board it was “very likely” a reactor, but to some people in NAM delegations, that ain’t the same as saying you know its a reactor.
  • Amano appears to have discounted for good the idea of calling a special inspection in Syria to get access to Dair Alzour and other sites. I asked a  number of people in the board meeting this week whether a non-compliance citation would have had more credibility if Amano had beforehand requested a special inspection which was rejected by Syria. Some of the answers to this question, and especially after reading Ambassador Davies’ lips late on Friday afternoon, seem to have been “yes.”
  • The preambular language in GOV/40 also presented a problem. It’s reference to “concerns regarding the maintenance of international peace and security” is clearly aimed at the UNSC with a wink at Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, authorizing the UNSC to use non-military and military means to “restore international peace and security”  Until now, a lot of IAEA member states have doubted whether the nuclear situation in Syria represents such a threat, since the installation in question at Dair Alzour has been destroyed.
  • And that issue raised among a number of board members the concern that the Syria resolution–on the eve of a UNSC resolution brought forth by France and the U.K. concerning Syria’s action in brutally suppressing domestic dissent–was “meant to further the goal of regime change,” as one NAM country ambassador told me in the middle of the board discussion on Thursday.


It certainly wasn’t the case that, inside the closeted board meeting, Syria made an intellectually brilliant,  stunning case for its shopworn claim that the facility Israel destroyed wasn’t a reactor. The Syrian ambassador in fact came close to putting a few delegates to sleep with a dirge that lasted about 50 minutes and that basically informed the board that “we don’t see the reason why we should have had to cooperate with you for the last three years and so therefore there is no reason for tabling this resolution.”

The NAM group likewise missed a golden opportunity to raise the above objections in my bullet points. Instead, it disingenuously ignored the fact that there is a serious non-compliance issue here, and instead droned on and on in the room about its outrage in the aftermath of Israel’s air raid which in 2007 destroyed the building. And instead of getting after the indeed weighty and real issues raised by the veiled reference in the resolution to Chapter VII and the issues of consensus-formation, the Egyptian Ambassador waxed on in the boardroom about his objections about what the IAEA told or didn’t tell Syria about its findings, about Syria’s airy offer in late May to “fully cooperate” with the IAEA, and expressing solace in the–largely irrelevant–conclusion by the IAEA that particles of anthropogenic uranium found at the MNSR facility under safeguards would be further considered as a routine safeguards issue.

A few of the states making interventions and statements to the board on Thursday–South Africa, for instance–did their homework, and they got it. You don’t have to agree with their conclusions, but they raised some sticky problems on Thursday after lunch.

All in all, this resolution had its virtues. I may try to explain them on the Carnegie site over the next few days. The resolution also has its problems. Because of these, there are some people who were in the boardroom in Vienna–by no means all of them among the abstainers and that Mongolia delegation that didn’t show up to vote–who will breathe a sigh of relief that this resolution won’t fly in New York because the Russians and the Chinese will assure that outcome.

Lastly, questions will be asked about what the resolution’s’ sponsors’ expectations were this week. GOV/40 was left open for amendments until the vote was taken on Thursday afternoon. I had figured that implied that the sponsors would along the road this week decide whether it would be better off in the final analysis to put to a vote a weaker resolution, warning Syria to get on the stick in a hurry or face the collective wrath of the board in September. That might have gotten a bigger majority. Astoundingly, however, on Thursday afternoon the text of GOV/40 was more or less the same text we saw at the top of the week. The U.S. group really wanted a non-compliance resolution from the outset, was the word from people in the boardroom. Washington was prepared to lower the pressure just a notch–by considering a text that might cite Syria for non-compliance without an immediate referral to New York–so went the explanation in some quarters–but the U.S. and others gave up on that option when it turned out after canvassing delegations that just one more country was prepared to switch its abstention into a yes vote.


  1. Andrew (History)

    When is an international coalition going to lead a raid on nuclear armed country’s nuclear sites?

  2. FSB (History)

    Thank you — great summary.

    I would only say that one cannot easily dismiss NAM concerns. You say “The NAM group likewise missed a golden opportunity to raise the above objections in my bullet points. Instead, it disingenuously ignored the fact that there is a serious non-compliance issue here, and instead droned on and on in the room about its outrage in the aftermath of Israel’s air raid which in 2007 destroyed the building. ”

    There is most certainly an issue here, but arguing that a pre-emptive attack was improper should not be dismissed lightly. Such attacks are against the very spirit of the UN itself, and can accelerate nuclear weapons work, like they did in the case of Osirak.


    I agree with Fallows that Iran is likely to have concealed and dispersed its facilities, and that such countermeasures substantially complicate military plans. However, the success of the 1981 Israeli attack in delaying the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program has been greatly exaggerated. The French-supplied reactor at Osirak was not well designed for plutonium production, the pre-attack Iraqi route to building a nuclear weapon. Further, by 1981 the French had decided to supply the Iraqis with a special nuclear fuel that could be used to run the reactor but was not well suited for plutonium production.

    More important, a rigorous inspection regime was in place to ensure that plutonium could not be produced and secretly diverted to a weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency was in the process of installing an extensive inspection regime that would probably have included twenty-four-hour camera surveillance and frequent on-site visits from IAEA inspectors (the reactor was not yet operative at the time of the attack). The French themselves had technicians on hand who filed frequent reports. France opposed Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons, and would have suspended the supply of reactor fuel if evidence of plutonium production had been uncovered. The diversion of plutonium would have been difficult to conceal, given that it would have involved a number of non-routine activities, including possibly shutting down the reactor. Imad Khadduri, a former scientist in the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission under Saddam Hussein, bluntly declares in his recent memoir that the idea that plutonium could be produced under this inspection regime without tipping off IAEA inspectors or French technicians is “delusional.”

    Rather than delaying the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, the 1981 attack may actually have accelerated it. The attack appears to have heightened Saddam’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. After the attack Saddam started an underground nuclear-weapons program, unbeknownst to the international community and hence free from the fetters of IAEA inspection.

    Given that Osirak is supposed to be the prototypical success story of preventive attacks against a rogue state’s nuclear program, this episode should give considerable pause to advocates of future preventive strikes.

    Dan Reiter
    Atlanta, Ga.


    James Fallows neglects two points that considerably affect his thesis.

    First, the Osirak reactor that was bombed by Israel in June of 1981 was explicitly designed by the French engineer Yves Girard to be unsuitable for making bombs. That was obvious to me on my 1982 visit. Many physicists and nuclear engineers have agreed. Much evidence suggests that the bombing did not delay the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program but started it. For example, the principal Iraqi scientist, Jafar Dhia Jafar, was asked by Saddam Hussein to work on the bomb only in July of 1981.

    Second, Fallows fails to recognize that Iran is now in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, after having failed to provide details of the uranium-enrichment program when it should have. The protocol Iran has declined to sign is an additional protocol that is not a part of the treaty itself. More important, the principal proponent of the treaty, the United States, has been in violation of the treaty almost continuously since its inception. The United States is continuing to develop new types of nuclear weapons and failing to disarm to the extent most scientists believe is desirable. The United States has refused to sign the test-ban treaty. The United States is also violating Title VI by failing to help non-weapons states use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production.

    James Fallows and the U.S. State Department may not understand these matters, but any non-nuclear state that feels threatened by a neighbor or by the United States certainly does. Rhetoric about failing to follow the NPT is rightly perceived as insulting. If we wish to dissuade Iran from making nuclear weapons, then we must somehow find a peaceful way to persuade the Iranians that not making such weapons is in their interest and not merely in ours. We must recognize their sovereign rights and their legitimate pride. The threat of bombing is not enough, and is probably counterproductive.

    Richard Wilson
    Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics
    Harvard University
    Cambridge, Mass.

    Syria was wrong in hiding things it should have disclosed and Israel was wrong (twice now) in bombing facilities — and may have made things worse for itself not better. If the UN wants to at least appear impartial then it ought to pursue both those countries.

    Then the IAEA can look into Brazil’s possible nuclear weapons program:


    The IAEA does not have to be impartial, but it ought to at least try if it wants to remain relevant.

    Membership is voluntary after all, and the cost-benefit calculus has been off for decades.

    • mark (History)

      FSB: I can only add regarding what I call the disingenuousness of the NAM statement on the point I refer to–namely, the issue of nearly four years of non-cooperation by Syria–by relating that you would have had to have been there on Thursday. The intervention by the NAM read to the board by Egypt was, to put it mildly, not very well thought out. There were things that could have been said to sorely challenge the supporters of the resolution but instead what NAM said was the usual talking points. Even a few NAM ambassadors at the meeting told me that they agreed with me that the statement, prepared by the NAM Vienna Chapter, was not very effective. Among other things, that’s a sign that the board is–still? increasingly?–in a rut on these North-South nuclear issues. One NAM ambassador told me a while back that in his view the future will be a future where NAM Chapter view are taken less seriously by IAEA member states and board members. Maybe. But his capital ordered him to abstain on Thursday. One lesson of the vote on GOV/40 may be that the board has a long way to go in squaring this circle.

    • FSB (History)

      thank you. Yes, I can imagine that the NAM folks indulged more in rhetoric than substantial points relevant to the IAEA.

      But the fundamental meta-level (i.e. not IAEA-level but UN-level) concern remains: if you want to pursue Syria via the IAEA, then at least also challenge the legality or propriety of the Israeli raid via the UN.

      I can see why there is outrage about this perceived double-standard in the NAM.

      Further, the other side of the NPT bargain (Title IV) has been ignored or selectively suspended which encourages certain states to hide activities when they shouldn’t feel the need to.

      And the US needs to stop making exceptions in matters nuclear to states that we think are friendly at the moment: e.g.

      If there is no longer any benefits to states for signing up to the NPT, they will eventually leave.

    • FSB (History)

      I, of course, meant Article IV, not Title IV above.


      Article IV: 1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.

      2. All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

      ***** Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world. ******

  3. Mark Lincoln (History)

    While we do know what a North Korean Plutonium production reactor looks like, and the box at the site in Syria is similarly sized, that does not consider the question of where is what we know a NK Plutonium production plant is.

    We know the Bush administration was fully capable of manufacturing ‘evidence.’ One need only compare the slick presentation the CIA provided on Iraq’s Mobile Biological Warfare Laboratories and the one it provided showing how an entire plutonium processing plant might be contained within a reactor sized building to raise doubts about the information provided by the US as being ‘very good.’

    While I fully support any and all efforts to gain full compliance from Syria, I have doubts about the nature of the charges made concerning the facility at Dair Alzour.

  4. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    Mark, thanks for this behind-the-scenes look at the politics of the meeting.

    I’ve been skeptical of the publicly available evidence proffered by the CIA back in April 2008, as participants in this blog are well aware. And this meeting doesn’t seem to have offered anything more, although perhaps more was made available to the participants without being made public.

    Then there’s the IAEA’s claim of “anthropogenic uranium,” which may refer to isotopic composition or something else, which they’re also not saying.

    Syria’s refusal to allow an inspection raises suspicions, of course, but after being bombed by a neighbor, they could have some sensitivities about the site above and beyond whatever it was used for.

    So I would argue that there is no persuasive public case that there was a reactor at Dair Alzour. This leads to the question of why so much secrecy, which leads to the question of how the decision to bomb the site was arrived at.

    I realize that the reason that will be given for the secrecy is the ever-popular sources and methods, but that has been overused in the past and may be being overused here. We don’t know with so much information withheld.

    I guess my point is that I’m still wondering, and, as has been noted above, there might have been more consideration of the probably illegal bombing of the site.

    • mark (History)

      Cheryl, in fact one of the objections that was made to me by a couple of the NAM states on Wednesday and Thursday was that, if you’re gonna cite someone to the Security Council under Chapter VII, you better do it on the basis of an open and transparent process where everybody knows what the evidence is. In that regard, the resolution brought forth by UK/F against Syria in the UNSC they said would meet that standard since the human rights allegations are out there for the world to see. But the nuclear allegations all have to do with cloak-and-dagger evidence that is only discussed in a technical briefing to IAEA member states which is closed to the outside world, and then, again, inside the board of governors meetings which are, again, closed to the outside world. The argument is that “maintenance of international peace and security” is a subject that shouldn’t be left to spin doctors in a couple of MFAs who rely on findings which are not revealed openly by their protagonists.

      And, to anticipate this objection: No, leaking the aerial photos and data to a self-appointed “senior scientist,” think tank, newspaper, NGO, whatever does not constitute transparency on the part of the government or governments making allegations like this.

  5. Alan (History)

    Does all seem a bit odd.

    Perhaps the US thinking is that the watered down resolution can come from the UNSC rather than the BOG? In other words escalate it to the UNSC, thereby taking the issue out of IAEA hands, and try to get incremental UNSC pressure on Syria that gradually isolates them as they have done with Iran?

    There doesn’t appear to be any further meaningful source of pressure available from the IAEA, particularly given the general reticence over special inspections.

  6. masoud (History)


    17 for + 5 against + 11 abstaining + 1 absent=34= one less than 35, the stated size of the board.

    What gives?

    If Mongolia had showed up to abstain, would the resolution still have been adopted?

    If 12 of the dissenting/abstaining votes took a collective bathroom break instead of showing up to vote would that resolution not have been adopted due to lack of quorum?(i think the statute states there is a 2/3rds threshold for this)

    • mark (History)

      Masoud, sorry, the number given in the text should be six not five–I’ve fixed that–but the list of the six which voted against the resolution was correct.

      A quorum under Rule 22 of Rules and Procedures for the Board of Governors is 2/3 of the members so they would have to have 24 members voting for the vote to take place or count. Simple majority sufficed under Rule 37 and, as was called for under Rule 40, there was in this case a roll-call vote including explanations of voting by member states.

  7. Andy (History)


    Did any discussion of a special inspection come up? Do you have any insight on how the various parties and factions view this tool, especially with regard to Syria?

    Also, I agree with your response to Cheryl regarding evidentiary standards (and I say that as one who thinks, based on the public evidence, that it was a reactor). That’s why a special inspection seems so obvious (to me, at least) as a logical next step before any referral to the UNSC.

    • FSB (History)

      The NAM “faction”, which represents 118 countries — the real international community — thinks the IAEA itself is politicized and therefore is unlikely to support special inspections.

      But I would be pleased to hear Mark’s view.

      Mine is based on the following:

      “In a strongly-worded statement, representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have supported Iran’s position on the contentious issue of IAEA inspectors and have also expressed concern that the most recent IAEA report on Iran has “departed from standard verification language”.

      “NAM notes with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the director general [Yukio Amano],” the statement said. The statement was read during the IAEA board of governors meeting on behalf of over 100 NAM member states.”

      Of course, the IAEA brought this state of affairs on itself by its lack of balance in pursuing some nations and letting others off the hook.

      This, in turn, is due to the highly politicized way that the taskmasters and paymasters (US and the West) choose who is DG:

      Do many nations feel it is fine to thumb their nose at a clearly politicized body? Sure.

      Just see what happened with Iran:

      “Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who is now a candidate for the Presidency of Egypt, spent twelve years as the director-general of the I.A.E.A., retiring two years ago. In his recent interview, he said, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” ”


      “Is Iran violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

      The answer isn’t black and white. It depends on whom you ask – and how deftly you define “violation.” But in essence, Iran is following the letter but not always the spirit of the NPT. ”

      So I would not hold out much hope for the pursuit of special inspections before the IAEA itself is de-politicized.

      I sincerely wish you luck with that. A hint: Probably you should start in DC, rather than in Tehran or Damascus.

    • mark (History)

      Andy, the only reference to special inspections during the week was by Amb. Glyn Davies in response to a question posed (on my behalf, more or less) by a journalist during a Q&A after the Syria issue was voted on. Question was of course, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Amano to have requested a special inspection, and, if Syria refused to honor the request, then make a judgment to the BOG on the basis of the evidence at hand? That seemed logical since the grounds for the IAEA then to make a judgment about the evidence would be that Syria had refused to let the IAEA to go to Dair Alzour and the other three sites and see for itself. Davies said it was a “good question” and didn’t directly answer it (had he said “yes” that would have been seen as indirect criticism of Amano since the US has urged Amano to request such an inspection and, until now, Amano has not done that).

    • Alan (History)

      That’s interesting Mark. So the US appears to take the view that if Amano won’t give them a Special Inspection, they’ll seek something similar via the UNSC. Because that’s all they need in terms of a UNSCR to begin with, which is quite tame vis-a-vis the Chinese and Russians. Isn’t that a way for all involved to avoid the risk inherent in an IAEA special inspection request?

  8. Nick (History)

    Since the Board cannot make a decision in rejecting NPT members or in this case non-members (i.e., Israel) when they take the unauthorized initiative to bomb suspected nuclear sites, it really puts into question the effectiveness of NPT for protecting the rights of member countries.

    If the argument was used that the Agency would have leaked the site before the bombing took place, then DG and supporters of this new resolution have to focus on how to fix this probem than rush to force another UNSC resolution, without Article 39 merits.

    Continution of this negligence on the part of IAEA would have dire consequences, if Israel decides to bomb Iranian sites. Contrary to the Syrian and Iraqi incidents, it will be a surprise if Iran stays in NPT after destruction of its facilities, because it is much more advanced in the development of nuclear technology domestically.

  9. Heisbourg (History)

    several remarks on the bombing of Osirak:

    – the operationally successful Israeli bombing of Osirak (June 1981) was unanimously condemned by the Security Council (even by the US), although it was a limp-wristed condemnation. Conversely, the unsuccessful Iranian bombing of Osirak during the previous autumn drew hardly any attention, let alone any formal condemanation. I assume that there is some sort of moral involved here, but I’m not sure what it is…

    – the Iraqis had NOT accepted the belated French offer to replace the HEU fuel with a lower-enrichment composite load (nicknamed ‘caramel’). As the French offer suggests, there was a real worry that the Iraqis would hijack the HEU (which represented several SQs)…This hijacking fortunately didn’t happen (it would be interesting to know whether the option figures in the archives recovered after saddam’s overthrow), and the IAEA managed to keep tabs on the stuff during the three Gulf wars of the last thirty years; I’m not sure under whose custody it currently is (Russia?).

    -I don’t know in what proportions the Israeli strike hindered (initially at least)or speeded up (certainly in the subsequent years)Saddam’s quest for the bomb. What I do know, given my position as diplomatic adviser to the French minister of defence in President Mitterrand’s administration from May 1981 to March 1984,is the following:
    Mitterrand, as candidate to the presidency, was firmly set against the Osirak deal; if the reactor had not been destroyed, it his highly unlikely that his administration would have pursued President Giscard d’Estaing’s policy of supporting Iraq in its war against Iran. We were seriously worried about Osirak’s proliferation potential. When we learned of the successful outcome of the raid, we heaved a collective sigh of relief. Conversely, the raid created the conditions whereby, from October 1981 onwards, major conventional arms sales to Iraq could be resumed, with a significant contribution to the successful defence of Iraq against the Iranian counter-offensives of 1982 onwards. I’m not sure this consequence figured in Israeli pre-strike calculations.

    • FSB (History)

      Great. This is why the NPT “bargain” is seen as worthless for developing nations.

      This is why they will leave the NPT.

      Did you guys look into the Brazilian nuclear program, or is it OK for Catholic brown people to have nuclear weapons but not OK for muslim brown people to master the nuclear fuel cycle?

      Maybe the various brown people will heave a sigh of relief when the white people get rid of their actual existing nukes.

    • mark (History)

      Dear Francois,

      I’ve finally graduated, but I quizzed you 7 years ago on the phone as a journalist because your name was named in USG circles then as someone who was suspected as having floated the balloon circling around that France should (as you say here was definitely on French minds vis-a-vis Iraq) sell conventional weapons to Iran, and the only way to do that was cut a generous EU-3 deal with Teheran on the nuclear program…[you denied it]

      We’ve come a long way from that then but I would love to hear from you on how we go further on Syria–the point of this blog post!

      Your government has been facilitating Amano in some key areas on Syria…


  10. Heisbourg (History)

    concerning Mark’s query on Iran: a trial balloon was attempted in early 2005 by Iran’s then-nuclear negotiator, Musavian, who spelt it out to me in Tehran at the time. Although I won’t write up the full episode here and now (it’s an interesting but rather long story),I can state that what Musavian presented as an interim package did NOT involve conventional arms (I confirm hereby what I told you in generic terms at the time).
    On Syria, the broad picture of the last three months is one of incredibly courageous civil society resistance to the Assad brothers’violent repression; given that to my knowledge there does no longer exists an up-and-running nuclear program in Syria post-Deir-el-Zor, the Schwerpunkt of our efforts in the UNSC and elsewhere should be the alleviation of suffering and the encouragement of transition to representative government. For once, the context (the Uprising)is of the essence, rather than the merits of the nuclear case brought to the BOG.

    • mark (History)

      Francois, that’s very interesting indeed because after the vote on GOV/40 in Vienna, I had the strong impression that Amb. Davies and others in the resolution camp at least formally tried hard to convey the message that what was at stake in the IAEA boardroom was strictly a technical matter having to do with Syria’s non-compliance with its safeguards obligations (Infcirc-153, Code 3.1, no design information, etc…) and that this was not happening related to the parallel UK/F action at the UNSC regarding Syria’s human rights abuses. So to extrapolate from your remarks it would appear that–for a change–what’s happening at an IAEA board meeting is unabashedly and directly connected to global politics: in other words, GOV/40 really is–and should be–about the Arab Spring…

  11. Heisbourg (History)

    Whatever the merits of the West’s case vis à vis Syria’s nuclear activities (and these merits are great), our actions in the framework of the BOG should be such that they help, not hinder, our achievement of the broader political goal (aka the Arab Spring). In other words,in considering action in Vienna one should ask oneself questions such as: will this debate/text facilitate or not the adoption of a stronger policy consensus in the Security Council on issues such as a commission of inquiry on the events in Syria/ having the ICC look at the possible prosecution of perpetrators of violence in Syria/ targetted sanctions, and the like. I’m not close enough to the Vienna coalface to give an opinion as to whether we have such an integrated approach or whether our nuclear hand and our political hand are acting in complete incoherence.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      It’s reasonable to ask if the two tracks are coordinated, but it’s possible that coordinating them is impractical.

      Do we want to interfere with the IAEA process (either to slow down, or speed up, investigations and findings) because of either positive or negative developments in the geopolitical surroundings?

      Does that ultimately help or hinder the geopolitical validity of the IAEA and NPT enforcement process? Equally validly, does that ultimately help or hinder the geopolitical surroundings?

      Some degree of interconnectedness is impossible to avoid. But interfering a lot may ultimately be counterproductive.

  12. mark (History)

    And at the very center sits the IAEA Board of Governors, with a dysfunctional decision-making process, no agreed-upon compass on what exactly comprises non-compliance, joined by an IAEA secretariat which has on at least one fatal occasion during the last 10 years (I don’t mean Iran) made worrying findings about a member state’s nuclear activities, kept them under wraps, and played them down for political reasons.

    • FSB (History)

      Which country?

      What does the BoG think of Brazil’s possible military nuclear program? What do they think of their thin excuse of not allowing inspections due to commercial reasons?

      What does the BoG think of the Wikileaks’ disclosures saying that the DG’s objectivity is compromised?

  13. FSB (History)

    do you think there will be a special IAEA investigation into the Stuxnet worm or will such measures be ignored?

  14. mark (History)

    FSB: you are asking a lot of good questions the answers to I can only speculate about and therefore won’t. One question you asked I have the answer to: The country begins with E. It is a proud and stellar member of the NAM and is an Arab state. The last DG of the IAEA is a citizen of this country. There are people in the IAEA Secretariat who claim privately and very strongly that the former DG’s affiliation with his native land was not insignificant in how the IAEA behaved in its investgation into this country’s activities. I so far have no further conclusions to draw but I am keenly interested in this case. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t blame the BOG alone for politicization of the dialectic between the board and the Secretariat.

    • masoud (History)

      How was said nation’s cover up different from the others we saw during el-baradei’s tenure? Off hand i think we had fiasco’s and cover ups in Japan, South Korea, and Brazil, and I’m quite sure there are some I don’t remember. Am I remembering wrong?

  15. mark (History)

    Without citing Iran for non-compliance after 18 years of systematic misconduct, the BOG was not about to cite South Korea for it.

    Brazil? Japan?

    What is non-compliance?

  16. masoud (History)

    I could have been misremembering. Actually I think I almost definitely was in regards to japan Japan.
    I could have sworn that Brazil, like South Korea and Egypt, definitely came forward with a weaponisation program confession, and received absolution in the past couple of years. Didn’t it?

    But that aside, what is the difference between Egypt program and the South Korean program, that necessitates an explanation nativist exceptionalism to explain the quiet resolution in the first case, but only a fair and balanced approach in the second? My recollection of the South Korean is that it was quite seriously advanced.

  17. masoud (History)

    Mark, your comparisons of the Iranian and Korean programs is a to me a little vexing. I just scanned an old amrscontrowonk report about the Korean confession.

    Apparently that program involved kilograms of uranium as well as about a gram of plutonium processing, and went back 20 years. The Koreans claim they have subsequently lost these materials.

    Iran’s only unreported enrichment activities were on the milligram scale, and the investigation has been ‘ongoing’ for eight years. I’m quite sure the BOG issued a resolution finding Iran in non-compliance(defined as diversion of fissionable material), though not one for the Korean case. Nor has it followed up with Korea as rigorously, as far as I can tell.

    Do you really believe that the IAEA went soft on Korea because it was in fear of appearing to play favorites with Iran?

  18. FSB (History)

    The Brazilians have a potent breakout capability. And have kicked out IAEA inspectors on the thin excuse of proprietary commercial information re. their crap centrifuges.

    But they have an awesome Carnival and are Catholic so no need to worry about a Brazil Bomb.

    Very Even handed of the BoG/DG

    • MWG (History)

      I get a little tire of “double standard” claims that make false comparisons. Did Brazil not violate its safeguards agreement? I’m not aware of any serious claim that it did. They certainly have not “kicked out” IAEA inspectors. That’s a far cry from Iran, which pursued an undeclared enrichment program. It is not mere suspicion or allegiance that separates the two. Both countries freely accepted the same rules, and only one of them broke those rules.

    • masoud (History)


      ‘Secret/Undeclared Enrichment Program’ is an unadulterated lie.

      Iran declared it’s enrichment program very early on, both through official channels and in it’s mass media. In fact, this was how the US was able to block in-the-open-deals with China for the construction of mining, ore processing, and centrifuge facilities, after they had been inked and announced publicly.

      Iran then turned to channels where the US had less sway. There was absolutely nothing wrong with those acquisitions, as none of this is required to be declared by the CSA. The only requirement is that facilities need to be declared 180 days before fissionable material is introduced.

      Nor has Iran ever kicked out IAEA inspectors, another well worn lie.

      Is Brazil in violation of it’s safeguards agreement? Well for starters, to this day not a single IAEA inspector is allowed in the same room with Brazilian centrifuges for visual inspections, the collection of environmental samples or any other reason, nor are the blueprints of those machines available to said inspectors for scrutiny. If Iran ever tried that, the only debate would be if the UNSC should nuke of the entire country, or just the specific city this happened in.

      Weather you are tired of the double-standard claims or not, those claims are accurate.

  19. mark (History)

    Masoud, there can be no doubt that the IAEA Department of Safeguards considered Iran’s 18-year record of deception in not reporting activities to the IAEA as far more serious than South Korea’s failure to have reported the plutonium and laser activities at Kaeri among other reasons because these were activities that South Korea made known in the process of implementing the Additional Protocol. South Korea provided the IAEA access to the extent necessary for the Department of Safeguards to make the “broader conclusion” two years later that all nuclear activities in South Korea were for peaceful use.

    Keep in mind also that the quantities of SNM involved are not by any means necessarily the ultimate measure of whether the board would make a non-compliance finding. As I said, there is no definition of non-compliance, that’s part of the problem. See what my colleague, ex-Safeguards DDG Pierre Goldschmidt says about that here:

  20. masoud (History)


    Thanks for the Goldschmit link. I’ll take a good long look at it soon. My joe-six-pack reading of the NPT Model CSA suggested to me a very strict definition of non-compliance(to wit “diversion of fissionable material”), but I’ll post on that after I’ve read the piece.

    Is there a technical difference between “failure to have reported the plutonium and laser activities” and “record of deception in not reporting activities “? Or is the distinction purely political?

    There were similar time frames for ‘deception’/’non reporting’ involved, the only difference in my mind being that disposal of the milligram scale quantities of fissionable material would conceivably not require additional tracking of that material afterward because the provisions in the CSA state(I forget the correct wording) that small inconsequential amount of material do not have to be tracked forever, and after some point, the IAEA and the member country can just forget about them.

    I would expect that milligram quantities would not have to be tracked after the experiment is over, even if the experiment was reported in a timely manner. On the other hand, we are talking about kilograms of Uranium and about a gram of plutonium, which I would expect would have required tracking and reporting. Apparently ROK claims they just ‘lost’ the material. If I were going to apply the term ‘ongoing deception’ to one of these sets of experiments, I would apply it to the ROK, because the material that was required to be tracked simply disappeared and cannot be accounted for. Iran’s faults on the other hand, I think can be fairly characterized as ‘failure to reporting’ or even ‘delayed reporting’, if we wanted to be cute about it.

    You mention the AP, but Iran also revealed it’s activities in the midst of Implementing the AP as well, and indeed, even cooperating with the Agency beyond the AP to resolve the Agencies issues, so I don’t think that’s an explanation.

    Back to the big picture. You suggest that Egypt got off scott-free because it had a champion in Elbaradei, and that ROK and IRI are each by contrast receiving fair and equitable treatment from the Agency. I don’t think record supports that view. In my view ROK and Egypt got off because of the power the US wields in the BOG, and since

    a) The two aforementioned states are/were strong strategic allies of the US
    b) stringing out these investigations would have made Iran’s case look to be less exceptional and interfered with the US desire to persecute Iran through the IAEA(I think this is also why the US didn’t harp on Syria too much at the time as well).

    These are two very different views of how the Agency works. I don’t think the DG has much real power. In fact I’d go as far as saying that if the US had ordered Elbaradei to find Egypt in noncompliance, he would have done it. I think if Elbaradei really had the power to stop investigations of violations, he’d have put a stop to the ongoing Iran Nuclear Inquisition fiasco. He’s made his personal feelings clear enough in recent months for us to be reasonably sure of that.

    You’ve got a much better handle on how all this stuff works, and I’m happy to take your word over my own on most things. But this suggestion just seemed so incredible to me that I had to call you out on it.

    About the recent Brazil revelations, thing. I think I was probably wrong about that too. I knew there were three countries. It was Lybia, ROK and Egypt. I just had a brain fart I guess.

    • MWG (History)

      Look at the IAEA Safeguards Glossary ( Diversion is a form of and non-compliance, but the latter is much broader.

      “2.2. Non-compliance — violation by a State of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Examples would be:

      (a) Under an INFCIRC/153-type safeguards agreement, the diversion of nuclear material from declared nuclear activities, or the failure to declare nuclear material required to be placed under safeguards;
      (b) Under an INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreement, the diversion of the nuclear material or the misuse of the non-nuclear material, services, equipment, facilities or information specified and placed under safeguards;
      (c) Under an additional protocol based on [540], the failure to declare nuclear material, nuclear activities or nuclear related activities required to be declared under Article 2;
      (d) Under all types of agreement, violation of the agreed recording and reporting system, obstruction of the activities of IAEA inspectors, interference with the operation of safeguards equipment, or prevention of the IAEA from carrying out its verification activities.”

      “2.3. Diversion of nuclear material — a particular case of non-compliance (see No. 2.2) that would include:
      (a) Under an INFCIRC/153-type safeguards agreement, the undeclared removal of declared nuclear material from a safeguarded facility; or the use of a safeguarded facility for the introduction, production or processing of undeclared nuclear material, e.g. the undeclared production of high enriched uranium in an enrichment plant, or the undeclared production of plutonium in a reactor through irradiation and subsequent removal of undeclared uranium targets;
      (b) Under an INFCIRC/66-type safeguards agreement, the use of the nuclear material specified and placed under safeguards in such a way as to further any military purpose.”

    • masoud (History)

      Thanks MWG,

      I guess what I said before was with regards to only the INFCIRC type agreement, which is the bare minimum agreement any country can have with the IAEA. I know that the AP is not in force and Iran, and I don’t think the INFCIRC-Type 66 violation was relevant here, as the IAEA has very sparse cooperation with Iran, even on safety issues, and I think virtually all the equipment(excepting maybe basic safety equipment) Iran uses in its enrichment was not sourced from the IAEA. My impression is that the IAEA has absolutely no cooperation with Iran for the last half decade or so.

      Whether ROK could be argued to be guilty of a lack of reporting, deception, or non-compliance with regards to the latter to types of agreement, I have no idea.

      I can’t remember the BOG declaring explicitly what kind of ‘non-compliance'(eg. under what agreement) Iran was guilty of when it issued it’s resolution to that effect. I find that mildly curious.

    • masoud (History)


      Meant to say:

      I guess what I said before was with regards to only the INFCIRC/153 type agreement……

    • Alan (History)

      Masoud – GOV/2005/77 para 1 “finds that Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement, as detailed in GOV/2003/75, constitute non compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute”



      GOV/2003/75 also refers to non-compliances detailed in GOV/2003/40:

    • masoud (History)

      Dear Alan,

      Thanks for your help. Article XII.C of the statute doesn’t give a particular definition of non-compliance. It gives all the definitions(minus, possibly, the AP version of non-compliance) specified in the glossary cited by MWG. I suppose the glossary is nothing more than an easily digestible aid, and the only instrument in force on this matter is the Statute.

      Citing article XII.C, in the drafters mind, was simply dotting the i’s and crossig the t’s in enabling the Agency to halt cooperation and ‘convey’ the matter to the UNSC, which as we’ve been discussing was wildly inappropriate given the comparatively favorable treatment dished out US strategic allies like ROK(and Egypt, and Lybia).

      Also the 2005 resolution is actually the very first that mentions non-compliance.

  21. FSB (History)

    Brazil is not considered in violation of its safeguards ONLY because of the double (or quadruple) standards in use at the highly politicized IAEA.

    The IAEA inspectors left with their tails between their legs when the Brazilians kicked them out of their enrichment facilities, based on thin excuses of “proprietary” commercial BS in play. Let’s see what happens when Iran uses that thin lie.

    Do you really want me to re-post the links above that show this IAEA bias explicitly, or would you like to read them?

  22. mark (History)

    As I said in the post, I wanted to follow up at the Carnegie site on Syria/IAEA. I did just now:

    • masoud (History)

      I thought it was in many ways an informative piece that made a decent effort at maintaining balance until the very end. Even though balance wasn’t quite achieved the insights into the thinking of Western powers was quite useful

      This was one of my favorite passages:
      “But if noncompliance is too clearly defined, that might prevent the board from making a finding in an unusual or unexpected case. Strictly defining noncompliance might also result in proliferators identifying a roadmap permitting them to cheat. ”
      Meaning essentially, ‘If we agree on a set rules, that would constrain us in accusing you of breaking the rules’

      I also thought that the business about Amano refusing to ask for special inspections closely parallel Obama’s refusal to ask Congress for permission to bomb Libya. It’s a lot easier to apologize later if thing blow up in your face(as opposed to all over the Bad Guys’ country), than to ask permission. I’m sure the DG, and whoever supports him in this decision can cook up a slew of arguments along the lines of how disastrous it would be to set a precedent which the DG would have to abide by in the future. For Amano(and I suspect the US as well, despite whatever Mr. Davies says in public), this is as much about expanding the freedom of action of the DG’s office as it is about Syrian malfeasance.

      You did really lose me here however
      “Unlike the case made by the United States that the destroyed Dair Alzour facility represented a threat to world peace—this was viewed as problematic even by some resolution supporters—a strong case could be made that Iranian nuclear weapons research and development justifies Security Council action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.”

      About as strong as George Tenet’s Iraqi slam dunk.

    • Anon (History)

      thank you for your very balanced and useful piece.

  23. skagitmarv (History)


    Thank you for your article, and the very Interesting discussion which follows. The IAEA BOG is indeed politicized. To sum up the Syrian dilemma, an irrational political/military operation (the Israeli bombing of the Dair Alzour facility) led to years of irrational debate in the IAEA and UN. In effect, the collective NAM fury over the Israeli attack foreclosed the real possibility of a rational discussion by the IAEA BOG of Syria’s nuclear problem.

    I agree with FSB about the importance of the 1981 attack as an unfortunate precursor which may achieve, both politically and militarily, the opposite of its intentions. I am privy to all sorts of “war stories” about Iraq, but will limit myself to two comments about the use and misuse of Intelligence regarding Iraq. (By way of background, I served as Science Attache at the U.S. Mission in Vienna from 1990 thru 1997 and was, in effect, the intelligence liaison between the USG and the IAEA Secretariat.)

    First: The attack on Osirak led directly to, and vastly accelerated, the secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Furthermore, the intelligence information available confirms, as FSB indicates above, that the Osirak reactor was not suitable for weapons material production. Many sources confirm both of these conclusions, led primarily by the wealth of official Iraqi governmental documents made available after the 2003 war.

    Furthermore, as a former Iraqi senior nuclear official told me (who was working at Tuwaitha during the attack), after the attack Saddam Hussein convened a meeting with the clear intention of accelerating and proceeding immediately with Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The only uncertainly was whether to do it openly or secretly and it was soon decided to do it secretly since it was easy to cheat the IAEA inspectors under the old INFCIRC/153 inspections.

    Second: In contrast to George Tenet’s “slam dunk,” there was no intelligence information based on “facts on the ground” that indicated in any way that Saddam was renewing Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. After the 1990 Iraq war, the USG and other major intelligence providers (including Israel) worked closely with the IAEA in the effort to ensure that Iraq did not resume its nuclear weapons program. In effect, the inspection regime imposed of Iraq met or exceed the goals of the IAEA Additional Protocol adopted in 1997. I was directly involved in this effort in Vienna, and later in Washington I co-chaired an informal DOE/State committee charged with monitoring any developments related to Iraq’s possible nuclear weapons activities. For well over 12 years, all reasonable hints of possible weapons activities were relayed to the IAEA Action Team who conducted in-country inspections. Despite these strenuous efforts, there was no evidence developed of any illicit Iraqi nuclear weapons activities (although there was a lot of evidence found which described Iraq’s pre-1990 weapons program, which Iraq attempted to withhold from the IAEA).

    In view of the multitude of efforts and activities required to support any reasonable national nuclear weapons program, the fact that not one of these allegations of illicit nuclear weapons activities was ever proven constituted what I would call a “slam dunk” that the opposite was true. Of course, this was contrary to what political realities demanded which overwhelmed all rational analysis and severely tainted even high level intelligence analysis.

    My last visit to Vienna was in late December, 2002, just before the second Iraqi war began. I contacted the same Iraqi official, mentioned above, who related to me the following fascinating story. In the fall of 2002, the daughter of a senior Iraqi Nuclear scientist was being married in Jordan and a huge celebration was planned. Many of his former nuclear colleagues were invited, including my Iraqi contact, who was working at the IAEA. At the party, my Iraqi contact asked his former colleagues whether the Iraqi nuclear weapons program was being renewed. All of them said absolutely not, as Sadddam himself had prohibited any such activities. The reason being that Iraq had already lost one war to the U.S. and Saddam was fearful of giving the U.S. any excuse at all to attack again. I relayed this information to the resident intelligence person at the Mission and suggested that it should be reported to Washington. I assume this was never done, although it was far too late to stop the war planning.

  24. mark (History)

    Skagitmarv, what you impart is to my knowledge wholly consistent with narratives I’ve heard from others in Vienna since 2002. These facts are an important part of the picture which is often conveniently forgotten, particularly by some US officials who express extreme frustration in the lack of attention Washington’s allegations about Iraq and Syria get in the NAM states at the IAEA. The bottom line is that this sorry 2002-03 episode severely damaged U.S. credibility in the board’s pursuit of safeguards compliance and that includes now. In Vienna during this month’s BOG meeting, I was told by several NAM ambassadors present that their ultimate concern about the Syria process was that compliance issues were being instrumentalized by the U.S. and like-minded states to effect regime change. Glyn Davies and his group tried hard to keep the focus on Syria’s nuclear dossier. But that haze of suspicion surrounding any U.S. allegations concerning a state’s compliance with safeguards (and especially an Arab NAM state’s) won’t be easily lifted. Amano is highly aware of this “original sin” and he tried to sanitize it the last year or so by getting other information, and to the extent possible, open-source or quasi-open-source information (like that French satellite data), to verify U.S., and other member state, allegations.
    As Francois Heisbourg has said on this site, BOG members do in fact have a choice to make: use the opportunity provided by the BOG to support the Arab Spring in Syria, or instead resist that temptation and (in the interest of de-politicizing the board in the longer term) focusing on nuclear issues exclusively (raising the issue on the Syria resolution whether Chapter VII references in the resolution were counterproductive). If the IAEA and the board are careful and perspicatious, depending on their evidence they might make a case that would cite Iran for noncompliance a half-year from now. But if they go that route, the U.S. and the like-minded group have a lot of diplomatic heavy lifting to do.

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