IAEA DDG for Safegards Olli Heinonen is in Iran to draw up what the Iranian press is calling a “modality plan.” Just what our field needs, more f’ing jargon. The editors of the OED can barely contain their contempt in the entry on “modality”, burying this peculiar usage as the last (and least) of eight meanings:
8. Esp. in politics, diplomacy, etc.: a procedure or method; a means for the attainment of a desired end.
1957 G. F. KENNAN in Listener 28 Nov. 868/1 The modalities of German unification must flow from the will of the German people, expressed in free elections. 1960 Guardian 23 Aug. 7/6 He did hear nine members of the Council praise his statesmanship and the procedures (‘modalities’ is the new and foolish word) he had adopted. 1970 New Yorker 17 Oct. 162/2 The new word that is constantly being heard here is ‘modalities’. Everyone involved in the peace talks agrees that the military modalities of a cease-fire are more easily negotiated than the political modalities. 1988 Daily News (Tanzania) 19 Dec. 4/7 We have the basis for success—political will and technical expertise to work out the modalities, a PTA expert said.
Reuters is calling it an action plan, which seems rather less irritating to me and allows me to make juvenile cracks about “hot Olli-on-Ali action” and whatnot.
Anyway, so the Action Plan is basically a 60-day schedule to resolve outstanding questions about Iran’s nuclear program, including (quoting from the most recent IAEA report):
- the uranium contamination at the Physics Research Centre (GOV/2007/8, paras 16–17);
- Iran’s acquisition of P-1 and P-2 centrifuge technology (GOV/2007/8, para. 18); and
- the documentation concerning uranium metal and its casting into hemispheres (GOV/2007/8, para. 19).
The idea, according to Iran’s Undersecretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for International Affairs Javad Vaeedi, is “resolve the issue in Vienna instead of New York”—a reference to resolving outstanding issues with the IAEA rather enduring more UN Security Council sanctions.
As usual, the best details are in the Iranian press, including a member list of the IAEA team said to include: Heinonen; Herman Nackaerts, Director for Safeguards Operations B; Johan Rautenbach, Legal Advisor; and Vilmos Cserveny, Director, Office of External Relations and Policy Coordination1. The team has a fifth member that Fars called the “IAEA regional director”—who I think is the Director, Division for Asia and Pacific, Manase Peter Salema. But I am just guessing.
Can This Work?
The action plan might delay new sanctions for 60 days or so, but I am getting increasingly skeptical of the chance for a deal.
Of course, the Iranians won’t say this is stalling: “We are not to buy time or kill it because we have already acquired the relative scientific knowledge in the nuclear activities,” Vaeedi told IRNA. On the other hand, the marked slowdown in centrifuge installation is interestingly timed.
At the heart of my skepticism, however, is this: Were Iran to provide a full explanation of the history of the P2 program, the cause of the contamination and the acquisition of the uranium casting document, then Iran may have to admit that at least some part of the Iranian government was interested in a bomb.
That’s not a shock, but the revelation would be pretty ugly.
Now “interested in a bomb” is a deliberately vague phrase.Was some aspect of the IGRC doing studies? Where AEOI personnel testing this or that rationale? Even a decision not to decide could look very suspicious, depending on how the relevant military and scientific bureaucracies implemented the policies and whether or not they adhered to their treaty obligations. When Sweden adopted the so-called handlingsfrihet line of deciding not to decide, Stockholm according to Paul Cole “maintained a research program that in many ways was indistinguishable from an effort to produce nuclear weapons2.”
My guess is that Tehran must worry that a full explanation won’t exactly satisfy the Islamic Republic’s critics. Assuming that the senior leadership isn’t dead set on a bomb, the trick is going to be getting the answers we need to impose a verifiable solution without the Iranians admitting anything that makes compromise infeasible.
1 IRNA is mis-transliterating Nackaerts as “Nackartes” and Cserveny as “Cxerveny.” You may remember Vilmos Cserveny as the guy who signed to letter calling “outrageous and dishonest” a passage in the House Select Committee on Intelligence report Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States (aka Fleitz of Fancy) alleging an “unstated” IAEA policy to keep inspectors from telling the truth about Iran’s programs.
2 Paul M. Cole, Atomic Bombast: Nuclear Weapon Decisionmaking in Sweden, 1945-1972, Stimson Center Occasional Paper 26 (April 1996): 21-22.