James ActonIran, the IAEA and Intentions

Jeffrey (quite rightly) had words with me in Oslo about my recent lack of postings and so let me start this week with a public promise to improve my blogging statistics. Incidentally, speaking of Oslo, the Minister’s Summary (which I assume will be posted soon on the Norwegian disarmament website) backed (or at least backed considering) one of the ideas that interested Jeffrey, an Intergovernmental Panel on Nuclear Disarmament, analogous to the IPCC.

Anyway, back to Iran… I have a simple question: What does the IAEA mean when it “considers [a] question no longer outstanding” or “considers an issue resolved”? Does it mean (a) that it has a full understanding of what Iran has done, or (b) that it believes Iran’s explanations of why certain activities were carried out?

I have posted on the issue of intent before. My aim in this posting is not to argue what the IAEA ought to do, but simply to ask what the IAEA thinks its role is. You see, sometimes the IAEA gives the impression that its job is to assess Iran’s intentions as this famous quote by the Director General in 2003 illustrates:

To date, there is no evidence [sic] that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme. However, given Iran’s past pattern of concealment, it will take some time before the Agency is able to conclude that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Moreover, in its most recent report the IAEA clearly gives the impression that it is very interested in Iran’s intentions. Indeed, the entire section on “Procurement activities by the former Head of PHRC” is largely about Iranian motives in acquiring certain bits of kit. Similarly, the IAEA reports Iranian claims that its Po-210 experiments were fundamental research that could eventually be applied to radioisotope batteries. However, the conclusion about Po-210 does not mention Iranian intentions at all:

Based on an examination of all information provided by Iran, the Agency concluded that the explanations concerning the content and magnitude of the polonium-210 experiments were consistent with the Agency’s findings and with other information available to it [my italics]. The Agency considers this question no longer outstanding at this stage

This conclusion makes no judgement—positive or negative—about Iran’s motives. The IAEA very carefully refrains from coming to a conclusion about why Iran was attempting to isolate Po-210. Rather, it concludes that it has obtained a self-consistent picture of what Iran did.

Is it not potentially confusing for the IAEA to discuss Iranian intentions at length, but then omit them when it gives its reasons for relegating an item from the outstanding questions list? I think some greater clarity from the IAEA about what it considers its job to be would be helpful here.


  1. hass (History)

    I think you’re misconstruing ElBaradei’s “famous quote”. He didn’t suggest anything about “judging intentions” in that quote. Rather, he simply stated the applicable standard under the Additional Protocol (which at the time in 2003, Iran had agreed to voluntarily implement during the course of the Paris Agreement negotiations which later fell apart.)

    All he meant was that at the time, even though there was no evidence of a diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses (in other words Iran had mets is basic safeguards obligations) the IAEA could not conclude that Iran’s nuclear programme was “exclusively for peaceful purposes” because the IAEA had not yet finished the verification process under the Additional Protocol. This process usually takes a lot of time anyway (3 years in the case of Japan) but according to ElBaradei it would take a while in the case of Iran too due to previously undeclared activities.

    A country’s basic safeguard agreement allows the IAEA to verify that its declared nuclear activities have not been diverted to military use (something that the IAEA has repeatedy verified with respect to Iran.)

    Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA goes a step further and verifies that there are no undeclared activities either.

    This is the key: Only then can the IAEA certify that a country’s nuclear programme is “exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

    In other words, the IAEA doesn’t certify that ANY country’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful” unless the Additional Protocol verification has been completed. Not Iran, not Egypt, not Canada, not any country.

    Aside from that, the IAEA is not in the business of acertaining motives onr future intentions of any country. (The IAEA has said so repeatedly ie: “Definitely the Agency will continue to do as much as we can to make sure that we also contribute to the confidence-building process with regard to the past and present nuclear activities in Iran, but naturally, we can not provide assurance about future intentions.”)

  2. Yossi, Jerusalem

    * hass’ analysis of Iran’s nuclear program seems to me very impressive in the few threads I read. I wonder if it’s considered mainstream or heretical. What would you say?

    * And another probably silly question: What about the anti nuclear fatwa said to be issued by Khamenei, should it be taken seriously or not?

  3. Harry Lime (History)

    Future intentions no, but current ones – yes, that crystal ball is cloudy enough without wanting to get into the realms of chicken entrail reading required for the former.

    But James, to return to your “simple question”, are your alternatives exclusive?

    Is it not possible that “considers an issue resolved” does indeed mean that it believes Iran’s explanations of why certain activities were carried out?

    And that “considers a question no longer outstanding” does mean that it has an understanding, full or otherwise, of what Iran has done. How full that understanding is is demonstrated by the choice of “consistent with” or “not inconsitent with”.

    Is it also possible that deconstructing the text to this extent is unwarranted and risks ‘identifying’ a subtlety that was never intended or appreciated by the authors? Presumably these were legion, after all, what sort of a many-headed beast would come up with the phrase “no longer outstanding at this stage”!

  4. Andy (History)

    Last October in a Financial Times interview, the DG had a few things to say on intent:

    So, we were happy that Iran agreed to address all the outstanding issues and we developed this work plan. It was clearly benchmarked with timelines. From our side we made it very clear to them, privately and publicly, that by the end of the year we expect to see these issues resolved. We felt that this is a very good litmus test to gauge or to judge Iran´s intentions, whether they are serious about resolving the outstanding issues or whether they are just buying time.


    If I am saying Iran today is clean, in other words, the programme is under safeguards, would that be good enough for the international community to say, well, we now trust Iran, and therefore Iran can go ahead with its enrichment programme? That frankly is the key question that I think the international community is focussing on right now. It is the future of Iran´s intention, it´s how you assess the risk… it´s the risk assessment of Iran´s future intention.

    The argument is that if Iran were to have that technology it could then go into a break-out scenario, break-out scenario meaning leaving the system altogether, develop the highly enriched uranium, which they cannot have as long as they are under safeguards… Whether that distrust scenario will go away, after we come clean here with regard to the past and the present, is frankly the million dollar question. It´s a question which goes much beyond the verification which the Organisation can do. We are like a radar screen; I can tell you what´s happening today.


    From a proliferation perspective, what I see today is that Iran continues to build enrichment capacity, while we are not yet in a position to do robust verification because we are not able to implement the Additional Protocol. And that, to me, is the most serious concern I have because Iran could suspend its enrichment, but if I´m not having a robust verification, there is no guarantee for me that there is no undeclared activity somewhere.


    FT: I´ve just got one question on historic issues, some people do think that you might accept that Iran would make the argument that we will only provide you with information from 2003 when you first said there were safeguards violations. Do they have to go beyond that?

    ELBARADEI: They have to go to day one, we´ve made that clear. Absolutely, they have to go back to day one, to ´85, I think, or whatever. There is no question. I mean we have to start from the day of birth, if you like.

    Anyway, the entire thing is worth reading.

  5. Josh SN (History)

    I’ve never been puzzled by the language of the IAEA reports. If they have completed the study of an item which was a violation, they’d mention that near the beginning of the report. N’est-ce pas?

  6. hass (History)

    There’s nothing heretical about the applicable legal standards that I cited.

    As Michael Spies of the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy explained :

    Only for states that implement the Additional Protocol, the IAEA annually certifies the absence of undeclared nuclear materials or activities…As of the latest annual IAEA Safeguards Report, of the 61 states where both the NPT safeguards and the additional protocol are implemented, in only 21 of these states has the IAEA concluded the absence of undeclared nuclear activity. The IAEA has stated this process will take longer in Iran due to the history of concealed nuclear activities. Therefore, the [IAEA’s] statement “not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities,” which is presently true for Iran, is also true for 40 other states including Canada, the Czech Republic, and South Africa…

    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.

    Andy – what else has ElBaradei said about juding Iranian alleged intentions

    ElBaradei said he was worried about the growing rhetoric from the U.S., which he noted focused on Iran’s alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon rather than evidence the country was actively doing so. If there is actual evidence, ElBaradei said he would welcome seeing it.

    Legally, the question of whether Iran “can be trusted” regarding future conduct is irrelevant. There is no provision of law that allows some states to single out other states as being less-than-trustworthy. The whole point of IAEA inspections is to catch any cheating but the NPT explicitly recognizes the right of nations to nuclear technology. ANY country with a minimial nuclear infrastructure can theoretically “break out” and build a bomb at any time in the indefinite future, and Iran has offered to implement measures beyond the AP to minimize this chance (multinational enrichment, for example.) These sorts of open-ended speculation based on innuendo about secret future intentions can be applied to any country — just as the prediction that Iran could have nukes in 2-10 years can be applied to any other country with a basic nuclear program (it took Pakistan only 5 years to build a bomb — Iran’s been predicted to have nukes in “just 2 years” for the last 20 years) Short of giving up nuclear power, there is no absolute assurance that any state won’t break out one day. The long-term solution, therefore, is for the Nuclear Weapons States to actually meet their end of the NPT bargain rather than to try to selectively limit the distribution of nuclear technology to “favored” states. But of course, that won’t happen.

  7. Yossi, Jerusalem

    Hass, thanks a lot for the detailed answer!

    I guess there is a lot of politics behind all this, and it’s probably connected to oil prices and “national honor”.

  8. hass (History)

    No doubt politics is behind this all. The build-up on Iran goes back to a policy drawn up in 1992 to confront Iran. The nuclear issue is simply a good justification to carry out that policy, which is why options like multinational enrichment on Iranian soil are ignored and Iranian peace offers are spurned.

    But in any case here’s a matter I’d like to see discussed more: the recent “alleged studies” on weaponization raises an interesting question of how far does the power of IAEA inspectors reach? They can of course investigate nuclear sites as defined by the model safeguards agreement. But what about purely conventional weapons development sites, or even civilian technology sites, which MAY also be used for nuclear weapons (ie: can IAEA inspectors demand access to a research lab that designs rocket engines, even if this is not technically a “nuclear site,” on the theory that the rockets could possibly one day be used to launch nuclear missiles?)

    The IAEA alluded to this problem in its latest report where it specifically says that it has “no evidence of a diversion” of nuclear material to the “alleged studies” and has “no credible information in that regard” either. This means that the “alleged studies” are legally outside of the IAEA’s verification authority. The IAEA previously explained why:

    “absent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited.”
    (See para. 52 of the 2/2006 IAEA report on Iran.)

    This is largely true even if the Additional Protocol was in force.

    So, on what legal authorty can IAEA inspectors demand answers regarding the “alleged studies” from the documents obtained from the Laptop of Death, which do not even mention “nuclear” or “uranium” and do not actually involve any nuclear material?

  9. Andy (History)


    You’re right that the question of whether Iran “can be trusted” is irrelevant from a strictly legal perspective. However, intent would not be an issue if Iran had not violated its safeguards agreement in the first place, to say nothing of Iran’s unhelpful rhetoric, tactics and games since 2003. The legal question is not really about future intent, but Iran’s past activities and whether what the IAEA now knows about Iran’s program is a full accounting given the clandestine nature of some of those activities. The DG has taken the position that in the case of Iran’s safeguards violations simply returning to the status quo verification regime is not adequate unless the full scope of activity during Iran’s clandestine period is fully known. The DG has stated that the AP plus additional transparency measures are required.

    And that, it seems to me, is the crux of the problem because the NPT really says nothing about how violations should be handled with regard to the necessity of additional transparency and verification requirements to bring a nation up to standard. Iran argues that it has essentially no obligation beyond the standard protocol and its safeguards agreement and that activities that occurred during gaps in safeguards coverage are immaterial and do not need to be fully understood by the IAEA. The DG, IAEA board and UNSC take a decidedly different view and they are the legal arbiters of such disputes. So from a “legal” perspective Iran is on the wrong side of the “law.”

    From a practical perspective, however, Iran wins the day because it is not likely to be compelled by any legally-sanctioned actions the UNSC is likely to take against it. Like so many UNSC resolutions throughout history it will simply be ignored or weakly implemented.

    Now, from a “policy” perspective, not a legal one, the future of Iranian intentions DO matter a great deal and Iran’s reluctance to do what the IAEA wants does not speak well for Iran’s intent.

  10. Hass (History)

    Leaving aside the fact that the DG is not in the position to demand that a country sign a treaty like the AP, Iran has implemented the AP for two years, and has offered to ratify the AP if and when its rights are recognized. Egypt, on the other hand, which has also violated its safeguards, refuses to even sign the AP.

  11. Andy (History)

    No, the DG is not in a position to demand that Iran sign the AP. He IS in the position to say the AP is necessary given Iran’s past actions and he is in a position to refer Iran’s case to the IAEA board and further to the USNC, which he has done. As the DG said back in 2004:

    In this context, I should point out that developments both in the ROK and elsewhere are demonstrating the effectiveness of the tools of strengthened safeguards and the additional protocol. As a result, cases are surfacing, and will likely continue to surface, in which the Agency finds that States have not in the past fulfilled all of their reporting obligations. Most of these cases are failures that can normally be dealt with in the Agency´s annual Safeguards Implementation Report. Should there be cases, however, where our experts assess that proliferation concerns exist or concealment is involved, such cases will be brought to the attention of the Board.

    Note the “most cases.” Not all safeguard’s violations are equivalent and Egypt’s were minor compared to Iran’s. Furthermore, as others have mentioned to you before is this forum, a nation’s attitude and how forthcoming they are in cooperating matters. Iran’s attitude and tactics have not won it any friends (as the recent UNSC vote indicates) nor does it engender confidence with respect to its nuclear intentions, past or future.

    Your previous comment does expose weaknesses in the NPT regime and I think our thoughts on this topic are probably not far apart.

    The issue with Iran is a kind of catch-22. The IAEA says Iran needs to do certain things for it to assure Iran is in compliance with its CSA, but those additional measures are “voluntary” and so Iran cannot be forced into implementing them. All the AP does, as you know, is legally increase the ability for the IAEA to implement safeguards. So we are at an impasse. Iran will go no further than it’s standard CSA and the international community says that’s not good enough.

    Perhaps you can explain to me why Iran would NOT want to ratify and fully implement the AP and the transparency measures the IAEA has asked for. That is, ISTM, the quickest way for Iran to cut the legs out from the arguments of its enemies and prove that it’s program is wholly peaceful.

    As for an enrichment consortium on Iranian soil there is no way that will happen while Iran’s intentions are in doubt. Even then, consortiums have long favored placing the actual enrichment facilities in a NWS, for reasons that should be obvious.

  12. James (History)

    Andy wrote: “Perhaps you can explain to me why Iran would NOT want to ratify and fully implement the AP and the transparency measures the IAEA has asked for. That is, ISTM, the quickest way for Iran to cut the legs out from the arguments of its enemies and prove that it’s program is wholly peaceful.”

    Perhaps because they need a carrot of their own? All Iran asks in exchange for ratifying the Additional Protocol is that their rights under the NPT be guaranteed. So…what’s the holdup?

    The quickest way for the US and its allies to cut the legs out from under the arguments of Third World skeptics is to reassure Iran that they do, indeed, have the right to enrich. Iran will then ratify the AP and we’ll all live happily ever after.

    But that won’t happen. For all your suspicions about Iran, they are dead right about one thing: every twist and turn and revelation and maneuver on the part of Washington is intended to deny them enrichment and advance regime change, regardless of innocence or guilt on any particular point. Iran takes the cynical view that none of this really has anything to do with arms control and everything to do with their thirty-year-old confrontation with the US. I really don’t believe that the US government sees it any differently. I think the whole sordid mess is damaging to the dignity and intent of the NPT and the US, notwithstanding its success in keeping the pot boiling, has not served its own long-term interests by whipping the IAEA bureaucracy and abusing the process to score propaganda points.

  13. Andy (History)


    Certainly there is “history” (to put it mildly) between the US and Iran and the enmity there must be taken into account. However, that enmity cannot explain everything and I reject the ease with which all these problems are simply blamed on Washington – if that were indeed the case, then one would think three UNSC votes would have gone differently to say nothing of the IAEA board. What is remarkable, imo, is just how much Iran has managed to isolate itself on this issue through it’s own rhetoric and actions. Whatever one’s position on Washington’s policy might be (a policy I don’t agree with in many areas), it’s clear that most of the international community is much closer to Washington’s position than Iran’s.

    And even Bush’s position has softened for Sec. Rice said last year the US would be open to discussion on virtually any topic with Iran if it would only suspend its progress on enrichment. Perhaps an agreement on Iran’s rights and the AP could take place if that eventuality occurs, but that seems unlikely given Iran’s recalcitrance to the UNSC and IAEA board.

  14. hass (History)

    Andy – appealing to the “international community” as supporting a contention is not viable. Other countries have their own agendas which don’t necessarily mean that Iran is a wrong-doer of any sort.
    And, the same question you ask can be turned around – why would Rice impose such a deal-killing precondition on talking with Iran in the first place? You forget – Iran DID suspend enrichment for 2 years.

  15. Mark (History)

    Mr Grotto: The US “position softening” was in reaction to established facts on the ground by Iran, and Rice still included an insurmountable precondition (suspension) that was deliberately placed in the way of opening negotiations with Iran. As Hass points out, Iran had already suspend enrichment and had already enforce the additional protocol and got nothing. They again offered to suspend enrichment for another 8-week period too, but their offer was ignored as was their 2003 faxed negotiation offer.

    Obviously there is another agenda at work here. If Rice is serious, why not remove that precondition to negotiations, as so many have suggested?

  16. James (History)

    Andy: linking NPT-related complaints to other issues only supports the suspicion that IAEA enforcement actions are just another strongarm tactic the powerful states can use in their dealings with weaker ones. After all, Iran can hardly bring an IAEA investigation down on the US, because that body has no jurisdiction over the favored states.

    Indeed, the Administration’s policy of linking enrichment with the resolution of other issues fundamentally undermines the NPT by implying that it’s really America’s rewards program for those who accept hegemony.

    That’s not what it was for, obviously. Both sides have mixed in real complaints and false ones, some related to the NPT and some not, steeped in thirty years of propaganda and bad faith. The Iraq fiasco should have demonstrated the folly of politicized enforcement and intelligence analysis. The US simply has not learned its lesson and I am unconvinced the UNSC has, either. In the end, all facts aside, it makes better strategic sense to offend Iran than the US and as long as that calculation remains the primary mover of votes, these international institutions are fatally compromised.

  17. Hass (History)

    Cause of impasse:

    Iran was ready to stop some of its centrifuge machines…Insistence by the U.S. and key Security Council allies Britain and France that Tehran fully suspend enrichment doomed chances for agreement, the diplomat said. “It was clear that those on the Western side did not accept any centrifuges (running) at all,” the diplomat said. “As a result, the Iranians have gone completely hard-line.” – Diplomats: Iran considered slowing nuke program Associated Press May 30 2007

  18. Andy (History)


    Are you seriously suggesting that the opinion of the IAEA board and UNSC is immaterial? Your comments here seem to indicate that only Iran’s interpretation of its legal requirements is valid which inherently justifies Iran’s actions. I respectfully disagree if that is the case. Iran’s view of its responsibilities is decidedly in the minority. And yes, every nation has it’s own agenda and acts in its own interests – why would anyone suggest differently? The point is that by a large margin those nations find Iran’s actions on this topic contrary to their own interest, the collective interest and are not in keeping with Iran’s legal requirements under the NPT.

    There are many reasons why Iranian suspension is a good idea in my view, but I do think any such move by Iran should be met by an equal measure quid pro quo in return. I might agree Washington’s position is too uncompromising, but I think the same is true with Iran.


    I’m not Mr. Grotto, but an altogether different Andy. As to your point, yes, the US positioned may have softened in response to events on the ground – so what? If the 2003 offer is to be believed, then Iran’s position softened as well – then hardened back up when Iraq went down the tubes. Change in response to new realities is something one hopes is fundamental to any rational person or government.

    And to both you and Hass who point out Iran did suspend for a time and temporarily implemented the additional protocol, let me ask you this: If Iran was so cooperative at that time as you suggest, then why is it only now finally answering the outstanding questions the IAEA has demanded of it for years now? Why was the “workplan” necessary in the first place? Why did virtually every board report during that time diplomatically complain about lack of transparency and access to key personnel among other gripes?

    Iran’s cooperation during that time was better but still fell short of what the IAEA and the board said was necessary to resolve and understand Iran’s violations. Many of the issues in the workplan could have been resolved back then if only Iran had been more forthcoming as the IAEA had continually requested.

    I think it’s important to note that it’s Iran’s responsibility to fully explain and make clear to the IAEA the scope of its clandestine activity because the IAEA has no investigative authority. Since the IAEA has no authority to ferret out information on its own (unlike, say UNSCOM) it can only resolve Iran’s violations with Iran’s full cooperation. Iran’s continuous lack of such cooperation is the root of the problem here – not supposed American intransigence (though US policy has been decidedly unhelpful, to put it charitably). It’s why Iran is the object of three UNSC chapter 7 resolutions. All this could have been avoided had Iran simply done what the IAEA asked at the beginning.

  19. hass (History)

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean when you say that the IAEA has no investigatory authority – it has the power to send inspectors to the country and report back to the BOG, as defined in the Statute and the safeguards agreements. In the case of Iran, the IAEA did so, and concluded by 2003 (less than a year after the “exposure” of the “clandestine” activities at Natanz) that all nuclear material has been accounted for, and none had been diverted – and so Iran was in compliance despite a failure to report otherwise legal activities.

    For there on, the issue was largely driven by politics and increasing demands for “transparency” that went beyond the legal requirements and obligations of Iran — which Iran nevertheless allowed (inspections at Parchin, for example) — and were ultimately designed not to enforce the NPT but to deny Iran enrichment capability.

    The law is not a popularity contest. Its provisions are not based on “opinions” – especially when there is an element of bad faith as shown by the US demands that Iran abandon enrichment, whether or not the Additional Protocol is in force, and whether or not Iran has a clean bill of health from the IAEA.

    Iran doesn’t want to set a precedent which it is treated as a de facto (or de jure) second-class citizen of the NPT, one which is subjected to greater and endless demands for “transparency” than it is legally obliged to provide and which has been applied to other similarly placed states.

  20. Andy (History)


    Pointing out the discriminatory nature of the NPT does not relieve Iran or any other NNWS of its obligations under the treaty and it certainly should not be used to excuse lack of cooperation with what the IAEA has asked. I find it quite ironic the right wing here in the US label the good DG an Iranian stooge while at the same time others accuse the agency of essentially being a tool of American hegemony. As for the strategic sense of the UNSC w.r.t. it’s voting, that is a debatable issue, but it seems to me Iran has done little to give potential allies like Russia, France and China reason to support it.


    Iran was judged in compliance in 2003? That’s certainly not the sense I get from reading the reports. First of all, Iran spent the first 8 months of 2003 lying to the IAEA, submitting false declarations, and attempting to hide its activities by dismantling and moving equipment (which is far more serious than simple failure to report activities and material).

    So no, from 2004 on the issue was not driven by “politics” but were spent attempting to understand the scope of Iran’s program, ensure there was no diversion of material, etc. As for “increasing demands for transparency” perhaps we should review what Iran actually agreed to as related in gov/2003/75 para 15:

    As a follow-up to the 16 October 2003 meeting, in a letter to the Director General dated 21 October 2003 and received on 23 October 2003, H.E. Mr. R. Aghazadeh, Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and President of the AEOI, reaffirmed that “the Islamic Republic of Iran ha[d] decided to provide a full picture of its nuclear activities, with a view to removing any ambiguities and doubts about the exclusively peaceful character of these activities and commencing a new phase of confidence and co-operation in this field at the international level.” Mr. Aghazadeh stated further in his letter that Iran was prepared “to provide, in full transparency, any additional clarifications that the Agency may deem necessary.”

    Emphasis added. In that same report the DG laid out what that would require at the end of para 52:

    To that end, the Agency must have a particularly robust verification system in place. An Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, is indispensable for such a system.

    and continuing into the beginning of para 53:

    In that context, Iran has been requested to continue its policy of active co-operation by answering all of the Agency’s questions, and by providing the Agency with access to all locations, information and individuals deemed necessary by the Agency.

    It’s hard to imagine how the demands for transparency were increasing when Iran agreed to FULL transparency at the beginning and knew exactly what the IAEA expected of it and it’s nothing more than what the IAEA is asking for now.

  21. James (History)

    But if a state feels that the NPT has been compromised by politics, they have every reason to play the same game. Essentially, Iran is halfway out because they believe the game is stacked against them. Why cooperate if the intent is to keep piling on fresh accusations, all unproven and unproveable, until the accusations become the evidence?

    This is the political background of enforcement, revealing a process that has been taken out of its treaty context and subordinated to great-power aspirations in the Middle East. It is the precise equivalent of using the police to smear a political opponent; the charges themselves seem relatively minor and the target of the investigation would sign a consent decree if he could be assured the matter was closed, but the powerful men pulling the strings wish to drag the matter out for their own reasons.

    You keep harping that all Iran has to do is ‘fess up, but I think that’s a bit disingenuous. There is no closure for them until they surrender on all points, and this is a very different situation from that faced by other violators in the past, even those with much more active weapons programs.

    This is the manner in which the NPT has been undermined by this particular dispute. Not because Iran made some violations; the system has never had any trouble dealing with that before. Not because some of the suppliers have been lackadaisical about their responsibilities; that’s never been hard to put a stop to. It’s the heightened rhetoric and the sense that the US is using the IAEA and its work to build a case for war. That the sanctions are not intended to force cooperation with the investigation, but that the investigation is intended to provide a pretext for sanctions.

    If this continues, nations will become increasingly skeptical not only of this treaty, but of international institutions generally. Even if everything the US has said about Iran is true, the whole experience leaves the impression that this is a kangaroo court where prosecutors are allowed to shout down the defendent and threaten his family if he doesn’t confess. Guilty or not, this is not how the system should work.

  22. hass (History)

    Andy – yes, when the IAEA declared that there was no diversion of nuclear material in 2003, that meant that legal threshhold had been met. Additional “transparency” requests and providing proof of the “absence of undeclared materials” and ElBaradei’s demand that IRan “throw away the rulebook” are all beyond Iran’s safeguards…nevertheless Iran did provide that when it implemented the Additional Protocol and suspended enrichment for 2 years.

    Note that it was the EU’s violation of the Paris Agreement that resulted in termination of Iran’s voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. So whose fault was that?

    In any case, the bottom line is that the latest IAEA report does state that all the outstanding issues have been resolved (except of course for the newly-presented US claims from the Laptop of Death) and furthermore, all this talk about whether or why Iran didn’t show “additional transparency” in the past simply misses the point: There is another agenda at work, which is intent on denying Iran enrichment, no matter what.

    An IAEA official has said so, quite explicitly

    Some people do not want to see the Iran issue resolved because that would contradict their hidden agendas,” he said, adding that “people should have learned from their mistakes in the past, when all the hype over alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq turned out to be just that — hype”… “If the facts are at odds with the policy objectives of some people who are keen to impose further sanctions on Iran, that’s too bad“ the [IAEA] official added.

  23. Andy (History)

    Well, it’s Friday, I’ve had a couple of drinks and I have a very busy weekend ahead of me, so my response here will be short and likely my last in this thread. It’s been a pleasurable debate.


    The US keeps “piling on fresh accusations?” Really? Unless I’m missing something the only “fresh” accusation the US has presented is the so-called laptop of death which, IIRC, surfaced in 2005 and was finally presented to the IAEA this year. As I said in the thread on that topic I think everyone should be wary of its provenance. Since this is a piece of intelligence provided by the USA I believe the USA bears responsibility for making a case and that Iran should not be forced to prove a negative. In this case, the US must prove its case.

    Other than that, however, precisely what are all these fresh accusations that keep piling on?

    As for the rest of your comment it seems to boil down to an argument that the US is treating Iran and the NPT process unfairly (without any evidence to support such an assertion, btw) and so that somehow excuses Iran’s behavior. I respectfully disagree. It was Iran that violated its CSA and no amount of US bad behavior changes Iran’s obligations to fully account for its activities.


    You’ll have to provide some evidence for your claim. I reread the 2003 and early 2004 DG reports and see nothing to indicate Iran had met some legal threshold or anything that said there was no diversion of nuclear material – quite the opposite actually, as several questions were still open through 2004, most prominently the source of the HEU and LEU contamination in centrifuge parts (which were later determined to be of Pakistani origin).

  24. James (History)

    Andy wrote: “Since this is a piece of intelligence provided by the USA I believe the USA bears responsibility for making a case and that Iran should not be forced to prove a negative. In this case, the US must prove its case.”

    And yet, you support sanctions and suspension of enrichment until the negative is proven.

    The US has had possession of the Laptop of Death for three years and has only now gotten around to making formal accusations AFTER Iran and the IAEA have resolved their other differences and just days before the vote on additional sanctions. But that’s not piling on charges to drag the case out.

    I have cited several other nations that violated treaty protocols and were allowed to resolve their differences with the IAEA without immediate demands that their programs be shut down, threats of sanctions, and even threats of military attack. Disparities in the manner of enforcement and the sanctions applied for violations amount to selective prosecution, which undermines the NPT. If these international institutions are to have any real credibility they have to give the appearance of being detached from geopolitics. This is an important test case for the internationalists and while the suspect bobs and weaves, as suspects will do, the real threat to the law is the lynch mob baying for blood.

  25. AWR (History)


    I want to echo Andy’s sentiment that this is a pleasurable debate, I think one that has fairly surveyed the variety of opinions that can be heard in the IAEA Board, except for “the lynch mob baying for blood,” which seems a bit hyperbolic. Lots of folks say lots of inflammatory things, and I don’t think those calling for more sanctions hold a monopoly on outrageous statements.

    The process at the IAEA is inherently political, since governments make the decisions there. This is the UN, after all, and consensus politics heightens the importance of both politicking and diplomacy. The Agency debate has also occurred very much against the background of the initial failure to detect anything in Iraq during the early 90’s and the success in detecting nothing there in the new century.

    I would only seek to remind those who disparage this process of the timeline for the Agency’s Board decisions: when the first resolution on Iran was under consideration in the IAEA Board, the US had to back down from Bolton-directed harshness by the fact that the US draft would have failed if put to a vote by a 34-1 margin. By 2005, Iran’s behavior had put the Board into the uncomfortable position of having to find Iran in noncompliance with both its NPT and safeguards obligations. Now we are at the point I referred to in another post: Iran is still held to be in noncompliance by the Board, and circumstances, largely of Iran’s own making, do not permit a reversal of that finding at the present time.

    ElBaradei has striven to be as judicious as possible through this whole drama, apart from the occasional Nobel-fueled lecture to the weapons states about how to behave, and his non-technical and unsolicited advice about how to reach peace in the Middle East. This is mostly harmless, if a diversion from his day job. But the same dynamic exists in the Board as that of 2003. If Iran truly wishes to close the dossier, it can take actions that will persuade a majority of the Board of its compliance with its obligations, and all concerned have made perfectly clear to Iran exactly what actions those are. Iran needs the votes, just like any other Member State. The Board will by precedent happily accomodate Iran’s wishes, even though it has rotated off the Board for the current round.

  26. James (History)

    AWR: as it happens, I watched The Oxbow Incident last night and was reflecting generally upon the establishment of law. But if we are to remain literal-minded, I can recommend Karl Schenzig’s delightfully apocalyptic posts in earlier discussions or, for that matter, Ambassador Bolton’s fulminations.

    In the end, your cynicism about the process being “inherently political” pretty much mirrors mine, only I believe that without the appearance of objective enforcement, no system survives for very long.

  27. AWR (History)

    Dear James,

    I am sorry you detect cynicism in my remarks, as I am a strong supporter of the IAEA and its mission. I was simply trying to describe the political situation there as best I could, without passing much judgment on it: the Board has its rules and regulations; they are generally fair to all; and the tradition of consensus allows a full venting of all possible points of view that Member Governments choose to put forward. I first visited the Agency in the early 80’s and have followed its fortunes closely ever since. The more the inspectors have been forced into the limelight by their involvement in adversarial conditions, the more political the Agency has become, culminating in the intense North-South divide that characterizes its proceedings today. This is the environment in which all Members must operate, and Iran has managed to stymie the process very adroitly. But having tied the knot that surrounds it, Iran and the other Member Governments must find a way out of this. Plenty are trying and we should wish them all good fortune in doing so. Otherwise, The inspectors can go back to their old focus on relatively non-sensitive facilities in cooperative countries, and leave the thorny cases to other structures designed expressly for each purpose.

  28. Hass (History)

    Andy – you have to be familiar with the applicable non-proliferation law to spot the legal implications of the specific language used by the IAEA — something that the media naturally has failed to explain.

    As Michael Spies of the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy has written

    “The conclusion that no diversion has occurred certifies that the state in question is in compliance with its undertaking, under its safeguards agreement and Article III of the NPT, to not divert material to non-peaceful purposes. In the case of Iran, the IAEA was able to conclude in its November 2004 report that that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes. The IAEA reached this same conclusion in September 2005.”

    Testimony presented to the Foreign Select Committee of the British Parliament by Elahe Mohtasham

    “The enforcement of Article III of the NPT obligations is carried out through the IAEA’s monitoring and verification that is designed to ensure that declared nuclear facilities are operated according to safeguard agreement with Iran, which Iran signed with the IAEA in 1974. In the past four years that Iran’s nuclear programme has been under close investigation by the IAEA, the Director General of the IAEA, as early as November 2003 reported to the IAEA Board of Governors that “to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities … were related to a nuclear weapons programme.” … Although Iran has been found in non-compliance with some aspects of its IAEA safeguards obligations, Iran has not been in breach of its obligations under the terms of the NPT.”

  29. Andy (History)


    I will go ahead and cite the relevant passage for you from gov/2004/83 para 112:

    All the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities. The Agency is, however, not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran. The process of drawing such a conclusion, after an Additional Protocol is in force, is normally a time consuming process. In view of the past undeclared nature of significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, and its past pattern of concealment, however, this conclusion can be expected to take longer than in normal circumstances. To expedite this process, Iran’s active cooperation in the implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and full transparency, are indispensable. The assistance and cooperation of other States, as indicated above, is also essential to the resolution of the outstanding issues.

    Of course the first sentence in that paragraph was equally true of some of Iran’s false declarations, which is precisely why the DG, IAEA board and UNSC all say Iran must do more. Furthermore, Iran’s obligations go beyond simply providing a consistent declaration, particularly after years of willfully false ones.

    And this brings up the point I made earlier about weakness in the NPT regime in situations like we have with Iran – the mechanisms the agency needs to account for two decades of violations are voluntary. Most countries who’ve been caught violating the NPT or their CSA provide the agency what it needs to fully account for those violations, including AP ratification (see South Korea). Libya is another example – an enemy of the US, much like Iran, but the difference between how the two have acted is substantial.

    So Iran is virtually alone on this and that is ultimately why the board and UNSC are voting with the US and not Iran; because after 20 years of Iranian deception and false declarations (declarations which also “accounted for” and “verified” non-diversion of that declared material) many are suspicious that this latest declaration is as incomplete as those that came before it. Furthermore, Iran’s lack of transparency, “reactive” cooperation (as the DG put it), etc. have only added to this suspicion and is what ultimately accounts for the complete reversal of the board and UNSC on the issue over the past few years. Denying access to scientists, like Jeffrey’s newest post discusses, will not help Iran’s case or build confidence in what its intentions are.

    Anyway, these positions have been well debated here on this site and all this has been pointed out to Hass many times before. “Anon” performed a similar service is this thread.

    And now we have yet another example of Iran’s character in all this – Iran is now demanding compensation for it’s 2-year halt of enrichment activities! From a translated Fars report:

    Tehran, 9 March: Sa’id Jalili, secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, has said: Those who made Iran halt its [uranium] enrichment activity for two and a half years, based on false allegations, should pay compensation for their actions….Stating that Iran will definitely insist on its rights, he said: We will definitely seek compensation from those who levelled [SIC] accusations against our country and weakened our nation.

    Again, Iran does not have to “prove” anything – all it needs to do is what the agency has consistently asked for all along – the transparency and authority (through the AP) to do what it says it needs to do.

  30. James (History)

    China’s UN ambassador has taken a somewhat novel view of the sanctions:

    “These [sanctions] “are not targeted at the Iranian people and will not affect the normal economic and financial activities between Iran and other countries,” Wang said after the vote. “All the sanction measures are reversible.”“

    So the question becomes: how useful are sanctions that do not affect normal economic activities? And was the sanctions vote really a vote of confidence in US leadership and intelligence, or simply the bare minimum needed to keep the US quiet until the elections put the White House in steadier hands?

    AWR’s referencing of a “North/South” divide is, of course, my point in all of this. Iran is exploiting that division, but it did not create it. The South is increasingly skeptical that these treaties and institutions are anything more than an attempt to codify into law first-class and second-class states. This is the issue that I feel transcends Iran’s violations or otherwise of the NPT, and I think that the US’ policy of using the UN and the WMD issue as a vehicle for legitimizing its military control of the Persian Gulf is a big part of why Iran has gotten away with stalling this long. In other words, the US’ stated objectives are being fundamentally undermined by its own policies.

  31. hass (History)

    The first sentence states that Iran is in compliance with its NPT – despite the past undisclosed activities which were investigated and found not to be weapons-related.

    As for “absence of undeclared activities” – that’s proven by the AP, which Iran has signed and did voluntarily implement for 2 years, and has offered to ratify when and if its rights are recognized.

    The IAEA does have a mechanism for addressing such “failures to report” — it was applied and completed in the case of Iran. That’s why the latest IAEA report specifically says that all the other outstanding issues have been cleared up.

    Egypt — which was caught violating safeguards (though you choose to say it was “less serious” than Iran for some reason) has not signed the AP.

    I really don’t see the point of repeating this over again.

    Had the US not prevented Iran from acquiring the technology Iran was entitled to have in 1983, then Iran would not have had to go to Pakistan. So who was really “cheating”?

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