Jeffrey LewisBashing ElBaradei Redux

Looks like Washington is gearing up to oust IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. With the December 31 deadline for candidacies looming, anonymous diplomats are grousing about ElBaradei.

Anonymous intelligence sources tell Reuters that Tehran purchased large amounts of beryllium, which can be used to initiate the chain reaction in a nuclear device. The allegation provided anonymous diplomats (including one U.S. diplomat) the opportunity to tell Reuters that “the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency knew about it but had withheld the information from the IAEA board of governors.”

This has annoyed the United States, whose officials have complained privately that IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei does not always follow up credible intelligence provided to his agency.

The Daily Telegraph picked up the spin, leading with the headline “Watchdog ‘bowed to pressure from Iran’ on bomb materials.” (There is a second allegation, relating to the IAEA access to a suspected high explosives testing facility at Parchin, floating around).

ElBaradei justified omission on technical grounds and denied that he shared his draft report with Tehran, calling the accusations “gutter allegations.”

The beryllium allegation is not new—US officials anonymously tried them out on AFP in September.

Jackie Wolcott Sanders laid the groundwork for the slander in her statement expressing reservations about the IAEA Board of Governors Resolution on Iran. “We still wonder whether Iran ever worked with beryllium, which combined with Po-210 forms a neutron source that can be used for initiating a nuclear weapon,” she purred. “Iranian officials have claimed in the past that Iran never procured or worked with beryllium. We wonder whether the IAEA has found evidence suggesting otherwise.”

The thing is … Sanders isn’t even the Ambassador in Vienna. Normally the Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Sanders was acting in her capacity as Special Representative to the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation.

See, we don’t have an Ambassador to the IAEA and other Intenational Organizations in Vienna, because Jon Kyl and James Inhoffe scotched the nomination of James Cunningham.

So, even though we can’t get our own shit in one sock, we’re planning big changes at the top of the IAEA. Bush should drop his churlish opposition to ElBaradei’s third term—which has jack taco to do with term limits—and instead focus on nominating and securing confirmation of a U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA.


  1. Mark Gubrud (History)

    Beryllium is an ultralight metal with many industrial and military uses. It is commonly mixed into copper to make a hard alloy used in electronics, and Be itself is used as a structural material in some aerospace applications for light weight. It’s principal drawback is high toxicity.

    Very little Be would be needed to make initiators, and this may be an obsolete (WW2) technology; modern US weapons use external neutron spallation sources, which shouldn’t be hard for Iran to make. The major use of Be is as a neutron reflector surrounding the pit to reduce critical mass. You might want to check this with someone who knows more about nukes than I do, but this is sounding a bit like the famous aluminum tubes.

  2. Yuri Guri (History)

    Wasn’t there a report on the BBC’s File on 4 over two years ago, about the whole beryllium issue?

    Interesting that neither the Telegraph nor AFP mention that the UK is one of the alleged sources of the Iranian beryllium.