Jeffrey LewisIAEA Clears Iran on HEU

Dafna Linzer reports the IAEA empaneled an international group of scientists to confirm that traces of highly enriched uranium in Iran originated with contaminated centrifuge components obtained through the AQ Khan network:

Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met in secret during the past nine months to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Recently, the group, whose existence had not been previously reported, definitively matched samples of the highly enriched uranium—a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon—with centrifuge equipment turned over by the government of Pakistan.

Doug Frantz broke the story of Pakistan’s cooperation in May 2005.

We learned the IAEA believed Iran’s explanation in August 2004 when Linzer and Jane’s Defense Weekly reported tentative findings.

Without the goods from Pakistan, however, IAEA DG ElBaradei merely declared the contamination story plausible.

At the time, Paul reported the backstory from a source at the IAEA. It seems the IAEA was going to take its time:

A diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA told Arms Control Today in August that imported components can probably account for all of the uranium particles in question, but cautioned that this will not be confirmed for some time. The source confirmed press reports that particles enriched to 54 percent came from centrifuges imported from Pakistan and that particles enriched to 36 percent apparently came from equipment originating in the former Soviet Union. That equipment reached Iran via China and Pakistan, the source said.

We now know the confirmation process involved an internatonal group, which included officials from DOE. Linzer reports the group was empaneled for political, as well as technical, reasons:

The IAEA had put together the group of experts in an effort to foster cooperation but also to eliminate the possibility that its findings would be challenged by the White House, officials said.

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I was fascinated by the “senior official” who told Linzer that “The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions.”

Where have you been, buddy?

I can’t find a single public reference to the contamination allegation from a Bush Administration official after Linzer’s August 2004 story. Major speeches by Jackie Sanders to the IAEA in November 2004 and May 2005 contained a list of unresolved issues that suggest Iran is building a bomb. The lists do not include the contamination issue.

In fact, the Bolton speech—which really only implies the Iranians were lying—is off the reservation in its description of Iran as “grave threat” international security. (Dude, the preferred nomenclature is growing threat.) Sanders, in contrast to Bolton, used “growing threat” three times in the two speeches.

Bolton’s implication of Iranian deceit is probably his own. Statements by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher simply called on Iran to honor IAEA requests, first to provide a “complete list of all imported equipment and components stated to have been contaminated with highly enriched uranium…” and, later to “resolve all outstanding issues, including Highly Enriched Uranium and Low Enriched Uranium contamination…”

In fact, I can find only one skeptical reference to the contamination story by a senior Bush Administration official. In October 2003, shortly after Iran made the contamination claim, then-Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage was the model of brevity when asked a very direct question by Greta Van Susteren:

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you believe the Iranians when they say the reason that they have two sites where there’s enriched uranium is because they bought contaminated equipment from another country. Do you believe that?

ARMITAGE: No.

One comment two years ago is not really “everyone … waving” now, is it?

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