Jeffrey LewisMore on the Ahmadinejad Visit to Natanz

As many of you undoubtedly noticed, Scott Kemp and I contributed captions to the slide show that accompanies Bill Broad’s article in the New York Times, entitled A Tantalizing Look at Iran’s Nuclear Program.

It was tremendous fun working with both of Scott and Bill Broad. I am hoping to post a master list of captions when I have a little more time.

The most gratifying element of the story, however, is the incredible emphasis given to the blog and, in particular, your comments. Here is a sampling:

“This is intel to die for,” Andreas Persbo, an analyst in London at the Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a private group that promotes arms control, said in a comment on the blog site Arms Control Wonk.


Arms Control Wonk, which Dr. Lewis of the New America Foundation runs, led a discussion of the photo. Most comments focused on parts. But Geoffrey E. Forden, an arms expert at M.I.T., noted that the table also held an Iranian flag.

“Indigenous manufacturing of sophisticated components is something to be very proud of,” he wrote. “And showing them with an Iranian flag is a very good way of graphically proclaiming it.”

It isn’t often that a discussion on a blog is considered part of the all the news fit to print. I am really humbled to have such great readers.



Now that I’ve got your feeling all warm and squishy, a little question. I observe that one of the tour guides for the April 2008 Ahmadinejad visit appears to be the same tall, bald guy who led Khatami around Natanz a couple of years back. Compare and contrast:

Now, maybe baldy is just the regular old Natanz tour guide. But he’s shown both Presidents around and I would expect some representative of the senior leadership at the Fuel Enrichment Plant to play tour guide for a big deal like the President of Iran coming to visit.

Also, I obverse that, unlike the other Natanz employees, he doesn’t have a badge — though he is wearing a pin with a logo that might be similar to the one visible on the badges.

Possible candidates could include the individuals identified in sanctions reports as being responsible for the FEP. (Given how those lists were compiled, however, I am little cautious.)

  • Dawood Agha-Jani, Head of the PFEP, Natanz
  • Ehsan Monajemi, Construction Project Manager, Natanz
  • Seyed Jaber Safdari, Manager of the Natanz Enrichment Facilities

My suspicion is that it is Monajemi. He is quoted in the news stories about Khatami’s tour, which leads me to believe he was present.

And the bald guy showing Ahmadinejad around takes over the tour during the visit to the cascade halls that are still under construction — which would be an appropriate time for the construction manager to take over the tour.

But that is just a guess.


  1. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    “It isn’t often that a discussion on a blog is considered part of the all the news fit to print.”

    Um, you are being terribly modest.

    The fact is, for most of this morning, it was on the front page of

    Not often do an article in the “Science” section make it to the front page of the NY Times website.

  2. hass (History)

    Ah being quoted is nice but being manipulated to sell a bill of goods can’t be so good.

    The NY Times tries oh so hard to add some air of mystery and suspicion to all this. The presence of the Iranian Minister of Defense is hardly surprising at a site that has repeatedly been threatened with foreign bombings. And this really cracked me up:

    Nuclear analysts said the tour in general opened a window into a hidden world previously known only to the Iranians and a few international inspectors.

    Those “few international inspectors” are representatives of the IAEA and they file their reports with the IAEA BOG, which contains representatives of many governments around the world — which means that Iran’s nuclear program is under IAEA monitoring and CANNOT be used to make bombs as the NY Times repeatedly suggests. So how “secretive” or “hidden” or “clouded” is this “world” again??

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)


    Oh come on!

    You can’t expect the NY Times to get their story right now that Judith Miller and Jayson Blair have both left!

  4. FSB

    Thank you, hass.

    Apparently, NYT has not learnt its lesson

  5. Steven Dolley (History)

    “Iran’s nuclear program is under IAEA monitoring and CANNOT be used to make bombs”

    The conclusion doesn’t automatically follow from the premise. Saddam’s nuclear program was under IAEA safeguards too, and he got pretty damn close.

  6. Arch Roberts Jr (History)

    Thanks, Steven, for your comment. This blog doesn’t really benefit from dogmatic rants. I appreciate hass’s comments generally, but to suggest the IAEA’s limited access to Iran’s expansive program should give us any confidence is silly.

  7. ataune (History)

    But Arch –

    Suggesting that US is giving out Truth about this matter is more “dogmatic ranting”. Specially after such a profusion of lies, duplicity and deceptions, and I am mincing my words, that have been the Iraq / Afghanistan affair. IMO, Hass is right. The only way to trust international institution is to accept international law. And the only way to accept the international law is to accept its premisses: all members are equal in accepting or rejecting it. No exception.


  8. J House (History)

    The fact is, the IAEA missed completely Libya’s, now Syria’s covert programs, AQ Khan prolif network, NK prolif network, etc.
    The question needs to be asked, what nation has the IAEA prevented from getting nuclear weapons? (i.e., without US ‘teeth’)
    To think that IAEA can somehow prevent Iran from covertly making bomb fuel or that Iran will abide the rules because they signed a legal agreement is shortsighted, and dangerous.
    We should all perfectly understand why Iran wants to join the nuclear club…partly, to counterbalance Israel’s intro of nuclear weapons to the ME…MAD for the 21st century, I’m afraid.
    One should then understand why Israel or the US might take pre-emptive action to delay the inevitable.
    Those that believe the Iranian program is an entirely peaceful need for nuclear-generated electrical power simply ignore the history and politics of late 20th century Iran.
    Enough of the dogmatic ranting-
    When is Iran going to release those micro-photos of the tip of their centerfuge bearing?
    Maybe a group photo-op of Ahmadinejad standing next to their latest ‘spherical package’ Shahab warhead, designed to detonate at an altitude of 600m?

  9. J House (History)

    With these photo ops, why need a Mossad spy?

    Some thoughts around the reasons Iran decided to publish the interior photos at Natanz-

    *Prestige value of indigeneous manufact capabilities and progress outweighed concerns about intel revelations
    *Iranians wanted to show US/World public they aren’t slowing down UE program under US/UN pressure (i.e., thumbing noses)
    *Iranians want to sow doubt within US IC about the current state/whereabouts of UE capability
    (show IR2 demo models in photo op at Natanz, but are well into production and deployment elsewhere)
    *Iranians want world community/US IC to believe Natanz is the center and only centerfuge cascade facility in operation
    *Iranians wanted to fool US IC into believing they are less advanced in their program than they truly are (show P1 cascades, not IR2s in operation-only prototypes)
    *Iranians are less advanced on IR2 program than IAEA/US IC believe, but want to leave the public impression that they have mastered the technology for prestige purposes and as a signal to the IC that ‘time is running out, and it is on our side’

    I pick the first and last reason, among others

  10. Hass (History)

    Um, guys, people on this very blog noted the presence of IAEA cameras at the enrichment sites, clearly visible in said released photos. So tell me again about how Iran’s centrifuges are “mysterious”.

    You can argue that Iran’s “intentions” are opaque (but that’s the nature of “intentions” isn’t it?) but not that Iran’s enrichment program is hidden or clouded or mysterious. It simply isn’t – every step, from the mining of the uranium ore, to the construction of centrifuge components, are known to the IAEA. And unlike Iraq, Iran has allowed expanded inspections beyond its safeguards.

    If facts are “dogmatic” then that’s just too bad.

  11. FSB

    J House: I would argue that suggesting that we ought to “understand why Israel or the US might take pre-emptive action to delay the inevitable” is short-sighted and dangerous.

    Bombing Iran is not the solution to Israel or US’s security.

    Is this the type of arms control regime you would like to see in the world? i.e. the law of the jungle?

    Tomorrow if Syria or Iran doesn’t like what the US is doing is it cool for them to take out the US’s facilities?

    The US’s unflinching support of the Israel just encourages their irresponsible behaviour, and it is not like they are the 90-pound weakling on the beach any longer

  12. Arch Roberts (History)

    Breaking story! Some GOOD news on Iran, for a change, as foreign ministers meeting in London have agreed on a new package of carrots.

  13. Arch Roberts (History)


    Nice tie and good job on Fox yesterday. You got the main point – dual uses of enrichment – through, despite the newsies tendency toward the superficial and those with an eighth-grade education. Unless I missed an earlier episode, this now qualifies you as a talking head.

  14. hass (History)

    Why is any Israeli or US attack on Iran immediately and automatically labelled as “pre-emptive”?

  15. Andy (History)

    Why is any Israeli or US attack on Iran immediately and automatically labelled as “pre-emptive”?

    Because many people, wrongly, IMO, take the rhetoric of the Iranian President and other senior Iranian officials at face value, and as a consequence, their views of the Iranian nuclear program are one-dimensional. They see intent in the rhetoric and they see capability to carry out that intent in Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s actions.

  16. Omid (History)

    notice that two photos missing,do you think iran is trying to keep sth secret?

  17. mark

    Under international law, an attack is only pre-emptive if it is in response to an immediate threat of an attack. Rhetoric — no matter how exaggerated — is such a justification. It if were, then lets remember that we issue much more credible and heated rhetoric about attacking Iran everyday.

  18. Andy (History)


    I might suggest that “credible and heated” rhetoric is pretty subjective and open to debate. Iran has done a pretty good job over the years of backing it’s rhetoric up with action.

  19. FSB

    For a nanosecond, let’s look at the situation from the Iranian perspective: they realise they will not have oil for the indefinite future. They naturally would like to have alternate and independent fuel sources including nuclear energy.

    The US has attacked countries on either side of their’s. The US has issued detailed plans on carrying out nuclear attacks on Iran. Is it any surprise that they desire an independent fuel cycle, consistent with the NPT?

    If such an independent fuel cycle makes the US uncomfortable then it ought to make some effort to re-write that treaty.

    Before it is re-written, however, the US and other Western nations ought to abide by their NPT obligations for serious nuclear weapons reductions.

    As it stands, Iran is more in tune with its NPT rights and obligations than are most of the Western nations.

  20. FSB
  21. Steven Dolley (History)

    “every step, from the mining of the uranium ore, to the construction of centrifuge components, are known to the IAEA.”

    but see…how do we KNOW that? The IAEA thought it knew about everything in Iraq too.

    I’m not advocating military strikes vs. Iran by any stretch, but this misplaced confidence in IAEA safeguards is simply not supported by recent history.

  22. Arnold Evans (History)

    That’s what safeguards are, the supposedly objective, agreed and negotiated steps the IAEA is allowed to take to ensure there is no active weapons program.

    No nation has successfully built a hidden weapon under IAEA safeguards and that’s what the safeguards are designed to ensure, and all they are designed to ensure.

    Under IAEA safeguards we have the amount of confidence the negotiated safeguards are designed to give us – with member nations ensuring a balance that prevents the safeguards from sanctioning a wild witch hunt to satisfy rivals that by policy will never be satisfied, such as the US and Israel.

    Is it theoretically possible to get more confidence than was negotiated? Yes. But the US also agreed that it would begin good-faith negotiations for full nuclear disarmament. How much confidence do non weapons states have in that?

    The IAEA does what it is designed to do. Iran will not be able to build a weapon without pulling out of the treaty under its current inspection regime.

    If you want more than that, that requires renegotiating the treaty – which I’m all for. Iran has also expressed support for strengthening the treaty, but strengthening the treaty means strengthening the obligations of non weapons states and also means strengthening the obligations of weapons states.

    That, the US official community and apparently most of the US non-official anti-proliferation community oppose.

    Let’s get more confidence in IAEA safeguards the right way, by new negotiations. Or let’s accept the amount of confidence that has been negotiated already.

  23. hass (History)

    What Arnold said.

    And incidentally, how do you “know” that Egypt isn’t building nukes? They did violate their safeguards, you know. They flatly refuse to sign the Additional Protocol too. Indeed, how do you “know” that Namibia, which has announced plans to operate an enrichment facility, doesn’t “intend” to obtain the “capacity” to have a “nuclear breakout option” too? Argentina? Saudi Arabia? Mongolia? Lichtenstein? My dear old Uncle Bob?

    Incidentally, unlike Iraq, Iran has remedied its failures to report otherwise legal activity by implementing IAEA remedial measures, which found no diversion of nuclear material associated with the safeguards breaches. So the comparison with Iraq does not stand.

    And Andy – when was the last time that the Iranians threatened to nuke the US? When the IRanians provided chemical weapons components to be used against the US in a war? WHen the IRanians shot down an American airliner and then lied about it? When the Iranians toppled a US government and installed a shah? Get real.

  24. Arch Roberts Jr. (History)


    You need to “get real.” In case you didn’t know, Egypt has been the beneficiary of lots of technical assistance from the IAEA, and lots of attention from nuclear salesmen. To date, they have a research reactor; that’s all. Their purported nuclear reactor (that is sometimes described as a desalination plant to get more bucks) has been in the planning stages for at least 20 years, and despite their non-adherence to the AP (which won’t cover very much at the present time), their record on nonproliferation is nearly impeccable. They are among the most principled members of the NPT; send their best diplomats to the IAEA, and believe themselves, rightly so far, an authoritative guardian of NPT principles.

    Are you kidding about Namibia? Namibia’s import beyond uranium reserves is about the same as Lichtenstein’s.

    On the other hand, Iran has published photos of an advanced enrichment plant, just to show everybody they can. Why? Maybe you’d better consider “intentions” more seriously than you do, and recognize that folks in general are judged by their actions more than what they say. (Please find me the Namibian enrichment plant, or the Egyptian fast reactor.) Which is why Olli Heinonen probably has no time to deal with anything else, and why he has become an award-winner at the Tehran Hilton.

    But if you want to continue to insist that the millenarian crazies that run Iran are benign, why go right ahead….

    And please sleep comfortably at night knowing that the IAEA is in control….

  25. Andy (History)

    The IAEA does what it is designed to do. Iran will not be able to build a weapon without pulling out of the treaty under its current inspection regime.

    I don’t share that confidence since the current inspection regime is the same as the previous one – the one that failed to uncover any of Iran’s diversions until the Agency was provided with third-party evidence; the one that failed to detect Iraq’s program which was within a year or two of an actual weapon, etc. And it would appear the Agency agrees since it created the AP specifically to address problems with the standard regime.


    In a previous thread I condemned Bush for explicitly not taking the nuclear option off the table even though pretty much everyone knows, including Iran, that it’s an empty threat. GWB is not going to wake up one morning and order the US to nuke Iranian cities. Even if he did, it’s an order the military would disobey as unlawful.

    That the US is not an innocent party WRT Iran does not mean Iran is a paragon of virtue nor innocent itself. Despite being asked on a few occasions you can’t seem to bring yourself to even modestly criticize anything Iran does nor anything its leaders say. Like much of GWB’s rhetoric, I tend to take the “Death to America” chants and other inflammatory rhetoric that is so much a part of Iranian revolutionary political life with a grain of salt. By contrast you seem to view US rhetoric at one extremity on the scale of seriousness and Iranian rhetoric at the other – the opposite side of the John Bolton coin, ISTM. A little balance would be nice. Just sayin’.

  26. ataune (History)


    IMO Hass displays more balanced and objective position than you do. Here is why:

    First, “balanced” doesn’t necessarly mean to be right in the middle distance between the positions of Iran and US as you somehow implie.

    Second, The “neo-conservative” agenda has always been to weaken UN in general and International treaties related to armement in particular since they saw them as an impediment to the power projection of the United States. They had a disproportionate influence on the current administration after 911, they failed politically and militarily. But even though their influence is fading right now they still are the only ideological game in town concerning the Bush administration.

    Third, the Iranian position after the end of the Iran-Irak war (8/8/1988) was to strenghten, as much as possible the UN institutions, specially those related to the arms control. This position, just reiterated yesterday by Soltanieh, the Iranian representant to the IAEA, by saying that “iran will never leave the NPT”, is not out of any moral imperative, it is a quite practical one: as a regional power Iran needs some check and balances to counter the superpowers and the UN insitutions provide the political containers for that.

    So if you are coming from an arms control perspective and agenda you will find yourself closer to the iranian position even though you might not like some of their demeanors or their overzealous attitude. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be in the “business” of arms control.


  27. Andy (History)


    IMO Hass displays more balanced and objective position than you do.

    A more balanced and objective position on what exactly? I’m fairly confident you have no idea what many of my positions are and let me assure you that making assumptions based on a few arguments here on this site will lead you to a wrong conclusion.

    On your first point, middle-distance between Iran and the US is only part of it, but I still find it disturbing when one side’s rhetoric is excoriated and interpreted in the most negative manner while the other side’s is completely excused. I think it’s legitimate to point out such bias. In my original comment to Hass’ question (which was totally legitimate, IMO) I simply explained that some take Iranian rhetoric completely seriously and indicative of Iranian intent. If you reread what I wrote I disagreed with that interpretation just as I disagree with the how Hass frames it on the flip side of the coin. IOW, answering Hass’ question was explanation, not advocacy.

    On your second point, I’m not sure what it has to do with my relative objectivity to Hass or anyone else. If you’re implying I’m in the neocon camp, then you’re making a false assumption.

    On your third point, Iran is like any other country in that it uses multilateral institutions when it’s in its interest to do so and spurns them when it is not. Furthermore, the US does this probably more than any other country. Your example of Iran’s support for arms control after the Iran-Iraq war just proves the point – while Iran was voicing support for arms control, it was secretly violating the very agreements it purported to support. To point this out is only meant to show that all nations pursue such hypocrisy in their affairs and Iran is no different.

    As for the “business” of arms control, I pay heed to action more than rhetoric and on the subject of Iran I’ve been a pretty consistent supporter of the Agency’s efforts and position. If that makes me unobjective then at least I’m in good company.

  28. ataune (History)


    What I wrote here is based on what I read from you 2 guys almost exclusively in this forum and I thought this to be a clearly understandable assumption (and I can assure you that for me, coming from a political science background, what I read was pretty instructive). I apologize if this could have been interpreted as a judgement on your whole position expressed elswhere. This was absolutely not my intention.

    Then, I consider, as I see you do too, that Nation-States potentially act based on their interests delineated by their political geography and resources; I do also believe that the nefarious influence of the “neo-cons”, which started well before 911, and reflected itself mainly in foreign policy, has distanced this country from international agreement and treaties on arms control and disarmement; I do understand that there might be a rational behind this logic, i.e. a hyper-power shouldn’t be bound by laws that it can not control completely. But I find the premisce for this logic completely fallacious and harmful for America. This agenda, hopefully gone by this time next year, will and already has weakened the NPT regime.

    On the other hand, you have Iran, which has always refrained from using non-conventinal weapon, even at the time when Saddam was showering mustard, tabun and nerve gas on Iranian and kurdish front with tacite knowledge and help of the West; which has offered to go beyond the additional protocol by verifiably allowing its enrichement processing to be limited to 5% (this move by itself would have tremendously strenghten the NPT/IAEA regime); and by promessing to never leave the NPT and who was on the brink of ratifying the AP and saw this torpetoed by no ther than the current administration.

    In this arithmetic of national interests in display, it is not hard to see that objectivity is not in equal distance position between Iran and US. If you have a Non Proliferation agenda, If you think that withouth a minimum of fairness this agenda can not move forward, you should be on the iranian side.


  29. Andy (History)


    I’ll give you the cliff-notes version:

    I support engagement with Iran. Despite the differences between Iran and the US, I believe we are natural allies and that the road to solving many ME problems runs through Tehran. I’ve said in other fora that were I in charge, I’d unilaterally request to reopen the US embassy. Frankly, I think that would scare some in Iran more than any US attack. Obviously, I don’t support a US attack on Iran. I don’t think it’s warranted and even if it were, I don’t think it will destroy Iran’s program – you can’t bomb knowledge after all.

    I say all that and still believe Iran has not done what it originally promised it would do back in 2003. Many of my comments here are skewed to that because of some of the stuff that gets said here are statements I simply cannot let pass without comment.

    I strongly support the AP. I would like to see it become a requirement for everyone, but of course that would have to be negotiated. The current system has too many holes, has failed too many times, and is too easy for governments and nefarious groups (like AQ Khan) to get around.