Jeffrey LewisMEB v. Lally Weymouth

Lally Weymouth interviews Mohamed ElBaradei in the Post. It’s a total trainwreck. A sampling:

Q: Some in the United States claim that between 2003 and 2007, you protected Iran because you did not want to see a U.S. military attack on it. In retrospect, do you think you allowed Iran to push the limits?

A. This is a complete misunderstanding. We have done as much as we can do in Iran to make sure that we understand the history and the present status of their program, to try to push them as far as we can within our authority to come clean. The idea people have that we are God, that we are able to cross borders, open doors . . . . We don’t have that authority. . . . I am very proud that within the limited authority we have, we have been able to understand the scope of the most sensitive part of the Iranian program, which is the enrichment program, which is now under complete agency inspection.

The Iranian enrichment program is now under inspection?

We know how much they produce in terms of enriched uranium.

Highly enriched uranium?

Low-enriched uranium.

You were elected director with the support of the U.S., and later the U.S. treated you quite badly.

It was during my third reelection when former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton initiated a campaign to block my reelection. They did not get one single country to stand against me, and in the end, I was elected by consensus, with U.S. support. You can disagree with the head of the international organization — we are not there to implement the policies of one country. We are supposed to be independent, but we always have to be impartial and objective. If an organization like IAEA is regarded as a broker for one country, it will be killed.

Is that what you thought the U.S. wanted you to do?

They did not like that we said we haven’t seen Iran developing nuclear weapons in 2003.

The IAEA said that?

We did not see proof that Iran had a nuclear weapon . . . . In 2007, the [U.S. intelligence community’s] National Intelligence Estimate said yes, Iran might have done some studies, but they stopped in 2003. We have been vindicated in Iran, we have been vindicated in Iraq before. We are not beating our chests and saying, “We were right, and they were wrong.” They need to understand that we have to continue to report on what we see.

For the record, I really don’t think ElBaradei should offer an opinion on whether Iran has a nuclear weapons program or not. The IAEA Statute empowers the agency to safeguard materials, equipment and facilities, as well as special fissionable materials.

The Director can say whether the Agency can verify Iran’s declaration, whether there are undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran and whether the state is in compliance with its obligations. Those are incredibly important judgments and they don’t need to be accompanied with comments that are out of the DG’s jurisdiction.

The IAEA Board of Governors found Iran in non compliance its obligations and, most importantly, that the Agency is “not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

Although I find compelling the argument that Iran “halted” (I prefer “paused”) its weaponization program in late-2003, I really don’t think the IAEA DG should give Iran what will be interpreted, again, as a clean bill of health.

Comments

  1. ataune (History)

    Jeffrey,

    You know better than anyone else that ratifying the AP make a huge difference between what the DG can or cannot say.

    The phrase you are quoting from the board of director’s resolution goes back to the time when Iran, even though not having ratified the AP, was abiding by a political promess to the European troika to implement it. Therefore Iran had to “prove its innocence” and the DG had to say that Agency is “not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

    Now that Iran is back to just its safegard obligations, the burden of the proof is on the Agency shoulders and since they can’t find any diversion, El-Baradei is completely in his right when he say that there is no proof for an Iranian weapon program.

    But, anyway, all this legal shenanigan are part of the past now, since politically we are in a new era.

    Ataune

  2. Paul Stokes (History)

    Re: “The IAEA Board of Governors found Iran in non compliance its obligations and, most importantly, that the Agency is “not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.””

    That’s like saying you can’t prove a negative. In my view, it is more correct to say (as I think ElBaradei has) that the IAEA has no evidence that there are undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.

    The Board of Governors is a political organization; the IAEA is not.

  3. Yossi

    “I really don’t think the IAEA DG should give Iran what will be interpreted, again, as a clean bill of health.”

    I usually don’t follow the Iran nuclear scare stuff, maybe out of fear that something will be found wrong and I’ll have to prove this to a crowd absolutely immune to evidence contradicting its patriotic call.

    That said, weren’t the outstanding issues that prevent an Iranian “clean bill of health” previously analyzed by our Dr. Lewis and found wanting? This is a question, mind you, not an impure thought nor criticism.

    I already declared my pro-UN bias so I can now freely state that the IAEA does a very professional work under astronomical pressures. Criticizing it is ok but should be done very cautiously, certainly when it’s unwarranted.

  4. Geoff Forden (History)

    You are right about the IAEA’s original statues constraining the Agency’s duties to materials etc. during their ordinary business, but I think you are overlooking the special obligations the UN Security Council’s resolutions impose on the IAEA for the case of Iran. For example, UNSCR 1747 (2007) states:

    1. [the UNSC] Reaffirms that Iran shall without further delay take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors in its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear programme and to resolve outstanding questions, and, in this context, affirms its decision that Iran shall without further delay take the steps required in paragraph 2 of resolution 1737 (2006);

    (bold highlighting is mine.) My reading of this is that the resolution requires the Director General to make a determination of whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that ElBaradei’s statement that “We did not see proof that Iran had a nuclear weapon” is entirely consistent with that duty.

  5. Allen Thomson (History)

    Excellent make-over of Dr. ElB as a Ferengi.

    I thought his answer to the question concerning the BOE was, if correct, a bit weak.

  6. FSB

    A sensible prescription on how to handle Iran can be found at this URL.

    As that article states: Having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon is not the same thing as having one, and having a large stock of low-enriched uranium is not the same as having the highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb.

    In any case, if you want Iran to “pre-emptively disarm”, perhaps it would be sensible to also pressure its main regional adversary Israel to do so. Oh, but Israel is not even part of the NPT.

    Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the more rogue nation?

    And on it goes.

  7. FSB

    Some history of Iran’s nuclear power quest is also elucidating, as is the realization that even if Iran were to go nuclear it would not be the end of the world — and that they would not attack Israel.

    In fact, Iran probably desires a latent nuclear capability for the purposes of deterrence vis-a-vis Israel.

  8. Major Lemon (History)

    Well, with Mr. ElBaradei saying “ . . I am very proud that within the limited authority we have, we have been able to understand the scope of the most sensitive part of the Iranian program, which is the enrichment program, which is now under complete agency inspection.” who needs the CIA?

  9. kerbihan

    FSB, it remains to be demonstrated that the Iranian program has anything to do with Israel’s nukes. Why would Iran want to “deter Israel”? Last time I checked, there were no Israeli missiles parading in Jerusalem with the words “Death to Iran”. Last time I checked, it was Iran which severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979. Last time I checked, there was never any call by the Israeli PM or President to wipe Iran off the map.
    Israel is deterring Iran, not the other way round. And the Iranians know very well that there would not be any Israeli threat against them in the absence of a nuclear programme.

  10. Ataune (History)

    @Kerbihan

    I am not answering for FSB, but there is at least one erroneous fact in your comment that needs to be corrected. Iran never “severed diplomatic relations with Israel” because Iran never had any diplomatic relation with Israel.

    Now, regarding the content of your comment, think about that: maybe Iran is deterring the US by taking on Israel.

  11. J House (History)

    MEB-“We know how much they produce in terms of enriched uranium”
    Really? His assumption that their intel on the Iranian enrichment universe is all-knowing is not reassuring.
    Is it possible Iran could go quietly into the nuclear club by the end of the year?
    Obama has inherited Bush’s covert programs to delay the breakout date (as the NYT has reported)…it will be interesting to see if his admin follows through with these PDD’s while engaging Iran directly.
    Subterfuge of a centerfuge facility or BM program is one topic I hope you could cover at least generally.

  12. Josh

    Jeff is spot-on, and I would go further. The IAEA Secretariat has faced a great deal of criticism, mostly unfair, for failing to render political judgments that are beyond its authority or competency. So for anyone inclined to come to the organization’s defense, it is more than a little aggravating to see the Director-General indulging in precisely this sort of political judgment.

    Concerning the absence of evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons program, ElBaradei is alluding to a controversial line in a 2003 Director-General’s report. Whatever one might have thought of it at the time, this line was never repeated, and has been entirely overtaken by events. In fact, the last several reports devote a great deal of space to what is described as “possible military dimensions.”

    Discussion of the difficulties of proving a negative misses the point. When the IAEA D-G reports raise the issue of being unable to provide “credible assurance” of the absence of a military nuclear program in Iran — credible assurance, mind you, not absolute proof — it is in connection to two issues: Iran’s non-adoption of the Additional Protocol, and Iran’s willful noncompliance with its existing safeguards agreement. Here’s how it was described in the Oct. 2008 report (see
    http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2008/gov2008-59.pdf):

    “However, Iran has not implemented the modified text of its Subsidiary Arrangements General Part, Code 3.1 on the early provision of design information. Nor has Iran implemented the Additional Protocol, which is essential for the Agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.”

    The IAEA has been absolutely crucial to getting an understanding of this very important and complicated issue. Knee-jerks about whether Iran or Israel is the source of all bad things do not constitute serious contributions. Reading the Director-General’s reports is the price of admission.

  13. George William Herbert (History)

    FSB writes above:
    Having the capacity to build a nuclear weapon is not the same thing as having one

    This is true but not useful – every industrial nation on earth and quite a few companies and universities have the basic knowledge and technical skills needed, if they chose to go nuclear. Most of these don’t consider it useful or relevant to their purpose in life.

    Iran’s situation is special for a number of reasons, including active sponsor of groups the West feel are terrorist groups, and regional geopolitical aggression, and the attempt to set up a completely covert enrichment program, which has never been done outside weapons proliferators.

    and having a large stock of low-enriched uranium is not the same as having the highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb

    Most of the SWU required for high enrichment are in the initial low-enrichment process. A LEU stockpile in excess of reactor needs is a proliferation plan / preparation tipoff.

  14. FSB

    @kerbihan:

    My opinion on why Iran possibly desires a latent nuclear arms capability is not important. You may wish to read what the National Defense University in Washington DC has to say about it

    Please read the part that says that Iran may desire this capability because it feels “strategically isolated…. and that possession of such weapons would give the regime legitimacy, respectability, and protection.”

    Yes, some few Iranians may chant death to Israel, but the bulk of the killing in the mid-east is going on by Israel. These are facts.

  15. Andy (History)

    So now the DG is a political analyst who gives policy advice on international relations? Train wreck indeed.

    I happen agree with much of what the DG says (and have long been sympathetic to dangerous political waters in which he swims), but that does not alter the fact that offering opinions about what direction bilateral relationships between two states should head is only going to further politicize the agency and its findings, not to mention that his comments implicitly blame US policy for Iran’s lack of cooperation with the Agency. I also find the DG’s claim that Iraq was a “success” conveniently forgets about the failures prior to 1991 – failures which led to the creation of the AP and which are evident with Iran.

    FSB,

    The NDU did not “say” anything. You should know that just because an academic institution publishes something it does not constitute institutional endorsement.

    Furthermore, the Iranian program was never about Israel, despite what those who make your “deterring Israel” argument claim. The covert portion of Iran’s program began in the tragic and bloody depths of the Iran-Iraq war and, to the end of Saddam’s regime in 2003, the two countries were each other’s biggest strategic threat. Iran’s program was about Iraq, and it was a rational response to the threat of a dictatorship which had advanced WMD programs and the demonstrated willingness to use them. Iran was under no illusions about Saddam and knew that he would rebuild those programs when given the opportunity, so it’s no surprise Iran hedged it bets during the 1990’s. Additionally, Iran’s own chem and bio weapons were developed in response to Iraq, not Israel, so it’s pretty clear that the impetus for Iran’s nuclear efforts had little to do with Israel’s arsenal and everything to do with its belligerent neighbor.

    Now that Saddam is gone the entire strategic picture has changed, which those pushing agendas have either missed or ignored in pursuit of their anti-Iran/Israel propagandizing. As the 2007 NIE made plain, even though it was not spelled out explicitly, it’s not clear that Iran intends to continue with a military dimension to its program. Iran’s main threat for its entire existence since the revolution is gone. Indeed, Iran is probably still evaluating its strategic options. One might argue Iran’s recent actions are consistent with a strategy of hedging until the dynamics of Iraq’s decapitation and resulting regional implications fully play out.

    So, those of you who can’t see two feet past your dislike for Israel’s arsenal, (including ahistorically hyping its threat to Iran) and argue or imply the idea of a nuclear Iran is a reasonable response to the “threat” of Israel’s weapons, should be mindful of creating threats in pursuit of political agendas where none need exist. Same goes for the neocons out there. Just sayin’

  16. Cliff

    Im surprised you are so critical of ElBaradei for stating his assessment on Iran’s supposed weapons program.

    As the article demonstrates, no one in the media understands anything about LEU, HEU, safeguards technology, or any of what it takes to make a nuclear weapon. (Or if they do understand, that understanding is not reflected in what is written in western papers)

    ElBaradei is doing what he can to deconstruct the fraudulent narrative that has been built around Iran. Its a shame that more of the people who have a platform of some sort are not doing the same thing.

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