Jeffrey LewisPersbo & Hibbs on ElBaradei

Six bucks or not, Andreas Persbo and Mark Hibbs have a must read profile of outgoing IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

The IAEA after ElBaradei. As ElBaradei’s tenure reaches its close, a deep and troubling divide has opened up on the IAEA Board of Governors between advanced nuclear states, including most of the states with nuclear weapons, and developing and non-aligned IAEA member states that make up a majority of the membership. On highly publicized issues such as Iran and Syria, consensus—essential to the demonstration of firm political will by the board—has evaporated. Once, decision making had taken place in a climate of unanimity. But after the IAEA’s confrontation with the United States over Iraq and the Iranian nuclear program, sources say, the willingness of board members to compromise on critical issues has disappeared. A few sources assert that ElBaradei contributed to the loss of board consensus by hammering away on the need for fairness and equity in international nuclear matters—such as the nuclear weapon states responsibility to disarm as called for in the NPT. But most sources—including some former U.S. diplomats—tell us that it was the Bush administration’s unilateral approach to issues that poisoned many board deliberations, not actions taken by ElBaradei. Others blame the lack of boardroom agreement on the failure of member states to adjust to a multipolar world after the Cold War’s superpower standoff ended.


When the Board of Governors began looking for a successor to ElBaradei last fall, most advanced nuclear states deliberately sought a candidate who would scale back the IAEA’s ambitions, diplomats from these countries tell us. They settled on Yukiya Amano, Japan’s ambassador to the IAEA, a career diplomat not known for taking risks or assuming a high profile. Most nonaligned and developing countries supported Abdul Samad Minty, a South African nuclear diplomat who was intensely opposed by most advanced nuclear members. Unlike previous board elections, the 2009 contest was acrimonious and Amano was elected in June by a mere one-vote majority.

In July, Amano tried to reassure member states that didn’t endorse him that he would heed their interests and that he wouldn’t emphasize the nonproliferation agenda of advanced nuclear countries to the detriment of other states’ development goals. The negative reception by developing states to ElBaradei’s fuel-cycle initiative underscores just how many of these countries have a deepseated fear that additional nonproliferation initiatives are intended to prevent them from enjoying the benefits of nuclear technology. It will be difficult for Amano to restore consensus, but if the IAEA is to fulfill its current mission—to say nothing of additional responsibilities—rebuilding trust on the board must be his top priority.


  1. FSB

    Of note, from Amano:

    VIENNA (Reuters Fri Jul 3, 2009 ) – The incoming head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday he did not see any hard evidence Iran was trying to gain the ability to develop nuclear arms.

    “I don’t see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this,” Yukiya Amano told Reuters in his first direct comment on Iran’s atomic program since his election, when asked whether he believed Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons capability.

  2. blowback (History)

    If this report by Gareth Porter is correct then the non-aligned countries have every reason to distrust the western nuclear states’ malign influence on the IAEA.

  3. FSB

    Thanks blowback.

    This is all the more why the supposed balanced National Public Radio week-long special on Iran is laughable from an objective viewpoint. The whole week-long special is premised on the “fact” that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

    There is no evidence of that.

    If there is, NPR should do a special on that.

    Then they can do a special on the (actually existing, and out of the NPT) Israeli nuclear program.


  4. Steven Dolley (History)

    “There is no evidence of that.”

    Yeah, every nation does technical research on the casting of hollow uranium metal spheres. Just for purely civilian applications, of course. Maybe very heavy ashtrays?

  5. Josh (History)

    Congratulations to Andreas and Mark on a really fine piece of work. It’s thoughtful, balanced, and sheds light on key episodes. But then, I wouldn’t have expected anything different from either of them.

  6. FSB

    Since 2003?

  7. FSB

    do you have a reference for those experiments and/or the date on which they were done?


  8. FSB

    as far as I can gather, Iran was given some documents on the subject and did not carry out the research you mention.

    Much of this info can be gleaned from the public literature anyway.

    Here is the report that refers to the document Iran got on the subject of casting U (early 2006 report, btw):

    “Late last year, inspectors saw the document that apparently showed how to mold highly enriched grade uranium into the core of warheads, and it figured in a November report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

    Initial reports said the IAEA was given the documents at that time but the diplomats said Friday that Tehran handed them over only last week in a show of cooperation meant to head off increasing international consensus on reporting Iran to the Security Council over suspicions that its nuclear activities might be a cover for developing weapons.

    The document was given to Iran by members of the nuclear black market network, the IAEA said. It showed how to cast ‘enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms.’

  9. Steven Dolley (History)

    Let’s not twist my statement to make a strawman. I didn’t say Iran conducted EXPERIMENTS, I said RESEARCH. Which includes gathering technical data such as you describe. “I got this from some guy, but I didn’t want it” doesn’t hold much water. why keep it years and years, until the IAEA eventually stumbles on it? souvenir?

  10. FSB

    it is well known that Iran HAD a nuclear weapons program until ~2003.

    The foreign document re. U casting likely predates that given that it was made public in late 2005 (see link below).

    And in my view, “I got this from some guy, but I didn’t want it” does indeed hold some water if the guy selling you stuff wants you to buy more stuff from him and his name has the initials AQK.

    As I said, research findings on casting U are available publicly anyway.

    This document does not prove at all that Iran currently has an on-going nuclear weapons program. No more than the aluminum tubes and yellowcake of Iraqi WMD fame.

  11. hass (History)

    DO you have any evidence that Iran conducted “research” OR “experiments” into casing uranium sphere? Far more detailed technical information on making bombs is already in the public domain, incidentally.

  12. Mark

    According to David Albright, the uranium casting documents had no measurements or other requirements to make them actually useful. They sound like something drawn on the back of a paper napkin. My local library has more detailed information. Sorry, not evidence of a nuke program.

  13. Steven Dolley (History)

    I wasn’t suggesting these documents were dispositive. Just wanted to see how readers of this blog thought they fit in the discussion. Many of these follow-up posts are making a great effort to tear apart strawmen I didn’t raise.

  14. Aksel

    A very informative article by Persbo and Hibbs, indeed a must read.