Joshua PollackModified Limited Hangout @ Qom, MNSR

Now that the IAEA’s latest Iran and Syria reports have leaked out, the fun begins. The conversations last September in Tehran about the enrichment site at Qom must have been really something. Perhaps they went something like this:

PRESIDENT: You think, you think we want to, want to go this route now? And the—let it hang out, so to speak?

DEAN: Well, it’s, it isn’t really that—

HALDEMAN: It’s a limited hang out.

DEAN: It’s a limited hang out.

EHRLICHMAN: It’s a modified limited hang out.

PRESIDENT: Well, it’s only the questions of the thing hanging out publicly or privately.

All of this is by way of saying that it’s time for Krepon to update the shoebox.

Qom: The Official Version

Here’s how Iran has explained the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP, aka the Qom facility) to the IAEA:

7. In a letter to the Director General dated 21 September 2009, Iran informed the Agency that “Based on (its) sovereign right of safeguarding … sensitive nuclear facilities through various means such as utilization of passive defense systems … (Iran) has decided to construct a new pilot fuel enrichment plant (up to 5% enrichment)”. [snip]

12. Iran explained that the Fordow site had been allocated to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in the second half of 2007, and that that was when the construction of FFEP had started. Iran subsequently confirmed that explanation in a letter dated 28 October 2009. In that letter, Iran stated that:

“As a result of the augmentation of the threats of military attacks against Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to establish contingency centers for various organizations and activities …

“The Natanz Enrichment Plant was among the targets threatened with military attacks. Therefore, the Atomic Energy Organization requested the Passive Defence Organization to allocate one of those aforementioned centers for the purpose of (a) contingency enrichment plant, so that the enrichment activities shall not be suspended in the case of any military attack. In this respect, the Fordow site, being one of those constructed and prepared centers, (was) allocated to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in the second half of 2007. The construction of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant then started. The construction is still ongoing. Thus the plant is not yet ready for operation and it is planned to be operational in 2011.”

The claim that work at FFEP started up in late 2007 connects to the controversy over modified Code 3.1. In March 2007, the Iranian side “suspended” its compliance with early notification rules for the construction of new nuclear facilities. There are only two problems: nobody shares the Iranian view of the legality of unilateral “suspension” of its safeguards undertakings, and nobody believes Iranian claims about the start of construction. On the latter point, the IAEA report states:

13. During the meetings, the Agency informed Iran that it had acquired commercially available satellite imagery of the site indicating that there had been construction at the site between 2002 and 2004, and that construction activities were resumed in 2006 and had continued to date. The Agency also referred to the extensive information given to the Agency by a number of Member States detailing the design of the facility, which was consistent with the design as verified by the Agency during the DIV. The Agency also informed Iran that these Member States alleged that design work on the facility had started in 2006.

Iran now looks ready to wage a losing battle over Qom at the upcoming Board of Governors meeting.

A Crack in Syria’s Stonewall

In the meantime, following the IAEA’s detection of chemically processed (“anthropogenic”) uranium traces at Syria’s Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR), Syria has acknowledged the possession of previously undeclared uranium supplies:

7. In a meeting held on 2 November 2009 in Vienna, Syria was provided with further detailed information concerning the results of the analysis of the environmental samples from the MNSR. At that meeting, Syria identified other possible sources of the anthropogenic natural uranium particles, including domestically produced yellowcake and small quantities of imported, but previously undeclared, commercial uranyl nitrate. Syria also provided a document to support its explanation for the presence of the uranyl nitrate at the MNSR.

An inspection is scheduled for tomorrow.

Bonus Watergate Transcript Excerpt!

EHRLICHMAN: John says he’s sorry he sent those burglars in there, and that helps a lot.

PRESIDENT: That’s right.

MITCHELL: You are very welcome, sir. (Laughter)

HALDEMAN: Just glad the others didn’t get caught.

For this and more priceless Nixoniana, go here.

Update: ISIS has posted analyses of the Iran and Syria reports.


  1. nick (History)

    IR1 count at Natanz has gone down from 4592 to 3926, effectively resulting in lower production of LEU, by about 20%, but no mention of this in the media, because it doesn’t fit the vilification profile.

    Flashing code 3.1 compliance when Iran’s Majlis did not approve it, is yet another act of frustration by the West. This latest report is riddled with code 3.1 this and code 3.1 that. This isolation strategy will deepen mistrust and move us closer to a military confrontation.

    It is interesting that Bush had to wait for Indian parliament to approve the nuclear deal, or for the case of our own congress, CTBT was rejected by the congress while Bill Clinton was pushing for it. But in the case of Iran, Majlis approval, which was stressed by the negotiating team with EU3 is now being questioned.

  2. Arnold Evans (History)

    Uh oh, if Iran loses this battle over 3.1 at the governor’s meeting, Iran may be referred to the Security Council.

  3. virtualnomad (History)

    3 points

    1) Esfahan remains shutdown since Aug. 10 and officials familiar with the file confirm that Iran’s almost out of the 530 kilograms of yellowcake imported from South Africa in 1982.
    2) The IAEA is monitoring the Bandar Abbas expansion and is able to differentiate the material converted at Esfahan.
    3) The Qom revelation did seem to re-invigorate analysis of the Green Salt studies and thus (my opinion) seemed to filter into the fairly direct language that IAEA cannot rule-out the existence of other sites.

  4. hass (History)

    Why should Iran stick to the letter of the safeguards when the information provided will be used to make a bombing targets list?

  5. hass (History)

    Note that the Iranian don’t say that the construction at the site stated in 2007. They say that the site was “allocated” to the FFEP in 2007. There’s a difference. The report itself says that the site pre-existed as a “passive defense” bunker or something:

    [T]he Fordow site, being one of those constructed and prepared centers, [was] allocated to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in the second half of 2007.

    Iran specifically stated that its implementation of 3.1 and the Additional Protocol were conditional.

  6. George William Herbert (History)

    Hass wrote:
    Why should Iran stick to the letter of the safeguards when the information provided will be used to make a bombing targets list?

    The best way for Iran to avoid having its facilities bombed is for it to convince all of the IAEA, the US, and Israel that the program is being conducted entirely openly and is not a front for more secret facilities and a bomb program.

  7. Josh (History)

    Nick and Hass:

    Sorry, but you’re mistaken. Code 3.1 is part of the Subsidiary Arrangements to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement. Changes to the Subsidiary Arrangements are made with an exchange of letters. So far as I’m aware, the Majlis has never been involved at all, either in entering into the modified Code 3.1 or in trying to evade it.

    By contrast, it was made clear from the start that the Additional Protocol would require ratification by the Majlis, which never happened; indeed, the Majlis wound up passing a law that terminated the provisional observance of the signed-but-not-ratified Additional Protocol. Which is really too bad, but that’s another kettle of fish.

  8. Yale Simkin (History)

    “The Natanz Enrichment Plant was among the targets threatened with military attacks. Therefore, the Atomic Energy Organization requested the Passive Defence Organization to allocate one of those aforementioned centers for the purpose of (a) contingency enrichment plant, so that the enrichment activities shall not be suspended in the case of any military attack.

    Bottom line, Iran is indirectly confirming that its centrifuges are military.

    If, in fact, it was sized for about 3000 centrifuges then it is absolutely irrelevant for fueling its light water reactor. That would require many tens of thousands to be of any value.

    What are the enrichment activities that shall not be suspended?

    The LWR would, of course, be disabled in an attack, as would other Iranian reactors.

    Qom would not replicate FFEP even now – let alone in the year or so to build-out when FFEP will have 50k+ centrifuges (and making a bomb every few weeks).

    [Per request: “FFEP,” above, should be read as “Natanz.”]

    Or, do they have 20 or more OTHER Qom-scale hidden sites to enrich fuel for the LWR? Are they building centrifuges for them? Were they going to be announced or just secretly producing 3.5% LEU? (No way would these clandestine plants produce HEU – no I’m sure they would’t – but I believe in the Easter bunny, too)

  9. FSB

    Really, GWH: You are wrong empirically. Israel bombed Iraq’s reactor even though it was impossible to use it militarily.

    Why should any country have to demonstrate anything to Israel, esp. when it is not even an NPT member!

    Patently absurd!

    Go read Andrew Bacevich to see what ails the US FP.

  10. Yale Simkin (History)

    Just re-read my comments. I wrote FFEP whenever I meant to write Natanz. Just do a mental cut-and-paste unless Josh will edit the previous post and delete this comment.

  11. Josh (History)

    I would answer Hass’s question a little differently.

    First and simplest, Iran should disclose its facilities because it signed on to do just that.

    Second, Iran should disclose its facilities because — if and when it gets caught not disclosing them — it leads to sanctions, isolation, military threats and the like. Deception in such a sensitive matter makes everybody awful jumpy.

    No doubt about it, the Middle East is an iffy place to build anything nuclear-related: feel free to consult my summary of the record. But the idea that hiding nuclear facilities will protect them in the event of armed conflict could wind up as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s hope not, though.

  12. Carey Sublette

    Really, GWH: You are wrong empirically. Israel bombed Iraq’s reactor even though it was impossible to use it militarily.

    FSB: I find your remarks quite surprising at this late date since the vast magnitude and sophistication of Iraq’s program of deception has been meticulously and publicly documented for many years now.

    The Tammuz (Osirak) reactor was a high-flux isotope production reactor capable of producing 16 kg or so of plutonium annually under a plausible operating schedule. Iraq actually acquired depleted uranium elements for irradiation at the time.

    The IAEA inspectors at the time had very limited abilities to effectively detect deception in a sophisticated operation like Iraq’s and a very substantial proportion of the reactor’s production capability could likely have been realized.

    The determined and institutionalized complacency of the IAEA at the time assured that Iraq could keep investigations of cheating at bay indefinitely given the ineffecitve protocols then in force. IAEA inspector Roger Richter who resigned in 1981 before the attack complained of these serious deficiencies in the IAEA at the time.

  13. nick (History)

    The Safeguards Agreement with Iran does not allow unilateral “modification” of a Subsidiary Arrangement (SA), i.e., code 3.1, but says nothing about withdrawal from SA code 3.1, which is what Iran did. Johan Rautenbach of the IAEA Legal Office was doubtful that what Iran has done with 3.1 constitutes non-compliance with the Safeguard Agreement.

    Discussed further in this article:

    As for IR1’s (with SWU of 1.2)targeted for FFEP, I agree that is not a good thing, I have always argued the number of centrifuges does not mean anything as long as the SWU per unit is high. But isn’t it ironic that we as member state threatening military action with impunity, but if they try to dig hole to protect against bombs, then they are in serious trouble.

  14. bts

    George William Herbert wrote:
    “The best way for Iran to avoid having its facilities bombed is for it to convince all of the IAEA, the US, and Israel that the program is being conducted entirely openly and is not a front for more secret facilities and a bomb program.”

    I disagree. US/Israel have plenty of reasons to bomb Iran, reasons which are not remotely related to the nuclear program.

    Iran is blamed for the terrorist attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, and pretty much every other conflict in the region. Iran is described as fundamentalist evil tyrannical terrorist rouge nation… worthy of being liberated, isolated, sanctioned, bombed, etc. I could go on and on.

    In fact, please give me one good reason why any free-loving Western nation should NOT bomb Iran?

    The only reason I can think of is that Iran will withdraw from NPT in retaliation to any attack. Thus, Iran should NOT convince its adversaries that its nuclear program is peaceful.

    The conflict between Iran and Western powers predates the nuclear age. The nuclear issue is neither the cause nor the solution.

  15. Andy (History)

    Even if Iran was adhering to 3.1, it has already found an effective means to circumvent much of it’s intent: Simply construct a bunch of “generic” facilities suitable to house cascades and then “allocate” them for the purpose when necessary. Who can prove otherwise?

    Except, what’s the point of doing that for a civilian program where sites have to be declared? It’s simply impossible to both meet safeguards obligations and keep facilities hidden and off someone’s target list. Building “contingency” installations to complicate targeting efforts isn’t going to work unless Iran keeps them secret. Even that is unlikely to work since underground facilities on IRGC bases are likely to be on target lists regardless of their claimed purpose.

    The claim that the FFEP is a “contingency” facility to maintain an enrichment capability in the event of an attack stretches credulity.

  16. Ataune (History)


    You wrote:

    “So far as I’m aware, the Majlis has never been involved at all, either in entering into the modified Code 3.1 or in trying to evade it.”

    I believe you are not aware of the fact that it is the iranian house of representative (Majlis) that passed a law which mandated the executif branch to rescind Iran’s adherence to 3.1 code sometimes in 2007.

  17. Josh (History)


    Well, I could be wrong, but I think you may be mistaken about that. The Majlis intervened in the Additional Protocol in early 2006. Are you sure that’s not what you’re thinking of?

    If you have any pointers to news items, I’d definitely be interested in seeing that.

    In the meantime, as a refresher, here’s how the matter was described in the DG report of May 2007 (GOV/2007/22):

    12. On 29 March 2007, Iran informed the Agency that it had “suspended” the implementation of the modified Code 3.1, which had been “accepted in 2003, but not yet ratified by the parliament”, and that it would “revert” to the implementation of the 1976 version of Code 3.1, which only requires the submission of design information for new facilities “normally not later than 180 days before the facility is scheduled to receive nuclear material for the first time.” In a letter dated 30 March 2007, the Agency requested Iran to reconsider its decision.
    13. Iran has taken issue with the Agency’s right to verify design information which had been provided by Iran pursuant to the modified Code 3.1 concerning the IR-40 reactor at Arak. The basis for Iran’s contention is that, under the 1976 version of Code 3.1, to which it had “reverted”, the verification of such information is not justified, given the preliminary construction stage of the facility (described as “far beyond receiving nuclear material”) and the Agency’s previous activities at Arak.
    14. In accordance with Article 39 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, agreed Subsidiary Arrangements cannot be modified unilaterally; nor is there a mechanism in the Safeguards Agreement for the suspension of provisions agreed to in Subsidiary Arrangements. Moreover, Code 3.1 is related to the provision of design information, not to the frequency or timing of verification by the Agency of such information. The Agency’s right to verify design information provided to it is a continuing right, which is not dependent on the stage of construction of, or the presence of nuclear material at, a facility.

    Sounds to me like an executive action, rather than a legislative one, at least at that point.

  18. Lysander (History)

    “Bottom line, Iran is indirectly confirming that its centrifuges are military.”

    Perhaps Iran is subtlety telling what it may not openly say. Something along the lines of “we don’t have a weapons program RIGHT NOW. But if you actually attack us, you better believe we will have one then.”

    After all, Iran has never promised it will passively accept bombardment without response or complaint.

  19. anon1

    with due respect Middle East is indeed an iffy place to build anything nuclear-related. However, why did this maxim not apply to Israel?

    Let me offer a complicated explanation: because it is our “ally”. We don’t mind if they have nukes.

  20. Josh (History)

    Why should this maxim be presumed not to apply to Israel? Dimona was overflown by recon planes flying out of Egypt before the 1967 war, and there is some reason to believe that Iraqi missile attacks on southern Israel in 1991 were meant to strike the facility, or at least to threaten it.

  21. FSB

    The IAEA also had no means to monitor the Dimona reactor in Israel, despite UNSC resolutions sying IAEA should have access and the US did not bomb it.

    The problem is the double standard here.

    The lesson, then, is that it makes no sense for developing countries to sign any future arms control measures with the west: Israel got away scott-free whereas Iran is harassed.

    As for Osirak, if you wanted to make a military type reactor, Osirak was not it.


    I agree with Fallows that Iran is likely to have concealed and dispersed its facilities, and that such countermeasures substantially complicate military plans. However, the success of the 1981 Israeli attack in delaying the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program has been greatly exaggerated. The French-supplied reactor at Osirak was not well designed for plutonium production, the pre-attack Iraqi route to building a nuclear weapon. Further, by 1981 the French had decided to supply the Iraqis with a special nuclear fuel that could be used to run the reactor but was not well suited for plutonium production.

    More important, a rigorous inspection regime was in place to ensure that plutonium could not be produced and secretly diverted to a weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency was in the process of installing an extensive inspection regime that would probably have included twenty-four-hour camera surveillance and frequent on-site visits from IAEA inspectors (the reactor was not yet operative at the time of the attack). The French themselves had technicians on hand who filed frequent reports. France opposed Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons, and would have suspended the supply of reactor fuel if evidence of plutonium production had been uncovered. The diversion of plutonium would have been difficult to conceal, given that it would have involved a number of non-routine activities, including possibly shutting down the reactor. Imad Khadduri, a former scientist in the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission under Saddam Hussein, bluntly declares in his recent memoir that the idea that plutonium could be produced under this inspection regime without tipping off IAEA inspectors or French technicians is “delusional.”

    Rather than delaying the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, the 1981 attack may actually have accelerated it. The attack appears to have heightened Saddam’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons. After the attack Saddam started an underground nuclear-weapons program, unbeknownst to the international community and hence free from the fetters of IAEA inspection.

    Given that Osirak is supposed to be the prototypical success story of preventive attacks against a rogue state’s nuclear program, this episode should give considerable pause to advocates of future preventive strikes.

    Dan Reiter
    Atlanta, Ga.

    I was surprised that one option was not even mentioned, let alone discussed, in James Fallows’s interesting article. That option is the nuclear deterrent strategy that was highly effective against the Soviet Union—once seen as an implacable enemy, an “evil empire.”

    The United States, with its overwhelming nuclear superiority, could make it known to Iran (and North Korea) that any use of nuclear weapons by Iran—whether against the United States or against any U.S. interest, including Israel, Turkey, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia—would be met with a nuclear response so overwhelming that it would effectively destroy Iran as a functioning society. Iran could not doubt America’s capability in that regard, and though some question might remain about America’s willingness to let the nuclear monster loose, the Iranians might find the idea credible with George Bush as president. In any event, the mere possibility of wholesale destruction as a consequence of using a nuclear weapon must surely give pause even to a madman. The historical record seems to show that it does.

    This idea does not address the very real possibility that Iran could act indirectly, as suggested in the article, helping al-Qaeda or Hizbollah or some other terrorist group to stage a nuclear attack. Once again, however, the Bush policy of “either you’re with us or you’re against us” could make clear that the faintest hint of cooperation with a terrorist nuclear attack would also result in wholesale retaliation. The Iranians might then hesitate to provide such support, and might even attempt to police their terrorist friends for fear that Iran could be implicated in any terrorist nuclear attack.

    Arthur Z. Moss
    Wilmington, Del.

    James Fallows neglects two points that considerably affect his thesis.

    First, the Osirak reactor that was bombed by Israel in June of 1981 was explicitly designed by the French engineer Yves Girard to be unsuitable for making bombs. That was obvious to me on my 1982 visit. Many physicists and nuclear engineers have agreed. Much evidence suggests that the bombing did not delay the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program but started it. For example, the principal Iraqi scientist, Jafar Dhia Jafar, was asked by Saddam Hussein to work on the bomb only in July of 1981.

    Second, Fallows fails to recognize that Iran is now in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, after having failed to provide details of the uranium-enrichment program when it should have. The protocol Iran has declined to sign is an additional protocol that is not a part of the treaty itself. More important, the principal proponent of the treaty, the United States, has been in violation of the treaty almost continuously since its inception. The United States is continuing to develop new types of nuclear weapons and failing to disarm to the extent most scientists believe is desirable. The United States has refused to sign the test-ban treaty. The United States is also violating Title VI by failing to help non-weapons states use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production.

    James Fallows and the U.S. State Department may not understand these matters, but any non-nuclear state that feels threatened by a neighbor or by the United States certainly does. Rhetoric about failing to follow the NPT is rightly perceived as insulting. If we wish to dissuade Iran from making nuclear weapons, then we must somehow find a peaceful way to persuade the Iranians that not making such weapons is in their interest and not merely in ours. We must recognize their sovereign rights and their legitimate pride. The threat of bombing is not enough, and is probably counterproductive.

    Richard Wilson
    Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics
    Harvard University
    Cambridge, Mass.

    Let’s please stop being fatuous.

  22. Alan (History)

    This is really quite gentle stuff regarding Qom. It looks more and more like a storm in a teacup to me. I think it is more likely to be PR cover for the fact that the West are contemplating a rather significant climbdown from the positions held in the past.

    In August 2006, Iran offered the EU3 practically everything that the current negotiations are revolving round, and were told to take a walk.

    The very fact that the talks now accept the Iranian 2006 position in principle indicates to me that “our” side desperately want a deal. It further indicates that the issue is not really about the waning belief in Iranian nukes any more, and much more about strategic direction.

  23. Yale Simkin (History)

    Lysander wrote:

    Perhaps Iran is subtlety telling what it may not openly say. Something along the lines of “we don’t have a weapons program RIGHT NOW. But if you actually attack us, you better believe we will have one then”.

    1) If true, that underscores the absolutely inseparability of “civil” and “military” nuclear technology.


    2) Your point assumes that they told the world about their “ace-in-the-hole” facilities. The Qom plant WAS A SECRET SITE. It was neither a subtle nor obvious warning to anyone. If they announced the site it would lose all value as a secure asset.

    Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, EH?

    Ambassador de Sadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

  24. Bahram Chubin (History)

    You say nobody believes Iran’s claim about construction in 2007. But what you quoted does not speak about construction in 2007: it speaks of “allocation” in 2007. The claim seems to be that originally the site was intended for some other purpose (probably a military or security-related purpose), and in 2007 it was reallocated to house centrifuge to safeguard enrichment technology in the event of the bombing of Natanz.

  25. Yale Simkin (History)

    FSB –
    The Osirak reactor, a machine specifically designed to produce a huge flux of neutrons, had the potential to make an plutonium factory.

    The “unsuitability” to produce bombs was not based so much on the physics of the reactor, but on its safeguardability (is that a word?).

    First, the pool-type reactor is straightforward to both visually monitor and to measure performance.
    Secondly, it used HEU as fuel, keeping the Iraqis on the string for refuelling requirements (the situation the Iranians are using as the justification for building homegrown enrichment facilities). Plus the HEU core provides less bred plutonium in the fuel elements themselves.

    The Iraqis could still stash fertile u238 in various nooks and crannies to produce 1 – 4 kgs of plutonium a year, sufficient to build a bomb in 1-6 years, if the IAEA used massive monitoring – which they weren’t.

    If the Iraqis expelled the IAEA, or were slack in safeguards, then the reactor could be diverted directly to mass plutonium breeding.

    In addition, the fuel cores of the reactors had directly bomb usable HEU.

    The Iraqis could have produced a functional little collection of weapons from possibly composite cores of bred plutonium and reprocessed irradiated core HEU (which is usable, altho not ideal).

  26. scud

    FSB, let’s please stop being ridiculous. Osiraq was not ideal for military-grade Pu, but that’s all they could get and it was certainly not a bad option. Khidir Hamza has testified that Osiraq was to be used directly for the Iraqi NW program (see his piece in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 54:5). The program started in 1971 – Jafar was brought in later. Saddam had made no mystery of his plans – he spoke publicly about his military intentions when visiting France. As per the IAEA, well, they stopped inspecting the reactor after the war against Iran began.

  27. Carey Sublette


    In your lengthy follow-up post you abandon the claim I criticized: that it was impossible to use it militarily.

    Pointing out the (real) double standard with Israel, that the reactor was not ideally designed for proliferation (this reactor was Iraq’s second choice, forced upon it by France), or that the attack may have – in the end – accelerated rather than delayed Iraq’s nuclear weapon program (a debatable claim at best), does nothing to support your original assertion.

    I shall decline to follow your example and will not end by throwing out an empty pejorative.

  28. Josh (History)


    The Osirak debate has been pretty interesting. If you intend to continue, let’s please keep it civil.


    I confess to puzzlement at your references to Iran’s offer of August 2006. The only major Iranian diplomatic move in August 2006 that I can recall or find any reference to was the document of August 22, 2006, which responded to a P5+1 offer of new negotiations by rejecting the “freeze-for-freeze” framework proposed by by P5+1 in favor of a different series of preconditions, whose burdens fell primarily on the other side, and were for the most part quite vague. Fairly or not, it struck many Western observers at the time as an evasion, or an elaborate way of saying “no” without saying “no.”

    Here’s what Paul Kerr wrote about it at the time in Arms Control Today.

    Are you thinking of some other document?

  29. Alan (History)


    Thanks for reply. I’m not covering myself in glory here. The proposal I was referring to was made public by Iran in August 2005, not 2006, and referred to an offer made in March 2005 to the EU3 under the Paris Agreement. Specifically, Iran offered to:

    “produce only low enriched uranium; to limit the amount of uranium enriched; to convert all low-enriched uranium to fuel rods for use in reactors …; to limit the number of centrifuges in Natanz in the beginning and make the full operation of the fuel cycle incremental, beginning with the least sensitive part of uranium conversion; to refrain from reprocessing spent reactor fuel and hence keep an open fuel cycle; and, finally, to give the IAEA a permanent on-site presence at all sites for uranium conversion and enrichment.”

    Details and analysis from Middle East Report here and here specifically paragraph 12 in the first and “enter the EU-3” section in the second.

    I have read the document you link to, thanks. What I believed happened after the EU3 rejected the Iranian offer in August 2005 was the restarting of enrichment and subsequent referral to the Security Council, which resulted in a serious deterioration in relations, effectively putting it all back to square one. Which appears to be where the August 2006 document is at.

  30. hass (History)

    I am really surprised that anyone still cites Khidir Hamza as some sort of authority when he was so hopelessly discredited as a fraud.

    The Osirak reactor bombing was a failure which backfired

    In order to reprocess the fuel from Osirak on a significant scale, the Iraqis would have needed to construct a separate plutonium reprocessing plant…Iraq had made no move toward building the necessary reprocessing facility at the time the Israelis struck the reactor.

    Anyway, Osirak is irrelevant to Iran since unlike Iraq, Iran has signed, temporarily implemented for 2 years, offered to ratify and permanently implement the Additional Protocol as long as its nuclear rights are recognized too. In fact, that was included in the Iranian offers Alan refers to, which can also be found listed here (note they include opening IRan’s nuclear program to multinational participation.) These offers which would have addressed any REAL concerns about weapons proliferation, were simply ignored, along with Iran’s offer to limit its centrifuges

    I have seen the Iranians ready to accept putting a cap on their enrichment [program] in terms of tens of centrifuges, and then in terms of hundreds of centrifuges. But nobody even tried to engage them on these offers. Now Iran has 5,000 centrifuges. The line was, ‘Iran will buckle under pressure.’ But this issue has become so ingrained in the Iranian soul as a matter of national pride.”

    Ask yourself — why were these offers ignored. Answer: weapons proliferation is a pretext for something else entirely, and not the real issue. That fact is being ignored in all these ridiculous debates about Iran’s “secret intentions to obtain capabilities”. You guys jsut don’t want to acknowledge the Developed-Developing world conflict over control over the nuclear fuel cycle, do you?

  31. Lysander (History)

    By Yani;
    “1) If true, that underscores the absolutely inseparability of “civil” and “military” nuclear technology.”

    Of course that is entirely true and I’m unaware of anyone claiming otherwise. With a civilian nuclear program come the capability for military one. However the west’s solution for this problem is to deny Iran any civilian program at all. That is unacceptable. The world does not recognize the authority of the U.S./E.U./Israel to determine who may have advanced technology and who may not.

    “2) Your point assumes that they told the world about their “ace-in-the-hole” facilities. The Qom plant WAS A SECRET SITE. It was neither a subtle nor obvious warning to anyone. If they announced the site it would lose all value as a secure asset.”

    But they did tell the world about their Qom facility. I’m not assuming it. The IAEA was informed on Sept 21. The U.S.’ subsequent announcement that they knew about it all along cannot be proven or disproven.

    The announcement by Iran of the Qom site without a doubt enhances their defensive posture. Yes, that facility is no longer secret (assuming it ever was) but by its announcement raises the possibility of other secret sites yet to be announced. Indeed that has been the point of multiple articles re: the Iran nuclear program.

    The Iranians have in essence announced: Here is our secret site. We may or may not have more. If you attack us, you can’t ever be sure if you have hit them all and we WILL nuke up at that point. You really have no military option. Don’t waste your breath talking about what you will never do. The only way you can be sure we aren’t working on a nuclear program is through an inspections regime, which you will get only after you accept our right to nuclear development.

    Now that may not be what the west actually hears, or if heard, might not be believed. But it is certainly the message Iran wishes to convey.

  32. FSB

    Carey et al.,
    yes, I overstated my point: it is possible to use almost any reactor for some conceivable military purpose. I can even use a medical source for a dirty weapon. The point was that the fact that the reactor was not of a type one would choose to use for a bomb factory did not stop Israel from bombing it.

    The counter-claims are somewhat disingenuous: are we to believe that Iraq would have leapfrogged to a Pu type device without ever testing a U type device? Unbelievable.

    In reaction to the Osirak bombing the UNSC passed a resolution asking Israel to open its nuke facilities to the IAEA.

    It never did that.

    Where is the media noise and outrage that Israel did not follow that UNSC resolution?

    When do we start the sanctions on Israel?

  33. hass (History)

    Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency explains why Iran had built the Fordo nuclear facility:

    We built it [Fordo nuclear plant] due to the continuous threats of an attack we face from the enemies, especially the Zionist regime. The building of this plant has a political message. The political message of this plant is that the Islamic Republic of Iran will never abandon its nuclear activities, especially its enrichment activities, which are for peaceful purposes. The building of this plant shows that we have taken pre-emptive measures so that our activities will not stop even if our nuclear installations face the threat of an attack. As a result, our advice to those few Western countries is that instead of being confrontational and creating a politicized atmosphere at the IAEA, they should continue their expert and technical cooperation with each other [as heard].

    SOURCE Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, Tehran, in Persian 0910 17 Nov 09

    Like I said, you can’t on one had continuously threaten to bomb a country and on the other hand whine about how they’re building bunkers and not telling you where they’re located.

  34. LHX

    There has been a fair on nuclear industry in Iran; for those interested in pictures:

  35. FSB

    Scud, Yale et al.,
    I appreciate the input, but the point is whether there is any type of nuclear reactor that would be acceptable to Israel in any adversarial Arab/muslim nation — and whether this should matter at all given that Israel is a non NPT member and has nukes itself?

    BTW, I do not buy the Pu bomb Iraq hypothesis — it would have been too difficult for them to go for a Pu device directly.

  36. Yale Simkin (History)

    The Iranians ‘fessed up about Qom after they were ratted out. Any face-saving or obsfucating statements made after being exposed must be taken with a mountain of salt.

    FSB – A implosion bomb is an implosion bomb. Properly designed they may be made to work fine with U or Pu (or composite, as I pointed out) cores.
    Only the US (built in parallel with the implosion bomb and detonated after) and South Africa did early work with uranium guns.

    Iraq was designing implosion bombs. Do you dispute that?

    Also, the reactor was good (enough) for bombs. As I tried to explain, it just was not good for concealing Pu breeding from competent safeguarding.

    As to whether Israel would (or should) find any reactor aceptable in the hands of implacably hostile regimes unrestained by strong democratic prinicples, not likely.

  37. Josh (History)

    The tone of the discussion is becoming quite discouraging. Nor is that just my own opinion; I’ve been receiving complaints lately from readers interested in having a more substantive, less heated comment board, something that seems especially hard to come by lately when the topic is Iran. They haven’t been too specific, but I’m guessing this would not leave much room for rude remarks, legal reasoning that could be summarized as “two wrongs make a right,” or claims of disingenuousness.

    Quite apart from the questionable merits of some allegations made here — for example, if there is discrimination against developing countries, shouldn’t that include India and Brazil? — it is hardly possible to have a conversation if people are unwilling to credit each other with a certain basic level of sincerity, even in disagreement. That’s not a conversation, it’s an angry dispute. And it’s a waste of time. Some readers, including people whose names you might recognize, have indicated that they’ve simply stopped reading the comments. When it’s come to that point, there’s scarcely a point to the comment boards anymore.

    I know this is the Internet and all, but how ‘bout we all act like adults?

    OK. End lecture. Start manifesto.

    Here is the story, in the interests of transparency. In trying to deal with these issues, I’ve been experimenting with different styles of comment moderation lately. Commenters have my apologizes for any gross inconsistencies that may have arisen as a result. It turns out to be quite difficult to identify bright lines, even in the interest of having a substantive and civil conversation that is fair to all participants. There are a large number of judgment calls. The day’s not long enough, and I don’t get paid for this.

    So it occurs to me that I’ve been gazing through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of presuming that a comment should be accepted unless the commenter crosses the elusive line into irrelevance or incivility, from now on, the presumption will be non-publication. To get over the hurdle, comments will have to advance the conversation in some way. It can’t just be the same old arguments in a circle.

    To make it as simple as possible: the new rule is, if I judge that typical ACW readers stand to learn something from a comment that they didn’t already know, then the comment is more likely to be approved. I make no claims to objectivity; I’ll just do the best I can, based on my sense of who is reading and what they know. This could mean a lot fewer comments, of course, but that is not a tragedy.

    Civility and relevance remain necessary, of course, but they are no longer sufficient.

    Because so many people have probably quit reading the comments on this post by now, I will repeat this manifesto in the comments of my next post, whenever that happens.

  38. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I happily endorse Josh’s proposed policy.

  39. Siddharth Varadarajan

    From ISIS today… If there is no construction indicated at the site in June 2006, that moves the timeline closer to what the Iranians have been saying (“late 2007”) rather what the IAEA speculates (“as early as 2002”)…

    <b>Satellite Imagery Further Narrows Fordow Enrichment Facility Construction Start Date</b>

    by Paul Brannan

    ISIS has obtained commercial satellite imagery from GeoEye that further narrows the time frame during which Iran would have begun construction of the Fordow uranium enrichment facility. An analysis of a June 10, 2006 GeoEye image does not show any construction activity, indicating that construction of the enrichment plant had not yet begun as of that date.

    See the report for the detailed imagery time frame analysis: Satellite Imagery Further Narrows Fordow Enrichment Facility Construction Start Date

  40. Carey Sublette

    I hope this passes muster with the new moderation policy.

    Below is a list (from the IAEA data base) of existing reactors in countries that have been in an official or state of war, or otherwise overtly hostile, with Israel during the time the reactor has been in operation, with type, power level, and date of first criticality.

    I have omitted reactors with power levels of less that 1 kilowatt.

    Es-Salam, 15000 kw, Heavy Water, 02/17/92
    Nur, 1000 kw, Pool, 03/24/89
    ETRR-1, 2000 kw, Tank WWR, 02/08/61
    Iran, Islamic Republic Of
    ENTC MNSR, 30 kw, MNSR, 03/01/94
    TRR, 5000 kw, Pool, 11/01/67
    IRT-5000, 5000 kw, Pool IRT, 01/01/67
    Tammuz-2, 500 kw, Pool, 03/01/87
    Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
    IRT-1, 10000 kw, Pool, IRT, 08/28/81
    Syrian Arab Republic
    SRR-1, 30 kw, MNSR, 03/04/96

    To the best of my knowledge not one of these reactors has ever been attacked by Israel.

    My point is simply that the proposition that any nuclear reactor in the hands of a hostile state is subject to attack by Israel does not stand up to objective evidence.

  41. TNT

    Using the data provided by Carey we may calculate the rough probability of attack on nuclear facilities.

    2 Arab/Muslim nations’ nuclear facilities have been bombed by US/Israeli raids, out of about 11.

    Thus the probability works out to about 18%.

    This is a rather high value for a country to tolerate for its expensive nuclear facilities.

    Thus, I believe there is indeed some merit to what FSB and Hass have stated that Iran may be rationally afraid of having some of its facilities bombed and is thus hiding them and/or pursuing a nuclear weapons program to deter such an attack.


  42. Carey Sublette


    Or one might suppose there were unique properties of the two sites that were bombed, that made them real security concerns for Israel, which none of the others presented.

    Nah, can’t be that…

  43. Josh (History)

    At this point, I think we have managed to go in a circle at least two or three times, and on a tangentially related question at that. So let’s let it rest.

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