Paul KerrLedeen's Iran Falsehoods

Michael Ledeen’s November 29 screed in the National Review Online about the recent EU3 deal with Iran proves that it’s easy to make arguments when you can just invent facts.

Some background: Iran agreed in October 2003 to stop its uranium enrichment activities, but there has been an ongoing dispute about the scope of that agreement and Iran has continued work on portions of its gas centrifuge enrichment program. The new agreement is more specific and explicitly requires Iran not to do things like build centrifuges or convert yellow cake into uranium hexafluoride, which is the gas used as feedstock for centrifuges.

Anyway, here are some facts Ledeen gets wrong.

First, Ledeen says:

The latest Iranian shenanigan may have set a record for speed. On Monday they announced they had stopped the centrifuges that were enriching uranium. On Tuesday they asked for permission to run the centrifuges again. The Europeans sternly said no.

Not exactly. Iran hasn’t used any nuclear material in its centrifuges since it agreed to stop doing so in October 2003. This is the part of its original deal with the EU that it has abided by. What Iran wanted this time was to exempt 20 sets of centrifuge components from its suspension deal. The EU3 said they couldn’t do that and reached a compromise where the centrifuges are under IAEA surveillance, but not IAEA seal (which is where the rest of the centrifuge components are.)

Ledeen also argues:

No serious person can believe that the negotiations are going to block, or even seriously delay, the Iranian race to acquire atomic bombs.

Actually, they can and do. IAEA inspectors have pretty extensive powers to access Iranian facilities suspected of being involved in a nuclear program. While they’re not foolproof (Iran might possess concealed facilities that the agency doesn’t know about), these inspection powers have produced a wealth of information about Iran’s nuclear programs in the 2+ years that this investigation has been going on.

Even the CIA agrees in its most recent report that Iran can’t do much with the facilities under IAEA safeguards:

International scrutiny and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and safeguards will most likely prevent Tehran from using facilities declared to the IAEA directly for its weapons program as long as Tehran remains a party to the NPT.

Ledeen then accuses the Europeans of “appeasement” and acting in bad faith, claiming (without evidence) that they “surely know” that their agreement is “a ritual dance designed to put a flimsy veil over the nakedness of the real activities.”

Apart from the obvious weakness of this ad-hom attack, Ledeen also ignores the fact that, since the original October 2003 agreement, Iran:

  • has not enriched uranium
  • has increased its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation
  • is doing several things that it’s not legally required to do, like act as if the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement is in force (even though it isn’t). In fact, there’s not really a legal requirement for Iran to suspend its enrichment program.

Now it is true that Iran has, among other things, also gone back on a February 2004 agreement to refrain from building centrifuges and manufacturing components for them. And they previously lied to the IAEA and still need to resolve several other outstanding issues. And all of their claims should be scrutinized very, very, closely. But it’s tough to argue that there’s not at least some basis for believing that Iran may want to deal with the EU3 and eventually give up its fuel cycle facilities.

After asserting (again, without evidence) that the EU3 want a nuclear-armed Iran and want to keep the US from acting to stop Iranian nukes (No, I’m not going to waste keystrokes answering this nonsense), Ledeen claims that

There is certainly no risk that the United Nations will do anything serious, which is why the Europeans keep insisting that it is the only “legitimate” forum for any discussion of the Iranian nuclear menace.

This is really where up becomes down for Ledeen and (apparently) NRO editors. In point of fact, the US has been insisting on going to the UN Security Council. The EU3 have threatened to support this US effort as a way to get Iran to cooperate. The reason they’re skeptical of the US idea is because they don’t think the US knows what to do if the issue does go to the Security Council. It’s worth noting that the IAEA referred North Korea to the Security Council more than 18 months ago and nothing has happened.

Anyway, the rest of the article is about why we should push for regime change in Iran. There’s no evidence to support any of his claims here either, and most knowledgeable people seem to agree that regime change is a) unlikely to work, especially in the short term and b) no guarantee of a regime that won’t want nuclear weapons. (see, for example, this CFR task force report.)



  1. Christopher Paine (History)

    “But it’s tough to argue that there’s not at least some basis for believing that Iran may want to deal with the EU3 and eventually give up its fuel cycle facilities.” Not much of a basis, I’m afraid. While Ledeen is certainly a fool—no argument there—I see little chance that Iran (or for that matter most NPT non-weapon states larger than Libya) would sign a formal undertaking permanently renouncing their current legal “right” under the NPT to fully develop develop the peaceful applications of nuclear technology. After all, there are the precedents of Japan, Germany, Holland, and Belgium—NPT non-weapon state members in good standing with nuclear fuel cycle facilities—so why should Iran accept anything less. “Delay,” “deferral,” “moratorium,”—perhaps—but “give-up,” never. And in the current climate, their “defiance” on this “peaceful use” question is likely to be supported by many other states.

    Iran might ultimately be induced to agree if: (a) it perceives that it is agreeing to a new universal norm—i.e. fuel cycle facilities would be universally understood to constitute an intrinsic part of the “manufacture” of nuclear weapons banned under Articles I and II of the NPT, thereby trumping the peaceful use rights under Article IV, which by its own terms must be interpreted “in conformity with article I and II of this Treaty;” (b) there is a dramatic improvement in Iran’s regional security environment, including a complete withdrawal of the threat of US/Israeli conventional military intervention in its internal affairs; and c) the US,Russia,China,Israel, India, and Pakistan—Iran’s neighbors all—do far more to put their nuclear deterrents in some deep dark arms control basement, such that the frequently voiced Iranian fears of “coercion in a crisis” no longer seem as relevant—and real—as they do today. Of course, every time the Bushies open their mouths, they persuade Tehran of just the opposite.

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