The UN's nuclear watchdog has attacked the US Congress for what it termed an "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated" report on Iran's nuclear program.
In a letter to the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives' intelligence committee, a senior director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the report was "incorrect" in its assessment that Iran had made weapons-grade uranium at a site inspected by the agency. Instead, the letter said, the facility had produced only small amounts of uranium, which were below the level necessary for weapons.
The letter, leaked to the Washington Post, also criticised the report for making the "outrageous and dishonest" claim that a senior inspector was removed "for concluding that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to construct weapons".
While the IAEA noted five major errors in the report, intelligence officials told the Washington Post that it contained a dozen assertions that were either wrong or impossible to substantiate.
The House report, under the chairmanship of the Michigan Republican Peter Hoekstra, was released on August 23. It was not voted on or discussed by the full bipartisan committee but it was reviewed by the office of John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, before being released by Republican members of the committee.
Jane Harman, the Democrat vice-chairwoman of the committee, told colleagues in an email that the report "took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire - and the intelligence community's assessments as more certain - than they are."
The report, titled Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat, was written by Fredrick Fleitz, a CIA operative on secondment to the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. Mr Fleitz and Mr Bolton were involved in constructing the arguments in favour of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Mr Fleitz is writing a report about North Korea for Mr Hoekstra's committee.
The row over the Iran report is reminiscent of the disputes between the IAEA, its chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. "This is like pre-war Iraq all over again," David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, told the Post.
Relations between the White House and the IAEA almost collapsed when the agency revealed that the administration had based some of its claims about Iraq's alleged WMD program on forged documents. The White House subsequently led an unsuccessful campaign to prevent Mr ElBaradei's re-election last year.
The IAEA took "strong exception" to the report's assertion that Mr ElBaradei had removed an agency inspector, Chris Charlier, for breaking an "unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program". He was removed at the behest of the Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, the letter says, under the terms of Tehran's agreement to allow inspectors into the country. The letter points out that this is routine and that Iran has accepted the presence of more than 200 IAEA inspectors. Mr Charlier remains head of the IAEA's Iran sanctions section.
© Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006