Do Iran's Objections to the IAEA Report Deserve Consideration?

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Foreign Policy In Focus

Do Iran's Objections to the IAEA Report Deserve Consideration?

Much of the U.S. media, with instigation from hawkish voices in Israel, France, the U.K. and the U.S., has been whipped into an anti-Iran frenzy over the last week surrounding the release of a much-ballyhooed report from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The report, which expresses the Director General’s “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” has been dismissed by Iranian leaders as politically biased in favor of the U.S. administration, and lacking in any direct evidence of a weapons program.

In a sentence now removed from the web version of the article in which it appeared (it can still be found in external links to the article, like the one here), the New York Times’ Robert Worth described the Iranian response thus:

Professing outrage over the release of a United Nations report on Iranian nuclear ambitions, Iran’s leaders escalated their anti-American vitriol on Wednesday, calling the report a fabrication, denouncing its chief author as a Washington stooge and vowing that their country would not be bullied into abandoning its nuclear program.

The same article refers to “voluminous evidence not previously disclosed,” and the Washington Post editorial board goes one step further, stating that the report “ought to end serious debate about whether Tehran’s program is for peaceful purposes.” But rarely do the scions of the informed public give their readers insight into what sort of evidence is used to support the report’s claims, where it comes from or how the Iranian regime has refuted those claims.

A deeper look into just that, however, may cast serious doubts on the report’s objectivity and veracity, raising the question: just how far-fetched are Iran’s claims that the IAEA Directorate General is politically compromised?

Prior to the release of the report on Tuesday, November 8, White House press secretary Jay Carney augured that the report’s findings would “echo and reinforce” the long-held U.S. stance that the Iranian government seeks to build nuclear weapons, contrary to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And indeed, Carney’s foresight was by no means preternatural: as evidenced in this 2009 diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, the U.S. had secured the support of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano in its campaign against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program as a quid-pro-quo for American support of his candidacy in the wake of Egyptian Nobel Laureate Mohammad El-Baradei’s resignation.

But could one man’s personal bias really manipulate the IAEA’s evidence – what the Washington Post referred to as “over 1,000 pages of documents, interviews with renegade scientists who helped Iran and material from 10 governments”? Well, that depends.

A devastating piece of reporting from Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service follows one of the main pieces of evidence cited in the report to its source. The report, Porter says,

repeated the sensational claim previously reported by news media all over the world that a former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist had helped Iran construct a detonation system that could be used for a nuclear weapon.

But it turns out that the foreign expert, who is not named in the IAEA report but was identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko, is not a nuclear weapons scientist but one of the top specialists in the world in the production of nanodiamonds by explosives.

In other words, his legitimate reason for being in Iran from 1996-2002 was not a cover, it really was legitimate. As Porter points out, the Washington Think-Tanker who helped spread the word of this “renegade scientist” theory, David Albright, admitted the intelligence claims from an unidentified “member state” that spawned the theory almost certainly came from Israel. Later, that intelligence was incorporated into Amano’s findings without any independent verification.

And Israel’s authority on nuclear non-proliferation should be completely null by now, considering that the Jewish State possesses a sizeable secret arsenal of its own and shared nuclear technology with the murderous apartheid regime of South Africa for years. But what about the other intelligence sources?

Another fount of evidence supporting Amano’s report is likely the so-called “laptop of death” allegedly nabbed from an Iranian scientist by U.S. intelligence services in 2005. The smoking gun evidence on the laptop was all written in English, had no reference to official classification, and included graphs made on Microsoft PowerPoint. When this piece of evidence first surfaced in 2007 in connection to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on the Iranian nuclear program, it was largely dismissed by IAEA officials and international diplomats as a likely forgery. But that was before Yukiya Amano headed the agency. Indeed, Amano’s predecessor El Baradei publicly confirmed that Western Intelligence agencies had sought to exaggerate the threat of the Iranian nuclear program.

At The Race for Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Levrett have put out a characteristically thoughtful piece on the report’s implications, putting the current belligerence of the U.S. and Israel in context.

Whether or not it can be definitively stated that Iran seeks nuclear weapons capabilities, it should be understood that Iranian objections to the IAEA report are neither baseless nor hysterical. See for yourself the response of the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA on Russia Today.

Painting the Islamic Republic as an irrational actor, as was done to Saddam Hussein in 2003, serves to reinforce the case for war as a last resort. In reality, there are numerous steps short of invasion or even targeted air strikes that can and should be taken, if indeed Iran’s critics are mainly interested in avoiding nuclear conflict.

V. Noah Gimbel

Noah Gimbel is an intern with Foreign Policy In Focus. He is currently working on a book on universities and empire and can be reached at ngimbel@ips-dc.org

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