September 27, 2012 - The International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) last week released its latest safeguards report on Iran's nuclear
program to its favorite media outlets. Although not as sensationalized as its report of last November, the mainstream Western media has tried to present it as a fearsome dossier that indicates Iran is making "rapid" progress toward a speculative point of no return, or as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has put it, a "zone of immunity" -- the stage at which Iran's alleged march toward the production of nuclear arms will be irreversible -- whereas a careful reading of the report indicates that Iran has reduced, apparently intentionally, its capacity to make a nuclear weapon on short notice.
The New York Times devoted a front-page article to the report, written by Jodi Rudoren and David E. Sanger. The article, datelined Jerusalem, could be taken as offering an Israeli perspective on the IAEA report. After describing the "tough box" that Israel has gotten itself into, repeating the claim that Iran's nuclear program is an "existential threat" to Israel -- something that even many Israeli leaders have disputed. Sanger and Rudoren finally mention, on the article's 183d line, that "Iran contends that its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes." I will come back to this point shortly. The article also claims that Iran's nuclear program is "speeding up" and "close to crossing what Israel has said is its red line: the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack."
According to the Washington Post story by Joby Warrick -- headlined "Iran Speeding Up Uranium Enrichment at Underground Plant" -- Iran has "substantially increased the production of a more enriched form of uranium in recent months."
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London published a brazenly deceptive headline over its item on the IAEA report, falsely claiming that it found that "Iran is stockpiling weapon-grade uranium."
The story by Reuters' Fredrik Dahl was titled "Iran Doubles Underground Nuclear Capacity," but it did not mention that only one third of the centrifuges at the underground Fordow site are working (see below), and the newly installed centrifuges are of the inefficient IR-1 type.
David Albright and his organization, the Institute for Science and International Security
(ISIS), among the report's early recipients, also quickly released their analysis of it. Over the past several months, ISIS has fueled the hysteria over Iran's alleged cleanup operations at the Parchin
military -- not nuclear -- site in southeast Tehran (see, for example, here, here, and here). ISIS's latest analysis routinely uses the phrase "military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," although even the IAEA, politicized by its director-general, Yukiya Amano, still uses "possible military dimensions" when it discusses its suspicions.
The Guardian, whose security reporter Julian Borger has been a critic of Iran's nuclear program, offered more reasonable coverage of the IAEA report. In his story, Borger states that in the view of Western officials, "there is no sign of a 'game-changing' acceleration in the program that would warrant the military action threatened by Israel." Tom Collina and Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association
reported correctly that although Iran has installed more centrifuges, it is not using them.
The introduction to the IAEA report is utterly politicized. Under Amano, the agency has arrogated the role of enforcer of the United Nations Security Council resolutions -- a power that the Statute of the IAEA does not bestow upon it. Multiple sections of the report begin with some variant of the following phrase:
Contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its [X] activities... Apparently, the agency has felt compelled -- no doubt as a result of the criticism to which it has been subjected by objective analysts and experts -- to justify its new political role, which it tries to do in the introduction.
Clarification of unresolved issues
The main sticking point has been the IAEA demand to be allowed to visit Parchin. Having analyzed Iran's nuclear program for years, I support a visit to the site. But the fact of the matter is that the agency has no authority to visit Parchin, unless permitted to do so by Iran under a separate agreement. Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the agency stipulates that the IAEA inspectors can visit only those sites that have been declared by Iran as being nuclear. Even the agency acknowledges this, albeit implicitly, because it has been negotiating with Iran over the visit to Parchin.
In summary: nothing new. Iran continues to produce LEU, but there is no evidence of diversion from peaceful to nonpeaceful purposes.