Nuclear watchdog displays blind faith

March 10, 2011 - 0:0

With the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tarnished by recent WikiLeaks revelations -- notably that the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog was “in the U.S. court” on Iran's nuclear program -- the body became serious about polishing its image by upgrading its standards for “information security” following complaints by Tehran.

It came as a surprise, therefore, on Tuesday that IAEA chief Yukiya Amano captured headlines by saying the agency was in possession of new information suggesting that Iran's nuclear weapons-related work went beyond 2003, the year that the United States intelligence community insists Iran halted such work. It would be odd if the IAEA had vital intelligence on Iran that was either new or did not come directly or indirectly from the U.S. and its allies.
According to one wire report, “The information pertains to activities Iran could have carried out before late 2003 and after 2004, Amano said -- adding that it was more related to the earlier date rather than to the latter one. He did not provide further explanation.”
That is to say, Amano did not completely contradict the U.S. intelligence report; he only introduced some new cracks, perhaps to the delight of U.S. officials who are nowadays concerned that Iran's rising sun over the turbulent Middle East skies indicates the eclipse of American influence.
Ratcheting up the Iran nuclear fear in the region is seemingly the West's, and Israel’s, best antidote. In this sense, they seem to have an ally in Amano. His predecessor, Mohammad ElBaradei, had dismissed most of the intelligence on Iran's “alleged studies” as sheer fabrication. In comparison, Amano, who per the WikiLeaks disclosures has assured Washington of being on the same page on “all the key strategic issues”, has a blind faith in the (dis)information on Iran that is fed by “third parties”.
------IAEA's demand for negative nuclear assurance
“Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” Amano repeated this week, on the surface a perfectly legitimate concern, except that it is a clear affront to the IAEA's own norms, reflected in the IAEA-Iran Safeguard Agreement.
No less than in two dozen reports on Iran, the IAEA has repeatedly confirmed that it “continues to confirm” the non-diversion of declared nuclear material. It has done this as a result of one of the most exhaustive and rigorous inspection regimes with respect to a member state, involving thousands of hours of physical inspections, dozens of short-notice inspections, and a 2007 “Work Plan” that resulted in resolving all the so-called “outstanding questions” in Iran's favor.
Another important fact is that the IAEA has to date given a complete “clean bill of health” on a peaceful nuclear program to only about a third of its member states. In addition to being a cumbersome and exceedingly time-consuming and costly endeavor, the agency's certificate of non-military dimensions of a country's nuclear program is actually not within the IAEA's legal framework and represents a de facto responsibility that the agency has occasionally taken on in view of the importance of non-proliferation.
Unfortunately, this is an extra-legal task that opens the door to political influence and manipulation of the agency by big powers, especially the United States, that is in league with the government of Israel, a clandestine nuclear proliferator. As a result, the IAEA has failed to apply even minimum heat on Israel, which refuses to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to subject itself to any outside inspections, focusing instead on countries such as Iran and Syria.
With respect to Iran, in the absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material to weapons-related activities, as confirmed in the IAEA's own reports, the agency has no empirical grounds to claim a discrepancy between the “declared” and any “undeclared” nuclear material, a discrepancy that is more likely a figment of Western and Israel intelligence aimed at fettering Iran's rising power.
As a clue to that power, through deft diplomacy in league with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries, Iran has now managed to force the IAEA to reluctantly admit that its inspectors need “better training” on keeping country information confidential, instead of leaking it to either other countries or the media.
IAEA rules on this matter are perfectly clear and there is no need for “upgrade”, only a faithful implementation, so that confidential Iran nuclear information cannot be leaked to wire services and U.S. diplomats would not be privy to private sessions with inspectors returning from Iran (per WikiLeaks documents).
Lest we forget, Amano vigorously defended his inspectors late last year after the WikiLeaks disclosures, refusing to reprimand those inspectors who violated IAEA standards, criticizing Iran instead for refusing future visits by those inspectors whose integrity had been cast into doubt.
Amano's behavior raised serious questions from both Iranian and other NAM diplomats at the IAEA. For example, at a joint television appearance with this author on Press TV, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, complained that Iran and the IAEA had already reached an agreement on a new list of inspectors and he failed to see why Amano continued to raise the issue publicly.
Amano has also chosen to remain silent on the dangerous cyber-attacks on Iran that have targeted the nuclear reactor at Bushehr. The issue warrants a special IAEA seminar on the new safety risks presented by the Stuxnet computer worm that Western media have reported can cause “Chernobyl-like disasters”. The Bushehr reactor's opening has been delayed due to safety concerns and it is unclear when the problem will be fixed…
Nor has Amano pushed for the “nuclear swap” for the Tehran reactor, despite the fact that the agency took part in a multilateral meeting with Iran on the sidelines of the January nuclear talks between Iran and the “Iran Six” nations in Istanbul. The failure of the IAEA to provide technical assistance to Iran, as called for by the terms of the Iran-IAEA agreements, will have serious repercussions, adversely affecting the future of Iran's cooperation with the agency…
The mere silence of Amano on this matter, compared with his vocal proliferation concerns, reflects badly on his image as an impartial and independent director general.
With the nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor running out, the IAEA should discontinue any effort to tag the issue of fuel for that medical reactor to the nuclear standoff. Indeed the whole idea of a “swap” is questionable from a legal standpoint, no matter how the West leans on the IAEA to force Iran to trade a major bulk of its stashed low-enriched uranium for fuel rods.
This points at the main flaw of the “IAEA-proposed draft” unveiled in October, 2009, which called for the nuclear exchange: that is, the small but significant point that the IAEA transgressed its own norms by making technical support to Iran conditional on Iran satisfying certain requirements.
The conditions were an ironic development for an agency that constantly makes a fuss about “respecting the rules and living up to international obligations”. The IAEA chief should take a hard look in the mirror and ponder who is flouting the rules, really.
(Source: Asia Times Online)