Iran goes to Geneva Talks Two — to discuss buying enriched uranium abroad, a big concession

It looks like a major concession. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said his country will go to the second round of talks in Geneva with European and American diplomats — to discuss buying enriched uranium from a third party to run its nuclear reactor in Tehran.

Proposals have been made previously that Iran should buy all its enriched uranium abroad and import it — one option would have been through Russia. Iran has made counter-offers to produce — IN IRAN — and to sell abroad to other customers — enriched uranium produced under a consortium of regional or international countries.

But it has never previously offered to rely on an outside supplier.

Continue reading “Iran goes to Geneva Talks Two — to discuss buying enriched uranium abroad, a big concession”

New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.

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Continue reading “New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"”

What (nearly) every woman wants

A good man, attentive, pledging to be faithful, respectful, who asks what she wants, and says he wants “to make our future strong” …

Yes, but maybe also one who is not too unaware of his own self-absorption.

This is the feeling after watching a truly wierd promotional music video prepared by Israel’s Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd. — which was, and may still be, government-owned.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry website states that “There are approximately 150 defense firms in Israel, with combined revenues of an estimated $3.5 billion. The three largest entities are the government-owned IAI, IMI and the Rafael Arms Development Authority, all of which produce a wide range of conventional arms and advanced defense electronics”. This page can be read in full here .

Critics have said that the video is in bad taste. (Some — but not all — make particular mention of the missile mock-ups draped with flower garlands that are dotting the stage set.)

The man — looking rather like a Mossad agent in the field — represents Israel. The woman, in a veil and Indian-style costume, represents India.

(Why? How would it have worked the other way around? Or, with two leading players of the same sex?)

He walks onto the set wearing dark sunglasses, and then whips them off to peer deeply into her eyes.

Despite the lyrics, this is clearly more than just a friendship.

What she (India) says, is “I need to feel safe and sheltered, security and protection, commitment and perfection, defense and dedication“.

He (Israel) asks, considerately, “What more can I pledge, to make our future strong?“. After hearing her wish-list, what he offers is: “I promise to defend you, fulfill your expectations, shield you and support you, meet my obligations“.

What more could a woman want, really? Only a few little things …

Together, forever, I will hold you in my heart“, they sing together. “Together, forever, we will never be apart“…

But, despite the attention he pays to her, they don’t seem well matched, as a couple — at least not if this is a real romance.

Her attitude is … well, a bit matronly. [Maybe this is to suggest that she is grounded, down-to-earth, knows what she is doing, rather than a starry-eyed romantic, or madly in love?]

There is also something about her look that is … well, just not right. There are two or three moments that are really horrible. At one point, the female lead looks straight into the camera, shows a lot of teeth (set off by bright red lipstick), and screeches the word “dedication”, a capella.

Then, of course, there is the twice-sung refrain:
SHE (India): “I believe in you.
HE (Israel): (big smile, looking very pleased with himself indeed, and becoming the focus for the camera lens), “You believe in me” …

A one-sided relationship?

Towards the end, after a little bit of uncertainty about the exact nature of the relationship between her and the leading man [first he, Israel, says “We’ve been together for so long, trusting friends and partners”. Later on, she, India, says: “friends and companions“: he, Israel, says “committed and strong“; then together: “We’ll stand united, protect our bond“], she leaps into his arms. He seems to hesitate, and has to rebalance the weight. Then, he tips her over backward, as if doing a tango, or a jitterbug rock-and-roll, and they both smile for the ending.

But, despite the embarassing moments, there are still some parts of the video that make you think, yes, that is (at least partly) what a good relationship should be about.

McClatchy Newspaper’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Dion Nissenbaum, posted about this video on his blog, Checkpoint Jerusalem, here, the other day.  He linked to a Stratpost post on this video, here, that quoted Rafael’s Director of Exhibitions Assay Josephy as saying: “In Israel we have Jewish people from India, so we know about Bollywood and the song and dance numbers. Israelis are generally aware of Indian culture…”

StratPost, a new blog on South Asian Defense & Strategic Affairs, was the first to write about this Rafael Armament Development Authority video, here — pointing out the competition for sales orders from India.

The StratPost post’s author, Saurabh Joshi, wrote that “The video is a Bollywood-style dance number featuring Israeli artists in full Bollywood costume singing in English about the potential for the Indo-Israeli defense trade relationship and dancing around mock-ups of Rafael’s products. It is significant that recent reports have indicated Israel to have overtaken Russia as India’s single-largest defense materiel supplier”…

Joshi noted “That the international defense industry is keen on getting a piece of the enormous Indian defense market is not surprising, considering the expenditure the Indian government is planning on defense equipment”. [n.b., No doubt in part due to the recent Mumbai attacks in which some of the foreign targets hit were Jewish, including a Chabad outposts] “The government plans to acquire a whole range of materiel from fighter aircraft, battle tanks, artillery howitzers, missiles of all ranges, naval vessels etc”].

Dion Nissenbaum also linked to Wired.Com report on the video, posted here, which writes that “Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee from You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who ‘need(s) to feel safe and sheltered’.”

Stephen Trimble, writing here, called it a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry”.

This video had its world premiere at Aero India 2009, according to a post on a website devoted to the “Defense Industry”, here.

Haaretz reported today that “The video cost $15,000 to produce, and was directed by the independent director Avishai Kfir in Israel. The actors are Israelis of Georgian and Indian origin … ”

The Haaretz story can be read in full here.

Rafael Armament Development Authority executives, meanwhile, expect the video to win awards.

Talks with Iran in Geneva

Some people actually expected a breakthrough.

One reason was the presence of the “number three” ranking U.S. State Department official, William Burns — which the State Department spokespersons explained as “underscoring the U.S. commitment to diplomacy”, showing that the U.S. “is commited to finding a diplomatic solution”. The State Department spokespersons also said, however, that it was a “one-time deal”, an “idea that we generated”. It was a “signal”, the American spokespersons said, “but it’s not a change of substance”. It “serves to clarify the choices that the Iranian regime faces” — although “they [already] understand very clearly the cost to them for their continued defiance of the international community”.

Because “the central pivotoal point at the heart of our [U.S.] policy is that the Iranians [must, or should] take the step of suspending their uranium enrichment program. That is at the heart of the two-track policy”.

So, it was hard to see how the diplomats could stretch to make a bridge between the positions of the Americans, who continue to say that they will not negotiate with Iran unless it freezes its nuclear program (which it already did once, in 2004, without any positive results), and Iran’s position that they have a right to a peaceful national nuclear program.

Iran has repeatedly denied that it would ever develop nuclear weapons.

UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Observer newspaper in Britain have both now called the talks “inconclusive”.

UPDATE: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said to journalists on board her plane en route to Abu Dhabi on Monday that “I think the fact that we went may have been a bit surprising to the Iranians, and they didn’t react in a way that gave anyone any confidence in them. And so what it did was to serve to reinforce the unity of the P-5+1. And I’m not in the least surprised that the Iranians weren’t serious. They haven’t been serious to this point, and I’m not in the least surprised. But we gave them an opportunity, and they have thus far demonstrated again why there are three Security Council resolutions that are isolating Iran and making their isolation deeper and deeper … We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians, but as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious. And so Javier Solana decided to say to them two weeks. I think they had a little conversation about it among themselves at the P-5+1. Seems fine to me. But I thought that Solana was absolutely firm and clear that it’s time for the Iranians to give a serious answer. And from all reporting, the unity of the P-5+1 has never been greater than it was in that meeting or at this moment. And I do believe that it is, in part, because the United States showed its seriousness in backing this proposal with Bill’s physical presence. But it was also a very strong message to the Iranians that they can’t go and stall and make small talk and talk about culture, that they have to make a decision. And I think it’s also very clear that there are going to be consequences if they don’t”.

Rice was asked by a journalist: “Is that what they did? They talked about Iran’s wonder – culture? Is that what you heard back?” She replied: “I understand that it was, at times, meandering”. Was that a charitable expression, or an euphemism, she was asked, and she replied “I’ll just leave it at meandering”.

In comments that may satisfy our colleague from Iranian TV who was at the talks in Geneva on Saturday, Rice said, in answer to a question asking for “a bit of background on how you came to send Bill Burns to Geneva? Did you approach the President? And what did Dick Cheney say about this?”, that
SECRETARY RICE: “Well, again, I’m not going to talk about internal deliberations. But this was something that everybody understood the need for and thought that, as a tactic, it was fine. And this is a tactic. We – the strategy is to get Iran to accept the package or to have great enough unity in the P-5+1 to bring consequences if they don’t. That’s the strategy. And accepting the package means suspending enrichment and reprocessing and negotiating with us. So that’s the strategy. Now, the tactic of sending Bill Burns was the bookend tactic to my signing the letter, so that the Iranians who sometimes sit and tell our European colleagues we don’t really believe that the Americans are behind this offer — they actually say that — now, they can’t say that. And so, we talked it through among the Security Council – among the national security council principals and people were comfortable with it. And yes, of course, it was the President who made the decision”.

In a further exchange, Rice was asked: “When you signed the letter and when it was transmitted, was this being considered — sending Burns to go?” And she replied: “It came up at the time among the allies. But I thought that signing the letter was enough. And again, we always want to be vigorous on the diplomacy, but both parts of it. And by being vigorous on the part of it that demonstrates American commitment, you can also be vigorous on the side of consequences. And so that was the point. But it came up during that period of time. We decided not to do it. It came up with the Europeans, not so much in our counsels. I made the determination in London that the signature was enough … I think we’ve done enough to demonstrate that the United States is serious, and to assure our partners that we’re serious, and to show the Iranians that we’re serious. I think we’ve done enough”.

UPDATE: Israel’s Debkafile website is reporting on 21 July that “DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Operational Brimstone, starting Monday, July 21, aimed at giving military teeth to the two-week ultimatum the six world powers gave Iran in Geneva Saturday to accept the suspension of uranium enrichment or face harsh sanctions and isolation. After warning of punitive measures against Iran, Condoleezza Rice met the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq in Abu Dhabi. First she was briefed by Under Secretary of State William Burns. The penalty of withholding refined oil products from Iran would be exercised by means of a partial international naval blockade of its Gulf ports. Taking part in the 10-day exercise in the Atlantic Ocean are more than a dozen ships, including the US carrier strike group Theodore Roosevelt and expeditionary strike group Iwo Jima; the French submarine Amethyste, and the British HMS Illustrious Carrier Strike Group, as well as a Brazilian frigate … The exercise is scheduled to end July 31, two days before the US-European ultimatum to Iran expires. Immediately after the Geneva talks ended in failure, the US State Department issued a statement giving Tehran the option of ‘cooperation or confrontation’. A partial blockade of Iran’s shores, a key element of the new sanctions, would be limited to withholding from Iran supplies of benzene and other refined oil products – not foodstuffs or other commodities. Short of refining capacity, Iran has to import 40 percent of its benzene consumption and will be forced to react to the stoppage. … Addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday, July 21, British prime minister George Brown said: Iran must ”suspend its nuclear program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations’.’ Brown’s spokesman said the premier did not rule out ‘extended sanctions in some form on the oil and gas sector’ in Iran. Sources said that could involve sanctions on spare parts for Tehran’s fairly limited domestic oil refining capacity.”

Yes, the idea now appears to be to blockade refined oil from reaching Iran, one of the world’s major oil producers, which has not restored its own refining capacity since it was badly damaged by Iraq in the early days of the Iran-Iraq war.

Why Iran has not restored its own petroleum oil refining capacity is not clear — when it is risking nearly everything to insist on its right to have its own indigenous uranium enrichment capacity to run at least one and maybe eventually up to twenty nuclear reactors to provide power for civilian consumption….

In any case, the day before the talks that the Swiss government hosted in Geneva on Saturday (19 July) — at the request of both the EU and Iran, the Swiss said — Iranian officials said they wanted to discuss whatever common points could be found in the proposals submitted from the EU in mid-June, and in their counter-proposal.

Iranian officials also expressed the hope that the Americans would not repeat “past mistakes”.

A Western diplomat wearing a badge saying EU 3+3 talks (and NOT P5 plus 1) said before the meeting that there could be various degrees of “positive” that could emerge in the talks. Who would judge? It would be done by consensus, he said, among the six.

He explained that the wording on the badge reflected a preference to recall the original format of the talks, which involved three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — before the addition of the U.S., Russia and China, which made the group a representation of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Then, just after the arrivals (when there was a detectable whiff of hope) and the opening photo-op handshake between the EU High Representative Javier Solana and Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, (where Jalili seemed stiff and uncomfortable), followed by a subsequent rush of camerapersons through a single door to take pictures of the delegations seated in the Hotel de Ville’s famous Alabama Room – where post U.S. Civil War negotiations between the U.S. and Britain resulted in payment of millions of dollars in British reparations (for building and outfitting Confederate warships), considered the birth of international arbitration and international law — then, just then, the Iranian Ambassador to the Swiss capital Berne told the Associated Press that Iran would never give up its right — or its program — to enrich uranium.

That news story rattled around the world.

During a mid-day break, the EU High Representative Javier Solana, and the Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili went to lunch together, while the other delegations dined separately.

Solana and Jalili came back from lunch separately. The police radios said that the Iranians were going to pray in the Salle des Pas Perdus …

As another journalist said, nobody looked very happy

Not too many press were present, but most of those who were there had followed the issue for years.

A journalist from Iranian TV who came with his delegation kept asking if the Americans were serious about the talks. “Are the American people behind these talks?”, he asked. “But what did the Administration mean when it said that the talks were just a ‘tactic’?”

At the end of the day, at a closing press conference, only Solana and Jalili were present, along with a Swiss representative. At once, Solana set the tone: “We did not get a clear answer. There was no ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.,, no straight ”

Sonala repeated this several times — and each time, Jalili looked very pained. Even, crucified…

Solana said that the meeting had been “substantive” with a “constructive atmosphere”.

A Western diplomat who was present at the talks in Geneva’s historic town hall (Hotel de Ville) said after the meeting that things were not as bad in the meeting as they seemed in the post-meeting press conference.

The Western diplomat said later that Jalili definitely did not state in the meeting that “No, we will not freeze our uranium enrichment program” …

Solana reminded journalists that the EU proposal offered to refrain “from any new UN Security Council sanctions” (while the three sets already in place would apparently remain) in exchange for Iran refraining from any nuclear activity “including the installation of new centrifuges”.

The acoustics in the press conference were terrible — the AP’s expert correspondent George Jahn, who came from Vienna where he covers the IAEA to the Geneva talks heard Solana say that Iran should agree to refrain from any NEW nuclear activity, but I did not hear that qualifier — what I heard was say “any nuclear activity”.

Both Solana and Jalili used a similar vocabulary in one respect — they mentioned “cooperation” and “commitments” — but they apparently meant different things.

Solana says that he hopes to get a clear answer from Iran very soon — in the next couple of weeks, or in about two weeks, he said alternatively — either telephonically or in person.

So, war will not break out tonight.

Still, some journalists hyped this up: “Iran has two weeks to agree to freeze its nuclear program” — or else, they wrote. Maybe they are right.

But it seems clear that Solana and Jalili want to keep on talking. And Iran appears to want to avert outright conflict.

Apparently the Iranians brought a new “non-paper”, in which, Solana’s spokeswoman indicated, Iran has “reorganized the phases”, but, she said, “they do not coincide with our phases”. She did not want to say more.

[The Israel project had earlier mentioned, mysteriously, that a revised EU proposal had been or was going to be presented to Iran. Then, my colleague and friend in Geneva Robert James Parsons sent a link to an article by Gareth Porter also suggesting that the EU proposal was modified due to objections by the U.S.: “According to an E.U. source with direct knowledge of Solana’s meetings with Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and nuclear negotiator Jalili, on Jun. 14, however, what Solana presented was different from the ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal that had been discussed among the six powers. The source was not authorized to explain the difference between the two proposals, but it now appears that Solana could not present the original freeze for freeze proposal on behalf of all six powers because the most important actor of all — the United States — had objected. When State Department spokesman McCormack was first asked about an EU ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal on Jul. 3 and whether it was acceptable to the United States, he twice avoided addressing it altogether. But
when a reporter asked in regard to the proposed informal talks, ‘You do it then via the EU-3 [Britain, France and Germany], right, not the P5+1?’ McCormack answered, ‘Via Mr. Solana’ …” The full Gareth Porter analysis, apparently written for IPS, is published here . However, the evidence is not yet totally clear.]

In the post-meeting press conference, Jalili twice mentioned his hopes that there can be a “discussion of our shared worries and concerns” — but based on what he called a “collective obligation” [another Iranian diplomat called it a “collective commitment”, but noted that he was not sure what Jalili meant. His interpretation, he said, was that the each of the parties in the region — and he mentioned Iraq — should make commitments, not just Iran alone…]

In any case, the Western diplomat said after the meeting and the press conference that Solana made a presentation in the meeting, after which the “political directors” of all 6 of the EU 3 + 3 (as they were called on their badges) spoke in support of Solana’s remarks — including Burns.

(The U.S. representative was not, as predicted in advance, totally silent.)

The Western diplomat said that of course, each of the six used his own words.

This diplomat said that he felt it was important and useful that Burns spoke in the meeting, and that the Iranians would now have to think about it …

Both Jalili and Solana mentioned the EU proposal presented in Tehran in mid-June — which was apparently signed by all six of the foreign ministers who have been consulting on what they want to do about Iran’s nuclear program — including Condoleeza Rice, which was regarded as a very big deal, as Leonard Doyle wrote brilliantly in a piece in the Independent last week.

But, after the Saturday talks, the American line tightened up again:

Iran has to make a clear decision to cooperate — it will face greater and greater international isolation, they are now saying, again.

A sensitive State Department official — notes North Korean sadness

An unusually-sensitive U.S. State Department official has noticed North Korean sadness.

Yes.

The North Koreans were sad at having to blow up a cooling tower to show that it was sincere about “disabling” its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Destruction of Yongbyon cooling tower- 27 June 2008 - AP Photo compiled from APTN footage

That’s what you get for testing nuclear weapons after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Associated Press reported today that “There hasn’t yet been any official North Korean reaction to the destruction of the most visible symbol of its nuclear program, but a U.S. diplomat who witnessed it said Saturday that the big blast saddened government officials there … the State Department’s top Koreas expert said he believed the event was an emotional loss for the Stalinist state. ‘I detected … a sense of sadness when the tower came down’, said Sung Kim, who traveled to Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of the capital of Pyongyang to watch the demolition of the 60-foot-tall cylindrical structure. ‘There is a significant degree of emotional attachment to the Yongbyon facilities’, he told reporters in the South Korean capital after briefing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials about the destruction of the tower on Friday. The reclusive nation, one of the most isolated in the world, has yet to inform its citizens of the development, which came amid a flurry of activity in the international effort to get North Korea to give up atomic arms, and it is not clear if or when it will. Kim said the sadness was most apparent on the face of Ri Yong Ho, the director of safeguards at North Korea’s Academy of Atomic Energy Research who was the most senior Pyongyang official present, but was shared by other North Koreans who were there. ‘(You could tell) just looking at the expression of the Yongbyon engineers who were on the site when this happened’, said Kim, who shook hands with Ri after the smoke cleared and the cooling tower had vanished from the landscape. ‘He said he just hoped that this would contribute to peace and stability’, Kim said, adding that he understood the North Koreans had spent up to two weeks preparing the tower for demolition…”

The full AP report can be read here

Israel-Iran dialectic

From Haaretz on Saturday 21 June:
(1) Oil prices jump after report of Israeli drill for Iran attack
Iranian cleric: Israel to receive ‘slap in face’ if it strikes; IAEA chief ElBaradei: I will resign if Iran is attacked.

“Friday’s spike was not the first caused by tensions between Israel and Iran. Oil prices soared $11 on June 6, after former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a newspaper interview that ‘if Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective. Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable’. The chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said in remarks aired on Friday that he would resign if there was a military strike on Iran, warning that any such attack would turn the region into a ‘fireball’…” This full report can be read
here .

That ElBaradei threat will probably stop Israel right in its tracks …

IAEA's ElBaradei says Iranians deny access and explanations missing

The text of IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei’s remarks to the Agency’s Board of Governors meeting in Vienna today, as released to journalists and reported by the Associated Press, also says that “Iran has not provided the agency with all the access to documents and to individuals requested … nor has Iran provided the substantive explanations required to support its statements … Such clarifications are critical to an assessment of the nature of Iran’s past and present nuclear program.” The AP said that ElBaradei also said that the IAEA “understands that Iran may have additional information” that it has withheld from IAEA experts — an allegation also made in his report last week to the agency board and the UN Security Council”.

The AP said that “Since launching its probe into the allegations last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency has asked in vain for substantive explanations for what seem to be draft plans to refit missiles with nuclear warheads; explosives tests that could be used for a nuclear detonation; military and civilian nuclear links and a drawing showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads”.

The full AP report can be read here .

IAEA inspectors to visit Syrian site bombed by Israel last September

Since the 6 September Israeli airstrike, the Syrian government first razed the site, then built a new structure there. This, apparently, is considered suspicious.

Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Syria has agreed to “allow in UN inspectors to probe allegations that the country was building a nuclear reactor at a remote site destroyed in an Israeli airstrike”, according to a report by the Associated Press, and “a senior diplomat familiar with the details of the planned visit said agency personnel had been told they could visit the facility. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter”.

As the AP adds, “Neither the United States nor Israel gave the IAEA information about the site until late April, about a year after they obtained what they considered to be decisive intelligence: dozens of photographs from a handheld camera that showed both the interior and exterior of the compound in Syria’s eastern desert … ElBaradei repeated his criticism of Israel and the United States in announcing the Syrian visit, taking Washington to task for waiting so long to brief him on its suspicions, and Jerusalem for its air strike”.

The AP said that ElBaradei’s remarks to a closed meeting of the IAEA governing board had been made available to journalists. According to the text, ElBaradei said that “”It is deeply regrettable that information concerning this installation was not provided to the agency in a timely manner and that force was resorted to unilaterally before the agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts … [and Syria] has an obligation to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the agency”.

The full AP report can be read here .

Swimming against the tide

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board will be considering yet another resolution, on Monday, castigating Iran for questions about its past, present and future nuclear programs, as the Associated Press’s veteran writer in Vienna, George Jahn, reported in a dispatch filed earlier today.

Jahn writes that the growing pressure is aimed at wresting concessions from Tehran — but that “it may be too late for that”, and that — surprise — Iran remains “defiant” and “continues to refuse to compromise on the key demand that it stop uranium enrichment”.

Jahn suggests, unfortunately, that Iran has “exploited international indecision and expanded and improved its enrichment capability”. This is like accusing a baby of being manipulative — not that I am comparing Iran to a baby. But the crying of babies is not manpulative — and Iran not been exploiting i”international indecision”. Iran is simply determined, as it has stated clearly from the beginning, to have its own indigenous uranium enrichment capacity.

Anyway, as Jahn writes: “An agency report Monday to the UN Security Council and the IAEA board suggested that Tehran was stonewalling investigators and possibly withholding information crucial to the UN nuclear monitor’s probe of allegations it did nuclear arms research. A senior UN official — who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the report — told the AP its tone was unusually tough … Briefing board members three days after the report’s release, Olli Heinonen — the IAEA’s deputy director general in charge of the agency’s Iran file — said Iran’s possession of nuclear warhead diagrams was ‘alarming’. And diplomats at the closed meeting said Heinonen also left little doubt that in his view, much of the intelligence it had from the U.S. and other board members tended to increase concerns”.

Jahn added, “Still, Iran may have less reason now than a year ago to compromise, now that its technicians appear to have eliminated most bugs keeping them from full-scale enrichment expansion. ‘In the past, Iran has experienced significant problems’ with breakdowns and other technical mishaps keeping it from running its enriching centrifuges smoothly, said David Albright, a former IAEA nuclear inspector. But the newest IAEA findings show ‘that Iran is overcoming these problems’, he added”.

Five years ago, as Jahn reports, it was revealed that Iran “had assembled the nuts and bolts of a uranium enrichment program”. Iran did not report the program — and argued that it was not required to do so at the early stages. The revelation about the Iranian program came from the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), a deadly armed opposition group that operated from Iraq in Saddam Hussein’s later years, and that is now under U.S. military protection in Iraq.

Last year, a laptop computer surfaced that is supposed to contain evidence about Iran’s alleged intentions — denied by the Iranian leadershiop — to develop a nuclear weapons program, and this evidence is the basis of renewed concerns. The laptop may have also come from the MEK.

Jahn writes “Based on its own information and intelligence from the U.S. and other board members, [the IAEA] has asked — in vain — for substantive explanations for what seem to be draft plans to refit missiles with nuclear warheads; explosives tests that could be used for a nuclear detonation; military and civilian nuclear links and a drawing showing how to mold uranium metal into the shape of warheads”. Jahn’s AP report filed today can be read in full here .

However, the Iran Affairs blog takes issue with much of the media representation of the “unusually tough” new IAEA report, that discusses how Iran has responded to questions about the “new” evidence allegedly contained on the laptop.

On 27 May, in a posting entitled “NY Times again misrepresents IAEA report on Iran”, Cyrus Safdari (corrected) writes: “I finally got the May 2008 IAEA report on Iran [n.b. it is dated a day earlier 26 May] and just as I guessed, the media have totally mischaracterized it, as usual”…

Safdari (corrected) helpfully posts a link to the confidential report here .

Then, Safdari (corrected) gives his take on the media misrepresentation: “As usual, the New York Times is the worst. According to the Times, the IAEA has accused Iran of a ‘willful lack of cooperation’ — but the report contains no such accusation whatsoever. That’s the Times’ own editorial commentary, inserted as if it was news and falsely attributed to the IAEA. This is the second time that the NY Times has put words in the IAEA’s mouth – previously the NY TImes falsely claimed that the IAEA had determined Iran’s disclosures were ‘inadequate’ and that Iran had missed a critical deadline — neither assertion was true, as I have discussed before … For example, as evidence of what the NYTimes claims is the IAEA’s supposed ‘frustration with Iran’s lack of openess’, the article points out that IAEA has said that Iran’s installation of new centrifuges were ‘significant, and as such should have been communicated to the agency’. The NY Times implies that Iran was caught doing something secret by the IAEA. Aha, but that’s not what the IAEA report says. In paragraph 11 of the report, the IAEA states that the Iran should have informed the IAEA of the centrifuge installation IF the ‘Subsidiary Arrangements’ (which sets a 60-day notice period) was in force — and paragraph 10 specifically says that this subsidiary arrangement is not in force with respect to Iran. So, Iran did inform the IAEA of the installation of the centrifuges, but just not within the full 60-day notice period specified in the Subsidiary Arrangements. (Iran had at one time voluntarily implemented these subsidiary arrangements when it had temporarily suspended enrichment under the terms of the Paris Agreement, but stopped doing so when it quite legally restarted its enrichment program after the EU-3 tried to cheat on the Paris Agreement by demanding that Iran turn its temporary suspension of enrichment into a permanent halt.) …’ Of course, the NY Times fails to mention that according to paragraph 5 of the same IAEA report, the centrifuges are all operating under IAEA safeguards, ‘continue to be operated as declared’, and have been the subject of 14 surprise visits — and so there’s nothing particularly ‘unexpected’ about Iran’s activities, nor can the centrifuges be used to make bombs since they”re under 24-hour monitoring by the IAEA”.

In addition, Safdari (corrected) writes, “The NY Times claims that the IAEA ‘was denied access to sites where centrifuge components were being manufactured and where research of uranium enrichment was being conducted’. — totally leaving out that according to paragraph 13 the same IAEA report, these were ‘transparency measures’ which is the IAEA’s way of referring to requests for inspections over and above what Iran is obligated to provide to the IAEA. Iran had a policy of allowing such transparency measures in the past but on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, and is under no obligation to allow them at all since they exceed what the IAEA Safeguards Agreement require of Iran … According to the report, the IAEA was in several cases not able to actually provide these same ‘alleged studies’ documents to Iran, because the IAEA didn’t even have the documents itself or was not ‘permitted’ to share them with Iran. So, rather than Iran ‘failing’ to provide documentation, it was the IAEA which failed to provide documentation. Iran was nevertheless expected to disprove allegations supposedly contained in documents that the IAEA itself didn’t have or was not allowed to show to Iran. For example, in paragraph 21, the IAEA report states: ‘Although the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran’. Also, in paragraph 16, the IAEA report states: ‘The Agency received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran’.”

Safdari (corrected) continues: “Other significant facts about the IAEA report that the NY Times sees fit not to print: that the IAEA doesn’t have any nuclear weapons information (paragraph 24), Iran has continued to provide access to the IAEA inspectors and allowed inspections required by its safeguards agreement, and the IAEA has still found no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses … and that all of Iran’s enrichment activities, reprocessing activities, uranium conversion and heavy water reactor construction programs continue to be operated under IAEA safeguards, exactly as they’re supposed to be conducted”. Daftari’s dissection of the NYTimes story on the latest IAEA report on Iran can be read in full here .

On 28 May, Safdari (corrected) reports in his Iran Affairs blog that “both the NY Times and the Washington Post have editorials today repeating the same lies and attacking the IAEA. They both for example claim that Iran has ‘blocked inspections’ without mentioning that according to the IAEA report itself, these were ‘transparency visits’ that Iran was not legally required to permit but Iran had otherwise allowed all the required inspections. The Washington Post claims that Iran installed centrifuges without providing the ‘required notification’ (nevermind that the notificiation was not in fact required, according to the report itself.) The NY Times tries to make a big deal out of alleged involvment of Iranian defense industry involvement (as if defense contractors such as GE or Lockheed in the US aren’t similarly involved in civilian industries too.)” This post can be read in full here .

IAEA criticizes Israel's "unilateral use of force" against Syria last 6 September

ABC reported after the much-anticipated briefing by the U.S. Administration to members of Congress on Israel’s attack on a Syrian target last September that “Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and ranking member Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., are furious with the Bush administration for failing to brief Congress until eight months after Israeli jets bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear site Sept. 6, 2007 … Leading lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee accused the Bush administration of leaving them out of the loop by refusing to provide adequate intelligence briefings on North Korean help in constructing a nuclear facility in Syria until today. Both sides of the aisle warned the administration it would now face a steeper battle to gain congressional approval for any deal that may be reached to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program through the so-called six-party talks … Neither Israeli nor U.S. officials had previously acknowledged the bombing in public and, according to satellite imagery taken in recent months, Syria quietly paved over the wreckage in an attempt to hide what had been built there. Hoekstra suggested that today’s briefing was motivated more by the administration’s attempts to advance the six-party talks than to fulfill its obligations to keep the relevant oversight committees on Capitol Hill informed. Those talks have deadlocked in recent months over North Korea’s failure to provide a satisfactory declaration of its nuclear programs by a Dec. 31, 2007 deadline. A deal may be in the works, however, under which North Korea would simply “acknowledge” U.S. concerns about Pyongyang’s proliferation activities”. The full ABC report can be seen here.

The Israeli press has gone quiet again — except for some anxiety-producing speculation that this briefing will provoke a Syrian attack (while there is much public activity elsewhere about Turkish efforts to bring Israel and Syria back into peace negotiations”.

Meanwhile, the IAEA is indignant. AP reported that “The head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency angrily criticized Israel on Friday for bombing an alleged Syrian nuclear facility, and chastised the U.S. for withholding information on the site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei also was not provided information about the site until Thursday, the same day U.S. officials briefed members of the House Intelligence Committee about evidence including dozens of photographs taken from ground level and footage of the interior of the building gathered by spy satellites after the Israeli strike seven months ago … ‘The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts’, ElBaradei’s office said. Additionally, ‘the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime‘, it said … Top U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters in Washington Thursday said they had high confidence in the judgment that North Korea had aided Syria with its nuclear program and the intention was to produce plutonium. But they claimed only low confidence for the conclusion that it was meant for weapons development, in part because there was no reprocessing facility at the site — something that would be needed to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel for use in a bomb. The Syrian reactor was within weeks or months of being functional when Israeli jets destroyed it, a top U.S. official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The official said the facility was mostly completed but still had needed significant testing before it could have been declared operational”. The full AP report can be read here .

Syria says the evidence is fabricated.

There is a very interesting analysis which analyzes “inconsistencies in the presentation” and suggests that the Administration’s slide-show to Congress could have been — indeed, that it was — fake, posted over at the Moon of Alabama blog, here.

This posting calls the presentation an “elaborate information operation”, and says: “Some of these pictures are manipulated. Others might have been made in a different context and at a different place than alleged. Some are outright misleading.”

It also says: “one slide shows some undefinable structure in a very blurry aerial photograph next to a CIA computer graphic and the text says: ‘Internal Structure of Destroyed Building Matches Reactor Computer Model’. One really wonders how that could be. These CIA indeed managed to paint a computer graphic so that it fits their interpretation of a very blurry photograph. Who would have expected such a capability within that organisation?”