IAEA passes "mild" resolution after its toughest report yet on Iran, UNGA denounces assassination plot

The IAEA has passed what appears to be a mild resolution in response to its toughest report yet about Iran’s nuclear program.

The IAEA report suggested that there was no way to understand parts of Iran’s nuclear research other than to believe there was an aim to study how a nuclear weapon might be developed.

The IAEA 35-member Board of Governors adopted the resolution — which expressed “deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions” — on Friday 18 November.

The resolution also expressed the Board’s “continuing support for a diplomatic solution”. It called on Iran to implement an additional IAEA inspection protocol which is purely voluntary for other countries — Iran has been ordered to do so by a series of resolutions in the UN Security Council.

And the IAEA Board resolution also called on Iran “to engage seriously and without preconditions in talks aimed at restoring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting the legitimate right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with the NPT”.

According to a report in the New York Times, “the global powers meeting in Vienna criticized Tehran on Friday over suspicions that it is building a nuclear weapon. The rebuke, however, fell far short of threatening further pressure or actions to curb Iran’s contentious uranium enrichment program”. This was attributed in part to objections from Russia and China. The NYTimes article can be read in full here.

The NYTimes report added that the Iranian representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, “accused the nuclear agency of endangering the lives of Iranian scientists by releasing their names in an annex to last week’s report about the suspicions of nuclear weapons work. ‘The release of the names of the Iranian nuclear scientists by the agency has made them targets for assassination by terrorist groups as well as the Israeli regime and the U.S. intelligence services’, he said in a letter to the body’s director general, Yukiya Amano. Parts of the letter were published by Iran’s state-financed Press TV satellite broadcaster, which noted that several Iranian nuclear scientists had been killed in episodes attributed by Iran to Israeli, British and American intelligence services. Mr. Soltanieh contended that disclosing the names of Iranian experts represented a violation of the agency’s rules and said Tehran reserved the right to seek damages from the agency for any harm to its personnel or property as a result of the report — a possible reference to Tehran’s frequently voiced fears of an Israeli military strike on its nuclear facilities”….

In a separate, but possibly related, matter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is due to meet Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Canada on the sidelines of a larger meeting.

Apparently, Ambassador Soltanieh said that as a result of today’s vote, Iran had decided not to attend an upcoming IAEA meeting on establishing a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East.

The publication of the IAEA report [which was leaked to the press within minutes of its distribution to the Board of Governors] has also been criticized by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, whose remarks are reported in an interview published by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, here. The Bulletin describes Mousavian as “a lecturer and research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is the highest-ranking member of Iran’s political elite living in the United States”. Here is an excerpt of the Q+A:

    Q [Ali Vaez]:…Back in 2008, Iran addressed most of these allegations in a 117-page response to the IAEA. Wouldn’t publication of this response be a more constructive move than taking umbrage at the IAEA?

    Mousavian: The IAEA has, unfortunately, broken the rules of the game. Iran does not want to commit the same mistake. The issues between the agency and member states should remain confidential. Iran respects the rules and does not disclose its communications with the agency. Yet, the content of the IAEA reports on Iran are leaked to the media ahead of their distribution among the agency’s member states. This is highly unprofessional and against the statute of the agency. Such behavior is highly damaging to the credibility of the IAEA, as an impartial international body. It also clearly demonstrates that the information is dictated to the agency from somewhere else in order to make the case for ratcheting up pressure on Iran. The publication of these allegations was a significant step backward.

    [Mousavian continued:]

    The recent developments constitute another chapter in the long tale of Western miscalculations about Iran. The West has constantly resorted to escalating pressure on Tehran, without pondering about the resulting backlash. After the 1979 revolution, Iran sought to shrink the nuclear program and had no intention to have indigenous uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, the Germans, the French, and the Americans refused to respect their contractual commitments, abandoned our unfinished nuclear projects, rebuffed our demands for compensation, and denied us nuclear fuel. Therefore, Iran had no other option than to take matters into its own hands and aim at self-sufficiency. This was in no way a unique venture. The West provided Saddam Hussein with chemical and biological weapons, which he used against Iranians with impunity. As the first victims of weapons of mass destruction since the Second World War, Iran felt compelled to develop chemical and biological deterrence capabilities. The same logic applies to Iran’s ballistic missile program, which was created to counter Iraq’s Western-supplied long-range missiles. Therefore, you can trace back the root of Iran’s current deterrence capabilities to the sense of solitude that Tehran experienced during the Iran-Iraq War.

    Vaez: You were part of the team of Iranian negotiators that in 2003 reached a deal with the EU-3 (France, Britain and Germany) that reduced the tension between Iran and the West and brought about the implementation of the Additional Protocol (for enhanced IAEA safeguards) and suspension of uranium enrichment in Iran. Is a similar diplomatic breakthrough attainable at this juncture?

    Mousavian: When the question of suspension came up in 2003, there were two schools of thought in Iran. One group advocated engagement with the West, while others were proponents of resistance. The majority was with the advocates of reaching a negotiated compromise with the West. Consequently, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei consented to a temporary suspension as a non-legally binding confidence-building measure. He was, however, suspicious of Western intentions and remained skeptical about the ability of European countries to fulfill their end of the bargain. Still, we went even beyond suspension and voluntarily signed and implemented the Additional Protocol and the subsidiary agreements, and provided the IAEA with unprecedented access to our nuclear facilities and even military sites. After two years of Tehran’s full cooperation and transparency efforts, the Europeans failed to deliver on their promises because of American obstructionism. As a result of this deadlock, the Supreme Leader decided to turn the table. The ruling apparatus prepared the country for crippling sanctions and even war, and then Iran suspended the implementation of the Additional Protocol, broke the IAEA seals, and restarted our uranium refinement activities. It is important to note that Iran resumed some activities — i.e. at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, during the presidency of [reformist] President Mohammad Khatami — and restarted other programs, i.e. uranium enrichment in Natanz, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration. Since then, there has been no confidence-building measure from the West, and thus Iran sees no reason to alter its policy.

    Vaez: This blame game is a two-way street. Not only does the Iranian government refuse to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions, it employs an empty rhetoric to brag about its nuclear achievements. Why the bluster about building 10 new enrichment facilities, when they can’t even maintain the production rate of their current centrifuges?

    Mousavian: I agree that it takes two to tango. But let us review the events of the last three months to better understand the posturing of both sides. First, Iran allowed an IAEA team led by deputy director general Herman Nackaerts to visit Iran’s heavy water facilities and centrifuge production and R&D centers. This initiative goes even beyond the Additional Protocol. During this visit, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi, personally apprised Nackaerts of Iran’s receptiveness to put the country’s nuclear program under ‘full IAEA supervision’ for five years, provided that sanctions against Iran are lifted. The second development was Ahmadinejad’s offer during his trip to New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting. He signaled Iran’s readiness to immediately stop uranium enrichment to 20 percent level, if Iran is given fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. This was an immensely important move to demonstrate that Iran is not seeking highly enriched uranium. Iran’s ambassador at the IAEA and the foreign minister reiterated the offer numerous times in the ensuing weeks. Finally, Iran’s third goodwill gesture was the release of two American hikers, accused of espionage, after two years imprisonment in Iran. It is essential to note that none of these initiatives could have seen the light of the day if the Supreme Leader had not given the green light for their implementation. Now, let’s analyze the reaction of the West to these overtures from Iran. The United States accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, based on flimsy evidence. The European Union expanded its Iran sanctions list to include 29 officials accused of ‘human rights violations’. The US Congress proposed new bills that would impose more unilateral sanctions on Iran and prohibit US diplomats from communicating with their Iranian counterparts. And finally, the IAEA released its most damning report on the alleged military dimension of Iran’s nuclear activities amid international media’s hysteria. Given these dynamics, is it realistic to expect that Iranian decision makers should trust the Western countries and their intentions? In reality, the West is pushing Iran to close the door on nuclear diplomacy, in the fear that it is a guise for regime change. This path will, regrettably, lead to confrontation…

    Mousavian: Despite all the disappointments, Iran has never closed the door to diplomacy. Even under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his controversial holocaust-denial narrative, Iran has offered several overtures to the West. President Ahmadinejad wrote official letters to Presidents Bush and Obama, but received no response. In 2007, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, signed a modality agreement with the IAEA’s [then-] director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, under which Iran clarified all the remaining issues, including the alleged studies on nuclear arms. Regardless of Iran’s level of cooperation and overtures, however, Tehran’s efforts have never been sufficient for Washington. I believe that there should be a two-pronged approach to diplomacy. Two packages should be prepared in parallel. The first package should be negotiated between Iran and the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, or P5+1, to resolve the nuclear issue. The following essential criteria should be considered for the success of these negotiations: First, the end game should be clear from the beginning. For Iran, that optimal outcome is Western recognition of Iran’s right to uranium enrichment under the NPT. For the West, the outcome should be maximum transparency and cooperation from Iran, according to the NPT. If suspension of enrichment is the Western goal, the impasse will persist. Nearly 8,000 centrifuges are now spinning in Iran. It is unrealistic to expect the Iranians to close down their facilities and ask thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians to sit idle. The West should come to terms with the fact that the horse of enrichment has left the barn. If non-diversion is the goal, diplomacy can succeed. The second package should be a comprehensive package, to be discussed between Tehran and Washington directly. The nuclear issue would never be resolved unless Iran and the United States start to simultaneously address their long list of grievances. Only then could a face-saving solution be within reach”…

The Wall Street Journal reported from the IAEA Board of Governor’s meeting in Vienna, additionally, that in direct response to the latest IAEA report “The Obama administration pressed Iran to account for a discrepancy of nearly 20 kilograms in its reporting to the United Nations’ nuclear agency on how much natural uranium metal it has in its stockpile … Natural uranium metal can specifically be utilized as a surrogate material to conduct simulated tests of nuclear detonations, according to U.S. officials. It can also be used to produce high-explosive weapons, such as armor-piercing rockets. The IAEA calculated 20 kilos more than Iran had reported … ‘This in many ways could prove the most direct link between Iran’s military activities and its stockpile of nuclear materials’, said an American official. Nuclear experts said the IAEA has differed with Iran before about the amounts of nuclear materials it possesses. It some cases, they said, Tehran has even overestimated the amount of enriched uranium it has produced. But the agency and Iran have in the past worked to resolve their differences. The IAEA’s report said the agency believes Iran has conducted some simulated tests of nuclear detonations. Natural uranium metals, these experts said, have many of the same properties as the highly enriched uranium used in a nuclear bomb, but without the fissile reaction”.

The WSJ story says that the IAEA “study concluded that Iran has worked to develop nuclear-tipped midrange missiles and bomb-triggering systems. It also cited the discrepancy between Iran’s reporting of its natural uranium metal stockpile and what IAEA inspectors have verified”.  This WSJ report can be read in full here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting here that the U.S. will, however, unilaterally implement additional sanctions against Iran that will target the “petrochemical sector”.

A  Reuters “Exclusive” reports that “sources said Washington wanted to send a strong signal after the U.N. nuclear watchdog issued a November 8 report saying Iran appeared to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be secretly carrying out related research. The sources, who spoke on condition that they not be named, said the sanctions could be unveiled as early as Monday. They said the United States was looking to find a way to bar foreign companies from aiding Iran’s petrochemical industry with the threat of depriving them access to the U.S. market”.  This Reuters “Exclusive” is posted here.

The WSJ noted, however, that “The U.S. isn’t expected to directly sanction Iran’s central bank, as many on Capitol Hill have demanded”…


Yesterday, the IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano, told journalists that “It is clear that Iran has a case to answer … We have to alert the world before nuclear proliferation actually takes place”. This is reported by Reuters, here.

UPDATE: Seymour Hersh wrote a comment in The New Yorker, here, on 18 November that:

    “I’ve been reporting on Iran and the bomb for The New Yorker for the past decade, with a focus on the repeatedly inability of the best and the brightest of the Joint Special Operations Command to find definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons production program in Iran. The goal of the high-risk American covert operations was to find something physical—a ‘smoking calutron’, as a knowledgeable official once told me—to show the world that Iran was working on warheads at an undisclosed site, to make the evidence public, and then to attack and destroy the site. But how definitive, or transformative, were the findings [in the new report] ? The IAEA said it had continued in recent years ‘to receive, collect and evaluate information relevant to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program’ and, as a result, it has been able ‘to refine its analysis’. The net effect has been to create ‘more concern’. But Robert Kelley, a retired IAEA director and nuclear engineer who previously spent more than thirty years with the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, told me that he could find very little new information in the IAEA report. He noted that hundreds of pages of material appears to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the IAEA by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established. Those materials, and others, ‘were old news’, Kelley said, and known to many journalists. ‘I wonder why this same stuff is now considered “new information” by the same reporters’ … The report did note that its on-site camera inspection process of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities—mandated under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory—’continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material’. In other words, all of the low enriched uranium now known to be produced inside Iran is accounted for; if highly enriched uranium is being used for the manufacture of a bomb, it would have to have another, unknown source. The shift in tone at the IAEA seems linked to a change at the top. The IAEA’s report had extra weight because the Agency has had a reputation for years as a reliable arbiter on Iran. Mohammed ElBaradei, who retired as the IAEA’s Director General two years ago, was viewed internationally, although not always in Washington, as an honest broker—a view that lead to the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. ElBaradei’s replacement is Yukiya Amano of Japan. Late last year, a classified U.S. Embassy cable from Vienna, the site of the I.A.E.A. headquarters, described Amano as being ‘ready for prime time’. According to the cable, which was obtained by WikiLeaks, in a meeting in September, 2009, with Glyn Davies, the American permanent representative to the IAEA, said, ‘Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the group of developing countries], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program’. The cable added that Amano’s ‘willingness to speak candidly with U.S. interlocutors on his strategy … bodes well for our future relationship’. It is possible, of course, that Iran has simply circumvented the reconnaissance efforts of America and the IAEA, perhaps even building Dick Cheney’s nightmare: a hidden underground nuclear-weapons fabrication facility. Iran’s track record with the IAEA has been far from good: its leadership began construction of its initial uranium facilities in the nineteen-eighties without informing the Agency, in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. Over the next decade and a half, under prodding from ElBaradei and the West, the Iranians began acknowledging their deceit and opened their enrichment facilities, and their records, to IAEA inspectors. The new report, therefore, leaves us where we’ve been since 2002, when George Bush declared Iran to be a member of the Axis of Evil—with lots of belligerent talk but no definitive evidence of a nuclear-weapons program”.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement from Washington after the IAEA vote in Vienna that:

    “The world has sent a clear and unified message to Tehran that it is deeply troubled by the evidence revealed in last week’s report by Director General Amano. This report supplied the clearest confirmation of what the United States has long believed – that, despite its constant denials, Iran’s government has pursued technologies and equipment that could only be applied to a nuclear weapons program. Iran has said that it seeks nuclear power solely for peaceful purposes. However, the Director General’s report and today’s action by the IAEA Board of Governors underscore that the international community does not find Iran’s claims credible. The P5+1 countries have affirmed Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program but make clear that with that right comes responsibilities – responsibilities Iran has yet to fulfill. The P5+1 remains ready to engage with Iran if Iran is genuinely prepared to engage in serious negotiations, where Iran can choose to rebuild international confidence in the nature of its nuclear program”.

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning an alleged plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. The UNGA resolution doesn’t specifically name Iran, but the U.S. accused Iran of being behind the plot — an accusation which has met considerable scepticism. Still, the resolution — which was co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia + others — called on Iran “to comply with all of its obligations under international law”.

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, told the UNGA that:

    last month the United States disrupted a terrorist plot to assassinate the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States. This plot did more than just target the ambassador of a single country. It struck at one of the most sacred principles governing relations among states: the safety and protection of diplomats. Every single member of the international community has an interest in forcefully condemning such heinous acts. Given the nature of this plot, it cannot be seen as just a simple criminal act. Attacks on internationally protected persons have long been understood as emblematic acts of international terrorism. The United States therefore strongly supports and cosponsors Saudi Arabia’s draft resolution to deplore this plot. This resolution will send the message that attacks on internationally protected persons are unacceptable. While this resolution expresses our collective abhorrence at the known details of the plot, it also restates and reinforces principles that are essential to the functioning of diplomacy. It is a measured and appropriate response. A fair and transparent judicial process is now underway in the United States to prosecute one person arrested in connection with this plot. If adopted, this resolution will directly support that process by promoting international cooperation to bring to justice all those who are responsible. In the meantime, we cannot let this plot go unanswered. To do so would suggest that acts like these are within the bounds of acceptable behavior to resolve international conflicts“.

Ambassador Rice’s remarks are posted here. She did not mention Iran by name…


But, in Washington after the UNGA vote, the White House Press Secretary said “The widespread support for this resolution, which was co-sponsored by UN members from all regions of the world, sends a strong message to the Iranian government that the international community will not tolerate the targeting of diplomats. We will continue to work closely with our allies and partners around the world to ensure that Iran understands that such outrageous acts only deepen Iran’s isolation”. This statement is posted here.

UPDATE: In his comment in The New Yorker on 18 November, Seymour Hersh reported on a public American political debate in which “Iran figured prominently.  Hersh wrote that: Mitt Romney called the state of Iran’s nuclear program Obama’s ‘greatest failing, from a foreign-policy standpoint’ and added, ‘Look, one thing you can know … and that is if we reëlect Barack Obama Iran will have a nuclear weapon’.”

Whatever that means…[it is ambiguous, no?]

Meanwhile, Matthew Lee of Inner City Press [@innercitypress] has Tweeted that “At #UN As US @AmbassadorRice Lauds #Saudi Plot GA Vote, Not Only the Veto but Abstentions by #IBSA [India, Brazil, South Africa] Blocked #UNSC Action”

He has written a blog post about this, published here, in which he argues that “While 106 countries voted in favor, 40 abstained, including Security Council members India, Brazil and South Africa, and the nine voting no connoted a veto in the Security Council. Considering these votes of major nations, the vote was not as ‘overwhelming’ as the resolution’s proponents made out. It seems to explain why they went to the General Assembly and not the Security Council”.

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