Mousavian: Iranian officials hid things from Iranian nuclear negotiators

It’s in a book review that AL-Monitor correspondent Barbara Slavin reports that Sayed Hussein Mousavian claims that Iranian officials hid certain things from Iranian nuclear negotiators.

Mousavian’s account is almost too easy an excuse — “we didn’t know”.

Mousavian appears to blame Iranian officials for hiding these significant developments from Iranian negotiators. But, even after Iranian nuclear negotiators [such as himself] became aware of these hidden facts, they appeared to continue to exhibit an excess of trust, and did not seem to press any demands for full disclosure.

And, the question naturally arises: why didn’t Mousavian say so earlier? He was under suspicion in Iran, he was imprisoned and once faced trial. But he was later able to leave for the U.S., and has been there for several years, teaching [and writing his book] at Princeton — during which time he could have mentioned this — he could have even simply given hints.

It has been assumed, at least until now, that despite the mutual disaffection between Mousavian and the current regime, that he was somehow serving as a conduit for discrete U.S.-Iranian contacts.

According to Slavin, Mousavian says in his newly-published book that “Iranian negotiators did not know that Iran had obtained from Pakistan drawings for advanced centrifuges knowns as P2s, along with less sensitive technology. ‘Once again, Iran was acknowledging facts after they had been discovered by others’, Mousavian writes of what happened after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed the P2 drawings. ‘I more than once heard important news for the first time from IAEA officials or from foreign media and then had to work on reformulating plans to manage the crises that the news gave rise to’.” This is reported in Slavin’s review of Mousavian’s book [Iranian Nuclear Crisis: a Memoir], published on AL-Monitor, here.

Slavin writes that Mousavian says in his book that he only learned of the deep-underground uranium enrichment facility at Ferdow, near Qum, when President Obama mentioned it at a news conference in 2009 [though I think this revelation was in Obama’s speech before the UN General Assembly — not during a news conference].

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.

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

Mousavian in America

Hossein Mousavian, a former lead Iranian nuclear negotiator has relocated to America, taking up residence at Princeton University, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

Actually, he’s apparently been at Princeton for ten months already.

Mousavian was been Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami [who preceeded the present President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad], then later then deputy head of the Strategic Research Center of Iran’s Expediency Council.

The WSJ wrote that “In September, Mr. Mousavian, 53 years old, arrived at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs as a visiting scholar, where he has been writing on Tehran’s nuclear diplomacy and U.S.-Iranian relations. Neither Princeton nor the Obama administration would comment on the Iranian diplomat’s stay in the U.S., but American and European diplomats engaged in nuclear diplomacy with Iran say they are closely scrutinizing Mr. Mousavian’s work for insights into Tehran’s decision making”.

In the photo below, which was probably taken in 2003, Mousavian (on right side of photo) is seen talking to another Iranian diplomat Amir Zamaniniya (on left).

Hossein Mousavian whispering into the ear of Amir Zamaniniya - photo picked up from The Elephant Bar blogspot

Mousavian, a former Ambassador of Iran to Germany, and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was instrumental in what was — for those Iranian officials involved — a risky agreement to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in 2003 to allow for negotiations with European states, observed by the U.S. But it did not result in any diplomatic movement. There were American elections first. Then, in 2005, there were Iranian elections, and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad won — radically changing the Iranian political landscape.

The WSJ article continues: “Mr. Mousavian said in his first interview since arriving at Princeton that he wasn’t in the U.S. to rally support for Tehran’s political opposition, known as the Green Movement. He said he is focused on his academic work and recovering from an illness contracted during his imprisonment and subsequent legal battles. He said he intends to return to Tehran at some point. ‘I don’t need asylum from any country, and I would never apply for it’, he said” …

Continue reading Mousavian in America

Iran pledges to cooperate fully and immediately with IAEA – Obama says this must be within two weeks

After talks in Genthod, in the Geneva countryside today, the AP reported, “senior EU envoy Javier Solana said Iran had pledged to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection soon … Solana said Iran had pledged to ‘cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA’, and said he expected Tehran to invite agency inspectors looking for signs of covert nuclear weapons activity to visit ‘in the next couple of weeks’. At the United Nations, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed the plant would be opened to inspectors. ‘The letter from the IAEA to the Islamic Republic of Iran, in response to the information we have provided in this respect, and with regard to the new facilities that are under construction, indicate the fact that the agency has appreciated Iran’s move and dialogue for arranging a visit by the IAEA official is under way’, Manouchehr Mottaki said”. The AP report can be read in full here.

Then, for some reason, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to talk somewhat tough, according to a report published in the Jerusalem Post: “Now that Iran has agreed to open its newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility to international inspectors, it ‘must grant unfettered access’ to those inspectors within two weeks, Obama said. ‘Talk is no substitute for action’, Obama said at the White House after talks ended earlier in the day in Switzerland. ‘Our patience is not unlimited’. Obama said that if Iran follows through with concrete steps ‘there is a path to a better relationship’ with the United States and the international community. He said that Iran’s promise during the talks to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium to another country for processing is an example of such a step. The uranium would be used in a medical-research reactor”. This JPost report can be read in full here.

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

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 .

Russia chairs UN Security Council in March

Russian Federation Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation will assume the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of March, the UN Spokesperson told journalists on Friday.

This is interesting.

A vote that the U.S., Britain and France wanted to have either on Friday or on Saturday (in other words, before the Russian presidency in the Security Council) has been again postponed. The Associated Press reported that the sponsors were trying “to get more support for the resolution”. This AP report is published here . The reports about needing more support for the draft resolution refer to four non-permanent members of the Security Council who have concerns(reportedly South Africa, Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam).  So far, only Libya has indicated it might actually vote against the resolution.

. Even if all of them voted no, the resolution could still be expected to pass, because it would only need the assent of 9 out of the SC’s 15 members — including all five of the Permanent Members of course (U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France).

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will start meeting in Vienna on Monday — the meeting should last about a week — and one of the big items on the agenda will be the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps diplomats are hoping that the IAEA Board of Governors will take a position on Iran’s compliance with its requests before the matter is formally put to the UN Security Council …

What is Green Salt? What are these studies Iran is now being asked to explain?

I’m going on the possibly wrong assumption that, if the IAEA did not take this evidence seriously, the IAEA would not have asked Iran to give clarifications on the studies that “Member States” and “countries” [in the plural] finally allowed the Agency, as the IAEA likes to refer to itself, to put to Iran in two stages this month — just before completing its latest report on Iran’s past and present nuclear program, which will now be used to impose a third set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for, at least, its “defiance” of previous UN Security Council sanctions resolutions.

That is, the IAEA must have done some checking on its own to see whether or not the evidence of these studies is credible, and clean –mustn’t it?

I mean, it wouldn’t just hold Iran up to these new measures, just on the basis of the word of one or possibly more major powers?

Or, even just to shut up the information being put out everywhere possible in the media saying that the evidence clearly shows that Iran did have a nuclear weaponization program at one point in the past, even if it might have changed its mind since?

Or, even just as leverage to push Iran to take the final step and ratify the Additional Protocol it drafted, and signed, in 2003 that — if ratified — would allow more intrusive and snap IAEA inspections in Iran?

The IAEA wouldn’t just be trying to become, or remain, a player in this dangerous drama, would it?

And, why wouldn’t Iran respond to the second set of IAEA queries about these studies in February? Was it just that Iran felt that all the questions put to it in the August 2007 Work Plan — which were supposed to be the final questions — had been answered? [“The Agency agreed to provide Iran with all remaining questions according to the above work plan. This means that after receiving the questions, no other questions are left. Iran will provide the Agency with the required clarifications and information”. The full Work Plan is posted here.]

Or was it more than that — was Iran informed about which specific “Member States” and “countries” had provided the “evidence” (apparently on a single Laptop) of these studies, and did Iran have objections to any dealings with these people?

[What is the Laptop? See this posting here, found through at-Largely here.]

Other perhaps more substantive questions were mentioned in a NYTimes report published Friday:”The most suspicious-looking document in the collection turned over to the IAEA was a schematic diagram showing what appeared to be the development of a warhead, with a layout of internal components. ‘This layout has been assessed by the agency as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device’, the IAEA wrote. But that does not prove it was a nuclear warhead, and Iran argued that its missile program used ‘warheads only’. The report referred to other documents drawn from the laptop — though the source of the material was never mentioned — that included documents describing how to test ‘high-voltage detonator firing equipment’ and technology to fire multiple detonators at one time, which is required to trigger a nuclear reaction by forcing a nuclear core to implode. The report also described work on whether a detonation could be triggered in a 400-meter-deep shaft from a distance of 10 kilometers, or about six miles, leading to suspicions that the Iranian scientists were already thinking about nuclear testing. But it is unclear whether the shaft would have been wide enough for a nuclear weapon … In a briefing for reporters and nuclear experts on Friday, a senior IAEA official said that the agency had reached no independent conclusions about whether the documents added up to an effort to build a nuclear weapon, or whether those efforts were suspended more than four years ago, as the National Intelligence Estimate concluded. ‘At this point in time we don’t make any conclusion’ about the documents, the official said. David Albright, a former weapons inspector who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said that ‘The issue now is whether this is symptomatic of a comprehensive nuclear weapons effort, or just individual projects. Is it part of a plan to design and develop a weapon that can fit on a nuclear missile? And if so, why are so many pieces missing?’ ” This NYTimes report is posted here.

This NYTimes article, in addition, suggests that my assumptions are wrong, and the IAEA just put these questions to Iran without having made its own estimation of the validity of the “evidence”.

A recent article in the Washington Post pokes even more holes in the “evidence”: “Drawings of the unbuilt test site, not disclosed publicly before, appear to U.S. officials to signal at least the ambition to test a nuclear explosive. But U.S. and UN experts who have studied them said the undated drawings do not clearly fit into a larger picture. Nowhere, for example, does the word ‘nuclear’ appear on them. The authorship is unknown, and there is no evidence of an associated program to acquire, assemble and construct the components of such a site. ‘The diagram is consistent with a nuclear test-site schematic’, one senior U.S. source said, noting that the drawings envision a test control team parked a safe 10 kilometers — more than six miles — from the shaft. As far as U.S. intelligence knows, the idea has not left the drawing board … U.S. intelligence considers the laptop documents authentic but cannot prove it. Analysts cannot completely rule out the possibility that internal opponents of the Iranian leadership could have forged them to implicate the government, or that the documents were planted by Tehran itself to convince the West that its program remains at an immature stage. CIA analysts, some of whom had been involved only a year earlier on the flawed assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs, initially speculated that a third country, such as Israel, may have fabricated the evidence. But they eventually discounted that theory. British intelligence, asked for a second opinion, concurred last year that the documents appear authentic. German and French officials consider the information troubling, sources said, but Russian experts have dismissed it as inconclusive. IAEA inspectors, who were highly skeptical of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, have begun to pursue aspects of the laptop information that appear to bolster previous leads. ‘There is always a chance this could be the biggest scam perpetrated on U.S. intelligence’, one U.S. source acknowledged. ‘But it’s such a large body of documents and such strong indications of nuclear weapons intent, and nothing seems so inconsistent’ … Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA, said that after three years of investigation, he still cannot judge Iran‘s program ‘exclusively peaceful’. At the same time, Iran is ‘not an imminent threat’, he said in a recent interview. ‘To develop a nuclear weapon, you need a significant quantity of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, and no one has seen that in Iran‘ … Over coffee in December in ElBaradei’s Vienna office, Iran‘s chief nuclear negotiator was asked about the drawings, sources said. Ali Larijani called them ‘baseless allegations’. When IAEA inspectors went to Iraq last month, the CIA agreed to let them confront Iran with some of the evidence. Iranian officials dismissed the material but said they would follow up with clarifications at a later date, according to an IAEA report issued yesterday [7 February]. Several sources with firsthand knowledge of the original documents said the facility, if constructed, would give Iran additional capabilities to produce a substance known as UF4, or ‘green salt‘, an intermediate product in the conversion of uranium to a gas. Further refined in a large-scale enrichment plant, such as the one Iran says it intends to build for its energy program, the material could become usable for the core of a bomb”…

This WPost article states that Iranian officials “learned 14 months ago that the United States had the documents on the laptop”. This WPost article is published here.

Heated reactions from Iranians to new material in IAEA report

Um, according to Agence France Presse, “top Iranian cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani accused the United States of unbalancing IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei’s ‘mental state’ by submitting secret documents just days before the report. ‘The US has submitted a stack of documents to disrupt ElBaradei’s mental state and has been successful to some extent’, said the head of the elite clerical body the Assembly of Experts, according to the state news agency IRNA”. This AFP story is posted here.

Rafsanjani is also a former President of Iran.

The Associated Press reported that “a senior Iranian official on Sunday blamed the U.S. for Tehran’s refusal to respond to an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into whether Iran tried to make nuclear weapons in the past. Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, claimed information provided by Washington and used by the U.N. agency was fake and it came to Tehran too late for a proper review. The U.S. dismissed the complaint, saying Iran could have answered concerns about its nuclear program years ago … Most of the material shown to Iran by the IAEA in its investigation of the nation’s alleged attempts to make nuclear arms came from Washington, though some was provided by U.S. allies, diplomats told The Associated Press. The agency shared it with Tehran only after the nations gave their permission. But Soltanieh dismissed much of the material as false. In any case, he said, it came too late — three years after U.S. intelligence claimed it had material on a laptop computer smuggled out of Iran indicating that Tehran had been working on details of nuclear weapons. The data supposedly included missile trajectories and ideal altitudes for exploding warheads. ‘They should have given it to us three years ago’, Soltanieh said, suggesting Tehran would then have had a more substantive response. Instead, he said, Iran did not get an offer for a review until mid-February. By that time, he said, the deadline for the conclusion of the IAEA investigation into Iran’s nuclear past had passed and experts were already working on the agency’s report. ‘All of a sudden, the Americans notice this thing is going to be closed’, he said, referring to the investigation. Suddenly, he added, ‘they have additional and new documents — these dirty games should be stopped immediately’. The United States denied being at fault. ‘Iran did not need to wait for information to answer’ the accusations coming from many sides that it was trying to make nuclear arms, said Gregory L. Schulte, the top U.S. delegate to the IAEA. Soltanieh also acknowledged that his country’s uranium enrichment program was experiencing ‘ups and downs’. It appeared to be the first Iran admitted its enrichment activities were running into some difficulties”. This AP report is here.

Rushing toward third level of UNSC sanctions against Iran

Even before the publication next week of the awaited International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s compliance with international demands for full disclosure of its nuclear program, Britain and France on Thursday evening tabled a draft resolution that would impose a third level of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, told journalists in New York on Friday that the six countries that have been working on the Iran nuclear program — the five permanent members of the UNSC (US, Russia, China, Britain and France) + Germany — want to have a vote in the Council to adopt the resolution by next Friday.

Representatives of these six countries will meet in Washington on Monday to discuss strategy.

Iran has not waivered from its insistence that it will produce its own (lightly) enriched uranium as fuel for its future power plants. It has even begun to work with more advanced centrifuge machines that can produce greater quantities of enriched uranium, faster.

Iran argues that, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has the right to develop and acquire advanced nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The U.S., on the other hand, says that the NPT confers no “right” to enrich.

Iran has apparently hoped that moves towards fully answering all outstanding questions about its previous nuclear programs — these questions have been mostly articulated by the U.S. — could lead to abandonment of the effort to pursue sanctions through the UN Security Council.

Highly enriched uranium used to make nuclear weapons is produced by extending exactly the same process used to make the lightly enriched uranium that Iran is determined to produce, but Iran has insisted it is not pursuing a weapons program.

Suspicions remain, however, and have even intensified.

Israel, in particular, believes that it is not only directly threatened by the current Iranian regime, but that the Iranian leadership is rushing headlong after arms that can be used against the Jewish State, which is widely believed to be an undeclared nuclear weapons power.

It may be that the rush to table and adopt a third layer of UN SC sanctions against Iran is, in part, an attempt to head of Israeli unilateral action against Iran.

The pursuit of an indigenous enriched uranium production capacity, combined with Iran’s feverish development of missile technologies that could deliver a nuclear payload to ever-more-distant targets, have convinced some critics that Iran is covertly pursuing an offensive nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA report has not been made public yet, but it has been leaked to the major news agencies.

The Associated Press reported that “IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who drew up the report, said his team had ‘made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran‘s past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past’ … When confronted with some of the documentation from the U.S. and other on its alleged weapons experiments, Tehran ‘stated that the allegations were baseless and that the information … was fabricated’, the report said. Iran explained some of its activities linked by the Americans to a weapons program as work on ‘air bags and for the design of safety belts’, according to the report”.  This AP report is posted here.

The IAEA report says that Iran continues its work on a heavy-water nuclear facilities.

An earlier AP story stated that the IAEA document said “Teheran had rejected as irrelevant some material forwarded by the agency that purportedly shows it working on tests of missile trajectories and high explosives, and research on a missile re-entry vehicle — activities that would most likely be part of weapons development. Questions also remained on how and why Iran came to possess diagrams showing how to mold uranium metal into warhead shape”.

In mid-February, the U.S. finally turned over to the IAEA evidence that the U.S. has cited but held in reserve since 2005, saying that its release could jeopardize intelligence sources. This evidence was reportedly contained on a laptop computer found in Iran.

This material apparently features prominently in the forthcoming IAEA report. Reuters reported that in the leaked copies, the IAEA said that “Iran had not so far explained documentation pointing to undeclared efforts to ‘weaponise’ nuclear materials by linking uranium processing with explosives and designing of a missile warhead. Publishing details of the intelligence, the IAEA described tests on a 400-metre (1,300 ft) firing shaft seen as ‘relevant’ to atomic arms research and a schematic layout of a missile cone ‘quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device’. ‘The (intelligence) studies are a matter of serious concern and critical to an assessment of a possible military dimension to Iran‘s nuclear program’, said the report issued by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei. ‘The agency will not be in a position to make progress towards providing credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran before reaching some clarity on the nature of the alleged studies’.” This Reuters report is here.

What is particularly galling to Iran is that most of the major damning evidence has been provided by the Iranian exile group, Mujahediin -e-Khalk (MEK), which has fought against the Islamic Republic from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and whose fighters are still cantoned in a base area in Iraq. Its leadership is in Paris, and it has been classified by the U.S. as a terrorist group, though relations are maintained, and the U.S. military has protected the MEK fighters inside Iraq.

The NYTimes reported in mid-February that a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published two months earlier “concluded, with what it terms ‘high confidence’, that Iran was designing a weapon through 2003. But the assessment indicated that Iranian officials ordered the work halted later that year, perhaps because they feared it would ultimately be discovered”. The NYTimes story noted that U.S. President George W. Bush said, in an interview with Fox News, “that he disagreed with the idea that the intelligence estimate lowered the threat from Iran. ‘Iran is a threat, and that’s what the N.I.E. said, if you read it carefully’, he said. ‘It showed they had a weapons — secret military weapons program, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have another secret weapons military program’. According to American and foreign officials interviewed about the contents of the laptop, the information found there included descriptions of the so-called Green Salt Project. That project, which involved uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design, demonstrated what the agency suspected were links between Iran’s military and its ostensibly peaceful nuclear program. If that evidence were substantiated, it would undercut Iran’s claims that its program is aimed solely at producing electrical power. The documents on the laptop described two programs, termed L-101 and L-102 by the Iranians, describing designs and computer simulations that appeared to be related to weapons work. Iran, while dismissing as baseless the assertions that such a program existed, agreed to examine documents that the United States said pertained to Green Salt”. This NYTimes story is posted here.

Apparently after examining this U.S.-provided evidence on the laptop computer, Iranian officials still maintain it is “baseless”, and they say they are scandalized that further UN SC sanctions are being proposed.