Old paradigm: Iranian nuclear program no threat to the West. New paradigm: Iran lied about its weaponization and may still be pursuing weapons. The IAEA now wants Iran to prove it isn’t developing weapons, and this time the Europeans have taken the lead in demanding answers:
Last Monday, the chief United Nations nuclear inspector gathered ambassadors and experts from dozens of nations in a boardroom high above the Danube in Vienna and laid out a trove of evidence that he said raised new questions about whether Iran had tried to design an atom bomb.
For more than two hours, representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency were riveted by documents, sketches and even a video that appeared to have come from Iran’s own military laboratories. The inspector said they showed work “not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon,” according to notes taken by diplomats.
The presentation caught no one’s attention more than the Iranian representatives in the room, who deny Iran is developing atomic weapons. As they whipped out cellphone cameras to photograph the screen, Iran’s ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, nearly shouting, called the evidence baseless fabrications, the diplomats said, and warned that the agency was going down “a very dangerous road.”
Suddenly, the confrontation with Iran had reignited.
Call it the Bush administration approach, only with reduced W content. The evidence for the latest confrontation comes from the US, given to it on a laptop from a defector with good access to the Iranian nuclear efforts. However, rather than pressing forward in a leadership position against Iran, the White House has decided to simply pass the intelligence to its allies in order for them to make the case for action against Tehran.
The IAEA has sensed the shift in tone:
Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said the intelligence was fake and said an IAEA report on February 22 showed Iran had answered all outstanding questions and certified its nuclear intentions were wholly peaceful.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei disputed this, saying that while improved Iranian transparency had settled some doubts about its activities, intelligence suggesting Tehran sought to “weaponize” nuclear materials remained a pressing issue.
ElBaradei has taken a break from his usual scolding of the West to tell the Iranians that they need to start opening their military facilities to snap inspections. At the moment, the Iranians only allow inspections at two facilities, despite intelligence and evidence that the Iranians conduct military research on nuclear weapons at other places. Specifically, the Iranians have never given any satisfactory response about their “Green Salt” project. They also have blocked access to Parchin, where some suspect that the Iranians perform most of their military efforts on nuclear technology.
In fact, it’s instructive to look at both Green Salt and Parchin in light of the NIE. The New York Times mentions neither, but both arose as issues during the period of time when the latest NIE asserts that Iran had stopped pursuing nuclear weapons. In 2005, two years after the supposed cessation, the US started making intelligence public about Green Salt, which is a mid-state between uranium ore and useful fissile material. The next year, Iran finally released information it had deliberately hidden from the IAEA on their processing, but refused to provide any further explanation.
Parchin’s involvement in the nuclear program came to light in 2003. The IAEA conducted a preliminary inspection at Parchin, but Iran refused access in 2005 to any further inspections. The facility reportedly hides a large underground R&D laboratory dedicated to nuclear-weapons development. However, last November, a series of mysterious explosions there occurred, leaving many wondering exactly what happened and what might be left.
The American NIE came out about the same time, and it seriously hampered efforts to hold Iran accountable for its deceptions. As the Green Salt and Parchin episodes clearly show, those deceptions didn’t end in 2003, but continue to this day. If the new paradigm means that the rest of the world will demand Iranian cooperation and an end to their nuclear-weapons efforts with Washington providing a support-only role, then that works — but we had better ensure that the rest of the world keeps that pressure on Tehran.