US hopping mad at IAEA “work plan” for Iran


On 21 August 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] agreed a “work plan” with Iran, the objective of which is to answer the IAEA’s outstanding questions about the history of Iran's nuclear activities by the end of 2007.


These outstanding questions are described in paragraphs 8 to 16 of the latest report (dated 30 August 2007) on Iran’s nuclear activities by IAEA Director, Dr Mohamed ElBarardei [1].  A copy of the “work plan” is appended to this report.  Dr ElBarardei comments:


“The work plan is a significant step forward. If Iran finally addresses the long outstanding verification issues, the Agency should be in a position to reconstruct the history of Iran’s nuclear programme.” (paragraph 23)


If this happens, then the IAEA will most likely be in a position to remove all the question marks about Iran’s past nuclear activities in a matter of months.


Very significant

This is very significant, since the existence of these unanswered questions from the past enabled the US/EU to work up suspicions that Iran was engaged in nuclear activity for military purposes and to cast doubt on the veracity of Iran’s continual assertions that its nuclear activities were, and are, solely for peaceful purposes.


The IAEA has never found any evidence that Iran’s nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, are for anything other than peaceful purposes.  But, these unanswered questions from the past enabled the US/EU to persuade the IAEA Board to demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment, even though Iran wasn’t breaching its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by engaging in it.  This suspension was, it was said, a necessary confidence-building measure to reassure the outside world that, despite its failure to give a full account of its past nuclear activities, Iran was not developing nuclear weapons.


Far from being in breach of its NPT obligations by engaging in uranium enrichment, Iran is exercising its “inalienable right” under the NPT to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Article IV(1) of the NPT states:


“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”


This guarantee of access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is central to the NPT.  By signing up to the NPT, states without nuclear weapons forfeited their right to acquire nuclear weapons, but as a quid pro quo they were guaranteed the right to access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  What’s more, according to the Treaty, states possessing this technology are supposed to assist states without it to acquire it.


Safeguards Agreement

However, in order to get access, states must agree to their nuclear facilities being under the supervision of the IAEA.  This requirement is set out in Article III of the Treaty, which states:


“Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement [a so-called Safeguards Agreement] to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency …, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”


Iran signed a Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA in 1974 and its nuclear facilities, including those at Isfahan and Natanz engaged in the uranium enrichment process, are subject to IAEA monitoring.


Central to this monitoring is the tracking of nuclear material through the various processes within these facilities to make sure that none is diverted, possibly for military purposes.  The IAEA has found no evidence of nuclear material being diverted from its nuclear facilities.  Dr ElBaradei’s latest report was able to conclude:


“The Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has been providing the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and facilities.” (paragraph 22)


In other words, no nuclear material has gone missing in the course of processing through the nuclear facilities declared by Iran to the IAEA.


(It is, of course, conceivable that Iran has other nuclear facilities that it hasn’t declared to the IAEA, where work is going on for military purposes – see below.)


Technically capable

Uranium enrichment involves increasing the proportion of the isotope U235, which is about 0.7% in natural uranium, at the expense of the isotope U238.  Enriched uranium to fuel a reactor to generate electricity requires a relatively low level of enrichment, typically around 5% U235.  However, the same enrichment technology can also be used to produce “weapons grade” highly enriched uranium, typically with a U235 content of over 90%.  So, Iran is on the way to being technically capable of producing highly enriched uranium suitable for a nuclear weapon.


However, Dr ElBaradei’s latest report states that


“the highest enrichment [Uranium-235] level measured from environmental samples taken so far by the Agency from cascade components and related equipment is 3.7%” (paragraph 4).


So, at the moment, there is no question of Iran being close to reaching levels of enrichment suitable for a nuclear weapon.


Additional safeguards

Uranium enrichment is Iran’s “inalienable right” under the NPT, providing it is being verified by the IAEA as being for peaceful purposes.  The latter is the case today, and has always been the case.


In addition, Iran has offered to provide safeguards over and above those required by the NPT to reassure the outside world that its enrichment activities are not for military purposes.  For example, speaking to the UN General Assembly on 17 September 2005 [2], President Ahmadinejad stated that Iran would be prepared to invite foreign, public or private, partners to help in the implementation of the enrichment program:


“ … as a further confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran.”


Needless to say, the US/EU ignored this (and other) suggestions by Iran aimed at providing further assurance that its uranium enrichment programme is merely for power generation.


Mandatory resolutions

When Iran ignored the request of the IAEA Board to suspend its enrichment activities, in February 2006 the US/EU pressed the IAEA Board into reporting Iran to the Security Council, which would, it was hoped, force Iran to comply.


To that end, the US/EU took the lead in pressing the Security Council to pass a Chapter VII resolution making it mandatory that Iran suspend its enrichment activities, which it did on 31 July 2006, when it passed resolution 1696 [3].  The “proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear programme”, which had caused no harm to anyone, were declared to be a “threat to the peace” of the world, requiring a Chapter VII resolution. (By contrast, Israel’s assault on Lebanon, which was going on at this time and had caused hundreds of deaths by then, was never deemed to be a “threat to the peace” of the world, requiring a Chapter VII resolution).


When Iran still refused to halt its enrichment activities, two further Chapter VII Security Council resolutions were passed at the instigation of the US/EU (1737 on 23 December 2006 [4] and 1747 on 24 March 2007 [5]) applying economic sanctions against Iran.


All along, Russia and China, the two veto-wielding members of the Security Council outside the US/EU, have followed the US/EU lead reluctantly.  As a result, more than eighteen months after the matter was referred to the Security Council, only rather mild sanctions have been applied to Iran by the Council.


As we will see, the US/EU’s latest attempt to impose harsher sanctions has now been delayed, and perhaps thwarted altogether, by the IAEA’s “work plan” with Iran.


Disparaging ElBaradei

The US has been hopping mad that the IAEA Director, Dr ElBaradei, agreed a “work plan” with Iran.  The US hasn’t been able to express its anger officially, because for years it has been complaining about Iran’s failure to answer these questions.  But disparaging remarks about ElBaradei attributed to “US officials” have not been hard to find in the media recently (see, for example, The Guardian on 18 September 2007 [6]).


A Washington Post editorial on 5 September 2007 was entitled Rogue Regulator: Mohamed ElBaradei pursues a separate peace with Iran [7].  The following is an extract:


“For some time Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian diplomat who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, has made it clear he considers himself above his position as a UN civil servant. Rather than carry out the policy of the Security Council or the IAEA board, for which he nominally works, Mr ElBaradei behaves as if he were independent of them, free to ignore their decisions and to use his agency to thwart their leading members -- above all the United States. …


“Three times in little more than a year the Security Council has passed legally binding resolutions ordering Iran to end its enrichment program; two of them have had relatively weak sanctions attached. Never mind that, says Mr ElBaradei: He’s decided that the world should simply accept Iran’s enrichment capacity and that sanctions are the wrong response. His frequent public statements to this effect have been harmful, but now he’s gone further. Last month, the IAEA struck its own deal with the Iranian regime, aimed not at the enrichment but at a separate set of unresolved questions about Iran’s nuclear activities. According to the agency, Tehran agreed to a timetable for clearing up these matters by the end of this year.


“The answers to the questions are important: The IAEA wants to know, for example, how Iran came to possess Pakistani designs for molding enriched uranium into cores suitable for bombs. But Mr ElBaradei’s freelancing has two major consequences. One is to allow the Iranian government to focus on its past activities rather than its present campaign to build and install centrifuges for uranium enrichment. …


“The other effect of the IAEA agreement will be to hand Russia and China -- which have been taking advantage of Western economic pressure to rapidly increase their exports to Iran -- a pretext to resist another UN sanctions resolution. Moscow and Beijing could join Mr ElBaradei in arguing that nothing should be done before the end of the year. By then, the options of the Bush administration and other governments that believe Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped, and not accommodated, may be greatly attenuated -- thanks to a diplomat who apparently believes he need not represent anyone other than himself.”


The prediction that “the IAEA agreement will … hand Russia and China … a pretext to resist another UN sanctions resolution” was borne out a few weeks later.  On 28 September 2007, the five permanent members of the Security Council (plus Germany) met in New York, along with Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, to bring forward a further sanctions resolution.  However, under pressure from Russia and China, a resolution will not  be put before the Security Council until late November at the earliest and perhaps not then if “the November reports of Dr. Solana and Dr. ElBaradei show a positive outcome of their efforts” (see statement issued afterwards [8]).  Solana is due to have more talks with Iran’s Ali Larijani about its enrichment activities and ElBaradei will be processing the “work plan” agreed with Iran.


The US doesn’t want these minor historic issues sorted out ahead of the main issue, which, for the US, is the halting of uranium enrichment.  It doesn’t want this, because the existence of these issues was the excuse for referring Iran to the Security Council in the first place and, therefore, the resolution of these issues makes the US/EU case for having Iran before the Security Council for its nuclear activity threadbare – since uranium enrichment is not in breach of the NPT.  Furthermore, as we have seen already, in circumstances where Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues, it will be more difficult to persuade Russia and China to apply further sanctions to Iran or to persuade the world in general that Iran deserves to be sanctioned at all.


Clean bill of health?

There is even the possibility that Dr ElBaradei will give Iran a completely clean bill of health, with its uranium enrichment facilities in operation.  There is no reason why not, since their operation does not breach the NPT, providing Iran gives the IAEA sufficient access to verify that these, and its other, nuclear facilities are for peaceful purposes.


Here, we are talking about nuclear facilities that Iran has declared to the IAEA.  Dr ElBaradei was able to state in his latest report, as he has done in many earlier reports, that the IAEA saw no diversion of nuclear material from declared facilities.  However, he went on to say:


“Once Iran’s past nuclear programme has been clarified, Iran would need to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present and future nuclear programme. Confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme requires that the Agency be able to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material, but, equally important, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, through the implementation of the Additional Protocol.” (paragraph 24)


The basic Safeguards Agreement between a state and the IAEA (which Iran entered into in 1974) is concerned primarily with accounting for nuclear materials and, under it, a state is only required to declare nuclear facilities to the IAEA 180 days before introducing nuclear material into them.  Much of Iran’s past nuclear activities, which are now pejoratively described as “clandestine”, didn’t have to be declared to the IAEA under its Safeguards Agreement.  The Additional Protocol, which is not mandatory for a state, is designed to allow the IAEA to get a full picture of a state’s nuclear activities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, and to visit unannounced.  In addition, it requires a state to notify the IAEA in advance about plans to construct nuclear facilities.


Iran signed and operated an Additional Protocol from December 2003 until February 2006, even though it wasn’t ratified by the Iranian parliament.  Iran ceased operating the Additional Protocol in February 2006 when it was referred to the Security Council, as a protest against its case being transferred to this political arena, away from the IAEA, which is supposed determine cases according to well-defined technical rules within the legal framework of the NPT.


It is very likely that Iran will now resume operating the Additional Protocol, in which case Dr ElBaradei may eventually be in a position to conclude that, not only that there was no diversion of nuclear material from declared facilities in Iran, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.  Just imagine the reaction of the US to that.


David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

8 October  2007




[1]  www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2007/gov2007-48.pdf

[2]  www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2005/iran-050918-irna02.htm

[3]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/scrs/2006-1696.pdf

[4]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/scrs/2006-1737.pdf

[5]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/scrs/2007-1747.pdf

[6]  www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,,2171475,00.html

[7]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/04/AR2007090401810.html

[8]  www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/sep/92944.htm