|IRAN'S LAST CHANCE?
New Inspection Programme Offers Chance Of Peace
JNV Anti-War Briefing 108
2 November 2007
is available as a pdf here.
Posted 1 December
At the time of writing, the Iran is only
weeks away from a possible turning point in the drawn-out crisis
over its nuclear power programme. It is possible, and increasingly
likely, that by the end of the year the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) will clear Iran of the charge of having pursued
a nuclear weapons programme.
This declaration, if it comes, is almost
certain to be misrepresented and under-reported in the mainstream,
leaving it to concerned (and prepared) citizens to seek the maximum
public awareness of the IAEA’s work, and to try to mobilize
opinion against a US-UK military strike on Iran now ‘justified’
on other grounds.
The IAEA report may be Iran’s last
chance of avoiding military action.
THE WORK PLAN AND THE IRAQ PARALLEL
On 21 Aug. 2007, Iran and the IAEA reached
a new agreement on nuclear inspections, and drew up a ‘work
plan’ designed to clear up suspicions in all the murky areas
of Iran’s nuclear history.
This process is very similar to the final
and decisive ‘draft work programme’ drawn up by UN
weapons inspectors in 2003 to resolve the questions surrounding
Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes.
In that case, the UNMOVIC inspection agency
identified ‘key remaining disarmament tasks’ to be
performed by Iraq in order to establish that there were no materials,
weapons or ongoing research and development programmes connected
to chemical or biological weapons.
That ‘draft work programme’,
which would have established that Iraq had no WMD, was presented
to the UN Security Council for approval on 17 March 2003. If approved,
it would have initiated several months of decisive inspections,
during which time it would have been politically impossible to
attack Iraq. (See JNV Briefing
President Bush avoided this nightmarish prospect
by delivering his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on the same
day the ‘draft work programme’ was presented (17 March),
effectively starting the Iraq war.
In the present case, however, President Bush
has been unable to derail the IAEA. The US has made its anger
clear. The Guardian reports that ElBaradei ‘has been increasingly
at odds with Washington and London, who believe he is straying
beyond his job description and freelancing as an independent statesman.’
THE KEY REMAINING ISSUES
The areas of suspicion in the work plan are
(1) Iran’s plutonium experiments
(an ingredient for nuclear weapons);
(2) whether or not Iran has secretly built
P2 centrifuges (it currently operates outdated P1 centrifuges)
to make it easier to create weapons-grade uranium.
(3) the contamination of some equipment
at at Tehran university with Highly Enriched Uranium;
(4) designs bought from Pakistan for shaping
uranium metal into hemispheres, a key step in fashioning nuclear
(5) Iran’s experiments with Polonium-210
(which has some civilian uses, and can be used in triggering
(6) alleged attempts by the Iranian military
to create an independent, covert, supply from the uranium mine
at Ghachine in Iran;
(7) documents on a laptop apparently ‘stolen’
in Iran, and now in the possession of the CIA, which allegedly
(a) designs for a secret uranium conversion
facility (to produce ‘Green Salt’, useful in producing
(b) designs for modifying Iranian ballistic missiles to take
nuclear warheads; and
(c) high explosive testing useful for nuclear weapon design.
A TIMETABLE FOR PEACE
The first four steps are to take place in
sequence, with the IAEA satisfying itself on each question before
proceeding to the next.
The first topic has been dealt with. On
30 Aug., ElBaradei told the IAEA Board that the plutonium question
was ‘resolved’. (pdf)
The P2 file is close to resolution. On 28
Oct., IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen said on his arrival in
Tehran: ‘Most probably, this will be the final session of
talks held between Iran and the agency concerning the P1-P2 centrifuges.’
(Press TV [Iran], 28 Oct.)
According to reports in Iran, Heinonen also
said that cooperation from Iran was “good”. (Reuters,
There is a tight timetable for resolution
of all these outstanding questions by the end of 2007. ElBaradei
will report to the IAEA Board on 22 November, which is - inaccurately
- being portrayed by many in the media as the deadline for completing
the work plan. For example, see this exchange with the Financial
Times, one of the best-informed and sensible mainstream sources
of information on Iran:
ELBARADEI: I think I, I said publicly and
I told them [Iran] privately obviously, this is your litmus
test, because you committed yourself to come clean, and if you
don´t, you know, nobody will be able to come to your support.
You know, I made it very clear to them that if, as I said before,
if they don’t, it will completely backfire.
FT: And that means coming clean by November
ELBARADEI: Yes, absolutely, I mean, this
is a work plan. Wait, the 22nd, is when we report to the board,
I said before, it would take us two to three months, that’s
like the end of the year, I mean, 22nd is the time I have to
come to report because of our board of governors.
(FT, 2 Oct.)
The point of the work plan is to clear up
suspicions about Iran’s past nuclear activities, suspicions
heightened by the fact that (a) Iran developed its known uranium
enrichment programme in secret, only confirming it s existence
after an Iranian exile group made a detailed accusation; and (b)
Iran bought much of its nuclear technology from the criminal proliferation
network run by A.Q. Khan of Pakistan.
The US position has shifted. After initially
stressing precisely the troubling questions now being investigated
by the IAEA (see for example, ‘Strong
leads and dead ends’, Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2006),
the US now says these issues are irrelevant.
On 29 Oct., White House spokeswoman Dana
Perino said there was no doubt about Iran’s plans because:
“this is a country that is enriching and reprocessing uranium
and the reason that one does that is to lead towards a nuclear
This forced a partial retraction from US
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who said:
‘I would say that we’re concerned about Iran doing
this because they could have the capability to have a nuclear
weapon. Each country is different, but obviously Dana was asked
and was talking about Iran.’ (AFP,
The US is now concentrating solely on the
demand that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium in its facility
at Natanz - where enrichment has not proceeded above 3.7%, according
to the IAEA (30 Aug., pdf).
To be weapons-grade, uranium needs to be at 90%.
ElBaradei explained to the FT: ‘If
I am saying Iran today is clean, in other words, the programme
is under safeguards, would that be good enough for the international
community to say, well, we now trust Iran, and therefore Iran
can go ahead with its enrichment programme? That frankly is the
key question... it’s the risk assessment of Iran’s
‘The argument is that if Iran were
to have that [enrichment] technology it could then go into a break-out
scenario... leaving the [NPT/IAEA inspection] system altogether,
develop the highly enriched [weapons-grade] uranium, which they
cannot have as long as they are under [IAEA] safeguards... Whether
that distrust scenario will go away, after we come clean here
with regard to the past and the present, is frankly the million
For Iran, the million-dollar question is
why, if it is proved never to have had a nuclear weapons programme,
it should be distrusted more than any other member of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, and forced to give up its nuclear technology
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