Friday, November 11, 2011

What took them so long?

National Post · Nov. 10, 2011, by *:

IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei speaks during a media conference in Tehran in 2009.
Caren Firouz, Reuters
IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei speaks during a media conference in Tehran in 2009.

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offers a detailed list of evidence in regard to Iran's clandestine efforts to build a nuclear device and fit it onto longrange missiles.

This is a remarkable turnaround for a UN body that, for years, couched its conclusions in vague technical language. For example, on June 3, 2008, then-IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei told his board of governors that 
"It should be noted that the agency currently has no information - apart from the uranium metal document - on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components, of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies."
In light of the latest report, the sentence above seems to be an astonishingly misleading remark. 

For years, IAEA had access to information about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. But under the leadership of ElBaradei - a career diplomat now running for president in his native Egypt - the agency fudged its language, perhaps out of fear that offering all available data would provide the United States or Israel a pretext for a military strike against Iran. As a result, the IAEA ended up providing Iran, and its Russian and Chinese enablers, plausible deniability.

The IAEA's new director general, Yukiya Amano, seems to be cut from different cloth. Since he took office, the agency's pronouncements have been more clear, and less politically motivated. Had ElBaradei taken the same approach, the truth about Iran's programs would have been known sooner. So much for his 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

U.S. intelligence agencies also have some reckoning to do. When, in December 2007, they jointly released key findings on Iran's nuclear program - the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) - their unclassified language appeared to suggest that Iran had stopped pursuing nuclear weapons. The document undermined not only those calling for military action, but also those calling for tougher international sanctions. Even Iranian officials took to quoting the NIE as evidence of their innocence.

The IAEA has now confirmed that some of the weaponization work for Iran's nuclear programme was indeed halted in 2003, as U.S. intelligence reported. But it also makes clear that various other nuclear weapons-related activities continued - in particular, Iran's continuing quest for fissile material. Technically speaking, U.S. intelligence was correct in reporting that weaponization had been suspended. Practically speaking, though, bomb-making continued.

The IAEA report also discredits the European Union's dual-track approach to Iran. European leaders assumed that dialogue and sanctions could persuade the country's leaders to change course. Sanctions might have slowed Iran down, but failed to change its leaders' minds. By all evidence, Iran is still building a nuclear weapon and trying to fit it on a long-range missile.

The IAEA report comes late. But better late than not at all. This truthtelling exercise might finally motivate the international community to emerge from its slumber and act before it is too late.

*Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards' Corps (FDD Press, September 2011).
Post a Comment