Iran in the Crosshairs

by Sep 18, 2008Foreign Policy0 comments

The IAEA's latest report on Iran's nuclear program was circulated to the Board of Governors this week. It has not been released to the general public, but it is widely being hailed as a damning condemnation of Iran by the mainstream media.

The IAEA’s latest report on Iran’s nuclear program was circulated to the Board of Governors this week. It has not been released to the general public, but it is widely being hailed as a damning condemnation of Iran by the mainstream media.

The Washington Post headline read, “U.N. Agency at ‘Dead End’ as Iran Rejects Queries on Nuclear Research”. The article states that “The apparent standoff was detailed in a report that also described substantial gains by Tehran in its efforts to make enriched uranium, the fuel used in commercial nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.” The Post fails to point out that the IAEA has also confirmed that Iran has produced only low-enriched uranium, not the highly-enriched uranium required for nuclear weapons.

The Post quotes Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, as saying, “After numerous inspections there was no evidence on diversion of nuclear activities and materials for military objectives.” But it fails to point out that this is not only attributable to Iranian denials, but to the IAEA report itself, which states that the IAEA “has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”

That line is taken verbatim from the IAEA’s previous report last May. Just before issuing that report, IAEA Secretary General noted, “We haven’t seen indications or any concrete evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and I’ve been saying that consistently for the last five years.”

A CBS News headline declared, “IAEA: Iran To Upgrade Missile For Nuke Use”, falsely suggesting that this is a conclusion drawn by the agency. The subtitle more accurately notes, “U.N. Agency Presents Report Allegedly Showing Iran’s Plans To Redesign Weapons”.

The U.S. is known to have been the principle nation responsible for supplying the reports to the IAEA, although it is reported that other Western intelligence agencies have also been involved. Iran insists that the documents have been fabricated.

The documents, which have come to be known as the “alleged studies” by the IAEA, have become a key obstacle to the IAEA’s efforts to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The report in May noted significant progress in other areas, leaving the “alleged studies” the key remaining outstanding issue. That report also emphasized “that the Agency has not detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies.”

After the latest report, IAEA officials who have talked to the press have been widely quoted anonymously as describing the agency’s efforts in Iran as being at a “dead end”. One unnamed official said, “Iran has so far not been forthcoming in replying to our questions and we seem to be at a dead end there.” Another press account quotes an unnamed official saying, “We seem to have reached a dead end … gridlock.”

The report itself said that the IAEA “regrettably has not been able to make any substantive progress on the alleged studies and other associated key remaining issues which remain of serious concern.”

Iran has not even been allowed to see the documents upon which the allegations accusing it of seeking a nuclear weapon are founded. Despite this, the IAEA has apparently insisted on being allowed access beyond that required of Iran under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

Alaeddin Borujerdi, head of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “We are against offering the agency an open door once more and that they expect Iran to respond to any claim.” He also added, “We do not think there should be an open forum so America can bring up a new claim every day and pass it on to the agency, expecting Iran to address any claim.”

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said, “We continue cooperating with the IAEA but they should not expect us to apply the additional protocol.”

Iran had previously voluntarily allowed inspectors a greater level of access despite not having agreed to the additional protocol and hence having no legal obligation to provide more access. In response to the U.S. referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council in 2006, resulting in sanctions, Iran predictably stopped its voluntary effort to allow inspectors greater access than mandated under the NPT.

Soltanieh also said, “No country would give information about its conventional military activities.”

“I said in this briefing,” Soltaniah explained, “‘Who in the world would believe there are a series of top secret documents U.S. intelligence found in a laptop regarding a Manhattan Project-type nuclear (bomb programme) in Iran and none of these documents bore seals of ‘high confidential’ or ‘secret’?’ This is simply unbelievable. This matter is over, as far as we are concerned.”

The threat that the U.S. or Israel might engage in a targeted airstrikes against Iran has continued to escalate. Israel earlier this year conducted military exercises involving just such a strike in what was widely interpreted as a warning to Iran.

USA Today reported this week that “The Pentagon is expanding its arsenal of bunker-busting bombs to knock out suspected programs to make weapons of mass destruction, such as Iran’s, interviews and military planning documents show.”

In addition, Israel has ordered 1,000 GBU-39 bunker-busting smart bombs from Boeing in a deal announced by the U.S. Department of Defense last Friday. At the same time, the U.S. is bolstering Israel’s defenses, including by updating its arsenal of Patriot missile interceptors and deploying a new radar installation on what will be “the first American base on Israeli territory”, as the Israeli paper Haaretz noted.

Haaretz also reported last week that Israel had asked the U.S. for authorization to use Iraqi airspace for an attack on Iran. The U.S., for now, appears to be drawing the line short of this, and reportedly responded by telling the Israelis to coordinate with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

If true, the statement could be interpreted as a clear, “no”. Maliki has assured Iran that Iraq would not be used for such an attack, and the U.S. is unlikely to threaten its relations with Iraq by undermining its sovereignty in such a blatant demonstration of U.S. hegemony over the country under the ongoing military occupation.

The European Jewish Congress in Brussels held a panel on the Iran issue that concluded, “Only military action can stop Iran, or else Iran will acquire nuclear weapons to the great detriment of regional and even global stability.”

The Congress, meanwhile, is debating two resolutions this week that seek to “increase economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities” and call for “stringent inspection requirements” of all goods into and out of Iran, which would effectively amount to a naval blockade of the country — an action which would be widely considered an act of war.

The U.S. also has increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf. Two carrier groups are there and a third is on its way.

Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman claims in a new book, “The Secret War with Iran”, that the U.S. and Israel have been engaged in clandestine operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

Another interpretation might be that the U.S. is seeking rather, or at least simultaneously, to sabotage the IAEA’s effort to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s program.

When the U.N. inspections teams in Iraq threatened to be near to declaring that Iraq had been disarmed, the Clinton administration intervened, launching a bombing campaign that forced the inspectors to withdraw from the country and ensured that they would not be allowed back. The U.N. inspections had also been further undermined with revelations that U.S. intelligence was “piggybacking” inspections.

Iraq allowed inspectors into the country once again in 2002. By March, 2003, the U.N. was once again threatening to find Iraq verifiably disarmed, prompting the U.S. to intervene once again with its military invasion to prevent this from happening and to implement by force the official policy of “regime change” that would be undermined were weapons inspectors to declare Iraq disarmed.

U.S. policy towards Iran has taken a similar course as it had towards Iraq prior to the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Meanwhile, further escalating the tensions by demonizing the country, the claim that Iran has been arming the Taliban has been resurrected yet again. A BBC headline this week stated, “Iran ‘sending weapons to Taleban'”. While the headline suggests a policy of the Iranian government, the report itself merely suggests that the Taliban might be receiving Iranian-made arms on the black market. The BBC cites Taliban members who say they “had received Iranian-made arms from elements in the Iranian state and from smugglers”. The report does not clarify whether “elements” within “the Iranian state” is meant to refer to elements of the Iranian government or not, despite the obvious intention to imply just that.

Iran denied the claim that its government has supported the Taliban, saying that it supported the government of Aghanistan under Hamid Karzai. Iran has historically opposed the Taliban, instead supporting the Northern Alliance, while U.S. allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had been the Taliban’s largest benefactors.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

I am an independent journalist, political analyst, publisher and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, book author, and writing coach.

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