FrontPageMagazine.com | November 25, 2005
Vienna, Austria --
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammad
ElBaradei is pressing members of the agency's board of governors to
make one last effort to find a diplomatic solution before sending
Iran's case to the United Nations Security Council for possible
sanctions, IAEA officials and European diplomats said in Vienna.
The decision to refer Iran the UN Security Council could come as early as today, as the IAEA Board of Governors meets to discuss new information discovered by inspectors in Iran.
Dr. ElBaradei discussed a potential "face-saving" deal European negotiators could offer Tehran during meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Washington on November 8. The following week, Russian foreign minister Ivanov and South African diplomat Abdul Minty flew to Tehran, to discuss possible ways of winning Iranian cooperation with the nuclear agency. ElBaradei is also expected to visit Tehran.
"Our message to Iran is that they have an opportunity to influence the timing and nature of the report to the UN Security Council," a State Department official said..
This latest meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors has riveted the attention of all those involved because of its earth-shattering gravity. What happens next in Vienna will determine the future of the entire non-proliferation regime, not just Iran's nuclear program. It could also determine the fate of the Middle East.
A failure to act will encourage other nations to follow Iran's example, and develop nuclear weapons on the sly. But referring Iran to the UN Security Council also has its cost. "So we go to New York, the [IAEA] inspectors get tossed out, and we get a war. Then what have we achieved?" an exasperated European negotiator told me in Vienna.
Thanks to the persistence of IAEA inspectors on the ground, we now have a fairly detailed picture of Iran's nuclear archipelago - at least, those facilities the Iranian government has been forced to open. As described in eight successive reports to the Board of Governors, we know that Iran discovered, mined and milled natural uranium, the basic building block of any enrichment program, without telling the IAEA.
We know that Iran built a Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan to convert uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6), the feedstock for uranium enrichment, without the required prior notifications to the IAEA.
We know that Iran built an underground centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, hardened against missile attack, and erected dummy buildings on the surface to conceal it from overhead surveillance. They agreed to open this facility to the IAEA only after its existence was confirmed in commercial satellite imagery, and appear to have swept the underground halls of whatever equipment had previously been installed before the inspectors could arrive.
Once fully operational, these facilities will give the Islamic Republic of Iran mastery of the entire nuclear fuel cycle. For eighteen years, the Iranian government successfully concealed these activities from the IAEA, in clear violation of its safeguards agreement. For this reason alone, the IAEA Board must refer Iran to the UN Security Council for further actions, as required by the agency’s charter.
"Iran argues that it is promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology. It is not. It is subverting peaceful use to pursue a dangerous course," U.S. ambassador Greg Schulte told the IAEA board in August. "Iran has no need for its heavy investment in an indigenous fuel cycle. Unless, of course, it wants nuclear weapons. Iran doesn't even have enough natural uranium to enrich for a civil nuclear program. But it has enough for a small stockpile of nuclear weapons," Schulte added.
The problem is that the technology needed to enrich uranium to four percent to fuel civilian power reactors, is identical to what''s needed to enrich uranium to 93 percent to make weapons. The only thing separating the two is a matter of intent.
"With Iran, we realized that mastery of the fuel cycle makes you a virtual nuclear weapons state," a top aide to ElBaradei told me in Vienna. "That was a wake-up call for all of us."
But a wake-up call that just allows the IAEA board to go back to sleep is useless. For two and a half years, the European Union has made every possible effort to get Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA and make a clean breast of its nuclear activities, to no avail.
Intentions have always been key to the nonproliferation regime. Because the technologies needed to build a bomb are essentially identical to those needed for civilian nuclear programs, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) enshrined civilian intent as a precondition - not as an after-the-fact declaration - to nuclear technology transfer to non-nuclear states.
Under Article II, non-nuclear signatory nations pledge to abandon all efforts to develop nuclear weapons.. In exchange for that pledge, which is unconditional and irrevocable, they are given access to nuclear technologies.
That pledges requires complete, transparent cooperation with the IAEA. Instead, Iran has been playing cheat and retreat. Consider:
When the IAEA announced it wanted to inspect a suspected enrichment cascade within the Revolutionary Guards complex at Lavizan-Shian, the Iranian government stalled for months until it could raze the site and remove the evidence. To make it more difficult for inspectors to take environmental samples, the Iranians even carted away bushes, rubble and dirt.
When the IAEA asked to visit a suspected weaponization lab within the Parchin defense production plant, the Iranians stalled. When they finally allowed a small team onto the site, they limited their movements, in clear violation of Iran’s commitments to the agency.
If you comb through the eight IAEA reports, you will find dozens of similar examples. Is this the behavior of a government that takes its non-proliferation pledge seriously?
ElBaradei has stated that the IAEA has found "no evidence" of a weapons program in Iran. Tehran's leaders have used that statement as proof of their peaceful intentions.
By its statute, however, the IAEA has no authority to determine whether a country has a nuclear weapons program or not. That is up for the UN Security Council to determine. The IAEA's job is to determine whether a nation has violated its safeguards agreement. ElBaradei made that finding official in November 2003, and reiterated it in his September 2, 2005 report to the IAEA board. When that happens, the IAEA charter requires that the board refer the violator to the UN Security Council.
As for the larger question: what would evidence of a nuclear weapons program actually look like? Does the "crime" of cheating on its NPT obligations have such a high standard of evidence that a nation must actually test a nuclear explosive device before we can all agree that the crime has been committed?
Does it mean that IAEA inspectors or a UN Security Council member state must discover secret weapons production labs? Weapons designs? Actual nuclear warheads? Or that a nation must declare that it has become a weapons state and withdraw from the NPT, as North Korea did in January 2003?
I do not believe that the framers of the NPT took nuclear weapons so casually as to require this type of evidence to determine an Article II violation. Instead, they placed the burden of proving honorable intent on the signatory nations themselves, by requiring an unequivocal and binding statement of civilian intent. Without peaceful intent, declared and pursued in total transparency, there is no right to nuclear technology. Period.
Iran made that binding statement of intent when it signed and ratified the NPT in 1970. And it has broken it repeatedly, both in word and in deed.
Understanding the intentions of Iran's leaders is not as difficult or as ambiguous as some may feel. Eighteen years of concealing its nuclear programs from the IAEA constitutes a powerful track record of deceit. But it is equally important to listen to what the Iranians say about their intentions.
1986. Then-president Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives a pep talk at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran. "Regarding atomic energy, we need it now," he said. What Khamenei meant by "energy," however, has little in common with how the term is used in the West. "Our nation has always been threatened from outside. The least we can do to face this danger is to let our enemies know that we can defend ourselves. Therefore, every step you take here is in defense of your country and your evolution. With this in mind, you should work hard and at great speed." [italics mine].
Are these words that describe a program to build civilian nuclear power reactors or medical isotopes? (At the time, Iran's sole nuclear power plant lay in ruins in Busheir).
Oct. 6, 1988. Majles speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani addresses the Revolutionary Guards Corps. "We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defense use of chemical, bacteriological, and radiological weapons. From now on, you should make use of the opportunity and perform this task."
Jan. 27, 1992. Rafsanjani scientific advisor Homayoun Vahdati tells Germany's Die Welt newspaper: "We should like to acquire the technical know-how and the industrial facilities required to manufacture nuclear weapons, just in case we need them. This does not mean that we currently want to build them or that we have changed our defense strategy to include a nuclear program."”
September 1995. During a conference on nuclear proliferation in Castiglioncello, Italy, I laid out evidence of what I believed was an apparent nuclear weapons program in Iran to a top Iranian arms control official, Hassan Mashadi. His response stunned an audience of well-known arms control experts. "My government is keeping its nuclear options open," he said. Isn't that precisely what the NPT is supposed to prevent?
Dec. 14, 2001. At a Jerusalem day rally at Tehran University, Hashemi-Rafsanjani uttered what may be the most sinister of the regime's scarcely-veiled threats. "The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroy Israel completely, while [the same] against the world of Islam only would cause damages. Such a scenario is not inconceivable."
June 12, 2004. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi declared the regime's hostility to further negotiations with the EU3. "We won't accept any new obligations. Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path."
March 6, 2005. Hashemi-Rafsanjani reiterated Iran's intention not to dismantle its nuclear fuel cycle facilities, as the EU3 and the IAEA had been demanding. "Definitely we can't stop our nuclear program and won't stop it. You can't take technology away from a country already possessing it."
Oct. 26, 2005. Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that Israel must be "wiped off the map." When challenged to retract that statement, instead he called tens of thousands of supporters into the streets of Tehran to reinforce it.
These statements, in addition to Iran's material infractions and history of deceit, constitute prima facie evidence of nuclear weapons intent.
The danger of doing nothing far outweighs the costs of referring Iran to the UN Security Council.
First, there is the risk that Iran has been secretly enriching uranium, possibly for many years. If it used the centrifuges it now admits it purchased through the black market network of Pakistani nuclear impresario A.Q. Khan - and if they worked - the Islamic Republic today could have enough fissile material to produce between twenty to twenty-five bombs, according to widely-accepted calculations..
Then there is the breakout scenario. This has been described in detail in a September 2004 study by Henry Sokolski and the Washington, DC-based Nonprolifertion Policy Education Center. By using the fuel from a single core of the Busheir reactor, Iran could produce “a large arsenal of nuclear weapons - fifty to seventy-five bombs- using a small, clandestine reprocessing plant, and then announce that it was withdrawing from the NPT.
President Bush has warned repeatedly that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists presents the gravest danger facing the world today. Given the fact that the Iranian regime continues to shelter top al Qaeda leaders, and materially facilitated the travel of eight to ten of the "muscle hijackers" who carried out the September 11 attacks, the dangers of allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran to go nuclear ought to be obvious.
Are we really willing to risk allowing the world's most open sponsor of international terror to become a nuclear weapons-capable state? That is the question the IAEA Board of Governors must address.
Mr. Timmerman is a former U.S. Congressional aide and New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, was published by Crown Forum in June 2005. At the request of the Department of State, he presented a longer version of this article to diplomats and the press earlier this month in Vienna, Austria.