Not Much Meat on It, But US Still Gnaws on Iran Bone

03.04.2008 | POLITICS

The day after the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its latest report card on Iran's nuclear program, the New York Times headlined its story: "Nuclear Agency Says Iran Has Used New Technology." The IAEA, David Sanger explained, had presented Iran with evidence that it was conducting experiments in manufacturing nuclear weapon.

At the end of second paragraph, he mentions that the report also stated that "Iranian officials had finally begun to answer a number of longstanding questions about its nuclear activities."

But the IAEA, its report itself concludes, "has been able to continue to verify" that Iran isn't diverting nuclear material from nuclear energy to weapons research. Though it can't give Iran a clean bill of nuclear heath "before reaching some clarity about the nature of the alleged studies."

In other words, the Times portrayed the glass half-empty, while the IAEA, as reported by Reuters, presented it as half -- or even three-quarters -- full. In a piece titled "Iran Says Work Plan Closed, U.S. Intelligence Fake," Karin Strohecker wrote that "the IAEA said Iran had responded to questions and clarified issues raised in the context of the work plan struck in August, with the exception of alleged studies."

But what's with the "alleged studies" to which both the Times and Reuters refer? In 2005, the Washington Post reported, a laptop computer was "allegedly stolen from an Iranian whom German intelligence tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit as an informant. It was whisked out of the country by another Iranian."

The purloined laptop wound up in the hands of the US, which exhibited it to the IAEA in Vienna. A Times report read: "The Americans flashed on a screen and spread over a conference table selections from more than a thousand pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments."

They included "sophisticated drawings of a deep subterranean shaft. . . consistent with a nuclear test-site schematic" and designs for a "facility to produce uranium gas [which] would give Iran a secret stock [for] fuel or for bombs." Most damining (allegedly) were "drawings on modifying Iran's ballistic missiles in ways that might accommodate a nuclear warhead."

But the IAEA was unimpressed. "I can fabricate that data," said one diplomat. "It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt."

Three years later, according to the AP, another diplomat with the IAEA still feels "much of it is of doubtful value." Other diplomat's comments included, "Relatively insignificant" and "It's not the amount, but the quality that counts."

In Asia Times Online Kaveh Afrasiabi wrote that "even David Albright, a former weapons inspector [and no friend of Iran] admitted that 'so many pieces are missing' in the US's allegations" about the laptop.

While yet another diplomat believed the US was acting in good faith, several more "suggested the U.S. was disingenuous in providing such a large amount of. . . questionable information just days before ElBaradei was to complete his report."

Iran barely had time to inspect the documents before the IAEA report was due to be released. The initial reaction of Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency was "100 percent fabricated and forged."

Why the delayed release? At Informed Comment: Global Affairs, Farideh Farhi speculates that the Bush administration, "felt that the late release of these documents [was all] it had to keep the Iran file going." He wonders if we will face yet more haggling -- not over Iran's nuclear program per se, but over documents "that no one (except the Iranians) seem to be sure. . . are fake or not."

Nicholas Burns, the outgoing undersecretary of state who's been handling the Iran "dossier" (as the erudite Afrasiabi always calls it), concurs. He told Financial Times that, "I think this is going to be a drama that plays out well into 2009 and beyond."

Everyone is exhausted with this drama, Farhi maintains, especially ElBaradei, who must feel "the need to move on after years of what under other circumstances would be considered successful interaction between his Agency and a member country."

Perhaps making the same mistake as the mass media with the Bush administration, ElBaradei may be giving it the benefit of the doubt to avert any appearance of partisanship. Like when he said, "A durable solution requires confidence about Iran's nuclear program [and among other things] a regional security arrangement."

To Afrasiabi, ElBaradei creates a "false linkage" by raising the specter of security. It suggests that despite being verified as peaceful, its nuclear program continues to pose a regional security threat.

Still, Farhi writes, "I am sure some European governments and the Bush Administration will. . . once again accuse ElBaradei [of] going beyond his technical mandate and talking about ways to overcome the deadlock politically."

A Times editorial last fall embodied the prevailing view. The key to ElBaradei's "credibility [is] his agency’s clear scientific judgment. Once he started making diplomatic deals, that judgment. . . immediately becomes suspect."

But, Farhi asks an equally key question: "In this day and age of failed policies shouldn't [that] be everyone's mandate?" [Emphasis added.]

How then should the US and Europe react to a state whose nuclear weapon program may be in suspended animation, but which obviously still has lust in its heart for the bomb?

The International Herald Tribune quotes a European diplomat, who maintains that "we should provide that little door that allows Iran to enter the long, long corridor toward the room where the negotiating table is -- without losing face."

Another said, "The idea is that maybe a friend of Solana [the European Union's foreign policy chief] meets a friend of Jalili [Iran's nuclear negotiator]. The two have tea and get their bosses together and they get someone else together."

Meanwhile, the AP just reported that Iran is moving ahead with "new-generation centrifuges. . . that can churn out enriched uranium at more than double the rate" of those they're currently using.

In the face of the inevitability of Iran's uranium enrichment, the New York Review of Books provided a forum for former statesmen William Luers and Thomas R. Pickering, and nuclear analyst Jim Walsh, to offer "A Solution for the US–Iran Nuclear Standoff." If only because, as one of the subtitles to the piece holds, "Iran Can Build and Use Centrifuges Faster Than We Can Impose Penalties or Controls."

They propose that Iran's nuclear activities be "jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and other governments." That's not exactly music to the ears of those of us who are anti all-things-nuclear.

Not only is the authors' acceptance of nuclear energy implicit, but they fail to suggest that the US enact a dramatic draw-down of its nuclear weapons. But bear in mind that, in their minds, they're "Choosing the Second-Best Alternative Instead of the Worst."

In the interim, it looks like, even though there isn't much meat on it, the US will continue to gnaw on the Iran bone. Let's just hope we don't crunch through and wind up with splinters in our mouth.

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