Does the BBC not trust US intelligence on Iran? By David Morrison and Peter Oborne

8 August 2013 — Our Kingdom

If the BBC wants to speculate on Iranian nuclear capabilities and the potential for conflict, why is it ignoring the clear consensus of US intelligence, and for what purpose?

On 28 May 2013, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme in its File on 4 series called Iran’s Nuclear Standoff (video at [1], transcript at [2]).  It was introduced as follows:

“With a new report due on Iran’s nuclear programme, Rob Broomby examines the latest intelligence on the country’s potential to develop a bomb.”

Incredibly, the “latest intelligence” broadcast in the programme did not include the latest intelligence about Iran’s nuclear activities from the US intelligence services.  The programme claimed to have “spoken to some of the world’s leading authorities on the subject”, but it omitted to mention the latest assessment of what many people would regard as the world’s leading authority on the subject, namely, the US intelligences services. This is readily available on the website of the US Director of National Intelligence: does the BBC not trust US intelligence on Iran?

The programme spent a lot of time speculating about possible future developments, including the US taking military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. If that does come about, the US decision to do so will be taken on the basis of a US intelligence assessment, and not the opinions of the various “authorities”, leading or otherwise, interviewed in the programme. To speculate about possible US military action, while failing to mention the present US intelligence assessment is, to put it mildly, absurd.

The present US intelligence assessment is that Iran hasn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme, and hasn’t had one for a decade. When US intelligence first published this view in November 2007, it made it impossible for President George Bush to justify taking military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities – he says so in his memoir Decision Points (p. 419, Kindle edition).

It would have been interesting if the File on 4 programme had explored whether this inhibition on US military action remained today, given the continued absence of a weapons programme in the opinion of US intelligence. But that wasn’t possible since the current US intelligence assessment was omitted from the programme.

Instead, the all pervasive impression given by the programme was that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, has been for decades, and will have enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb within a matter of months, unless military action is taken to prevent it doing so. It goes without saying that this impression would have been gravely undermined if the programme had mentioned the present US intelligence assessment that Iran hasn’t got a nuclear weapons programme and hasn’t had one for a decade. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the programme makers failed to mention this assessment because it conflicted with the impression they wished to give.

The root of the nuclear dispute between the US and Iran is straightforward: it is about Iran’s right under the NPT to enrich uranium on its own soil for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards. Had the US been prepared to accept that right at any time during the last decade, a deal could have been done. Unless the US is prepared to accept that right now, there will be no deal. Iran is simply not prepared to give up its right to uranium enrichment on its own soil and become a second-class party to the NPT with fewer rights than other signatories.

Basic facts omitted

This File on 4 programme presented a picture of Iran as a state that had engaged in decades of secrecy and deception about its nuclear activities, and which – a decade after its deception was uncovered – still refuses to come clean about either its past or its present nuclear activities. In addition, it has developed uranium enrichment facilities that could be used to produce high-enriched uranium for a bomb. Though the programme did not state explicitly that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme, the overwhelming impression given was that Iran was hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons and was within a year or two of success, unless halted by military action.

This false picture was built up by omitting a myriad of basic facts about Iran’s nuclear activities, all of which are in the public domain and readily available via the internet (including in my writings on the subject). The basic facts omitted included.

  • – That US intelligence assesses that Iran has no active nuclear weapons programme today and hasn’t had one for a decade.
  • – That, according to President Bush, the emergence of this assessment in 2007 made it impossible for him to justify taking military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
  • – That Israel largely agrees with the US intelligence assessment that Iran has no active nuclear weapons programme.
  • – That Russia agrees with the US intelligence assessment that Iran has no active nuclear weapons programme.
  • – That Iran’s leaders have repeatedly denied that they intend to develop nuclear weapons and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared the possession of such weapons a “grave sin”. 
  • – That all of the nuclear sites declared by Iran to the IAEA (including its two enrichment plants) are operating under IAEA supervision and according to the relevant design specifications supplied by Iran to the IAEA.
  • – That the IAEA has never detected any diversion of nuclear material from Iran’s declared nuclear facilities for possible military use.
  • – That US intelligence assesses that Iran could not produce enough highly enriched uranium in its enrichment plants for one bomb (assuming it wished to do so) before this activity was discovered by the IAEA.
  • – That there is no evidence that Iran has other nuclear sites, which it has not declared to the IAEA.
  • – That the US refused to assist the Islamic Republic acquire nuclear technology after 1979 (as it had done for the Shah’s regime prior to 1979) and did its utmost to prevent other states from doing so, forcing Iran to turn to AQ Khan to develop a nuclear power programme.
  • – That by refusing to assist the Islamic Republic in acquiring nuclear technology the US and its allies were in breach of Article IV(2) of the NPT.
  • – That Iran did not breach its agreement with the IAEA by not declaring its Natanz enrichment plant to the IAEA prior to its existence being “revealed” to the world by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) in August 2002.
  • – That, under Article IV(1) of the NPT, Iran has a right to uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes providing it is under IAEA supervision.
  • – That, in negotiations with Britain, France and Germany in 2005, a settlement could have been arrived at, a settlement with enhanced safeguards against the diversion of nuclear material for military purposes, had the EU states been prepared to accept that Iran has a right to enrichment on its own soil.
  • – That in early 2005, according to the IAEA Director General at the time, there were “only a few remaining inspection issues” with regards to Iran.
  • – That in an agreement, brokered by Turkey and Brazil in 2011, Iran agreed to swap nearly 50% of its stockpile of low enriched uranium for 20% enriched fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor, only for the US to block the implementation of this agreement.
  • – That Iran could, if it wished, legitimately withdraw from the NPT and be free to develop nuclear weapons (like non-member Israel), legitimately because its near neighbour Israel has acquired a nuclear arsenal since Iran signed the NPT in 1968.

US intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities

US intelligence first made the judgement that Iran had no active nuclear weapons programme in its November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, key judgments of which were made public, including the following:

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program… We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007…” [3]

Since 2007, this assessment that Iran has not restarted its programme has been repeated many times in public statements to the US Congress by successive US Directors of National Intelligence. As recently as 18 April 2013, the present director James Clapper confirmed in evidence to the Senate Armed Services Committee that this remains the assessment of US intelligence today [4].

Earlier this year, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also made this clear, telling NBC’s Meet The Press on 3 February 2013:

“What I’ve said [in the past], and I will say today, is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. They’re developing and enriching uranium. They continue to do that.” [5]

(Russia concurs with this proposition that Iran isn’t working on a bomb. In September 2012, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said:

“We as before see no signs that there is a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. No signs.” [6])

My hands were tied by the NIE, says George Bush

In his memoir, Decision Points, President George Bush wrote that he was “angry” when he received the NIE conclusion in November 2007 that Iran had no active nuclear weapons (p419, Kindle edition).  He was “angry” because, he said, it “tied my hands on the military side”. After the NIE, he asked “how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

In other words, the 2007 US intelligence assessment made it next to impossible for the last US president to take military action against Iran. Can it be any different for his successor if US intelligence continues to report that Iran still has no active weapons programme? 

This crucial question could not be addressed in the File on 4 programme, because the current US intelligence assessment wasn’t mentioned.

Israel’s assessment

The US intelligence assessment that Iran has no active nuclear weapons programme seems to be shared by Israel.  At a press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu in 20 March 2013 on his recent visit to Israel, President Obama emphasised that “the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not … a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments in terms of where Iran is right now” [7]. This strongly suggests that Israeli intelligence is also of the opinion that Iran has no active nuclear weapons programme.

This is not surprising since the Israeli Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz, said as much in an interview with Haaretz in April 2012 (see IDF chief to Haaretz: I do not believe Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons, Haaretz, 25 April 2012 [8]).

So, don’t take too seriously the repeated claims by Israeli political leaders that Iran is just about to get a bomb, if it’s not stopped by military action. Remember that as far back as 1992, the present Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Iran was 3 to 5 years away from having a bomb.

And, don’t take too seriously either the proposition that, if Iran acquired a few nuclear weapons, Israel’s existence as a state would be threatened. Israel has a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons (perhaps as many as 400 [9]) and the means of delivering them to targets across the Middle East, including Iran. If Iran were to make a nuclear strike on Israel, it is absolutely certain that Israel would retaliate in kind and overwhelmingly and, as a result, many Iranian cities would be razed to the ground. The rulers of Iran know that to be the case and are not suicidal.

The Israeli leadership is well aware of this. In February 2010, when he was Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barack said:

“I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, [would] drop it in the neighbourhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not totally crazy. They have a quite sophisticated decision making process, and they understand reality.” [10]

What he is saying (elliptically, since he doesn’t want to state publicly that Israel possesses nuclear weapons) is that Iran would not make a nuclear strike against Israel if it had the capacity to do so, because its leadership is fully aware of awful consequences.

(Needless to say, the File on 4 programme didn’t mention Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons or that Israel’s nuclear facilities are, unlike Iran’s, almost entirely closed to the IAEA. They remain closed in spite of the Security Council passing resolution 487 in June 1981, calling “upon Israel urgently to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards” [11]. Israel has simply ignored this resolution and no sanctions have been applied by the Security Council to force it to comply.)

Nuclear developments by Iran from 1979-2002

On nuclear developments in Iran post the 1979 Islamic revolution, the File on 4 programme said:

“The story of Iran’s nuclear programme has been one of secrecy and deception. The country has been trying to get the enrichment know-how by clandestine means stretching back years. Decades before Iran had a functioning nuclear power station to burn any uranium fuel in, it was seeking the technology that could also give it access to bomb material. Its cover was blown when an Iranian rebel group broke the news about the Natanz site that shook the world. Suspicions had existed for years, but suddenly here was a secret facility designed to do the very thing Iran’s critics feared most. It was the ultimate dual-use facility. Natanz allowed Iran to make its own nuclear fuel, but gave it the route to a bomb. It offered it swords disguised as ploughshares.”

This omits the crucial fact that, whereas prior to 1979 the US and its allies were more than willing to assist the Shah’s regime to acquire nuclear technology and material (and to build nuclear powers stations), the US refused to assist the Islamic Republic after 1979 and did its utmost to prevent other states from doing so. This policy has continued until today. 

This policy is in breach of the NPT, Article IV(2) of which states:

“All the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.” [12]

In other words, in signing the NPT, states in a position to do so promised to help others to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Clearly the west, led by the US, has not fulfilled this undertaking in respect of Iran since 1979. This amounts to a serious breach of the NPT, which is continuing to this day.  See, for example, Why Nuclear Supplier States are in Collective Breach of the NPT by Professor Dan Joyner, 24 April 2013 [13].

No doubt, the US and its allies would argue in their defence that Article IV(2) only applies to the “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”, but the cessation of co-operation with Iran was not triggered by a sudden discovery that it was engaged in uses of nuclear energy that were not peaceful. It was triggered by a change of regime to one that wasn’t to their taste; it was done for political reasons.

What is more, in 1983 the US pressurised the IAEA into refusing to fulfill its statutory duties in respect of Iran’s request for assistance. Article II.B.1 of the IAEA Statute specifies that one of the IAEA’s functions is, “if requested to do so, to act as an intermediary for the purposes of securing the performance of services or the supplying of materials, equipment, or facilities by one member of the Agency for another”, that is, to act as an intermediary in the fulfillment of Article IV(2) of the NPT.

Mark Hibbs told the story of this US intervention as follows:

“Four years after the Islamic revolution, and two years after Iran’s new leaders dusted off the nuclear program of the deposed Reza Shah Pahlevi, IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in reactivating a research program to learn how to process U3O8 into UO2 pellets and then set up a pilot plant to produce UF6 [the feedstock for a centrifuge enrichment plant], according to IAEA documents obtained by Nuclear Fuel.”

“Sources said that when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the U.S. government then ‘directly intervened’ to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. ‘We stopped that in its tracks,’ said a former U.S. official.” (U.S. in 1983 stopped IAEA from helping Iran make UF6Nuclear Fuel, 4 August 2003 [14])

So, at least as early as 1983, Iran was making no secret of its intention to develop a nuclear programme, including a uranium enrichment capability. About that, there was neither “secrecy” nor “deception”, as claimed by the File on 4 programme. Had Iran been permitted to fulfill its desire for a nuclear programme by openly acquiring the necessary technology and material from abroad, with IAEA acting as intermediary, the world would have been much more aware of Iran’s developing nuclear programme.

(The degree to which Iran’s nuclear programme in the 1980s and 1990s was hidden from the outside world is greatly exaggerated. See, for example, Iran’s not-so-hidden enrichment programme [15] for a compilation of information that was in the public domain about it.)

The File on 4 programme said that Iran was “trying to get the enrichment know-how by clandestine means stretching back years”. In so far as this is true, it was forced upon Iran by the refusal of the US and its allies to supply it the necessary technology and material, a refusal that was in breach of Article IV(2) of the NPT. Iran had no other option if it was to continue its nuclear programme.

These crucial facts are completely absent from the File on 4 programme and as a consequence the account given is seriously distorted.

Two aspects of the above account of Iran’s nuclear programme post 1979 deserve special attention:

(1) The “account” says that “decades before Iran had a functioning nuclear power station to burn any uranium fuel in, it was seeking the technology that could also give it access to bomb material”. This gives the impression, without presenting any evidence, that Iran was seeking enrichment technology for military rather than civilian purposes.

In reality, seeking an enrichment capability before building power stations was an entirely rational course of action. It would have been utterly stupid to spend billions of pounds building nuclear power stations without first having a guaranteed supply of fuel for them, not just for a few years, but for their expected lifespan of 40 or 50 years. Since it was clear from the early 1980s that, contrary to Article IV(2) of the NPT, the US and its allies were going to deny Iran access to fuel from abroad, Iran had no option but to develop a domestic enrichment programme if it was going to embark on a nuclear power programme – and before it did so.

(2) On the revelations by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq in August 2002, the File on 4 account said:

“[Iran’s] cover was blown when an Iranian rebel group broke the news about the Natanz site that shook the world. Suspicions had existed for years, but suddenly here was a secret facility designed to do the very thing Iran’s critics feared most. It was the ultimate dual-use facility. Natanz allowed Iran to make its own nuclear fuel, but gave it the route to a bomb. It offered it swords disguised as ploughshares.”

This account leaves out one vital piece of information. It is true that in August 2002 Iran had not declared the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz (or the heavy water generation plant at Arak) to the IAEA. But, under the safeguards agreement then in operation between the IAEA and Iran, there was no requirement for Iran to do so. Under it, Iran was required to inform the IAEA about additional nuclear facilities, including their designs, 180 days before introducing nuclear material into them. This was confirmed by the IAEA Director General, Dr Mohammed El Baradei, in his report to the IAEA Board of Governors in June 2003 [16] (paragraph 15)

There was no requirement at all to declare the heavy water generation plant at Arak, since as the same report says “heavy water production facilities are not nuclear facilities under comprehensive NPT safeguards agreements, and are thus not required to be declared to the Agency thereunder” (footnote 3).

IAEA discoveries post August 2002

The File on 4 account of IAEA discoveries about Iran’s nuclear programme post August 2002 is as follows:

“The Agency went to Iran and they saw the [Natanz] facility and were flummoxed. They were not anticipating seeing this. During the course of the next twelve months, the IAEA then was able to confirm that over a period of eighteen years, the IAEA was systematically lied to and deceived by Iran, because Iran had imported nuclear materials from places which it did not declare. It was processing some of this material into sensitive forms, such as uranium metal, which could be used for a nuclear weapons research.”

Contrary to this overblown rhetoric, Iran’s breaches of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA prior to 2002 consisted of failing to report a number of activities to the IAEA.  None of these activities was related to a nuclear weapons programme.

In his report to the Board in June 2003, Mohammed El Baradei said that the breaches were “with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed” (paragraph 32). He went on to say that “the quantities of nuclear material involved have not been large” and “were in the process of being rectified by Iran” (paragraph 33). In November 2003, he reported to the Board that “there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme” [17].

To describe these reporting breaches as “systematic lying and deceit” is a considerable exaggeration.

Hassan Rouhani, the newly elected Iranian president, was the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team from October 2003 to August 2005.  Writing in Time in May 2006, he said:

“What is often cited by American officials as 20 years of Iranian secret nuclear military program turned out to be, as declared by the IAEA, nothing more than the failure to declare, in a timely manner, some experiments and receiving some material and equipment. Such failures to declare are not uncommon among the NPT members. Remedial steps are envisioned in the Safeguards Agreement to address them, and Iran has done so. Moreover, it was no secret that we were in the European, Russian and Asian markets to purchase enrichment technology in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. Therefore, an Iranian secret weapon program is only hype, and the sense of urgency about Iran’s nuclear program is rather tendentious. The world should not allow itself to be dragged into another conflict on false pretenses in this region again.” (Iran‘s Nuclear Program: The Way Out, Time, 9 May 2006, [18])

Developments in the period 2003-5

Of the developments in the period 2003-5, the File on 4 programme said:

“And what happened, the Western powers missed an opportunity to demonstrate and support the Agency enforcing its mandate. Instead what happened was, as they got onto a diplomatic slippery slope with Iran very early in the game and over a period of several years, they lost more and more ground because Iran was able to fully develop its nuclear programme and deploy more and more assets.”

This is a complete misrepresentation of what occurred in this period.

In reality, a comprehensive settlement could have been reached with Iran in 2005, when negotiations were going on with the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany), a settlement with enhanced safeguards against the diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. A settlement wasn’t reached because the US insisted that Iran must not have uranium enrichment on its own soil – and the EU3 acquiesced.

Uranium enrichment under IAEA supervision is Iran’s right under Article IV(1) of the NPT, which says:

“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” [12]

The US and a few of its allies (for example, Britain, France and Israel) – all of them nuclear armed states – may contest today that Iran has a right to uranium enrichment under this Article. But the official view in the US at the time it signed the treaty was that the possession of uranium enrichment facilities would not be in breach of Article II of the NPT. On 10 July 1968, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director William Foster testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the NPT. In response to a question regarding the type of nuclear activities prohibited by Article II of the treaty, Foster supplied a statement containing the following:

“It may be useful to point out, for illustrative purposes, several activities which the United States would not consider per se to be violations of the prohibitions in Article II. Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III.”

(See US Congress Research Service report Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations [19], June 2012, page 17)

Furthermore, it is the opinion of the present US Secretary of State, John Kerry, that under the NPT Iran has a right to enrichment – in an interview in the Financial Times in 10 June 2009, he said: “They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose” (see US senator opens Iran nuclear debate [20]).  And he went on to describe the Bush administration’s “no enrichment” approach to negotiations as “bombastic diplomacy” that “wasted energy” and “hardened the lines”. 

In exchange for the EU3 agreeing to its right to enrichment, Iran was prepared to put in place unprecedented measures – over and above the safeguards required under the NPT – to reassure the outside world that its nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes.

On 23 March 2005, Iran made comprehensive proposals to the EU3 to resolve the nuclear issue [21]. These included two measures that would have greatly reduced the possibility that Iran could produce either high enriched uranium or plutonium, the fissile material for nuclear weapons:

  • – Immediate conversion of all low enriched uranium to fuel rods for power reactors, to make further enrichment to high enriched uranium more difficult;
  • – No reprocessing of spent fuel rods, thereby precluding the production of plutonium;

The proposals also provided for additional access for IAEA to Iran’s nuclear sites:

  • – Continuous on-site presence of inspectors at its conversion and enrichment facilities
  • – Continued implementation of the Additional Protocol

They also proposed to produce only low enrichment uranium (suitable for reactors) and to agree limits on the volume of production. Nevertheless, the EU negotiators refused to accept the plan even as a basis for negotiation – because it involved Iran enriching uranium on its own soil.

This rejection occurred at a time when the IAEA was making good progress at resolving outstanding questions with Iran. According to Mohammed El Baradei:

“For several months, expectations that the negotiations would lead to an overall diplomatic solution were high. Iran’s co-operation with the IAEA stayed strong; there were only a few remaining inspection issues. At the March 2005 Board meeting, Iran’s nuclear program was not on the agenda for the first time in almost two years…” (The Age of Deception, p143)

None of these positive developments were mentioned in the File on 4 account of the period 2003-5. Instead, listeners were presented with a pervasive picture of a secretive and intransigent Iran hiding its nuclear activities and unwilling to engage constructively with the outside world about it. In reality, in March 2005 Iran had been willing to put limits on enrichment and had offered an extraordinary level of transparency, in excess of that required under normal NPT safeguards.

In September 2005, Iran went even further as regards transparency. In a speech at the UN, President Ahmadinejad proposed:

“As a further confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran. This represents the most far reaching step, outside all requirements of the NPT, being proposed by Iran as a further confidence building measure.” [22]

This offer by Iran to have its enrichment programme managed by in partnership with appropriate foreign bodies was ignored by the EU3 (and the File on 4 programme).

Ambassadors speak

Peter Jenkins was the UK Ambassador to the IAEA during this period, and involved in these EU3 negotiations with Iran. Last year he confirmed that Iran offered significant additional safeguards in 2005 and acknowledged:

“With hindsight, that offer should have been snapped up. It wasn’t, because our objective was to put a stop to all enrichment in Iran. That has remained the West’s aim ever since, despite countless Iranian reminders that they are unwilling to be treated as a second-class party to the NPT – with fewer rights than other signatories – and despite all the evidence that the Iranian character is more inclined to defiance than buckling under pressure.” (The deal the West could strike with IranDaily Telegraph, 23 January 2012, [23])

Sir Richard Dalton and five other former ambassadors to Tehran from European countries – Steen Hohwü-Christensen (Sweden), Paul von Maltzahn (Germany), Guillaume Metten (Belgium), François Nicoullaud (France) and Roberto Toscano (Italy) – wrote the following in June 2011:

“We often hear that Iran’s refusal to negotiate seriously left our countries no other choice but to drag it in 2006 to the Security Council. Here too, things are not quite that clear. In 2005 Iran was ready to discuss an upper limit for the number of its centrifuges and to maintain its rate of enrichment far below the high levels necessary for weapons. Tehran also expressed its readiness to allow intrusive inspections, even in non-declared sites. But at that time Europe and the US wanted to compel Iran to ditch its enrichment programme entirely. Iranians assume that this is still the European and US goal, and that for this reason the Security Council insists on suspension of all Iranian enrichment activities. But the goal of ‘zero centrifuges operating in Iran, permanently or temporarily’ is unrealistic, and has contributed greatly to the present standoff.” (See Iran is not in breach of international lawGuardian, 9 June 2011, [24]).

These views by European diplomats with experience of dealing with Iran are at variance with the picture presented by the File on 4 programme of an intransigent state, unwilling to engage with the West about its nuclear programme or anything else.

Other engagements with the West (or offers thereof), none of which was mentioned in File on 4 programme, are:

  • Cooperation prior to 9/11 with the US about Afghanistan in UN-sponsored 6+2 group (6 states bordering Afghanistan plus US and Russia).  In September 2010, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, met the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazi, in this forum.
  • Extensive co-operation with the US after 9/11 about Afghanistan, co-operation which was rewarded with being put on the “axis of evil” by President Bush in his State of the Union message to Congress in January 2002.
  • May 2003 offer of a comprehensive settlement with the US transmitted to the US State Department by the Swiss Ambassador to Tehran, who was looking after US interests there – ignored by President Bush, except to complain to Swiss Government about their ambassador’s meddling.
  • May 2010 offer, agreed with Turkey and Brazil, to exchange about half their stock of low enriched uranium for fuel for their Tehran Research Reactor – Obama encouraged Prime Minister Erdogan and President Lula to do the deal, but when it was done rejected it, because the agreement document asserted Iran’s right to enrichment. If Iran was hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, it made no sense for it to give up half its stock of low enriched uranium.

For more on these, see, for example, my article On US “dealing with Iran” [25].

No diversion of nuclear material

Iran has declared to the IAEA 16 nuclear facilities and nine locations outside these facilities (LOFs) where nuclear material is customarily used.  All of these facilities are under IAEA supervision and are operating according to the relevant design specifications provided to the IAEA.

Nowhere in the File on 4 programme was this made clear. On the contrary, the programme gave the impression that the IAEA was being regularly denied access contrary to its safeguards agreement with Iran. This is simply untrue.

(Much was made in the programme of Iran’s refusal to grant the IAEA access to the Parchin military site, but Iran is not breaking any agreement with the IAEA by refusing to do so, since it isn’t a nuclear site declared to the IAEA.)

Crucially, the programme omitted to mention that the IAEA has never detected any diversion of nuclear material from its nuclear facilities for possible military use. Thus, the latest IAEA report (May 2013) states (paragraph 7):

“Under its Safeguards Agreement, Iran has declared to the Agency 16 nuclear facilities and nine locations outside facilities where nuclear material is customarily used (LOFs). … the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities and LOFs.” [26]

Quoting from paragraph 67 of this report, listeners were told that:

“The Agency is unable to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Commenting on this, Rob Broomby said:

“In other words, they still can’t say Iran doesn’t have a secret nuclear programme.”

In its Safeguards Statement for 2011 [27], the IAEA reported that it had comprehensive safeguards agreements with 170 states but in only 58 of them was it able to conclude that “all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities”. For the other 112, including Iran, it was only able to conclude that “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities”.

So, it appears that the IAEA still can’t say that 112 states, including Iran, don’t have a secret nuclear programme.

Notes:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01sm74t/File_on_4_Irans_Nuclear_Standoff/

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/28_05_13_fo4_iran%27snuclearstandoff.pdf

[3]  http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/20071203_release.pdf

[4]  http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Intelligence%20Reports/

UNCLASS_2013%20ATA%20SFR%20FINAL%20for%20SASC%2018%20Apr%202013.pdf

[5]  http://www.nbcnews.com/id/50666148/ns/meet_the_press-transcripts/#.UVhrZVdPE9H

[6]  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/06/us-nuclear-iran-russia-idUSBRE88507K20120906

[7]  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/20/remarks-president-obama-and-prime-minister-netanyahu-israel-joint-press-

[8]  http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-chief-to-haaretz-i-do-not-believe-iran-will-decide-to-develop-nuclear-weapons-1.426389

[9]  http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/080602_israeliwmd.pdf

[10]  http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-02-26-israel-iran-nuclear_N.htm?csp=34

[11] http://unispal.un.org/unispal.nsf/d744b47860e5c97e85256c40005d01d6/6c57312cc8bd93ca852560df00653995

[12]  http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Infcircs/Others/infcirc140.pdf

[13]  http://armscontrollaw.com/2013/04/24/why-nuclear-supplier-states-are-in-collective-breach-of-the-npt/

[14]  http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/thelasian/nucleafuel_iran.html

[15]  http://www.iranaffairs.com/iran_affairs/2007/12/irans-not-so-hi.html

[16]  http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-40.pdf

[17]  http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-75.pdf

[18]  http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1192435,00.html

[19]  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R40094.pdf

[20]  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d5c6395e-55e6-11de-ab7e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2FgP41h00

[21]  http://www.isisnucleariran.org/assets/pdf/Iran_Proposal_Mar232005.pdf

[22]  http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2005/iran-050918-irna02.htm

[23]  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/9033566/The-deal-the-West-could-strike-with-Iran.html

[24]  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/09/iran-nuclear-power-un-threat-peace

[25]  http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/us-dealing-with-iran.htm

[26]  http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2013/gov2013-27.pdf

[27]  http://www.iaea.org/safeguards/es/es2011.html