Yukiya Amano: Minion of the Empire

On Dec. 1, 2009, Yukiya Amano began his tenure as the director general (DG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after a bitter election in which he narrowly defeated the South African diplomat Abdul Minty. On Feb. 18, 2010, Amano issued his first report on Iran’s nuclear program. Analyzing the report in a piece published by this website on March 13, 2010, I wrote,

The tone of the latest [IAEA] report, as well as its speculations and unfounded allegations, are in sharp contrast with those in the past issued under the former IAEA DG Mohamed ElBaradei. … Yukiya Amano has set aside ElBaradei’s cautious approach and measured tone and uses blunt language. But, while the blunt language is not a problem, the fact is that, as the latest report indicates, the IAEA is being transformed [by Amano] from an objective international organization to a politicized one to be used by the United States and its allies to advance their agenda regarding Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

Two years later the assertion has turned out to be completely correct. Amano has demonstrated that he is nothing but a minion of the United States whose reports on Iran have contributed significantly to hysteria about Iran and its nuclear program, which has remained completely peaceful. Most importantly, Amano is no longer viewed as a puppet of the West by only antiwar activists such as this author, but also by a broad spectrum of experts. I shall come back to this point shortly.

Here’s an example of Amano’s baseless allegations against Iran (see my original article and my analysis of the IAEA latest report on Iran for many more examples). In article 46 of its February 2010 report, the IAEA made a most outrageous statement:

While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

He repeated the same allegation in his November 2011 report:

Although now declared and currently under safeguards, a number of facilities dedicated to uranium enrichment … were covertly built by Iran and only declared once the Agency was made aware of their existence by sources other than Iran. This, taken together with the past efforts by Iran to conceal activities involving nuclear material, creates more concern about the possible existence of undeclared nuclear facilities and material in Iran.

This is pure innuendo and insinuation. The Natanz enrichment facility was declared to the IAEA when it was supposed to be — in February 2003, 180 days prior to the introduction of nuclear materials into it. Whether the timing of Iran’s declaration of the Fordow enrichment facility on Sept. 21, 2009, was in accordance with its obligations is a matter of dispute. I discussed this in a previous article and argued that Iran did not violate its safeguard obligations. A ridiculous assertion that is always made is that Iran informed the IAEA about the Fordow facility, only after it learned that the U.S. knew about it, but it is never stated how Iran became aware of this. In addition, both the Fordow and Natanz facilities were incomplete at the time of their declaration and therefore could not have been used for producing enriched uranium in secret. There is no evidence of any other uranium-enrichment facility anywhere in Iran. Regardless, Amano alleges that there are undeclared nuclear materials in Iran.

But months before my article the evidence that Amano is nothing but a political dwarf in the service of the United States was in a document that was publicized later by WikiLeaks. In a July 9, 2009, cable the U.S. chargé d’affaires, Geoffrey Pyatt, stated, “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia, and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” and  his primary goal was “implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/[IAEA] Board resolutions” to impose economic sanctions against Iran, as dictated by the United States. The United States had also complained to Amano about some IAEA experts under ElBaradei who “have not always been helpful to U.S. positions.” Once in office, Amano removed those “unhelpful” experts from key positions. He eliminated the Agency’s office of external relations and policy coordination that, under ElBaradei, had questioned some of the judgments made by the safeguards department inspectors.

Pyatt also reported that Amano had consulted with Israeli ambassador Israel Michaeli “immediately after his appointment,” that Michaeli “was fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues,” that Michaeli discounted some of Amano’s public remarks about there being “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” as mere words that Amano had to say “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality,’” and that Amano wanted to have “consultations” with the head of the Atomic Energy Commission of Israel, a nation that has at least 200 nuclear warheads and has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but has been threatening Iran with military attacks for years.

In another cable on Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission to the IAEA reported that Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that … he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December [2009],” so that he could fool the world that he would be an independent and objective DG.

In view of such irrefutable documents, it becomes clear why Amano makes baseless allegations about undeclared nuclear materials in Iran. If such materials did exist, they would represent a gross violation of Iran’s safeguards obligations. Thus, Amano alleges their existence to provide ammunition to the West in its confrontation with Iran, even though he has no evidence to support his outrageous claim. Such allegations have become a pattern in Amano’s reports on Iran.

The latest episode took place after a team of IAEA inspectors led by Olli Heinonen’s replacement, Herman Nackaerts, visited Iran twice to see Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where Iran has been producing conventional ammunition for its military for decades. Parchin has never been, nor been declared, a nuclear site, and therefore Iran is under no obligation to allow the IAEA to inspect it. The Agency can demand a visit only in the framework of the Additional Protocol of the Safeguards Agreement. Iran stopped carrying out the provisions of the protocol after doing so voluntarily from October 2003 to January 2006 because the European Union reneged on its promises. Iran did allow two IAEA visits to Parchin, one in January and a second in November 2005, each time allowing the IAEA inspectors to visit five sites within the facilities of their own choosing. According to the Iranian press, during the second visit, Heinonen, who was then deputy director general for safeguards, asked to make surprise visits to two more sites within Parchin, which Iran allowed. The inspectors did not find anything, and the Iranian press reported that Heinonen said at that time that “Parchin’s case has become history,” meaning that there was no case to pursue anymore.

Amano has revived the old allegations without presenting any new evidence — not that there was any to begin with — making it a major issue in his November 2011 report. During the Jan. 29-31 visit, Iran and the IAEA agreed that inspectors can visit Parchin later on during the negotiation process. But during the second visit of Feb. 20-21, the inspectors demanded again to visit Parchin, in violation of the agreement. Iran asked them to extend their visit for one more day to finalize the agreement so that the visit could take place, but on Amano’s order they refused and left Iran. The mainstream media then claimed that Iran “was refusing to cooperate with the IAEA,” which is a complete fabrication.

First, even if Iran does not allow any visit to Parchin at all, it is still acting within its rights (see above). Second, the IAEA’s demand to visit Parchin during its second trip to Tehran violated a previous agreement with Iran that the visit would come later in the process. Third, in fact, Iran offered to allow the IAEA inspectors to visit another site in Marivan in western Iran, about which the IAEA report had expressed concerns, but on Amano’s instructions the inspectors turned down the offer.

As Gareth Porter, as well as the media within Iran, reported, the allegation about Iran’s intransigence prompted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, to go public with these facts, suggesting strongly that Amano had reversed the earlier agreement with Iran after consulting with the United States. In fact, the only reason Iran and IAEA did not finalize the agreement in January was the IAEA’s insistence on reserving the right to reopen the issue even after the visit and the resolution of the issue, as it had done after the visits in 2005. Soltanieh’s revelations blunted the attempt to issue the resolution by the Board and were so convincing that even P5+1 did not fault Iran for the non-visit to Parchin.

Why did Amano reverse the agreement? Because, once again, he wanted to serve the U.S. government, helping it to make a case for a resolution by the IAEA’s Board of Governors to condemn Iran’s imaginary intransigence, so that the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UNSC plus Germany — can increase diplomatic pressure on Iran before a new round of negotiations that is to take place soon between the two sides in Turkey.

But the episode did not stop there. Suddenly, it was alleged, based on some satellite images, that Iran was trying to “clean up” a site in Parchin, as if it had something to hide. Built in a 60-square-kilometer area, Parchin is a sprawling complex with over 1,000 large buildings, next to a major highway. There is no scientific way of discerning the type of activity seen in a satellite image. In addition, the allegation was first made by Associated Press correspondent George Jahn, quoting the usual suspects — two unnamed diplomats from one unidentified country, most likely Israel. Jahn has a history of making allegations based on “information” fed to him by anonymous sources — Israeli and Western intelligence agencies. The allegations and the reason for making them lack any credibility.

In response to Jahn’s report, Amano said that there was “evidence of activity” at Parchin. What kind of activity? He did not specify, but he suggested at a briefing for the Board of Governors that the alleged activity made a visit to Parchin a “matter of urgency.” He did not, however, provide any evidence for the allegation, nor did he explain why he broke the agreement with Iran, if a visit to Parchin is so “urgent.”

So once again the U.S. government is using international organizations to advance its imperial ambitions. It is helped by Yukiya Amano, who has demonstrated that he is willing to be a minion of the empire, and by the mainstream media, which accepts Amano’s allegations about Iran’s nuclear program without examining them critically and thereby contributes significantly to the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear program. Only a sustained public campaign of informing the people and pressuring the mainstream media to report the truth, rather than propaganda, can reverse this trend, and there are already signs that the tide is turning.

For years The New York Times’ David Sanger and William Broad have routinely referred to Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapon program, but they took a particularly hawkish position on the issue after the IAEA latest report on Iran’s nuclear program in November, describing the report, which was simply a rehashing of the unfounded old allegations, as full of “chilling” details. Another Times reporter, Steven Erlanger, brazenly lied when he claimed that “recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency” has concluded that “Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective.” The work of Sanger, Broad, and Erlanger, hyping and propagating Amano’s politicized reports and unfounded allegations, got so bad that ombudsman Arthur S. Brisbane had to intervene, expressing the view that the paper’s coverage of Iran’s nuclear program had been unbalanced. This apparently forced the Times to have reporters other than the trio to write on Iran’s nuclear program.

And Amano’s have not gone unnoticed. The Guardian reported that several experts and former senior officials have accused him of “pro-Western bias, over-reliance on unverified intelligence, and sidelining skeptics.” Among them were Robert Kelly, a former U.S. weapons scientist who ran the IAEA action team on Iraq in 2002-2003, who accused Amano of “falling into the [Dick] Cheney trap,” meaning “relying on a very small group of people [whose] opinions are not being checked.” Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a non-proliferation organization, was quoted as saying, “The main beneficiaries of the Amano reign have been U.S. policy [toward Iran]. … On Iran, the difference is like night and day. ElBaradei constantly sought a diplomatic solution, while Amano wields a big stick and has hit Iran hard and repeatedly.” MIT’s Jim Walsh, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program, was quoted saying, “I think if the Agency is going to be a neutral player in this — and we [do] need a neutral player to make the sort of judgments that have to be made — it will have to be more conservative than the national governments on this,” referring to that fact that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has concluded that Iran ended its nuclear program in 2003 (if, in fact, it had one), whereas Amano is still pretending that the program is ongoing.

Yukiya Amano is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time. If his antics continue, the IAEA will be a prime culprit in starting a war with Iran.