The IAEA Pleads Incompetence

As a signatory to the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran is required to subject all “source or special fissionable material” being produced, processed, or used in any principal facility to verification – “in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency” – that none is diverted from peaceful uses, to use in nuclear weapons.

All of it.

Although Pakistan and India are not NPT signatories, each have some materials and activities that are subject to safeguards.

Why make a point of this?

Because, according to the IAEA Statute, it ought to make no difference whatsoever to the IAEA Board of Governors whether all source and fissionable materials and activities involving them are subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement or not.

It is the NPT – not the IAEA Statute – that requires Iran to subject all source and fissionable materials and all activities involving them to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

Hence, it is the NPT-required Safeguards Agreement that empowers the IAEA to (a) verify that all Iranian source and fissionable materials – and all activities involving their physical or chemical transformation – have been “declared,” and that (b) there has not been any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

According to all Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei’s reports made since November 2004, there is no indication that there are now any “undeclared” source or special nuclear materials in Iran; nor is there any indication of any diversion of nuclear materials.

What if India produces nuclear weapons with source or special nuclear materials it has not made subject to safeguards?

Hey, according to Bonkers Bolton, that’s no problem.

Since India isn’t a NPT signatory, what it does with source or special nuclear materials it hasn’t made subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement is none of the IAEA’s business.

But suppose the IAEA discovers that India has used “declared” materials in furtherance of some military purpose. Making armor-piecing bullets with “depleted uranium” produced by a safeguarded uranium-enrichment facility, for example.

Well, that would certainly be a violation of India’s Safeguards Agreement.

And if – in connection with the activities of the agency – there should arise “questions that are within the competence of the Security Council”:

"The agency shall notify the Security Council as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security."

Now, would the discovery of such a violation by India be a serious threat to international peace and security?


Nevertheless, despite ElBaradei’s many reports that Iran is not in “violation” or in “noncompliance” with its NPT-required Safeguards Agreement, Condi Rice has seized on these words in ElBaradei’s most recent report [.pdf] – “the agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran” – and declared them to be “questions that are within the competence of the Security Council.”

It’s doubtful that ElBaradei would ever be in a position – no matter how much more Iran cooperated or how much additional authority the UN Security Council gave him – to make such a conclusion.

Besides, no one asked him.

The truly important part of all ElBaradei’s recent reports is that as best he can tell, after more than two years of go-anywhere, see-anything inspections, Iran is in compliance with its NPT-required IAEA Safeguards Agreement.

Nevertheless, at Condi’s insistence, the IAEA Board has reported to the Security Council the entire Iranian dossier, which not only documents Iran’s voluntary cooperation with IAEA inspections that far exceed anything required by their Safeguards Agreement (beyond even that required by an Additional Protocol), but documents numerous serious violations by the Board and individual members of Iran’s “inalienable” rights under the IAEA Statute, as well as the NPT, itself.


Well, Rice reportedly told ElBaradei she wanted Iran’s “case” before the Security Council as soon as possible so she could seek a “Presidential Statement” noting Iran’s “past failures to comply with its international commitments.”

Presidential Statements are the product of informal consultations between the Council’s president and its members and do not enjoy the status of Security Council resolutions.

But as President Bush demonstrated three years ago when he attacked Iraq, “We don’t need no stinking resolutions!”

Last month, Bonkers Bolton was president, and Rice could probably have gotten a Presidential Statement specifically authorizing council members – individually or collectively – “to take appropriate measures” against Iran.

But someone should tell Condi that Ambassador César Mayoral of Argentina is president this month.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.