Nukes and Rumors of Nukes

On 21 August, 2007, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency came to an "understanding" with Iran on a "work plan" for resolving outstanding "issues" tangentially related to the implementation of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement.

On the eve of what is expected to be the issuance of the final IAEA report on that resolution, the National Council of Resistance on Iran – the "political arm" of a U.S. State Department designated "terrorist organization" – has gone public with highly inflammatory charges that Iran (a) has recently established a "new command and control center" at a military site at Mojdeh, a suburb of Tehran, for a program code-named Lavizan-2, and (b) is actively pursuing "production of nuclear warheads" at a military site at Khojir, code-named B1-Nori-8500.

Great Zot!

The Iranian military is producing nuclear warheads in a suburb of Tehran?

The Iranian military has established a command and control center just outside Tehran for its burgeoning nuke-armed ballistic-missile force?

Hard to believe?

Well, at a Brussels news conference, NCRI "foreign affairs chief" Mohamad Mohaddessin presented space-satellite photo-images of the two alleged military sites.

Mohaddessin further charged the Khojir site was under the command of "missile expert" Mehdi Naghiyan Fesharaki.

So there!

There has been speculation that this NCRI intelligence originated with the Israelis, was then supplied, last year, to the United States, who, last month, supplied it to the IAEA, urging the IAEA to present it to Iran for "explanation."

This week IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming confirmed that the IAEA was already aware of the NCRI "information" and that the IAEA had "no comment" at this point.

"As with all information coming our way, (our) analysts take a serious look and decide whether it would warrant a follow-up."

Now, as of the most recent IAEA report of November 15, 2007, there has never been any "indication" that Iran has ever diverted "declared nuclear material" to a military purpose.

Back in December, 2003, Iran began voluntarily adhering to an (as yet) un-ratified Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement.

For several years, Iran provided ElBaradei all available documentation of its past procurement activities for all nuclear programs, going back two decades. Under its existing Safeguards Agreement Iran had not been obligated to provide virtually any of that information to the IAEA, much less obligated to preserve for later inspection.

Nevertheless, ElBaradei announced that – although he had found no indication that (a) there were any undeclared “source or special nuclear materials” in Iran nor that (b) “source or special nuclear materials” were being or had ever been “used in furtherance of a military purpose” – he still had “concerns” that went beyond the terms and conditions of the Additional Protocol that Iran had been unwilling to address.

Perhaps ElBaradei – dismayed by the war of aggression President Bush launched on Iraq in spite of ElBaradei’s similar declarations about Iraq’s nuclear programs – concluded he must somehow get Iran to satisfy the IAEA Board that Iran didn’t have a secret nuclear weapons program, however defined.

What constitutes a nuclear weapons program?

Well, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran contained this "assessment"

“We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.”

But that assessment was followed by this "judgment"

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

What does the NIE mean by "nuclear weapons program"?

"We mean nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work."

According to Webster, "covert" means "Not openly shown, or avowed."

So, the NIE is at least technically correct; in late 2003 Iran "declared" or "avowed" its uranium-conversion and uranium-enrichment related programs, not required to be declared or avowed under its existing Safeguards Agreement.

But the NIE goes on to say, that by nuclear weapons program;

"we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment."

Aha! Apparently the NIE assesses "with high confidence" that the Iranian military also had – until late 2003 – a uranium-conversion related program and a uranium-enrichment related program, of which ElBaradei has been unable, thus far, to find any indication, in searching Iranian sites – some of them military – and records.

Of course, there’s still this confidently "assessed" military "nuclear weapon design" program and military "nuclear weaponization" program, which the Iranians allegedly put an end to in late 2003.

However, if the Iranians had turned over the task of designing – and now producing — a nuclear weapon to a bunch of Islamic shock troops, then they’re crazier than anyone has supposed.

Moreover, it sounds like the latest NCRI "intelligence" is – as was virtually all "information" contained on a "stolen Iranian laptop computer," which U.S. intelligence somehow obtained and revealed to ElBaradei and senior Secretariat staff in the summer of 2005 – related not to nuclear weapons, but to ballistic-missile re-entry vehicles.

Recall that, on March 23, 2005, under the so-called Paris Agreement, the Iranians made a confidential proposal to the Brits-French-Germans to forego indefinitely the chemical processing of spent fuel to recover unspent uranium and plutonium, and to limit their uranium-enrichment activities to meeting contingency refueling requirements for Iranian nuclear power plants, planned and under construction.

The Iranians also offered to submit to “continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at the conversion and enrichment facilities to provide unprecedented added guarantees.”

In return, the Iranians wanted to "normalize" diplomatic and trade relations with the European Union.

Iranian officials made it clear (a) at the IAEA Board of Governors meetings in March and June, 2005, (b) at the Seventh Review Conference of the Treaty in April, 2005, and (c) in their Note Verbale to the IAEA of August, 2005, that any attempt to turn their voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment activities into a cessation or long term suspension would be “incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Paris Agreement and therefore unacceptable to Iran.”

But that is exactly what President Bush has been attempting to do – using the strong-arm tactics he terms “diplomacy” – ever since, denying Iran its “inalienable rights” affirmed in the NPT, corrupting, in the process, the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council, itself.

Today, Britain and France formally introduced a resolution for the Security Council to consider that calls for a third round of sanctions against Iran over its continuing failure to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran says it will only deal with the IAEA, which reported last November that Tehran was generally truthful about all aspects of its nuclear history.

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.