ElBaradei to the Rescue

In what will probably be his last act as Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Secretariat, Mohamed ElBaradei is seeking approval by the Obama-Biden administration of an agreement which "could open the way for a complete normalization of relations between Iran and the international community."


Even France’s negotiator, Jacques Audibert, Director for Strategic Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, "expressed optimism" that the agreement "could form the foundation for building a lasting agreement."

Reportedly, the basis of the agreement – if endorsed by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia – would be the sanctity of an Iranian contract with Russia. Iran would ship a large fraction of the Iranian uranium already enriched to about 4% U-235 (for contingent use in the Russian-built 1000 MWe nuclear power plant soon to begin operation at Bushehr) to Russia, where it would be further enriched to about 20% U-235, and further processed into fuel for refueling a U.S.-built medical-isotope producing reactor in Tehran.

The agreement also calls for Russia to "sub-contract" some of that enrichment, as well as the production of the highly-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel elements, to a French entity.

Why is the endorsement by the Obama-Biden administration of such an Iranian-Russian-French agreement such a big deal?

Well, scroll back to November, 2004, when Germany, France and the United Kingdom (E3) undertook to negotiate with Iran (ostensibly on behalf of the European Union) a "mutually acceptable" long-term agreement, which would provide the EU "objective guarantees" that Iran’s nuclear program was exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Now, why would the EU seek additional guarantees, above and beyond those required by the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons?

Well, a cynic might suppose that what the EU really wanted was a rationale for normalization of economic ties with oil-rich, methane-rich Iran.

And, why would Iran even consider supplying such additional guarantees?

Well, Iran was to receive, in return, equally "firm guarantees on nuclear, technological and economic cooperation" with the EU as well as firm commitments on certain "security issues."

(The Iranians wanted the E3 to prevent Dubya and the Likudniks from nuking them in their jammies.)

You see, ever since the Islamic revolution swept the CIA-installed Shah of Iran from power, Iran’s nuclear programs and its "inalienable right" – guaranteed by the NPT – to nuclear technology had been subject to an extensive U.S.-led campaign of obstruction and intervention. Valid and binding contracts with Russia and China to build nuclear power plants had been abrogated and nuclear materials rightfully purchased and owned by Iran had been illegally withheld (by France).

Now, the E3-Iran "Paris Accord" [.pdf] agreement declared right up front that:

"The E3/EU recognize Iran’s rights under the NPT, exercised in conformity with its obligations under the Treaty, without discrimination."

However, Iran offered to voluntarily suspend, for the duration of the negotiations, certain Safeguarded activities, to include all enrichment related and reprocessing activities. In return:

"The E3/EU recognize that this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation."

Meanwhile, the Bush-Cheney administration never missed an opportunity to note that the "military option" – to attack and destroy Iran’s IAEA Safeguarded facilities – was "on the table." And since the United States was not, formally, a party to the negotiations, the E3/EU would never be in a position to provide Iran "firm commitments on security issues."

However, some Bush-Cheney weenies argued that we should appear to form a united front with Europe – just as we appeared to form a united front with Europe in the months leading up to our essentially unilateral war of aggression against Iraq – so as to prepare the ground for military action in the event that "diplomacy fails."

So on March 23, 2005, Iran made a confidential offer [.pdf] to the E3, the terms suggested by an advisory panel of European and American scientists and experts, voluntarily restricting certain of its alienable rights. The offer included:

  • Foregoing reprocessing of spent fuel and recovery of plutonium;
  • A LEU [5% U-235] ceiling on uranium-enrichment;
  • A limitation on the capacity of the enrichment program to that needed to meet the contingency fuel requirements of Iran’s power reactors;
  • Immediate conversion of all enriched-uranium to fuel rods to preclude even the technical possibility of further enrichment;

Furthermore, Iran offered to allow continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at uranium conversion and enrichment facilities to provide unprecedented transparency, above and beyond even that required under the Additional Protocol, signed, but yet to be ratified by the Iranian Parliament.

Everything contained in the Iranian proposal was to be subject to IAEA verification and monitoring, of course.

What an offer!

All the Brits-French-Germans had to do in return – in order to gain access to Iranian markets and to all that oil and natural gas – was to promise the Iranians they would not allow the Bush-Cheney administration to nuke them in their jammies.

Well, not only would Bush-Cheney not allow the Brits-French-Germans to accept the Iranian offer, they wouldn’t even allow them to acknowledge receipt of it.

The Iranians waited four months and when no response to their offer had been received, notified the IAEA that the E3/EU negotiations – and the suspensions of IAEA Safeguarded activities associated with them – were off.

Well, that notification got an immediate "response" [.pdf] by the Bush-Cheney E3.

They required Iran to "return to the negotiations" and "not to pursue fuel cycle activities other than the construction and operation of light-water power and research reactors."

When the Iranians refused, Bush-Cheney got the IAEA Board of Governors to "deem" [.pdf] it "necessary" for Iran to:

  • re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the Agency;
  • ratify promptly and implement in full the Additional Protocol;
  • implement transparency measures, as requested by the Director General, including in GOV/2005/67, which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations;

Worse, the IAEA Director-General was to "report" to the UN Security Council that "these steps are required of Iran by the Board."

Now, nowhere does the UN Charter, the IAEA Statute or the NPT, itself, even suggest that the Board needs to satisfy itself that any country’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

And, for the Board to "deem it necessary" for a sovereign state to promptly ratify the Additional Protocol to its existing Safeguards Agreement – a treaty – is an egregious violation of the IAEA UN-proscribed enabling statute.

Nevertheless, Bush-Cheney-Rice managed to strong-arm the Security Council into adopting UNSC Resolution 1747 [.pdf], in which the Council, in contravention of procedures set forth in Chapter VII of the UN Charter, imposed sanctions on Iran and

"re-affirmed that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall without further delay take the steps required by the Board of Governors in (IAEA) resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear program and to resolve outstanding questions."

There was then established the E3+3 group (Brits-French-Germans plus China, Russia and United States, sometimes referred to as the P5+1) which proceeded to "invite" Iran to participate in negotiations about which of Iran’s inalienable rights – if any – were to be recognized.

Iran’s position has continued to be that the IAEA Board of Governors exceeded its statutory authorities (a) in requiring suspension of IAEA Safeguarded programs and (b) in "reporting" Iran’s refusal to suspend such programs to the Security Council, ridiculously alleging Iran’s IAEA-Safeguarded programs to be a "threat to the peace" in the region.

Hence, Iran has continued to insist that the Security Council first return the Iranian "dossier" to the IAEA. Then, and only then, will Iran, once again, attempt to get firm commitments on certain "security issues."

In a formal letter [.pdf], sent to the IAEA, Ambassador Soltanieh reiterated the Iranian view that the IAEA is "the sole pertinent international technical Organization related to the promotion of peaceful nuclear energy in the world."

And, as a result of ElBaradei’s reported "resolution" of the "outstanding issues" set out in the so-called "Work Plan," cited in the IAEA and UNSC resolutions, Soltanieh expected ElBaradei to "announce that the safeguards implementation in Iran shall be conducted [forthwith] in a routine manner."

If President Obama endorses ElBaradei’s Iranian-French-Russian deal, that will certainly go a long way towards strengthening the IAEA-NPT role in facilitating the widest possible use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, as well as the associated nuke proliferation-prevention regime.

Now, if Obama would just declare that, as long as he is President and Commander-in-Chief, he will not allow our armed forces to attack and destroy any IAEA Safeguarded facility, anywhere in the world.

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.