Politicizing the IAEA against Iran

On February 18, 2010 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. The tone of the latest report, as well as its speculations and unfounded allegations, are in sharp contrast with those in the past issued under the former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. The new Director General, 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 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. 

To see the politicized nature of the latest IAEA report on Iran, all one should do is compare it with the last report issued by the Agency right before ElBaradei stepped down in November 2009. The first difference is that, whereas the reports issued by the ElBaradei-led IAEA always tried to stay away from the Resolutions issued by the United Nations Security Council, the new report brings the subject into the report very prominently. Another important difference is that, unlike the ElBaradei-led IAEA, the new report resorts to making unreasonable, and sometimes totally illegal, demands. After reporting in the first 4 pages of the report on the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the one under construction in Fordow (near Qom), it states in article 25 of the report that, 

As previously indicated to the Board [of Governors], in light of Iran’s refusal to permit the Agency access to the Heavy Water Production Plant [near Arak], the Agency has had to rely on satellite imagery to monitor the status of that plant. 

But a heavy water production plant is not covered by Iran’s Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. In fact, heavy water is not even considered as nuclear material covered by any IAEA Safeguards Agreement. So, why should Iran open its plants to the IAEA when it has no such obligation?  

Another dispute between Iran and the IAEA is about modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, signed in 1974 and ratified in 1976. Code 3.1 of the Arrangements stipulated that Iran must declare to the IAEA the existence of any nuclear facility no later than 180 days before introducing any nuclear materials into the facility. That is why, despite all the rhetoric, the construction of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility without it being declared to the IAEA was perfectly legal.  

In 1992, the Board of Governors of the IAEA replaced the original Code 3.1 with the modified Code 3.1, which requires a member state to notify the IAEA, "As soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier" (emphasis mine). It also developed the Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreement that empowers the IAEA with the authority for intrusive inspection of any site in any signatory state. 

After the Natanz facility was officially declared to the IAEA in February 2003, Iran agreed on February 26, 2003 to the modified Code 3.1. More precisely, Iran agreed to voluntarily implement the modified Code 3.1 until the Majles [the Iranian parliament] ratifies the modification to the Agreement. But while the Majles refused to ratify the modification to the Safeguards Agreement covering the modified Code 3.1, Iran continued to observe it from February 2003 to March 2007. 

But, in February 2007 the Board of Governors of the IAEA sent Iran’s nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council. Iran contends that the IAEA had acted illegally, and, therefore, in retaliation, it notified the IAEA on 29 March 2007 that it would no longer voluntarily abide by the modified Code 3.1, and would revert to the original Code 3.1 (that required 180 days notification). 

Despite this clear history, the IAEA latest report insists in article 29 that, 

In accordance with Article 39 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, agreed Subsidiary Arrangements cannot be changed unilaterally; nor is there a mechanism in the Safeguards Agreement for the suspension of a provision agreed to in Subsidiary Arrangements. Therefore, the modified Code 3.1, as agreed to by Iran in 2003, remains in force for Iran. 

This statement is correct only if the Majles had ratified the change covering the modified Code 3.1. But, given that it did not, Iran has no obligation toward the modified Code 3.1. No country is obligated to carry out the provisions of any international agreement that it has signed, if the country’s parliament has not ratified the treaty. The United States has signed some international agreements, such as the nuclear test ban treaty, that have not been ratified by the Senate. 

In article 31 of the report, the IAEA complains again about the modified Code 3.1: "Both in the case of the Darkhovin facility [a mid-size nuclear reactor that Iran intends to construct] and FFEP [Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant], Iran did not notify the Agency in a timely manner of the decision to construct or to authorize construction of the facilities, as required in the modified Code 3.1…." But, once again, Iran has withdrawn from modified Code 3.1, and has no obligation other than Code 3.1 [that requires only 180 days advanced notification]. 

In article 40, the report once again makes a political statement against all the relevant international laws: 

Previous reports by the Director General have detailed the outstanding issues and the actions required of Iran, including, inter alia, that Iran implement the Additional Protocol… 

And again in article 50

The Director General requests Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and its other obligations, including the implementation of its Additional Protocol. 

These statements are even contrary to what the report says in article 6, where the Agency states that, "Since the last report, the Agency has successfully conducted 4 unannounced inspections at FEP, making a total of 35 such inspections since March 2007." Such unannounced visits are covered only by the Additional Protocol (AP). So, while Iran is still carrying out this aspect of the AP, the IAEA still complains about it and, at the same time, it considers implementation of the AP an obligation for Iran! What is the truth? 

Beginning on December 18, 2003, Iran did begin to carry out the provisions of the AP on a voluntary basis, until the Majles ratifies it. Even the European Union that had negotiated the implementation of the AP by Iran recognized its volunteer nature. Iran continued doing so until October 2005, when it declared to the IAEA that it would no longer abide by the AP. The reason was that the proposal that the European Union had presented to Iran in August 2005, according to which Iran was to receive significant economic concessions and security guarantees, was deemed by Iran to be totally inadequate.  

At the same time, angered by the European Union attitude toward Iran, the Majles never ratified the AP. Thus, unlike what the IAEA claim, Iran cannot be required to implement the AP. No sovereign nation has any obligation to sign and implement any international agreement that it does not deem it to be in its national interests. 

Articles 42 and 43 of the report have to do with the alleged documents that were supposedly in a laptop that had been purportedly stolen in Iran, taken out of the country, and made available to Western intelligence agencies in Turkey. Most experts have cast doubt on the authenticity of the laptop’s documents. A senior European diplomat was quoted by the New York Times in a Nov. 13, 2005, article as saying, "I can fabricate that data. It looks beautiful, but is open to doubt." Another European official said, "Yeah, so what? How do you know what you’re shown on a slide is true, given past experience?"  

But, the IAEA, led by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s deputy Director General of safeguards – a man who has a reputation inconsistent with impartiality and objectivity, continues insisting that Iran explain the document, while also refusing to present Iran with the original document, or check the laptop for its digital chain of custody that would show when the alleged document were up loaded in the laptop. 

Then, in article 46 of the report, the IAEA makes the 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. 

Thus, what the report seems to be implying is that, there are undeclared nuclear materials in Iran, whereas there has never been a shred of evidence that such materials exist. 

Finally, the report prominently mentions the Security Council Resolutions against Iran. As I have explained elsewhere, sending Iran’s nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which was the basis for approving resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803, and 1835 against Iran, was completely illegal and against the IAEA Status. Thus, even the legality of the Security Council resolutions is questionable. 

Thus, the IAEA is being totally politicized by the U.S. and its allies to advance their agenda against Iran. This is being done while Iran is by and large abiding by its obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and its Safeguards Agreement, while the U.S. allies – South KoreaTaiwan, and Egypt – have grossly violated their nuclear obligations. Not only has the IAEA not taken any action against these countries, there is hardly any official IAEA report about their illegal nuclear activities.

Author: Muhammad Sahimi

Muhammad Sahimi, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the NIOC Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California, is co-founder and editor of the website, Iran News & Middle East Reports.