The IAEA Report: Putting Time on the Clock

There’s been a lot of speculation about just how far the latest IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program would go towards letting Tehran off the hook. The fact that in the past few weeks the U.S. turned over longheld intelligence to the IAEA and that France ratcheted up the rhetoric significantly is a measure of just how anxious Washington and Paris were about the possibility.

Well, the report was just distributed to the IAEA Board of Governors yesterday and bits and pieces are starting to leak out, including portions that confirm increased Iranian cooperation with various outstanding issues, some of which the IAEA felt comfortable enough with to close. Not surprisingly Iran is claiming that everyone from Mohamed ElBaradei to Ban Ki-Moon have vindicated their claims of a peaceful program, and is repeating its demands to return the dossier from the UN Security Council’s jurisdiction back to the IAEA. (Significantly, there are no direct quotes from these officials in the Iranian press, only paraphrases.)

But this statement by Mohamed ElBaradei today following the report’s circulation to the IAEA Board of Governors is about the strongest language I’ve seen him use with regard to the three outstanding issues that Iran still refuses to cooperate on: explaining evidence of past weaponization programs, implementing the Additional Protocol of intrusive inspections, and suspending its uranium enrichment program as ordered by the Security Council. On the question of the Additional Protocol, ElBaradei was particularly adamant:

In addition to our work to clarify Iran’s past nuclear activities, wehave to make sure, naturally, that Iran’s current activities are alsoexclusively for peace purposes and for that we have been asking Iran toconclude the so called Additional Protocol, which gives us theadditional authority to visit places, additional authority to haveadditional documents, to be able to provide assurance, not only that Iran’s declared activities are for peaceful purposes but that there are no undeclared nuclear activities.On that score, Iran in the last few months has provided us with visitsto many places, that enable us to have a clearer picture of Iran’scurrent programme. However, that is not, in my view, sufficient. We need Iran to implement the Additional Protocol. Weneed to have that authority as a matter of law. That, I think, is a keyfor us to start being able to build progress in providing assurancethat Iran’s past and current programmes are exclusively for peacefulpurposes. (All emphasis added.)

The extent to which ElBaradei has couched his criticisms of Iranianobstruction in the past is one of the principal reasons — along withthe misreading of the NIE findings — that Iran has managed to dragthis standoff out for as long as it has. While the report has yet to bereleased (and in all likelihood is written in the same diplo-speak asits predecessors), if it at all reflects the kind of impatienceElBaradei seemed to convey in his statement, it just might salvage theefforts to maintain international pressure on Tehran.

If so, itcould possibly mark a turning point in this crisis. Iran had a realopportunity in the aftermath of the NIE report to deep six the U.S./EUnegotiating stance. If they had just handed the keys of their programover to the IAEA, this case would have been closed by now. Insteadthey’ve taken piecemeal confidence-building measures that are more liketwo baby-steps forward (program documentation and explaining traces ofhighly-enriched uranium on centrifuges) followed by one giant leap back(revealing a next-gen centrifuge program), all while refusing to freezeenrichment or allow intrusive acccess to IAEA inspectors.

In manyways, the NIE left the U.S./EU playing for time. Above all, thechallenge was to maintain the credibility of continued pressure longenough for the NIE report to lose some of its urgency. By highlightingTehran’s continued obstruction, this latest IAEA report just might dothe trick.

Update: This Reuters write up of the report confirms a decidedly tougher tone than previous IAEA reports, particularly with regards to Iran’s responses to the accusations of past weaponization work (ie. the intelligence handed over by the U.S. last week).