19 November 2012
Iran and the NPT
Editor ABC News
I've just finished watching an ABC news interview (11.15am, 18/11) with Professor Andrew O'Neil on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program and alleged breaches of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is my opinion that Prof. O'Neill is seriously wrong on matters of fact, appearing to uncritically rely on contentious IAEA reporting on this issue. He expressed these views at some length and with a high degree of certainty.
I am concerned that these views, unsupported by the evidence, are being uncritically accepted by ABC interviewers.
Prof. O'Neil claims, but does not detail, in what manner Iran is in breach of the NPT (e.g. diversion of nuclear materials; illegal development of enrichment centrifuges; denial of IAEA inspections). He does not state what evidence he has for such claims, does not state what provisions of the NTP agreement Iran has alleged to have breached or what reliance he has placed upon questionable IAEA pronouncements on these issues.
Prof. O'Neil also states (words to the effect) that "It's pretty well accepted that Iran is in breach of its obligations under the NPT". He also argues this as evidence that Iran is running a nuclear weapons program.
It is not true that Iran is in breech of its NPT obligations and it is not true that such a claim is “pretty much accepted”.
The matters of concern here are:
1. There is plenty of expert and informed political commentary available which disputes that Iran is in breech of its NTP obligations.
Much of the media and popular misunderstanding arises from misconceptions about the legal rights and obligations contained within the NPT agreement as monitored by the IAEA. For example, the legal authority of the IAEA is largely restricted to monitoring established civilian nuclear energy sites for the diversion of material.
The NPT does not have provisions allowing for the IAEA or the UNSC to have unfettered, on demand access to any other sites in the country that it may seek to inspect. Yet regular pronouncements from the IAEA seek to create a public impression that Iran is under these obligations, for example at the military base of Parchin. The public misreporting on this issue has been quite pronounced.
According to my understanding of the provisions of the NPT, Iran has no obligations to notify the IAEA of any enrichment sites while they are in the construction stage, but only when they are due to commence enrichment, and that Iran has been in fulfilment of its obligations in this regard. In Sept 2009 Sec.State Hilary Clinton claimed that Qom nuclear facility had been built over three years and concealed from IAEA. Similar charges were made at a site at Fordor on the basis that it was "too small" to be a civil nuclear facility. No other evidence was ever put forward. Moreover, Mohammed El Baradei, then director general of the IAEA, confirmed that Iran notified the IAEA of the Fordor site three days before the US did, in complete fulfilment of its NPT obligations.
Yet current IAEA director Yukia Amanao has claimed -- and with no specific supporting evidence: "Although now declared and currently under safeguards, a number of facilities dedicated to uranium enrichment were covertly built by Iran and only declared once the Agency was made aware of their existence by sources other than Iran. This, taken together with the past efforts by Iran to conceal activities involving nuclear material, creates more concern about the possible existence of undeclared nuclear facilities and material in Iran."
2. There are significant deficiencies in media reporting on Iran's nuclear development program as depicted by the IAEA:
There has been a politicisation of the IAEA with a decidedly US-Israeli slant following the appointment of director Yukiya Amano: Wikileaks exposes revealed that Amano had promised a US policy line in return for US backing for his appointment; there has been open revolt within the IAEA by staff members concerned that the IAEA was losing its independent status and was uncritically endorsing US and Israeli propaganda claims about the Iranian program; specific criticisms of IAEA reporting have been made by former IAEA officials and former head Mohammed El Baradei.
As Flynt Leverett, former Senior Director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council and U.S. Sec.State Condoleezza Rice's personal envoy to Iran, wrote in early 2012:
"Ever since Nobel laureate Mohamed El Baradei stepped down as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late 2009, the United States and some of its allies have pushed Baradei’s successor, Yukiya Amano, to ratify Western arguments that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons."
"There are many reasons," Leverett continued, "to question virtually every detail in the IAEA’s accounting of the 'possible military dimensions' to Iran’s nuclear program. But, more importantly, the stories do not indicate that Tehran is currently trying to produce nuclear weapons."
3. Much of the current media commentary on Iran's nuclear program derives from a Nov 2011 report by the IAEA whose specific claims have been shown to be either regurgitations of previously debunked false claims or new evidentiary claims that have been found wanting by experts.
Robert Kelley, a retired IAEA director and nuclear engineer who previously spent more than 30 years with the US Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, told the New Yorker that the IAEA report on Iran released in November 2011 contained very little new information and that "hundreds of pages of material appears to come from a single source: a laptop computer, allegedly supplied to the IAEA by a Western intelligence agency, whose provenance could not be established." All of this was old news, as several other experts have confirmed. The laptop, obtained around 2003, contains no bureaucracy reference numbers or other supporting details within its documents that one would expect of a government or military development program. Rather, it contains generic material that could have been produced by any competent intelligence agency. The laptop surfaced courtesy of the MEK, an Iranian dissident and terrorist group with close ties to Mossad. Yet here it was being brought up again in November 2011. The Iranians claim the laptop is an intelligence fabrication.
In its November 2011 report, the IAEA said it had been given "information from Member States" that in 2000, Iran had built a "large explosive containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments." That is the term generally understood in the context of the Iranian nuclear program to mean simulations of the initial phase of a nuclear explosion using substitutes for fissile material. The agency claimed it had "confirmed" that the cylinder had the capacity to contain up to 70 kilograms of high explosives, based in part on a publication by a former Soviet nuclear weapons specialist who had allegedly helped Iran build the chamber. And it seemed to suggest that there was satellite evidence to support the story, claiming that a building had been "constructed at that time around a large cylindrical object" at Parchin.
But those details were rejected by former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley as implausible from a strictly technical point of view. As previously mentioned, Kelley's credentials for challenging the IAEA were second to none. He had been project leader for nuclear intelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory before becoming the Director of IAEA's Action Team for Iraq in 1992-93. He then served as director of the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Remove Sensing Laboratory from 1996 to 1998, rejoining the IAEA to head its Iraq Action Team again from 2001 to 2005.
Kelley told an interviewer only a few days after the report: "You have to be crazy to do hydrodynamic explosives in a container. There's no reason to do it. They're done outdoors on firing tables." Any test of a nuclear weapon design would have involved "far more explosives" than the 70 kg capacity claimed for the cylinder at Parchin", said Kelley. The Bush administration had accused Iran of carrying out hydrodynamic testing of nuclear weapons at Parchin as early as 2004, but on the assumption that the tests had been done outdoors, on such a firing table - not inside an explosive chamber.
The 'foreign expert' whose publication was said to have provided data on the containment chamber's dimensions was identified in leaks to the news media as Vyacheslav Danilenko, a Ukrainian who had worked in a Soviet nuclear weapons facility for most of his career, but who is known to have specialized from the beginning in the nascent field of nanodiamond technology unrelated to any nuclear weapons activity.
Further Right wing media claims about Danilkow and his work have emerged throughout 2012, all of them found upon examination to be either baseless or unlikely.
4. Uranium enrichment issues have been seriously distorted by Western media.
In August 2012 the IAEA reported that Iran had increased the amounts of 20%-enriched uranium, material that can be later used as part of a weapons program, a report gleefully taken up by Western politicians supporting sanctions and UN actions against Iran.
Unfortunately, those reports failed to note that most of the 20%-enrichment was to a metallic form making it unusable in any weapons program.
5. There are significant misunderstandings on Iran’s obligations under the NPT, and on IAEA and UNSC rights, especially in regard to site inspections.
The IAEA is not the "enforcer" of the NPT. As for the demand that Iran sign the IAEA Additional Protocol (a treaty that allows more intensive IAEA inspections), Iran is not under obligation to do so and is not in breach of the NPT by refusing to do so. Many nations flatly refuse to sign the Additional Protocol. Nevertheless Iran not only voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol for a period of about 3 years in the past (with no evidence of any nukes found) but has regularly allowed inspections that exceed the Additional Protocol and has offered to permanently ratify the treaty as long as its rights under the NPT are also recognized. Thus far, the US has refused to recognize those NPT rights, the only barrier standing in the way of on-demand IAEA inspections.
6. There has been an historical amnesia in media reporting on what have been significant acts of cooperation by Iran on its nuclear program and in their overtures to the West.
Following 9/11, Iranians were very sympathetic to the US and expressed their solidarity with them. Iran gave the US extensive intelligence against al Qaeda; they offered to provide training, uniforms, equipment, and barracks for as many as 20,000 new recruits for the nascent Afghan military, all under US supervision; and they assisted in the Bonn discussions that established the makeup of the new Afghan government. All of these were gestures of goodwill to the West. The US State Department recommended a more formal agreement with Iran in response but they were refused by Pres.Bush who, in early 2003, described Iran as part of the "axis of evil". Iran had been given a US message in spades: "Don't waste your time because whatever you do we are only ever interested in defeating you."
Nevertheless, in 2003, shortly after the Iraq invasion, Iran made a renewed offer through the Swiss government. They faxed the US with an offer to recognize Israel, cease funding for Hamas, and allow the US unfettered access to it's nuclear energy sites, all this in return for a simple assurance from the US that it would not attack or destabilize Iran. The US rejected the offer out of hand and upbraided the Swiss for conveying the message.
In mid 2003, Iran made a further offer to turn over five al Qaeda operatives in exchange for Washington dropping its support for the terrorist group MEK operating in Iran. Again, the offer was rejected. Even defeating Al Qaeda was never a priority for the US; defeating Iran was.
And it is in this context that the US bullied and brow beat its European allies at the 2005 NPT conference. Iran invited the Europeans to propose a system of inspections of Iranian civil nuclear sites -- of their own devising! -- to guarantee that weapons grade enrichment could not take place. Under US pressure, the Europeans refused to even discuss it.
These gestures of cooperation with the West have all been affirmed by Flynt Leverett, Condoleezza Rice’s personal Middle East envoy.
And then, of course, there was the 2010 offer from Iran, defeated by the US when they discovered that Iran was actually seeking to cooperate with Western demands on uranium enrichment issues.
In May 2010 Brazil and Turkey successfully negotiated with Iran to have material from its nuclear energy program processed outside Iran. It was great victory for everyone, or so it seemed: this was a goal long sought by the US, a feather in the cap for Turkey and Brazil, the promise of diplomatic peace over Iran's nuclear program, and, most importantly, a terrific achievement for Pres.Obama who had written personally to both the Turkish and Brazilian governments encouraging their initiatives.
But, whoops! The US had boo-booed. You see, they had not expected Iran to agree to the proposals, an especially distasteful outcome since the brouhaha was never really about an Iranian nuclear threat to the West (there is none) but about bringing down the Iranian leadership and installing a US client regime.
So the Brazilian-Turkish victory had to be dragged through the mud. The day after the success announcement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that a new package of sanctions against Iran had been approved and would be sent to the UN Security Council later in the day. Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, Turkey's foreign minister held his own press conference, unaware of Clinton's planned bucketing:
"According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in 'constant contact' with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April."
Yet our media allows these positive exercises in Iranian cooperation and US duplicity and politicking to vanish from the public memory, as if they never existed.
7. There are significant contradictions between the public comments by US and Israeli officials and their policy positions via the U.N. and the IAEA against Iran. There is a lack of recognition by our media of these contradictions and the underlying hostility and unreasonableness of US, UN and IAEA policy positions that have followed.
US Intelligence agencies and senior US and Israeli officials have admitted that they see no evidence of a current Iran nuclear weapons program but that they are concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapons "capability". Even former heads of Mossad and Israel's nuclear energy program have come out and said that any alleged Iranian nuclear weapon is years away.
President Obama (4/3/12) said: "Our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know if they are making that attempt."
In April 2012 the head of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he doubts Iran is currently seeking a nuclear weapon or that they will eventually decide to pursue one.
Crippling economic sanctions have been imposed upon Iran specifically in order to deny them the rights to develop a civil nuclear energy program which appears to be in complete fulfilment of its NPT obligations, sanctions imposed under the lie that Iran is in breach of its NPT or IAEA obligations. As far as I can see, they are not.
I note also that US and Israeli foreign policy documents for many years have repeatedly called for actions to remove the current Iranian leadership and install one they approve of, outside any concerns about any alleged nuclear issues, a factor that is not only relevant but central to assessing IAEA and US-lead media reports in regard to Iran’s nuclear program.
8. Professor O’Neil has been criticized previously for his public claims on uranium issues and shows evidence of both a conservative bias and a willingness to argue from an ideological position rather than from the available facts.
For instance: “Every nuclear weapons program since and including the US Manhattan Project has been the product of dedicated military reactors rather than an offshoot of civilian programs” and “There is simply no historical evidence to support the proposition that civilian nuclear reactor programs fuel weapons proliferation.”
Which is a remarkable statement given that the thrust of US, Israeli and IAEA statements have been that the Iranian civil nuclear energy program is being used as a springboard to a military program.
One can also assume that O’Neil’s claims (18/11) on the ABC of an Iranian weapons program are derived almost entirely from inferences about the refusal of Iran to allow IAEA access to its primary military site at Parchin -- and with no affirmative evidence whatsoever to back up his claims.
It has already been pointed out that Iran is under no legal obligation to permit such inspections as they have not signed the additional UN protocol allowing such inspections and are they are not obliged to do so.
Professor O’Neil cites no positive evidence for the existence of a military nuclear weapons program.
Marko Beljac, with a PhD from Monash University, is writing a book on nuclear terrorism and has taken Professor O’Neil to task for his article in The Australian (18/9/10) over some of these claims as ideologically driven rather than factually based.
I have cited a number of credible people who have disputed claims that Iran is in breech of provisions of the NPT or that there is evidence of a nuclear weapons program. These include former senior IAEA officials and US Middle East diplomats with expertise in the field of nuclear weapons and NPT requirements. There are also a considerable number of alternative media and political commentators expressing the same objections.
Given the divergence of expert opinions on these contentious issues – issues that can easily be used to justify a horrendous Middle East war – it seems essential to me that ABC interviewees alleging NPT or IAEA non-compliance by Iran be put on the spot and asked for actual evidence. Simply repeating questionable media released from the IAEA or the US State Department is hardly adequate in my view.
In future news items on alleged Iranian nuclear irregularities or NPT failures I would respectfully request that interviewees be questioned more closely on any sweeping claims, especially assertions for evidence of the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program:
In what way has Iran been breaching the NTP?
What specific provisions have they breeched, if any?
To what extent are you relying on IAEA announcements or other sources of information?
What evidence do you have of an Iranian nuclear weapons program?
[personal details omitted]