Thursday, August 27, 2009

What the IAEA Knows

IAEA_image Here’s a story that started off making us upset at the IAEA and then made us rather more upset at the international players trying strong arm tactics against it. If nothing else, it provides an object lesson in how U.S. news handles conflict between national interests and international bodies.

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The United States and some of its allies are applying pressure on the IAEA to present information it has about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions:

Iran has charged that the documents, many of which came from American, Israeli and European intelligence services, are fabrications. The [IAEA], according to current and former officials there, has studied them with care and determined that they are probably genuine.

So why is IAEA keeping further information to itself?

But agency officials say that Mohamed ElBaradei, the departing director general, resisted a public airing, fearing that such a presentation would make the agency appear biased toward the West in the effort to impose what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called “crippling” sanctions. Dr. ElBaradei, who has argued for allowing Iran to maintain a token capacity to produce uranium under strict inspection, has said that the evidence does not create an airtight case against Iran.

And what might the IAEA know beyond what it says publically?

The evidence collected by the agency suggests that each [of two Iranian projects] centers on elements of designing and delivering a nuclear weapon, though the United States said in a National Intelligence Estimate published nearly two years ago that it believed those projects were halted, at least temporarily, in late 2003.

We should note that the New York Times was far too gullible in favoring U.S. rather than IAEA and U.N. assessments of Iraqi nuclear capability, so consider that as an element. See, for example, how Reuters handled this detail:

But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

This catches the implication the Times just misses: IAEA will lose considerable authority if it rats out members (who provide it with a lot of confidential information) to whichever superpower comes knocking. Dr. ElBaradei’s reticence seems utterly comprehensible.

Second, IAEA is a United Nations agency. If The U.S. and Europe don’t want to work through that august body, it’s likely because non-western countries – of which there’s a fair few, including China and especially Russia - will probably block any attempt to bully the agency.

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Now, this may sound like we’re fully on IAEA’s side, but really, it comes down to the right way to get a desired result. In this regard, President Obama seems to have a few ideas.

Next Wednesday, American and European officials are scheduled to meet to discuss their next steps on Iran, and President Obama has said he will use the opening of the United Nations General Assembly later in the month … to press for far tougher sanctions.

We suspect Obama will make far greater use of the U.N. to achieve international goals than his predecessor. Let’s see how that goes: we suspect that what IAEA knows will fade in importance as this story goes forward.

We’ve never seen a heavily photoshopped version of the IAEA logo, so this gaudy if striking variation – from here (Theodore’s World – very pro military) - get points for bringing the agency into the 23rd century.

1 comment:

LarryD said...

"But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran. This catches the implication the Times just misses: IAEA will lose considerable authority if it rats out members (who provide it with a lot of confidential information) to whichever superpower comes knocking. Dr. ElBaradei’s reticence seems utterly comprehensible. Second, IAEA is a United Nations agency. If The U.S. and Europe don’t want to work through that august body, it’s likely because non-western countries – of which there’s a fair few, including China and especially Russia - will probably block any attempt to bully the agency. --- Now, this may sound like we’re fully on IAEA’s side, but really, it comes down to the right way to get a desired result."

And the IAEA's supposed function is? Item 4 from their mission statement:

"verifies through its inspection system that States comply with their commitments, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other non-proliferation agreements, to use nuclear material and facilities only for peaceful purposes."

A State that is trying to sneak past the non-proliferation regime will make things as ambiguous as possible. If the IAEA can not, or will not, sound warning unless confronted with undeniable evidence, then its verification function only serves as cover for the States that aren't brazen about their attempt to acquire nuclear weapons.