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Distorting the IAEA report on Iran

by heathlander Mon Nov 19th, 2007 at 06:50:41 AM EST

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Thursday published its latest report  (.pdf) into Iran's nuclear activities. Interestingly, the U.S. has claimed that the report confirms what it has been saying all along - that it "makes clear that Iran seems uninterested in working with the rest of the world" - and is using it to justify a renewed push for further sanctions. Meanwhile, Israel has denounced the same report for "fail[ing] to expose Ahmadinejad's intentions". It seems the warmongers can't get their story straight.

- Promoted by Colman.


In a nutshell, the report concluded that:

"The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities."


Iran was praised for its cooperation with the investigation:

"Iran has provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on issues raised in the context of the work plan."


The IAEA further added that, whilst all declared nuclear materials have been verified, the organisation is not in a position to confidently confirm the absence of any undeclared nuclear material - not because there is any evidence that such material exists (on the contrary: the Agency has "no concrete information" to that effect), but simply because Iran is not currently operating under the optional Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and so the IAEA's access is limited. Of course, it is worth recalling that Iran had been implementing the Additional Protocol until the IAEA, under pressure from the U.S., referred it to the UN Security Council on extremely flimsy grounds.

The report also confirmed that Iran has continued to enrich uranium, in "defiance" of a UN Security Council resolution but in accordance with its legal rights under the NPT.

This last point is hardly a revelation - Iran hasn't exactly been hiding its enrichment programme. On the contrary: it has very possibly been exaggerating it. Yet, this is the angle through which most newspapers seem to have approached the story.

Consider the Guardian's take on the report - entitled "Decision time for US over Iran threat", and subtitled "UN nuclear report heightens tension", Julian Borger's article begins:

"Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium - enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN's nuclear watchdog reported last night."


Now firstly, as other readers have noted, the IAEA report says nothing whatsoever about 3,000 centrifuges being "enough to...build a warhead within a year". That seems to be Borger's own contribution, though it is presented as if it came from the IAEA. Secondly, the whole tone of the article is one that implies increased threat and danger, suggesting that the IAEA report has somehow brought us closer to a war. In Borger's words,

"The IAEA says the uranium being produced is only fuel grade (enriched to 4%) but the confirmation that Iran has reached the 3,000 centrifuge benchmark brings closer a moment of truth for the Bush administration, when it will have to choose between taking military action or abandoning its red line, and accepting Iran's technical mastery of uranium enrichment."


This is a ludicrous angle to take on a report that affirms, once again, that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. The entire piece is written from the perspective of the Bush administration, and is positively dripping with bias from start to finish - note, for example, how the British Foreign Office spokesman "said" and Gordon Brown "called for", while President Ahmadinejad "seized on".

The Times was no better, carrying the headline: "Iran could build atom bomb within one year, says watchdog". The first paragraph is very similar to Julian Borger's in the Guardian:

"Iran has expanded its capacity to enrich uranium and now has 3,000 centrifuges operating -- enough potentially to produce an atom bomb within a year -- the United Nations nuclear watchdog reported yesterday."


Again, as noted above, the report says no such thing - the bit about it being "enough...to produce an atom bomb within a year" is an extrapolation made by The Times, yet presented as if it was contained within the IAEA report. Astonishingly, The Times article fails to even mention the IAEA's most significant conclusion - that all declared nuclear material has been accounted for, and that no concrete evidence exists suggesting the presence of undeclared nuclear material. This suppression enables The Times to present the IAEA report as implicating Iran and pointing towards an Iranian nuclear bomb, thus turning the truth completely on its head.

The Independent was equally shambolic. In an article entitled "Iran nuclear report fails to convince the West" (why not: "The West fails to convince the IAEA"?), it maintained that,

"the document will do nothing to ease tensions between the West and Iran nor quell speculation of eventual military action. Rather, it will provide new ammunition to Western governments seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran, notably the United States, Britain and France."


How, exactly? By affirming once again the total lack of evidence for an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, and thus utterly undermining the U.S.-led campaign of intimidation against Iran? Alas, The Independent does not explain - indeed, like The Times, it inexplicably fails to mention this aspect of the IAEA report at all.

The Associated Press managed to run a piece entitled, "IAEA: Iran Not Open About Nuke Program", which was then immediately contradicted in the first paragraph, where it was acknowledged that the IAEA report in fact "said the Tehran regime has been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities". CNN published an article headlined "U.N. losing grip on Iran nuke plan" ('nuff said), while the Washington Post emphasised the IAEA's "diminishing" information about Iran's current nuclear activities (because, as explained above, Iran is no longer implementing the Additional Protocol), while failing to mention the report's conclusion that all of Iran's declared nuclear material has been verified and accounted for by the IAEA.

A recurring theme has been the idea that Iran is being "punished" by the West for its "defiance" - see, for example, this from Reuters. This conception relies upon two assumptions - a) that Iran is doing something wrong, and b) that "the West" has the right or is in some moral position to "punish" countries that disobey it. Neither premise is supported by the evidence, and the second in particular betrays the fundamental belief in the supremacy and benevolence of Western power that underpins so much of mainstream reporting.

As sampled above, most media coverage of the IAEA report has served to distort and, in many cases, totally invert the IAEA's actual findings. Far from reporting the IAEA's conclusion that there is no evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons programme, the press have tended instead to portray the report as evidence of a growing Iranian nuclear threat. For the media to misrepresent the facts so thoroughly and to regurgitate Pentagon press releases so unquestioningly at a time when the U.S. is openly pushing for war with Iran is the height of irresponsibility. As with Iraq, it is precisely this kind of media propagandising for power that could enable an attack to take place. If it does, the press will surely bear significant responsibility for the disaster that ensues.

For a more reality-based take on the IAEA report and the facts about Iran's nuclear programme, see here and here.

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

Display:
"Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium - enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN's nuclear watchdog reported last night."

"Iran has expanded its capacity to enrich uranium and now has 3,000 centrifuges operating -- enough potentially to produce an atom bomb within a year -- the United Nations nuclear watchdog reported yesterday."

I smell a talking point. Two independent newsies independently making the same unjustified exaggeration using virtually the same words? That's stretching credulity.

A bottle of beer says that the "within a year" paragraph has been planted by someone on a government or think tank's payroll. And the newsies have been too lazy to do a reality check. Again.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Nov 17th, 2007 at 09:03:07 PM EST
A bottle of beer says that the "within a year" paragraph has been planted by someone on a government or think tank's payroll. And the newsies have been too lazy to do a reality check. Again.

That is one smart bottle of beer. Not only does it speak, but it speaks sooth.

I don't think it is the government though. I generally feel that they are not that smart-though they are known to try anything and everything until something sticks.

My bottle of beer that is telling me that it understands that the talking point is from the same group who mistranslated Ahmadinejad words-those which correlated a wish for a regime change in Jerusalem similar to the deposing of the Shah in Tehran-into Israel being "wiped off the map." Whoever made that stick was smarter than the bought and paid for bunglers in the White House.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 06:40:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Atom bomb within a Year" is definitely set to join "Wipe Israel off the Map" as a meme.

Goebbels would have been proud....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 08:30:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly plausible - another possibility might be that one of the wire services included that bit in one of their reports, and other papers simply pcked it up from that.

The Heathlander
by heathlander on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 07:47:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are all focusing on the wrong thing.  The amount of HEU that could be produced by a given number of P1 centrifuges linked in cascades and operating at full capacity is a matter of simple math.  I have checked this issue with nonproliferation experts myself, and it is not controversial, nor is it disputed.  You can read details here and here and here and here (.pdf).

The Federation of American Scientists has created an SWU calculator if you'd like to try it yourselves.  The P1 centrifuges at Natanz should be able to produce about 2 SWU per year each, which means the facility at the moment could produce 6,000 SWU if it were functioning at full capacity.  Which it's not.

But as I have posted here before, the number of centrifuges is not the important thing.  This 3,000 number has no real technical significance.  What's important is how the centrifuges are being used and what's being fed into them.  The question is not how many centrifuges Iran can build, but whether the Iranian scientists can link them properly into cascades (this has apparently been done) and keep them running at full capacity for an extended period of time (this has apparently not been done).  

Normal operation for a gas centrifuge, I'm told, is that it's switched on and then left running for years.  Iran is apparently not doing this yet, according to ElBaradei's report, which said that the Natanz facility's consumption of uranium hexaflouride indicates that it is operating well below capacity.

The same facility and same cascades can be used to produce LEU and/or HEU.  The number of centrifuges is irrelevant; it is the mastery of the enrichment process that matters.  The IAEA report does not indicate whether or not Iran has mastered the process because the inspectors don't know why the plant is operating below capacity.  What it does say is that there is no indication that Iran is feeding anything other than UF6 into those centrifuges at this point, or that it is enriching uranium to any higher than the 4% to 5% required to fuel a nuclear energy reactor.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 09:54:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good diary.

It is a small thing and a lazy question (I am too lazy to read the full report), but what is with these qualifying words?

... (on the contrary: the Agency has "no concrete information" to that effect) ...

... where it was acknowledged that the IAEA report in fact "said the Tehran regime has been generally truthful about key aspects of its past nuclear activities" ...

Both imply deception. The former is particularly egregious - If the "information" you have is not "concrete" then it is either an allegation or a suspicion, depending on its origin.

The latter seems to be continuing to hold past failings against Iran. Not entirely unfair but, unless there is some on-going deceit, it is a bit like flogging a dead horse.

by det on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 09:01:44 AM EST
It's a matter of what they don't know.

From the conclusions of the IAEA report:

43. In addition, Iran needs to continue to build confidence about the scope and nature of its present programme. Confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme requires that the Agency be able to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material, but, equally importantly, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. Although the Agency has no concrete information, other than that addressed through the work plan, about possible current undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran without full implementation of the Additional Protocol. This is especially important in the light of Iran's undeclared activities for almost two decades and the need to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. Therefore, the Director General again urges Iran to implement the Additional Protocol at the earliest possible date. The Director General also urges Iran to implement all the confidence building measures required by the Security Council, including the suspension of all enrichment related activities.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 10:05:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A bloggers report linked on the front page of Reuters site contains this

Latest World News Blog Posts | Reuters.co.uk

What the report does say is that all of the enriched uranium produced to date "remains under Agency containment and surveillance" and that the centrifuge cascades themselves are subjected to an annual audit by the IAEA and surpise inspections - seven have been carried out since March.

That means - it is impossible for Iran to use these 3,000 centrifuges and their product to secretly make a nuclear weapon.

You'd think honest reporters might actually mention that.


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 09:39:51 AM EST
there's a breaking news flash along the bottom of SKY news screen at the moment saying

"Iranian president says he will consult other nations on plans to enrich uranium in neutral country"

no articles or web information in the last 15 minutes searching though.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 09:42:31 AM EST
Here's one.

I'm not sure what to make of it yet, really - time will tell if it's a serious proposition or not. In the past Iran has been strident in its rejection of such an option, proclaiming (legitimately) its legal right to enrich uranium on its own soil. So this would be a significant U-turn if sincere.

The Heathlander

by heathlander on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 11:06:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Iran appears to be denying that report, claiming that Ahmadinejad's words have been misinterpreted.

The Heathlander
by heathlander on Sun Nov 18th, 2007 at 02:08:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
M of A - IAEA: Iran Has No Nuke Program

Heathlander at Eurotrib, Professor Farideh Farhi at Juan Cole's blog and Jim Herring at Col. Pat Lang's place explain the content of the recent IAEA report (pfd) on Iran's nuclear energy program.

They conclude that the characterizing of that report in the 'western' mainstream media was severely distorting and did not reflect the central findings of the IAEA report.

These are:

  • IAEA inspections and information requests are continuing and Iran is cooperating and answering to such as it is obliged to do.
  • The inspections and investigations, done intrusively over years, have not unearthed any piece of evidence that the legitimate nuclear program Iran persues has any military aspect.
  • Iran is within its full contractual international legal obligations in persuing civil Uranium enrichment. It does do so and the process is under full IAEA control.

Still the above authors and the IAEA miss to highlight one aspect I find important.

The Supreme Leader of Iran, the eminent legal and religious authority of the country, in 2005 released a binding ruling (Fatwa) that pursuing any nuclear weapon program would be against the law and religious doctrine of Iran. The president of Iran has recently again confirmed this position.

by Fran on Mon Nov 19th, 2007 at 12:35:47 AM EST


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