As the International Atomic Energy Agency board meets today in emergency session in Vienna, they finally will begin to connect the dots of Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program, after years of ignoring or dismissing the evidence.
Reaching this point has been no mean feat. It has required extraordinary diplomatic efforts &endash; from an administration ridiculed by Democrats for its "unilateral" approach to world affairs &endash; and strong but quiet leadership from the White House.
Three individuals and two pieces of information have been key to the refreshing burst of realism we are finally beginning to see from the IAEA board of governors. (Their action has not been mirrored by IAEA Secretary General, Mohammad ElBaradei. More on that below).
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. On Tuesday morning, the State Department announced that she had won agreement from the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany to send Iran's case from the IAEA to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Her success was no foregone conclusion, and required serious arm twisting at a marathon dinner party hosted by British foreign secretary Jack Straw at his London home Monday night. Going into that evening, the odds were about even that she would succeed. She deserves our praise.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Working an organization where the deck is stacked against America is a thankless task, but Bolton has known the right cards to play. Bringing Iran's case to the UN will "help dramatize the extent of world opposition to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and demonstrate to them that the course they are pursuing is not acceptable," he said last week. That was Bolton's Mr. Nice-Guy approach.
But behind closed doors, Bolton has made it clear that the Bush administration will be watching and judging the performance of the UN Security Council very closely. If the Council cannot rally to the cause of punishing a regime that has openly called for the destruction of two UN members states (Israel and the US), then the UN may not be worth preserving. The notion that the United States could pursue "other venues" besides the UN for international crisis management and cooperation&endash; such as a Council of Democracies &endash; is no longer an idle threat.
The US ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte. I met with Schulte at his office in Vienna just before Thanksgiving. It was just a courtesy call, not an interview. But it became immediately clear that Schulte had dedicated his every waking moment to convince members of the IAEA board of governors of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, and is personally responsible for winning support from unlikely corners. Schulte has stepped up public diplomacy efforts, and has helped raise the profile of Iran's nuclear cheat and retreat with the European media. He proved to be the right man at the right time when a post considered by State Department careerists as a cushy career-ending backwater was suddenly thrust onto the diplomatic front lines of a major international crisis.
Two pieces of information helped convince world leaders and nuclear diplomats that no credible analyst could continue to harbor doubts as to Iran's nuclear intentions.
The walk-in's laptop. Sometime in mid to late 2004, an Iranian missile technician walked into a U.S. embassy to defect. For once, the CIA responded in the way the spy movies would have us believe is the norm: they actually listened to him, instead of rejecting his "stories" as "fabrications" that were "unverifiable."
The reason for the CIA's sudden shift in attitude was simple. This man came carrying a laptop crammed with technical documents from the Shahab-3 missile program, the missile the Revolutionary Guards regularly parade about Tehran with huge banners announcing it will "wipe Israel off the map." Today these same missiles are being moved around every night in southwestern Iran, well within striking range of Israel.
On Nov 17, 2004, Colin Powell sprang the news about the defector's laptop while traveling to Chile during his last foreign trip as Secretary of State. "I have seen some information that would suggest that [the Iranians] have been actively working on delivery systems," he said. "You don't have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon. I'm not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I'm talking about what one does with a warhead."
The defector's information was considered credible because it was limited in scope and highly detailed, other officials soon revealed in background briefings. The documents on the laptop showed that the Iranians were redesigning the re-entry vehicle of the Shahab-3 to carry and detonate a nuclear payload.
That was smoking gun number one.
The Khan documents. The Iranians first revealed the existence of the second smoking gun in conversations with the head of the IAEA's safeguards division, Ollie Heinonen, last fall. When questioned about documents they had obtained from the A.Q. Khan Nuclear Stop 'N Shop, they casually revealed that among them were technical drawings describing the process of "casting and machining" uranium into "hemispherical forms."
Why would the Iranians want to master this process? According to Paul Leventhal, the founding president of the Nuclear Control Institute, a group that seeks tighter controls on nuclear materials and technologies, "The only known application for such technology is for producing the pit, or spherical core, of a nuclear weapon." And Iran first showed interest in learning about that process fully nineteen years ago? Hello!
Heinonen's tenacity has paid off. The Iranians finally "located" the document in question last week and gave him a copy. In a 4-page draft report on Heinonen's discoveries that was circulated to board members on Tuesday, the IAEA said flat-out that the Khan documents "related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components." It was an extraordinary admission.
What we know. The IAEA's own reports reveal a great deal of knowledge of Iran's nuclear programs. They will now be sent to the Security Council as resolutions that call for action.
A few key points:
Iran developed its relationship to the "father of the Islamic Bomb," A.Q. Khan, in 1987. They purchased drawings related to uranium enrichment and bomb-design almost immediately, and soon started importing production equipment for these programs through the Khan network. Iran didn't need a relationship with Dr. Khan to develop nuclear power. They only needed him for a clandestine weapons program.
In 1989, Iran announced it was preparing to mine and process its own uranium from newly-discovered mines in the eastern province of Yazd. This gave them an unsafeguarded source of the basic ingredient they needed to feed a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iran has never been forthcoming about how much uranium it produced from these mines. That uranium could have been used in a clandestine enrichment program. If so, Iran could have weapons today.
In 1992, international suspicions of Iran's nuclear programs were high. Quick to the rescue, IAEA Secretary General Hans Blix traveled to Iran, closed his eyes, and gave the regime a clean bill of nuclear health. The institutional blindness of the IAEA continued until February 2003, when Blix's successor, Mohammad ElBaradei, finally visited Iran's previously secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
Blix's blindness continues to this day. He was in Washington last week, trotting out tired delusions that the IAEA should give Iran "more time" to demonstrate its good faith, and that was at least ten years away from developing a weapon.
Less comprehensible than the delusions of an ageing Swedish leftist who hates America and is looking for a new job, are recent statements by ElBaradei.
ElBaradei, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize last year for slow-rolling the showdown with Iran, was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 27, hobnobbing with movers and shakers. There he announced that the United States should offer to supply Iran with nuclear reactors.
Now there's a novel idea. The IAEA amasses a mountain of information that shows Iran has systematically violated its nuclear safeguards agreement for nineteen years &endash; which clearly demonstrates that Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear technology - and the IAEA Secretary General thinks Iran should be rewarded with the latest nuclear technology.
The IAEA secretary general may be the last man alive in a position of responsibility who still fails to connect the nuclear dots in Iran. Pity. His own safeguards director, Ollie Heinenon, told IAEA board members on Tuesday that the IAEA now believes that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps was carrying out work on high explosives and missiles that were directly linked to the country's ostensibly "peaceful" nuclear energy programs.
If anyone needs more explicit proof than that of a secret nuclear weapons program, they may as well wait until the mushroom clouds go off.
Copyright©2006, Kenneth R. Timmerman