Connecting the Nuclear Dots

By Kenneth R. Timmerman | February 2, 2006

[Ken's weekly column appears on Thursday]


As the International Atomic Energy Agency board meets today inemergency session in Vienna, they finally will begin to connect thedots of Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program, after years ofignoring or dismissing the evidence.

Reaching this point has been no mean feat. It has requiredextraordinary diplomatic efforts &endash; from an administrationridiculed 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 tothe refreshing burst of realism we are finally beginning to see fromthe IAEA board of governors. (Their action has not been mirrored byIAEA Secretary General, Mohammad ElBaradei. More on that below).

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. On Tuesday morning, theState Department announced that she had won agreement from theforeign ministers of Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany tosend Iran's case from the IAEA to the UN Security Council forpossible sanctions. Her success was no foregone conclusion, andrequired serious arm twisting at a marathon dinner party hosted byBritish foreign secretary Jack Straw at his London home Monday night.Going into that evening, the odds were about even that she wouldsucceed. She deserves our praise.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.Working an organization where the deck is stacked against America isa thankless task, but Bolton has known the right cards to play.Bringing Iran's case to the UN will "help dramatize the extent ofworld opposition to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and demonstrate tothem that the course they are pursuing is not acceptable," he saidlast week. That was Bolton's Mr. Nice-Guy approach.

But behind closed doors, Bolton has made it clear that the Bushadministration will be watching and judging the performance of the UNSecurity Council very closely. If the Council cannot rally to thecause of punishing a regime that has openly called for thedestruction of two UN members states (Israel and the US), then the UNmay not be worth preserving. The notion that the United States couldpursue "other venues" besides the UN for international crisismanagement 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 withSchulte at his office in Vienna just before Thanksgiving. It was justa courtesy call, not an interview. But it became immediately clearthat Schulte had dedicated his every waking moment to convincemembers of the IAEA board of governors of the dangers of anuclear-armed Iran, and is personally responsible for winning supportfrom unlikely corners. Schulte has stepped up public diplomacyefforts, and has helped raise the profile of Iran's nuclear cheat andretreat with the European media. He proved to be the right man at theright time when a post considered by State Department careerists as acushy career-ending backwater was suddenly thrust onto the diplomaticfront lines of a major international crisis.

Two pieces of information helped convince world leaders andnuclear diplomats that no credible analyst could continue to harbordoubts as to Iran's nuclear intentions.

The walk-in's laptop. Sometime in mid to late 2004, anIranian missile technician walked into a U.S. embassy to defect. Foronce, the CIA responded in the way the spy movies would have usbelieve is the norm: they actually listened to him, instead ofrejecting his "stories" as "fabrications" that were"unverifiable."

The reason for the CIA's sudden shift in attitude was simple. Thisman came carrying a laptop crammed with technical documents from theShahab-3 missile program, the missile the Revolutionary Guardsregularly parade about Tehran with huge banners announcing it will"wipe Israel off the map." Today these same missiles are being movedaround every night in southwestern Iran, well within striking rangeof Israel.

On Nov 17, 2004, Colin Powell sprang the news about the defector'slaptop while traveling to Chile during his last foreign trip asSecretary of State. "I have seen some information that would suggestthat [the Iranians] have been actively working on deliverysystems," he said. "You don't have a weapon until you put it insomething that can deliver a weapon. I'm not talking about uranium orfissile material or the warhead; I'm talking about what one does witha warhead."

The defector's information was considered credible because it waslimited in scope and highly detailed, other officials soon revealedin background briefings. The documents on the laptop showed that theIranians were redesigning the re-entry vehicle of the Shahab-3 tocarry and detonate a nuclear payload.

That was smoking gun number one.

The Khan documents. The Iranians first revealed theexistence of the second smoking gun in conversations with the head ofthe IAEA's safeguards division, Ollie Heinonen, last fall. Whenquestioned about documents they had obtained from the A.Q. KhanNuclear Stop 'N Shop, they casually revealed that among them weretechnical drawings describing the process of "casting andmachining" uranium into "hemispherical forms."

Why would the Iranians want to master this process? According toPaul Leventhal, the founding president of the Nuclear ControlInstitute, a group that seeks tighter controls on nuclear materialsand technologies, "The only known application for such technology isfor producing the pit, or spherical core, of a nuclear weapon." AndIran first showed interest in learning about that process fullynineteen 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-pagedraft report on Heinonen's discoveries that was circulated to boardmembers on Tuesday, the IAEA said flat-out that the Khan documents"related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components." It was anextraordinary admission.

What we know. The IAEA's own reports reveal a great deal ofknowledge of Iran's nuclear programs. They will now be sent to theSecurity Council as resolutions that call for action.

A few key points:

• Iran developed its relationship to the "father of theIslamic Bomb," A.Q. Khan, in 1987. They purchased drawingsrelated to uranium enrichment and bomb-design almost immediately, andsoon started importing production equipment for these programsthrough the Khan network. Iran didn't need a relationship with Dr.Khan to develop nuclear power. They only needed him for a clandestineweapons program.

• In 1989, Iran announced it was preparing to mine andprocess its own uranium from newly-discovered mines in theeastern province of Yazd. This gave them an unsafeguarded source ofthe basic ingredient they needed to feed a clandestine nuclearweapons program. Iran has never been forthcoming about how muchuranium it produced from these mines. That uranium could have beenused in a clandestine enrichment program. If so, Iran could haveweapons today.

• In 1992, international suspicions of Iran's nuclearprograms were high. Quick to the rescue, IAEA Secretary GeneralHans Blix traveled to Iran, closed his eyes, and gave theregime a clean bill of nuclear health. The institutionalblindness of the IAEA continued until February 2003, when Blix'ssuccessor, Mohammad ElBaradei, finally visited Iran's previouslysecret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

Blix's blindness continues to this day. He was in Washington lastweek, trotting out tired delusions that the IAEA should give Iran"more time" to demonstrate its good faith, and that was at least tenyears away from developing a weapon.

Less comprehensible than the delusions of an ageing Swedishleftist who hates America and is looking for a new job, are recentstatements by ElBaradei.

ElBaradei, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize last year forslow-rolling the showdown with Iran, was at the World Economic Forumin Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 27, hobnobbing with movers and shakers.There he announced that the United States should offer to supply Iranwith nuclear reactors.

Now there's a novel idea. The IAEA amasses a mountain ofinformation that shows Iran has systematically violated its nuclearsafeguards agreement for nineteen years &endash; which clearlydemonstrates that Iran cannot be trusted with nuclear technology -and the IAEA Secretary General thinks Iran should be rewarded withthe latest nuclear technology.

The IAEA secretary general may be the last man alive in a positionof responsibility who still fails to connect the nuclear dots inIran. Pity. His own safeguards director, Ollie Heinenon, told IAEAboard members on Tuesday that the IAEA now believes that Iran'sRevolutionary Guards Corps was carrying out work on high explosivesand 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 nuclearweapons program, they may as well wait until the mushroom clouds gooff.

Copyright©2006, Kenneth R. Timmerman