Confronting Iran

ByKenneth R.Timmerman
|November 25, 2005

Vienna, Austria --International Atomic Energy Agency Director General MohammadElBaradei is pressing members of the agency's board of governors tomake one last effort to find a diplomatic solution before sendingIran's case to the United Nations Security Council for possiblesanctions, IAEA officials and European diplomats said in Vienna.

The decision to refer Iran the UN Security Council could come asearly as today, as the IAEA Board of Governors meets to discuss newinformation discovered by inspectors in Iran.

Dr. ElBaradei discussed a potential "face-saving" deal Europeannegotiators could offer Tehran during meetings with U.S. Secretary ofState Condoleeza Rice in Washington on November 8. The followingweek, Russian foreign minister Ivanov and South African diplomatAbdul Minty flew to Tehran, to discuss possible ways of winningIranian cooperation with the nuclear agency. ElBaradei is alsoexpected to visit Tehran.

"Our message to Iran is that they have an opportunity to influencethe timing and nature of the report to the UN Security Council," aState Department official said..

This latest meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors has riveted theattention of all those involved because of its earth-shatteringgravity. What happens next in Vienna will determine the future of theentire non-proliferation regime, not just Iran's nuclear program. Itcould also determine the fate of the Middle East.

A failure to act will encourage other nations to follow Iran'sexample, and develop nuclear weapons on the sly. But referring Iranto the UN Security Council also has its cost. "So we go to New York,the [IAEA] inspectors get tossed out, and we get a war. Thenwhat have we achieved?" an exasperated European negotiator told me inVienna.

Thanks to the persistence of IAEA inspectors on the ground, we nowhave a fairly detailed picture of Iran's nuclear archipelago - atleast, those facilities the Iranian government has been forced toopen. As described in eight successive reports to the Board ofGovernors, we know that Iran discovered, mined and milled naturaluranium, the basic building block of any enrichment program, withouttelling the IAEA.

We know that Iran built a Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan toconvert uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6), thefeedstock for uranium enrichment, without the required priornotifications to the IAEA.

We know that Iran built an underground centrifuge uranium enrichmentplant at Natanz, hardened against missile attack, and erected dummybuildings on the surface to conceal it from overhead surveillance.They agreed to open this facility to the IAEA only after itsexistence was confirmed in commercial satellite imagery, and appearto have swept the underground halls of whatever equipment hadpreviously been installed before the inspectors could arrive.

Once fully operational, these facilities will give the IslamicRepublic of Iran mastery of the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Foreighteen years, the Iranian government successfully concealed theseactivities from the IAEA, in clear violation of its safeguardsagreement. For this reason alone, the IAEA Board must refer Iran tothe UN Security Council for further actions, as required by theagency’s charter.

"Iran argues that it is promoting the peaceful use of nucleartechnology. It is not. It is subverting peaceful use to pursue adangerous course," U.S. ambassador Greg Schulte told the IAEA boardin August. "Iran has no need for its heavy investment in anindigenous fuel cycle. Unless, of course, it wants nuclear weapons.Iran doesn't even have enough natural uranium to enrich for a civilnuclear program. But it has enough for a small stockpile of nuclearweapons," Schulte added.

The problem is that the technology needed to enrich uranium to fourpercent to fuel civilian power reactors, is identical to what''sneeded to enrich uranium to 93 percent to make weapons. The onlything separating the two is a matter of intent.

"With Iran, we realized that mastery of the fuel cycle makes you avirtual nuclear weapons state," a top aide to ElBaradei told me inVienna. "That was a wake-up call for all of us."

But a wake-up call that just allows the IAEA board to go back tosleep is useless. For two and a half years, the European Union hasmade every possible effort to get Iran to fully cooperate with theIAEA and make a clean breast of its nuclear activities, to noavail.

Intentions have always been key to the nonproliferation regime.Because the technologies needed to build a bomb are essentiallyidentical to those needed for civilian nuclear programs, the Treatyon the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) enshrined civilianintent as a precondition - not as an after-the-fact declaration - to nuclear technology transfer to non-nuclear states.

Under Article II, non-nuclear signatory nations pledge to abandon allefforts to develop nuclear weapons.. In exchange for that pledge,which is unconditional and irrevocable, they are given access tonuclear technologies.

That pledges requires complete, transparent cooperation with theIAEA. Instead, Iran has been playing cheat and retreat. Consider:
    •   When the IAEAannounced it wanted to inspect a suspected enrichment cascade withinthe Revolutionary Guards complex at Lavizan-Shian, the Iraniangovernment stalled for months until it could raze the site and removethe evidence. To make it more difficult for inspectors to takeenvironmental samples, the Iranians even carted away bushes, rubbleand dirt.
    •   When the IAEA askedto visit a suspected weaponization lab within the Parchin defenseproduction plant, the Iranians stalled. When they finally allowed asmall team onto the site, they limited their movements, in clearviolation of Iran’s commitments to the agency.
   •     If you comb throughthe eight IAEA reports, you will find dozens of similar examples. Isthis the behavior of a government that takes its non-proliferationpledge seriously?

ElBaradei has stated that the IAEA has found "no evidence" of aweapons program in Iran. Tehran's leaders have used that statement asproof of their peaceful intentions.

By its statute, however, the IAEA has no authority to determinewhether a country has a nuclear weapons program or not. That is upfor the UN Security Council to determine. The IAEA's job is todetermine whether a nation has violated its safeguards agreement.ElBaradei made that finding official in November 2003, and reiteratedit in his September 2, 2005 report to the IAEA board. When thathappens, the IAEA charter requires that the board refer the violatorto the UN Security Council.

As for the larger question: what would evidence of a nuclear weaponsprogram actually look like? Does the "crime" of cheating on its NPTobligations have such a high standard of evidence that a nation mustactually test a nuclear explosive device before we can all agree thatthe crime has been committed?

Does it mean that IAEA inspectors or a UN Security Council memberstate must discover secret weapons production labs? Weapons designs?Actual nuclear warheads? Or that a nation must declare that it hasbecome a weapons state and withdraw from the NPT, as North Korea didin January 2003?

I do not believe that the framers of the NPT took nuclear weapons socasually as to require this type of evidence to determine an ArticleII violation. Instead, they placed the burden of proving honorableintent on the signatory nations themselves, by requiring anunequivocal and binding statement of civilian intent. Withoutpeaceful intent, declared and pursued in total transparency, there isno right to nuclear technology. Period.

Iran made that binding statement of intent when it signed andratified the NPT in 1970. And it has broken it repeatedly, both inword and in deed.

Understanding the intentions of Iran's leaders is not as difficult oras ambiguous as some may feel. Eighteen years of concealing itsnuclear programs from the IAEA constitutes a powerful track record ofdeceit. But it is equally important to listen to what the Iranianssay about their intentions.
    •  1986. Then-presidentAyatollah Ali Khamenei gives a pep talk at the headquarters of theAtomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran. "Regarding atomicenergy, we need it now," he said. What Khamenei meant by "energy,"however, has little in common with how the term is used in the West."Our nation has always been threatened from outside. The leastwe can do to face this danger is to let ourenemies know that we can defend ourselves.Therefore, every step you take here is in defense of yourcountry and your evolution. With this in mind, you shouldwork hard and at great speed." [italics mine].
   •     Are these words thatdescribe a program to build civilian nuclear power reactors ormedical isotopes? (At the time, Iran's sole nuclear power plant layin ruins in Busheir).
   •    Oct. 6, 1988. Majlesspeaker Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani addresses the RevolutionaryGuards Corps. "We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensiveand defense use of chemical, bacteriological, and radiologicalweapons. From now on, you should make use of the opportunity andperform this task."
    •   Jan. 27, 1992.Rafsanjani scientific advisor Homayoun Vahdati tells Germany's DieWelt newspaper: "We should like to acquire the technical know-howand the industrial facilities required to manufacture nuclearweapons, just in case we need them. This does not mean that wecurrently want to build them or that we have changed our defensestrategy to include a nuclear program."”
    •    September 1995.During a conference on nuclear proliferation in Castiglioncello,Italy, I laid out evidence of what I believed was an apparent nuclearweapons program in Iran to a top Iranian arms control official,Hassan Mashadi. His response stunned an audience of well-known armscontrol experts. "My government is keeping its nuclear options open,"he said. Isn't that precisely what the NPT is supposed toprevent?
    •     Dec. 14, 2001.At a Jerusalem day rally at Tehran University, Hashemi-Rafsanjaniuttered what may be the most sinister of the regime's scarcely-veiledthreats. "The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would destroyIsrael completely, while [the same] against the world ofIslam only would cause damages. Such a scenario is notinconceivable."
  •   June 12, 2004. Foreign MinisterKamal Kharrazi declared the regime's hostility to furthernegotiations with the EU3. "We won't accept any new obligations. Iranhas a high technical capability and has to be recognized by theinternational community as a member of the nuclear club. This is anirreversible path."
   •   March 6, 2005.Hashemi-Rafsanjani reiterated Iran's intention not to dismantle itsnuclear fuel cycle facilities, as the EU3 and the IAEA had beendemanding. "Definitely we can't stop our nuclear program and won'tstop it. You can't take technology away from a country alreadypossessing it."
•    Oct. 26, 2005. Iran's new president,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that Israel must be "wiped off themap." When challenged to retract that statement, instead he calledtens of thousands of supporters into the streets of Tehran toreinforce it.

These statements, in addition to Iran's material infractions andhistory of deceit, constitute prima facie evidence of nuclear weaponsintent.

The danger of doing nothing far outweighs the costs of referring Iranto the UN Security Council.

First, there is the risk that Iran has been secretly enrichinguranium, possibly for many years. If it used the centrifuges it nowadmits it purchased through the black market network of Pakistaninuclear impresario A.Q. Khan - and if they worked - the IslamicRepublic today could have enough fissile material to produce betweentwenty to twenty-five bombs, according to widely-acceptedcalculations..

Then there is the breakout scenario. This has been described indetail in a September 2004 study by Henry Sokolski and theWashington, DC-based Nonprolifertion Policy Education Center. Byusing the fuel from a single core of the Busheir reactor, Iran couldproduce “a large arsenal of nuclear weapons - fifty toseventy-five bombs- using a small, clandestine reprocessing plant,and then announce that it was withdrawing from the NPT.

President Bush has warned repeatedly that nuclear weapons in thehands of terrorists presents the gravest danger facing the worldtoday. Given the fact that the Iranian regime continues to sheltertop al Qaeda leaders, and materially facilitated the travel of eightto ten of the "muscle hijackers" who carried out the September 11attacks, the dangers of allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran to gonuclear ought to be obvious.

Are we really willing to risk allowing the world's most open sponsorof international terror to become a nuclear weapons-capable state?That is the question the IAEA Board of Governors must address.
Mr. Timmerman is a former U.S. Congressional aide and NewYork Times best-selling author. His latest book, Countdown toCrisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, was published byCrown Forum in June 2005. At the request of the Department of State,he presented a longer version of this article to diplomats and thepress earlier this month in Vienna, Austria.