Sunday, February 24, 2008

The IAEA Report: Ad Out For Iran

Via Laura Rozen at MoJo, who has an excellent post on the subject, comes this .pdf file of the IAEA's Iran report. Laura has some analysis from Jacqueline Shire of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), and Arms Control Wonk has more worth reading here and here. A quick comparison of this report with the last one released just prior to the NIE indicates that while Iran has shed more light on various elements of the program, the sheer weight of the new allegations raised (thanks to American intelligence sharing) make the bottom line a net loss for Tehran.

This is reflected in the two reports' key findings summary, which are more or less "copy & paste" replicas of each other, with the exception of certain weathervane sentences which almost uniformly adopt a more severe tone this time around. So for instance, whereas last November's report spoke of Iran's "need to restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme", Friday's report refers more bluntly to "the confidence deficit created as a result" of Iran's decades-long clandestine procurement program.

The one exception is the IAEA's assessment of the general progression of its relative understanding of the Iranian program. Last November's report complained that, despite recent Iranian cooperation, "the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current nuclear programme is diminishing" due to the previous information blackout dating back to early 2006.

This Friday's report is comparatively, if guardedly, more generous:

The Agency has recently received from Iran additional information similar to that which Iran had previously provided pursuant to the Additional Protocol, as well as updated design information. As a result, the Agency’s knowledge about Iran’s current declared nuclear programme has become clearer.

Nevertheless, the passage is directly followed by this less enthusiastic note:

However, this information has been provided on an ad hoc basis and not in a consistent and complete manner. The Director General has continued to urge Iran to implement the Additional Protocol at the earliest possible date and as an important confidence building measure requested by the Board of Governors and affirmed by the Security Council.

Andy Grotto of Arms Control Wonk offered this assessment, which I think sums things up well:

There is a clear pattern here. For activities that have a colorable civilian rationale, Iran is suddenly happy to offer one. Since the IAEA is not in the business of second-guessing the sincerity of its member states in the absence of a technical rationale, it must accept these explanations unless and until new data comes along that calls the original rationale into question. And for activities that only have a weapons purpose, Iran plays the “How can you trust the Americans?’ card and simply refuses to engage the evidence.

From the analysis I've seen so far, every indication is that the new report does nothing to undermine the third round of UN sanctions being considered by the Security Council, and actually adds some credibility to the case for them. That's not to say they'll go through. The current makeup of the UNSC (Libya occupying the rotating presidency and South Africa's expressed reticence) presents structural challenges, and there's the possibility that Russia, stung by the handling of Kosovo independence, might not be in the mood to strike a deal. But this report, which just last week was being touted as a whitewash, looks instead like it might re-invigorate the effort to keep the pressure on Iran.

That leaves the question of just where the "diplomatic track" should be headed. I'll try to come up with some thoughts on that for later.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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