Tuesday, 6 November 2007

IAEA: 'Iran Presents No Clear and Present Danger'

Iran calls for more time to demonstrate its compliance with NPT, warns against military action

What could be clearer? A respected United Nations agency staffed with some of the best minds in the nuclear business making a bald statement of fact: We have found absolutely no evidence that Iran is weaponizing or any plans to weaponize its nuclear energy program.

So why did the United States convene a meeting between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany last week in London in yet a further attempt to persuade them to impose a third raft of economic sanctions against Tehran?

Original article published on Ohmynews International

Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior nonproliferation fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London believes he has the answer.

"I think there's a very good reason to believe that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective to it," he told PressTV's discussion program "Middle East Today" on Saturday. "There have been so many experiments that had relations to nuclear weapons. There was military involvement in many aspects of the program."

Certainly, dismissing out of hand the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States and France appear to share these concerns. Washington and Paris claim they have evidence to support their suspicions that Iran is seeking atomic weapons. Unfortunately, despite normal protocols, they have failed to share that information with the IAEA or anyone else for that matter.

Professor William Beeman of the University of Minnesota questions the existence of any such evidence.

"I wish I knew why the United States or France does not share this information with the IAEA or with the world," he told PressTV, "If they in fact have this information it would be very much to their advantage to share it. But in fact I think the simple truth is they don't have it, and thus far no one has been able to demonstrate conclusively that Iran has any kind of military weapons program. There is no evidence."

In the absence of further evidence, the United States is obviously basing its suspicions on the contents of a laptop computer allegedly stolen from an Iranian official in 2005 and presented to American intelligence officers.

The computer contained thousands of pages detailing alleged experiments and programs being undertaken by the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon. Although unconfirmed, it has been suggested that the computer was delivered to the Americans by the shadowy Iranian opposition organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MKO.

The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union, though there have been numerous reports that the U.S. military has maintained contacts with an MKO cell in Iraq with a view to using them for clandestine missions against Iran.

Joining the discussion, Gareth Porter, a Washington-based investigative reporter and political analyst, said the provenance of the computer raises serious questions about the authenticity of its contents.

"This is an interesting point. I have only seen this point, that is the attribution of the laptop to the MKO by a German foreign office official. I have not seen any follow up on that by journalists or any officials. It is an interesting point and certainly merits further investigation," Porter said.

The United States insists the contents of the computer are authentic, Porter said, but the IAEA and many other countries are not convinced.

Fitzpatrick, however, says people should be cautious about dismissing the computer evidence out of hand. "The laptop computer evidence, I think, we have to be skeptical about because its one source of evidence. But all the intelligence agencies of the European Union that have looked at it have all found it to be very persuasive."

He said, in addition to the computer evidence, Iran has a track record of breaking the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) rules. "Iran violated its NPT safeguards agreement in 14 different ways over the course of 18 years -- not reporting experiments, not reporting the import of nuclear material, not reporting facilities where that material was introduced to and so on."

He said Iranian claims that they are pursuing nuclear energy for economic reasons are simply not convincing. "I think we all want Iran to prove its peaceful intentions," he said, "and the best way to do that is stop enriching uranium."

Fitzpatrick said there's a prestige motivation for continuing the program, but added, "That's not an economic rationale."

Beeman disagreed: "Critics say it [the nuclear program] makes no economic sense, but it has been demonstrated very conclusively that Iran has a very good reason for seeking nuclear energy, and that it will offset the deficit they have in their natural gas supplies."

Porter said national pride is also playing a very important role in Iran's determination to acquire nuclear energy.

"It seems to me we have to take into account the political factor. The fact of national pride and patriotism in Iran," Porter said. "There is no question that a majority of Iranians are supportive of Iran enriching uranium. They view this as a badge of prestige, as being part of a club which includes all the other nuclear powers."

To suggest there is no motivation for a nuclear program except for military purposes, he explained, seems to me to be missing a key point.

Beeman agreed that national pride is a motivating factor, adding that Iranian caution would explain why they have so far declined the offer of enriched uranium from Russia and other countries.

"Iran's development of nuclear energy and its capacity for the enrichment of uranium is considered an engineering project and it's a source of great national pride," Beeman said. "The people of Iran may oppose their leadership on many fronts, but on the question of nuclear energy the public is unified."

Given the fluid and uncertain state of international alliances and friendships, Beeman said, Iran would be very foolish to rely on another country. "They think it's a trick. They shut down and disable their nuclear enrichment facilities and then the uranium will not be delivered. And that's one of the things that concerns them."

For a precedent, the government in Tehran only has to look to the way the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea began to fall apart with a change of ruling party in the U.S. Congress to be convinced that self-reliance is probably a safer course of action.

Iran has repeatedly called on the international community in general, and the United States in particular, to allow the IAEA to complete its work and report on Tehran's compliance with its commitments under the NPT.

The secretary general of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, is due to make his presentation to the agency's board of governors in mid-November. Iranian officials say they are confident the report will exonerate Tehran of any wrongdoing.

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said the recent meetings between Iran and the IAEA have been making good progress, an assessment shared by ElBaradei and the head of the agency's negotiating team, Olli Heinonen.

Rafsanjani said Iran and the IAEA should be given more time and warned against any military action against Iran.

He was referring to a sharpening of the rhetoric coming out of the White House that preceded a raft of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Oct. 25 against more than 20 Iranian companies and banks, individuals and the Defense Ministry.

Concerns that Washington may seek a military solution are widespread.

"I think what the Bush administration is trying to do is a campaign of diplomatic coercion against Iran in which the threat of war is absolutely an essential part," said Porter. "My fear is based on how we got involved in the war in Vietnam a generation or two ago. The path they are taking is the path that can very easily lead to war through miscalculation on the part of the United States."

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