November 20, 2008


The IAEA has produced its latest report on Iran and there are few surprises therein, certainly no "smoking gun".

"To date, the results of the environmental samples taken at FEP and PFEP2, and the operating records for FEP3, indicate that the plants have been operating as declared (i.e. less than 5.0% U-235 enrichment). Since March 2007, twenty unannounced inspections have been conducted at FEP"...."The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."

Most importantly, the IAEA guarantees that all known activities are under Agency seal and surveillance, and cannot be used to produce a weapon without Agency knowledge.

That doesn't stop the New York Times publishing a wonderful bit of hyperventilation involving (as is usual) the fine journalism of David "Judy Miller In Drag" Sanger and Bill Broad.

Iran has now produced roughly enough nuclear material to make, with added purification, a single atom bomb, according to nuclear experts analyzing the latest report from global atomic inspectors.

The figures detailing Iran’s progress were contained in a routine update on Wednesday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been conducting inspections of the country’s main nuclear plant at Natanz. The report concluded that as of early this month, Iran had made 630 kilograms, or about 1,390 pounds, of low-enriched uranium

But the really important part, underplayed by that lede and the headline "Iran Said to Have Nuclear Fuel for One Weapon", is that there's no sign of a "breakout"- kicking out the inspectors, breaking seals and switching of cameras - which would be a dead giveaway. It would take months thereafter (about half the time it took to enrich the stuff to LEU) to enrich that LEU to weapons grade, and that's to say nothing of actually building a bomb with it afterwards. A minimum timeframe is in the order of a year and a half, in which the West could decide what to do next.

In that regard, all the NYT piece has to say is that "The atomic energy agency said Iran was continuing to evade questions about its suspected work on nuclear warheads."

Whereas what the IAEA report really says is that:

"the Agency currently has no information — apart from the uranium metal document — on the actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear material components of a nuclear weapon or of certain other key components, such as initiators, or on related nuclear physics studies (GOV/2008/38, para. 21). Nor has the Agency detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies."

and that:

Regrettably, as a result of the lack of cooperation by Iran in connection with the alleged studies and other associated key remaining issues of serious concern, the Agency has not been able to make substantive progress on these issues. For the Agency to make progress, an important first step, in connection with the alleged studies, is for Iran to clarify the extent to which information contained in the relevant documentation is factually correct and where, in its view, such information may have been modified or relates to non-nuclear purposes.

What alleged studies? The ones contained on the infamous Laptop of Death, which was given to an Iranian anti-regime group (read: the utterly-nutterly terrorists of the Mujahedeen e-Kalq) and thence to US intelligence, which the Bush administration has refused to turn over to the IAEA or let the Iranians see.

Many analysts, including those at the IAEA, have serious doubts about the authenticity of all the documents on the laptop. That hasn't stopped Sanger and Broad continually recycling their fearmongering and misdirection though - since at least 2005. The US says it won't turn its copies of documents over because it could reveal sources. It could also reveal fabrication, in a way that no amount of contra-declaration from Iran will. There's at least one instance where a document with handwritten notation on, Iran has produced an original which is un-anotated. Only examination of the US version has any chance of determining whether the handwriting was fraudulently added much later or whether it was added nearer the time of the original's production (which would suggest its part of a series of official Iranian copies, one written on when the original wasn't). In Iran's favor - worldwide practise is that small copy series are numbered in such tight-security circumstances, but the US-held version isn't numbered and neither is the original Iran-held one shown to the IAEA.

The spin that Iran's civilian nuclear power program is dangerous hinges upon whether the Laptop of Death is a credible source or not. The easiest way to find that out is by examining the US documents, not asking the Iranians to prove a negative, that it isn't. Neither Sanger and Broad nor any of the other war boosters, from Dick Cheney and Walrus Bolton on down, are likely to admit that though - and in the meantime the IAEA is being pressured behind the scenes to pressure Iran instead of stating the obvious. But recall that the last US National Intelligence Estimate came to the conclusion that the Iranian weapons program was cancelled in 2003, while it was still at a very early stage. Even if the laptop is genuine, all its information still refers to that pre-2003 period. That's what all the hyperventilating is based upon. Without that laptop information, with the dates carefully not mentioned, then we are left with the NIE and IAEA's finding that the Iranian weapons program ended in 2003 and that there is no sign that it has been restarted.

How long would it take Iran to build a nuke if it has no intent to turn that LEU into HEU for a weapon that it has no intention of designing, let alone building? Forever.

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