February 28, 2008
Number 02/08 #09
On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presented its latest report on the Iranian nuclear program, which stated that Iran had improved its compliance with inquiries, but also revealed new details about plans for nuclear warheads apparently worked on by Iran.
We lead with a BBC news story on the key findings on the warhead material, including an important statement by Britain’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Simon Smith. Smith says that the material shown to IAEA board members in a closed door session, “came from multiple sources and included designs for a nuclear warhead, plus information on how it would perform and how it would fit onto a missile.” He also said this work appeared to have continued after 2003, which is when the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December said Iran had probably stopped warhead design work. For the full story, CLICK HERE. Additional news stories on the IAEA report are here and here. Another story on Smith’s claims is here.
Next up, American scholars Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin are critical of IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei’s role in the latest IAEA report, arguing he is driven by politics, not technical considerations, and citing reports that he overrode his own technical experts to certify as fine many aspects of Iran’s nuclear work which were previously identified as problematic. They also review his history of apparently allowing political preferences to dictate report contents, and public opposition to any pressure on Iran, as well as past IAEA failures on his watch to stop other WMD programs. For this controversial but important contribution to the debate on the Iranian nuclear conundrum, CLICK HERE. Pletka and Rubin also mention an Iranian opposition report, not considered by the IAEA, of an accelerated Iranian nuclear weapons program in cooperation with North Korea, which is discussed in greater detail here.
Finally, Der Spiegel reports that European scientists modelling current Iranian uranium enrichment efforts have come to very different conclusions from the NIE. The European modelling finds it likely that Iran will have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon by the end of this year – not between 2010 and 2015, as the NIE suggested. There are caveats of course, but to read more about these worrying findings, CLICK HERE. The story points out that the modelling is based on the existing centrifuges Iran is using, but Iran is reportedly now putting uranium feedstock into more effective “second generation” centrifuges, which may speed up production even more.
Readers may also be interested in:
- American analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht argues for engagement as a way to get agreement on tightened sanctions against the Iranian regime. A call for the the military option to be put back on the table in the wake of the NIE by American columnist Jonathan Toben.
- Haaretz editorialises on the latest round of proposed sanctions on Iran. Plus, top Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus explains how Israelis see the Iranian threat and dilemma.
- Terrorism experts Matthew Levitt and Matthew Jacobson call attention to new information on Iranian terrorist activities and argue that the nuclear problem does not mean this other misbehaviour can be ignored. A new and fairly lengthy study from Danielle Pletka and Kimberly and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute makes some of the same points, and provides much more detail, especially about the Iranian role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- A more general summary of Iranian regional ambitions comes from BICOM.
- An analysis of the links between Iranian banks and international terrorist financing.
- Economist Nimrod Raphaeli says that, contrary to Teheran’s claims, there is virtually no foreign investment in Iran, and the economic situation there is dire. Plus, the Jerusalem Post editorialises on European firms trying to invest in the Iranian energy sector.
- A report on Iranian help to Syria with missiles targeting Israel sites.
- An Iranian dissident responds to arguments that regime change in Iran is effectively impossible.
- A US court orders Iran to pay compensation for the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing in Buenos Aires.
- Amir Taheri on the convoluted relationship between Iran and radical Iraqi shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
- Proliferation expert Henry Sokolski criticises US cooperation with Russian companies that are helping Iran get nuclear weapons.
- Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s latest outburst is to call Israel a “filthy bacteria.” Meanwhile, a sermon on Iranian television says Middle Easterners should have cut off US President Bush’s head when he visited the region in January.
- Iran wants to execute a man for drinking alcohol, plus, a story about the plight of persecuted Iranian gays.
- Saudi Arabia has meanwhile made headlines for planning to execute a woman for witchcraft, arresting a Western woman for sitting in a Starbucks with a male friend, and cracking down on public flirting.
- The widow of Imad Mugniyah, Hezbollah’s terror-master killed two weeks ago, reportedly blames Syria for his killing.
- More good stories on the plight of Sderot, featured last Update, here and here.
- Following up the story on persecution of Palestinian Christians Friday, gunmen reportedly attack a Baptist school in Gaza.
- As readers may be aware, a planned Hamas march to the Gaza border on Monday, which many expected would lead to a repetition of the Egyptian border breach was largely a fizzer. Some analysis of the possible significance of this lack of success is here.
BBC, 26 February 2008
The UN’s nuclear watchdog has been told Iran may have continued secret work on nuclear weapons after 2003, the date US intelligence suggested the work ceased.
A US National Intelligence Estimate released last December said Tehran had frozen its atomic programme in 2003.
But documents presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suggest the work continued.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, angrily dismissed the documents as “forgeries”.
Simon Smith, Britain’s ambassador to the IAEA, said material presented to the IAEA in Vienna came from multiple sources and included designs for a nuclear warhead, plus information on how it would perform and how it would fit onto a missile.
“Certainly some of the dates that we were talking about… went beyond 2003,” he said.
No credible assurances
The material was presented to the agency’s 35-nation board by the IAEA’s head of safeguards, Olli Heinonen, in a closed-door meeting on Monday.
The permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, UK, China, France and Russia – are meeting in Washington to discuss the possibility of imposing further sanctions on Iran over its disputed atomic programme.
The IAEA released a report on Friday which said Iran was being more transparent, but had not given “credible assurances” that it was not building a bomb.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that report bolstered a “very strong case” for a third round of sanctions over the disputed nuclear programme.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retorted that no amount of UN sanctions would deter Tehran from its nuclear path.
“If they want to continue with that path of sanctions, we will not be harmed. They can issue resolutions for 100 years,” he said in a televised interview on Saturday.
Tehran insists its programme is aimed purely at generating electricity.
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by Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin
Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2008
On Friday, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei submitted a report on Iran’s nuclear program to the IAEA’s Board of Governors. It concluded that, barring “one major remaining issue relevant to the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme” ˜ including a mysterious “green salt project” ˜ Iran’s explanations of its suspicious nuclear activities “are consistent with [the IAEA’s] findings [or at least] not inconsistent.”
The report represents Mr. ElBaradei’s best effort to whitewash Tehran’s record. Earlier this month, on Iranian television, he made clear his purpose, announcing that he expected “the issue would be solved this year.” And if doing so required that he do battle against the IAEA’s technical experts, reverse previous conclusions about suspect programs, and allow designees of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an unprecedented role in crafting a “work plan” that would allow the regime to receive a cleaner bill of health from the IAEA ˜ so be it.
Mr. ElBaradei’s report culminates a career of freelancing and fecklessness which has crippled the reputation of the organization he directs. He has used his Nobel Prize to cultivate an image of a technocratic lawyer interested in peace and justice and above politics. In reality, he is a deeply political figure, animated by antipathy for the West and for Israel on what has increasingly become a single-minded crusade to rescue favored regimes from charges of proliferation.
Mr. ElBaradei assumed the directorship on Dec. 1, 1997. On his watch, but undetected by his agency, Iran constructed its covert enrichment facilities and, according to the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, engaged in covert nuclear-weapons design. India and Pakistan detonated nuclear devices. A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear godfather, exported nuclear technology around the world.
In 2003, Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi confessed to an undetected weapons effort. Mr. ElBaradei’s response? He rebuked the U.S. and U.K. for bypassing him. When Israel recently destroyed what many believe was a secret (also undetected) nuclear facility in Syria, Mr. ElBaradei told the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh that it is “unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility,” although his agency has not physically investigated the site.
The IAEA’s mission is to verify that “States comply with their commitments, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other non-proliferation agreements, to use nuclear material and facilities only for peaceful purposes.” Yet in 2004 Mr. ElBaradei wrote in the New York Times that, “We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction, yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security.”
IAEA technical experts have complained anonymously to the press that the latest report on Iran was revamped to suit the director’s political goals. In 2004, Mr. ElBaradei sought to purge mention of Iranian attempts to purchase beryllium metal, an important component in a nuclear charge, from IAEA documents. He also left unmentioned Tehran’s refusal to grant IAEA inspectors access to the Parchin military complex, where satellite imagery showed a facility seemingly designed to test and produce nuclear weapons.
The IAEA’s latest report leaves unmentioned allegations by an Iranian opposition group of North Korean work on nuclear warheads at Khojir, a military research site near Tehran. It also amends previous conclusions and closes the book on questions about Iran’s work on polonium 210 ˜ which nuclear experts suspect Iran experimented with for use as an initiator for nuclear weapons, but which the regime claims was research on radioisotope batteries. In 2004, the IAEA declared itself “somewhat uncertain regarding the plausibility of the stated purpose of the [polonium] experiments.” Today it finds these explanations “consistent with the Agency’s findings and with other information available.”
The IAEA director seems intent on undercutting Security Council diplomacy. Just weeks after President George Bush toured the Middle East to build Arab support for pressure on Tehran, Mr. ElBaradei appeared on Egyptian television on Feb. 5 to urge Arabs in the opposite direction, insisting Iran was cooperating and should not be pressured. And as he grows more and more isolated from Western powers intent on disarming Iran, Mr. ElBaradei has found champions in the developing and Arab world. They cheer his self-imposed mission ˜ to hamstring U.S. efforts to constrain Iran’s program, whether or not the regime is violating its non-proliferation obligations or pursuing nuclear weapons.
In working to undermine sanctions, however, Mr. ElBaradei demeans the purpose of his agency and undercuts its non-proliferation mission. He also makes military action all the more likely.
Ms. Pletka and Mr. Rubin are, respectively, vice president for and resident scholar in Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
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By Markus Becker
Der Spiegel online, February 21, 2008
New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year.
Could Iran be building an atomic bomb? When the US released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) late last year, it seemed as though the danger of a mullah-bomb had passed. The report claimed to have information indicating that Tehran mothballed its nuclear weapons program as early as autumn 2003. The paper also said that it was “very unlikely” that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium — the primary ingredient in atomic bombs — by 2009 to produce such a weapon. Rather, the NIE indicated “Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough (highly enriched uranium) for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 timeframe.”
It didn’t take long for experts to question the report’s conclusion that Tehran was no longer interested in building the bomb. And now, a new computer simulation undertaken by European Union experts indicates that the NIE’s time estimates might be dangerously inaccurate as well — and that Iran might have enough fuel for a bomb much earlier than was previously thought.
As part of a project to improve control of nuclear materials, the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra, Italy set up a detailed simulation of the centrifuges currently used by Iran in the Natanz nuclear facility to enrich uranium. The results look nothing like those reached by the US intelligence community.
For one scenario, the JRC scientists assumed the centrifuges in Natanz were operating at 100 percent efficiency. Were that the case, Iran could already have the 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium necessary for an atomic device by the end of this year. Another scenario assumed a much lower efficiency — just 25 percent. But even then, Iran would have produced enough uranium by the end of 2010.
For the purposes of the simulation, the JRC modelled each of the centrifuges individually and then hooked them together to form the kind of cascade necessary to enrich uranium. A number of variables were taken into account, including the assumption by most experts that Iran isn’t even close to operating its centrifuges at 100 percent efficiency. What is known, however, is that the Iranians are operating 18 cascades, each made up of 164 centrifuges. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself said last April that the country had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. At the time, most Western observers discounted the claim as mere propaganda. But the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Ahmadinejad’s assertion in November.
Centrifuges from Pakistan
Another variable is the type of centrifuge Iran is using. For its simulations, the JRC assumed cascades using 2,952 P1 centrifuges — the P stands for Pakistan, where the centrifuges were manufactured. But recent reports indicate that Iran might be in the process of installing so-called “IR2” centrifuges. These centrifuges — the IR stands for Iran — are made out of carbon-fiber instead of aluminium and are an estimated 2.5 times as powerful as the P1 devices.
It remains unclear, however, if the new centrifuges can be used in the same way as the old ones. Independent experts doubt whether Iran is able to produce the old-style aluminium centrifuges themselves. Given the strict embargo currently in place against Iran, it is possible that the centrifuges currently in use are still from the stock delivered to Iran by Pakistan. The Pakistani government admitted in March, 2005 that Abdul Qadir Khan, the scientist responsible for the Pakistani bomb, sold centrifuges to Iran.
Despite the uncertainties, however, the scientists at the Joint Research Centre are confident that their simulations are realistic. But, the group is quick to point out, they are theoretical. They don’t make any claim to know whether Tehran is currently working toward the production of an atomic bomb.
Just why the new simulations came to such a different result than the National Intelligence Estimate issued by Washington is “a good question,” a JRC expert told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The American government, he points out, wasn’t clear about the technical details upon which its report was based.
Thin Line between Military and Civilian
Another possible reason for the differences could be the fact that the US intelligence report focused solely on uranium enrichment done in secret and on possible steps taken toward the production of a bomb — but not on Tehran’s claimed civilian nuclear power program. But the line between civilian and military nuclear programs is a thin one, as a number of states have demonstrated. The atomic weapons programs in Israel, South Africa, Pakistan and China all grew out of civilian nuclear programs.
There are a number of indications that Iran isn’t just interested in civilian nuclear technology. Just on Wednesday, an exiled Iranian opposition group published satellite images it claims shows an Iranian atomic bomb-making facility. In January, physicist Richard Garwin, who is also a US government adviser, calculated that the Natanz facility — even were it to reach its maximum capacity of 54,000 centrifuges — could not produce enough low-enriched uranium for a nuclear power facility. But, he said, the 3,000 centrifuges currently in operation could be sufficient to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon.
Iran’s successful launch of a ballistic “research rocket” into space at the beginning of the month is likely doing little to reduce concerns. A rocket that can carry a satellite into space, after all, could be modified to carry a nuclear warhead.
Roland Schenkel, the director-general of the JRC, says it is time for European politicians to re-evaluate. It is time, he said in Boston during a weekend meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for the world’s atomic powers to allow inspections of their nuclear facilities and to take steps toward disarmament instead of modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Both the US and Great Britain have recently invested large amounts of money in their nuclear weapons caches.
Schenkel would also like to see more competencies for the International Atomic Energy Agency. “The IAEA needs a real weapons control program,” he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. As it stands now, the IAEA must focus solely on fissile material and on nuclear facilities. “The goal should be checks in the service of non-proliferation,” Schenkel says. “The checks need to have more bite.”
Many experts likewise believe that more checks need to be carried out in Iran itself — a position that was not changed at all by the US intelligence report. “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” the report reads. But it is not this conclusion that is the most decisive one in the report. Rather, it was the final sentence: “We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.”