Are We in the Same Roundtable, Chris?

I literally just finished reading Chris Ford’s final contribution to the BAS Roundtable, which was published today. Now, I am a bit delirious having travelled on little sleep over the past day and a half to get to Oslo, but I think Chris has made a gargantuan mistake in this contribution. You can all check me on this, and of course Chris can respond if he wants.  But is it me or has Chris forgotten the original question for the Roundtable? All of a sudden he’s arguing that the CSA doesn’t have the investigate tools and authority the IAEA needs to fulfill its responsibilities, and therefore thank goodness there’s an AP that helps to remedy that problem. But that’s where I’m puzzled – we are still talking about Iran’s safeguards compliance, right? And surely Chris knows that the AP isn’t in force on Iran, right? So hasn’t Chris made a huge mistake in forgetting that we’re talking about the standards that apply to investigation and assessment of Iran, and that Iran doesn’t have an AP? All his extolling of the mandate the IAEA is given in the AP is completely irrelevant to Iran’s case, isn’t it? And actually, in admitting that the CSA doesn’t give the IAEA the investigative tools to do what he’s been saying is their mandate under the CSA – namely investigate and assess both correctness and completeness – isn’t he conceding that my analysis of the CSA has been correct? I’m really puzzled about this piece.


26 Comments on “Are We in the Same Roundtable, Chris?”

  1. yousaf says:

    Plugging my own take on this:

    There are a number of other problems in the IAEA reports on Iran: For example, the agency keeps saying that it cannot “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” or that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” But the agency cannot be expected to do this – that is not its job. Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director of Safeguards at the IAEA summed it up well: “The Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting.”

    In fact, not only is it legally problematic to fulfill such a verification, it is a logical impossibility: The agency cannot prove the absence of something. There can always be somewhere in Iran where the IAEA has not looked. In fact, no one can reasonably task the IAEA to prove a negative in any country, whether it be in Brazil, Argentina, or the 49 other nations for which it is evaluating the absence of undeclared nuclear activity.

    The most sensible way to wind down the impasse with Iran now is to recognize that although Iran may have been non-compliant with the IAEA in the past, it is in full compliance with its safeguards agreement now: The nation is not diverting any declared nuclear material to any weapons program. The IAEA has verified this every year since it began monitoring Iran’s program. Hounding Iran about possible activities it may or may not have done years or even decades ago – especially if some of the allegations are possible hoaxes – is not going to solve anything.

    A smart move would be to start to roll back sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment to 20 percent, as both Henry Kissinger and I have suggested.

    • You have to keep the political context in mind rather than the legal context: The last thing in the world the US (and Israel) wants is to resolve this standoff since it is merely a convenient pretext for imposing regime-change in Iran, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was just a pretext and the US had no intention of acknowledging the fact that there were no WMDs (only AFTER the invasion did the Duelfer report admit that.) Otherwise this standoff could have been resolved years ago, when Iran had made several concession offers that went well beyond its legal obligations under the NPT or even the AP. As you’ve written yourself, sanctions cannot be lifted by law even if Iran totally gave up her nuclear program entirely. Furthermore Obama cannot offer sanctions relief since they were mostly imposed by Congress not the President.

      • I’m still amazed that anyone would consider the likelihood that Obama would ever offer sanctions relief who isn’t still infected by “Obama Kool-Aid”. There is zero evidence for this notion throughout his time as President and no current indications either.

  2. Bibi Jon says:

    Following the debate so far, it seems Prof. Joyner argued that “to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities” is language that arrogates to IAEA additional legal standards which are beyond its authority to investigate and assess,

    Chris Ford seems to be doing a Mitt-Romney-3rd-debate, agreeing with his opponent. He now forcefully regards as “fact” that the only binding obligation on Iran, the CSA, indeed does not allow the tools with which the IAEA can make such assessments which exonerates both Iran and IAEA, and renders Amano’s choice of language inappropriate for the agency’s purely technical mandate.

    • In the meantime Amano is busy trying to change the IAEA’s inspections system to suit the US, to include innuendo from intelligence agencies, as Mark Hibbs (mis)informs us

      • Bibi Jon says:

        Mark Hibbs is telling us that Amano who was elected DG by a thin margin, and whose impartiality have come under question curtsey of wikileaks, has placed himself in charge of:

        – Evolution of IAEA’s mandates without explaining this evolution to member states, let alone getting member states’ buy-in.

        – investigating, prosecuting and judging some member states, primarily Iran.

        – enforcement of UNSC resolutions

        I cannot see how Amano is going to get a second term.

  3. Chris Ford’s reply is indeed quite curious because he now argues that since the standardfor referal to the UNSC is “quite low” then the AP actually benefits countries. He seems to be under the misimpression that Iran was referred to the UNSC because the IAEA was unable to account for nuclear material in Iran. He is totally unaware that the IAEA has in fact consisently verified that there was no diversion in Iran. Iran was NOT reported to the IAEA due to any hypothetical inability of the IAEA to account for nuclear materials (which is precisely why the referral itself was illegal, and violated Art 19 of Iran’s CSA.) Nor was Iran referred to the IAEA due to an inability to account for “undeclared” nuclear material since as he argues himself, the CSA does not require the IAEA to detect allegdly undeclared material. In fact the IAEA specifically stated that the previously undelcared activities in Iran had nothing to do with a weapons program. In short, he seems quite confused about his own argument.

  4. yousaf says:

    Also, it appears that there is no firm definition of “non-compliance”? How objective/subjective, in practice, have findings of non-compliance been?

    • See Article XII.C of the IAEA statute setting out three requirements for compliance:
      First is “accounting referred to in sub paragraph A-6 of this article” and that in turn requires the IAEA to send inspectors to ensure that fissionable materials have not been diverted for a “military purpose.” And every single IAEA report has verified the non-diversion for Iran.

      Second is “determining whether there is compliance with the undertaking referred to in sub paragraph F-4 of article XI” which in turn applies to “Agency Projects” meaning the projects in which the the IAEA has provided technical assistance to a requesting country. And, subparagraph F-4 specifically requires that the assistance provided by the IAEA shall not be used for military purposes and shall be subject to safeguards. There is no allegation that Iran has violated this provision (in fact the US killed the IAEA’s technical assistance program to Iran in the early 1980s)

      Third is compliance “with the measures referred to in sub-paragraph A-2 of this article” which requires observance of “health and safety” standards. Again, there hasn’t even been an allegation of any violation of this section either.

      As a general matter, some people confuse safeguards breaches with violations of the NPT. Whatever safeguards breaches Iran had in the past (for whatever reason) were resolved and according to the iAEA were unrelated to a weapons program. They did not amount to non-compliance with the NPT.

      • yousaf says:

        Thank you very much.

      • yousaf says:

        I cross posted your reply at armscontrolwonk as I see you are not active there. Thanks again. See also:

      • Bibi Jon says:


        My question to you at ArmsControlWonk did not post. So, I’ll ask it here regarding the new IPS story on the AP graph.

        Was the AP “Iran” graph used as padding?

        Another words, did the IAEA knowingly use dubious, even wrong, and spurious information to make up the ‘volume’ of “evidence” necessary to support an “overall credible” claim?

        If padding is the modus opperandi, it would be reasonable to assume the ratio of real-to-padding likely would be of the order of 1-to-10, not 10-to-1.

        Indeed there is a real possibility that the whole thing is ‘padding’, with all due respect to Mark Hibbs, who reassures us: “That, however, was not why the document was significant: there’s already plenty of evidence supporting the allegation that Iran has done nuclear weapons-related work since the late 1980s.”

        We may have reached the point, finally, that the evidence should be made public for these doubts to subside.

      • yousaf says:

        Not sure about “padding” but from Hibbs’ post at FP:

        “Conversations with enough people who might know have persuaded me that the IAEA had likely seen and evaluated the document before it was leaked to the press, and that there was an internal discussion at the IAEA about whether the document was genuine and what it implied.”

        ie. it may well be hoaxed. In which case Iran would be telling the truth if it said that it is being presented with fabrications.

  5. any says:

    Andreas maintains in his 2nd contribution, the Agency is mandated to verify ALL nuclear material, with nearly ANY tools or steps it desires, including Additional Protocol, however, “These steps do not, in any way, mean that the IAEA cannot investigate the completeness of state declarations absent in an Additional Protocol.”

    One may conclude logically that instead of denouncing one State (Iran) due to non-implementation of AP, while it is a voluntary instrument, the Agency should be legally accounted for non-compliance with safeguards agreements in full implementation of its “obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement” for more than two decades in “more than 50 other member states”!

    But, confusingly, to overcome that problematic conclusion, he maintains the Agency, for verification of all nuclear material in Iran, “cannot make this statement unless Iran provides them with further access under the Additional Protocol.”

    He overlooks any required steps may be remedied under “Amendment of the Agreement” according to article 23, meanwhile, Iran may choose to apply the traditional procedures and the Agency obliged to implement the agreement exactly “in accordance with the terms of this Agreement”!

  6. Peter Jankins, former UK representative to IAEA, points out that alleged activities by Iran not involving nuclear material do not breach Iran’s NPT obligations anyway:

    It’s questionable whether all the activities for which Iranian cooperation has been sought imply with adequate credibility the possibility of undeclared nuclear material. These activities were described in the annex to GOV/2011/65 of 8 November 2011 (the IAEA report used to build support for further sanctions at the turn of the year). A careful reading of that annex suggests that several of these activities, maybe even the majority of them, would not have involved nuclear material.
    Of course it could be argued that PMD activities not involving nuclear material, such as missile warhead design work, can imply that at some future stage a state intends to acquire nuclear material which it does not intend to declare. That, however, seems a very tenuous basis on which to base an IAEA non-compliance finding. Moreover, it would also imply that all states that have engaged, even as a precautionary measure, in research into any aspect of the design or construction of nuclear devices should be found non-compliant.

    • “Moreover, it would also imply that all states that have engaged, even as a precautionary measure, in research into any aspect of the design or construction of nuclear devices should be found non-compliant. ”

      This is an important point because ALL of the “evidence” for Iran having a “nuclear weapons program” originates from the time when Iran MAY have had a “feasibility study” in response to their concern that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (itself ironically spurred by Israel’s attack on the Osirak reactor.)

      The DIA, in the run up to the 2007 NIE, declared its opinion that this was the case – and that when the US obligingly removed Saddam from office, the Iranians quite logically immediately stopped their program.

      Iran has no strategic or tactical use for nuclear weapons because such weapons are only useful to counter a similarly-equipped adversary, i.e., an adversary with either a comparable number of nuclear weapons or at least sufficient weapons to be a credible “existential or strategic threat” to their opponent.

      Thus Iran is unconcerned about Israel or the US because there is no way Iran will ever come close to having enough nuclear weapons to threaten either country without first being attacked itself. It WAS concerned about Iraq’s possessing one or more nuclear weapons because a nuclear Saddam was clearly an “existential threat” to Iran.

      And Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that they understand these facts and that is the (secular) basis on which they refuse to incorporate nuclear weapons into the Iranian defense doctrine.

      This also has applications to those “pundits” who persist in declaring that if Iran is attacked by the US or Israel that it will leave the NPT and begin developing nuclear weapons. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Iran left the NPT – since it obviously isn’t getting any benefit from being in it – after an attack, I believe Iran will never develop nuclear weapons under any circumstances, absent a replacement of the current clerical leadership by harder line personnel (who would then have to “walk back” Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against nukes.

  7. yousaf says:

    Slightly off-topic but ties in to some legal points we have discussed here….it seems AP is making up for earlier errors — good move ISIS:

    ““A new site layout is taking shape and the presence of dirt piles and a considerable number of earth moving vehicles and cars suggest that construction is continuing at a steady pace.”

    In a separate email to the AP, nuclear scientist Yousaf Butt questioned the significance of the images.

    “I don’t see a problem with Iran making a fence around a military base,” wrote Butt, who has challenged the legality of some of the IAEA’s Iran investigation attempts and is skeptical of allegations that Iran may be working on nuclear arms.

    Noting the IAEA suspicions at Parchin focus on non-nuclear explosives, Butt wrote that “the IAEA’s legal authority to pursue allegations of conventional explosives work is limited by international law.”

    • The author of this piece conveniently leaves out some facts, namely, that Iran started 20% enrichment after it was denied the opportunity to buy reactor fuel for the TRR, and has since then repeatedly offered to cease 20% enrichment if it is allowed to once again buy the fuel. Considering that neither the fuel nor the TRR itself pose any sort of weapons proliferation threat and are monitored by the IAEA, then what was the point? About 1 million cancer victims in Iran rely on the isotopes produced by that reactor (which incidentally, was given to Iran by the US along with several pounds of weapons grade uranium back in the 1960s.)

      Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Mousavian, currently at Princeton, has mentioned this on CSPAN:

      “Iran had no other option but to increase the level of enrichment to 20%. Now people say that because we enriched up to 20%, we must want to build a nuclear bomb. This is the story you read everywhere in the media. But they don’t tell you the truth. In September 2011, the Iranian foreign minister and president came to New York for the United Nations assembly, and they made a proposal to the U.S. and the West. They said, ‘Now that we have 20%, we are ready to stop. We are ready to go back to 3.5% if you provide us with the fuel rods, because about a million patients with cancer need it.’ The U.S. declined.”

      So in short, the Iranians have already offered to give up 20% enrichment, and all they ask for in return is fuel for an NPT-compliant, IAEA-monitored, civilian nuclear reactor that is far to small to be useful for bomb-making anyway. And the US declines?

      Also, the article claims that the “world community” is concerned about Iran’s nuclear program when in fact even US and Israeli intelligence say there’s no evidence of any nuclear weapons program there.

    • Johnboy says:

      Yousaf, just out of curiousity: did the IAEA finger *that* building as the place where the Big Ol’ Implosion Tank was situated, and only after that did the Iranians start landscaping?

      Or is the sequence of events reversed i.e. did the IAEA spend hours staring at satellite images and then decide on the basis of *that* construction work that *there* must be the place where the Big Honkin’ Tank was hiding?

      It makes rather a difference i.e. if it is the former then the paranoia is being displayed by the Iranians, but if it is the latter then the paranoia is being exhibited by the IAEA.

      • yousaf says:

        The building that ISIS says was demolished is a smallish shed and in the latest photo it does not look destroyed at all.

        It is the small tiny building just above the center-most large building.

        It looks like at some point the roof may have been taken off but this would only make it easier for spysats to see what is inside. The dimensions of the shed are only a little bigger than a car’s dimensions. I have no idea what ISIS is doing, perhaps you could ask Mr. Albright for clarification.

        btw, the “pink tarps” are evidently imaginary too — likely pink styropor insulation common throughout Europe for building upgrades. There is a discussion with Mr. Albright at comments of — maybe worth asking him:

        While you are at it, you might question him about his statement: ” I also have IAEA Action Team internal reports and analysis of the 1995 episode Kelley mentions that were prepared by Maurizio Zifferero, the Leader of the Action Team.”

        Seems like he ought not be in possession of those reports.

      • Johnboy says:

        Hmmm, interesting to go back through the ISIS reports; they make it rather clear that Albright spent several years fixating on a completely different site at Parchin.

        This one, in fact:
        (Sept 15 2004)
        (March 24, 2005)

        Then in 2012 ISIS suddenly drops that “suspected site” like a hot scone and moves its glare to the current Site Of PMD’s:
        (March 13, 2012)

        I think we can safely assume that not even ISIS is claiming that the Iranians moved a “bus-sized chamber” from the former site to the latter site.

        Yet nowhere in the later reports do we see any sign of a mea culpa from David Albright.

        Not even a hint of “Oops! We were wrong before but, trust me, we’ve got it right this time”.

        I would suggest that a shit-shoveller at Parchin can’t even shovel up some horse-shit without ISIS screaming Watch Out! I Bet There Was A Nuke Hiding Under That Turd!

      • yousaf says:

        From that first link:

        “Based on a review of overhead imagery of this site, called location 1 in this report, this site is a logical candidate for a nuclear weapons-related site, particularly one involved in researching and developing high explosive components for an implosion-type nuclear weapon. But the evidence that this site is conducting nuclear weapons work is ambiguous. Some facilities seem more suited to armaments research or rocket motor testing. Despite the ambiguity about the purpose of this site, the available evidence appears sufficient to warrant a request for a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of this site.”


        Now, compare to reports on Iraq:

        High-resolution commercial satellite imagery shows an apparently operational facility at the site of Iraq’s al Qaim phosphate plant and uranium extraction facility (Unit-340), located in northwest Iraq near the Syrian border. This site was where Iraq extracted uranium for its nuclear weapons program in the 1980s……this image raises questions about whether Iraq has rebuilt a uranium extraction facility at the site, possibly even underground. Iraq could have used parts salvaged from the bombed facility or new equipment bought illegally to reestablish this capability. Unless inspectors go to the site and investigate all activities, the international community cannot exclude the possibility that Iraq is secretly producing a stockpile of uranium in violation of its commitments under Security Council resolutions.


        Anyone notice any similarities?

        [possibly even undergorund…well that could be anywhere.]

      • yousaf says:

        off topic and a shameless plug for my FP piece on how to overhaul the NPT but thought it may be of interest:

  8. […] development, but even if it were true (which, again, is highly questionable) “Iran would not have violated its IAEA safeguards agreement,” Butt […]

  9. […] development, but even if it were true (which, again, is highly questionable) “Iran would not have violated its IAEA safeguards agreement,” Butt […]

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