IAEA Director General to Punt the Iran PMD Issue to the Board of Governors

Have you seen this new Bloomberg article by Jonathan Tirone? I’m almost dumbstruck by it.  In it he reports:

Investigators probing Iran will let national officials from places including the U.S., China and Russia decide if the Persian Gulf country hid a nuclear weapons program, according to two officials familiar with their work.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team will likely have to make an assessment based on incomplete information and let its board of nationally-appointed governors draw definitive conclusion about the country’s past nuclear work, said the two senior international officials, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. . .

It isn’t realistic to expect the IAEA to provide a black-and-white assessment showing that Iran either did or did not have a nuclear-weapons program, the officials said. The IAEA will set a time to end the investigation and submit its findings to the 35-member board of governors to make a ruling, they said.

I almost don’t know where to begin on this. As readers will know, I’ve long been critical of the IAEA’s decision to investigate allegations, mostly originating from third party states, of past possible military dimensions (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program, and the November 2011 IAEA DG report that most comprehensively laid out these allegations.  I published this commentary on the report the day after it was sent to the BOG.  Since then I’ve written on the issue several times, including here, and have tried to explain that the IAEA has absolutely no mandate or authority to investigate and assess whether safeguarded states have done research and development work on nuclear weaponization not involving fissile materials.

Notwithstanding this lack of legal authority and, as Bob Kelley and Tariq Rauf point out in their new article in Arms Control Today, a lack of technical expertise to assess nuclear weaponization R&D as well, the IAEA has proceeded over the past three years to gather what information they could about the PMD claims, and has tried to engage Iran on this issue, with little success.

It’s never been clear to me what DG Amano’s game plan was on the PMD issue – i.e. how he thought the investigation would realistically play out, and what he thought would be achieved through it.  Again, there is no legal source that lays out the IAEA’s authority and tools for investigating nuclear weaponization, so there are no standards for the agency to follow.

It now appears that the final chapter of the IAEA’s PMD inquiry in Iran will consist of the IAEA DG’s office handing over whatever technical information they have, however incomplete, to the national political representatives who constitute the 35 member Board of Governors of the IAEA, and asking them to determine whether Iran worked on nuclear weaponization in the past.

If that sounds kind of crazy to you, then you’re not alone.

Again, I don’t think the IAEA should have ever started down the path of investigation and assessment on this issue, but given that they have, surely it must be recognized that this is essentially a technical matter – i.e. whether there is sufficient evidence of a nuclear weaponization program in Iran in the past. It is not a political matter. How, then, are the political representative of 35 countries on the IAEA BOG qualified in any way to make this determination?

This seems to me to be a complete cop-out – a surrender by the IAEA DG’s office. Whether it’s a surrender to facts (i.e. the DG’s office doesn’t have, and knows it never will have, enough information to really make the call technically, and is afraid to admit it) or a surrender to politics (i.e. the US and others are pressuring Amano to get the PMD issue resolved, and this is the only way to face-savingly do it) or more likely a combination of both, this can’t be the way Amano hoped this PMD inquiry would be resolved. Although, again, I don’t know what his plan was to begin with.

This is a punt – a buck passing, plain and simple. And even though the IAEA should never have gotten involved in this issue in the first place, this sets a very bad precedent for the agency going forward. The IAEA DG’s office is basically admitting that they cannot do their job of making a technical determination here, and they are instead punting the issue over to the BOG for a politicized vote. What does that say to IAEA member states about the IAEA’s ability to objectively apply technical safeguards to their nuclear programs, and about the independence and apolitical nature of the agency?

If this vote does indeed go ahead in the IAEA BOG, no matter what the outcome I think it will be one of the darkest days in the agency’s history. And I think that DG Amano is solely responsible for the black eye the agency’s reputation will take from this ill conceived, and badly executed foray into weaponization investigation.

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14 Comments on “IAEA Director General to Punt the Iran PMD Issue to the Board of Governors”

  1. Johnboy says:

    You would think that once this has gone to the BOG for their “considered opinion” that Amano would do the right thing and fall on his sword.

    After all, this amount of buck-passing is nothing more, nor less, than Amano throwing his hands in the air and proclaiming that he has no idea what he is doing or why he is doing it.

    He is very clearly incompetent, in which case why, exactly, is he still there?

    • Cyrus says:

      The BOG has been compromised by the US already. Lets remember why for example India voted in favor of reporting Iran’s file to the UNSC:

      “On the eve of his visit to New Delhi, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns has said that with India voting in favour of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] resolution on Iran’s nuclear programme, Congressional opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement has disappeared and both sides would meet their commitments before President George W. Bush visits India next year.”
      https://web.archive.org/web/20130530100205/http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/5067.asp

  2. masoud says:

    For readers who don’t know how the BOG is chosen, here’s the rough outline:

    They start by choosing the 15 of the most technologically advanced nations in the atomic filed ‘by acclamation’, this means the p5 plus their lackey states, like Japan. These states aren’t elected by the general conference, they have more or less permanently guaranteed seats on the council. To this batch you add twenty members elected by the general conference. These seats are gerrymandered in a way to again amplify the power of western, industrialized nations. For example while Europe is afforded eight seateps, Africa is afforded four, and the middle east is afforded two.

    So the natural result of all this is that every politicized decision that the board takes will bend strongly towards the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Before Iran’s issue was put before the bog, every single decision taken by the board was taken unanimously, because the bog was acting as a technical agency. At the height of Iran’s issues being before the board, votes against Iran would break something like 20-2 with the rest abstaining, which is realistically the best result any country in Iran’s position could hope to achievement. A decision to put this issue back before a politicized bog a decision to go back on a serious offensive against Iran, and it has the benefit of allowing Amano to not have to defend jumping to an indefensible conclusion. He’lll be able to merely passively reference the conclusion of the bog. I wish we could by that guy a vacation package to Tikrit.

  3. Marianne says:

    Masoud’s posting is rich in errors. The Board picks the 10 most advanced, not fifteen. The General Conference elects 22 members of the Board, not 20. There are six states from Africa on the Board, not four. Of the twelve resolutions on Iran, very few, I think just one, were not adopted by consensus. On the one, GOV/2011/69, the vote was 32-2-1. There is essentially unanimity in the Board concerning Iran’s noncompliance as well as the need for Iran to clarify the situation with respect to the possible military dimension of its nuclear program.

    I am sorry to say that I think that Dan’s original posting took at face value a news blurb by a relatively uninformed observer. In any case, since the Board of Governors is the executive authority of the Agency and the Director General is “under the authority of and subject to the control of the Board of Governors,” it is difficult to see how referring matters to the Board can be considered “punting.”

    Reading through all of the Board resolutions on Iran, it is clear that the Board is “deeply concerned” about Iran’ noncompliance and wants it to clarify issues including the possible military dimension of its nuclear program. It is equally clear that the Board and the General Conference are of the view that the goal is to confirm the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations. If Dan is right that they are all wrong, then he has failed to convince anyone on the Board.

    Marianne

    • Irani says:

      Marianne: “There is essentially unanimity in the Board concerning Iran’s noncompliance”. As I know, however, all issues had raised until 2005 to substantiate portrayed non-compliance resolved after 2-3 years and that claimed non-compliance does not exist now. Present issues are not related to those issues.

      Regarding “the need for Iran to clarify the situation with respect to the possible military dimension of its nuclear program”, I think the Agency should abide by the Safeguards Agreement and applicable provisions of request for access to nuclear material, nuclear facilities and relevant information “in accordance with terms of this agreement” (Safeguards Agreement, Article 2). Apart from political stated concern of BOG over possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, could you please specify the Article of Safeguards Agreement based on which Iran is obliged to provide unlimited access or information regarding its conventional military activities, as requested in DG reports? Probing possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program based on unilateral view of Board and the General Conference is not persuasive for verification activities not “in accordance with terms of this agreement”. It seems that the Agency is used to extend its rights based on innovative interpretation of safeguards agreements (e.g. “Completeness” in past and now “State level Approach”). However, I would like to draw your attention to the past DDG of safeguards:

      NPT safeguards agreements according to INFCIRC/153/(Corr.) give the IAEA the “… right and obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied, in accordance with the terms of the agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of the State …”. The “terms of the agreement” include verification procedures by the IAEA to ensure compliance with the basic commitment by the State, namely not to divert nuclear material. However, no specific procedures are foreseen for verification by the IAEA of the second commitment, namely the reporting of all nuclear material subject to safeguards in particular for verification of the completeness of the initial inventory report. The reasons for this are understandable: a kind of international police organization with inspectors roaming around in sovereign States in the search of possible clandestine nuclear facilities or material is universally unacceptable and has not been suggested by anyone.
      http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull254/25403452729.pdf

    • Cyrus says:

      “Non-compliance” with what, exactly? The IAEA has verified in every single report ever issued on Iran that there has been no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses, and that is all that Iran is required to do under the terms of its safeguards agreement.

    • masoud says:

      I am going to assume Marianne is posting in good faith. Unfortunately this forces me to conclude that she lacks basic literacy skills. She should ask somene to explain to her the meaning of the words ‘rough guide’. The statute of the IAEA, as written, allows for 18 members to be named by the board, with an absolute minimum of ten. While it is nice that the lower number is adhered to in practice, the board could change this practice in at any time and name any number between these two.

      Here is the section that sets out region specific quotas:

      ‘a) Twenty members, with due regard to equitable representation on the Board as a whole of the members in the areas listed in sub- paragraph A. 1 of this article, so that the Board shall at all times include in this category five representatives of the area of Latin America, four representatives of the area of Western Europe, three representatives of the area of Eastern Europe, four representatives of the area of Africa, two representatives of the area of the Middle East and South Asia, one representative of the area of South East Asia and the Pacific, and one representative of the area of the Far East. No member in this category in any one term of office will be eligible for re- election in the same category for the following term of office; and…’

      There is an additional seat Africa shares with four other regions. And another seat also shared between five regions that doesn’t include Africa. But how this invalidates my claim that Europe is guarunteed double the number that Africa is guarunteed, which is itself double the number of seats that the Middle East is guaranteed is anyone’s guess. Anyone wants the details can read them themselves.
      http://www.iaea.org/About/statute.html#A1.6

      It’s hard to call the claim that General Conferences position is on these matters lines up with the Board’s anything other than an outright lie, so I won’t seek to characterize it, but I will mention that the best barameter of the views of the international community is the npt 2010 conference review document, in which none of these illusory issues with Iran’s implementations are mentioned even once, despite the unprecedented obsession which the DG and the board have developed for them and the incredible amount of resources they have squandered on them. On the other hand it that report did take quite a strong stance against the intanaigence nuclear weapons states, both members of the not and otherwise, and singled out the US and Israel as particularly shameful actors. That report was adopted unanimously by some 180 nations.

      At least Marianne doesn’t explicitly dispute the fact that outside of the Iran issue(with one or two exceptions) all of the decions taken by the board have been taken unanimously. But then again, implicitly ignoring the fact that this is the single most divisive issue the board has ever tackled is a disturbing, even if technically not quite dishonest, approach to understanding the significance of the resolutions adopted by the bog.

  4. yousaf says:

    I think the Arms Control Today article should be widely read:

    https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2014_09/Features/Nuclear-Verification-in-Iran

    Resolution of the outstanding questions about possible Iranian weaponization requires a broad set of skills. If a very small team of accountancy experts, unfamiliar with conventional arms, construction sites, and common practices in nuclear weapons studies is allowed to analyze the data, the team may envision nuclear activities because that is all it knows. This led to the disaster of U.S. claims that aluminum tubes destined for Iraq in 2002 were for centrifuges when they actually were for rockets, and it can happen again.

    • Dan Joyner says:

      I agree. Great new article by Bob and Tariq.

      • Cyrus says:

        But exactly by what right does the IAEA have the authority to demand that a country implement “implement transparency measures, as requested by the Director General…which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol” considering that the country in question is not bound even by the Additional Protocol?

    • Cyrus says:

      I love how these articles completely ignore WHY Iran restarted enrichment after the Paris Agreement fiasco. They used to blame it on the election of “hardline president Ahmadinejad” until it was pointed out (by yours truly) that Ahmadinejad took office AFTER they decided to restart enrichment. Now, the whole issue is just ignored. No mention of the fact that the EU-3 had committed to recognizing Iran’s right to enrichment, while at the same time agreeing with US demands that they would NOT recognize Iran’s right to enrichment, and so they simply resorted to trying to drag out what was supposed to be a 3 month suspension for almost 3 years. No mention of the fact that even Western analysts compared the much delayed EU-3 offer to Iran as an “empty box in pretty wrapping.” It is as if Peter Osborne’s book on the this specific and shameful bit of history doesn’t even exist either. Instead we’re told that the onus is on Iran to disprove allegations, as if Iran has been the problem all along, rather that the US-EU3 tactic of exaggerating the nuclear issue as a pretext for imposing regime-change on Iran, as Elbaradei himself concluded too. It is too bad that Kelley buys into this nonsense.

  5. yousaf says:

    I would punt the PMD issues also if I was DG — everything publicly available has been shown to be sadly deficient:

    https://armscontrollaw.com/2014/06/17/what-is-the-quality-of-scientific-evidence-against-iran/

  6. yousaf says:

    A Byzantine bloated bureaucracy gone bonkers.

  7. […] expert would choose or be forced to hand off the decisions to the board of governors, who Joyner characterizes as “political representatives.” Beyond that, Joyner reiterated a theme of his: […]


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