IAEA Director General to Punt the Iran PMD Issue to the Board of GovernorsPosted: September 10, 2014
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.