Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 09, 2011

The IAEA Report: A Dud With Little Consequences For Iran

The U.S. pressure on the IAEA to publish its murky evidence of alleged studies based on U.S. intelligence is not likely to achieve its aim. It probably would have achieved something if it had contained some new and serious violations of Iran's NPT obligations. But there is nothing like that in it.

Even the Guardian's Julian Borger, not exactly a friend of Iran, says the report is a dud:

There is something a little phoney about all the sound and fury. There is nothing in the report that was not previously known by the major powers. The West and Israel supplied most of the original tip-offs for the annex on weapons development ...
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Furthermore, the bulk of the report is historical, referring to the years leading up to 2003. ...
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After that, ... the evidence ... is sketchier, and it is clear the UN inspectors are less confident about making assertions about the more recent period.

The purpose of this show, like with the alleged plot against the Saudi ambassador and the Israeli threats against Iran, was to build international pressure for even more sanctions on Iran and, as the Russians rightly see it, for regime change.

But before the report was published Russia and China spoke out against it. They will obviously not commit to new UN sanctions on Iran based on it and other flimsy issues.

According to Flynt Leverett the U.S. has already tried to get international support to sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). It failed. Nobody in Europe or Asia is willing to risk more harm to their economies by endangering the oil supply Iran provides to the world market. Sanctioning Iran's Central Bank would likely do that. Also to consider here that the last time the U.S. tried such an approach, against Japan in 1940/41, the consequence was the Japanese hail mary attack on Pearl Harbor.

There isn't much else the U.S. can do. An attack on Iran is off the table as the following drastic increase in oil prices would tank the world economy and thereby kill any reelection chance Obama might have. The administration knows it has lost this cause and has no new ideas what to do about it:

"I'm definitely going to tell you we need time to study it," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Tuesday following the release of the IAEA report, ..
...
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, two senior administration officials predicted that the Obama administration would increase sanctions on Iran in light of the report but declined to offer any specifics on what they might be.

That explanation wasn't well received by lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday, who offered plenty of specific ideas on how to ramp up pressure on Tehran and have no intention of waiting for the administration to "study" the IAEA's findings.

Those lawmakers want the CBI sanctions or other crazy stuff but without international support that is mere posturing. The craziest idea, which they might pick up on, was presented in an OpEd by Ilan Berman in today's NYT: To Stop Iran, Lean On China

[The Treasury Department's] Mr. Cohen’s recent jaunt to Beijing was intended to convince the Chinese government that it must decisively curtail its ties to Tehran, or face real economic costs. This message needs to be coupled with the application of concrete economic penalties — from bans on United States-based energy projects to prohibitions on financial transactions that fall under American jurisdiction — that are intended to persuade Chinese companies, including Cnooc and PetroChina, to scale back their economic contacts with Iran. At the same time, greater targeted sanctions and asset freezes are needed to bring to heel Chinese individuals and entities that are currently complicit in Iran’s nuclear advances.

That is a "sanction country A so it sanctions country B" strategy that might work when country A is Micronesia. But threatening your biggest creditor with sanctions and starting a trade war with it while running a current account deficit of some $480 billion in 2011, money the U.S. will have to borrow from China and others, is beyond crazy.

So what do I think is likely to happen. There will be a lot of chest thumping, some new unilateral U.S. sanctions on individuals and side issues that no one in Iran will care about. Sarkozy and Cameron may join in on that but the result will be nil. Israel will get some more money and will be told to shut up.

In a year or two the show will be repeated with even less success.

Posted by b on November 9, 2011 at 12:55 PM | Permalink

Comments

You are right that it is a dud, but are the qualities of the report the point?

The point is surely to provoke undetailed media reports which suggest that Iran is producing nuclear weapons. These may convince those who know nothing. I read a freesheet on the Paris Metro today which essentially just repeated the Israeli point of view. Iranian menace and all that.

I do, however, entirely support all that you have done, b, to debunk the IAEA report. Slowly that will spread, and in the end the report will be discredited. That is the character of the Internet.

It is very difficult these days to lie in a public document, or even misinterpret facts, as someone will certainly catch you out.

Posted by: Alexno | Nov 9, 2011 5:50:47 PM | 1

@ b, I’m glad you picked up the ‘Japanese’ (1935-41) angle there :-). seeing the events unfold over the past 5 years ors so, I have constant flashbacks to exactly that period of time. Everything the FDR admin did then ended up fortifying the fascist factions within the Jpn elites. It didn’t end too well; and note that the US was then a much stronger political economy than it is now. (I thought I had mentioned this on MoA in the past; I guess it must have been on some other site)

I agree with Alexno though, the purpose of all the noise is to set the ‘mood’ further.

Posted by: philippe | Nov 9, 2011 6:15:13 PM | 2

I just want to say, what a wonderful surprise, finding that MOA is back! Emma posted a link over at Common Dreams referring to MOA. Again, thanks!

I knew from the smell that there was something fishy about the way the media in Denmark reports this development, sort of like a parrot's squack

Posted by: Chuck Cliff | Nov 9, 2011 6:50:19 PM | 3

There isn't much else the U.S. can do. An attack on Iran is off the table as the following drastic increase in oil prices would tank the world economy and thereby kill any reelection chance Obama might have.

This reasoning has been used too many times, and it hasn't come to fruition. If an attack on Iran does not come in the next several months to a year, it won't be because of oil prices. Oil prices are so inundated with speculation at this point, it overshadows any effects from supplies.

The only way regime change is going to happen in Iran is via an attack, and all the strategists know that now, if they didn't always know it. If it doesn't happen during the Obama Admin, it will happen under the next administration, and early on as a defining feature.

And, you can't compare Iran to Japan circa 1930's, or the U.S. today to the U.S. circa 1940's. The world's a much smaller place these days. There can be no surprises....and it's dubious Pearl Harbor was a surprise.

Alexno underscores what I've been saying all along. We're not the audience. We know they lie, we know they're lying, and we know they're going to continue to lie. However, their audience has been primed to be spooked by these scarecrow stories.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Nov 9, 2011 7:35:01 PM | 4

Nice

Posted by: MB1 | Nov 9, 2011 8:09:09 PM | 5

Aloha, b...! I'm delighted to see you over at emptywheel...!

I just wrote a new diary myself... Wag The Dog: Green Salt is The New Yellowcake...

My main contribution to conversation is that the Chinese aren't buying all the IAEA noise...

…”It is clear that contention between the various sides over the Iranian nuclear issue has reached white hot levels and could even be on the precipice of a showdown,” the overseas edition of the People’s Daily said in a front-page commentary…

China’s official Xinhua news agency also suggested that Beijing would respond warily to the report. The UN watchdog still “lacks a smoking gun”, Xinhua said in a commentary.

“There are no witnesses or physical evidence to prove that Iran is making nuclear weapons,” it said.

In dealing with the Iran nuclear issue, it is extremely dangerous to rely on suspicions, and the destructive consequences of any armed action would endure for a long time.”…

“If these sanctions harm China’s substantive interests, then China will have to respond in some way,“said Li Hong, the secretary general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a government-controlled body.

Posted by: CTuttle | Nov 9, 2011 8:16:32 PM | 6

dud is underused in american discourse. it's a wonderfully descriptive word. you used it perfectly.

Posted by: annie | Nov 9, 2011 10:34:58 PM | 7

There are two new factors at work to mitigate the impact of the rabid propaganda which is based on this tendentious report.

One is that the relative power of the US is declining rapidly; whereas the studied slow retreat of Russia and China, both content in the past decade to see the US make expensive mistake after mistake, (a process which reached its peak in the Libyan idiocy, in which the US burned all manner of boats for no perceptible gain), has now reached the point where it must end. Iran would be too close for comfort and would mean that the US had achieved a dominant position in Eurasia.
Russia and China, from now on, will be ready to parry US advances, perhaps by allowing weapons to leak out and fall into the hands of some of the dozens of Resistance forces ready to use them effectively, perhaps by taking diplomatic counter measures, for example, sending a mission to Iran charged with determining for itself (and the world) whether there is any truth in the IAEA reports. Certainly they cannot continue yielding ground to the US, because the ground they will be yielding next will be their own.

The second big change is that neither the US public nor the people of Europe is any longer in the mood to tolerate governments wasting time, energy and resources on esoteric foreign policy adventures: the system is collapsing, millions are sliding into poverty, life savings, pensions, basic services (healthcare) are all evaporating. Iran is no threat, unemployment and depression are, and enough people are affected by them that they are becoming major, urgent political matters.
The coming years will see the economy at the centre of political debates; and politicians refusing to take it seriously will be turfed out of office very quickly.

Neo-conservatism relies upon popular apathy and the deference that a basically contented electorate (in the imperial metropolis) shows to "experts" and other leaders. Six weeks of unemployment in an economy in which there are no jobs, there are holes in the social safety net big enough to swallow families and living standards in society are in freefall, changes things.
This is not to say that the idiots who rule us might not start another war- anything is possible with a ruling class selected for conformity, selfishness and an aversion to critical thought- just, that it could very well be the last thing this ruling class does.
The last time we had an international situation like this one, in which war became inevitable because people had forgotten what it was like, was not 1939 but 1914, which ended with the death of three empires and the delayed break-up of the fourth.

Posted by: bevin | Nov 9, 2011 11:10:44 PM | 8

The Guardian's Brian Whitaker linked to my nanodiamonds piece in this Guardian piece. Could it be that the MSM is waking up a bit?

Posted by: b | Nov 9, 2011 11:59:41 PM | 9

So far Russia had been standing at the side on the Iran issue. The hyping of the IAEA report changed that.

Someone in the White House will now get a lot of blame for losing Russia.

Russia Dismisses Calls for New U.N. Sanctions on Iran

MOSCOW — Russia on Wednesday sharply dismissed calls for further sanctions against Iran in the aftermath of a new United Nations report on suspect Iranian nuclear activities, signaling the Kremlin’s departure from the cooperation on Iran that was a hallmark of the “reset” in relations with the United States.

“The world community will see all additional sanctions against Iran as an instrument of regime change in Tehran,” Gennadi M. Gatilov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said in comments to the Interfax news agency. “This approach is unacceptable to us, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such a proposal.”

A Foreign Ministry statement released later on Wednesday further illustrated Russia’s negative reaction to the report, distributed a day earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency and characterized by the United States and its European allies as a significant new critique of Iran’s nuclear program.

The Russian statement, by contrast, called the report “a compilation of well-known facts that have intentionally been given a politicized intonation.”

The statement said the authors “resort to assumptions and suspicions, and juggle information with the purpose of creating the impression that the Iranian nuclear program has a military component.”


Posted by: b | Nov 10, 2011 1:26:31 AM | 10

esteemed b, lavish appreciation. words fail.

C. Tuttle - according to my mass market Chinese decoder ring that is very close to saber rattling, isn't it?

Posted by: rjj | Nov 10, 2011 2:49:24 AM | 11

CSM - Iran nuclear report: Why it may not be a game-changer after all

The latest United Nations report on Iran’s nuclear program may not be the “game changer” it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence – and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work.
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"It's very thin, I thought there would be a lot more there," says Robert Kelley, an American nuclear engineer and former IAEA inspector who was among the first to review the original data in 2005. "It's certainly old news; it's really quite stunning how little new information is in there."
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"The first is the issue of forgeries. There is nothing to tell that those documents are real," says Kelley, whose experience includes inspections from as far afield as Iraq and Libya, to South Africa in 1993.

"My sense when I went through the documents years ago was that there was possibly a lot of stuff in there that was genuine, [though] it was kind of junk," says Kelly. "And there were a few rather high-quality things" like the green salt document: "That was two or three pages that wasn't related to anything else in the package, it was on a different topic, and you just wondered, was this salted in there for someone to find?"

It would not be the first time that data was planted. He recalls 1993 and 1994, when the IAEA received "very complex forgeries" on Iraq that slowed down nuclear investigations there by a couple of years.
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For Kelley, formerly with the IAEA, the current Iran report is a "real mish-mash" that includes some "amateurish analysis."

Among several technical points, Kelley notes the report's discussion of Iran's "exploding bridge-wire detonators," or EBWs. The IAEA report said it recognizes that "there exist non-nuclear applications, albeit few," and point to a likely weapons connection for Iran.

"The Agency is wrong. There are lots of applications for EBWs," says Kelley. "To be wrong on this point, and then to try to misdirect opinion shows a bias towards their desired outcome.... That is unprofessional."

Posted by: b | Nov 10, 2011 3:41:53 AM | 12

Today's Guardian Editorial makes a lot of sense:

It really is time to drop the pretence that Iran can be deflected from its nuclear path. It really is time for Iran to drop the pretence that it is not on that path. It really is time for the United States to recognise that there is no military solution. And it really is time for both America and Israel to put aside the idea that they can stop history with high explosives, cyber-attacks, sanctions and assassinations. To all intents and purposes Iran already has a nuclear weapons capacity, with the only question being when it will deploy – or be ready to deploy, which is an important distinction – weapons in usable numbers.
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we surely have passed the point where the risk represented by Iranian weapons can be eliminated. The priority must be to contain it, to set what rules can be set, and to prepare to live with it.

Posted by: b | Nov 10, 2011 5:42:56 AM | 13

The Guardian's Brian Whitaker linked to my nanodiamonds piece in this Guardian piece. Could it be that the MSM is waking up a bit?

Huh? Seriously, you think that's even a consideration here? It's just a matter of them not being awake? You are a good analyst, and for that you deserve much credit, but I have to question the conclusions you draw from your analysis.

It's not a matter of them being awake or asleep. It's a matter of them being owned and printing things that are not overly critical, or critical at all, of the Corporatized Military Industrial Complex. On occasion, they will give deference to some blog content, but it's a gesture meant to placate, appease and contain, and most certainly not a matter of waking up. They're wide awake.....as wide awake as any Zombie journalist ever was.

Posted by: Morocco Bama | Nov 10, 2011 6:45:32 AM | 14

super congratulations on the guardian link b. you deserve recognition for bursting the media hype over the report wide open. i'm really proud of you.

Posted by: annie | Nov 10, 2011 8:20:01 AM | 15

Somewhat to the topic ... the 2011 IEA (int. energy agency) report is out. (More of a political, consensual document than a scientific one.)

Executive summary:

http://www.iea.org/weo/docs/weo2011/executive_summary.pdf

Such reports always make predictions on ‘linear’ trends which are dubious, such as:

China consolidates its position as the world’s largest energy consumer: in 2035 it consumes nearly 70% more energy than the United States .. - note the careful wording which comparative and not quantitative..yet at heart such projections are based on the idea of fossil fuel energy as inexhaustible or replaceable with ‘unconventional oil’ (tar sands, deep water, etc.)

For that reason, one might consider that CO2 and temperature rise as predicted are also ‘off’ - and that might be the case for this report. E.g. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more. I didn’t study it, but many others only calculate what is reasonably left to be burned, and come to similar conclusions.

The report counsels an expansion of nuclear energy, between the lines. > There must be something between the rock and the hard place ! Despite Fukushima.

Should one follow the conclusions of this report, it is imperative to help Iran like yesterday, to develop nuclear technology. They can afford it, they can do it, with a bit of help from ...ooops.

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 10, 2011 10:14:08 AM | 16

Somewhat to the topic ... the 2011 IEA (int. energy agency) report is out. (More of a political, consensual document than a scientific one.)

Executive summary:

http://www.iea.org/weo/docs/weo2011/executive_summary.pdf

Such reports always make predictions on ‘linear’ trends which are dubious, such as:

China consolidates its position as the world’s largest energy consumer: in 2035 it consumes nearly 70% more energy than the United States .. - note the careful wording which comparative and not quantitative..yet at heart such projections are based on the idea of fossil fuel energy as inexhaustible or replaceable with ‘unconventional oil’ (tar sands, deep water, etc.)

For that reason, one might consider that CO2 and temperature rise as predicted are also ‘off’ - and that might be the case for this report. E.g. Without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6°C or more. I didn’t study it, but many others only calculate what is reasonably left to be burned, and come to similar conclusions.

The report counsels an expansion of nuclear energy, between the lines. > There must be something between the rock and the hard place ! Despite Fukushima.

Should one follow the conclusions of this report, it is imperative to help Iran like yesterday, to develop nuclear technology. They can afford it, they can do it, with a bit of help from ...ooops.

Posted by: Noirette | Nov 10, 2011 10:14:08 AM | 17

Actually (and to self-promote a bit) it appears to me that exposing this "secret annex" was the worst thing the US could have done. It showed its cards, metaphorically speaking, and turned out to have been bluffing. The "evidence", long touted as containing damning proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons ambition, is now characterized even in the mainstream media as "thin" (Christian Science Monitor) and "phoney" (Guardian)

Posted by: Cyrus | Nov 10, 2011 10:17:49 AM | 18

Congrats B on the good catch re diamonds. I posted your observation about the nanodiamonds onto the Gulf2000 Project the minute I read your piece, and I hope I did my part in getting it noticed.

Posted by: Cyrus | Nov 10, 2011 10:20:10 AM | 19

By the way folks, the "cannot verify the absence of undeclared material" in the IAEA report has a very prosaic explanation: the IAEA does not verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in any country - not Iran, not Egypt, not Argentina, not Brazil - unless that country has signed onto the Additional Protocol. Under the "basic" safeguards, a country is obligated to report its nuclear facilities/materials, and the job of the IAEA is merely to account for the nuclear material to make sure none of the declared material has been diverted to non-peaceful uses (if there is a suspicion that a country has not declared all of its nuclear facilities/material, the IAEA Board can demand "special inspections" - which has never happened.)

However once the Additional Protocol is in force, the IAEA then also verifies that there are "no undeclared" nuclear facilities/materials, and furthermore that a country's nuclear program is "exclusively peaceful." And that process can take years to complete.

In the meantime, note that even the Additional Protocol only allows inspections of nuclear material/places and does not amount to a carte blanche to poke noses in non-nuclear matters such as missile programs. And pursuan to the Safeguards, the inspections still have to be minimally intrusive on a country's nuclear program.

Posted by: Cyrus | Nov 10, 2011 10:35:59 AM | 20

@Cyrus - it appears to me that exposing this "secret annex" was the worst thing the US could have done. It showed its cards, metaphorically speaking, and turned out to have been bluffing.

I agree a 100%.

Posted by: b | Nov 10, 2011 11:46:04 AM | 21

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