Very high level US diplomats, including William Burns and Wendy Sherman, are in Geneva for talks today and tomorrow (for the second time in a month) with an Iranian delegation headed by Abbas Araghchi, whose position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry is similar to theirs. This meeting follows one on Monday between the EU’s chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Reuters has more on today’s meetings, informing us that they are a prelude to the resumption of P5+1 negotiations (which now have a November 24 deadline when the interim deal expires):
Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.
The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.
It is a wonder that Iran continues negotiations, as the US blacklisted a new group of companies last week that it accused of trying to help Iran work around sanctions. More from the Reuters article:
State news agency IRNA and a U.S. official confirmed the discussions were underway. “If there is good will and a constructive approach, we can reach a desired result before Nov. 24,” IRNA quoted Iran’s deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi as saying late on Wednesday. The United States last week penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran, saying it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of sanctions while talks continue. Rouhani said on Saturday the sanctions were against the spirit of negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the viability of the talks.
There is a very interesting backstory on parts of the blacklisting process. A seemingly “independent” group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has been very active in the process of “naming and shaming” individuals, companies and organizations that it accuses of violating the spirit of the sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be independent, the US has stepped into a lawsuit brought against UANI by a businessman claiming he was defamed (I owe Marcy a big thank you for alerting me to this part of the story). The government is specifically intervening to keep the funding of UANI secret:
The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.
The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.
The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.
Wow. So this “independent” group seems to be getting intelligence directly from the government, if we are to believe what the US said in its filing. So just who are the “former government officials” in UANI? A look at their “Leadership” page is nauseating. The first entry in the section for “Advisory Board” is none other than war hawk Joe Lieberman. Next to him is Fran Townsend and directly below him is a former director of the Mossad. The Advisory Board photos go on and on, a virtual “Who’s Who” of pro-war, pro-Israel media darlings. There also is a former Deputy Director of the IAEA even though it is supposed to be apolitical. Intellectual luminaries Mike Gerson and Mark Salter appear much lower on the list, perhaps out of a semblance of embarrassment. So, regarding those “investigative techniques” and “confidential sources” that the government doesn’t want to reveal in how UANI gets its information, consider this tidbit we got recently from David Albright, another player in the Iran-smearing business, this time branching out to comment on the recent tensions over US spying on Germany (also brought to my attention by Marcy): Continue reading
I have long criticized David Albright for his behavior in helping those who have tried to fan the flames over the years for a war with Iran. His role usually consists of providing technical “analysis” that somehow always works to support the latest allegations from sources (most often identified as diplomats) who selectively feed information to either AP reporter George Jahn or Reuters reporter Fredrik Dahl. As the P5+1 group of countries and Iran have moved closer and closer to achieving a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iran war hawks are growing more and more desperate. That desperation this week has resulted in David Albright dropping all pretense of being a neutral technical analyst and joining forces with the terrorist group MEK in slinging new, unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Albright published a strange document (pdf) on Iran’s nuclear program at his Institute for Science and International Security website. Also on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that included a quote from Albright.
The reason I say that Albright’s document at the ISIS website is strange is that the document is simply titled “Spin, Spin, Spin” and, after the author list (Andrea Stricker joins him in the byline), the document puts a very strange quotation right after the dateline:
“The bigger the lie…”
The “Spin, Spin, Spin” title could be excused as a clever pun if the article’s topic were the centrifuges that Iran uses for enrichment of uranium. Instead, the topic is exploding bridge wire detonators. The title is a complete dismissal of everything that Iran has to say about the detonators, ascribing it to spin rather than fact. But then Albright and Stricker move beyond the mere spin accusation all the way to accusing Iran of lying–before they lay out a single bit evidence to support their allegation.
The document opens by attacking press coverage of Iran beginning to discuss EBW’s with the IAEA:
Media reporting immediately following the release of the IAEA’s safeguards report focused on Iran’s willingness to discuss the exploding bridge wire (EBW) detonators. That is certainly good news, but did Iran resolve the IAEA’s concern? The answer has to be no or probably not. This fact was only lightly covered in the media over the weekend. Some misinterpreted Iran’s willingness to discuss the issue with making progress on it. One group at least even went so far as to declare that Iran had “halted nuclear activities in the areas of greatest proliferation concern and rolled back its program in other key areas.” But if Iran continues to work on aspects of nuclear weapons, as the IAEA worries, then it is necessary to reserve judgment on that question.
After a while, the document moves on to the accusation that Iran is lying:
So, while it is significant that Iran has been willing to talk about this issue for the first time since 2008 when it unilaterally ended cooperation over the matter, the key consideration is whether Iran is actually addressing the IAEA’s concerns. More plainly, is it telling the truth? The EBW issue must be taken in the context of the large amount of evidence collected by Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA over many years, detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report, indicating EBWs were part of a nuclear weapon design effort and military nuclear program. From that perspective, Iran has not answered this issue adequately and appears to have simply elevated the level of its effort to dissemble.
Ah, so Albright is basing the accusation of lying on the “evidence…detailed in the annex to the November 2011 safeguards report”. Okay then. Never mind that the annex, based almost exclusively on the “laptop of death” has been pretty thoroughly debunked and seems likely to be a product of forgery. About seven and a half years ago, some dirty hippie figured out that the most likely source of this forgery was the MEK. One can only wonder how Albright has gone from being enough of a scientist to seeing the holes in the forgery to even be quoted by Gareth Porter in a 2010 debunking of the data to now throwing his entire weight (while apparently deciding to throw away his entire reputation) behind the allegations.
The full extent of Albright’s loss of intellectual honesty becomes clear when we look at the Wall Street Journal editorial. At least the Journal is open about its latest round of accusations coming directly from the MEK: Continue reading
At long last, a conspiracy theory on Iran’s Parchin site has surfaced that is too crazy to have come from David Albright and his merry band at the Institute for Science and International Security. Recall that Iran has played the ISIS folks expertly on Parchin, giving them a series of interesting things to look at in satellite images of the site. Iran’s manipulations hit their high point when they covered a number of buildings in pink tarp, provoking an especially cute level of concern over just what those tarps might be hiding.
The folks at Debka.com, though, have put themselves firmly into the position of world leaders when it comes to Parchin conspiracy theories. You remember the Debka folks, they are the ones who initially claimed that Israel’s Iron Dome had successfully shot down two incoming missiles when it turns out that the explosions that were heard were actually just Iron Dome misfiring in the absence of any incoming fire earlier this month.
Here is Debka’s glorious new theory, which follows on their recounting of the recent news that Iran has actually moved faster than the initial schedule in the interim agreement with the P5+1 powers on removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium and that they will redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium:
But only on the face of it: This scenario ignore Tehran’s duplicity and conveniently passes over the sudden spurt in Iran’s production of low, 5-percent grade enriched uranium and the covert smuggling of the surfeit to the Parchin military facility of near Tehran for its secret upgrade to 20 percent, a level which can be rapidly enriched to weapons grade.
So with one hand, Tehran has reduced its low-grade enriched uranium stocks, but with the other, has smuggled a sizable quantity of those stocks for further enrichment to a facility barred to nuclear watchdog inspectors.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that 1,300 kilos of low-grade material has been transferred to Parchin and 1,630 advanced centrifuges have been installed there for rapid upgrade work.
Okay, then. Even though every single report from the IAEA has shown that every bit of uranium enriched by Iran has been accounted for and that none has been diverted (see this article from 2012 fear-mongering that grudgingly admits no diversion of material), Debka now wants us to believe that since Iran is removing its stock of 20% enriched uranium, it is doing so as a way to hide their diversion of over a ton of uranium that has been enriched to 5%. Oh, and at the same time, they have secretly installed 1630 centrifuges at Parchin.
But then the Debka conspiracy really starts to fall apart. It appears that they are only claiming that Iran will use these 1600 secret centrifuges to enrich the 5% uranium to 20%, rather than taking it to weapons grade of more than 90%. If we use the standard figures of approximately 25 kg of weapons grade uranium for one bomb and the numbers in this article (where one ton of natural uranium feed leads to up to 130 kg of 5% uranium and then 5.6 kg of weapons grade material), then 1300 kg of 5% uranium could be enough for two bombs.
It’s a good thing Debka is only claiming that conversion from 5% to 20% enrichment would be carried out with these secret centrifuges at Parchin, because getting to weapons grade with so few centrifuges in any sort of reasonable time frame is problematic. If we consult this document from Albright’s group, Figure 1A (on page 5 of the pdf), we see graphs for the amount of time needed to get to 25 kg of weapons grade uranium under scenarios of various numbers of centrifuges and various amounts of 20% enriched uranium. With Debka’s new conspiracy, if they were positing breakout to weapons grade, then we need to start at zero 20% uranium available and look between the 1000 and 2000 centrifuge scenarios. For 1000 centrifuges, ISIS calculates just over 24 months to produce one bomb’s worth of material, while for 2000 centrifuges, that time drops to 14 months. Interpolating for 1600 centrifuges would give us about 20 months of secret work with these 1600 secret centrifuges using 1300 kg of material secretly hidden from a previously perfect mass balance of Iran’s enrichment work.
It’s no secret that I am hardly a fan of David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. He often has been the “go to” authority when countries hostile to Iran have chosen to leak selectively groomed information to put Iran in the harshest possible light. The countries leak the information to a select few journalists and then Albright is called in to provide his “analysis” of how evil Iran is and how determined they are to produce nuclear weapons.
I also have been hammering hard on Robert Menendez’s Senate bill that calls for increased sanctions on Iran. As Ali Gharib noted immediately, the bill spells out conditions for the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries that we know Iran will never agree to, so the bill guarantees that the new sanctions will eventually kick in, even if a final agreement is reached.
The New York Times is finally catching up to the points Gharib made almost exactly a month ago:
But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.
White House officials zeroed in on three of the conditions: first, that any deal would dismantle Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure”; second, that Iran “has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States”; and third, that Iran has not tested any but the shortest-range ballistic missiles.
“They’re basically arguing for a zero enrichment capacity, with a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That’s not attainable, and it’s not necessary to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”
I was not at all prepared, though, for what the Times learned about how this abhorrent piece of legislation was crafted:
Proponents of the bill deny it would deprive Iran of the right to modest enrichment. They point to the qualifier “illicit” in the reference to nuclear facilities that must be dismantled, and they say the language on enrichment is intentionally vague to mollify both Republicans, who are reluctant to grant Iran the right to operate even a single centrifuge, and Democrats, who balked at signing on to a bill that would rule out all enrichment.
“There’s no language that says a centrifuge is prohibited or allowed,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, who helped Republicans and Democrats draft some of the technical wording.
The ambiguity, he said, reflected the fact that the lawmakers who sponsored the bill are “doing it in a bipartisan way, but they have disagreements on what the end state should look like.”
Oh. My. God.
To craft one of the most important bills in US foreign policy in over a decade, Menendez and his cronies turned to an “analyst” who has a long history of producing precisely the analysis that war hawks want. And he even has the gall to brag about how the weasel words that he crafted have different meanings depending on who is reading the bill.
I really have to just stop right here and let commenters fill in the rest for me. My health and sanity won’t let me think any further on the ramifications of David Albright writing legislation on US foreign policy toward Iran.
Laura Rozen chose a particularly appropriate title for her post yesterday on the P5+1 meeting just concluded in Geneva: “US and Iran Speak ‘Same Language’ in Nuclear Talks“. Not only were the negotiations carried out in English for the first time, but all sides report that a new tone was present and that the pathway to substantial progress has been laid out:
Western and Iranian diplomats hailed a new pace, candor and mutual will to try to forge a process to resolve international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but acknowledged they were at the beginning of a still complex and difficult negotiation whose success is not guaranteed.
“I have never had such intense, detailed, straight-forward, candid conversations with the Iran delegation before,” the American official said. “The discussions took place in English…the pace of discussions was much better. It creates the ability to have a back and forth.”
“Both sides are serious, both sides want to find common ground,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in English, told journalists at a press conference at the conclusion of talks here. “Iran is interested in resolving this issue.”
A very important statement from Zarif at the press conference was picked up by CNN:
“We will be doing the negotiation in the negotiating room and not in the press,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told reporters after the talks concluded.
The decision to keep details of the negotiations secret (which is apparently endorsed by all sides in the negotiations since few details beyond Iran being willing to submit to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol have emerged) is significant not just for the room it provides negotiators. Keeping the details secret also makes the path much harder for those on the outside who prefer a violent regime change in Iran rather than a negotiated path to peace.
I have remarked in many of my posts on the Iranian nuclear technology issue that “diplomats” in Vienna have a long history of leaking what they claim to be incriminating evidence against Iran to reporters there, primarily George Jahn of AP (look at the pretty cartoon!) and sometimes Fredrik Dahl of Reuters. Joby Warrick at the Washington Post often chimes in with information leaked from his sources who also seem to prefer a violent path. The intelligence is often embellished by David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. While there have been improvements lately by Jahn and Dahl in questioning the material leaked to them and providing alternative information available from other sources, much damage has been done to the diplomatic pathway by this process.
Remarkably, there is little to no pushback so far from this group to the progress made in Geneva. A story co-authored by Jahn late yesterday afternoon fits with most of the reporting on the meeting and his single quote from an unnamed source is innocuous:
A senior U.S. official said that while the six powers “got more today than we’ve ever gotten, there’s a whole lot more that we need to get and probably more that Iran wants to get from us. … There’s a lot of detail that needs to be unpacked.” The official demanded anonymity as a condition for attendance at a background briefing.
Dahl also has no disruptive quotes in the several Reuters stories to which he contributed. Completing their shutout from the trio of their usual helpers, the hawks planted no inflammatory language in Joby Warrick’s story in today’s Washington Post. The David Albright pathway to propaganda also hasn’t been activated, as the most recent post on his site at the time of this writing was dated October 3.
The dogs that aren’t barking now are the most encouraging sign of all that there is widespread optimism that diplomacy has a real chance of succeeding.
With the opportunity for significant progress in negotiating a peaceful settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear activities looking better than it has in a long time, I had intended to ignore the latest bleating over developments at Parchin. The complaints did even make their way into the New York Times earlier in the week, so they probably do deserve a response.
Here is how David Albright and pals frame the latest developments:
Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Parchin site in Iran shows the extent of new paving as well as the extent of other alternations undertaken at the site over the past year and a half starting in February 2012. Iran appears to be in the final stages of modifying the suspected high explosive test site at the Parchin complex, having recently asphalted large sections of the site. As noted in several of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) quarterly Iran safeguards reports and in numerous ISIS satellite imagery reports on Parchin, asphalting and the other documented activities have significantly changed the site and impacted the ability of IAEA inspectors to collect environmental samples and other evidence that it could use to determine whether nuclear weapons-related activities once took place there. Asphalting an entire area in this manner would make it very hard to take soil samples and likely be effective at covering up environmental evidence of nuclear weaponization-related experiments.
Throughout this process of cat and mouse games with Iran over their work at the Parchin site, I have maintained that if the work Iran is accused of carrying out there did indeed take place, and if they have attempted clean-up procedures as accused, there still is a reasonable chance that appropriate sampling of the equipment and the area would detect vestiges of the radioactivity that cannot be removed. In addition to the interior of the suspect building and the blast chamber itself likely being made radioactive due to neutron activation throughout the entire thickness of the steel (and thus unable to be scrubbed), satellite imagery has been used to document what appeared to be potential wash water being allowed to run outside the building of main interest. There has been movement of some soil, but the likely deposition site of that soil has been documented in the satellite photos.
Throughout all of this activity, the satellite photos have provided a record from which a team would know the most likely sites to sample if they wish to know how much radioactivity may have been washed out of the building. This latest accusation that paving the site over with asphalt would make sampling harder simply rings hollow. A team that has been allowed access to the site would hardly find a layer of asphalt to be a significant obstruction if they are determined to sample the locations that satellite imagery has told them should be an informative location for sampling.
Paving the area with asphalt actually has the potential to preserve the site for sampling in the future. Although Parchin is in desert with little rainfall, percolation of water through the soil would remain as one the largest factors making sampling less informative over time. Asphalt paving has been used (pdf) to seal areas against movement of radioactivity through soil: Continue reading
When Hassan Rouhani scored such a decisive and surprising victory in Iran’s elections, many took this as a sign that the hard-liner positions of Amadinejad were ending and that a new, more moderate position for the country would emerge. Iran-watching is of course made difficult by the complex relationship between the civilian and religious sides of the government, but additional signs are now emerging both that Rouhani is indeed maneuvering toward a friendlier negotiation stance and even that some of the moves toward moderation began before the election was held and are therefore not just moves by Rouhani.
In today’s New York Times, we see further support for the suggestion that came out earlier in the week that Iran is likely to name new Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the chief negotiator in talks regarding Iran’s nuclear technology:
Mr. Rouhani’s choice for foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was confirmed by Parliament last week. The signals that Mr. Zarif would lead the nuclear negotiations were conveyed on Tuesday at a regular weekly news conference in Tehran by the Foreign Ministry spokesman, which was broadcast by Iran’s Press TV Web site.
“Over the past 10 to 12 years, the negotiator has been the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. This may change,” said the spokesman, Abbas Araqchi. “Rouhani may decide to appoint somebody else. Maybe the foreign minister, or anyone else that he deems fit.”
For the spokesman to even make such a speculative statement suggested that Mr. Rouhani had already decided that his foreign minister would be doing the negotiating henceforth and that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on the nuclear issue, had agreed, despite his own deep mistrust of the West.
There has been some minor push-back on the speculation about Zarif, but this appears to be aimed more at the fact that an official announcement has not yet been made than the idea of Zarif taking the lead in negotiations:
In similar remarks on Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Araqchi also rejected the AP report which alleged that Zarif would be leading the negotiations with the G5+1, saying, “No decision has yet been adopted in this regard.”
Araqchi said the foreign ministry and other related bodies are “waiting for President Rouhani to choose the country’s chief negotiator”, and added, “Whenever he specifies the negotiating chief and team, the next step will be specifying the time of the negotiations.”
After getting that “denial” out of the way, however, the article goes on to report on discussions already held between Zarif and the chief EU negotiator Catherine Ashton, but with Ashton identified as EU’s “foreign policy chief”, so that the conversation is merely foreign minister to foreign minister (emphasis added): Continue reading
In a remarkably welcome surprise, moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won last month’s presidential election in Iran and did so with a large enough margin to avoid a runoff. In the immediate aftermath of the election, there was hope that the heated rhetoric on both sides of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear technology would calm a bit:
Though thousands of jubilant Iranians poured onto the streets in celebration of the victory, the outcome will not soon transform Iran’s tense relations with the West, resolve the row over its nuclear program or lessen its support of Syria’s president in the civil war there – matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the president runs the economy and wields broad influence in decision-making in other spheres. Rohani’s resounding mandate could provide latitude for a diplomatic thaw with the West and more social freedoms at home after eight years of belligerence and repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
“This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper,” Rohani told state television, promising to work for all Iranians, including the hardline so-called “Principlists” whom he defeated at the poll.
Alas, those who favor violence over negotiation don’t intend to sit idly while moderation has a chance of breaking out. Today, we have a new “revelation” brought to us in a Reuters article:
An exiled opposition group said on Thursday it had obtained information about a secret underground nuclear site under construction in Iran, without specifying what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out there.
The NCRI said the site was inside a complex of tunnels beneath mountains 10 km (6 miles) east of the town of Damavand, itself about 50 km northeast of Tehran. Construction of the first phase began in 2006 and was recently completed, it said.
The group released satellite photographs of what it said was the site. But the images did not appear to constitute hard evidence to support the assertion that it was a planned nuclear facility.
The Reuters article identifies NCRI as the National Council of Resistance of Iran and in addition to identifying them as “exiled dissedents” also mentions affiliation with the “People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI)” without noting that the more commonly used acronym for the latter group is MEK. That would be the same MEK that was only de-listed by the US Department of State as a terrorist organization last year. Promptly after de-listing, the group moved to register as lobbyists:
An Iranian group that was listed as a terrorist organization until last year has formally registered to lobby the Obama administration.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran told the Justice Department that it plans to “educate” the public and the U.S. government about the need to pursue an Iran policy “based on respect for human rights, non-proliferation, and promotion of democracy.” The council is an umbrella group of five Iranian opposition groups, the largest of which is the delisted terror group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK.
The State Department closed the council’s Washington office in 2002, calling it a front group for the MEK. Since then, the group has earned the good graces of U.S. conservatives by drawing international attention to Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
That bit about NCRI exposing the Natanz facility? Even though it also is cited in today’s Reuters article, there is good reason to believe that MEK came into the information through a leak to them rather than their own intelligence-gathering: Continue reading
On January 7, I noted that the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick had allowed the neocon think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to frame his discussion of the newest round of sanctions set to take effect against Iran. It now is clear that the article from Warrick was meant to prepare the ground for the unveiling, one week later, of David Albright’s new working group developed precisely for the purpose of furthering the neocon position on Iran sanctions. By taking on additional policy members in this working group, Albright is now branching out from his usual area of commentary on technical issues (where Moon of Alabama has dubbed his Institute for Science and International Security the “Institute for Scary Iran Stories“) all the way into policy and now promotes the full neocon position that Iran is dangerously close to having a nuclear weapon and therefore sanctions must be ratcheted up further.
Note how the press release from the working group opens:
Warning that time is running out as Iran accelerates its nuclear program, the non-partisan Project on U.S. Middle East Nonproliferation Strategy called on President Obama to use current U.S. sanctions laws to implement a “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran (other than provision of humanitarian goods)” before Iran achieves “critical capability” – the point at which it could produce enough weapon-grade uranium (or separated plutonium) for one or more bombs so rapidly that neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor Western intelligence agencies could be able to detect the move before it was too late to respond.
Let’s unpack the lies just in that opening sentence.
First, the group chooses to label itself as “non-partisan”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the five co-chairs of the group, two have direct ties to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which SourceWatch documents to be a primary force for the furtherance of neocon views, describing it as both a think tank and a lobbying organization. Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the foundation, is one of the working group co-chairs and was the one chosen by Warrick to voice the neocon position earlier in January. Another co-chair is Orde Kittre, described in the press release as a Professor of Law at Arizona State University. The press release fails to note that Kittre also is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Co-chair Leonard Spector is listed as Deputy Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. I see that he has been a featured speaker by the “non-partisan” AIPAC. The final co-chair besides Albright is Michael Yaffe of the National Defense University, whose own biography (pdf) notes: “In the immediate aftermath of the attack on September 11, 2001, he served as a coordinator on the counter-terrorism task force in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”” With a lineup composed of Albright and four people hand-selected for backgrounds likely to promote neocon positions, this working group is nothing close to non-partisan.
Next, the flat statement that Iran now “accelerates its nuclear program” is so misleading as to border on falsehood as well. Iran is expanding its enrichment capability, but there also are indications that portions of the 20% enriched uranium Iran is producing are being converted into chemical forms that are harder to submit to further enrichment to weapons grade. Further, the US stated in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran ceased all nuclear weapons work in 2003. That NIE has been a target for neocons ever since, but there has been no definitive evidence provided that Iran has re-started weapons work or that it intends to enrich uranium beyond 20% to the 90%+ level required for weapons. All of the fear-mongering over Iran being able to have a weapon soon relies on a major step forward in enrichment for which there is zero evidence that Iran has either the capability or desire.
The biggest falsehood in the opening of the press release, though, is that the existing and expanded Iran sanctions don’t extend to humanitarian goods. As I pointed out in the January 7 post, there already are reports of critical medical shortages as a result of the sanctions, so claiming that ratcheting up the sanctions even further can be done along with the “provision of humanitarian goods” is pure bunk. I had noted back in October the economic devastation of Iranian citizens by the sanctions and also linked to a report in January on the possible impact of the sanctions on recent acute air pollution in Tehran. The Iran sanctions are a humanitarian disaster of huge proportions and any claim that only Iran’s government is affected is an outright lie.
The timing of Albright’s release of the working group’s findings also is not a coincidence. Today, the IAEA and Iran are meeting, with a primary focus on finalizing the framework that would allow IAEA access to the Parchin site which Albright has been claiming Iran has cleansed of decade-old work to develop an explosive trigger device. Also, Iran and the P5+1 group are very close to re-starting their negotiations, so the neocons are afraid that peace just might break out despite their best efforts to promote a war in Iran.
Despite the best efforts of those who want a military attack on Iran to paint Iran as hiding attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, cooler heads appear to be prevailing as yesterday’s talks in Tehran produced reports of a likely agreement and a follow-up meeting between the IAEA and Iran in only a month. One of the most important signs of progress is that the AP’s George Jahn, who has served as a conduit for many of the most flimsy charges against Iran even gave space at the end of his report today to provide an alternate viewpoint that calls most of his reporting for the past year into significant question.
From Reuters, Fred Dahl (who at times has dabbled in the same rumor-mongering as Jahn, but not as blatantly) reports on the progress made yesterday:
The U.N. atomic agency failed to gain access to a military site in talks with Iran this week but expects to reach a deal in January to resume a stalled nuclear probe, the chief U.N. inspector said after returning from Tehran on Friday.
Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency was not allowed to see the Parchin complex during Thursday’s visit to the Iranian capital, IAEA team leader Herman Nackaerts said progress had been made in the meeting.
“We expect to finalize the structured approach and start implementing it then shortly after that,” he said, referring to a framework agreement that would enable the IAEA to restart its investigation into suspected atomic bomb research in Iran.
“We had good meetings,” Nackaerts added. “We were able to make progress.”
It is not just the IAEA who characterized the meeting as productive. From PressTV, we also get positive news from the Iranian side of the meeting:
Earlier, Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh told Press TV that Tehran and the UN nuclear body agreed at the end of the one-day meeting to hold a next round of talks in January.
“This round of talks was constructive and good progress was made,” Soltanieh added.
Adding to the possible momentum generated yesterday, both the Reuters article linked above and this Fars News piece from Iran report that a new round of the P5+1 talks also could be taking place soon.
But perhaps the most encouraging news of all comes from what appears in today’s report from the AP’s George Jahn, who has been at the center of controversy many times during the last year because of the way he publishes “leaked” material coming from countries that favor military action in Iran and who want to disrupt diplomatic negotiations. In today’s story, he does recite some of his litany of charges against Iran and the claims that work at the Parchin military site may have been carried out to develop an explosive trigger device for a nuclear weapon. He also relates that David Albright emailed to AP a “series of commercial satellite photographs of the Parchin site” detailing activities at the site that Albright and Jahn have been hyping as aimed at “cleansing” the site of radioactive signatures of the trigger development work. Presumably, Albright had to email the photos to Jahn because Jahn is not able to find them on Albright’s website where he posted them along with a “they’re still at it” type of “analysis” earlier this week.
However, after giving space for more information from Albright, Jahn makes the remarkable move of providing an alternate viewpoint from an authoritative source [emphais added]:
But a former IAEA inspector questioned what the information shown on the satellite photos actually mean.
“This ‘sanitization story’ is an old wives’ tale,” said Robert Kelley, in an email Friday to the AP. “It is clear from examination of the satellite images that there is no concerted effort to disguise possible uranium contamination outside the building.”
Kelley said the activities at Parchin reflected “a construction project, not a demolition effort,” adding: “This is clearly not a sanitization.“
Seeing his last year of work on behalf of war mongers dismissed as “an old wives’ tale” and then including it in his report had to hurt Jahn. He is due a bit of respect for reporting it, even if he did hide it at the very end of his report.