It has been nearly 20 months since the group of P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran reached an interim agreement limiting Iran’s work on nuclear technology. Progress since that interim agreement has been painfully slow (and obstructed as much as possible by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, neocons in Congress and United Against Nuclear Iran), with a number of “deadlines” for achieving the final agreement missed. Journalists covering the final phase of negotiations in Vienna over the last two weeks eventually got so exasperated with the process that they began reporting on the number of Twizzlers consumed by the negotiators.
Fortunately, the US, led by John Kerry, with technical support from Ernest Moniz (with the backing of Barack Obama) and Iran, led by Javad Zarif, with technical support from Ali Akbar Salehi (with the backing of Hassan Rouhani) did not give up on the process. A final agreement (pdf) has now been published.
The following sentence appears in the agreement twice. It is the final sentence in the Preface and is the third point in the Preamble:
Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.
That is the heart of what the entire process has been about. Iran’s uranium enrichment work, which grew to over 18,000 centrifuges installed at two facilities, was viewed as a rapid route to a nuclear weapon. Even though no facility in Iran has been identified where enrichment was proceeding to the highly enriched levels needed for a bomb and Iran had demonstrated no ability to make a bomb from highly enriched material, “conventional wisdom” stated that Iran would only need a few months (as of the signing of the interim agreement) to produce a working bomb. Throughout the process, Iran has claimed the work was only for peaceful uses (electricity production and the production of medical isotopes). Things had gotten really ugly back in 2011 when the IAEA lent credence to claims that originated in the Laptop of Death, where Iran was accused of past work aiming at developing a bomb. By making the blanket statement that Iran will never seek a nuclear weapon, Iran is publicly acknowledging that the West will reinstate economy-crippling sanctions should evidence surface that it is seeking a weapon. Further, by saying it “reaffirms” as much, Iran is sticking to its previous claims that it has not sought a weapon in the past. Those dual points are important enough to be appear twice on the first page of the agreement.
On first blush, the final agreement looks quite robust. I intend to address only the technical aspects of the agreement and will leave to others analysis of the aspects of the plan relating to the removal of sanctions, although it is interesting that it appears that the plan will be submitted for UN Security Council approval before Congress is expected to have a chance to chime in.
The plan is referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. It establishes a Joint Commission of P5+1 and Iran that will monitor implementation of the agreement.
In order to achieve the primary aim of taking Iran’s “breakout time” (the time estimated to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb) from the range of just a few months at the time of the signing of the interim agreement to the stated goal of at least one year, Iran now agrees to stop all enrichment work with radioactive material at its Fordo site (the underground site that prompted the US to develop a new generation of bunker buster bombs) and to greatly reduce the number of centrifuges in use at Natanz. Further, Iran will no longer enrich uranium above 3.67%. Iran agrees to keep its stockpile of 3.67% enriched uranium at 300 kg or less. Here is the wording for the key part of that aspect of the agreement (from page 7): Continue reading
It has been a very long road since the announcement in November of 2013 that a preliminary agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations had been made on Iran’s nuclear technology. There have been extensions along the way and times when a permanent deal appeared imminent along with times when no such deal seemed possible. Despite tremendous pressure from Israel and the neocon lobby who lust after a war with Iran, the outlines for a permanent deal are now in place. What remains is to nail down the details by the June 30 deadline when the extensions of the interim agreement expire. Laura Rozen and Barbara Slavin capture the historic significance of what has been achieved:
We have “found solutions,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif first proclaimed on Twitter on April 2, “Ready to start drafting immediately.”
We have “succeeded in making history,” Zarif said at a press conference here April 2. “If we succeed, it is one of the few cases where an issue of significance is solved through diplomatic means.”
We have “reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US President Barack Obama said from the White House rose garden after the deal was announced April 2.
What stands out about the agreement is just how much Iran was forced to give up on issues that had been seen by most observers as non-negotiable. Jonathan Landay interviewed a number of nuclear experts on the agreement:
On its face, the framework announced Thursday for an agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program goes further toward preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon than many experts expected it would, including requiring an international inspection system of unprecedented intrusiveness.
The version of the agreement as released by the US can be read here. Let’s take a look by sections.
The first section addresses the general concept of uranium enrichment. Although hardliners in the US want all enrichment in Iran stopped, it was clear that Iran would never have agreed to stop. But what has been achieved is staggering. Iran will take two thirds of its existing centrifuges offline. Those centrifuges will be placed in a facility under IAEA inspection, so there is no concern about them winding up in an undisclosed facility. Further, only Iran’s original IR-1 centrifuge type will be allowed. That is a huge concession by Iran (everybody knows the IR-1’s suck), as they had been developing advanced centrifuges that are much more efficient at enrichment. Many critics of a deal with Iran had suspected that advanced centrifuges would be a route that Iran would use to game any agreement to increase their enrichment capacity if only the number and not the type of centrifuge had been restricted. Further, Iran will not enrich uranium above 3.67% for a period of 15 years. And the stockpile of 3.67% uranium will be reduced by 97%, from 10,000 kg to 300 kg. This reduction also will apply for 15 years. This section also carries an outright statement of targeting a breakout time of 12 months to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb. [But as always, it must be pointed out that merely having enough enriched uranium for a bomb does not make it a bomb. Many steps, some of which there is no evidence Iran has or could develop under intense international scrutiny, would remain for making a bomb.]
The next section of the agreement is titled “Fordo Conversion”. Iran’s Fordo site is the underground bunker built for uranium enrichment. Iran has agreed not to enrich uranium at Fordo or to have uranium or any other fissile material present for 15 years. While many have advocated a complete shutdown of Fordo, the agreement provides a very elegant alternative. Fordo will now become a research site under IAEA monitoring. Had the site shut down, where would all of the scientists who work there now have gone? By keeping them on-site and under IAEA observation, it strikes me that there is much less concern about those with enrichment expertise slinking into the shadows to build a new undeclared enrichment facility.
The section on the Natanz facility follows Continue reading
Monday is the deadline set by the P5+1 group of nations and Iran for achieving a final agreement on steps to assure the world that Iran’s nuclear program is only aimed at the civilian uses of producing electricity and providing isotopes for medical use. With that deadline rapidly approaching, those who take a more hawkish view toward Iran and wish to see no agreement are doing their best to disrupt the negotiations as they enter the home stretch to an agreement or another extension of the interim agreement, which is nearing a year under which Iran has met all of its obligations.
A primary tool used by those who prefer war with Iran over diplomacy is Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Keeping right on schedule, Amano has interjected himself into the story on the final stage P5+1 talks (in which IAEA has no role) and one of his chief transcribers, Fredrik Dahl of Reuters, has fulfilled his usual role of providing an outlet for those wishing to disrupt a deal. Today’s emission from Amano [Note: During the time that this post was being written, Reuters changed the Fredrik Dahl piece that is being referenced. Here is an upload of the version of the story as it appeared with an 8:09 am Eastern time stamp. Usually, Reuters just sends new stories out with new url’s, but the url under which the 8:09 version loaded for me now loads a 10:09 story by different reporters discussing a likely extension of negotiations to March.]:
Iran has yet to explain suspected atomic bomb research to the U.N. nuclear agency, its head said on Thursday, just four days before a deadline for a comprehensive deal between Iran and six world powers to end the 12-year-old controversy.
After nearly a year of difficult diplomacy, Washington is pushing for agreement on at least the outline of a future accord and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend talks with Iran, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China on Friday.
But Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made clear it was far from satisfied, saying it was not in a position to provide “credible assurance” Iran had no undeclared nuclear material and activities.
It comes as no surprise that Amano would try to disrupt the talks at such a critical juncture. Recall that he replaced Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammad elBaradei in 2009. Amano laid low for a while, but in 2011 came out swinging against Iran. By moving in such a politically motivated way, I noted at that time that Amano was doing huge damage to the credibility of the IAEA after its terrific work under elBaradei.
Amano was carefully chosen and groomed for his role at IAEA.
Wikileaks documents revealed in 2010 showed how Amano assured US “diplomats” that he would be solidly in the US camp when it came to pursuing charges against Iran’s nuclear program:
Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain “constructive ambiguity” about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December.
And what of these “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear work that Amano is holding against Iran? They are based on a total fabrication known as the laptop of death. Further, IAEA is not structured or staffed in a way for it to be the appropriate vehicle for determining whether work in Iran is weapons-related. It is, however, built for monitoring and accounting for enrichment of uranium, where it has found Iran to divert no material from its declared nuclear power plant fuel cycle.
Amano is far from alone in his campaign to disrupt the talks. Recall that a couple of weeks ago, David Sanger took to the front page of the New York Times to plant the erroneous idea the Iran was nearing an agreement to outsource its enrichment of uranium to Russia. The Times never noted nor corrected the error, which, conveniently for Sanger and other opponents of a deal, could give hardliners in Iran another opening for opposing any deal.
Sanger returned to the front page of the Times on Monday to gleefully list the forces he sees arrayed against any deal with Iran. Remarkably, Sanger did at least make an offhand correction to his earlier error (but of course there still is no note or change on the original erroneous report). He only does this, though, while also describing how he thinks Russia could undermine the breakthrough in which they have played a huge role:
Perhaps the most complex political player is Russia. It has remained a key element of the negotiating team, despite its confrontations with the West over Ukraine. It has been a central player in negotiating what may prove the key to a deal: a plan for Iran to ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Russian territory for conversion into fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
But Russian officials may want an extension of the talks that keeps any real agreement in limbo — and thus keeps Iranian oil off the market, so that it cannot further depress falling prices.
So, yes, Sanger finally admits the deal would be for Russia to convert low enriched uranium to fuel rods, not to do the enrichment itself, but only while also cheering on what he sees as a path for Russia keep Iranian oil off international markets.
Missing from Sanger’s list of forces lined up against a deal with Iran are those working behind the scenes in the US intelligence and “diplomatic” communities. Those forces gave state secrets to United Against Nuclear Iran to be used in false allegations against a Greek shipping firm providing goods to Iran that were not subject to sanctions. We still don’t know what that information was nor how UANI came into its possession because the Justice Department has intervened to quash disclosure in the lawsuit resulting from the false allegations.
As we enter what is slated to be the final weekend of the negotiations, the stakes are clear. Barack Obama has gladly jumped on board with most neocon dreams of open war in many of their target nations. Iran remains a huge prize for them, but so far Obama has shown remarkable resolve in pushing for an agreement that could avert a catastrophic war that would make the current ones look only like small skirmishes. I’m hoping for the best this weekend, but I also worry about what opponents of the negotiations may have in store for their final move.
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA is not happy. Speaking to PressTV today, he protested a report yesterday that final plans are in the works for the next round of meetings between Iran and the IAEA to discuss long-standing issues on Iran’s nuclear program:
A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plans to visit the Iranian capital, Tehran, in the coming days to continue talks with Iranian officials.
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi said on Friday that Tero Varjoranta, the deputy director general and head of the Department of Safeguards of the nuclear monitoring body, will head the team.
The envoy also expressed concern about Iran’s secret nuclear information obtained by the IAEA leaking out.
“It is regrettable that classified information in the agency has not been protected again, and while Iran and the agency were busy planning [the meeting], the news was published by a Western media outlet,” he said.
“This issue once again confirms Iran’s misgivings that spying exists in the agency,” Najafi said.
But wait, you might say. Where is the harm in breaking the news that a meeting is planned? The first clue might come from the suspect report itself, a Reuters article by Fredrik Dahl:
The U.N. nuclear agency is expected to make a new attempt soon to advance its investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Iran, diplomats said on Thursday, more than a month after Tehran missed a deadline for cooperation.
They said experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran may meet early next week in Tehran, with the IAEA seeking to achieve progress in the slow-moving inquiry into the country’s nuclear program.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA, a Vienna-based U.N. agency which for years has been trying to investigate Western allegations that Iran has worked on designing a nuclear warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
True to the usual path employed by Dahl and his fellow Vienna-based colleague from AP, George Jahn, Dahl relies on “diplomats” for his inside information. Note also that Dahl reports that the IAEA did not have a comment for him to include in the report. This suggests that the IAEA and Iran were still in the process of planning the next meeting and not ready to announce it publicly yet.
If meeting plans were the only leaks to come out of IAEA through “diplomats” in Vienna, then this would be a non-story. But there is much more. Here is PressTV in January of 2012 after an Iranian nuclear scientist had been assassinated:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman says confidential information on the country’s nuclear experts has been leaked to the terrorists by the so-called inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Certain individuals who came to Iran under the pretext of inspecting the country’s nuclear facilities have identified Iranian scientists and given their names to the terrorist groups,” Ramin Mehmanparast said on Friday.
The Iranian official highlighted that Tehran would pursue the case in relevant international bodies.
The comments came in the wake of the assassination of Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan on January 11 when an unknown motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car near a college of Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran.
He was killed immediately and his driver, who sustained injuries, died a few hours later in hospital.
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
I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems.
I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead; I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.
There is no doubt in my mind — and it’s fairly straightforward from what we’ve been saying for years — that they have been interested in a nuclear weapon that has utility, meaning that it is something they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there
But when? And about which country?
Contrary to what you might think, these words come not from Colin Powell’s famous UN speech, but from the speech where he rolled out the Laptop of Death in 2004, in the days just after Bush’s re-election when Dick Cheney was shoving Powell out the door.
The Laptop of Death, you’ll recall, amounted to war in a box, all the evidence you’d need to justify a war against Iran based on claims it was developing not just nukes, but nukes “they would be able to deliver, not just something that sits there.” It included the adaptation plans to Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles, the plans for a tunnel that bore no signs it’d be used for testing nukes but got included anyway, and evidence that a defunct firm had once produced a material–green salt–used in uranium processing. It was logically impossible all those things would be on one laptop, available for the taking, but that didn’t stop the usual suspects from selling the Laptop of Death as credible intelligence.
As the years went on, evidence grew the laptop had come from MEK–the same terrorists we’ve outsourced our Iranian scientist assassination to, perhaps by way of Mossad. And once the Iranians were given a copy of some of the documents, they were able to show they were forgeries.
It seems like a good time to remind everyone that even after Colin Powell ruined his reputation with the UN presentation, he still agreed to lend his diminished credibility to yet more transparent propaganda to start what might have been (and may yet still be) the next war. As Tiny Revolution and Digby note, Powell’s latest book attempts to refute bloggers who call him a liar for the UN presentation. Well, if he didn’t know, then why did he step up willingly to sell Cheney’s propaganda a second time, at a time when he owed the Bush Administration nothing?
Here’s an even better reason to remind people how long the Iran warmongers have been trying to sow war with transparent propaganda. As I joked and Moon of Alabama mocked at more length, they appear to have given the guy who drew the crappy illustration of the Mobile Bioweapons Labs based on admitted exile warmonger Curveball’s lies his job back, this time to draw the detonation tank Jim White already threw water on.
For whatever reason, even at the moment Colin Powell tries to pretend that the last time this hack illustrator sowed his wares everything was done in good faith, they’re rolling out similarly laughable illustrations again.