10 February 2012 by Pelle Neroth
Europe is surprisingly united these days on foreign policy. On January 23, the EU agreed to an oil embargo in imports as well as a freeze of Iranian bank assets, the toughest sanctions ever seen. On February 6, Obama tightened earlier long standing sanctions on Iran . So much for those who thought the Iran issue disappeared the day the combative vice president Dick Cheney - "George Bush's Darth Vader" - left the White House. Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, who was in Brussels recently, says he believes an Israeli air attack could come as soon as April. Even the Israeli left is said to support a strike to forestall the "existential threat" of Iranian nuclear weapons.
A reason for all this is the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog remained sceptical even during the run up to the Iraq war, under its then director general Mohammed ElBaradei. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was openly contemptuous of Bush's way of ignoring his own intelligence that Iraq had no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). The war was fought on the basis that Iraq did have WMDs.
But under a new director, Yukiya Amano, very close to the Americans, as revealed by Wikileaks, the IAEA's gloves seem to have come off. As Der Spiegel put it: "Iran is quite possibly developing nuclear bombs. The first nine pages of the report are highly technical. It's not until page 10 that it gets really interesting, in section 53: 'The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program.'" In pacifist Sweden, the foreign minister solemnly remarked: "Ultimately, there could be war."
A lot of analysts, though, have had a closer look at the report, and if it is more strident in its "politicised" parts approved by Amano, the fact is much of the report contains old material. Some of this may have been of dubious quality, coming from the "laptop of death", which surfaced in 2004, which contained nuclear facility and missile designs - but nearly all in English and with a lack of detail that has made experienced former weapons inspectors question its veracity.* (See links below.)
Some of the newer material may be interesting - though one "former Soviet nuclear scientist helping Iran" seems to have turned out to be an innocent nanotechnologist**, and there may be other slips. More importantly, the report does not claim that Iran has enriched uranium for weapons purposes or actually decided to build nuclear weapons. At the moment Iran has a legal right to pursue nuclear power plant technology, and it is crucial in this context to understand that nuclear power nations Japan, Argentina and Brazil could also break out of the Non Proliferation Treaty and have nuclear weapons within months .
And, like Iran, these countries do not permit full protocol inspections. There is no sign Iran has breached the IAEA's "red line", the diversion of nuclear materials towards a weapons programme, argues Youssef Butt, a nuclear physicist serving as a scientific consultant to the Federation of American Scientists.***
In the aftermath of the Iraq war it was shown that the Western powers not only ignored good intelligence but actively embraced bad intelligence. For instance, the chief source for the "mobile chemical weapons labs" came from an alcoholic Baghdad taxi driver "intelligence asset" codenamed Curveball who spun his tales to please his well paying western intelligence handlers. †
The "killer evidence", the letters that purported to be sales of uranium from Niger to Iraq, were crude forgeries: a letter to the president of Niger was apparently sent by himself, and the signature of a Nigerien foreign minister had not been an office for 12 years was found on other letters.
When the IAEA - under ElBaradei - got its hands on the documents, it only took hours to discover they were forged. ‡
According to an expose in the Italian press, the crude forgeries were an Italian intelligence service job to help the Bushies make the case for war. The Iranians - far less guilty of human rights abuses than Saddam - are deeply mistrustful of the West.
The problem with Western sanctions is that they are politically hard to roll back. Let us hope this is not a one way ticket to war. This could be a very dangerous year.
*http://tinyurl.com/cqb6ohx, more here:
*† Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo, "Berlusconi Behind Fake Yellowcake Dossier", La Repubblica, October 23, 2005. http://nuralcubicle.blogspot.c...d-fake-yellowcake.html
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 10 February 2012 at 03:02 PM by Pelle Neroth
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 10 February 2012 10:51 AM Energy
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