ForeignPolicy

Iran: Spin and Reality

It's exceptionally difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the Islamic state.
Iran Disputes Nuclear Arms 'Evidence'
Middle East Online

Iran accuses US of fabricating information to back up claims that Tehran is making nuclear weapons.


VIENNA - The UN nuclear watchdog said Friday that Iran is defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment and accusing the US and its allies of fabricating information to back up claims that Tehran is making nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there was a "very strong case" for moving forward with a third round of sanctions against Tehran, while Iran said the report's findings confirmed that its nuclear program is a peaceful one.

"There is very good reason after this report to proceed to the third Security Council resolution," Rice said, adding that the report "demonstrates that whatever the Iranians may be doing to try to clean up some elements of the past, it is inadequate."

The 11-page report said Iran "has not suspended its enrichment-related activities," despite two sets of UN Security Council sanctions over fears the program might be used to make weapons-grade uranium instead of the nuclear fuel Iran says it is interested in.

Instead, said the report, Iran "started the development of new-generation centrifuges" -- an expansion of enrichment -- and continued working on heavy water nuclear facilities. When finished, Iran could cull them for plutonium, a possible fissile payload in nuclear warheads.

At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency report said that Tehran has cooperated in other areas of an IAEA probe, leading the agency to put to rest for now suspicions that several past experiments and activities were linked to a weapons program.

Specifically, the report suggested the agency was satisfied with answers provided by Iran on the origin of traces of enriched uranium in a military facility; on experiments with polonium, which can also be used in a weapons program; and on purchases on the nuclear black market.

It said that in those areas information given by Tehran is either "consistent with its findings (or) … not inconsistent with its findings," suggesting it was content for now with explanations that these activities were not weapons-related.

Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazee said the report "clearly attests to the exclusively peaceful nature of the nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran, both in the past and at present."

The report "also serves to strongly and unambiguously support my country's long-standing position that the allegations raised by few powers against the peaceful nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been entirely groundless," Khazee said.

But the American UN ambassador said Friday that report should pave the way for passage next week of a new UN Security Council resolution tightening sanctions on Tehran.

"They're increasing their capabilities," US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said. "Not only have the number of centrifuges increased, but they're working on a second-generation, if you like, a more capable centrifuge.

"Things are getting worse in terms of the enrichment part."

Britain and France introduced a council resolution on Thursday -- with support from the United States, Russia, China and Germany -- to expand and toughen travel bans and the freezing of assets for more Iranian officials linked to the nuclear effort.

A declassified US intelligence report last December judged that the Iranians had put a nuclear weapons program on hold in 2003. But the US, Israel contend Iran's continued advances in the crucial centrifuge work will eventually give it a capability to quickly build a bomb.

Much of the information purportedly linking Iran to attempts to make nuclear arms came from the United States, with allies providing lesser amounts and the IAEA passing on selected material to Tehran, after approval by the nations that gave the agency the information.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who drew up the report, said his team had "made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran's past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past."

Ahead of the confidential report's release to the 35-nation IAEA board and the UN Security Council, US officials had repeatedly insisted that the IAEA probe would be incomplete unless Iran acknowledged trying to make nuclear arms in the past. That stance is shared by Canada, Japan, Australia and some US allies in Europe.

A senior IAEA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report was confidential, said that if the material provided by the US and other agency members on the alleged activities was genuine, most of Iran's work was "most likely for nuclear weapons."

But he said the agency was not reaching any conclusion until the Iranians went beyond rejection of the purported evidence and concretely addressed the issues it raised.

When confronted with some of the documentation from the US and other on its alleged weapons experiments, Tehran "stated that the allegations were baseless and that the information … was fabricated," the report said.

Iran explained some of its activities linked by the Americans to a weapons program as work on "air bags and for the design of safety belts," according to the report.

The report will be the focus of discussions at an IAEA board report starting March 3. At that meeting, the US and its allies are weighing whether to ask the board to approve a resolution declaring that the agency was unable to shed light on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, according to diplomats.

*****


Getting to Yes with Iran
By Mehdi Khalaji
Comment is Free

It is Supreme Leader Khamenei, not President Ahmedinejad, who holds the key to a nuclear deal with Tehran.

With the release last year of America's National Intelligence Estimate, according to which Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons program, the prospect of military confrontation with the Bush administration dimmed. But months later, it is clear that the danger is not past, because Iran has not renounced the production of nuclear weapons, which its enriched uranium could eventually be used to fuel.

All parties need to find a formula to resolve the issue before it again threatens to erupt into conflict. Western diplomacy in recent years has focused on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as the key to resolving the crisis. But this approach is a blind alley.

Let us recall the fate of Ahmedinejad's two immediate predecessors. Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005) tried to implement dramatic political reform, while Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) tried to open the Iranian economy to the west. Both failed, because Iran's presidents do not run the country. A solution to the nuclear dilemma - or any other problem in Iran's foreign relations - is in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Among his responsibilities, Khamenei serves as commander-in-chief of the military, controls the intelligence services, and appoints directors of the national media. His appointees effectively control most ministries and Iran's major cities.

In diplomacy, Khamenei tends to operate in a clever but recognizable fashion. He sends different diplomats into negotiations with contradictory instructions. Each claims to be acting with the Supreme Leader's full authority, but ultimately they are unable to make commitments because they have little idea of what Khamenei wants to do. After a time, they are removed, and a new set of representatives is dispatched. In order to dominate decision-making, Khamenei prefers weak presidents.

Ahmedinejad is no different. His political base has faded, owing to Iran's deepening economic crisis, which has been intensified by the conflict with the west over the nuclear issue. His support in the parliamentary election next March seems particularly weak, which will no doubt please western observers. But the election results will not matter: parliament, too, has little influence over Iran's foreign policy.

Some western diplomats recognize the Supreme Leader's role. In practice, however, western diplomacy tends to ignore Khamenei, who sabotages any effort to get around him as the final arbiter of Iranian policy. This might partly explain why Khamenei has been distrustful of negotiations with the west. Westerners don't seem to understand who is in charge. Indeed, some analysts argue that former President Bill Clinton's efforts to achieve a breakthrough with Iran failed because they were addressed to Iran's presidents.

The west should learn from the example of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who did not travel to Iran until he was allowed a direct meeting with Khamenei, during which Putin is reported to have made a proposal to end the nuclear stand-off. There has been no answer yet, though there does seem to be some recent movement between Russia and Iran on the provision of nuclear fuel for Iran's controversial reactors.

To be sure, Khamenei is reluctant to meet with non-Muslim foreign leaders. But that shouldn't stop the west from reaching out to him directly, or pressing him to publicly appoint the representatives who negotiate with the west.

One American politician who understands how to work with the Iranian power structure is former Congressman Lee Hamilton, now head of the Woodrow Wilson Center. When Wilson Center researcher Haleh Esfandiari was arrested in Iran, Hamilton wrote to Khamenei, pleading for her release on humanitarian grounds. Khamenei responded -- reportedly the first time he answered an American -- and Esfandiari was released in a matter of days.

Khamenei would be hard-pressed to ignore a direct invitation from the US to negotiate on Iran's most vital concerns. His clear priority is the Islamic Republic's survival, not the fate of particular Iranian politicians. While Ahmedinejad's apocalyptic vision makes it difficult for westerners to deal with him, Khamenei does not want to stumble into a military confrontation with the West, which would destabilize Iran and possibly lead to the regime's downfall.

To resolve outstanding issues with Iran, the West should be dealing with the only person powerful enough to make deals and deliver concessions. That person is Khamenei, not Ahmedinejad.
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