Peter Jenkins: IAEA Report “Sheds No New Light”

Over at the Leveretts’ Race for Iran site, guest-poster Peter Jenkins delivers a level-headed analysis of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran. Jenkins, a former-British diplomat who served from 2001 – 2006 at the IAEA, starts off his piece with a bang: “The IAEA’s latest report sheds no new light on whether Iran intends to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, in contravention of the NPT.”

Jenkins paints a picture very much in contrast to the accusation that Iran has “dug in its heels,” as David Sanger and William Broad put it in the lede of their New York Times story on the report. The Leveretts, in their introduction to Jenkins’s piece, cite the Times piece, and the juxtaposition is informative. (I recommend reading Jenkins’s account then Sanger and Broad’s.) The latter seems to intimate that Iran’s deficiencies, as far as the IAEA is concerned, are a new development.

On the other hand, Jenkins provides context — combining the history of tensions between the agency and Iran with a measured assessment of Iran’s aims — to demonstrate the report “sheds no new light” on just about anything. Instead, it appears to restate what has been the status quo since 2006, when the IAEA reported Iran’s pre-2003 dabbling in weapons related enrichment activity to the Security Council. This enraged the Iranians, causing them to not apply or bring into force additional protocols.

This is key: the additional protocols are the very reporting measures that allow the IAEA to fully account for all of Iran’s stockpiles of nuclear material and activities. Jenkins explains:

Given that international pressure for Iran to apply the additional protocol has been intense, it is not surprising that since 2006 IAEA reports have stressed that the agency is not in a position to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful use (or that there is no undeclared nuclear material in Iran).  This statement is designed to add to the pressure.  Beyond that the statement is no more than a necessary consequence of Iran’s refusal to apply the additional protocol.  The same words could be used by the IAEA Director General if he were producing a report on another state that has declined to bring an additional protocol into force, e.g. Israel, Egypt or Brazil.  The phrase cannot, and should not, be taken to imply that the IAEA has (or has not) specific grounds to suspect the presence of undeclared material, or the existence of undeclared activities.

Jenkins also provides analysis of likely Iranian motives and aims. He gives the frank assessment — in the case of Iran’s “ultra-legalistic view of its safeguards obligations” (applying the letter of its nuclear agreements but not the spirit) and its refusal to apply the additional protocols — that Iran may well be hurting its own interests.

The “ultra-legalistic approach encourages the inference that Iran has something to hide,” observes Jenkins, noting it is likely a result of Iran’s view of the perceived injustice of the IAEA’s 2006 report to the Security Council. Likewise, Iran’s decision to not apply the additional protocol leaves room for suspicion, since the “IAEA is only able to confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear material or activities in a state if that state has brought into force an additional protocol.”

Like the Iranians, Jenkins point to one of the fundamental hypocrisies of of the West’s nuclear stand-off with Iran — that it’s a double standard. It’s his concluding paragraph. I’ll end it with it, too, and add that his essay is worth reading in full.

The report makes clear that Iran is continuing to defy the will of the Security Council.  That puts Iran on the wrong side of the law, since UN chapter VII resolutions are legally binding on UN member states.  Iranian representatives would no doubt argue that legal obligations freely entered into (e.g. NPT obligations) are different in nature from legal obligations imposed on a state against its will, especially obligations imposed by an instance that Iranians may well think of as a “kangeroo court”.  Iran could also point out that it is not the only UN member state to have defied the will of the Security Council.  Some others (e.g. Israel) appear to have been able to do so with impunity.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.