Iran’s se­crets may scup­per nu­clear deal

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY SIMON STURDEE

Pos­si­ble skele­tons in Iran’s closet — the sub­ject of talks in Tehran on Wed­nes­day — could yet spook the his­toric Iran nu­clear deal, ex­perts say.

The U.N. nu­clear watch­dog con­ducts regular in­spec­tions of Iran’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties and th­ese will be in­creased if world pow­ers and Iran can fi­nal­ize their out­line agree­ment by a June 30 dead­line.

Such a deal will see Iran dramatically scale down its atomic ac­tiv­i­ties. Com­bined with tighter U.N. in­spec­tions, this will make any dash to make nu­clear weapons ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and eas­ily de­tectable.

Talks on this could re­sume as early as next week.

How­ever, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency also wants Iran to an­swer al­le­ga­tions that prior to 2003, and pos­si­bly since, Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram had “pos­si­ble mil­i­tary di­men­sions” — “PMD” for short.

This means al­leged re­search by Iran into how to make a nu­clear bomb such as high-ex­plo­sives tests and look­ing into how to ex­plode fis­sile ma­te­rial in a mis­sile’s war­head.

An IAEA probe into this has been stalled since Au­gust. On Wed­nes­day though, the IAEA’s Chief In­spec­tor Tero Var­jo­ranta was due to hold a new round of talks in Tehran.

Hav­ing a Laugh?

The al­le­ga­tions are based largely on in­for­ma­tion passed to the IAEA by un­named other coun­tries — ex­perts say Is­rael and the U.S. are the likely sources — and deemed by the watch­dog to be “over­all, cred­i­ble” in a ma­jor 2011 re­port.

Some of the ac­cu­sa­tions could well be bo­gus, ex­perts say.

Robert Kel­ley, a for­mer U.S. nu­clear weapons sci­en­tist who later worked in atomic in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis for the U.S. gov­ern­ment and for the IAEA in Iraq, says some are “laugh­able.”

Claims of ex­plo­sives testing and a sub­se­quent “san­i­ti­za­tion” at the Parchin mil­i­tary base, as well as over Iran’s use of cer­tain det­o­na­tors and ac­tiv­i­ties in the Mari­van re­gion, make lit­tle sense, said Kel­ley, who is now at the SI- PRI peace re­search in­sti­tute.

It is also un­clear how much comes from a con­tro­ver­sial trove of more than a thou­sand pages of doc­u­ments known as the “al­leged stud­ies” that re­port­edly come from a lap­top ac­quired by U.S. in­tel­li­gence in 2004.

Yousaf Butt, a nu­clear physi­cist at the Bri­tish-Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity In­for­ma­tion Coun­cil, said that the West should not be “ob­sess­ing” over the past, par­tic­u­larly since some of the ev­i­dence seems “shoddy.”

But an­a­lysts, in­clud­ing Kel­ley, say that Iran still has a case to an­swer.

“Although some of the in­di­vid­ual ev­i­dence is ques­tion­able, there is no doubt in my mind that Iran pur­sued nu­clear weaponiza­tion work,” Mark Fitz­patrick, a for­mer U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cial now at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies in Lon­don, told AFP.

Off the Hook?

The six world pow­ers agree that Iran can­not con­tinue stonewalling, not least be­cause clear­ing up what hap­pened in the past is vi­tal for hav­ing con­fi­dence that Iran will stick to its com­mit­ments in the fu­ture.

“In a fi­nal deal Iran will not be let off the hook for its past work,” Kelsey Daven­port at the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion told AFP. “It is vi­tal for the IAEA’s cred­i­bil­ity.”

West­ern of­fi­cials have made clear that Iran’s main aim in the hope­d­for deal with ma­jor pow­ers — get­ting painful sanc­tions lifted — will not hap­pen un­til the IAEA’s ques­tions are ad­dressed.

“PMD (pos­si­ble mil­i­tary di­men­sions) ... is part of the pack­age. It is nec­es­sary to get sanc­tions re­lief,” a Euro­pean of­fi­cial in­volved in talks said.

All U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil nu­cle­ar­related res­o­lu­tions will be lifted “si­mul­ta­ne­ous” with the com­ple­tion of “ac­tions ad­dress­ing all key is­sues” — in­clud­ing PMD, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. State Depart­ment fact sheet.

The same doc­u­ment — dis­puted by Iran as a mix­ture of “truth and lies” — says that Iran will be “re­quired to grant ac­cess to... sus­pi­cious sites.”

State Depart­ment spokes­woman Marie Harf said Fri­day that it would be “very dif­fi­cult to imag­ine (a fi­nal deal) that did not re­quire... ac­cess at Parchin.”

‘Fess­ing Up

Iran though re­jects the IAEA’s claims, say­ing they are based on forg­eries sup­plied to a gullible and par­tial watch­dog by its enemies. Parchin, it says, is not a nu­clear site so the IAEA has no right to go there.

Even if some of the claims are true, it would be very dif­fi­cult for Iran to make any kind of con­fes­sion, not least be­cause this would mean the coun­try had vi­o­lated the supreme leader’s “fatwa” for­bid­ding nu­clear weapons.

A pos­si­ble so­lu­tion, there­fore, might be to have a “fudged” ad­mis­sion, Fitz­patrick said, with Tehran say­ing the dirty work hap­pened be­fore the fatwa and putting the blame on “rogue” sci­en­tists.

With­out this, or if West­ern na­tions make “po­lit­i­cally im­pos­si­ble de­mands for ac­knowl­edg­ing cul­pa­bil­ity,” PMD is “one of the ways” the whole deal could yet fall apart, he said.

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