Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — although Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs in the 1980s, its cat-and-mouse games with IAEA inspectors in the 90s, and its foreclosing of inspections between 1998 and 2002 might have counseled more circumspection. Then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program, which was surrendered to the U.S. by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, not on account of the IAEA’s work, but out of Qaddafi’s fear that he could end up like his chum Saddam and out of his desire to see economic sanctions lifted. ElBaradei’s successor, the current Japanese rep to the IAEA Ambassador Yukiya Amano, is due to take office officially in December, and he will inherit three tricky files, Syria, Iran, and North Korea.
This past Friday, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues. The report hints at some important and potentially damning things about the military dimensions of Iran’s program, but then it goes on to shift focus and put the burden of proof on countries that have supplied critical intelligence to the agency. This last touch is somewhat ironic, given that Western governments have been pressing the agency to make its information public. As the New York Times put it last week,
To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.
ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:
1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.
2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.
3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.
4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. (Iran is required to provide speedy communication of such plans to the agency.) This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.
The good news is that ElBaradei is about to be replaced. The bad news is that the foot draggers in the international community will seize upon his last report to delay further any concerted strategy to deal with Iran. And the appetite for joint U.S.-European action or the like is even lower here in Western Europe than it is in Washington.