The International Atomic Energy Agency’s new report on Iran is out. Three considerations:
1) Iran is stalling (shocker!) and has provided no new information about all the suspicious activities the IAEA wishes to know more about.
2) Despite Iran’s considerable skill at withholding information, Iran is still not enriching above 5 percent–a critical threshold beyond which Iran will be able to produce weapons-grade uranium.
3) The IAEA seems more inclined than ever before to openly express skepticism at Iran’s responses–and that has to do significantly with the fact that sound intelligence has been provided to its inspectors suggesting Iran is lying about its activities.
What do these mean for policy?
Point 1 means nothing. Iran has been using stalling tactics for six years and Western powers seem to like it, so don’t hold your breath waiting for far reaching measures. But it might somewhat ease the way to another puny UN Security Council Resolution–symbolically good, substantially little more than meaningless.
Point 2 means that covert efforts to stall Iran’s program have had some measure of success: Iran still can’t cross the critical 5 percent threshold and that is good news.
Point 3 means that even after the NIE intelligence debacle, sound intelligence is indeed possible–when it manages to draw the line between data collection (good) and political interpretation (bad). It also means that even under the directorship of someone like Mohammad ElBaradei, who saw it as his own mission to prevent an attack against Iran at all costs, the IAEA won’t whitewash Iran’s mischief. Given that El Baradei has announced he is stepping down next year, it would behoove Western members of the IAEA now to ensure the next Director General sees his mission to prevent proliferation as more important than preventing the United States and others from preempting proliferators through military means.