Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mostly Harmless

By Cernig

The IAEA says that director el-Baradei's latest report on Iran safeguards is "restricted and unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise it cannot be released to the public." But someone has already leaked it to the New York Times. Read the report before you read the versions in the press which often rely on anonymous diplomats attending the IAEA - who are not part of the Agency's technical operations and may well be from Israel, the U.S., Iran, Syria or some other nation with an agenda to spin.

The leaked news is cautiously encouraging. Questions regarding Iran's declared past P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programs have been answered and are consistent with IAEA findings. Iran does indeed have 3,000 centrifuges but they're still working at very low efficiency (Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and others have said 20% efficiency - so multiply all timelines to a weapon by five). However the Iranians are still being cagey. The IAEA still cannot say for certain that Iran has no weapons program (recall, from the Iraq WMD farago, the difficulty of proving a negative) but it still has found nothing that would constitute any kind of even mildly hazy gun, let alone a smoking one.

Which means the debate will go on, for now - with each side of the debate tending to see its own evidence and arguments most clearly - and the U.S. and its closest allies will continue to press for further sanctions.

But Iran isn't the only one being cagey - the Bush administration has said that it will not release even the executive summary of the latest NIE on Iran. Which means we will have two sides of the story and no real way to conclusively prove either. That isn't a healthy climate for informed and democratic debate when the same Bush administration is putting in place even the smaller details required for a war with Iran.

More and more, though, as I read through reams of Iranian nuclear speculation, it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Iran originally thought about having a weapons program so did some basic experimenting and procurement but nothing much or very seriously. However, once the nuclear program as a whole was exposed, even these tentative minor efforts were quietly dropped. It fits the known facts to date, rather than the wild and disproven (by IAEA inspections) talk that comes from the MeK's political wing and its neocon helpers.

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