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In a ‘show and tell’ type talk, Netanyahu claimed that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program and tried to provide evidence that Iran is violating the JCOPA. Former US IAEA Nuclear Weapons Inspector Robert Kelley tells TRNN Netanyahu’s claims are baseless, self-serving, and childish

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran lie talk is all over the Internet, and it is aimed at pressuring the United States into withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. In case you missed the show and tell, here are some of the pertinent clips.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Iran lied. After signing the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran intensified its efforts to hide its secret nuclear pile. In 2017, Iran moved its nuclear weapons pile highly secret location in Tehran. A few weeks ago, in a great intelligence achievement, Israel obtained half of the material inside these walls. And here’s what we got. 55000 pages, another 55000 files on 183 CDs.

Iran continues to lie. Just last week, Zarif said this.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: We never wanted to produce a bomb.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: We never wanted to produce a bomb.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Yes you did. Yes you do. And the atomic archive proves it.

SHARMINI PERIES: He gave this speech just after Israel’s military bombardment of Iran-supported Syrian military installations, reportedly killing 11 Iranians, an unknown number of Syrians, while destroying 200 ground-to-ground missiles. Netanyahu’s attempt to present what he called evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program was obviously coordinated with the U.S., and Donald Trump complied accordingly.

DONALD TRUMP: What Israel has done today with the news conference, and Prime Minister Netanyahu just gave a very, I don’t know i f everybody’s seen it, but I got to see a little bit of it. And that is just not an acceptable situation. And I’ve been saying that’s happening. They’re not sitting back idly, they’re setting off missiles, which they say are for television purposes. I don’t think so. So we’ll see what happens. I’m not telling you what I’m doing, but a lot of people think they know.

SHARMINI PERIES: These escalation tactics are coming from Israel at a time when Donald Trump is expected to render a decision on if the U.S. will continue to waive the sanctions against Iran on May 12. In response to the Netanyahu talk, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Atomic Energy Agency, known as the IAEA, the body that is in place to monitor Iran’s compliance with the NPT and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the GCPOA, which is the agreement that often people refer to as the Iran nuclear agreement. Now, in relation to Netanyahu ‘ s talk, the agency issued a statement saying that the agency had no credible indication of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009, and it said that it is based on the director general’s report, and that the board of governors declared that its consideration of this issue was now closed. Now, the IAEA said this all in response to what Netanyahu said in that speech about having evidence of a nuclear weapons program. So we know all of this is now hogwash.

So now the issue is that do these claims of Netanyahu of a secret weapons program in Iran have any merits? To discuss this I’m joined by Robert Kelley. He’s 35-year veteran in nuclear science. He spent years working on this issue for the U.S. Department of Energy nuclear weapons complex, most recently at Los Alamos , and managed a centrifuge and plutonium program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and later was the director of the Department of Energy Remote Sensing Laboratory, which is premier U.S. nuclear energy response organization. He’s also been seconded by the USDOT to the IAEA, where he’s served twice as director of the nuclear inspections program, once in 1992 and then in 2001. Now, Kelly is currently affiliated with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden. And I say all of this because I want you to know how credible he is when he is making the declarations that he is doing today in relation to what Netanyahu said. Robert, I thank you for joining us today.

ROBERT KELLEY: Good evening.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Robert, these 55000 pages and CD files that Netanyahu revealed as proof of Iranian nuclear weapons program, what are their merits?

ROBERT KELLEY: Things that first come across as being relevant are dealing with forgeries and dealing with information that was fed to us by people who had an agenda. A well known example is when the United States claimed that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from the country of Niger back in 2002. And we eventually got our hands on the documents that were the basis for that, and they were just amazing forgeries. They’re typical of what we see in this cache from Netanyahu yesterday, in that you can have an awful lot of genuine information that you pump onto people, and then you solved a few little things inside of it that are the forgeries. And that’s what we saw in the Niger case. There were lots of things, there were airline reservations, plans for meeting schedules, all kinds of things that were genuine.

But in addition to that, we had a few documents in there that said we, the Nigerians, want to sell you uranium, and send your ambassador down here and the ambassador can buy uranium for us. The things in those documents were odd, like dates were whited out and changed, and that kind of thing. So we got pretty used to looking at forgeries. I think in this case we may see again that someone has dumped 50000 pages of information, for example, and they’re just hoping that someone will go through it and find a few things in there that were put in there for them to find that will make it look genuine.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Robert, one curious thing here is that Netanyahu did not mention the Arak reactor, which could have provided as provided as more evidence to make the claims that he was trying to make, but he didn’t mention it. Why?

ROBERT KELLEY: He talked about the things that were required for a nuclear program. He mentioned centrifuges for uranium enrichment, missiles, and something else, I forget what it was. But he left out the plutonium route altogether. Which is interesting, because obviously, if you look at satellite imagery, you have concrete evidence. And I call it concrete evidence because you see them not pouring concrete, showing that the Iranians themselves had lost interest in that reactor as far back as 2004. So what you’re seeing there is that Netanyahu doesn’t mention it because it’s really not an issue anymore. And by not mentioning it I think he’s being quite dishonest in dropping an issue that’s been before the public in the past.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Give us some further details as to the kinds of statements or claims that Netanyahu made in that speech that you could either concur with or refute.

ROBERT KELLEY: I thought many of the things that he presented were very childish. I would think that a country like Israel that has its own nuclear weapons, and has scientists who must be pretty competent, would be able to look at the information we were shown and say right away, this is garbage. He presented very early in the presentation drawing which was supposed to be an illustration of a nuclear device. And you look at that drawing, it’s a cartoon. It’s a joke. You look at it and the dimensions, the relative dimensions, because nothing is actually marked clearly, are impossible. That thing wouldn’t work. And so the first thing you see is he’s using a cartoon.

I’ve went on the Internet this afternoon and dredged up half a dozen cartoons in ten minutes. There was far better quality than what he presented. He presents something that is actually a critical assembly machine, which is a common device used in many nuclear programs. They don’t say what it is, but it’s this picture of some colorful spheres being pushed together and taken apart in a little sequence. They have a little animated sequence. It’s very obvious that is a critical assembly machine, and they’ve been in use in the United States since 1946. I even found some pictures on the Internet of one in South Korea showing hemishells, as well. So you look at this and you see it’s completely amateurish, completely childish, and trying to make something very important out of something that’s not important at all.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Robert, Netanyahu’s own military leaders and the U.S. military leaders are both there telling their leaders that Iran is actually in compliance with the GCOP. And yet Netanyahu wants to destroy the very thing that is in place for Israel’s safety, and that is this agreement. Why is Netanyahu trying to urge the U.S. and others to withdraw from this agreement?

ROBERT KELLEY: Iran is completely in compliance with the agreement. That’s been stated by so many people. The IAEA, the U.S. government, the secretary of defense, many of the people in the Israeli intelligence and military. Everyone says that Iran is in compliance. So it’s a total and complete lie that they’re not. What is being said, and what Netanyahu said over and over again, is Iran used to have a nuclear weapons program. Great. Everybody who’s ever analyzed the problem agrees, if you were a serious analyst, and you’re not just just playing around as armchair analysts as we see in Washington. But if you look at its program, and according to the U.S. and according to concrete evidence like satellite imagery, they gave it up pretty much in 2003-2004. And so what he is saying is Iran has lied about their past activities, and therefore can’t be trusted. But that’s completely separate from the idea that they have a JCPOA and they’re following it.

I never thought I would see the day when Benjamin Netanyahu was the strongest advocate for the JCP OA. Because if you summarize what it is he said yesterday in his series of childish lie,s what he’s saying is Iran lied in the past, and they had a program. And those of us like me say, yeah, we know that. We know that. That means they have the knowledge, they have paperwork, they have some drawings, even if they’re cartoons. I think they went further. So yeah, they have the knowledge.

So what is keeping Iran from building a nuclear weapon? It’s a JCPOA . It’s the lack of access to nuclear materials, which the JCP O A very correctly and totally stops them from doing, with strong verification methods. And the JCPOA is the one thing standing between Iran and this goal Netanyahu is so worried about. So he and Trump should be the strongest supporters of keeping the JCP O A alive and healthy.

SHARMINI PERIES: And finally, Robert, Netanyahu’s reference to the final report of the IAEA. What did Netanyahu say, and what did you think of what he said?

ROBERT KELLEY: Well I think what he said is, that it was a really cheap shot. The IAEA was given some very bogus information back in 2011, most of which Netanyahu repeated yesterday. It was about [name inaudible] being the head of the program, the Amak program. All of that stuff was very well known and was communicated to the IAEA in the late June 2000 period, even before 2011. Even Olli Heinonen has made comments to the effect that he’s seen this stuff before. So you’ve got a situation where he’s repeating very old information that has been discredited.

When IAEA got that information, they published in 2011 a series of rather strong accusations against Iran. In 2015, they published their final report on the topic, the one he refers to. And what did they say in that report? He said very clearly, we’ve just spent four or five years checking all of these things, and we can’t prove a single one. So you’ve got the IAEA, who got bogus information from Israel and the United States. That’s in the preface to the 2011 report. And then they’re saying five years later none of that was true. So for Netanyahu to bring that up again I think it is actually kind of funny, because he said, we gave them bad information and they dug into it and couldn’t find anything to it.

That does, of course, lead to the issue of who’s doing the lying. And yeah, I think Iran has decided they’re not going to admit to a passport deal. That’s their business. That’s fine. Israel is not going to admit to a current program or any of the things that they’ve done in the past. That’s fine, that’s their business. They didn’t want to sign the nonproliferation treaty. So let it go. And the IAEA has lied on a number of occasions to Iran. So if you were going to start painting people with a brush that says, you know, somebody is lying and therefore we can’t trust anything they’ve said in the past, I don’t trust Israel, I don’t trust the IAEA, and obviously, in the case of Iran, I’ve said I think they had a program and they’ve lied about it. That’s where I stand today.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Robert I know you are a scientist, and not a political scientist. However, all of this raises the question, why Israel doesn’t want the Iran nuclear agreement intact, holding them accountable to its compliance? One would think that would provide the security that Israel is looking for. And in spite of what you just said, which is that Iran is actually a nuclear weapons-power ed country, they don’t want their neighbors to have it. And this is the only agreement that we have to ensure the safety of Israel. But Netanyahu is conducting himself as if it is a threat. Why are they doing that?

ROBERT KELLEY: Well, thank you for making the distinction that I’m a nuclear engineer who used to build bombs and who has analyzed nuclear programs for the last 30 years. I’m not a political scientist. When I look at it, what I see is that there are people in the U.S. government and in the Israeli government who I think really want to have a war with Iran. They think that they will be better off destroying that country’s capabilities, and any excuse to get into a war with them is a good thing. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a war with Iran. I think we learned our lesson, or should have learned our lesson, by disrupting Iraq and the whole Middle East. If we have a war with Iran a lot more people are going to die for not very good reasons. And I think the net result of this will be very clear in 20-30 years that it was another stupid mistake on the, actually on a larger scale than what George Bush did when he invaded Iraq in 2003.

I think they want a war. I think they’re pushing for war, they’re looking for an excuse to war, they’re looking for provocation. And they can provoke Iran by removing sanctions that they, reinstating sanctions that the U.S. and others have agreed to. Breaking out of the agreement is not breaking out of the U.N. Security Council resolution authored by the U.S. and approved by the UNSC. It’s a U.S. Congress requirement that the president has to certify these release of sanctions. So he’s pandering to the Republican Congress, not to the agreement himself. He’s not talking about pulling out an agreement. He’s talking about using congressional power to punish Iran. And Iran is going to have to respond.

SHARMINI PERIES: And then how do you think they will respond?

ROBERT KELLEY: That’s a really hard question. But given the circumstances that we’re dealing with here, it’s all about a nuclear program, right. And they’re not going to go back and reinstitute the plutonium reactor, because they’ve already given up on that. They poured concrete in the old vessel and destroyed it, and made it a non-route. But there are an awful lot of centrifuges in Iran that they could take out of storage that right now the IAEA is maintaining that they’re not being used. They could take those out, set them back up again, and start enriching uranium just to stick their finger in Trump’s eye. And that’s the sort of thing you expect in a schoolyard fight when you have the mature parties calling each other names and doing things. I would expect that they’re going to have to go back and say, you say we can enrich uranium, we’re going to enrich uranium. Whether they need it or not, they’re going to start doing it just to show that you can’t can’t make fools of us.

If you look at what Iran gave up in the end the JCPOA, they give up everything except face. They got rid of all kinds of capability, and they gave it up rather willingly. And they just save face by keeping a few centrifuges and saying we have the right to do this, but we’re not going to do anything with them for at least 10 years. That was saving face, it wasn’t actually trying to keep a program alive.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Robert. I thank you so much for joining us at such a late hour for you.

ROBERT KELLEY: Nice to be with you again. And let’s hope this goes somewhere. Again, I just like to point out, I’m so glad that Netanyahu has made the case that the JCPOA is essential, and vital, and good.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us. And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Robert Kelley is a licensed nuclear engineer who has worked on many aspects of nuclear weapons and later on nuclear nonproliferation. His personal experiences include weapons simulation testing, plutonium metallurgy, isotope separation and emergency response. These experiences were extremely useful in carrying out intelligence analyses of foreign countries and lead to field experience as a chief inspector in Iraq nuclear weapons inspections and elsewhere. He is currently affiliated with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden and several other nonproliferation organizations.