Iran’s Intent is the Real Issue, Says Former IAEA Inspector
Robert Kelley says the number of centrifuges or the amount of uranium Iran may have is not what matters; there is evidence, however, that the U.S. has forged documents
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
In advance of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next week, where he’s expected to attack the U.S.-Iranian potential deal on Iran’s nuclear program, Associated Press reports from Iranian and American sources the basic shape of what a deal might look like. According to AP, the deal would restrict Tehran’s nuclear activities for at least ten years, at which time the constraints would be slowly lifted. Iran would also be forced to ship out most of the enriched uranium produced or change it to a form that would be difficult to convert for weapons use. That means uranium that’s already been enriched in Iran. U.S. would ease economic sanctions against Iran and gradually ease restrictions on its uranium enrichment after the ten years, assuming, according to the AP report, Iran has lived up to its side of the agreement.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency would have responsibility for monitoring the program. And according to the AP, experts say already Iran can produce the equivalent of one weapon’s worth of enriched uranium with its present operating 10,000 centrifuges. Of course, as we’ve reported on The Real News prior to this, there’s absolutely no evidence that they actually are planning to produce any nuclear weapons.
Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise with the U.S., trying to restrict them to Iran’s mainstay IR1 model, instead of a more advanced machine. However, Iran’s supreme leader has said Iran needed to increase its output equivalent to at least 190,000 of its present-day centrifuges in order to meet its domestic energy and medical requirements.
Under a possible agreement, Iran would also be forced to ship out most of the enriched uranium it has already produced or change it to a form that would be difficult to convert for weapons use. It takes about one ton of low-enriched uranium to produce into a nuclear weapon. An official said that Tehran could be restricted to an enriched stockpile of no more than about 700 pounds.
In response to all of this, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu have already said the outlines of this deal represents a great danger to the Western world and said it will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state.
Well, now joining us to discuss all of this Europe is Robert Kelley. Bob is a former nuclear weapons analyst at Los Alamos and a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He’s now an associate senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Thanks very much for joining us again, Bob.
ROBERT KELLEY, FORMER NUCLEAR WEAPONS ANALYST, LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY: Good evening, Paul.
JAY: So, what do you make of Israel has already come out and started to attack this, the outlines of the deal? Now, I must say that Secretary of State Kerry has said people don’t actually know what the full deal is, this is–AP has reported this; it’s not clear even in the AP report where they’re getting this from. So it’s looks like sort of trial balloons being floated by both the Americans and Iranians. But assuming the deal is more or less as AP is reporting, what do you think of Israel’s reaction to this, that this deal will allow Iran to be a nuclear threshold state?
KELLEY: Well, I think it was completely predictable. Israel was going to complain no matter what they decided. What we see is that if you go back to George W. Bush, Bush 43, they made the decision even at that time that giving Iran no enrichment capability was a nonstarter. So, since then it’s just been a question of what the numbers would be. What you see now is Kerry and his counterparts are two guys in a suit arguing over the price of the carpet, and eventually they’ll come to some numbers that they can both agree to, and go home happy. These numbers are really quite meaningless. We hear them expressed as numbers of centrifuges without the period of time for them to be used. It’s just the politicians playing the numbers. They will come up with a number, and Israel would object, whatever that number is.
JAY: And why do you say the numbers are meaningless? In the sense that they’re saying you need so much money to make a bomb–I mean, not money–so much uranium to make a bomb, and they’re going to limit that? I mean, if this is the deal, does this limit Iran’s ability to quickly make a bomb?
KELLEY: Sure it does. I mean, we’re talking about numbers where someone says, well, they’ll make enough material in one year to make one bomb. Then someone else says, well, let’s change it so it’s enough material in two years to make one bomb. Well, one bomb doesn’t make a stockpile. You’re going to need ten bombs or something like that to even be considered a nuclear power, or you’ll just be a nuclear target if you have one bomb. So the whole thing is really arguing about angels on the head of a pin. This is not a mature technical argument. This is a purely political one.
JAY: Netanyahu’s going to say to Congress that this deal doesn’t prevent a nuclear weaponized Iran. Is he wrong about that?
KELLEY: Well, look, this is a Likud political campaign speech being given in Washington, D.C. So he’s going to speak to the people who want the red meat and tell them what they want to hear. But [incompr.] a lot of other thinking people out there say, is this really the case? I don’t. I don’t see that the threshold state thing has any value whatsoever. It’s an undefined term. We don’t really know what a nuclear threshold state is. It’s in the eye of the beholder.
And so, clearly Iran has mastered many technologies in the uranium-handling and enrichment areas, such that if they wanted to go ahead, they probably could do it. That would make them a threshold state. We can name any number of other states in the world with the same level of technology and expertise. It’s the intent that you have to worry about. We don’t see intent to this case.
JAY: Yeah. That’s my follow-up question: is there any evidence of intent?
KELLEY: Well, certainly not from where I’m sitting, but I’m not a political scientist. Netanyahu sees intent. He’s been predicting since 1993 whether Iran will have a nuclear weapon in a couple of years. And if he lives to 100, he may be right. So this goes on and on. But intent? It isn’t at all clear that there’s intent there. We’ve talked to the political scientists and [the carry’s on this (?)].
JAY: Well, to prove intent, a lot has to do with supposed documents that had been found and computers and such. And some people have accused some of these documents of not being real. I mean, a lot of that is part of the Israeli case about intent. What do you make of the documents that supposedly exist that show that Iran actually has a weapons program?
KELLEY: Well, we have been hearing about those documents for something on the order of–certainly for three years, and maybe as long as five. The documents have never been produced. We don’t see what’s in them. We don’t see where they came from. But now, in the recent court case in Virginia last month, the United States declassified the fact that we were forging documents to give to Iran. So they say they were forging the documents to try to impede in the Iranian nuclear program. They may have also been forging them so that they could be found in Iran, so that they could point to them and say, look, here are documents that we forged, we gave to you, and now we’ve found them.
So now you’re in a position where any document that’s been given to the IAEA to say that there’s intent in Iran, you really have to go back and say, where did these documents come from, and are they part of the forgeries? I think [in] the last IAEA board report we see this.
There are two things that the IAEA board report left out last week. And one of them was Iran came back and said, look, here are many details of why the documents that you’re harassing us with are forgeries. And they came up with many linguistic and locations and dates and things like that. Well, the IAEA didn’t even mention in their board report that Iran has responded to this particular issue. That’s really very dishonest. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. The whole truth is very important.
The other thing is that Iran offered to take the IAEA to one of the sites that they want to see. And IAEA turn it down, which suggests to me that IAEA has figured out they are receiving forged [documentation (?)].
JAY: So the IAEA turns it down because they don’t want people to know that there’s nothing there, or because they don’t think they need to go there anymore, because they think they have forgeries?
KELLEY: The IAEA has these two issues outstanding with Iran in the possible military dimension area, and one of them is where did they carry out these very large high-explosive experiments that could be used for a nuclear weapon. That’s one of the two things. And in the last board report, they say that Iran has not provided the answers to that question. But Iran offered to take them to the place were IAEA says it was done. That suggests to me that IAEA either has had serious doubts about [incompr.] that they were given, or that they have figured out that there is actually no such location. If you look at the satellite imagery of the area that’s in question, there’s nothing obvious there.
JAY: So, just to sum up, we go back to this question of intent, ’cause you’re saying whether it’s this many centrifuges or that many centrifuges is not the really substance of the issue. The real issue: is there any evidence of intent to have a nuclear weapons program or actually evidence that there is a nuclear weapons program? And looking–and you’ve been an inspector, and you’re essentially a scientist, not a political analyst. So from the point of view of science, do we have evidence that there is an actual program to make a nuclear weapon?
KELLEY: Okay. You have the Central Intelligence Agency in the U.S. saying there was such a program until 2003, and I see many, many indications of the old day that that very well was likely, that that was the truth. But Iran for some reason does not feel that they are able to go back and admit that. So I fault Iran for not coming clean on what they did before 2003. But since 2003, I don’t think there’s any evidence that has been put on the table that is credible. And now, with this admission that the U.S. was forging documents themselves in the 1998 timeframe, I think all bets are off.
JAY: Bob, just one more question. IAEA is inspecting now. Under this new agreement, they will continue to have their rights to inspect, and perhaps even somewhat expanded. Given this kind of inspection, can Iran create a nuclear weapon without the IAEA knowing about it?
KELLEY: The way you phrased the question, the answer’s no. If IAEA is given the kind of access that they have now, they will spot any kind of a change in Iran’s behavior in all of their declared activities almost immediately. I would say the way things are set up now, they could detect within a few days. So if Iran does not have some secret hidden program that duplicates every bit of what we do know about somewhere, there’s no problem. IAEA’s doing an excellent job of inspecting the nuclear materials programs. They have all the access they need. They’re going to all of the places where the nuclear materials activities are being carried out. The argument that they can’t go to important sites is not true. They are going every place that they have the right to go, and they’re doing a great job, and they should get a pat on the back for doing a dirty, unpleasant job right now [incompr.] politicians [incompr.]
JAY: And, I mean, I guess anything’s possible, but is it likely they could have such a secret program and the IAEA would have no idea they had such a thing?
KELLEY: The IAEA’s not an intelligence agency. They’re not looking for a secret program. They don’t have the tools to find a secret program. That’s the job of intelligence agencies like the CIA or an MI5 or whoever. So what you’re dealing with there is the IAEA does an excellent job in keeping track of the things they’ve been asked to keep track of. And of all of the things that are in this deal that’s being worked out in Geneva are in the bag of things that the IAEA knows about and is working on. They will do an excellent job.
JAY: And the American intelligence agencies have never said there is such a secret program. In fact, quite the opposite. They at least to date have said there isn’t such a thing.
KELLEY: Publicly, the Americans said that they thought the program stopped around 2003, which is consistent with a lot of other things we know.
As I say, I think Iran had something going before 2003. They should have. Saddam Hussein was knocking on their door with the same problem. But as of 2003, it appears that they dropped off. And the American intelligence agency is not telling us it’s restarted or it’s a threat. So that’s why so much of this argument coming out that Iran is a threshold state and all is a bit specious, because weapons program doesn’t seem to be there.
JAY: Alright. Alright. Thanks very much for much for joining us, Bob.
KELLEY: You’re most welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.