IAEA Report Finds Many Allegations on Iran’s Nuclear History Are Baseless
Robert Kelley says the IAEA had failed to adequately investigate charges that were made in the past by U.S. and Israel against Iran in order to derail negotiations
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
In a report released last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also known as the IAEA, drew several important conclusions, but also left out or remained vague and silent about some important allegations that Iran had to counter in the past twelve years of negotiations over its nuclear program. For example, in this report the IAEA finds no indication that there were any undeclared fuel cycles in Iran, or that Iran held significant amounts of undeclared uranium, which are all required to build a nuclear weapon. These are all important considerations, since Iran was actually charged with building a nuclear weapon in defiance of having signed the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
You may recall that these were some of the painful negotiation points and issues that previously IAEA had referred to, and that made Iran’s nuclear talks rather cumbersome over the last ten years. We will take up these issues and much more about the newly released report with our next guest, Robert Kelley. Robert is a former nuclear weapons analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a former director of the IAEA. Robert, thank you so much for joining us today.
ROBERT KELLEY: Good evening.
PERIES: So Robert, before we get into what’s in the report, can you contextualize by telling us more about why the IAEA conducted this report, and under whose request? And why is it coming out now, when most of the world thinks that this issue has been put to rest back in July?
KELLEY: The reason they took this on is that anonymous sources in member states fed the IAEA a lot of information that supposedly came from some computer information about the year 2003. Certainly the information they were given mostly cuts off in 2003. And that information, if it were genuine, would suggest that Iran was working on a nuclear bomb. There’s no way to know if the information’s genuine. We really don’t know what the sources are. And the IAEA has not been allowed to look at the original sources. They reported some of the problems the IAEA was having with Iran to the UN Security Council, and the Security Council asked the IAEA to take on some more in-depth investigations of the Iranian nuclear program, which is large and overt, and apparently only peaceful. But IAEA decided to dig in and see if there were any non-peaceful parts of it.
And because IAEA was excluded from this process in Geneva and Vienna over the last couple of years, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is about nuclear materials, they kind of made up this PMD thing on their own, as their own little [inaud.].
PERIES: So then let’s get into the report. What is in this report that’s new, that we didn’t know from previous IAEA reports?
KELLEY: Well, surprisingly, there’s almost nothing new. This report uses the same words and phrases in pretty much the same order as the report that IAEA released in 2011. The report in 2011 was pretty badly flawed. And so what’s surprising is to see that they’re making pretty much the same allegations, and not correcting anything. We’re repeating what we said in 2011. I would have thought after four years they would have done analysis, we might have had some new issues and they might have had some answers. But the report is surprisingly flat.
PERIES: So what stands out for you in terms of what they had not addressed or left out?
KELLEY: Well, for example, they–they’ve made a huge deal about an Iranian site called Parchin, which is a huge military factory that makes all sorts of conventional arms, be it bullets, bombs, missiles, and things like that. And there have been some allegations that there was nuclear work, [inaud.] work, going on in Parchin.
Actually, there’s no proof of that. And what is there is pretty, pretty soft. There is a report, a book that was written by a Russian scientist, who was under contract to Iran for a period. He said, I want to build a chamber that’s absolutely enormous, and it’s, it’s one of my future goals. And he was working on that in 1999 and 2000. The agency has somehow decided that that was actually built in Iran in 2000, which is incredible given the size of this thing. It’s much larger than a London double-decker bus. And enclosed in a 700-ton block of concrete. Somehow IAEA thinks that was built in a few weeks, or a few months, and covered up by a building without anybody noticing it.
Now, in 2011 they told us they had pictures of something that they thought was consistent with that, and what they did was parse it very carefully to not say that they’d seen this amazing large object. And what I find stunning about the latest report is they use exactly the same words. Well, we think there’s something that’s consistent with–and yet they, they waited four years to [find] another satellite image in the same period, and they also said, well, this one doesn’t show anything, either. The final thing is of course the director general of the IAEA went to this site with his deputy back in September. They went into the building. And there’s nothing of interest there, including a 700-ton block of concrete the size of a two-story house.
So you’d kind of think after four years they would have gotten the idea this thing doesn’t exist. They didn’t show any initiative, for example, the factory where this enormous container was supposedly built has been identified in the press. They don’t say they went there. They won’t say they checked [inaud.] factor. They didn’t do any of the timelines or engineering analysis to say, how would you build this thing? So they’re remarkably devoid of any initiative or any [inaud.].
PERIES: Now, Robert, is there–I know you were referring to some satellite photos indicating that big huge cement block is in there. But isn’t one of the issues really you have to see what’s underground? Because if you go to some of these locations you are referring to, they are just mountains of dirt in some areas which look, you know, there are mountains, and we don’t actually know what’s underneath there.
KELLEY: Well, in this case that’s not a problem because it’s supposed to be in a building that’s [like] a two-story building, and there is even a cartoon that’s been published, supposedly, by an eyewitness. It’s a cartoon. It’s not a photograph. Showing this thing on the ground floor, on the [inaud.] floor, first-level floor, I should say. And so I don’t think there’s any reason to think this thing is underground. That’s not part of, part of what we know.
PERIES: Right. And did the IAEA finally go to Marivan, which was the site visit that was very contentious during the negotiations?
KELLEY: Well, they don’t report it in the reports. So you’d think that if they had they’d want to say it. Because if they went there and found something that would be vital, and if they didn’t go there they have a lot of explaining to do. Because they claimed that the most significant experiment that Iran is accused of doing was done at Marivan. It’s an experiment using high explosives, hemispherical shapes, [street] cameras and fiber optics. It’s described in great detail in the 2011 report. They refer to it again in the 2015 report. And then they just kind of blow it off. And they say the only thing we learned is the first time, we said it was in the vicinity of Marivan. Now we know it was done in Marivan.
PERIES: And this site is very important because they are accused of using this cite for a mockup nuclear weapons experiment. Is that right?
KELLEY: Exactly. And in the first report, IAEA says this is the report, this is the experiment they did, which is the most significant claim the IAEA makes. And it was done in the vicinity of Marivan.
Now, once they accused Iran of this, you know what Iran said? We’ll take you there. We’ll take you to Marivan. And they offered three times to take the IAEA to Marivan, including just recently. And IAEA kept saying, well, we don’t really want to go there. Well, I think what this really tells you is that IAEA had figured out by that time that this intelligence information from an anonymous source they’d received was garbage. And so there was no point in going to a place where they knew they weren’t going to find anything.
So it would have been much more honest in this latest report to say, look, we didn’t go there. They offered to take us there. We didn’t go because we knew the information was garbage. We’re sorry we accused them in the first place. But they didn’t do that.
PERIES: And so, and the other controversial point here is also the exploding of bridgewire detonators. Tell us why that is significant, and what the report says or does not say about it.
KELLEY: Bridgewire detonators are very special detonators for detonating high explosives that are timed very precisely. They can be timed very precisely. And if you’re building a nuclear weapon you’d only use exploding bridgewire detonators. The problem is that when the IAEA wrote their first report, they said, we know Iran is working on exploding bridgewire detonators. You call them EDW. And this is a clear indication they were working on nuclear weapons, because there are very few other uses for them.
Well, that was wrong. They just had stupid people advising them, because these things are used by the millions in other military and commercial applications. I was looking just today at a company in the U.S. that manufactures about 20 different kinds of EDWs, and has been doing it for over 30 years. In fact, it was closer to 50. So when the IAEA comes out and says they don’t have any other uses, that’s wrong.
In the latest report, they don’t bother to say we were wrong in the first report. They say, well, we acknowledge that there’s a growing market for these things. The market’s been growing since .
PERIES: Now, Robert, what impact will all of this, and particularly this report, have on the director general that is responsible for doing this report?
KELLEY: Well, I think one of the things that will come out of it is the director general had to come up with these so-called subsidiary arrangements with Iran which were secret. He couldn’t tell anybody what it was he’d agreed to do. And so that’s, that’s not uncommon in those agreements, [which are] normally kept private. You would think that in this case IAEA and Iran could have easily [inaud.] public. But what happened here is that they made these arrangements, and we don’t know what they are. So we don’t know who took samples in Iran, we don’t know under what circumstances. We don’t know how they were observed. And there’ve been a lot of allegations, albeit they’re speculation from different sources, that IAEA wasn’t even present when the samples were taken.
The other thing is that the IAEA apparently took samples at Parchin that are supposed to be looking for traces of radioactive material, specifically uranium. But they stated in the board report that they used those samples to look for traces of explosives, as well. In any other state that would have been a violation of confidentiality to use a sample for radiation to look for chemical samples. So I think it would be behooven for Iran and the IAEA to say, yes, we knew they were going to use these samples for purposes other than radiation. And we agreed in advance that they could look for explosives and other things.
But [inaud.], well, if–if the Republican Congress decides to cut off funding to the IAEA because you won’t make these, these site arrangements public, and this particular event continues to be of concern, I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to get a third term as director general.
PERIES: And Robert, from your experience at all of this, where are most of the information coming to the IAEA from in terms of some of these allegations against Iran?
KELLEY: Well, the IAEA states its sources over and over again in the report. And it usually says a member state informed. A member state told. A member state provided information. But the name of member states who provide that kind of information are Israel and the US. And that’s no secret. Both those states agreed to it. In fact, in his memoirs, the previous director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, says Israel gave me the following information and told me I could use it with Iranians. So nobody’s hiding it. He wasn’t telling anything out of school.
The problem being that he could not authenticate the information. He couldn’t tell where it came from. It was supposedly a report that they re-typed by someone. There was just no way of determining its validity. And for most of the information they have there’s no way of determining the authenticity.
PERIES: So an enormous amount of capital, resources, and energy are used in trying to counter and defuse some of the information that is coming from Israel and U.S., the main funder of the IAEA, and can flex its muscles in terms of its funding, what they can and they cannot do.
KELLEY: Well, I was in the IAEA on two occasions, with him in 1995. I was an employee at that time. And then again in 2002 in [inaud.]. And we received a lot of forged documents and misinformation that we spent a lot of time trying to make sure that we knew what the information was, what the source of the information was, and whether we would trust it. Often when we followed up on things, even when we didn’t think it was very credible, but we learned how to spot forgeries and things like that. In the latest IAEA report, they don’t [divulge] a single line saying this is what we did to validate the information independently of these states that are giving it to us [procure] [inaud.].
PERIES: Very telling. Robert Kelley, I thank you so much for joining us today.
KELLEY: Very nice to be with you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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