NY Times again misrepresents

IAEA report on Iran

Cyrus Safdari

Iran Affairs, May 27, 2008


I finally got the May 2008 IAEA report on Iran and just as I guessed, the media have totally mischaracterized it, as usual.

As usual, the New York Times is the worst. According to the Times, the IAEA has accused Iran of a “willful lack of cooperation”  -- but the report contains no such accusation whatsoever. That's the Times' own editorial commentary, inserted as if it was news and falsely attributed to the IAEA. This is the second time that the NY Times has put words in the IAEA's mouth - previously the NY TImes falsely claimed that the IAEA had determined Iran's disclosures were "inadequate" and that Iran had missed a critical deadline -- neither assertion was true, as I have discussed before.

There are similar omissions and outright lies in this report.

For example, as evidence of what the NYTimes claims is the IAEA's supposed "frustration with Iran's lack of openess",  the article points out that IAEA has said that Iran's installation of new centrifuges were “significant, and as such should have been communicated to the agency.” The NY Times implies that Iran was caught doing something secret by the IAEA. 

Aha, but that's not what the IAEA report says.  In paragraph 11 of the report, the IAEA states that the Iran should have informed the IAEA of the centrifuge installation IF the "Subsidiary Arrangements" (which sets a 60-day notice period) was in force -- and paragraph 10 speccifically says that this subsidiary arrangement is not in force with respect to Iran. So, Iran did  inform the IAEA of the installation of the centrifuges, but just not within the full 60-day notice period specified in the Subsidiary Arrangements. (Iran had at one time voluntarily implemented these subsidiary arrangements when it had temporarily suspended enrichment under the terms of the Paris Agreement, but stopped doing so when it quite legally restarted its enrichment program after the EU-3 tried to cheat on the Paris Agreement by demanding that Iran turn its temporary suspension of enrichment into a permanent halt.)

 Furthermore, the NY Times totally fails to mention the last sentence in paragraph 11 which states that the IAEA was nevertheless able to monitor the newly-installed centrifuges, and all the necessary safeguards were in place before the centrifuges were put into use.

Next, according to the NY Times, Iran is using "more powerful centrifuges" too, and so "That means that the country may be producing enriched uranium — which can be used to make electricity or to produce bombs — faster than expected." 

Of course, the NY Times fails to mention that  according to paragraph 5 of the same IAEA report, the centrifuges are all operating under IAEA safeguards, "continue to be operated as declared", and have been the subject of 14 surprise visits -- and so there's nothing particularly "unexpected" about Iran's activities, nor can the centrifuges be used to make bombs since they"re under 24-hour monitoring by the IAEA.

The NY Times claims that the IAEA "was denied access to sites where centrifuge components were being manufactured and where research of uranium enrichment was being conducted." -- totally leaving out that according to paragraph 13 the same IAEA report, these were "transparency measures" which is the IAEA's way of referring to requests for inspections over and above what Iran is obligated to provide to the IAEA. Iran had a policy of allowing such transparency measures in the past but on an "ad hoc" basis, and is under no obligation to allow them at all since they exceed what the IAEA Safeguards Agreement require of Iran.

The NY Times says that according to ElBaradei himself, some components of Iran's nuclear program were "produced by Iran's military" suggesting that it means that Iran was making nukes for military use. Ooooh Sppooookyyy! But actually, in paragraph 14, the IAEA report says that some components of Iran's nuclear program may have been produced by "companies belonging to defence industries" which is hardly the same thing. After all, General Electric, a major US defense contractor, owns NBC studios too. Does that mean that NBC is owned by the US "military"? There's nothing particularly incriminating about a military company role, even if it is true. The defense industries in many countries are active in civilian industries -- the Chinese military makes washing machines, and Brazil's navy is a major driving source for their nuclear program.

The NY Times claims that Iran has "refused to provide documentation and access to its scientists to support its claims" that documents about "alleged studies" into nuclear weaponization were forgeries, and then the NY Times selectively quotes the report's conclusion that the outstanding matters "remain a matter of serious concern" in order to imply that Iran has failed to address these issues.

Actually, nowhere in the IAEA report does it say that Iran "refused" to provide documentation regarding the alleged studies. Quite the opposite, the IAEA report states that the Iranians have agreed to respond to the allegations and have provided detailed answers "which are being assessed by the Agency." (paragraph 15)  

Furthermore, the IAEA report list instances in which the Iranians did respond to the allegation as part of Iran's "overall assessment of documents presented to it." (paragraph 18) For example, the Iranians have pointed out that they had no need to develop a secret "green salt" project when they were already successfuly converting uranium (paragraph 19) There are other similar instances in the report.

But this is where things get really funny - and so it is too bad that the NY Times decided to leave it all out:

According to the report, the IAEA was in several cases not able to actually provide these same "alleged studies" documents to Iran, because the IAEA didn't even have the documents itself or was not "permitted" to share them with Iran. So, rather than Iran "failing" to provide documentation, it was the IAEA which failed to provide documentation. Iran was nevertheless expected to disprove allegations supposedly contained in documents that the IAEA itself didn't have or was not allowed to show to Iran.

For example, in paragraph 21, the IAEA report states: "Although the Agency had been shown the documents that led it to these conclusions, it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran." Also, in paragraph 16, the IAEA report states: "The Agency received much of this information only in electronic form and was not authorised to provide copies to Iran."

Other significant facts about the IAEA report that the NY Times sees fit not to print: that the IAEA doesn't have any nuclear weapons information (paragarph 24), Iran has continued to provide access to the IAEA inspectors and allowed inspections required by its safeguards agreement, and the IAEA has still found no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses (which legally means Iran is still in full compliance with the NPT) (paragraph 26) and that all of Iran's enrichment activities, reprocessing activities, uranium conversion and heavy water reactor construction programs continue to be operated under IAEA safeguards, exactly as they're supposed to be conducted.

So, there you have it - the reality of what the IAEA report says, versus what the NY Times misrepresented.