Tuesday, March 9, 2010

UN atomic boss feels the heat

By Anoush Maleki

The new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general, Yukiya Amano, is stealing the spotlight with his dangerous approach to Iran.

The veteran diplomat, who took control of the UN nuclear agency after the 12-year reign of Egypt's Mohamed ElBaradei, inherited one of the most chaotic eras in the agency's history — including the weak global security system meant to reduce nuclear weapons around the globe, while those non-members conducting nuclear programs — such as Israel whose nuclear arsenal of 200 to 300 warheads precedes the regime's reputation and its belligerent actions in the volatile Middle East — continue to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The IAEA was founded 52 years ago for two primary objectives: to provide a sound basis for the global development of civilian nuclear programs and to prevent the development and spread of nuclear weapons.

The agency, which consists of some 2,200 professional staff members from more than 90 nations, has dispatched teams of inspectors around the globe to monitor and find government that are breaking their commitments to the NPT.

Upon taking the reins at the IAEA in December, Mr. Amano, who comes from the only nation struck with nuclear arms, befittingly pledged to fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to promote and regulate the civilian nuclear industry.

Mr. Amano, however, spared no time to divert the agency's full attention toward Iran and the long lasting dispute over its nuclear energy program, which the world powers allege is a cover for developing and spreading atomic bombs.

His first report on Iran, released on February 18, claimed that the UN agency had "concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities" that could enable the Iranian military to develop a working nuclear bomb.

The agency, Mr. Amano said, will now seek to discuss with Iran projects "involving high precision detonators fired simultaneously; studies on the initiation of high explosives and missile re-entry body engineering; a project for the conversion of UO2 to UF4, known as 'the green salt project'; and various procurement related activities."

Iran, however, says it is not willing to discuss the alleged activities unless it is provided with the original documents that have allowed the agency to link the country's conventional military projects with its civilian nuclear program.

It also reserves the right not to share the information demanded by the IAEA, arguing that any country is entitled to keep its military secrets.

Nonetheless, Mr. Amano, who enjoys the full support of the United States and its allies, ignored the history of the nuclear dispute. And he even went on to contradict an American intelligence estimate in 2007 that claimed Iran had not conducted weapons-related activities beyond 2003.

"Addressing these issues is important for clarifying the agency's concerns about these activities and those described above, which seem to have continued beyond 2004," he said in the report.

In 2003, Iran announced its voluntarily suspension of uranium enrichment, which it is entitled to under the NPT, and reprocessing activities. The next year, the Iranian Parliament, Majlis, extended the confidence building measure while UN inspections at Iran's nuclear installations forced the then IAEA director general, Mr. ElBaradei, to declare in November 2003 that there was "no evidence" Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.

His assurance was ignored by the powers, who responded to Iran's decision to sign the Additional Protocol by the imposition of United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions.

The accusations continued under Mr. ElBaradei, while the IAEA continued to verify the non-diversion of Iran's civilian program.

Mr. Amano, meanwhile, stepped into the spotlight by claiming that the "alleged studies" — branded by the ElBaradei administration — were "factual."

The unusual tone prompted Iran to accuse the Japanese diplomat of bowing to the White House pressure his predecessor had managed to fight for years.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on February 22 that judging on the report, Mr. Amano — who worked as director general for the disarmament, nonproliferation and science department at the Japanese Foreign Ministry — has proven to be an amateur in the new position and must receive on the job training, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

It is noteworthy that the IAEA report was released amid an effortless US campaign to win international support for penalizing Iran for its program and delays surrounding a nuclear fuel swap deal, which, if the West had shown flexibility, could have been a door opener for the struggling Obama administration on Iran.

Whether Mr. Amano wrote the report to lend an apparent hand to the White House and indoctrinate an international consensus against Iran remains to be uncovered but the report's immediate impact was likely to accelerate the confrontation between Iran and the Western countries.

Now, thanks to Mr. Amano, the dispute with no practical resolve in sight will continue to plague the ties between Iran and the United States.

The White House, under Congressional, Israeli and neo-con pressure, is fiercely pursuing a failure on Iran: Sanctions in the hopes of a breakthrough — not realizing, that even if China and Russia finally support such a measure, sanctions will not alter Iran's course of action.

The Japanese diplomat, meanwhile, needs to be briefed on the history of Iran and understand the beliefs and objectives of the Islamic Republic.

The IAEA chief needs to realize that when the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, issues a fatwa — an Islamic declaration that all Muslims are obliged to comply with — and forbids the building and spreading weapons of mass destruction, including atomic bombs, he means business.

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