IAEA on Iran: A ‘Colossal Non-Event’ As Casus Belli

Flynt Leverett, professor of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University and Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, and his wife Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis, write of the IAEA report on Iran:

Ever since Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei stepped down as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late 2009, the United States and some of its allies have pushed Baradei’s successor, Yukiya Amano, to ratify Western arguments that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  Today, Amano authorized the release of an IAEA report, see here, purporting to do just that.

…But the report—arguably the most anticipated document of its kind since the NPT was first advanced in 1968—does not in any way demonstrate that Iran is “developing a nuclear weapon”.  Rather, it once again affirms, as the IAEA has for decades, Iran’s “non-diversion” of nuclear material.  In other words, even if the Islamic Republic wanted to build nuclear weapons (and Tehran continues to deny, at the highest levels of authority, that it wishes to do so) it does not have the weapons-grade material essential to the task.

Nevertheless, Amano chose to focus the report on unsubstantiated intelligence reports, provided almost entirely by the United States, Israel, and other Western governments, alleging that the Islamic Republic is working on a nuclear weapons program…

…There are many reasons to question virtually every detail in the IAEA’s accounting of the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.  But, more importantly, the stories do not indicate that Tehran is currently trying to produce nuclear weapons.  (And, remember, Iran does not have the weapons-grade fissile material needed to build a nuclear bomb.)  In fact, no one has ever produced a shred of evidence that Iran has ever actually tried to build a nuclear weapon or taken a decision to do so.  And that is why—notwithstanding the efforts of the Obama Administration, some allied governments, neoconservative and pro-Israel constituencies in Washington, and others to hype IAEA report to the maximum extent possible—the new IAEA report is, substantively, a colossal non-event.

…Even if every single point in the IAEA’s report were absolutely, 100 percent true, it would mean that Iran is working systematically to master the skills it would need to fabricate nuclear weapons at some hypothetical point down the road, should it ever decide to do so.  This is how we ourselves have long interpreted the strategic purposes of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program—to create perceptions on the part of potential adversaries that Tehran is capable of building nuclear weapons in a finite period of time, without actually building them.  As Baradei himself has pointed out, see here, having a “nuclear weapons capability” is not the same as having nuclear weapons.

Update: Flynt Leverett spoke to Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio on Tuesday just prior to the release of the IAEA. Listen here.

  • Ben C

    This just reinforces the need to bomb Iran… In fact, it just underscores the need to perpetually bomb and overthrow all incumbent regimes in the “Muslim world”… For example: if the totalitarian regime the US installed in the Middle East becomes wayward and is somehow determined to be a perceived ‘threat ‘ or just a potential ‘future threat’, to Israel…sanction, bomb, and overthrow. If "democracy" doesn't produce something to the US and/or Israel's liking…sanction, bomb, and overthrow. Perceived threat to the West’s petroleum interests?….sanction, bomb, overthrow. The US, Israel, and/or Western Europe just ‘feels like it’, not necessarily for rational self-interested reasons, but out of sheer boredom?…sanction, bomb, overthrow. With nuanced variations, this essentially works the same amd can/argueable should be virtually everywhere throut the Middle East. This is common knowledge folks, what else are we supposed to do?

  • Ben C

    I like to refer the interim period in-between regimes—the time where a “Western” approved and/or controlled “interim” government is established while the nation is in chaos and grapples with the rape and ruin of their land and infrastructure—as the: “Eye of the Arab Storm”…that romantic chaotic time after the old regime is ousted and before the new “permanent” regime is ushered in by the West…which will, in time, will inevitably lead to another round of ‘sanction, bomb and overthrow’ in the distant (or not so distant) future.

  • Neo-cons across the US just shouted "crap!"

  • Ben C

    Neo-cons across the US were tabling and discussing plans to develop and drop "mini-nukes" on Iran 4 or 5 years ago…so I'm not sure how this report is even relevant to them…other than another document they will misrepresent and use as propaganda.

  • liberal

    It's still not clear to me that, even were the allegations true, Iran would be violating the NPT. Anyone have any firm evidence one way or another?

    • liberal

      OK, in the cited blog post by Leverett, he continues with "The emphasis is on 'manufacture' and 'acquisition'. The Treaty prohibits the building of actual weapons. It does not prohibit signatories from studying nuclear weapons designs, or researching neutron initiators, or even conducting experiments on high-explosives of the sort that could be used in a bomb."

      Again, it's too bad Prather is retired. That's a real loss.

  • andy

    as long as the perception about Iran's nuclear program persists then it doesn't matter what the truth is, I've already seen the BBC and other news agencies highlighting the parts of the report which are supposedly the most damaging (which in reality is all pretty vague), no mention of the verification of the non diversion of nuclear material.

    The policy is regime change, if Iran stopped it's nuclear program tomorrow it wouldn't matter, the west would either claim they'd taken it underground or use some other issue as justification for an attack/ isolate Iran more, the nuclear program is not the problem, the problem is Iran's independence, it's disobeying of orders from the mob bosses (US/UK/Israel).

  • Glennd1

    Lol, what a pile of BS. Of course Iran is building nuclear weapons, the only questions for people who's minds aren't addled by Progressive Derangement Disorder, or more properly one its most bothersome sypmtoms, western hatred, is how far along they are and what to do about it. The real issue is what is our posture towards the world, and to Iran, and the cauldron of issues boiling there that we are entangled in?

    Despite the conspiratorial delusions of so many, the motivation for much of our foreign policy is to maintain some kind of peaceful balance and stability in the world. The first half of the 20th century convinced America that it could not let the affairs of the larger world spin without embroiling us so we dove in post WWII. This is a well known narrative, but one that this author and many others seem to ignore in their criticism of U.S. actions. While I am actually a non-interventionist and believe we should step back from meddling in world affairs significantly, I'm not content to write off those who disagree with me as somehow cravenly pursuing the perquisites of empire. Nor am I willing to ignore that such a stance may indeed lead to much violence and evil loosing itself on the world.

    With that as context, I'm left believing that we should take no military action against Iran, even though I believe they are building a serious nuclear weapons capacity (miniaturized war heads, medium range missiles). Why can't the "anti-war" crowd see Iran for what it is? They make it clear with every public utterance and action. They are an oppressive, totalitarian, authoritarian regime, and one that every person who values freedom should find loathesome. It's also silly to claim they are no threat. They clearly have regional ambitions and while I don't dismiss Ahmadinejad as crazy, I do take seriously that a government which encourages its subjects to chant "Death to America" at weekly prayers should be considered a threat to us. I think a warning to Iran that if it launches any kind of attack against us with nuclear weapons – whether via terrorist third parties – will be met with total destruction of their government and military capability. I don't think we should extend this guarantee to any other nation than ourselves, so accordingly, we should consider say giving all Israelis a refugee status in the U.S. and give say a 1 yr window for any who choose to emigrate here. I believe this would be a solution that recognizes the real threat Israel exists under from Iran.

    If Israel wants to attack Iran, they should do so without our blessing or involvement or support. That would put us at war with Iran. Why is this so hard for us to sort out? It seems pretty obvious – that is if your mind isn't clogged with politically driven thinking.

    • D.A.

      Okay, we get it: you're a lunatic. But, are you misguided but well-intended lunatic, or a fraudulent and malicious one? That is the question.

      • Glennd1

        Learn how to argue. Calling me a lunatic is not an argument. Where is my reasoning or grasp of the facts lacking? I'm all ears, truly, as I favor neither the Zionists nor the Iranians in this matter. Or do you flinch because I point out such an obvious blindspot in this author's "reasoning", such as it is, based on his distorted view of the world? One can be critical of U.S. meddling and also see the issues with other nations. Can both thoughts not inhabit your mind simultaneously?

        In part, my view of Iran is given by a respect for Persian culture and the great pride of the Persian people. The Islamists have given them new hope for relevance in the world, you should hear the narrative from their point of view. They actually see first the Soviets being beaten back in Afghanistan and move on to the present day with a narrative that concludes the Mujahideen have won in Afghanistan, that the U.S. has already conceded defeat in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is 7 fold larger, Islamists are restive around the world, spasming in unprecedented ways and with remarkable frequency. The Mullahs and the apparatchiks tell them that the Americans are on the run.

        Even more precisely, they continue to preach that the individual Muslim can make a difference, that Jihad starts with the individual getting themselves right and taking right action. The fallen are called martyrs there for a reason – they believe Allah is on their side, and that those fallen who died fighting for Allah's cause, that now their sacrifices were justified. In Iran's case, their what was it, a 9 yr war with Iraq cost them one million men, with many more maimed and seriously wounded. There isn't a family in Iran who doesn't have a family member or close friend who was "martyred" in that war. To them, this is a holy, spiritual and political issue. It's not "Iranian foreign policy". We are the "Great Satan" to them (Israel is the "little satan). It is apparent to many there who we would consider "Westernized" "educated" and "liberal" that the U.S. is a huge threat to Iran.

        They remember that we armed Saddam Hussein, standing with that monster against them. Defending the Butcher of Bagdad – just imagine you are an Iranian fighting Saddam – he's just as big a scumbag back then, you feel righteous, yes? We were his righteous enemies ally and arms dealer. How could they not hate us? My view is given by acknowledging reality – they hate us for good reason. So, what, we should just ignore their actions, speech and aspirations? We need to figure out the correct moral posture for our nation while defending ourselves.

        I say we step the hell back, I'm tired of our country paying for the illusory security we seek. I'm tired of us getting blamed for everything and being continuously demonized, and I'm tired of our clumsy oafishness at running an empire. Democracies aren't good at it and they shouldn't try.

        Finally, you speak of "we" – exactly who is it you claim to be speaking for?

      • rescuee

        Solution is easier than we all think. If the world believes Iran in a way building a nuclear bomb, then the world needs to put together a proper sanction. Close all Iranian embassies around the world and close all the embassies in Tehran. All trading to Iran including all money transfer would be stopped, no Visa to any Iranian holder passports, and return all the Iranian holder passport who are a visitors at any country. Shut the door. Iranian Government is as we all know worst than Nazi but we all talking ourselves to death. Ask yourselves why we are not doing this hard method because the Iran's resources, money, grid. They would make the bomb as the North Korea did and the world just watched and did nothing. Iranians people are ready to destroy this Regime but they need help. We also should understand that we as westerners brought this regime and gave them power to begin with.

    • El Tonno

      "the motivation for much of our foreign policy is to maintain some kind of peaceful balance and stability in the world"

      A few tens of millions of dead raghads, gooks, latinos or whatever possibly living in irretrievably poisoned lands sure speak of GREAT SUCCESS AND LIBERATION!

      "the motivation for much of our foreign policy is to maintain some kind of open door for our rampant corporatism and mercantilism"


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  • MVA

    you started your argument w. a statement and no factual proofs for it
    this is why DA called you a "lunatec"
    you are the definition of IT

  • rick

    The U.S. and Israel are just as much rogue states as Iran, and yet they have nukes. In fact, as far as I know, the U.S. is the only nation to have ever used such weapons on another country. I fear the U.S. and Israel much more the Iran!

  • AndyUK

    When Hilary Clinton and others say about Iran – "The largest sponsor of state terrorism in the World", I just have to ask why anyone would believe it. The US/UK and other "taggers on" are undeniably the most evil countries in the World, when you look at the number of deaths we have been responsible for since the end of WW2. It would seem that we do not wish to stop invading countries and killing people – as long as they are smaller and not as well armed as us of course. The people of Iran have suffered at the hands of the UK/US since the 19th century, the London underground was built on the profits of Persian oil. We overthrew their democratic government in 1953, and they rose up in 1979 and got rid of that dictator. Every action taken against Iran since 1979 has been done in revenge fro the sacking of the US embassy and the hostages – all of whom were released unharmed.

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  • iranuclear

    Last official Iranian poll shows that: 60% of Iranians want Nuclear Program stopped – and sanctions removed http://bit.ly/Ozrraj

    What do YOU think on the matter?

  • As Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch sarcastically and succinctly tweeted: Assad tells Russian TV why its ok to kill protestersits all about stopping foreign interference, of course. Indeed. Looking at it from the outside, Assads explanation of the protests and of his unspeakably violent response to them (over 3,000 people killed so far) is easy to identify as propaganda.spring holiday limo