By Gareth Porter
The United States and Iran may have agreed on a vague framework for resolving remaining issues between them, including the lifting of sanctions, but the final stage of the negotiations will bring a diplomatic confrontation over the sequence and timing of lifting sanctions.
And the most difficult issue in the coming talks will be how the “Possible Military Dimensions” or “PMD” – the allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons work that have been at the center of the entire Iran nuclear crisis for several years – is to be linked to lifting certain UN Security Council sanctions.
On that linkage Iran will insist that its cooperation in providing access to the International Atomic Energy Agency must be reciprocated with the lifting of certain sanctions on an agreed-upon timetable, regardless of how long the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) takes to make up its mind and what judgment it renders, according to a source in close contact with the Iranian negotiating team.
The US “fact sheet” on the “parameters” of an agreement says, “All past United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneously with the completion by Iran of nuclear related activities addressing all key concerns,” and the list that follows includes “PMD.”
However, nothing was officially agreed on in Lausanne on how Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the PMD issue would be linked to sanctions relief, according to the source close to the Iranian negotiators. But the source said that an informal understanding was reached that the linkage would involve the lifting of UN Security Council sanctions directly involving Iran’s imports for its nuclear and missile programs.
Iran is prepared to cooperate to complete the IAEA investigation of past allegations, the source said, but will demand concrete limits that provide assurances that the process will not be prolonged indefinitely.
Iran continues to insist that the evidence being used to impugn its intentions was “manufactured.” Nevertheless, Iran “would be ready to give access to the IAEA on PMD even though that goes beyond NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty],” the source told Truthout.
But the source said Iran would not agree to make the lifting of those UN sanctions contingent on any IAEA judgment about the PMD issue. Instead, Iran will demand a list in advance of everything the IAEA wants. “We would give the IAEA access to everything on the list,” said the source.
Once the IAEA completed its visits and its environmental sampling, however, Iran will consider that the process is finished. “We don’t care what the IAEA analysis would be or how long it took,” the source said. “What Iranians cannot accept is that [the PMD issue] becomes an indefinite instrument for theIsraelis, because they want to find out about Iranian capability and ask for this or that military site and a new inspection.”
The negotiations on the PMD-sanctions linkage will be part of a broader set of negotiations in which Iran will insist on a detailed set of arrangements on sanctions relief in return for each of its concessions in the agreement, according to the source. “Each of the elements listed in the US fact sheet must have a step-by-step plan with a timetable and proportionate reciprocation,” said the source.
Obama Under Pressure He Helped Create
The Obama administration has been under heavy pressure from the Israelis and their supporters in Washington to insist that Iran confess to having carried out nuclear weapons research and development as a condition for sanctions relief.
That pressure is the result of several years of news media coverage that has treated allegations that Iran carried out research and development on nuclear weapons, published by the IAEA in 2011, as established fact. The media have constantly repeated the theme that Iran has been “stonewalling” the IAEA to cover up its past nuclear weapons experiments.
Absent from the media narrative is the fact that the allegations that the IAEA is demanding that Iran explain are all based on intelligence that is now known to have come from Israel and which the IAEA itself suspected of being fabricated, from 2005 to 2009.
But the Obama administration itself helped to make PMD a hot button issue in American politics. It made Iran’s alleged refusal to cooperate with the IAEA investigation of the purported intelligence alleging an Iranian nuclear weapons research and development program the rationale for imposing punishing sanctions on Iran.
The administration has been wary of demanding an actual admission of guilt, which it knew was unrealistic, but it has been unwilling to completely dismiss the position of the Israelis and their followers either. Last November a “senior Western official”told Reuters that the United States and the other five powers would try to “be creative” in finding a formula to satisfy both those who were insisting that Iran must “come clean” about its nuclear past and those who said it was not realistic to expect a confession.
In an April 8 interview with Secretary of State John Kerry, the host of “PBS NewsHour” Judy Woodruff asserted that the IAEA wanted Iran to “disclose past military-related activities” but that Iran was “increasingly looking like it’s not going to do this.” Woodruff then asked, “Is the US prepared to accept that?”
Without challenging the premise that Iran is expected to “disclose past military activities,” Kerry responded, “No. They have to do it. It will be done.”
Fabricated Intelligence and IAEA Investigation
The George W. Bush administration pressed documents supposedly from the laptop computer of an Iran scientist involved in an Iranian nuclear weapons research program on the IAEA in mid-2005. But Mohamed ElBaradei, then IAEA director general, refused to regard the documents as legitimate evidence because they had never been authenticated, and Bush administration officials refused to answer questions about their origins. In his memoirs published in 2011, ElBaradei writes, “The problem was, no one knew if any of this was real.
Information now available shows that the documents were created in Israel. According to a senior German office official, those documents were given to Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, in 2004 by the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK), the armed exile Iranian opposition group that had been an Israeli client organization for several years.
A popular Israeli history of the most successful covert operations by Israel’s Mossad, originally published in Hebrew in Israel, asserts that Mossad provided some of the documents to the MEK that later become the centerpiece of the case against Iran.
ElBaradei also reveals in his memoirs that the IAEA received another series of purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. Among them was a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year program to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction. The former IAEA chief inspector in Iraq, Robert Kelley has recalled that ElBaradei found that document to be lacking credibility because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity. But ElBaradei’s successor as IAEA director general, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, gave the IAEA’s imprimatur to the entire collection as well as the earlier set of documents in an annex to the November 2011 report. After his election, Amano assured US officials that he was “solidly in the US court” in his handling of the Iran file.
The IAEA has never revealed that Israel was the source of the latter set of documents. The IAEA justified its decision to keep the identity of the member states that provided intelligence secret by citing the alleged necessity to protect “sources and methods.” The decision to maintain silence on the source has served to shield both Israel and the IAEA itself from questions about the obvious political motives behind the purported intelligence.
The other major purported intelligence find published by the IAEA was the claim from Israel that Iran had installed a large steel explosives containment cylinder at its military base in Parchin in 2000 for nuclear weapons-related testing. But no corroborating evidence has ever been produced, and Robert Kelley has challengedthe IAEA’s adoption of the Israeli intelligence claim on the grounds it was technically implausible.
Relations between Iran and the IAEA on cooperation over the PMD issue have gone through three major phases. In a series of meetings in early 2012, Iran and the IAEA were close to reaching agreement on a framework for Iranian cooperation. Iran agreed on an IAEA visit to Parchin, where the bomb test cylinder was said to have been located, as part of the process. But the talks broke down over the IAEA’s insistence that the investigation would never have an end point, and that the Agency would have the right to return to any question or site, even after Iran had provided the necessary access and other cooperation.
A second phase of relations began when Iran and the IAEA reached agreement on a “Framework for Cooperation” in February 2014. Iran agreed to provide information and access in regard to a list of PMD issues, starting with the “Exploding Bridgewire” (EBW) issue.
But after Iran provided documentary evidence to show that its research in the field was for its oil and gas industry and not for nuclear weapons, Amano refused to acknowledge publicly that Iran had discredited one of the arguments about the intelligence documents.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akhbar Salehi, claimed that the IAEA had promised in the agreement to close issues once Iran had provided required information, and the IAEA did not challenge his claim. Amano insisted, however, that the IAEA would not issue any assessment until it had completed its investigation of all of the issues.
Iran apparently concluded from that experience that the IAEA would keep Iran on the hook as long as the United States and its allies wanted to maintain leverage over Iran. The Obama administration has now confirmed that conclusion by holding the lifting of sanctions hostage to Iran’s “cooperation” on PMD.
US officials have never explained how they would expect Iran to satisfy the IAEA if the intelligence at issue was indeed fabricated.
Originally published in TruthOut.