Nuclear report: parsing Iran's intent
As UN nuclear watchdog meets in Vienna, sparring is sharp over Iran's goals for its program.
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In fact, the IAEA report notes that, since March 2007, Iran has permitted 14 unannounced inspections. But only in April did it agree to address the "alleged studies." It has not given access to key people and places, and its detailed reply to questions only emerged on May 23, too late to be included in the report.Skip to next paragraph
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"If it really had been the golden ring, perhaps we would have heard more about it," says the Western diplomat. "It's a cross-checking. It's the usual sort of gumshoe detective work which is the elimination of leads. But in order to do that you've got to have the access."
But there is a history of imperfect intelligence tips. A report in the Los Angeles Times last year quoted a senior diplomat at the IAEA saying that the CIA and other Western spy agencies had been giving sensitive information, but that "since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong."
The story said US officials "privately acknowledge" that much of the evidence they had on Iran – including the detailed designs described in the current IAEA report, reportedly taken from a laptop stolen in Iran –"remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove."
The current IAEA report says the information "appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content, and appears to be generally consistent." But it also noted that the IAEA "was not in possession" of many of them, and so could not show them to Iran.
"Perhaps it's like Iraq, where the intelligence wasn't shared because the intelligence wasn't there," says the Western diplomat in Vienna. "Certainly there are some people who say this is getting a bit like the pre-Iraq war. [When] finally the inspectors were there and investigated, of course none of the claims stood up."
While US officials say the latest IAEA report is proof of Iran's "stonewalling," and "failure" to answer questions, Iran says it "attests to the exclusively peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran's goodwill and proactive cooperation with the IAEA far beyond its treaty obligations – as reflected in the IAEA reports – attests to the fact that the allegations made by certain countries [are] totally baseless," the Iranian mission to the UN said in a statement.
For connoisseurs, the multiple readings are no surprise. "Parsing the language used in UN or IAEA documents is an art in and of itself," says Shire, speaking in an interview from Princeton, N.J. "These are not documents that are written in Obama, McCain, or Clinton campaign style, where headlines and soundbites are really clear and come through."