WikiLeaks cable portrays IAEA chief as 'in US court' on Iran nuclear program

Iran could use the WikiLeaks revelation as another reason not to cooperate with the West on its nuclear program.

Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano prepares for a Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Dec. 2.

The chief of the UN nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, called on Thursday for Iran to cooperate more to remove doubts about its nuclear intentions, as leaked US diplomatic cables portrayed him as “solidly in the US court” on Iran.

Just days before Iran is to sit down for nuclear talks with world powers in Geneva, Mr. Amano said Iran had yet to clarify “outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program, including by providing access to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested by the agency.”

The remarks to the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna were in keeping with the tougher line taken on Iran by the UN agency since Mr. Amano became director general a year ago.

But Iran may now see such criticism as part of a broader anti-Iranian slant, given a leaked American diplomatic cable from October 2009 that portrays Amano to be in lockstep with key aspects of US policy.

“It will give the Iranians another lever to apply in pursuance of a weapons-grade program,” says John Large, an independent nuclear expert in London. “For Iran, it really does mean that they don’t have a representative, they clearly don’t have the ear of anyone at the IAEA.”

Washington charges that Iran is using its nuclear power program to mask a weapons drive. The US has for years sought to undermine Tehran’s nuclear efforts, politically and covertly, while also repeatedly suggesting that US or Israeli military action was possible.

Americans also criticized Amano's predecessor, Egyptian diplomat Mohammad ElBaradei, for being too soft on Iran, listening too closely to Iranian arguments, and sometimes stepping in as a mediator.

Amano 'solidly in the US court'

The leaked October 2009 cable was quoted on Wednesday by the Guardian of London, one of a handful of media organizations that received in advance a trove of more than 250,000 classified US State Department documents currently being released by WikiLeaks.

The cable reportedly stated: “Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

A previous US cable from July 2009, also described by the Guardian and, like the one quoted above, not yet published by WikiLeaks, describes how Amano saw his role as different from that of ElBaradei. Amano saw the top post as a “neutral and impartial party to Iran’s safeguards agreement rather than as ‘an intermediary’…” the cable states. “He [Amano] stressed that the IAEA could not replace the P5[+]1 political framework for dialogue with Iran, nor vice versa.”

“He’s a wizened diplomat, [and] of course if we saw the cables going to France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, maybe they’d say exactly the same thing; in other words, he may have been dancing on a pin to satisfy all,” says Mr. Large.

Bias unlikely on weapons front

Despite the Iranian interpretation of an anti-Iran slant from Amano – and stronger IAEA language toward Iran in the past year – any such bias may have a limited impact because of the technical nature of inspections and safeguard compliance.

“I can’t see that Amano could apply an outward bias,” adds Large. “Because it’s a highly scrutinized role, on the weapons front; it’s ‘Do you inspect? What are surveillance systems like?’ So I don’t see how he could show any bias there, because it’s far too open.”

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