TEHRAN (FNA)- The Reuters news agency reported on February 22 that the “UN nuclear watchdog said on Friday it confronted Iran for the first time with Western intelligence reports showing work linked to making atomic bombs and that Tehran had failed to provide satisfactory answers”.
Two days later, Reuters was still running this line, reporting that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “said Iran had responded to questions and clarified issues raised in the context of the work plan struck in August, with the exception of alleged studies into the possible weaponization of nuclear materials”.
The IAEA website however reported on February 22 that after IAEA director-general Mohammed ElBaradei had circulated his latest report on Iran’s nuclear program to the agency’s 35-member policy-making governing board, he had told reporters, “We have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past â€¦
“I should however add that in connection with the weaponization studies, we have not seen any indication that these studies were linked to nuclear material.”
Since early 2002, when US President George Bush declared that Iran was part of an “axis of evil” that was seeking to threaten the US with “weapons of mass destruction”, US officials have alleged that Iran has had a decades-long secret program to develop nuclear weapons. The aim of this allegation has been to lay the propaganda groundwork for an Iraq-style “regime change” invasion of oil- and gas-rich Iran.
In February 2003, Iran agreed to voluntarily abide by a 1999 recommendation of the IAEA governing board that all non-nuclear-armed signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) should report their nuclear facilities during the planning phase, even before construction began.
Under its legally binding NPT safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Iran, like other NPT signatories, was not required to inform the IAEA of such facilities until at least six months before nuclear material was introduced into them.
In February 2003, Iranian officials disclosed to ElBaradei that they were constructing a uranium enrichment facility. He reported to the IAEA board in November 2003 that his inspectors had found that while Iran had also failed to disclose a series of past nuclear-related activities, there was “no evidence” that these activities were related to a nuclear weapons program.
However, he could not certify that Iran had no undeclared nuclear activities. According to the IAEA’s 2004 annual safeguards implementation report, this put Iran in the same category as 40 other NPT signatories, including Canada, the Czech Republic and South Africa.
However, Washington pressured the IAEA board in August 2005 to single Iran out and request that it suspend its uranium enrichment activities as a “confidence-building measure” (enrichment is not a violation of the NPT).
The following February, after heavy US pressure, the IAEA board voted to refer Iran’s nuclear program to the UN Security Council. Washington then got the Security Council to call on Iran to suspend enrichment. When US officials stated that they would not accept any enrichment at all by Iran, Tehran rejected the Security Council call.
Since then, Washington has pressured the Security Council, in December 2006 and March 2007, to impose two rounds of limited financial sanctions against Iran for refusing to abide by the council’s previous resolutions calling on it to suspend enrichment.
The Bush administration has been pushing for tougher UN sanctions, but its case against Iran was given a major setback last November when the CIA and 15 other US intelligence agencies issued a joint report concluding that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since at least late 2003.
The White House was also anticipating that ElBaradei’s latest report, to be discussed by the IAEA board on March 3, would declare that Tehran had answered all his agency’s questions about Iran’s past nuclear activities.
On February 24, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, accused US officials of providing ElBaradei with fake intelligence so as to keep alive suspicions about Iran’s past nuclear activities.
And that’s true. The United States intends to keep Iran’s case open for no good reason but its own interests.
Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one last Friday – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, Russia and China increased resistance to any new punitive measures by the Security Council.
Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.
Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.
Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.
US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East earlier this month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.
But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.
Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.