Aletho News


A Threat to Nuke Tehran

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | October 26, 2013

When the largest donor to Republican political organizations urges the U.S. military to detonate a nuclear bomb in an Iranian desert with the explicit warning that “the next one is in the middle of Tehran,” you might expect that major American political figures and large U.S. media outlets would strongly denounce such genocidal blackmail.

After all, Tehran has a population of more than eight million people with millions more living in the suburbs. So, this threat to exterminate Tehran’s inhabitants from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson would be comparable to someone nuking an empty space in the United States as a warning that if Americans didn’t capitulate to some demand, a nuclear bomb would be dropped on New York City, the site of Adelson’s ugly threat.

The fact that the scattered outrage over Adelson’s remarks on Oct. 22 was mostly limited to the Internet and included no denunciations from prominent U.S. politicians, including leading Republicans who have benefited from Adelson’s largesse, suggests that many Muslims and especially Iranians are right to suspect that they are the object of obscene prejudice in some American power circles.

Indeed, HuffingtonPost published a vociferous defense of Adelson’s comments by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who organized the event at Yeshiva University where Adelson spoke. Boteach, who has been hailed as the “most famous Rabbi in America,” treated Adelson’s nuke threat as innocent hyperbole only underscoring how aggressively the world should treat Iran.

Instead of apologizing for letting Adelson go unchallenged as he mused about murdering millions of Iranians, Boteach expressed outrage over the few expressions of outrage about Adelson’s plan.

I found the reaction to his statement illuminating as to the double standards that are often employed on matters relating to Israel,” wrote Boteach, who then reprised the infamous false translation of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supposedly saying “that Israel must be wiped off the map.”

Boteach then added to the false quote the assumption that if Israel ceased to exist as a Jewish state, that would require “the murder of the six million Jews who live there [as] the precondition of such erasure.” However, there is the other possibility that Israel/Palestine could become like the United States, a country that has no official religion but that respects all religions.

To lay out only the two extremes – that Israel must be officially a Jewish state (with non-Jews made second-class citizens or stateless people) as one option and the other that all the Jews must be murdered – invites either apartheid or genocide.

Boteach also misrepresented recent comments by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa. The rabbi left out the context of Khamenei’s remark: the threat was predicated on Israel having first militarily attacked Iran. In other words, Khamenei was saying that if Israel destroyed Iranian cities, Iran had the right to retaliate against Israeli cities.

Israel’s Rogue Nuke Arsenal

But one thing that Iran has never threatened to do is to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel. First, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear bomb; has foresworn any interest in building one; has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing in inspectors; and has offered to accept even more intrusive inspections in exchange for removal of economic sanctions.

By contrast, Israel possesses one of the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenals, albeit one that is undeclared and existing outside international inspections since Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I’ve also been told that Israel’s military contingency plan for possibly attacking Iran’s hardened nuclear sites includes use of low-yield nuclear weapons.

So, loose talk from a prominent American Zionist about the value of the United States launching a ballistic nuclear strike from Nebraska targeting an Iranian desert with the explicit follow-up threat that the next nuke would obliterate Iran’s capital could be read by the Iranians as a real possibility, especially considering Adelson’s close ties to prominent Republicans.

The fact that such a discussion was held in New York City with no meaningful repercussions for Adelson could be read further as a message to Iran that it might well need a nuclear deterrence to protect itself from such terroristic blackmail.

Boteach’s HuffingtonPost commentary also focused only on the part of Adelson’s remark about dropping a nuclear bomb in an unpopulated area of Iran, where only “a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever” would be killed.

Treating the idea like some kind of humanitarian gesture, not a genocidal extortion threat, Boteach wrote, “Sheldon’s glib comments about nuking rattle snakes seemed to rattle many of the bloggers who were at our event even more than Ahmadinejad’s threats.”

But what made Adelson’s remark even more stunning than his idea of a demonstration nuclear attack in the desert was the follow-up warning: “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”

At that point, the audience at Yeshiva University interrupted Adelson with applause.

The obvious problem with this kind of blackmail threat, of course, is that it requires the extortionist to follow through if the other side doesn’t capitulate. To be credible, you have to back up the warning – “you want to be wiped out?” – by actually wiping the other side out.

Republican Influence

If Adelson were simply an eccentric old billionaire spouting threats of genocide at some university forum in New York City, that would be bad enough. But Adelson is an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Republican Party.

Nearly singlehandedly, Adelson kept afloat the 2012 presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then threw his vast financial resources behind the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who accompanied Adelson on a high-profile trip to Israel that was designed to highlight tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Romney’s warm reception in Israel was seen as effectively an endorsement of his candidacy by Netanyahu, who has rattled many of his own military sabers at Iran. While in Israel, Romney delivered a belligerent speech suggesting that he, as U.S. president, would happily support an Israeli war against Iran.

Romney told an audience of Israelis and some wealthy pro-Israel Americans that he is prepared to employ “any and all measures” to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons “capability,” a vague concept that arguably already exists.

Romney’s speech in Jerusalem was accompanied by a comment from his top foreign policy adviser Dan Senor seeming to endorse an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Senor said, “the governor would respect that decision.”

Romney said, “today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability. Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority. … We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.

“We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.”

By elevating Iran’s achievement of a nuclear weapons “capability” to America’s “highest national security priority” and vowing to “employ any and all measures” to prevent that eventuality, Romney was essentially threatening war against Iran under the current circumstances. In that, he went beyond the vague language used by President Obama, who himself has sounded belligerent with his phrasing about “all options on the table” to stop Iran if it moves to build a nuclear weapon.

However, the nuance was significant, since U.S. intelligence agencies – and even their Israeli counterparts – have concluded that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon even as it makes progress in a nuclear program that Iranian leaders say is for peaceful purposes only. Still, those lessons from a peaceful nuclear program arguably can give a country a nuclear weapons “capability.” [See’s “US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes.”]

Though Romney lost the 2012 election, his point of view is common among pro-Israel hawks in Congress and throughout Official Washington’s think-tank and media communities. Adelson also wields real influence because he, along with his wife Miriam, has poured a fortune into the U.S. political process, calculated at $92.8 million to outside political groups during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And, it is his kind of crazy talk, not uncommon among extreme Zionists, that makes any political settlement of the Middle East disputes next to impossible.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

October 26, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Arabs Need Iran: Part I


By Sharmine Narwani | Al-Akhbar | 2013-06-03

In 2011, when Arab revolts began to sweep the Middle East and North Africa, the view from Washington and its closest allies was one of concern. How would the removal of mostly pro-Western dictatorships affect the balance of power in the region? More importantly – how to prevent these events from boosting Iran’s influence?

Two years on, the regional competition for influence is in full throttle. In its sights – among many other developments – are recent efforts by Iran and Egypt to upgrade their relationship.

The spoilers will have none of it. Said Steven A. Cook last week on the website of that most prestigious of US institutions, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): “Other than some quick cash and subsidized energy, there is nothing that Tehran can offer Cairo that will, in the long run, be to Egypt’s benefit.”

He has it entirely wrong. “Quick cash and subsidized energy” can only be used to describe the superficial offerings of countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both vying for influence in this new Egypt.

There is no contest whatsoever between that kind of assistance and what Iran can bring to the table. Iran has achieved its economic independence the hardest way imaginable – through a devastating eight-year war with Iraq and decades of potentially-debilitating sanctions. It has shrugged off the yoke of imperialism, built infrastructure, social services and industry from scratch, harnessed its own resources toward establishing domestic self-sufficiencies, created a dynamic – if imperfect – indigenous political system of representative government, and managed to maintain the security of its oft-threatened borders through military innovation and soft power.

In short, with similar-sized populations (Iran’s 78 million to Egypt’s 82 million) and the experience of tackling monumental state-building challenges with varying degrees of success, there is simply no country better situated to provide developmental guidance to Egypt – and other economically vulnerable Arab states – than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Seeing is Believing

Other than a frustratingly brief trip some years ago to attend a Tehran conference where I had little opportunity to get around, I had not visited Iran in eight years. In the latter part of 2012, I made three trips to the country – in large part to discover how Iran continues to thrive despite the “biting sanctions” we keep hearing about.

And thrive it does. Visitors land at the brand new Imam Khomeini international airport as a first step in experiencing an utterly revamped Tehran. You drive into the city on new highways, lit up almost excessively by closely aligned lampposts and the Iranian penchant for colorful lighting at major intersections. Streets are lined with trees, shrubs and flowers planted and nurtured by a succession of rather remarkable mayors that Tehran residents like to boast about.

Those are the city planners who develop well-manicured parks and children’s playgrounds to break up the urban monotony, build women’s sports facilities to encourage good health, spearhead campaigns on AIDS awareness, and pass out free condoms and hypodermic needles to prevent infection among drug users.

Tehran feels new and fresh – like it has had a facelift. New buildings abound, each more luxurious than the last, although sales have slowed dramatically in recent years, much like in other capitals hit by economic slowdown and ridiculously expensive housing. I cannot believe the greenery – this is a dry climate and I cannot seem to recall the city ever overflowing with late summer foliage like this.

New restaurants, cafés, and boutiques dot the boulevards; the bazaars are well-stocked and cleaner than I recall. Nothing seems to be in shortage – and Iranians are producing more of the food products on their supermarket shelves than ever before. In 2011, Iran ranked 11th globally in agricultural output, just behind Japan, Russia, Turkey, and Australia – and is ranked first and second worldwide in the production of a variety of fruits, vegetables, spices, and nuts ranging from apricots, cucumbers and walnuts to pistachios, saffron, and watermelon.

This is a country hell-bent on achieving self-sufficiency, after all. Under threat of increasingly punitive US-sponsored economic sanctions, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last year promised the development of a “Resistance Economy” that will aim to stop all dependence on oil revenues and switch to knowledge-based industries and vital commodities instead.

After eight years away from the country, none of Tehran’s significant advances impressed me as much as the pollution-solution. Surrounded by the Alborz mountain range that traps pollutants, the capital has struggled for decades to lessen air pollution, much of which stemmed from aging vehicles that service a city of more than 12 million residents.

During past trips to Tehran, the stench of petrol from cars was omnipresent in congested areas – you’d have to clean blackened particles from your nose every day. In 2012, I experienced none of these things. The city still has high alerts on dangerous pollution days, but has come a long way from the days when the municipality enforced alternative driving days for cars with even and odd license plate numbers.

For starters, during my eight-year absence, Tehran has launched around 80 subway stations servicing more than 2.5 million passengers daily, and inaugurated a 60-station rapid transit bus system with just under two million daily users.

More impressive yet is the Islamic Republic’s nationwide effort to convert public transportation and privately owned vehicles from petrol engines to ones that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

Pay attention now. Iran’s experiment to switch to alternative fuel-based vehicles is the kind of super-efficient central government initiative that the country now frequently launches – with varying degrees of success. It is one of many zero-to-a-hundred projects initiated in recent years that seeks to diversify the economy, create jobs, generate revenues or solve a problem. To Iran’s credit, at least they think big and make the effort – few other governments engage in these kinds of expansive nation-building activities anymore.

Partly to help stem air pollution, and mostly to reduce the country’s dependence on imported gasoline – and therefore mitigate the effect of US-backed sanctions against companies that sold refined petroleum to Iran – the Islamic Republic embarked on an ambitious program to adopt Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV) based on alternative fuels.

In just a few years, Iran has established a fleet of around 3 million NGV, the largest in the world (by contrast, the US has just over 200,000) and now has the capacity to domestically manufacture 1.5 million CNG cylinders per year at extremely competitive costs.

Big Thinkers Build Nations

In writing this series of articles based on my Iran trips, I am constantly reminded of an MSNBC promotional ad featuring Rachel Maddow, where she stands in front of the Hoover Dam in a blue hardhat and gets sentimental about big-projects-that-build-nations:

“When you are this close to Hoover Dam, it makes you realize how small a human is in relation to this as a human project. You can’t be the guy who builds this, you can’t be the town who builds this, you can’t even be the state who builds this, you’ve got to be the country that builds something like this. This is a national project – this is a project of national significance. We’ve got those projects on the menu right now and we’ve got to figure out whether or not we are still a country that can think this big.”

The current mayor of Tehran Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf – a former commander in the Revolutionary Guard and national police chief who is widely admired for his big thinking and ability to get the job done – happens to be one of eight candidates running for president in the June elections.

Tehran residents are attached to their mayors, and in a city of between 12 to 14 million, are able to propel them to the presidency (current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the previous mayor). And after eight years in this role, you would be hard pressed to find a Tehrani who doesn’t praise Ghalibaf for his role in developing their capital. If he emerges as a national frontrunner, Tehran will push him over the line.

Among the other eight 2013 presidential contenders is Dr. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former speaker of parliament (majlis) who holds one of Tehran’s 30 majlis seats and a close adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to whom he is related through marriage.

I met with Haddad-Adel during one of my trips to Iran last year – not to discuss regional or domestic politics – but to learn about four “academies” set up by the Iranian government two decades ago. These academies are meant to drive “big thinking,” establish best practices, and initiate macro planning for national projects in the areas of Sciences, Medical Sciences, Arts, and the Farsi language.

The Farsi language as a big national project? As it happens, that’s the academy headed up by Haddad-Adel, who holds a PhD in philosophy and has translated Immanuel Kant’s books into the Persian language.

What could be so urgent and critical about the national language that would move a country under prohibitive international sanctions to direct resources toward it?

“Farsi is as old as Iranian civilization – they are inseparable,” explains Haddad-Adel. “We Iranians are proud of our national language and literature. We regard our Persian literature as one of the most important elements of our national identity. And we have to support this language against the dangers that threaten it – new words, idioms and terms entering the language through science, technology and culture – mostly through the English language.”

Under Haddad-Adel’s tenure, one of the 15 departments dedicated to the task of preserving the Persian language has created a nine-volume dictionary converting over 40,000 foreign words into Persian equivalents. A quick glimpse through the final volume shows that a lot of the terminology being replaced are technological, medical and scientific words (laparascopy, intra-muscular injection, binary pulsar, supramolecular). But also covered are subjects like political sciences (interdependence, deconstructionism, national security), music (chord, grand-barre, capo d’astro) and sport (play-offs, kayak, surfboard).

Seventy different university groups and more than 150 people are involved in this task. The academy has developed complicated software for finding Persian equivalents for English terms.

“Language is not something that can be improved by command though,” says Haddad-Adel. “The velocity of development is so rapid, it is not possible for the public to follow it. We try to disseminate it through cultural ways.”

Another project of the academy: a Persian-to-Persian dictionary covering at least 1,000 years of the language – and tracking words like “khasteh” which means “tired” in modern Farsi and “injured” in old Persian through its exportation to the Ottoman Empire and current usage in modern Turkey as “hastehan” which means “hospital.”

Yet another department is developing a six-volume encyclopedia containing the “whole history of Persian language and literature in the Indian subcontinent.” Explains Haddad-Adel: “Persian was welcomed by Indians. It was a language of culture and has been for more than 800 years the official language of the old Indian courts and intellectuals. British colonialism ended this.”

There is more to this than the preservation of language – cultural revivalism, national security, identity politics, nationalism are woven into the fabric of the academy’s work. The Iran of Haddad-Adel isn’t a nation in decline – it appears to be getting geared up to lead a renaissance.

Mississippi Calls on Iran for Help

I next visited the director of the Medical Sciences academy Dr. Alireza Marandi, a pediatrician by training, two-time minister of health, university professor and a current member of the Majlis from Tehran.

In 2009, I had read an article in the UK-based Sunday Times (reproduced on this blog) that told the remarkable story of Iran’s provincial health houses. The post-revolution initiative to rapidly deliver basic medical care to under-served rural areas was able, in a short time, to reduce child mortality rates by 69 percent and maternal mortality in rural areas from 300 per 100,000 births to 30.

So astounding were these results that the US state of Mississippi – which, according to the Sunday Times article, has “some of the worst health statistics in the country, including infant mortality rates for non-whites at Third World levels” – turned to Iran for advice, assistance and training on how to achieve these results back home.

Dr. Marandi was Iran’s minister of health around the time the first health houses (khaneh behdasht) were established in post-revolutionary Iran. He recalls the difficulties in getting funding back in the early 1980s:

“During the Iran-Iraq war we had very little oil to export – we were limited to about one million barrels per day. The price of oil had come down to about $7-8 per barrel. The country was under bombardment. Yet during this time, the country still focused on developing a primary healthcare system.”

That wasn’t even the hard part. When majlis-approved funding finally came in to run one pilot program in each of Iran’s provinces, the planners had a difficult time finding local men and women with the required five years of elementary education to staff the health houses – especially the girls. Today, with literacy rates among Iran’s youth (ages 15-24) at 98 percent according to the World Bank, all health house workers have at least a high school education.

The women are trained for basic healthcare procedures – monthly check-ups for mothers, vaccines for children, schedules and checklists, breastfeeding guidance, preventive care. The men are largely responsible for environmental health issues like water and sanitation – they check village water supplies, add chlorine where necessary, teach locals personal hygiene, how to disinfect things, install basic toilets, and lay water pipes.

Today, says Marandi, Iran has some 20,000 health houses in 65-70,000 villages around the country and has established a primary healthcare “network” connecting health houses to larger health centers in larger towns, which in turn plug into hospitals and specialized medical facilities in urban areas. Although challenges still exist in this system, Iran has solved a vital social service and healthcare challenge that continues to plague most developing nations.

Despite a lack of funds, Marandi’s ministry of health tackled many more major health problems in those early days. In 1983, the highest rate of immunization in Iran was 25 percent. A few years later, that rate skyrocketed to 95 percent throughout the country. Iranians desperately needed more physicians (only 12,000) and a more diversified medical worker base, so the ministry of health under Marandi pushed through a bill that took all health-related schools (midwifery, dentistry, nursing, etc) away from the ministry of education. By streamlining and adding to existing resources, in that first year 1,200 students were increased to 6,000, students were directed into undermanned specialties where jobs awaited, and new schools of medicine were built – at least one for each province.

Today, there are 120,000 physicians in Iran. The country is self-sufficient in the production of medical experts and support staff, and has diversified into specialties like fertility treatments, heart, cornea, and kidney transplants that Iranians were forced to seek outside the country a few decades ago. Iranian expertise and relatively low-costs now even draw medical tourism from near (Iraq) and far (Canada).

“We now have every sub-specialty you can think of,” says Marandi, who received an award for his accomplishments from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000.

While Iran has the benefit of considerable oil resources to cushion its economy, throughout the 1980s the country was broke. Economically, Iran was in not much better a position than Egypt or Jordan are today, both countries just months away from bankruptcy. There is a missionary zeal that permeates the higher echelons of government and their immediate ranks below. Many decision makers I interviewed are driven by both religious faith and geopolitics – determined to satisfy public needs and focused on discovering efficiencies that will thwart the negative effects of sanctions. Despite frequent accusations of corruption and mismanagement, clearly a lot is getting done in the country – and with a real spirit of innovation.

In the next installments, I will write about my interviews with leaders in technological and scientific fields including Iran’s controversial nuclear energy program, huge achievements in nanotechnology, political insights on what top Iranian politicians think about a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt, and US-sponsored sanctions…and the unexpected fact that Iran has cloned sheep.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Why Arabs Need Iran: Part I

Pretty in Pink: The Parchin Preoccupation Paradox

By Professor Yousaf Butt | Arms Control Law | January 22, 2013

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has just released an important new expert report on Iran’s nuclear program, specifically on the Parchin site of much recent interest to the IAEA. The report is a must-read for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the expertise of the author, Robert Kelley. Kelley is a nuclear engineer and a veteran of over 35 years in the US Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex, most recently at Los Alamos. He managed the centrifuge and plutonium metallurgy programs at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and was seconded by the US DOE to the IAEA where he served twice as Director of the nuclear inspections in Iraq, in 1992 and 2001.

Rarely, if ever, has such a technically qualified person spoken publicly on this important topic.

The SIPRI report dramatically revises the standard narrative in the mainstream western press about what is known about the Parchin site, and what – if anything — needs to be done about it. It also perfectly contextualizes the relative (un)importance of the IAEA gaining access to the site, and what the IAEA — and P5+1 countries — stands to gain or lose in the process of making a mountain out of a molehill on this issue. As Kelley states, “a careful review of the evidence available to date suggests that less has been going on at the site of interest than meets the eye.”

The dispute centers on “the IAEA’s request to visit a large military production complex located at Parchin, near Tehran. The request is part of the agency’s efforts to resolve questions about whether alleged Iranian nuclear activities have what IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has called ‘possible military dimensions’.”  Note the “possible” there. Specifically, the IAEA says it has secret information (which it will not share, even with Iran) from a member state’s intelligence agency indicating that Iran may have constructed a large steel chamber in one of the buildings for conducting conventional high explosives experiments—some of which may have involved natural (not enriched) uranium—which could be associated with a secret program to do research on nuclear bombs.  As Kelley explains in the SIPRI report the whole scenario is a bit of a stretch from a technical standpoint.

“A chamber such as the one claimed to be in the building is neither necessary nor particularly useful for developing a first-generation nuclear weapon. Such development tests have normally been done outdoors for decades.”


“There are a range of experiments involving explosives and uranium that a country presumably would conduct as part of a nuclear weapon development programme. Most of these are better done in the open or in a tunnel. They include basic research on neutron initiators using very small amounts of explosive and grams of uranium and on the very precise timing of a neutron initiator using a full-scale conventional explosion system and many kilograms of uranium. The alleged chamber at Parchin is too large for the initiator tests and too small for a full-scale explosion. If it exists at all, it is a white elephant.”

And if someone is going to build a chamber like the one alleged in the secret evidence passed to the IAEA, they will want to do experiments and make measurements.  They will want to measure things with, for example:

·        very high speed optical cameras

·        flash X-ray systems (like an X-ray strobe light which gives you one x-ray of implosion in a very short time)

·        neutron detectors

·        Various electric timing and pressure detectors.

The collar that is shown in the alleged graphic of the chamber gets in the way of the optical, X-ray and neutron measurements.  So it would be better not to have it there at all. The collar of the alleged chamber also means that when the chamber is used up to its design capacity it could well fail on the ends, the entrance door or the windows and cable ports for the measurements.

But before highlighting more of the take-aways from the SIPRI report, let me first briefly mention what other former senior IAEA officials have said about how the IAEA is handling the Parchin issue more broadly.

Firstly, let’s recall that the IAEA has already visited Parchin twice in 2005 and found nothing  – although they did not go to the specific area they are now interested in. However, the IAEA could have gone to that area even in 2005 – they simply chose to go to other sites on the military base. As the IAEA report at the time summarized:

“The Agency was given free access to those buildings and their surroundings and was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual use equipment or materials in the locations visited.”

When the IAEA last went to Parchin, Olli Heinonen was head of IAEA safeguards and led the inspections – the methodology for choosing which buildings to inspect is described in an excellent Christian Science Monitor article which is worth reading in its entirety, but I quote the relevant bits:

“At the time, it[Parchin] was divided into four geographical sectors by the Iranians. Using satellite and other data, inspectors were allowed by the Iranians to choose any sector, and then to visit any building inside that sector. Those 2005 inspections included more than five buildings each, and soil and environmental sampling. They yielded nothing suspicious, but did not include the building now of interest to the IAEA.

“The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available,” recalls Heinonen, who led those past inspections. “When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building.”

Would the Iranians really have risked exposing some nefarious nuclear weapons-related work at Parchin by making all of Parchin available to the IAEA in 2005?

In the same article Heinonen also explains why the current IAEA approach is deeply, logically flawed:

“Also unusual is how open and specific the IAEA has been about what exactly it wants to see, which could yield doubts about the credibility of any eventual inspection.

“I’m puzzled that the IAEA wants to in this case specify the building in advance, because you end up with this awkward situation,” says Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s head of safeguards until mid-2010.

“First of all, if it gets delayed it can be sanitized. And it’s not very good for Iran. Let’s assume [inspectors] finally get there and they find nothing. People will say, ‘Oh, it’s because Iran has sanitized it,’” says Mr. Heinonen, who is now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. “But in reality it may have not been sanitized. Iran is also a loser in that case. I don’t know why [the IAEA] approach it this way, which was not a standard practice…”

As for the typically tendentious reporting on this topic, which almost always casts Iran in a negative light, the words of Hans Blix, former head of the IAEA, bear repeating:

“Hans Blix, former chief of the IAEA and later of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, has also expressed surprise at the focus on Parchin, as a military base that inspectors had been to before.

“Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site,” Mr. Blix told Al Jazeera English… “In a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”

One of the reasons that Mr. Blix says that is because normally the IAEA does not have the legal authority to inspect undeclared non-nuclear-materials related facilities, in a nation – like Iran — that has not ratified the Additional Protocol. The IAEA can call for “special inspections” but they have not done so. They can also choose arbitration, as specified in the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, but again they have not done that.

In fact, the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement  between Iran and the IAEA states quite clearly that its “exclusive purpose” is to verify that nuclear material “is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” Nothing else – that is it exclusive purpose.  It does not cover conventional explosives testing, as suspected at Parchin (according to secret information given by a third-part intelligence agency). The IAEA itself has admitted that “absent some nexus to nuclear material the Agency’s legal authority to pursue the verification of possible nuclear weapons related activity is limited.”

Regarding the secret information from an unidentified intelligence agency, it is useful to keep in mind that in the past, forgeries have been passed along to the IAEA. (And, if recent leaks that the IAEA is using mathematically flawed graphs in its case against Iran are to be believed, the IAEA’s case is further weakened.)

So as Hans Blix stated, Iran has been more cooperative than other countries would be in the same situation, and indeed more cooperative than it legally needs to be. It has shown great goodwill by allowing the IAEA a visit to Parchin in 2005. And let’s not forget that in 2004, Brazilian authorities refused to give IAEA inspectors full access to the Resende uranium enrichment facility with nary a peep out of the “world community”.

But coming back to the SIPRI report, a couple more of the highlights:

“The IAEA says that Iran did very complex experiments involving explosives and many fibre-optic detectors and possibly uranium. However, the IAEA says these experiments were not done at Parchin but rather 500 km away at Marivan. In any case, the experiments at Marivan described in great detail by the IAEA would not use uranium.”

And has Iran demolished the building at Parchin that the IAEA wants to visit as some “experts” have claimed?

“No. Some reports implied that Iran had destroyed the building, but this is incorrect. The IAEA claims that five buildings on this site have been demolished but this cannot be seen in satellite imagery. Iran did demolish a small outbuilding on the same site that appears to have been a garage. It was probably demolished to make way for a new road that is being built at the Parchin complex. Another small structure, probably a garage or material store was reported destroyed but is still in place in the latest satellite imagery…The building of interest for the IAEA remains standing.”

Regarding reports  (e.g. from the ISIS group ) that Iran may be sanitizing the site, perhaps to prevent the IAEA from detecting uranium contamination, Kelley states:

“Iran has engaged in large-scale bulldozing operations on about 25 hectares near the Parchin building. This includes the bulldozing of old dirt piles to level a field 500 metres north of the building of interest. However, there has been no such activity in the area west of the building, except for removing some parking pads within about 10 m of it. The fact that the building’s immediate vicinity has been largely untouched on the west side strongly suggests that the purpose of the earth-moving operations was for construction and renovation work and not for ‘sanitizing’ the site by covering up contamination.”

What about the pink tarps mentioned by ISIS, supposedly to prevent satellites from viewing the inside of the buildings ?

The SIPRI report responds:

“In the summer of 2012 Iran began major renovations at the site. Workers decreased perimeter security by tearing down fences, demolished one outbuilding and began renovation of two buildings. They covered both buildings with pink styrofoam insulation…One building is completely covered with insulation and the other is about 60 per cent covered. Raw materials can be seen on the ground nearby. The buildings were then reroofed and are at different stages of renovation even today.”

A picture of the pink insulation is shown in the report.

Kelley concludes, “The impasse over the Parchin visit has taken on a symbolic importance that is distracting attention from the IAEA’s efforts to address a range of questions about the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear programme… The IAEA is stretching its mandate to the limit in asking for access to a military site based on tenuous evidence.”

And, of course, let’s keep in mind that these allegations, suspicions and “concerns” (as opposed to actual legal issues) that the IAEA has about Parchin date from about a decade or more ago – if they are true at all. And that they relate to conventional explosives testing.

As for any current worries about nuclear weapons work in Iran, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has confirmed that he has “a high level of confidence” that no such work is going on now. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has also weighed in: “Are they [Iranians] trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” And Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent more than a decade as the director of the IAEA, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. Adding, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”

There are a number of other problems in the IAEA reports on Iran: For example, the agency keeps saying in its reports that it cannot “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” nor that “all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” But the agency cannot be expected to do this – that is not its job. Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director of Safeguards at the IAEA summed it up well: “The Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting.”

In fact, not only is it legally problematic to fulfill such a verification, it is a logical impossibility: The agency cannot prove the absence of something. There can always be somewhere in Iran where the IAEA has not looked. In fact, no one can reasonably task the IAEA to prove a negative in any country, whether it be in BrazilArgentina, or the 49 other nations for which it is still evaluating the absence of undeclared nuclear activity.

The only real concern with Iran at the moment is that it is stockpiling 20% enriched uranium and that it could — if it decided to weaponize in the future — further enrich it to weapons grade. This is a worry about a future potential, not something that is happening now. Brazil and Argentina could do similar things. Japan could leave the NPT and breakout also. This breakout potential is a well known and inherent flaw (or a “feature”, depending on one’s perspective) of the NPT. If the P5+1 countries (all nuclear-armed, aside from Germany) would like to close this loophole, they should consider a bold new “NPT 2.0” Treaty, such as the one I outlined in an article for Foreign Policy.

Despite the generally alarmist reporting on Iran, it is not at all an eminent threat. For 30 years it has been claimed that Iran is just about to weaponize, when in fact none of those claims have ever panned out.  For example, in 1984, Jane’s Defence Weekly quoted West German intelligence sources as saying that Iran’s bomb production “is entering its final stages”. In 1992, Bibi Netanyahu said Iran is 3-5 years from a bomb. He is just as wrong now, as he was then.

What about the claims that Iran’s allegedly covert enrichment plant at Fordow indicates a sinister weaponization intent?  Not necessarily — Iran’s perspective on its national security environment is likely different than the view in Washington or Jerusalem. The Iranians may see this location as a defensive measure to protect its legitimate nuclear program. They have surely heeded the lesson from Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s civilian Osirak reactor in 1981: There is no guarantee of safety when it comes to nuclear facilities in the Middle East, not even civilian ones. It’s a rough neighborhood. What is viewed with suspicion in the West may simply be seen as a defensive no-brainer in Tehran.

And, of course, Iran’s nuclear enrichment program was not covert by initial design. Iran’s nuclear program was kicked off in the 1950s with the full encouragement and support of the United States, under the auspices of president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. In 1983, after the Islamic revolution, Iran went – in an overt way – to the IAEA to get help in setting up a pilot uranium enrichment facility. And the IAEA was then very receptive to the idea. According to an authoritative Nuclear Fuel article by the renowned Mark Hibbs, “IAEA officials were keen to assist Iran in reactivating a research program to learn how to process U3O8 into UO2 pellets and then set up a pilot plant to produce UF6, according to IAEA documents obtained by Nuclear Fuel.” But, according to Hibbs, “when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to Iran were passed on to the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, the U.S. government then ‘directly intervened’ to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran in production of UO2 and UF6. ‘We stopped that in its tracks,’ said a former U.S. official.”

So, yes, when Iran’s overt attempt was stymied politically, they obtained more covert means to set-up their enrichment facility. Enrichment facilities by their nature can be dual-use, of course, but they are certainly not disallowed under the NPT. And Iran’s allegedly “covert” or “sneaky” behavior may be largely a response to past politicization at the IAEA, and a lesson-learned from Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s civilian nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981. Unfortunately, the politicization has evidently only gotten worse since the 1980s. As representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at an IAEA board of governors meeting in 2010 already noted: “NAM notes with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the director general [Yukio Amano].”  (NAM represents over 100 nations, a clear majority of the world community).

Regarding how intrusive IAEA inspectors are supposed to be, the model safeguards agreement (INFCIRC-153), is quite clear:

“The Agency shall require only the minimum amount of information and data consistent with carrying out its responsibilities under the Agreement. Information pertaining to facilities shall be the minimum necessary for safeguarding nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement.”

This completely validates Mr. Hans Blix statement that Iran has already exceeded the typical level of cooperation required of it by letting the IAEA visit Parchin twice: “Any country, I think, would be rather reluctant to let international inspectors to go anywhere in a military site…in a way, the Iranians have been more open than most other countries would be.”

So, back to current events: Iran is known to be converting part of its 20% enriched UF6 gas to metallic form making a “breakout” that much harder. And Tehran has signaled that it is willing to suspend 20% uranium enrichment if some sanctions are removed: so if the P5+1 countries are serious about their concern about a — completely legal — possible future potential Iranian breakout capability using its 20% enriched uranium stockpile, and they would like Iran to foreclose that option then they should take Iran up on its offer to suspend 20% enrichment by lifting some sanctions. What is definitely not constructive is making a mountain out of the Parchin molehill – a molehill that the IAEA has visited twice before and found exactly nothing at.


Professor Yousaf Butt is a nuclear physicist, and is currently professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.  The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect institutional views of CNS or MIIS.Yousaf has a piece just out in Foreign Policy today on how the Parchin obsession may be obstructing progress on the larger Iran issue.

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pretty in Pink: The Parchin Preoccupation Paradox