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Here we go again. A report issued Thursday by the new Director General of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, has injected new adrenalin into those arguing that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.
The usual suspects are hyping--and distorting--thin-gruel language in the report to "prove" that Iran is hard at work on a nuclear weapon. The New York Times' David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, for example, highlighted a sentence about "alleged activities related to nuclear explosives," which Amano says he wants to discuss with Iran.
Amano's report said:
"Addressing these issues is important for clarifying the Agency's concerns about these activities and those described above, which seem to have continued beyond 2004."
Sanger and Broad play up the "beyond 2004" language as "contradicting the American intelligence assessment"that concluded that work on a bomb was suspended at the end of 2003." Other media have picked that up and run with it, apparently without bothering to read the IAEA report itself.
The Times article is, at best, disingenuous in claiming:
"The report cited new evidence, much of it collected in recent weeks, that appeared to paint a picture of a concerted drive in Iran toward a weapons capability."
As far as I can tell, the "new evidence" consists of the "same-old, same-old" allegations and inferences already reported in the open press--material that failed to convince the Director of Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to depart from previous assessments during his Congressional testimony on February 2. Rather, he adhered closely to the unanimous conclusions of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies expressed in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of Nov. 2007.
So What's New? The Director General of the IAEA, for one thing.
Yukiya Amano found huge shoes to fill when he took over from the widely respected Mohamed ElBaradei on December 1. ElBaradei had the courage to call a spade a spade and, when necessary, a forgery a forgery--like the documents alleging that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium in Niger.
ElBaradei took a perverse--if diplomatic--delight in giving the lie to spurious allegations and became persona non grata to the Bush/Cheney administration. So much so that, in an unsuccessful campaign to deny him a third four-year term as Director General, the administration called in many diplomatic chits in 2005--the same year he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition to a strong spine, Elbaradei had credentials that would simply not quit. His extensive diplomatic experience together with a PhD in international law from New York University, gave him a gravitas that enabled him to lead the IAEA effectively.
Lacking gravitas, one bends more easily. It is a fair assumption that Amano will prove more malleable than his predecessor--and surely more naÃ¯ve. How he handles the controversy generated by Thursday's report should show whether he means to follow ElBaradei's example or the more customary "flexible" example so common among U.N. bureaucrats.
Press reports over the past few days--as well as past experience--strongly suggest that the "new evidence" cited by the Times may have comes from the usual suspects--agenda-laden sources, like Israeli intelligence.
On Saturday, the Jerusalem Post quoted the Israeli government as saying the IAEA report "establishes that the agency has a lot of trustworthy information about the past and present activities that testify to the military tendencies of the Iranian program." The newspaper cited the IAEA report as suggesting that "Teheran had either resumed such work [on a nuclear weapon] or had never stopped when U.S. intelligence said it did."