Scott Peterson’s fine piece at CSM on Iranian reactions to the Wikileaks cables is given further credence by yet another document that surfaced Tuesday. Peterson says that the Iranians took the documents to suggest that President Obama was all along plotting against them even while pursuing a diplomatic track in public, and that a breakthrough through negotiations is now very unlikely.
It is an account of conversations between the US undersecretary for arms control and British officials in early September, 2009. It shows that the then British Labor Government supported President Obama’s diplomatic outreach to Iran but was very much prepared for it to fail, and fail quickly, and so was already focused on ratcheting up further economic sanctions on Tehran. Simon McDonald said that the prime minister did not think Obama’s diplomatic efforts should be “open-ended,” and seemed to have a 30-day deadline in mind for Iran to respond. That sort of impatience does not comport with genuine diplomacy, and it seems clear that the British were eager to impose further sanctions as soon as possible.
Another passage suggests strong British and American pressure on Yukiya Amano, the then incoming head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Under his predecessor, Mohammad Elbaradei, the IAEA had steadfastly refused to rubber stamp US and Western European charges that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon. The inspectors could find no evidence of it, and were able to certify that no nuclear material had been diverted from the civilian program. They were extremely frustrated by Iran’s lack of complete cooperation, and some entertained dark suspicions, but Elbaradei’s reports only included what could be proven from the inspections. Foreign Minister David Miliband spoke of putting some “steel” in Amano’s spine. Ellen Tauscher, the US under secretary for arms control and international security affairs, said that the US and the UK must work to make Amano a “success.”
Reading between the lines, it seems clear that London and Washington intended to get hold of Amano as soon as Elbaradei had departed, and twist his arm to be more alarmist in his reports on Iran. Surely from Washington’s hawkish point of view, any “success” of the IAEA would be in demonstrating an Iranian weapons program and giving evidence that could be used to ratchet up sanctions at the UN Security Council. Ironically, the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran had supported Elbaradei’s careful approach. Amano may have been predisposed to be suspicious of Iran because of his own country’s experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and his consequent personal commitment to non-proliferation.
It was improper for Miliband to have spoken of putting steel in Amano’s spine, with the obvious meaning that the UK wanted the IAEA to put out reports on Iran’s nuclear activities that mirrored Whitehall’s suspicions– suspicions for which there is no known proof. (Iran has a civilian nuclear enrichment program; no one has found any dispositive evidence that it has a nuclear weapons program, and there is much evidence to the contrary).
There is also a passage about tying Iran’s nuclear program to that of North Korea, said to be urged by then National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones. That strategy is shot through with propaganda, since North Korea went for broke to get a nuclear warhead and has a handful of them now. North Korea conducted underground nuclear detonations in 2006 and 2009, as confirmed by seismic activity. In contrast, Iran has no bomb. All Iran can be shown to have done is to whirl radioactive material around to produce about two tons of uranium enriched to 3.5% and a very small amount enriched to 19.75%, intended for use in Iran’s small medical reactor, given it by the US in 1969. Both these levels of enrichment are considered Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) and are irrelevant to bomb-making unless they are further processed to 95%– something there is no evidence of the Iranians trying to do or even being able to do. Remember, their facility at Natanz is being inspected. So, Iran is just not like North Korea. The latter is a known violator (like Israel, Pakistan and India) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nothing Iran has done since 2003 violates the NPT, which it signed– unlike Israel.
The USG Open Source center today translated an Iranian Fars News Agency, Wednesday, December 1, 2010, report of a television discussion in which an Iranian security expert complained about this very strategy:
‘ Fars News Agency: An expert on Iran and the region emphasized with the new atmosphere of controversy the Zionists are creating they are trying to show that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is connected to North Korea’s nuclear program. Fars reports Amir Musavi in an interview with this week’s program The Israeli Eye on the Al-Alam News Network mentioned the creation of controversy by the Zionists against Iran’s nuclear program and said the Zionists are trying to divert world public opinion away from their own nuclear armory towards other directions, and to portray Iran’s peaceful nuclear program as a threat they are connecting North Korea’s nuclear program to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. This expert on Iran and regional affairs added: However unlike North Korea the Islamic Republic of Iran consistently cooperates with the IAEA.’ Musavi added: If the Islamic Republic of Iran were seeking to conceal its peaceful nuclear program it could have done this but Iran has always sought mutual cooperation with the IAEA.
Iran-related passages of the wikileaks cable:
Background: Ellen Tauscher, the US under secretary for arms control and international security affairs held meetings in London on September 2-4 on the margins of the P5 Conference on Confidence Building Measures Towards Nuclear Disarmament with Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Simon McDonald, Head of the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat at the Cabinet Office … [and others]
“Tuesday, 22 September 2009, 14:13
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 LONDON 002198
SUBJECT: U/S TAUSCHER’S MEETINGS WITH FS MILIBAND AND OTHER
¶11. (S/NF) Tauscher made clear that Iran needed to respond to the P5 1 offer prior to the UNGA, at which point there would be a stock-taking; absent progress, attention would turn to substantially stronger sanctions. FS Milband opined that U.S. Administration is “rightly trying to overcome a deficit of prejudice and mistrust in a relatively short time” by diplomatic outreach to Iran. He continued that the Iranian elections were a “bad outcome” — an outcome that had given extremists the upper hand and resulted in a “culling of reformists.” Miliband said that, in his opinion, Iran’s extremist government would not make concessions in a short time. Nonetheless, the U.S. “Administration’s support for a diplomatic solution is very wise.” He praised the impact of financial sanctions spearheaded by Treasury U/S Levey. Leslie asserted that the Iranian administration is “in a state of flux” and “not focused,” so probably unable to respond to overtures.
LONDON 00002198 003 OF 005
¶12. (S/NF) McDonald stressed that the PM supports the President’s outreach efforts to Iran, but this outreach should not be “open ended.” The UK view is that “if Iran is not responsive, we have to get serious.” UK experts have concluded that stronger sanctions should be in place by the end of the year if Iran is not significantly responsive by the end of September. McDonald observed that it would take some time to negotiate a UNSCR [United Nations Security Council Resolution]; in the meantime, the UK is considering national steps it could take as well as possible steps the EU could take. HMG shares NSA Jones’ view that proliferation problems posed by Iran and North Korea should be addressed together, not as separate, unrelated issues, McDonald said…
¶14. (S/NF) “We need to put some steel in Director General-elect Amano,” [of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency] Miliband opined. Amano has a key role and he “must be a leader and a consensus-builder who reports faithfully what experts tell him.” McDonald observed that the IAEA seems more prepared than it has in the past to address Iranian conduct. Tauscher agreed we need to make Amano a success.”