Iran Update 164

  • Iranian officials meeting with IAEA delegation today
  • International concern over developments at Bushehr
  • Iran displays ‘downed’ ScanEagle drone
  • Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to resign
  • Associated Press publishes inaccurate document that claims to show advanced nuclear program

Iranian officials meeting with IAEA delegation today
Representatives from the IAEA are meeting with Iranian nuclear officials in Tehran today, December 13. The IAEA’s Director General, Yukiya Amano, had previously said of the meeting that “Now is the time for all of us to work with a sense of urgency and to seize the opportunity for a diplomatic solution”.

In particular, the IAEA is attempting to come up with a process to cast further light on Iran’s suspected clean-up of evidence at its facilities in Parchin, although the latest reports have said that inspectors have not had access to the facilities during this visit. Tehran has been unwilling to allow inspectors to investigate the site in the past. Satellite images have indicated that a large amount of earth has been moved, and reports suggest that it was the site of explosives testing a decade ago. Accusations of a clean-up have been denied by Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who has said that, anyway, “It is not possible to clean up signs of nuclear pollution.”

International concern over developments at Bushehr
Developments at the Bushehr nuclear plant, on Iran’s southwest coast, have sparked interest over the last few weeks, after the IAEA report said that engineers at the plant had discharged fuel rods from the facility to store them in a cooling pond on site. The IAEA has given no reason for the actions at the plant, but the Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has described the actions as part of a “normal technical procedure”, undertaken in preparation for the plant’s changeover from Russian manufacturers to full Iranian control early next year.

A Russian nuclear industry source has indicated that the presence of small, external debris in the reactor was the reason for its shutdown, and that the safety of the facility was compromised, while the Iranian news media has since reported that the fuel rods have been re-installed.

Iran displays ‘downed’ ScanEagle drone
It has been reported that the United States has increased its surveillance of Iran in light of concern over the Bushehr nuclear power plant. In mid-November Iranian fighter planes fired at an unmanned U.S. drone, but did not bring it down. Iran has since displayed what it says is a captured short-range U.S. ScanEagle drone, on state TV. Iranian Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh claimed that Iran had previously shot down this model of drone in the past as well.

U.S. authorities have denied such claims, saying that all U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles are accounted for. The Iranians claim that the drone violated their airspace, which the United States denies. The Iranians have also complained to the United Nations about the United States’ alleged incursions, in a letter seen by the Wall Street Journal. According to Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Khazaee, “Recent operations carried out by United States planes violating the airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran include flights that took place over the coastal areas of Bushehr on at least seven separate days throughout October this year, endangering the safety of air navigation.” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has warned: “We will use this drone as evidence to pursue a legal case against the U.S. invasion at relevant international bodies.”

It remains unclear how this will impact upon the anticipated mid-January nuclear discussions between the E3+3 and Iran. The UK Daily Telegraph’s Diplomatic Correspondent, Alex Spillius, speculates it could have a negative, destabilising effect on future dialogue between the two countries.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to resign 
Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, is set to resign before next month’s elections. Reportedly, Barak has fallen-out with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over whether to defer to the United States’ judgment regarding a potential attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Barak has been considered Netanyahu’s chief moderating influence, and the Defence Minister’s loss may be a blow to those hoping for diplomatic, rather than military, solutions to the current impasse. Barak has publicly stated that Israel should reserve the right to act unilaterally on the Iranian question, but it has been suggested that he has been more moderate in private cabinet discussions.

Two other reportedly moderate influences in Netanyahu’s cabinet, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, have also been sidelined. Both men have opposed attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities unilaterally, which suggests that the Israeli position toward Iran may become more confrontational after the elections, which Netanyahu is well-placed to win.

Associated Press publishes inaccurate document that claims to show advanced nuclear program
On November 27, the AP published a graph purporting to show that Iran’s nuclear program was at an extremely advanced stage. “Iranian scientists”, it said, “have run computer simulations for a nuclear weapon that would produce more than triple the explosive force of the World War II bomb that destroyed Hiroshima”. The graph had been acquired, the report said, “from a country critical of Iran’s atomic program to bolster their arguments that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted before it produces a weapon.”

However, upon closer inspection, the graph contained basic errors and its efficacy was in doubt. Physicists Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress stated in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: “This diagram does nothing more than indicate either slipshod analysis or an amateurish hoax…in any case, the level of scientific sophistication needed to produce such a graph corresponds to that typically found in graduate- or advanced undergraduate-level nuclear physics courses.” Furthermore, Butt said that the AP story wrongly indicated “that this amateurish and technically incorrect graph even made it into official reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, specifically one from November 2011 citing indications that Iran was trying to calculate the explosive yield of potential nuclear weapons.” Misinformation could have negative ramifications because it could suggest to the Iranians that evidence will be found to justify military intervention, whether it exists or not.

Stories and links:

U.N. nuclear inspectors in Iran, no sign of Parchin visit
Reuters, December 13, 2012

Iran claims it shot down U.S. ScanEagle drones in the past
AFP, December 11, 2012

IAEA Chief hopes Tehran meeting will aid diplomatic efforts
Charles Recknagel, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, December 10, 2012

Iranian nuclear bomb would trigger arms race – Iran ex-official
Reuters, December 5, 2012

Iran says extracts data from U.S. spy drone
Reuters, December 5, 2012

Iran’s Claim of Drone Capture Is Denied by U.S.
Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, December 5, 2012

Iran to take US to international court over intercepted spy drone
RT, December 5, 2012

Iran says captures U.S. drone in its airspace
Yeganeh Torbati and Daniel Fineren, Reuters, December 4, 2012

Iran lawmaker hails Tehran-Islamabad ties
Press TV, December 4, 2012

Iranian TV shows off ‘captured US ScanEagle drone’
BBC, December 4, 2012

U.S. has stepped up surveillance over Iran’s nuclear power plant: report
Tehran Times, December 3, 2012

Senate Passes Tough New Iran Sanctions
Samuel Rubenfeld, The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2012

U.S. Raises Monitoring of Iranian Reactor
Jay Soloman and Julian E. Barnes, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2012

Stray bolts blamed for Iran nuclear plant shutdown: Russia source
Steve Gutterman, Reuters, November 30, 2012

U.S. sets Iran nuclear talks deadline
Xinhua, November 30, 2012

Iran may quit anti-nuclear arms pact if attacked: envoy
Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, November 30, 2012

Iran nuclear chief: Uranium enrichment to be stepped up with new centrifuges, reactor
Washington Post, November 28, 2012

AP exclusive: Graph suggests Iran working on bomb
George Jahn, The Big Story, November 27, 2012

Troubled Iranian reactor in focus at UN
Sky News, November 27, 2012

Israeli opponents of Iran strike sidelined in vote
Dan Williams, Reuters, November 27, 2012

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak to retire from politics
Guardian, November 26, 2012

West concerned about fuel move at Iran nuclear power plant
Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, November 20, 2012

Iran nuclear work at constant pace despite sanctions
IAEA, November 11, 2012
Editorials, Analyses, and Reports:

Iran and the bomb: The legal standards of the IAEA
Bulletin of the American Scientists, updated December 10, 2012

Three Worries About Next Iran Talks
Trita Parsi, Al-Monitor, December 10, 2012

New Offer to Iran Doesn’t Look Like a Breakthrough; West Should Bend a Bit
Michael Adler, AOL Defense, December 10, 2012

Flawed graph weakens case against Iran nuclear program
Yousaf Butt, The Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2012

Ten Reasons Iran Doesn’t Want the Bomb
Seyed Hossein Mousavian, The National Interest, December 4, 2012

Ahead of new Iran nuclear talks, six powers debate updating package
Laura Rozen, The Back Channel, December 4, 2012

Iran’s ‘capture’ of U.S. drone will impede nuclear talks
Alex Spillius, The Telegraph, December 4, 2012

AP’s dangerous Iran hoax demands an accounting and explanation
Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, November 29, 2012

DIY graphic design
Yousaf Butt and Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 28, 2012

Understanding the IAEA’s Mandate in Iran: Avoiding Misinterpretations
David Albright, Olli Heinonen, and Orde Kittrie, ISIS, November 27, 2012


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