News & Publications

September 7, 2010

Who is reporting on the report?

The International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday expressed concerns about Iran’s nuclear facilities and capabilities as part of its quarterly report onthe Iranian nuclear program, eliciting an immediate outcry from news outlets, with several calling the new report clear evidence that tough sanctions and even military action might be necessary to prevent Iran from “going nuclear.”  For some, this shows the futility even of a sanctions regime in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program because this report was released after the latest round of UN sponsored summer sanctions.  They are focusing on the Iranian decision to reject two nuclear inspectors as a clear sign of Iranian intransigence.  However, to what extent are the concerns expressed in the report new?  Furthermore, is the expulsion of these two inspectors really a sign of Iran’s malevolent intentions?

The first key finding of the report was that Iran has enough nuclear material for two or three potential nuclear weapons.  This pronouncement has commentators up in arms.  However, the IAEA makes it clear that this nuclear material is inspected regularly by its teams, and is not currently refined enough to become weapons grade material.  Inspections by the IAEA work precisely because Iran would have to overtly declare its nuclear intentions by refusing to allow inspection of its uranium to start a nuclear program.  Even then, it would take over a year for Iran to turn uranium processed at a 20% level into anything approaching a nuclear weapon and two to three years for it to engineer a deliverable bomb or nuclear missile.  Far from a new declaration of previously unknown Iranian capabilities, this report just reiterates previous well-documented IAEA concerns about the Iranian nuclear program while showing that Iran is years away from an actual bomb.
The second important aspect of the report, and a new piece of information offered, is the expulsion by Iran of two nuclear inspectors for filing a “false report.” Iran claims that the inspectors added their own suppositions and that even the IAEA has privately acknowledged they went too far (something the IAEA publically denies).  The IAEA acknowledges that Iran has the legal right to do this, and Iranian officials are quick to point out that they have accepted the alternative inspectors proposed by the organization.  Little information is available about who these two inspectors are, and the report certainly would be more troubling if it was found that these inspectors had a certain expertise that other individuals were unable to duplicate.  At the very least, this is concerning because it takes months to train the new inspectors regarding important aspects of the nuclear program. However, this is not the same as inspectors being denied further access to facilities (other than previously noted Iranian resistance).
Every new IAEA report on Iran seems to bring a barrage of alarmist news reporting, with many claiming that each statement furthers the case for “decisive” action against Iran’s nuclear facilities and shows the futility of IAEA work.  In particular, this IAEA report after the latest round of sanctions is being framed as a rejection of even a heavy handed sanctions regime.  However, after viewing the report, there is a clear gap between the report itself and the conclusions drawn by some because of it.  An informed reader will take in multiple opinions as well as read the IAEA report itself because, like always, who is reporting about the report makes all the difference.

Back to top