Despite the very flawed and much publicized December National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran, the U.N. Security Council recently passed a third set of sanctions designed to force Iran to halt its nuclear program. Indeed, except for a few credulous people and some in the U.S. intelligence community with a political agenda, most capitals in the world dismissed the NIE findings as bogus.
And now the International Atomic Energy Agency has joined the fray.
Interestingly, analyzing the findings of the NIE back in December, the French expert and director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (Foundation for Strategic Research), Francois Heisbourg, told the Swiss daily Le Temps, that this report’s conclusion could be the result of a revenge from some in U.S. intelligence against a president who put them in a tough spot during the Iraqi crisis.
He added very rightly so: “Compared to the NIE report on Iran, even Mohamed El Baradei [the IAEA’s head] looks like a hawk”.
Now, while this fact was quite underreported, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) documents actually point to the existence of the military Iranian nuclear program. On Feb. 25, Olli Heinonen, the Finnish deputy director general of the IAEA, presented evidence of the existence of this.
Also, the French daily Le Monde got access to documents proving that Tehran pursued a military nuclear program after 2003, contrary to what the National Intelligence Estimate stated. The main document is a 2004 letter written by Mahdi Khaniki, one of the IAEA’s main interlocutors and former Iranian ambassador to Syria, to Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI).
In this letter Mahdi Khaniki pointed out that the IAEA inspectors demanded to see the contracts for the purchase of spare parts used in the development of the centrifuges.
“At a meeting held on January 31, 2004 in the presence of Dr. Rohani [Hassan Rohani, the chief negotiator of the Iranian nuclear program until the end of 2005], the latter decided that these contracts should be prepared in accordance to the AEOI’s wishes, so they would be ready to be delivered to the IAEA. It is worth noting that the representative of the ministry of defense and of assistance to the armed forces said at the meeting that the contracts were drawn up for a presentation [to the IAEA]. However, portions of these contracts, which this writer viewed at the Ministry of Defense, were crossed out with black lines and the quantities did not appear; therefore, it seems that these contracts will raise more questions than those which [normally] should be submitted to the Agency [IAEA].”
Le Monde, citing sources close to an intelligence service, affirmed that this letter was part of “Project 13” (also known as “Project for the disappearance of threats”), a project allegedly aimed at deceiving the IAEA inspectors.
For Iranian experts, quoted by Le Monde, this letter represents clear evidence of the involvement of the Iranian defense ministry in the nuclear dossier. This confirms suspicions about the military character of this program, while attesting of the efforts of the Iranians to conceal it.
Further proof of this came in when in mid-December 2006, U.S. intelligence services intercepted a conversation, between two unidentified officials at the Department of Defense in Tehran, reporting differences between officials of the AEOI and the Ministry of Defense. Indeed, one of the two interlocutors pointed out that: ” Currently, as for the CTBTO [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization], I think that the Ministry of Defense must have the last word, because they [the leaders of the AEOI] know that ultimately we intend to conduct tests.”
In light of these new developments and the increasing worldwide consensus (from Europe to the Gulf), regarding the threat associated with the Iranian nuclear program, concerned nations will soon have to make a decision on a plan of action.
Will the U.N. sanctions be enough? Nothing is less sure. That’s why the ever growing military activity in the region does not bode well for a peaceful resolution of a thorny issue.