Dubai: Concern is developing in Washington over last week's report on Iran's nuclear programmes from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as several prominent news reports appear to deliberately exaggerate Iran's non-compliance and possible military projects.

The fear is that these reports will help to build a suitable atmosphere for hawkish factions in President George W Bush's administration to push for military action against Iran, or to encourage other countries such as Israel to take such action.

Cyrus Safdari, a respected and independent analyst on Iran, has said that the New York Times has covered the IAEA report with an article that "completes a pattern of hyped, one-sided reportage that goes back a while", and that the Times has added its own editorial commentary as if it was news.

He points out that the New York Times wrote on May 27 that in answering allegations that Iran's nuclear programme may be intended more for military use than for energy generation, "the nine-page report accused the Iranians of a willful lack of cooperation". Safdari points out that the IAEA report "contains no such accusation anywhere".

Safdari also points out in a commentary made available to Gulf News that the New York Times story left out such facts such as: "Iran had submitted answers to the IAEA's questions which were being assessed by the IAEA rather than 'refusing to provide documentation'; that the Iranians were not actually shown the evidence it was supposed to refute; that Iran was not required to permit the so-called 'blocked' inspections, that the IAEA itself has said that it has no evidence to support the allegations against Iran, or the many other facts left out by the New York Times article."

Wall Street Journal is following a similar editorial line. In its May 28 issue, page A16, it offers an editorial comment that as a result of this IAEA report the USA should implement a "a month-long naval blockade of Iran's imports of refined gasoline", which would be an act of war.

However comparing the Wall Street Journal's report with what the IAEA actually said shows a very different picture. The Journal says, "Also interesting is what the report describes as 'the development of high voltage detonator firing equipment and exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators including, inter alia, the simultaneous firing of multiple EBW detonators, an underground testing arrangement . . . and the testing of at least one full scale hemispherical, converging, explosively driven shock system that could be applicable to an implosion-type nuclear device.' If there's an innocent explanation for this kind of work, we'd love to hear it."

However, this paragraph from the Journal leaves out the vital words from the IAEA report introducing the quotation, "One aspect of the alleged studies concerns ....". By not reporting that the weaponisation is alleged and has yet to be answered or proven, the Journal paints a clear picture that it is actual and the IAEA agrees that it is happening, which is not what the IAEA report says.

Full access

The IAEA's May 26 report comes in two parts. The first deals with the on-going nuclear programme and the second with the accusations of past plans to convert nuclear material for military purposes. On the on-going programme, the IAEA gives Iran a clean bill of health. The report details how Iran's nuclear programme is continuing, that the cascades of the fuel enrichment plants are being improved, and are more modern than previously, and that Iran is producing more nuclear fuel than before.

The IAEA makes clear that it has full access to these programmes. Referring to Iran's two nuclear fuel plans, the Fuel Enrichment Plant, FEP, and the more modern Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, PFEP, the IAEA reports bluntly that: "all nuclear material, as well as all installed cascades, remains under Agency containment and surveillance". It further reports that "since March 2007, fourteen unannounced inspections have been conducted."

The second part of the IAEA report is very different. It lists several accusations of apparent Iranian nuclear weaponisation, gathered from various intelligence sources and summarised in a list of 18 documents covering the development of green salt (weapon-grade uranium); high explosives testing, and missile re-entry vehicles.

The IAEA clearly would like more substantive and quicker answers to these accusations. It says "the alleged studies .. remain a matter of serious concern. Clarification of these is critical to an assessment of the nature of Iran's past and present nuclear programmes".

However, if the allegations of weaponisation are not true, Iran is in the difficult position of being asked to prove a negative, to prove that something did not happen.

In addition, it is being asked to answer intelligence reports that may or may not be true. In recent years, many supposed intelligence reports from western agencies have been proved untrue, and others have been proved to have been doctored to meet the political requirements of their various governments.

As a way round this problem, the IAEA report ends with a recommendation from the IAEA to Iran: "The Director General urges Iran to implement all measures required to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme, including the Additional Protocol, at the earliest possible date".

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