- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

In just the latest move that calls into question the seriousness of its efforts to learn the truth about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency apparently withheld information suggesting that Iran had attempted to purchase large quantitities of dual-use material (items with civilian and military uses) which can be used to detonate an atomic weapon.

Reuters reported that diplomats from the United States and unnamed countries are unhappy with IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei, who they claim removed information about Iran’s suspected purchase of beryllium from a report to the agency’s governing board that was issued in September. According to the news agency, a “non-U.S. diplomat” said that information about Iran’s work with beryllium was included in an early draft of the IAEA report on inspections in Iran, but was taken out of the final report after Tehran objected. The information was also omitted from a report issued last month by the IAEA Board of Governors.

That same IAEA board rejected U.S. efforts to have Iran’s behavior referred to the U.N. Security Council for action, opting instead for a weak alternative plan devised by Britain, France and Germany requiring that Iran freeze part of its nuclear program. This plan devised by the EU 3 specifies that the Iranian freeze is “non-binding” and “voluntary.” In other words, Iran faces no meaningful penalties for ignoring the freeze whenever it chooses.

In response to the Reuters story, the IAEA suggests the information about Iran’s efforts to obtain beryllium was omitted because it was a technical detail and had not been proven. But that’s not the way IAEA reports to the Board of Governors are supposed to work. The reports are supposed to be a full accounting of all the things that agency is investigating about a country’s nuclear program at a given time. If a particular charge has not been proven, the IAEA is supposed to say that — not leave the information out. The decision to omit the beryllium data entirely smacks of an effort to conceal something.

What exactly might the beryllium data excised by Mr. ElBaradei be? No one can say for sure. But some of the information on the public record is indeed troubling. Publications such as the London Sunday Telegraph and Jane’s International Defense Review reported that, in 1994, the United States prevented Tehran from purchasing beryllium in Kazakhstan. After the CIA learned that Iranian agents had visited a processing plant there, U.S. agents reportedly purchased the entire inventory. The beryllium — enough to produce 20 nuclear warheads — was transferred to the United States to be modified for nonmilitary uses. There have been subsequent published reports suggesting that Tehran continues to try to obtain beryllium.

Since it was forced to begin dealing with the issue last June, the IAEA has to its credit issued a series of reports showing that Iran has been cheating and concealing its nuclear program from public view for nearly 20 years. Our central criticism of Mr. ElBaradei had been his unwillingness to be sufficiently vigorous in holding Iran accountable for malevolent behavior that has been publicly documented. If it turns out that he has been withholding relevant information about Iran from the IAEA board, it raises troubling new questions about Mr. ElBaradei’s leadership.

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