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Archive for September, 2011

An Iranian Offer Worth Considering

Posted by alanmirs on September 29, 2011

Published: September 29, 2011

A nuclear research reactor in Tehran may hold the key to resolving the prolonged nuclear stalemate between Iran and the West. The Iranian government is running out of the 20 percent-enriched uranium it needs to operate the reactor, and that appears to be making it amenable to compromise.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently proposed that Iran suspend production of some uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for fuel supplies from the United States. Whether the offer is an olive branch or an act of necessity, it is an unprecedented opportunity for Washington and its allies.

The proposal arose earlier this month amid the habitual bombast that surrounds Ahmadinejad’s annual trip to the U.N. General Assembly. “If you [the United States and Europe] give us uranium grade 20 percent now, we will stop production,” the Iranian president told The Washington Post and later, in basically the same terms, The New York Times.

Ahmadinejad clarified that the offer did not apply to the production of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, which it uses at the Bushehr power station to generate electricity. But the offer is significant nonetheless.

While the 20 percent-enriched uranium is used to make medical isotopes in the Tehran Research Reactor, it lies at the perilous dividing line between low-enriched uranium and highly enriched uranium. Stockpiling 20 percent-enriched uranium significantly shortens the time then needed to make crude nuclear weapons. By seeking supplies in the West, Ahmadinejad’s offer may lower concerns that Iran will make a dash toward developing atomic bombs in the near future.

As a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium to 20 percent (and even more), so long as it uses the uranium solely for peaceful purposes and operates under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But prompted by revelations that Iran was violating its treaty obligations, the U.N. Security Council has passed six resolutions since 2006 demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment activities.

Yet the Iranian government’s nuclear aspirations remained, at least until recently, unabated. Just this year, it pugnaciously announced plans to triple its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and started transferring enrichment operations from a plant in Natanz to an underground bunkered facility in Fordow. Despite this boastful defiance, Iran is not yet capable of refurbishing enriched uranium into fuel rods for its reactors.

And now it is also running out of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The United States once supplied the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, but the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought an abrupt end to that relationship. In 1992, Argentina supplied 116 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which has fueled the reactor to date.

After efforts in 2009 and 2010 to swap the majority of Iran’s stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium with fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor came to naught, Iran launched its own production of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Today, it holds more than 70 kilograms.

Although this is less than the amount required to make a nuclear bomb — about 130 kilograms at the very least — there are still concerns that Iran could stockpile enough of this uranium and then quickly enrich it further in order to produce weapons-grade material.

There is also the concern that Ahmadinejad’s offer may be empty rhetoric. His domestic standing has weakened following his recent public rifts with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But Ahmadinejad has repeated the offer often enough, and with confirmation from the foreign minister, that it must have the backing of the Iranian political elite, including Khamenei.

And recent statements by Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, rebuffing the possibility that Iran might halt production of 20 percent-enriched uranium or agree to fuel swaps, should not be taken too seriously. Abbasi is often belligerent — perhaps the result of being targeted for assassination last year — and traditionally neither he nor his predecessors have been included in the Iranian government’s decision-making on nuclear issues. The reality is that Tehran needs nuclear fuel for its research reactor, and it needs it now.

For once, it is strategically expedient for the United States and its allies to take Ahmadinejad at his word. They should provide Iran with 50 kilograms of fuel, without any conditions.

As the failed experiences of 2009 and 2010 demonstrated, setting conditions would be a nonstarter. On the other hand, giving Iran the fuel unconditionally would remove Iran’s rationale for refining uranium to more than 3.5 percent.

The deal would increase Iran’s safeguarded stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to 120 kilograms, an amount large enough to operate the Tehran Research Reactor for seven years at maximum capacity — and help the 850,000 Iranians who currently depend on the reactor’s radioactive isotopes for cancer treatment — but too small to produce even one nuclear bomb.

Such a move would be, above all, a humanitarian gesture, and it would buy Washington good will with the Iranian people and undermine the regime’s anti-American, nationalistic propaganda. But it would be a humanitarian gesture with strategic benefits: curtailing Iran’s enrichment activities and potentially cutting the Gordian knot that has stalled the West’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Those who usually observe Iran’s nuclear program through a thick veil of suspicion will be inclined to reject any compromise with Tehran out of hand. But since other aspects of the nuclear standoff between the West and Iran — the possible military dimension of the program, heavy-water production, additional enrichment facilities — are likely to remain unresolved, this initiative is a rare chance to move forward.

Ali Vaez is a fellow for science and technology and the director of the Iran Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Charles D. Ferguson is the president of FAS and the author of “Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know.”


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Challenging the U.S. narrative on Iran

Posted by alanmirs on September 25, 2011


Top Photo
American hikers Shane Bauer, right, and Josh Fattal, jailed in Iran as spies, left Tehran on Wednesday, closing a high-profile drama that brought more than two years of hope, then heartbreak, for the families as the Islamic Republic’s hard-line rulers rejected international calls for their release.AP
September 25, 2011 2:00 AM

By Robert Azzi

Why do they hate us? It must be the Islamic Revolution. 1979. 52 hostages. 444 days. “It’s because they envy us.” Allow me to challenge this narrative.

On April 19, 1909, in the Persian village of Tabriz, a young American missionary, Howard Baskerville, 24, was killed, shot dead by a sniper as he fought alongside nationalist forces, some of whom were his students. Baskerville, recently graduated from Princeton, had gone to Persia as a teacher before entering seminary. Nationalist forces, supporting the Persian Constitutional Revolution, were resisting the Tsarist forces who, along with the British, were supporting a corrupt Shah trying to maintain his tyranny over the Persian people.

On Aug. 19, 1953, another American, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt Jr., succeeded on his Iranian mission. He engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and restored the Shah to power. Although the coup’s pretense, in Washington, was to keep the Soviets from making inroads through Persia and into the Indian Ocean, its true motive was protecting the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company access to Iranian oil without having to share its revenues equitably. Roosevelt’s mission was successful. Mossadagh was deposed and the Shah installed, beginning a new reign of despotism over the Iranian people, supported with American arms and training, that continued until 1979 and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini, who led the Islamic Revolution and plunged Iran into a new abyss of tyranny.

Recently, in July 2009, shortly after heavily contested presidential elections in Iran, three American hikers, on no mission of their own, crossed into Iran and were arrested. Certainly one can imagine Iranian authorities, under siege internationally for their handling of the elections and its violent aftermath, being vigilant and paranoid about excursions along their borders. Two of the hikers were tried and imprisoned.

Today, in Tabriz, visitors to Baskerville’s gravesite are still apt to find fresh roses decorating his tomb. Schools and some roads still bear the Baskerville name and a silk Persian carpet, with Baskerville’s portrait, was woven by the women of Tabriz.

No such remembrances of Kermit Roosevelt Jr. grace Iran’s streets, although the memory of America’s coup, “Operation Ajax,” is still strong today — an act where the United States denied victory to Iran’s democratic forces and installed the Shah who tormented them for 26 years.

So, if there is hate for us in Iran today, date it from 1953. Not from 1979, when they seized the American Embassy in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Not from 1980 to 1988, when we backed Iraq with chemical weapons against Iran. Not from 1953 to 1979, when Americans trained the feared SAVAK secret police who controlled all aspects of life in Iran, not unlike the Revolutionary Guards of today.

Iran may be anti-Western, which is its right. It may be an Islamic State, which is also its right. But don’t make the mistake of thinking Iranians hate us because they envy us our democracy, “Sex and the City,” our Bill of Rights and “Glee.” They certainly don’t envy us our MacMansions, and our anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric.

They know better. They know there is much good, much freedom, to envy in America. But, the Iranians are proud, nationalistic, creative people who long to be free, both from their own despotic leaders and mullahs and from America’s imperial meddling. They disagree with our policies, our arrogance, our coming into their neighborhood and trying to rewrite the rules of global engagement for everyone — for everyone except ourselves.

There is much to dislike, and sometimes fear about Iran. Lack of disclosure over their nuclear program. Suppression of election results in 2009. Brutal suppression of dissent. Suppression of the rights of women and artists and homosexuals, and their support of Hizbullah and Hamas and their denial of the Holocaust and their anti-Semitism. Such actions must be repudiated.

But there is another narrative that demands respect. In May 2003, Iran, anxious not to be included in the Axis of Evil, and certainly no friend of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, sent Washington a wide-ranging letter offering both concessions and cooperation with the Americans on issues ranging from terrorism to nuclear power, including they “… offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for ‘full access to peaceful nuclear technology.'”

The letter was potentially a game changer, but Bush’s White House, eager to pursue its war on terror as defined by the neocons, rebuffed the Iranians, leading to more years of perhaps unnecessary regional conflict, especially in Iraq, and perhaps contributing to further American casualties in that theatre.

Iran lives in a tough neighborhood. American adventurism in Iraq, instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Turkey’s conflicts with the Kurds, and a restive Arab Spring that augers an uncertain future for all tyrants and oligarchs fuels Iran’s sense of isolation. Surrounded by nuclear powers in Israel, China, Pakistan and India, with no supportive security alliances, it is understandable that they might seek their own nuclear deterrent. Not acceptable, perhaps, but understandable.

This week Iran, as world leaders were gathering in New York for the opening of the United Nations, released the two imprisoned American hikers. A welcome, yet perhaps cynical gesture, to raise the increasingly unpopular President Ahmadnejad’s profile as he prepared to address the General Assembly.

Because of the way America misplayed Iraq, Iran has emerged as a dominant Middle East power, whether we like it or not. America’s failure to talk to Iran is as foolish today as was its years-long failure to talk to China. There is little memory in Iran today of the events of 1979. As in America today, it needs jobs, education, and infrastructure renewal. Iran may be a wavering theocracy, stubborn, nationalistic and at times paranoid, but it has legitimate economic, security and political needs that can be addressed at the negotiating table.

Perhaps the young and innocent hikers walking unknown trails and tumbling down a dark, scary seemingly endless tunnel, free now through diplomacy, can offer an example for leaders to emulate.

Robert Azzi is a photojournalist who lives in Exeter.

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Transcript of Ahmadinejad’s U.N. Speech

Posted by alanmirs on September 23, 2011

پنج شنبه 31 شهريور 1390 – 21:07
Full text of president s speech at UN General Assembly:

Address by H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran before the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.New York 22 September 2011 

In the Name of God, the Compassionate
The Merciful

All praise be to Allah, the lord of the Universe, and peace and blessing be upon our Master and prophet, Mohammad, and his pure household, his noble companions and on all divine messengers.

‘Oh, God, hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory, and make us his followers and all those who attest to his rightfulness.’

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Iran’s nuclear power plant: threat or distraction?

Posted by alanmirs on September 20, 2011

From Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution, for CNN

EDITOR’S NOTE: Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution where studies Iran, the political economy of the Persian Gulf and Middle East energy policy. She served as an external advisor to the State Department from 2010 to 2011 and was a former U.S. State Department policy advisor during the George W. Bush administration.  She has also counseled private companies on Middle East issues. Maloney recently published a book titled Iran’s Long Reach: Iran as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World.

Washington greeted this week’s inauguration of Iran’s first nuclear power plant with a chorus of concerns about the Iranian threat and the prospects of proliferation across the Middle East. This alarmism is neither unexpected nor unjustified. However in the case of the Bushehr reactor, it is somewhat misdirected.


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The writer is naive and misguided if she thinks the American administration ever honestly considered Bushehr as a threat; albeit, that’s the view they intended to project. The reality is that presenting Iran as a threat (nuclear or otherwise) has always been a game of smoke and mirrors carefully cultivated to create fear and political instability in the region. When Hillary Clinton goes to Saudi and tells their rulers “You’re either with US or with Iran”, followed three weeks later by the signing a record breaking defense deal with the US it should tell you something about the real game that’s being played. She was issuing an explicit ultimatum of dire consequences, similar to what happened the last time the Gulf states stopped viewing Iran as a danger and cancelled mega billion dollar defense deals with the West. The Industrial military complex wasn’t having any of that so we unleashed Saddam on them. They learned their lesson soon enough and reinstated the cancelled contracts…and more, they allowed the US to establish bases on their soil.

Having said all that, Bushehr is indeed a threat, but not of the nuclear holocaust type. The world economy is collapsing and the West needs to de-soverignize oil-rich states like Iran. The way to that is not through attacking them, but by allowing them to disintigrate from within to a point where they are left with no negotiating power. Look at Libya. The world leaders are lining up for lucrative oil concessions which they will of course pick up for a song! Libya has no negotiating power. Similarly Iran’s ageing oil industry is slowly grinding to a halt. All its hard-earned oil revenue is spent on BUYING refined petroleum that it can use for energy. Plants like Bushehr represents the fly in the ointment because they increase Iran’s sovereignty by making it less reliant on oil and giving it’s economy more spending power. It defers the day when Iran has to give up any notion of nationalized oil and one way or another be forced into granting similar cheap concessions to foreign oil. On the other hand, the longer the Mullah regime stays in power, the more damage they will do to Iran’s economy and the country will ultimately descend into civil chaos, much more horrific than what you see in Libya. It will be the Republican Guard against the Iranian Army. The aftermath won’t be pretty for Iranians but it will be a bonanza for the West who will take their pickings from the ruins of a desovereignized Iran who can’t call any shots and has to agree to any deal that’s on the table.

But keep on believing the simplistic articles by these think-tanks whose sole job is to perpetuate the myths and create their own “distractions” from the real goals of the US and the West in the Middle East. However, this time, it’s going to be much more complicated and something tells me it’s going to blow up in their faces in a way they never imagined.

September 19, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Reply

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Obama Team Feared Coup If He Prosecuted War Crimes

Posted by alanmirs on September 14, 2011

Obama Team Feared Coup If He Prosecuted War Crimes

By Andrew Kreig
Justice Integrity ProjectPresident-Elect Obama’s advisors feared in 2008 that authorities would oust him in a coup and that Republicans would block his policy agenda if he prosecuted Bush-era war crimes, according to a law school dean who served as one of Obama’s top transition advisors.

University of California at Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley, Jr., left, the sixth highest-ranking member of the 2008 post-election transition team preparing Obama’s administration, revealed the team’s thinking on Sept. 2 in moderating a forum on 9/11 held by his law school (also known as Boalt Hall). Edley sought to justify Obama’s “look forward” policy on Bush-era lawbreaking that the president-elect announced on a TV talk show in January 2009.

But Edley’s rationale implies that Obama and his team fear the military/national security forces that he is supposed be commanding — and that Republicans have intimidated him right from the start of his presidency even though voters in 2008 rejected Republicans by the largest combined presidential-congressional mandate in recent U.S. history. Edley responded to our request for additional information by providing a description of the transition team’s fears, which we present below as an exclusive email interview. Among his important points is that transition officials, not Obama, agreed that he faced the possibility of a coup.


As the nation approaches the third anniversary of Obama’s election, many of his proposals have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress despite his cave-in on ja wide variety of justice issues. His poll numbers have rapidly dropped this year, including results reported Sept. 6 by two polls putting his approval rating at 43 percent. Top it off, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who left office with a 13% approval rating in one national poll, is now staging a comeback. Cheney’s return to the public arena includes his boasts during his book tour about the supposed legality of his never-investigated Bush-era initiatives that have long been suspected as criminal under U.S. and international law, with potential execution for violators.

Longtime peace advocate Susan Harman, a Californian, elicited Edley’s opinions during Q&A at the Boalt Hall forum, which was organized by the school’s Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law. Boalt Hall’s faculty advisor includes Professor John C. Yoo. The former Justice Department attorney is nicknamed by war crimes critics as the “torture memo lawyer” for his legal justifications for interrogation techniques for those suspected of terror. Also, Harman erroneously believed last week that Edley had named Yoo to be an adviser to the Miller Institute, but Edley responds that he co-directs the institute. Edley, a former White House aide and otherwise a longtime player at high levels in legal and political circles, was so high-ranking on the transition team that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Arizona’s governor, was listed six spots below him.

After the forum, Harman described the prepared remarks by Boalt Hall speakers calling for accountability, human rights and the rule of law as being so “surreal” in such circumstances that, “I felt dizzy, and could barely speak” during Q&A.

But she did ask questions. Edley responded that Obama’s team feared that leadership in the U.S. armed forces, the CIA and NSA might “revolt” if the new Obama administration prosecuted war crimes by U.S. authorities and lower-ranking personnel Also, Edley told Harman that his fellow decision-makers on Obama’s team feared that a prosecution inquiry could lead to Republican efforts to thwart the Obama agenda in Congress.

Harman shared this account by email and Google Groups with our Justice Integrity Project and others. Among recipients was David Swanson, an antiwar activist who since last January has been organizing a grassroots effort to replace Obama on the Democratic 2012 ticket. Swanson published,Insider Tells Why Obama Chose Not to Prosecute Torture, the only such blog or news report I’ve found of Edley’s explanation of how Obama decided justice issues. Swanson’s blog recalled that accountability under the law was a top concern of Obama supporters, as illustrated by the incoming administration’s own 2008 poll of supporter suggestions. Here is Swanson’s description of the Obama transition:


They had questions from ordinary people for the President Elect submitted on their website and voted up or down. The top question at the end of the voting had come from Bob Fertik of and it was this: “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor – ideally Patrick Fitzgerald – to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”Not only was the answer no, but it had to be inferred because President Change U. Wish refused to answer the question. I’ve always assumed I could guess why: a president wouldn’t want previous presidents subject to the rule of law, because then he would be too. Just this week I was suggesting that allowing the Justice Department to enforce laws against Cheney could save Obama’s electoral prospects at the risk of seeing Obama, too, land in prison some day. I have no doubt that this really is a factor. However, we now have an account from someone involved in the decision process way back when.

In similar fashion, I published on Huffington Post an Inauguration Day scoop: Why the President ‘Stepped Out’ During His Inaugural Parade. The front-page column extolled the new president’s “ability to mix action with powerful symbolism” as he emerged from his limo to walk on foot and thereby honor national traditions exemplified by the National Archives, Navy Memorial and Justice Department, portrayed from left to right in my photo at right. A finger points to the President and First Lady (in a yellow dress), with both more clearly visible at the far left in my photo below. My next Huffington Post column, Probe the Past to Protect the Future, argued for the new administration and Congress to protect the nation’s legal traditions by investigating suspected law-breaking under the Bush administration.

Justice Accountability As 2012 Campaign Issue

Since then, justice and accountability issues have become important wedge-issues (along with jobs, the economy, war policies and environment) in dividing Democratic factions. To take one example, more than 1,200 environmental protesters against Obama policies have recently been arrested outside the White House. That’s the forerunner of much larger protest demonstrations planned during the next two months near the White House on a variety of issues. Congressional Black Caucus leader and former House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) has encouraged those seeking to protect Social Security and Medicare to aim their protests at the Obama White House since, in his view, they are the prime actors in setting the scene for bipartisan agreement on cuts.

The issue of accountability for Bush-era lawbreaking resonates especially strongly in some quarters, with crossover appeal beyond party lines. The above-mentioned question in 2008 by Bob Fertik received some 22,000 votes on the Obama transition website, some 3,000 more than the next highest vote-getter in the Obama team’s poll.

Similarly, a list-serve run by Alabama Democrat Pam Miles that reaches tens of thousands of Democratic voters around the nation has been abuzz this weekend with grassroots opposition to Obama on a variety of issues. Miles is a tireless advocate for Democratic causes and candidates She started her list because of the Bush frame-up on corruption charges of her state’s most recent Democratic governor, Don Siegelman. One of many blogger readers is the intrepid Alabama blogger Roger Shuler, who last week posted on his Legal Schnauzer site a citizen’s guide to self-protection from anonymous threats of the kind frequently sent his way. Shuler’s near-daily investigative commentaries include scores about the imprisonment of Mississippi trial attorney and Democratic donor Paul Minor on corruption charges in a cruel and obviously unfair Siegelman-style frame-up by the Bush administration. Over the weekend, Shuler posted this comment about the Obama administration’s reaction to the many injustices in the legal system that Shuler has chronicled in the Deep South:


Obama’s first betrayal came before he even took office, when he said he would “look forward, not backwards” on Bush-era crimes. That meant he was going to sell out the victims of torture and political prosecutions, the U.S. attorneys who were unlawfully fired, and so on. He’s been selling out ever since. One of our political parties must believe in the rule of law; Republicans obviously do not, so it’s up to Democrats.Obama should be forced out and replaced with a Democrat who believes in the 14th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection. The erosion of those protections is what led to the Siegelman and Minor cases. Obama’s refusal to examine such abuses indicates he is not fit to be president. He took an oath to uphold the constitution — and he has not done it from day one. I, for one, will not go to the polls in November 2012 if he is the Democratic nominee and there is no viable third-party option.

As a reaction to such comments, some of the Miles list-serve readers continue to post pro-Obama comments and denounce the president’s critics as fools and ingrates. Another reaction was by Steve Walker, the Democratic National Committee Southern Regional Coordinator for the Obama re-election effort: He bluntly demanded this weekend that Miles remove him from her distribution list, saying he was not interested in postings by those who believe Obama has failed. She promptly complied and sent an apology, explaining that she was under the impression that he’d asked to be included. Loyal also to her readers, she posted the correspondence as a news item. That enables bloggers and Democratic grassroots sympathizers around the nation to observe first-hand how the Obama re-election campaign, like most such efforts, apparently relies on top-down messaging to voters, with scant interest in meaningful feedback.

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ran’s ‘Ethics’ Don’t Allow Atomic Bombs, Science Minister Says

Posted by alanmirs on September 14, 2011

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) — Iran won’t develop nuclear weapons because of its “ethics,” Science and Technology Minister Nasrin Soltankhah said.

“We are clarifying now as we will clarify in the future that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” Soltankhah said today at a press briefing in Vienna. “Our ethics prohibit us from pursuing any other directions.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it can’t be certain the program is peaceful, citing inspectors’ concerns about administrative connections between civilian and military nuclear researchers and scientists. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calls nuclear weapons anti-Islamic and has forbidden their development.

Iran, which has been subjected to four rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear work, isn’t providing the “necessary level of cooperation” to resolve questions about its work, the IAEA said in a Sept. 2 report.

The UN agency is weighing whether to release more information detailing inspectors’ concerns about Iran’s nuclear work, Director General Yukiya Amano said yesterday at a press conference. The IAEA has been investigating Iran since 2003.

“We are transparent in this regard,” Soltankhah said. “We have answered and will continue to answer questions from the IAEA.”

–Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Jeffrey Donovan

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The Rise of “Truth”

Posted by alanmirs on September 11, 2011

How did 9/11 conspiracism enter the mainstream?

By Jeremy StahlUpdated Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, at 7:01 AM ET

US President George W. Bush has his early morning school reading of 'My Pet Goat' interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card (L) shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida. Click image to expand.George W. Bush gets word of the 9/11 attacks while reading a book to schoolchildrenIn the immediate aftermath of 9/11, conspiracists started to create and spread what would ultimately become the foundational mythology of the 9/11 conspiracy movement: In order to suppress civil liberties and benefit their allies in the oil and gas industry, hawkish neoconservatives in the Bush administration—along with their partners in the CIA and FBI, of course—orchestrated a massive terror attack that killed 2,977 innocent civilians and mobilized the American populace behind otherwise unsupportable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is no consistent polling about the popularity of this theory. But in the early years of the decade, at least, it was relegated to the far reaches of the American political spectrum, a place memorably described in Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. In May 2002, with Bush’s approval rating still well over 70 percent, fewer than one in 10 Americans in a CBS News poll said that the Bush administration was lying about what it knew regarding possible terror attacks prior to 9/11. By April 2004, 16 percent of respondents in a CBS News poll said that the Bush administration was “mostly lying” about what it knew about possible terrorist attacks against the United States prior to 9/11, while 56 percent said it was telling the truth but hiding something and 24 percent said it was telling the entire truth. By the five-year anniversary of the attacks, one in three Americanswould tell pollsters that it was likely that the government either had a hand in the attacks of 9/11 or allowed them to happen in order to go to war in the Middle East.

What caused these ideas, by the middle of the decade, to enter the political mainstream? It’s hard to say whether widespread discontent and mistrust makes people more willing to listen to ideas they previously considered absurd. But it seems plausible. And there can be little doubt that by the middle of 2006, 9/11 conspiracy theorists had a new base to draw from. That base was general unhappiness with the war in Iraq and a small but deep strain of Bush hatred.

The 9/11 conspiracy theories got a hearing in Europe and among liberal intellectuals like Gore Vidal before they rose in popularity in America. French author Thierry Meyssan’s 9/11: The Big Lie, which postulated that the Pentagon was not struck by a jetliner but by a smaller military aircraft or a missile, was the No. 1 best-selling book in France for six weeks in the spring of 2002. By October, Vidal was seriously exploring a wide range of conspiracy theories that the Bush administration had been complicit in 9/11 for geostrategic reasons in an essay in Britain’s Observer.

At home, such talk remained on the fringes of political life even as the war got under way. But fueled in part by anger over the deceptions of the war, the lack of accountability or disclosure on the part of the Bush administration with respect to the 9/11 Commission, and civil liberties abuses in the aftermath of the attacks, the popularity of conspiracy theories was steadily growing in 2003 and 2004.

Click here to launch a slideshow slideshow on the top five techniques of 9/11 conspiracy theory documentaries.

Then, in the summer of 2004, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, earning more than $100 million to become the top-grossing documentary of all time. While Fahrenheit 9/11 does not allege any sort of Bush-led conspiracy concerning 9/11, the film does depict a government hell-bent on covering up how much it knew prior to 9/11 and using the attacks as a false pretext for a war with Iraq. In 2004, more and more Americans were willing to raise these kinds of questions. Bush derangement syndrome, as Charles Krauthammer would famously call the emerging trend of Bush hatred, had not yet reached a boiling point. But it would. Within three years of his film’s release, Moore himself would start giving credenceto some of the more out-there conspiracy theories.

When I asked several leading 9/11 conspiracists who or what inspired them to join, they did not name self-proclaimed founding father Alex Jones. As popular as Jones is, and as much influence as he has had in spreading the 9/11 conspiracy theory, the 37-year-old Texan new-media provocateur is not the movement’s intellectual leader. That title belongs to the grandfatherly 72-year-old academic David Ray Griffin.

On 9/11, Griffin was a well-respected professor of philosophy at the Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. Believing that the attacks had been prompted by overly interventionist American foreign policy, Griffin shortly thereafter began working on a book about American imperialism. He was two-thirds of the way through with the project when, in March 2003, a colleague sent him a link to Paul Thompson’s terror timeline, a go-to source among 9/11 researchers of all stripes. The timeline includes more than 5,000 reports that catalog every mainstream media account that could be cited as demonstrating inconsistencies in the official story or the possibility of government foreknowledge. It describes dozens of warnings about an upcoming terror attack prior to 9/11, all reported in mainstream media, and points to allegations that members of the Pakistani-ISI had aided the 9/11 attackers, strongly implying that the CIA also knew. At the time that Griffin picked up the timeline, it also pointed to inconsistencies in NORAD’s story and wondered aloud why the planes had not been intercepted.

All of this was simmering in Griffin’s mind in March 2003. “We realized how important 9/11 was when we saw it wasn’t just attacking Afghanistan, but then using that to go into Iraq,” Griffin told me. When one of his students asked him to put together a presentation about 9/11 as the pretext for the war in Iraq, Griffin obliged. Soon after he began working on a magazine article based on the presentation, which would eventually become too sprawling for a periodical. It became The New Pearl Harbor, published in 2004, the first of more than 10 books Griffin has written about 9/11. Although it relies upon factual inaccuracies, leaps of logic, and selective quotations to create a complex web of conspiracy leading to the top of the Bush administration, Griffin’s work is still held up by 9/11 conspiracy theorists as a masterpiece of the genre.

Former University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin Barrett, who is the leading advocate of theories that Israel’s Mossad orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, is one of the conspiracists who cites Griffin as his inspiration for joining the movement. Barrett came to renown in 9/11 conspiracy circles in 2006 after being castigated on Fox News by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly during anational debate about the 9/11 conspiracy theory and academic freedomon the Madison campus.

Though he had his doubts about the mainstream account, Barrett had dismissed 9/11 conspiracy theories as ridiculous speculations prior to 2003. But after hearing that Griffin was “marshalling the evidence” for the case that the Word Trade Center had been brought down by a controlled demolition and the Pentagon had been attacked by a military aircraft, Barrett decided to do more research. After two weeks of reading the work of Ruppert, Meyssan, and others, he was convinced. “I kind of went from saying, ‘Well, this is really interesting that somebody as sensible and careful and empirical as David Ray Griffin would give credence to these pretty bizarre speculations,’ to two weeks later, ‘My God, this is absolutely right.’ ”

Over the next several months he held teach-ins on the Madison campus. But he never took his activism beyond that until just days after President Bush’s re-election. It was the second battle of Fallujah, which took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that caused Barrett, who had converted to Islam years before, to become a full-time activist. “The images and the stories coming out of Fallujah were so atrocious,” he said. “That actually was the moment when I said, ‘Well, I need to take this to the next level. What can be done to stop this growing war?’ ” After Fallujah, Barrett decided to start a group called the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth. After losing his teaching job, in 2007, he turned his attention to conspiracism full time, and he continues that work to this day.


In mid-2002, an 18-year-old from upstate New York named Dylan Avery discovered Paul Thompson’s timeline of terror. Like David Ray Griffin, Avery was impressed, and he soon became convinced that the government was not revealing the whole story of 9/11. Avery started working on the screenplay for a feature film about a group of three friends who discovered a government cover-up. The Bush administration’s lack of complete cooperation with the 9/11 Commission, along with the powerlessness of anti-war protesters to slow the march to war in Iraq, drew him to the community of 9/11 conspiracists in 2003 and 2004. “It was just so easy to believe anything terrible about your government because you were seeing all of these terrible things,” Avery told me. “They were doing all of these terrible things right in front of our faces, so why wouldn’t they do terrible things behind closed doors?”

After realizing that a full-budget action feature was too ambitious for an 18-year-old director, Avery decided to turn his film into a documentary. Working with his childhood friend Korey Rowe, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, Avery cut together an 82-minute documentary that compiled many of the more out-there conspiracy theories about 9/11, including the charge that the South Tower was not struck by a United Airlines commercial flight but rather a military drone.

The film, produced for $2,000, was released in April 2005. At the time, Avery was working as a waiter at Red Lobster. It didn’t do spectacularly well. Avery struggled to get Alex Jones to cover it on his website, and the movie was attacked by others in the movement for its factual problems.

In response to the criticism, Avery cut a new edition and released it at the end of 2005, which turned out to be “the perfect time.” Discontent with the Iraq war, and the Bush administration generally, spiked in 2006 as sectarian violence tipped into civil war. A majority of Americans consistently said that the Bush administration had deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, while 58 percent said thegovernment was misleading the public about how the war was going. Bush’s approval rating sunk to new lows.

“The distrust built up over time,” Avery said. “It led, I think, to the culmination of the movement in 2005, 2006, which is when a lot of people had these doubts that were building up over years, but didn’t really have an outlet for it.” In July 2006, a Scripps-Howard poll found that 36 percent of Americans said it was “somewhat likely” or “very likely” that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop them because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East. A Zogby poll one year later found 31 percent saying that elements of the government either orchestrated the attacks or let them happen for geopolitical reasons.

The re-cut version of Avery’s film became the most influential piece of 9/11 conspiracy agitprop, attracting tens of millions of views or downloads on YouTube and other sites. Mainstream media outlets started hounding Avery and Rowe for interviews. In the summer of 2006, Avery says, “Vanity Fair came to our house. CNN came to our house. MSNBC. CNN. Calls would not stop.”

But Avery’s faith in the theory, like the intensity of Bush hatred in the population generally, has faded with time. “Nobody really seems to care anymore,” he says. “I don’t know what it was, but I guess that climate of fear during the Bush administration, while it certainly was oppressive and made us feel like Big Brother was literally lurking around the corner, it got people off their ass. It made people active, it made people want to join the anti-war movement.”

Since 2006 Avery has re-cut the film twice more, removing some of the more outrageous accusations, like the claim that Flight 93 had been diverted to Cleveland Hopkins Airport rather than crashing in Pennsylvania and that calls made from the plane had been faked using “voice-morphing” technology. After interviewing some of the Pentagon witnesses in person, Avery has even backed away from the stance that it was a missile and not a plane that hit the Pentagon. “It’s easy to come to conclusions when a) you don’t have a lot of information at your disposal and b) you haven’t had a chance to actually talk to people who were there,” Avery says.

What does Avery think of 9/11 conspiracy theories now? He thinks that while orchestrating the attacks was beyond the scope of the Bush administration, there was “considerable foreknowledge” within the government so that it should have been able to prevent them. Why it did not is his new focus. “Where I am now is, I’ve whittled it down to a very basic statement that I think a lot of people can agree on: There was a cover-up of some kind,” Avery says. “The only question is what they were covering up, how far [up] it goes, how deep it runs, and how many asses would be on the line if the truth actually came out.”

He says he still “support[s] the movement,” but he also acknowledges getting “sucked in” deeper than he should have been, into a “hardcore mentality that it was almost too easy to get into back then, because the war had just started and everybody was just so pissed off.”

“It was easy to distrust everything,” he says, “because there was nothing you could trust.”

Part 3: How the 9/11 movement responded to its critics.

Click here to launch a slide show on the top five techniques of 9/11 conspiracy theory documentaries.

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David Cameron: Israeli blockade has turned Gaza Strip into a ‘prison camp’

Posted by alanmirs on September 9, 2011 home

Prime minister intervenes in Middle East dispute and hopes Turkey can stop Iran’s nuclear weapons programme

David Cameron in Ankara, Turkey

David Cameron defended his remarks at a press conference with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph: Pool/REUTERS

David Cameron used a visit to Turkey to make his strongest intervention yet in the intractable Middle East conflict today when he likened the experience of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip to that of a “prison camp”.

Although he has made similar remarks before, his decision to repeat them on a world stage in Turkey, whose relations with Israel have deteriorated sharply since it mounted a deadly assault on the Gaza flotilla, gave them much greater diplomatic significance.

Cameron’s comments, in a speech to business leaders in Ankara, prompted the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to issue another strong condemnation of how Israel dealt with the flotilla.

Erdogan likened the behaviour of Israeli commandos, who shot dead nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists, to Somali pirates.

Cameron’s criticism of Tel Aviv came when he called for Israel to relax its restrictions on Gaza. “The situation in Gaza has to change,” he said. “Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”

He strongly condemned Israel after the assault on the Gaza flotilla. “The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable,” he said. “I have told prime minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. “Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change.”

Cameron defended his remarks at a press conference with Erdogan. “My description of Gaza is something I said in the House of Commons several weeks ago. Perhaps this is final proof that if you want to keep something completely secret you should announce it in the House of Commons.”

Hansard, the House of Commons’ official record, shows Cameron said on 28 June: “Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza.”

His choice of the words “prison camp” instead of “open prison” is likely to be seized upon. But a Downing Street source later tried to play down Cameron’s comments. “This is not an elevation of the rhetoric. This is equivalent language. The prime minister remains concerned.”

Cameron said Britain remained opposed to the blockade of Gaza. “The fact is we have long supported lifting the blockade of Gaza, we have long supported proper humanitarian access. Even though some progress has been made we are still in the situation where it is very difficult to get in, it is very difficult to get out. So I think the description is warranted.”

At the press conference, Erdogan heaped further criticism on Israel over its treatment of the flotilla. “What we saw happening was taking place in international waters and this attack in international waters, as such, can only be termed as piracy. There is no other way to describe it.

“The pirates are there in Somalia and we take our measures. When a similar situation occurs here … political leaders, who are there to establish a fair life for everyone – they should not remain silent.”

After Cameron made his remarks, Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to London, blamed the Palestinians’ situation on Hamas, the Islamist regime that controls the Gaza Strip. “The people of Gaza are the prisoners of the terrorist organisation Hamas. The situation in Gaza is the direct result of Hamas’ rule and priorities.

“We know that the prime minister would also share our grave concerns about our own prisoner in the Gaza Strip, Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage there for over four years, without receiving a single Red Cross visit.”

Ephraim Sneh, the former Israeli deputy minister of defence, said: “Cameron is right – Gaza is a prison camp, but those who control the prison are Hamas. I’m totally against the double standards of a nation which fights the Taliban but is showing its solidarity with their brothers, Hamas.

“It’s very regrettable that the British PM doesn’t understand that. It reflects a lack of understanding and is a very bad sign. Cameron doesn’t understand that 1.5m people live in Gaza under the repressive regime of Hamas – and yet he blames Israel.”

Also during his speech, Cameron challenged France and Germany over their opposition to Turkish membership of the EU.

In a passionate defence of Turkey, the prime minister accused Paris and Berlin of double standards for expecting Ankara to guard Europe‘s borders as a Nato member while closing the door to EU membership.

“When I think about what Turkey has done to defend Europe as a Nato ally … I believe it’s just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent.”

His tough language reflects Britain’s frustration that Ankara’s EU membership negotiations have stalled since they were formally opened in 2005. Turkey’s involvement in the Cyprus dispute and its refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot goods are holding up the talks.

Cameron also said Turkey should use its links with Iran to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

Turkey is to abide by new UN sanctions, agreed last month, which are focused on individuals and companies linked to Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes. But it will not implement wider US and EU restrictions on banks, and wants to deepen trade links with Iran.

The prime minister said Turkey’s special place, as a bridge between east and west, gave it a key role with Iran. “It’s Turkey that can help us stop Iran from getting the bomb,” he said.

Iran reached an agreement in May with Turkey and Brazil to export 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium in return for fuel rods for a civilian reactor. The prime minister said he hoped this understanding could help “see Iran move in the right direction”.

But he cast doubt over Iran’s intentions when he said: “Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in their recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around 50% of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.”

The prime minister is on a four-day visit to Turkey and India. Cameron laid a wreath at Anitkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern secular Turkey, before delivering his address. This afternoon he will fly to India.

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Post-9/11 rebuff sunk US-Iran ties

Posted by alanmirs on September 9, 2011

Asia Time Online - Daily News

By Barbara Slavin

WASHINGTON – Of all the mistakes and missed opportunities that have characterized United States foreign policy since September 11, 2001, few may have been as consequential as the failure to improve relations with Iran.

Had the George W Bush administration responded to repeated overtures from Tehran, it might have cemented a powerful ally against al-Qaeda, given the US an easier time pacifying Iraq and reduced Iranian motivation to oppose Arab-Israeli peace.

Unlike the reaction in many Arab states, where people saw 9/11 as punishment of the US for its pro-Israeli policies, in Iran both government officials and ordinary citizens expressed genuine

sympathy for the victims.

The government of then president Mohammad Khatami – with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – strongly supported US efforts to topple the Taliban government and create a new administration for Afghanistan. Its reward: being labeled a member of an “axis of evil” along with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea.

Iranian efforts to reconcile with the US persisted despite this diplomatic slap. There were monthly one-on-one talks in Europe between fairly senior Iranian and US diplomats from the autumn of 2001 until May 2003 that dealt with Afghanistan and the looming US invasion of Iraq.

James Dobbins, a special US envoy for Afghanistan after 9/11, recalls a remarkable overture in March 2002 – two months after the “axis of evil” comment by Bush – when an Iranian general offered his country’s assistance in training 20,000 members of a new Afghan army.

Dobbins, in an article last year in the Washington Quarterly, wrote that secretary of state Colin Powell called the proposal “very interesting” and told him to talk to then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Rice put the offer on the agenda at a meeting of National Security Council principals, including then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“When we came to that item on the agenda, I again recounted my conversation with the Iranians,” Dobbins wrote. “Rumsfeld did not look up from the papers he was perusing. When I finished, he made no comment and asked no questions. Neither did anyone else. After a long pause, seeing no one ready to take up the issue, Rice moved the meeting onto the next item on her agenda.”

Dobbins told Inter Press Service (IPS) that the Iranian offer would likely have been scaled back and Afghanistan’s other neighbors and interested parties such as Pakistan and India would also have to have been included. Still, he regards the lack of a US counter-proposal as a major missed opportunity. The Iranians, he said, “were making it clear that they had a broader agenda [of reconciliation with the US] in mind.”

This pattern of non-response to Iranian overtures persisted. There was no US reply to an Iranian agenda for comprehensive negotiations sent to the State Department in May 2003, no answer when Iran offered that year to trade senior al-Qaeda detainees for members of an Iranian terrorist group in Iraq, and no response to an admittedly idiosyncratic letter to Bush by new President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2006.

By then, the power dynamics in the region had shifted toward Iran and away from the United States, which was bogged down in sectarian warfare in Iraq and about to face a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

Dobbins said that continued Iranian cooperation might not have been decisive in Afghanistan given the Taliban’s stronger links to Pakistan. “In terms of Iraq, however, it could have made all the difference since at least 50% of the violence since 2003 has come from Shi’ite militants” who are either backed by Iran or otherwise susceptible to Iranian pressure, he said.

Those in the Bush administration who opposed rapprochement with Iran feared that restoring US relations would preserve an authoritarian regime that had been responsible for acts of terrorism against Americans in the past and that still supported groups opposed to Israel’s existence.

However, improved US-Iran relations under Khatami would likely have strengthened Iranian reformists and might have even prevented the election of the neo-conservative Ahmadinejad. US refusal to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program – unless Iran first suspended uranium enrichment – certainly did not stop the program; if anything, it resulted in Iran accelerating enrichment activities.

The Barack Obama administration tried to correct course and sought to engage Iran without preconditions in 2009. However, disputed Iranian presidential elections and their bloody aftermath so divided the Iranian political elite that progress on the diplomatic front was impossible.

Since then, both sides have hardened their positions. Iran has continued support for anti-US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to chase the US from the region and retaliate for mounting US and international sanctions over the nuclear program.

John Limbert, a former US hostage in Iran who was deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran in the early part of the Obama administration, blames inertia for Washington’s inability to take “yes” for an answer from Iran.

“We know how to do certain things but not act constructively” with Iran, he said. “We assume there is a trick whenever they come to us.”

Iranians also have difficulty trusting a country that is slowly squeezing the Iranian economy and anticipating the demise of the Islamic regime. Newly minted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that another Iranian revolution was “a matter of time” given the pro-democracy ferment in the neighborhood. That may well be the case, but talking about it openly is unlikely to help Iranians bring that about.

Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, said she doubted that US policies had impacted Iran’s complicated internal dynamics, noting that Ahmadinejad has gotten no bounce from his occasional efforts to engage Washington.

However, she told IPS that allowing the 2001-2003 talks to end was “a fantastic mistake. The dialogue that existed on Afghanistan was the single unparalleled opportunity to create a diplomatic process” with Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“It’s wholly improbable that we’ll see anything like that in the foreseeable future,” she added, “because the political conditions in Iran are so inappropriate for any meaningful dialogue.”

She might have said the same about the United States in a presidential election year.

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Iran’s nuclear advance may add to Western worries

Posted by alanmirs on September 5, 2011

By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is making headway toward rolling out advanced uranium enrichment machines that could speed up its production of nuclear reactor fuel as well as weapons-grade material if, as the West fears, it ultimately tries to assemble atomic bombs.

But it remains unclear whether Tehran, under increasingly strict international sanctions that crimp its ability to import key components, can manufacture the machines in industrial-scale numbers that would revolutionize its enrichment activity.

For years, Tehran has been seeking to replace the breakdown-prone 1970s vintage model of centrifuge it now uses to refine uranium, but the changeover has been hampered by sanctions restricting access to vital components, analysts say.

In a sign the Islamic state may now be making some progress, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report says Iran has begun installing two newer versions for larger-scale testing at a research and development site near the central city of Natanz.

The confidential report, obtained by Reuters on Friday, says Iran informed the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in June that it had also started to operate 54 of these more advanced machines on an experimental basis.

If Iran eventually succeeds in introducing them in industrial quantities for enrichment, it could significantly shorten the time needed to stockpile material that can have civilian as well as military purposes, if refined much further.

“The installation of … IR-2s and IR-4s represents progress, for sure,” nuclear proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick said, referring to the names of the new models.

But analysts said it was not evident that Tehran has the technical prowess and components to make them in bigger numbers.

It seems that “Iran still faces problems developing these new centrifuges, including getting sufficient materials to build them in large numbers,” said Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, a U.S.- based research and advocacy group.

In a sign that deployment of the more advanced models for production remains some time off, Iran is planning to use the old IR-1 model when it shifts higher-grade enrichment from its main Natanz plant to a bunker near the holy city of Qom.

“Although Iran could possibly use these (IR-1) machines to produce weapons-grade uranium … it would likely prefer to develop its advanced centrifuges first,” Crail said.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is covertly seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is refining uranium for electricity generation and medical applications.

But the IAEA report said the U.N. agency was “increasingly concerned” about possible work in Iran to develop a nuclear payload for a missile.

This and other findings in the report may provide more grist for Western condemnations of Iran’s nuclear activities when the 35-nation governing board of the IAEA meets on September 12-16.


Tehran’s refusal to shelve enrichment has drawn four rounds of U.N. sanctions, as well as increasingly tough U.S. and European punitive measures on the major oil producer.

Robert Einhorn, the U.S. State Department senior adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, said in March he did not believe the newer centrifuges were ready to be mass-produced, according to a think tank debate transcript.

Fitzpatrick, a director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a former senior U.S. State Department official, said Iran’s ability to make high-strength carbon fiber for rotors in advanced centrifuges was believed to limited.

“So how many more than can produce is an open question.”

Iran’s main enrichment production facility is also located at the Natanz complex, which is ringed by anti-aircraft guns to protect against any threatened Israeli or U.S. air strikes.

Thousands of old model centrifuges spin at supersonic speeds in an underground hall to increase the fissile isotope ratio.

Western experts say tightening sanctions, technical woes and possible cyber sabotage have slowed Iran’s atomic advances. But it is still steadily amassing low-enriched uranium.

Iran’s decision in early 2010 to raise the level of some enrichment from the 3.5 percent purity needed for normal power plant fuel to 20 percent worried Western states that saw this as a significant step toward the 90 percent needed for bombs.

Iran says it needs 20 percent uranium to convert into fuel for a research reactor making isotopes to treat cancer patients, and announced in June it would transfer this activity from Natanz to the Fordow subterranean site.

Shifting enrichment underground could offer greater protection against any attacks by Israel or the United States, which have both said they do not rule out pre-emptive strikes to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.

Analysts believe Iran is still a few years away from being able to build an atom bomb and that its leadership does not seem to have taken a strategic decision yet to do so.

The latest IAEA report said Iran had now produced a total of 70 kg of the higher-grade material, still well below the amount needed for a bomb, if refined further to 90 percent.

But the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based think-tank, said the monthly output rate of 20 percent enriched uranium had “increased significantly.”

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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