Mr. Amano and Regime Change

In an interview with Spiegel Online on April 19, 2011, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was asked if he was deceived by the US and its allies when investigating their allegations against Iran’s nuclear program. He answered: “the Americans and the Europeans withheld important documents and information from us. They weren’t interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but regime change—by any means necessary.”

In his tenure at the IAEA ElBaradei had faced a dilemma. As a politically astute Egyptian, he was well aware of the nature of the US-Israeli policy of dual containment of Iraq and Iran. He was also aware that his own agency had been used as an instrument to pursue this policy. Indeed, when in 2008 ElBaradei assured Iran that the IAEA will protect her legitimate military secrets, if Iran supplied information about some “alleged studies,” this writer wrote an open letter to remind him about how the IAEA had been used by US-Israeli spies in containing Iraq. In particular, I reminded him of David Kay’s comment about the “Faustian bargain.” Kay, who had served as the IAEA/UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) Chief Nuclear Weapons Inspector in Iraq, had been accused by Iraqi officials to be a spy and was instrumental in building the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 1999 he admitted that some inspections in Iraq went hand in hand with spying and called the use of international organizations for spying a Faustian bargain, “a bargain with the Devil—spies spying.”

I also reminded ElBaradei that under his own leadership the IAEA was still being used by the US and its allies to do to Iran what had been done to Iraq. For example, IAEA reports on Iran marked “Restricted Distribution” regularly appeared—and to this day continue to appear—on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), an organization whose agenda to contain Iran on behalf of the US and Israel is clear to everyone who keeps track of its activities, claims and predictions about how soon Iran will develop nuclear weapons.

Dr. ElBaradei, of course, knew all of the above and, yet, there was hardly anything he could do about it, except to try to moderate the IAEA reports that were intended to bring about regime change in Iran after Iraq.  He knew well that the US and Israel had been trying desperately to remove him as the head of the IAEA.  As I wrote in 2008, the first lines of the AP report on September 9, 2007, read: “Chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei is coming under intense pressure for his handling of the Iran file, with the United States and key allies accusing him of overstepping his authority. The diplomats suggested that U.S. disenchantment with the International Atomic Energy Agency chief was at its highest since early 2005.”

The pressure on ElBaradei to produce tough reports on Iran or be forced out of office continued after my open letter. For example, Haaretz reported on August 19, 2009, that according to “senior Western diplomats and Israeli officials” the IAEA “is hiding data on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear arms.” More specifically, according to some “officials,” the report went on to say, the IAEA under ElBaradei “was refraining from publishing evidence obtained by its inspectors over the past few months that indicate Iran was pursuing information about weaponization efforts and a military nuclear program.” According to the report, these officials claimed that IAEA inspectors had written a “classified annex,” but the annex was not incorporated into the agency’s published reports. Haaretz also stated that “American, French, British and German senior officials have recently pressured ElBaradei to publish the information next month in a report due to be released at the organization’s general conference.” “The efforts to release the allegedly censored report,” Haaretz went on to write, “is being handled in Israel by Dr. Shaul Horev, director general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and the Foreign Ministry.” Haaretz then stated what the crux of the matter was:

Israel has been striving to pressure the IAEA through friendly nations and have it release the censored annex. It hopes to prove that the Iranian effort to develop nuclear weapons is continuing, contrary to claims that Tehran stopped its nuclear program in 2003. A confirmation of these suspicion (sic) would oblige the international community to enact “paralyzing sanctions” on Iran.

Throughout his term, Israel has accused ElBaradei of not tackling the Iranian nuclear issue with sufficient determination. As the end of his term in December nears, Israeli diplomats are concerned that he will become less responsive and continue to hide the classified report.

Finally, Haaretz stated: “Jerusalem is hoping, however, that his successor, Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano, will take up a tougher line on the Iranian nuclear program.”  Israel and the US could not have hoped for a fellow with tougher line on Iran than Amano.

In a highly contested election, and after many rounds of balloting, in July of 2009 the IAEA 35-member board elected the Japanese candidate Yukiya Amano over South Africa’s Abdul Samad Minty. Amano was, as news sources pointed out, the “preferred candidate of the West” (AFP, July 2, 2009 and Bloomberg July 4, 2009). Much later, to be exact on December 2, 2010, the Guardian published a confidential cable, released by WikiLeaks and classified by US Ambassador Glyn Davies on October 16, 2009, which stated:

Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77, which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

On February 18, 2010, Amano issued his first report on Iran. As expected, the report was one of the longest and harshest reports on Iran that the IAEA had ever issued. It repeated all the old allegations mentioned in previous IAEA reports and presented them as if they were new. However, unlike previous reports, there was no mention of the fact that the IAEA did not have, and could not show to Iran, original documents alleging that Iran had engaged in illicit activities. The last section of the report, entitled “Possible Military Dimensions,” was the harshest and most ominous section. It read:

The information available to the Agency in connection with these outstanding issues [alleged activities] is extensive and has been collected from a variety of sources over time. It is also broadly consistent and credible in terms of the technical detail, the time frame in which the activities were conducted and the people and organizations involved. Altogether, this raises concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile. These alleged activities consist of a number of projects and sub-projects, covering nuclear and missile related aspects, run by military related organizations.

Needless to say that the US, Israel and their “expert” think tanks, such as the ISIS, as well as reporters who have been trying to do to Iran what Judith Miller had done to Iraq, such as David Sanger of The New York Times, had a field day with the report.

Amano’s report was opening the way for imposing more US unilateral sanctions against Iran, as well as the push for the passage of the fourth United Nations Security Council sanction resolution. Reuters had reported on February 2, 2010 that “Western diplomats told Reuters that officials at the U.S. State Department have circulated a paper outlining possible new sanctions to senior foreign ministry officials in London, Paris, and Berlin.”  The report added that “Western powers would like to target Iran’s central bank.”

On September 6, 2010, Amano distributed a restricted version of the IAEA report on Iran, which as usual appeared immediately on the ISIS website. Amano’s report was, once again, harsh and confrontational.  It contained something quite unusual, passages from the Security Council Resolutions sanctioning Iran. Also, for the first time ever, the report challenged Iran’s right to object to designation of those inspectors that Iran had found objectionable, either for leaking confidential information or false and misleading reporting.  On “Possible Military Dimensions,” the report stated that the “passage of time and the possible deterioration in the availability of some relevant information increase the urgency of this matter.”

The next two IAEA reports, on November 23, 2010, and February 25, 2011, were not as confrontational as previous reports. But after the latter report, AP reported on March 7, 2011, that Amano could not “guarantee that Iran is not trying to develop atomic arms.” He was quoted as saying:

Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran . . . [the IAEA cannot] conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. . . Unfortunately, since I came into office, Iran has not interacted with us. . . There has not been progress.

Afterward, Amano told reporters: “We are not saying that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. . . We have concerns and we want to clarify the matter.”

The next report of IAEA, on May 24, 2011, added something quite menacing. At the very end, the report stated:

Since the last report of the Director General on 25 February 2011, the Agency has received further information related to such possible undisclosed nuclear related activities, which is currently being assessed by the Agency. As previously reported by the Director General, there are indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004. The following points refer to examples of activities for which clarifications remain necessary in seven particular areas of concern.

This was followed by seven allegations against Iran, such as studies on the green salt project, high explosives testing and the missile re-entry vehicle.  These allegations were not new and had been based mostly on the claim by American intelligence officials that they had discovered in 2004 a stolen laptop showing Iran’s attempt to design a nuclear warhead. Indeed, the IAEA report of September 15, 2008, written under ElBaradei, had stated the following about these allegations and Iran’s response:

Iran provided written replies on 14 and 23 May 2008, the former of which included a 117-page presentation responding to the allegations concerning the green salt project, high explosives testing and the missile re-entry vehicle project. While Iran confirmed the veracity of some of the information referred to in the Annex to GOV/2008/15, Iran reiterated its assertion that the allegations were based on “forged” documents and “fabricated” data, focusing on deficiencies in form and format, and reiterated that, although it had been shown electronic versions of the documentation, Iran had not received copies of the documentation to enable it to prove that they were forged and fabricated. Iran also expressed concern that the resolution of some of these issues would require Agency access to sensitive information related to its conventional military and missile related activities.

Even though the above allegations against Iran were very old, they were now resurfacing in Amano’s IAEA reports.

On September 2, 2011, Amano issued yet another restricted report that appeared immediately on the ISIS website. Although the content of the report indicated that Iran had conceded and cooperated with the IAEA on a number of contentious issues, the tone of the report was quite harsh. Under “Possible Military Dimensions,” the report stated ominously: “the Agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations.” Given the wording, one could expect something more drastic to appear in the next report; and this indeed happened.

On November 8, 2011, Amano released the restricted copy of the report that Israel and the US had been waiting for.  The release came right after much publicity concerning the alleged plot by Iran to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and plans by Israel and the UK to attack Iran. Prior to the release of the report, numerous articles appeared in the media as to what it will contain, even though the report was supposed to be restricted until its official de-restriction. On November 5, 2011, Joby Warrick of The Washington Post even wrote about the “12-page annex to the report.” Two days later he wrote the details of the report and referred mostly to the head of ISIS, “David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who has reviewed the intelligence files.”

The reports in the media also indicated that some US government officials knew about the content of the report and were consulted about the report by Amano himself.  On November 3, 2011, Reuters quoted President Obama as saying at the G20 summit: “The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week and (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.” The President’s comment came after Amano had secretly visited the White House. On November 7, 2011, David Sanger wrote in The New York Times that when “Yukia Amano, came to the White House 11 days ago to meet top officials of the National Security Council about the coming report, the administration declined to even confirm he had ever walked into the building.”

The much anticipated report, even though it was for “official use only” and “Restricted Distribution,” appeared once again on the website of ISIS on November 8, 2011, followed by an “analysis” a few hours later.  The report had the 12-page “Annex” that the media had already reported. The media, however, had failed to mention, and did not mention even after the release of the report, that this was essentially the same annex that in 2009 Israel had pressured the IAEA to release, hoping that it “would oblige the international community to enact ‘paralyzing sanctions’ on Iran’”.

The annex was detailed, but given that it was basically the same document that ElBaradei had refused to publish, there was hardly anything new in it. Much of it was still no more than “allegations” made by a non-identified “Member State” or “two Member States.”  Indeed, the words “alleged” and “allegation” appeared 28 times in the annex. Most of these allegations were the same ones that had been found on the mysterious laptop that somehow landed on the lap of the US government in 2004.  Some, however, appeared to be new. For example, the report stated that:

The Agency has strong indications that the development by Iran of the high explosives initiation system, and its development of the high speed diagnostic configuration used to monitor related experiments, were assisted by the work of a foreign expert who was not only knowledgeable in these technologies, but who, a Member State has informed the Agency, worked for much of his career with this technology in the nuclear weapon programme of the country of his origin.

Previously, in his Washington Post article of November 7, 2011, Joby Warrick had identified the “foreign expert” as “Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet nuclear scientist.” On November 10, 2011, Reuters reported that Danilenko “has denied being the brains behind Iran’s nuclear program.” He was quoted as saying: “I am not a nuclear physicist and am not the founder of the Iranian nuclear program.” The report further added that Danilenko’s expertise was in detonation nanodiamonds, “the creation of tiny diamonds from conventional explosions for a variety of uses from lubricants to medicine.”

Some other allegations were also as flimsy as Danilenko’s case. For example, the report stated that the information “provided by Member States indicates that Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The explosives vessel, or chamber, is said to have been put in place at Parchin in 2000.” Parchin is, of course, the same military complex that ISIS had alleged in 2004 to be a possible “site for research, testing and production of nuclear weapons.” It was inspected twice in 2005 and no nuclear activities were found. Amano’s latest report itself admitted that “the Agency’s visits did not uncover anything of relevance.” But now, the report seemed to imply that inspectors had looked in wrong places!

Some other new allegations bordered on the verge of absurdity. For example, the report stated: “Research by the Agency into scientific literature published over the past decade has revealed that Iranian workers, in particular groups of researchers at Shahid Behesti University and Amir Kabir University, have published papers relating to the generation, measurement and modelling of neutron transport.” The report then added that such “studies are commonly used in reactor physics or conventional ordnance research, but also have applications in the development of nuclear explosives.” This allegation is bizarre. Since when publishing papers by some scholars at the most prestigious universities in Iran—whom the report refers to as “workers”—is illegal? What should these “workers” do, submit their papers first to Mr. Amano, or US-Israeli intelligence services, for screening?

In the end, the hyped IAEA report of November 8, 2011, turned out to contain some old allegations that remain unverified and some new ones that appear to be flimsy or strange. So why publish these allegations with fanfare? One can answer the question by paraphrasing the two aforementioned statements by former IAEA Director General ElBaradei and US Ambassador Glyn Davies: the Americans and their allies, particularly the Israelis, are only interested in one thing and one thing only, regime change in Iran by any means necessary.  In this endeavor, Mr. Amano is solidly in the US-Israeli court.

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at:

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Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: