IAEA facts override mere conjecture

At a time when nuclear proliferation poses growing risks, IAEA findings shape the global agenda.

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Most people would readily agree that the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency are not a fun read. But drafted by the agency's well-qualified, independent cadre of experts, they carry a legitimacy and authority unmatched by other institutions dealing with nuclear matters. At a time when nuclear proliferation poses growing risks, IAEA findings shape the global agenda. This is why the latest report on Iran should give pause to the sceptics that question the international drive to stop Iran's nuclear progress. Indeed, it is not only western powers that are now expressing concern with Tehran's lack of nuclear transparency.

First, the agency is dissatisfied with Iran's explanation for not declaring the construction of the Qom enrichment facility and for continuing to complicate access to that plant, which has no obvious civilian use. Second, the IAEA inspectors write that: "The information ... 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."

In recent weeks, Iran has announced its intention to enrich its stock of low-enriched uranium to a higher level, putting it closer to weapons-grade level. The first batch of uranium enriched at 20 per cent has already been produced, prompting the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to declare Iran a nuclear state. The reality is somewhat different: Iran is still far from becoming a nuclear-capable power, and the IAEA reports that some centrifuges are dismantled, perhaps a sign that Iran is running into technological problems. But the trajectory is unmistakable: given Iran's past record of concealment and illicit acquisitions, as well as its long-range missile programme, the news that it may have conducted secret work on a payload shows a determination that ridicules international law.

Even Russia, which in recent years had been reluctant to pressure Tehran, is now showing signs of concern. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov put it in stark terms when he said: "We are very alarmed and we cannot accept this, that Iran is refusing to co-operate with the IAEA." What more is there to say?