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Cablegate: Staffdel Kessler Examines Iran, Syria, And

DE RUEHUNV #0540/01 3361717
R 021717Z DEC 09

Wednesday, 02 December 2009, 17:17
EO 12958 DECL: 12/01/2019
Classified By: Mark Scheland, Counselor for Nuclear Policy; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) Summary: HFAC staffers Richard Kessler and David Fite received from IAEA Secretariat November 10 information on the Iran case that tracked with the tone of the subsequent Director General’s reporting on Iran to the Board of Governors. The STAFFDEL heard that contact with Iran over “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program was at an “absolute stalemate.” According to Safeguards regional division director Herman Nackaerts, IAEA inspectors’ first visit to the enrichment facility under construction near Qom had run predictably but without extraordinary responsiveness on Iran’s part; the Secretariat was still trying to understand the motivation to build the plant as now designed. Nackaerts described the frustrating limitations of Iran’s cooperation with the Agency, and the STAFFDEL deduced that Iranian officials held back because they were uncertain about what lines of inquiry the IAEA was best equipped to exploit. Questioning then-DG ElBaradei’s remark to media that the Agency had found “nothing to worry about” in Qom, STAFFDEL asked if the Secretariat would report on how it judged the plant did or did not fit into Iran’s publicly explained nuclear program. Nackaerts expressed appreciation for the precision and usefulness of U.S.-supplied information in the Qom case and generally.
2. (C) Summary contd.: On Syria, Nackaerts said the Secretariat had told Damascus its first explanation for the presence of anthropogenic uranium at the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor was not credible. Further, the Secretariat still could not yet present the case for how what was being built at Dair Alzour fit in as “part of a Syrian program or part of someone else’s program.” On DPRK, IAEA/EXPO’s Tariq Rauf said the IAEA, when it could, would ultimately have to “go back to the early 1990s” to reconstruct accountancy of plutonium and could not accept a “political” compromise setting material “off to the side.” To get to a finding of “no diversion” would take several years and extensive resources and forensics.
3. (SBU) Contd.: Treating Technical Cooperation, the STAFFDEL received the same briefing on the Safeguards Department’s project review process and internal database that was provided to a GAO review team in 2008. IAEA External Relations Director Rauf asserted, “We are not a denial organization.” STAFFDEL related how segments of the GAO report had reduced Congressional confidence in the efficiency of TC. U.S. national labs were afforded too little time to review projects for our national decision-making on their merit and proliferation risk. Secretariat also described hindrances it faces in having UN and national development officials recognize and integrate nuclear applications.
4. (SBU) Contd.: The STAFFDEL also engaged P5-plus-1 heads of mission over lunch on the means to draw or impel Iran to open up on its nuclear program and on dynamics in Vienna between blocs of Member States. End Summary.
Fordow/Qom and Iran PMD: Frustration, but Good Support from the U.S.
5. (U) House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Majority Staff Director Richard Kessler and Professional Staff Member David Fite (STAFFDEL) spent ninety minutes with IAEA staff on November 10. Principal issues were safeguards verification in Iran and Syria, the screening of IAEA Technical Cooperation (TC) projects for proliferation risk, and TC Department efforts to improve project design and integration into national and UN development activities. STAFFDEL affirmed to Secretariat officials that the HFAC under Chairman Berman: was strongly supportive of the IAEA; put emphasis on counter-proliferation issues in countries of concern (indeed, was weighing legislation to impose further U.S. sanctions on Iran); had advocated an increase in NADR funding for extrabudgetary contributions to the IAEA, including for the Safeguards Analytical laboratory; and, supported “getting the U.S. up to date” on payment of its assessments to the IAEA’s regular budget. Following the meeting at the IAEA, STAFFDEL consulted Ambassador and Mission staff and had a working lunch with P5-plus-1 heads of mission focused on Iran and the dynamics of multilateral
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diplomacy in Vienna. STAFFDEL’s UNVIE program followed a day of consultations with Austrian officials (reftel).
6. (SBU) IAEA Safeguards Department Operations B (AOR Mideast, South Asia, parts of Europe, the Americas, and all nuclear weapons states) Director Herman Nackaerts briefed STAFFDEL on the inspection he had led a few weeks before to the recently disclosed Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant near Qom in Iran. Nackaerts said Iranian officials had been open to allowing inspectors access. The Secretariat was still trying to understand, he said, why Iran would build this facility, scaled as it was for 3000 centrifuges in contrast to the much large Natanz facility. It was positive, Nackaerts pointed out, that Fordow was now under safeguards. He noted that the IAEA had “at least two” safeguards inspectors at work in Iran “every day of the year” and would henceforth plan to visit Fordow regularly. Asked how “complete” the plant was or when it would be operational, Nackaerts said, “The information we got from Member States proved to be very precise” on this point. Asked about permission to take samples at Fordow, Nackaerts replied that Iranian officials had permitted the inspectors to perform the same safeguards procedures they typically undertook at Natanz.
7. (S) STAFFDEL asked if the Agency enjoyed full access to the Arak IR-40 plant. Nackaerts related there had been no access for a 12-month period but normal access in August and October 2009. However, the Iranians “claim they cannot go back on the decision of their parliament, and hence grant the IAEA a “visit” but do not call it Design Information Verification. On possible military dimensions (PMD), Nackaerts said the Secretariat’s approach was to follow lines of inquiry that could involve use of nuclear material, for example, the documents treating uranium metal or green salt. The Iranians, he said in a tone conveying his skepticism, asserted the uranium metal document was “mistakenly” included in a packet of information they received from the AQ Khan network but was nothing Iran had asked for or used. The “green salt” documentation Iran dismissed as a forgery. Indeed, Nackaerts went on, Iran replied basically on the form of documents, not on their substance. The Secretariat had not been “impressed” by the 117-page rejoinder Iran had provided to the initial presentation of PMD documentation. It had told Iran the information hung together too much for it all to have bee fabricated and asked that, if some of the documentation were “doctored,” Iranian officials should show the Secretariat “where the truth ends.” Since August 2008, (when Ahmadinejad personally shut off Nackaerts’s previously approved visit to workshops indicated in the documentation), Nackaerts concluded, there remained a high-level decision not to cooperate. STAFFDEL member Fite took from this that the Iranians were holding back “because they don’t know where any opening will lead.” Nackaerts agreed, saying they knew that every question they answered would bring another question.
8. (S) Fite alluded to then-DG ElBaradei’s remarks of a few days before in U.S. media to the effect that the inspectors had found “nothing to worry about” in Fordow. Acknowledging the practical meaning of this remark -- that there were no centrifuges or nuclear material present -- Fite nevertheless regretted the headline and asked if the DG’s formal report to Board members (Note: subsequently released as GOV/2009/74, deresticted by the Board November 27, and available to the public at www.iaea.org) would deal with how Qom fits or does not fit into Iran’s explained nuclear program. Nackaerts replied, “We will identify the issues we’re working.” He went on that understanding the timeline of Fordow’s development was hindered by Iran’s practice never to involve people who really know the facts or the government’s intentions in discussion with the Agency. The officials with whom inspectors meet clearly are “steered” by unseen observers, who send notes to the Iranian interlocutors during meetings. Iran recorded the meetings, he added, but did not permit the IAEA to do so. Further, the Secretariat never received original design documents, but ones produced for the Secretariat that were technically true to the facilities they found upon inspection. Against this Iranian practice, Nackaerts added, the Secretariat received very precise information from Member States that helped inspectors decide what to ask about. The organization of this information was good and, while the Agency was satisfied, it had inquired if more information could be shared with the Agency, “not necessarily for release to Iran,” he said.
Syria Stalemate
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9. (SBU) The Syria case, Nackaerts said, was starting to look like Iran in that the government provided “good cooperation” on some areas but presented a “stalemate” on others. The Secretariat challenged Syria’s proposed explanation for the presence of uranium at Dair Alzour/Al Kibar (i.e., that Israeli depleted uranium munitions could be the source), but the inquiry was at a roadblock. Syrian officials had been told their first explanation for anthropogenic uranium at the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) was not credible, and the Agency had inquired what nuclear material Syria could have had that was not previously declared. Overall, the IAEA still “did not understand” (meaning, it could not yet present the solid case for) how Dair Alzour fit in as part of a Syrian nuclear program “or part of someone else’s program.”
Return to DPRK? Safeguards in India?
10. (SBU) Asked how quickly IAEA inspectors could resume work in North Korea if re-admitted by the government, Tariq Rauf of IAEA External Relations and Policy Coordination (EXPO) observed that the last resumption had taken a week (for technical set-up, re-activation of cameras, etc.). Safeguards Operations A division had a program set out for what steps to undertake “under circumstances the DPRK may let us back in.” Rauf continued that the Agency would to go back to the early 1990s’ plutonium revelation to reconstruct material accountancy. When most recently in the DPRK, the IAEA had been monitoring facility shutdown processes but not implementing NPT safeguards on DPRK material. The Agency could “not accept” political compromises that would set some nuclear material “off to the side”. Then-DG ElBaradei had called for implementation of the Additional Protocol in DPRK, but even if Pyongyang cooperated fully it would take several years and much in the way of resources and forensics to be able to get to a finding of “no diversion.”
11. (SBU) Asked about progress toward safeguards implementation in India, Rauf confirmed the GOI had submitted a “formal list” of facilities that was not a document the Agency would characterize as a formal declaration under its safeguards agreement. India was under no mandatory timeline to make its declaration as it was not an NPT signatory. (Comment: Rauf’s characterization was flat wrong. Mission had learned from the Safeguards Department three weeks before this meeting that India had officially “notified” two new facilities (Raps 5 and 6) under its 2008 safeguards agreement, that surveillance systems had been installed, and the facilities were under safeguards. End Comment.)
Scrutinizing and Promoting IAEA Technical Cooperation
12. (U) Renaud Chatelus of the Safeguards Division of Information Management (SGIM) acquainted STAFFDEL with IAEA screening of Technical Cooperation (TC) projects for their potential to afford access to sensitive technologies. Grounded in a 1979 Agency Information Circular, INFCIRC/267, the practice is to focus on projects related to enrichment, heavy water production, reprocessing of spent fuel, and plutonium or mixed oxide fuel. Chatelus said SGIM reviewed projects submitted, project approved, individual procurement actions, and overall implementation of projects. Reviews are conducted completely in-house, he said in reply to a question. Using the same PowerPoint slides that were presented to a GAO review team in 2008, Chatelus illustrated with screen shots from the Agency’s staff access-only database the system of flagging projects for: compliance with INFCIRC 267, compliance with INFCIRC 540 (Additional Protocol), transfer of “sensitive items” on the Nuclear Suppliers Group or dual-use lists, general interest, or possible relation to a safeguarded facility. In subsequent discussion of the impact of screening and Member States’ sense of entitlement to TC, EXPO’s Tariq Rauf affirmed, “We are not a denial organization.”
13. (U) STAFFDEL member Fite observed that segments of the GAO report treating transfers to state sponsors of terrorism as well as on program management had reduced Congressional confidence about TC. Fite said he had approached Appropriations staff about using a supplemental funding bill
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to resolve slow U.S. payment of assessments and do more for the Agency, but was rebuffed because the GAO report on TC had “poisoned the waters.” Apart from political objections to certain TC recipients benefitting from U.S. funding, he added, a persisting “Achilles heel” was that U.S. national labs were afforded too little time to review projects for our national decision-making on their merit and proliferation risk. TC Department representative Johannes Seybold replied that the Agency aimed to provide Member States six weeks time for review, but was also at the mercy of requesting states providing the relevant project information. Just the compendium of project titles and short descriptions became a very thick document in each biennial cycle, Seybold went on, and the Agency was “struggling” with some Member States’ national policies to be able to go beyond this level of transparency.
14. (U) STAFFDEL’s meeting with Secretariat officials concluded in an exchange with Seybold, TC’s section head for strategy and partnerships, about the IAEA’s awkward position in development efforts coordinated by the UN or by developing countries’ national institutions. Seybold laid out the following. The IAEA’s cooperation with TC recipient states occurs through National Liaison Officers, generally in the atomic energy commission or government ministry responsible for nuclear power or radiological sources. Generally, neither the IAEA nor the corresponding national entity is a participant in UN development team or host government deliberations about development in the recipient country. Two-thirds of TC projects address development issues for which the IAEA is not the responsible lead agency in the UN system, e.g., water quality and availability, food security, climate. In many cases, national authorities and the UN team responsible for these areas in a given country lack awareness of IAEA capabilities, and/or they maintain a distance from things “nuclear.” Seybold related Agency efforts to integrate with these authorities through the UNDAF (UN Development Assistance Framework) process and other partnering efforts. STAFFDEL expressed encouragement for bringing nuclear applications to greater impact in the development field.
P5-plus-1 Ambassadors Regret Iranian Paralysis on TRR; Depict Grim Dynamic with G-77/NAM
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15. (C) STAFFDEL was the guests of honor at lunch hosted by the Ambassador with his counterparts from China, Germany, Russia, and the UK and the French Charge d’Affaires. Kessler and Fite laid out HFAC’s interest and Chairman Berman’s supportive posture toward the Agency, as they had for Secretariat staff. Opening discussion of Iran, UK Ambassador Simon Smith said the Iranian answer on the ElBaradei-brokered deal on refueling the Tehran research reactor (TRR) “had to be ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ not waffling” as it had been. German Ambassador Ruediger Luedeking posited that the U.S. Administration had confounded Iranian internal processes and the latest EU3 proposal had “cornered” Iran. Agreeing that Iran faced an imperative between “yes” and “no,” Luedeking observed, “they can’t answer.” HFAC Staff Director Kessler noted the committee had tried to follow up a Larijani approach conveyed one year before for a meeting with Chairman Berman, but found that the Iranians backed off.
16. (C) Russian Ambassador Alexander Zmeyevskiy asserted that confidentiality was a major concern for Iran. He noted its TRR counter-proposals, either to keep its LEU on its territory under IAEA safeguards until released in exchange for fuel rods, or to swap outgoing LEU piecemeal for incoming fuel assemblies. Moving beyond the TRR issue, UK Ambassador said he was severely disappointed that Member States had been unable to “apply consequences for the breaking of rules” of the organization. We needed to convince some other Member States, he continued, that tolerating rule breaking as on Qom and Code 3.1 (of the Subsidiary Arrangement of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement) risked bringing the organization into discredit. STAFFDEL member Fite asked if Iran’s Arab neighbors were among the problem interlocutors in Vienna; he asserted that officials of Arabian Peninsula countries told the Congress they see Iran as an “existential threat.” While they may seek the cover of international signals or sanctions imposed by others, they say they do want action against Iran.
17. (C) Segueing from Iran to DPRK, Chinese Ambassador Hu Xiaodi said the main difference between the cases was that progress with DPRK had been achieved when the North Koreans
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wanted something specific, whereas he (Hu) had never heard Iranian officials say that they wanted a settlement, or that they wanted anything specific. Although we did not at present know “how” to reach a deal with Iran, Hu concluded, we were not in the worst situation, in which Iran explicitly does want something -- nuclear weapons. Asked if he genuinely thought the DPRK would give up its weapons program for aid, Hu said “hope” (as opposed to “think.”) Ambassador Davies seriously questioned that Pyongyang would give up a weapons capability in exchange for a significant material improvement in our relations, as the government would likely calculate it had been its possession of weapons that won the concessions.
18. (SBU) Ambassador turned the discussion to the dynamic between groups of Member States, as illustrated in the ongoing discussion of a Technical Cooperation project to advance IAEA use of “results based management.” The German Ambassador observed that NAM positions on many issues were characterized by “myths” and they were clearly being dictated by Iran and Egypt. Ambassador Davies asked if the dynamic was further charged by states beginning to suspect that the U.S. seriously intends to strengthen the Agency in all its functions -- with the uncertain shifts in practice and distribution of resources and clout that could mean. STAFFDEL lead Kessler said the Congressional perception was one of a “lightning change” from the last Administration to the present one in U.S. approaches to the IAEA, to development assistance globally, and to multilateralism. German Ambassador agreed and said this was a complication for NAM states that know they are the immobile ones now. Yet, TC was a “sacred cow” and the NAM’s impulse was to reject “illegitimate intrusion” into its distribution.
19. (SBU) French Charge Philippe Merlin discouraged STAFFDEL from expecting diplomatic gains, say in the NPT review, through greater generosity on IAEA peaceful use programs. “TC is the price we pay,” he said, for developing countries’ acquiescence toward the safeguards regime, the thing we really want. Fite asked if a reasoned discussion with development officials in capitals about making TC deliver more impact could translate into different instructions to the obstreperous missions in Vienna. German Ambassador took the view that any effort to change TC would be seen in capitals as “per se bad.” It was more advisable to advocate to NAM states what their own interests in the safeguards regime were. UK Ambassador agreed there were no points to be scored by asking NAM capitals about TC effectiveness; he added that the UK Government “doesn’t give two hoots” about TC, given the small funding level (from the UK Energy Ministry) in comparison to Britain’s official development assistance. TC was, also in the UK view, the price we pay for the IAEA we want.
20. (U) STAFFDEL did not review this report.

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