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Shock: Iran Stockpiling Enriched Uranium

If it weren't deadly serious, it would be funny to note how different the IAEA's approach to Iran has changed since the departure of Muhammed ElBaradei at the UN nuclear watchdog's helm. In its latest report, the IAEA warns that Iran is on the brink of a nuclear weapon, having stockpiled at least 22 kilograms (47 lbs.) of enriched uranium enriched to at least 20% purity.

The agency's report comes in spite of the recent imposition at the United Nations of a fresh round of sanctions against Iran and will heighten fears of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear plants. The prospect of an attack had receded only recently with American assurances that Tehran was more than a year away from acquiring a bomb. The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog said Tehran had maintained its absolute defiance of international pressure to curb its programme despite the imposition of harsh sanctions in May. The IAEA has grown increasingly alarmed at Iran's behaviour and the latest report, which will be presented to the agency's governors at a meeting next week, lambasted Tehran on a series of fronts.

Rather than seeing his primary responsibility to be to investigate and report on nuclear programs, ElBaradei saw his "brief" to be to ensure that "countries don't go headlong into killing each other," a job description he offered in repsonse to a question from the BBC on the nuclear standoff between Iran and the United States.

I wrote on this at National Review in ElBaradei's New Brief, Same as His Old Brief, and Elbaradei's words in two intrerviews were enlightening for the uninitiated.

ElBaradei said in the al-Arabiya interview, "I always think of resigning in the event of a military strike," because he "would conclude that there is no mechanism left for me to defend." He went on to say, "I am doing this out of the conviction that I am defending shared values." What values are shared -- presumably with the Iranian mullah regime -- is unclear.

However, keep in mind that this is the same ElBaradei who told the BBC that "I have no brief other than to make sure we don't go into another war or that we go crazy into killing each other. You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say 'let's go and bomb Iran.'" That's quite a different "brief" than a role in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through inspection regimes.

Unfortunately, ElBaradei's only actual "brief" is to make continued assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. His agency has no enforcement mechanism and thus reports to the UN Security Council when measures of enforcement are required. In fact, he and his agency have no input on enforcement or consequence at all. Monitor and report -- that's the IAEA's job.

ElBaradei oversaw days where the UN nuclear watchdog would bow to Iranian requests, like firing IAEA inspectors like Chris Charlier who get too close to Iran's nuclear truth.

In April 2006, Mohamed ElBaradei made a much-anticipated trip to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials amid a deadlock between the West and the Iranian regime over the nuclear crisis surrounding their suspected nuclear weapons program. The IAEA Director's mission, in his words, was to "come to Tehran to discuss with Iranian officials to resolve the remaining issues in the way of verifying Iranian nuclear program." His statements while in Iran were both public and conciliatory, including the proclamation that "We have done our inspection works. No diversion has been found and Iran has the right to enjoy nuclear energy."

He left with little progress...for the West. At the time, we wrote, "ElBaradei went to Iran and nothing happened. Or did it?"

What none of us knew at the time was that something quite tangible indeed had happened, according to (former) head IAEA Iran inspector Chris Charlier.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, demanded that ElBaradei fire Chris Charlier and remove him from the inspection team entirely. (Also see Regime Change Iran, Anti-Mullah, Security Watchtower and Worldwide Standard.)

According to Charlier and at least one other IAEA inspector in the Die Welt report, firing Charlier is precisely what ElBaradei immediately did in what can only be called a stunning acquiescence. There was, apparently, far more to ElBaradei's conciliatory tone in April - in both rhetoric and substance - than met the public eye.

Until now.

The IAEA seems to have returned to its function of analyzing, investigating and reporting on nuclear programs and proliferation - whatever the results may be - and leaving the issues of conflict resolution to the UN Security Council rather than usurping and/or guiding them with carefully calibrated reports and statements.

So it's quite a shock to hear that Iran is stockpiling enriched uranium. Well, maybe not. But if you took ElBaradei's reports and interviews at face value during the Iranian nuclear crisis until his recent departure, you probably are.

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