In advance of our analysis in the morning, a snapshot of some of the framing and intepretation of the IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme….

Our take-away line at this point: “The report is more serious for Iran than previous IAEA findings but not as serious as Western officials were spinning it.”

Foreign Policy — inadvertently — proves our point. Of the seven “most incendiary passages” it claims….

  • One is a general overview statement: “Serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme”
  • One is not incendiary at all but a blatant mis-read by FP: its claims that the IAEA found “post-2003 development” is undermined by the actual words of the report, which says only “some activities may be ongoing”
  • One, the “foreign involvement” of a Russian scientist, has already been discredited (see separate analysis)
  • One on “nuclear tests” is muddled in explanation
  • One on “Projects 5 and 111” is mysterious but not clearly related to a militarised nuclear initiative — “A source of uranium suitable for use in an undisclosed enrichment programme. The product of this programme would be converted into metal for use in [a] new warhead”
  • One on computer modelling raises questions but is not definitive — “[The] application of such studies to anything other than a nuclear explosive is unclear to the Agency”

The only substantial passage which could come close to the “incendiary” label is this one:


In documenting the steps Iran has taken to develop a “nuclear explosive device,” the IAEA cites efforts to “procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials” by elements of the military, the “acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network,” and “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.”


Far more useful in cutting through the hype is the summary of Julian Borger of The Guardian, “Key new finding in the IAEA report on Iran: link between the ‘green salt’ project, an alternative route to enrichment, and missile work.”

For Marc Ambinder, that “key IAEA finding is that Iran modeled effects of explosive charges around uranium cores….Basically, A-bomb 101”.

Perhaps most telling is the comment of Jonathan Rugman of Britain’s Channel 4 News, both for the overview of the IAEA’s findings and the re-alignment of the unnamed officials who have been present all week, “IAEA report not a ‘smoking gun’ that Iran is building bomb —- but engaged on what a diplomat calls ‘slow capacity creep’ to that point.

“Slow capacity creep” is a far cry from what Western diplomats were spinning to journalists over the weekend, with the claims that Iran was close to nuclear military capability.

The gap between the advance hype and the actual document raises suspicions that the politics all along was to use the IAEA report for further sanctions on Tehran, breaking down the Russian and Chinese objections. And the pushback has already begun: Moscow has said tonight:


We have serious doubts about the justification for steps to reveal contents of the report to a broad public, primarily because it is precisely now that certain chances for the renewal of dialogue between the “sextet” of international mediators and Tehran have begun to appear.