Vienna, 17 Sept. (IPS) In a sign of displeasure with the United States Senate, experts and inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog protested to some parts of a Congressional report on Iran's controversial nuclear programmes, saying the report contains "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information".
Among the committee's assertions is that Iran is currently producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the central town of Natanz. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called that "incorrect", noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent and did so under IAEA monitoring.
The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on prewar assessments of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
"Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States", was published by the Committee on 23 August. Its author, Frederick Fleitz, was a senior adviser to the U.S.'s hawkish UN ambassador, John Bolton, until 2005.
The IAEA's 12 September letter, drafted by External Relations Director Vilmos Cserveny, was addressed to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Peter Hoekstra, a Republican Congressman from Michigan who issued the report, condemned the document's insinuation that nuclear inspectors were following "unstated IAEA policy'' of suppressing information about Iran's atomic work.
A copy of the letter which was obtained by "The Washington Post" and other media says the U.S. needs better intelligence about Iran's nuclear program "outrageous and dishonest" and urged the committee to check its facts in the future.
The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on prewar assessments of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.
After no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a failed campaign to remove the IAEA's director, Mohammad ElBarade'i, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is the first time the IAEA has publicly rebutted U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the Hoekstra committee's 29-page report, which claimed Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown.
Privately, several intelligence officials said the committee report included at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate. But Hoekstra's office said the report was reviewed by the office of John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
This is the first time the IAEA has publicly rebutted U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation.
Negroponte's spokesman, John Callahan, said in a prepared statement that his office "reviewed the report and provided its response to the committee on July 24, '06." He did not say whether it had approved or challenged any of the claims about Iran's capabilities.
"This is like prewar Iraq all over again", said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. "You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."
The committee report, authored by a single Republican staffer with a hard-line position on Iran, chastised the CIA and other agencies for failing to provide evidence to back assertions that Iran is building nuclear weapons. It concluded that the lack of intelligence made it impossible to support talks with the Iranians.
Democrats on the committee saw it as an attempt from within conservative Republican circles to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions.
The new IAEA-US clash came as the European Union expressed cautious satisfaction at the latest round of negotiations between the EU's Foreign Affairs and Security Minister Xavier Solana with Mr. Ali Larijani, Iran's senior coordinator of the country's nuclear activities.
As European diplomats disclosed that Iran might be ready for a two months halt in its uranium enriching activities, the United States, convinced Iran is playing for time, called during IAEA Board of Directors debate on Wednesday for swift drafting of punitive sanctions against Iran in the Security Council this month.
"We are really making progress", Mr. Solana told journalists after discussing Iran's atomic ambitions with EU foreign ministers. "Never before have we had a level of engagement and a level of discussion of issues that are as difficult as we are having now", he added.
However, a second round of meeting between Solana and larijani scheduled for Thursday 14 September had suddenly been cancelled.
The postponed meeting will take place in the coming days, according to a senior nuclear official in Tehran.
Solana confirmed the meeting would take place soon but said no new date had been fixed and he urged for the momentum created by his talks with Larijani at the weekend in Vienna to be maintained.
"Of course I cannot guarantee that will be the case", he added. Asked why the midweek meeting was cancelled, Solana hinted at rifts within the Iranian camp.
In fact, informed sources tells IPS that while a hard line faction inside Iran's ruling clerical gang are pushing for getting the nation out of the Non Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA, emulating North Korea, another one, as powerful, is urging the regime's supreme, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, not to yield.
IAEA inspectors who regularly monitor Iran's atomic programmes since 2003 always issues ambivalent reports, stating that while they have found no indications that Tehran is diverting its nuclear activities from peaceful purposes to military uses, they can not say for certain that it is not doing so.
"This ambivalence, contradictory reports by IAEA inspectors are at the core of the difficulties between Iran and the its opposite side, mainly Europeans and Americans', one Iranian analyst following the issue told Iran Press Service, adding Mr. Elbarad'i (IAEA General Director) wants to replace Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations and for that he needs to please the Americans while at the same time, as an Egyptian, as a Muslim and as an Arab, his heart is in Tehran.
A legally binding Security Council resolution sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China demands Iran halt enrichment work before negotiations to rebuild trust in its nuclear intentions.
Rejecting any "preconditions", Iran's Envoy at the IAEA said on Thursday that
"If there is a political will on the other side, (our) response would be the basis on which one could pave the way for an immediate solution through dialogue and negotiation ... free from any threat, pressure or any precondition" and called on the Security Council to return Iran's nuclear dossier to the IAEA and urged six world powers to "commence negotiations without any preconditions or further delay".
"The decision to refer Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council was based on ridiculous, non-technical political motivations and not as a result of diversion of nuclear materials to prohibited purposes", Mr. Soltaniyeh said, echoing his President, Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad, who is taking part at the Non Aligned Movement Summit in Havana, Cuba. ENDS IAEA US SENATE 17906