IAEA Estimates

Last month, a couple of days before Tehran had to admit the existence of a so far clandestine new nuclear site near Qom, I had expressed my concerns about the release of declassified information on Iran’s controversially disputed nuclear program while, at the same time, rumors are spread that classified parts, for example of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) may state something else. The declassified part of the NIE had claimed that Iran has, with moderate confidence, not resumed its military nuclear program which has, with high confidence, existed since 2003.

In their recent report on Iran, which has been derestricted September 9, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) again pointed at length to a possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program. The Agency has been accused, in particular by France and Israel, that a draft document, dealing with respective allegations has not been included in the official report. On Friday last week, certain excerpts of a lengthy document leaked and were immediately posted on the web page of the Institute for Scientific Information and Security (ISIS).

The news (if they are new; most of the so-called Alleged Studies are related to the infamous laptop which has been smuggled out of the country by the wife of an Iranian, who had been recruited by a German intelligence service; its content has become public in 2005 but was regarded faked by Tehran) may indeed be worrying. According to the excerpts of the circulating, though not approved, documents, the IAEA has gathered information that the Ministry of Defense of Iran has conducted and still may be conducting a comprehensive program aimed at the development of a nuclear payload for the Shahab 3 missile (one immediately remembers the provocative tests by Iran a few days before the Geneva talks). As mentioned already in the concluding remarks of the previous IAEA report on Iran, this information seems to be generally consistent since it originates from several Member States (of the NPT) and the IAEA’s own investigations.  The leaked paper says, inter alia:

“From the documents presented by a number of Member States and the Agency’s own activities, it is possible to assess that in early 2002 Iran formally declared the start of its warhead development programme, which very likely comprised at least two projects under the leadership and auspices of the Ministry of Defence – Project 111 and Project 110. Project 111 was to design the inner cone of the Shahab 3 missile re-entry vehicle and the production of an explosives operation control set (ECS). Project 110 was to produce the contents of the spherical warhead payload. The Agency assesses that the development work to design a suitable chamber inside the re-entry vehicle is intended to accommodate a new warhead payload that is quite likely to be nuclear.

“Information received from a Member State indicates a round, semi-round and semi-sperical shock generator for which an EBW (exploding bridge wire) detonator is being developed. It is said that the shock generator was fired in field test conditions with one detonator using a firing cable.

“The significance of the information is that Iran may have developed an effective high explosive implosion system, which could be contained within a payload container believed to be small enough to fit into the re-entry body chamber of the Shahab 3 missile.

“It is believed that Iran has developed exploding bridgewire detonators and associated electronic high voltage firing systems. The Agency assesses that Iran has managed to develop a high explosive industry capable of synthesizing and formulating the raw materials into explosive compositions and that could be used in a nuclear weapon. It is very likely that Iran has the required engineering skills to machine explosives into the weapon components. It is assessed that Iran has succeeded in combining its detonator development work with other related studies to manufacture a relatively compact high explosives initiation system that has probably been tested with comprehensive diagnostic equipment.”

According to this leaked information, the IAEA assesses that Iran has sufficient information to design and build a crude nuclear weapon.

“The Agency assesses that Iran has conducted studies relating to the aspects necessary to incorporate a device into a conventional delivery system such as the Shahab 3 missile. Further studies on payload integration are also accompanied by the electronic engineering studies to produce an arming and fuzing system. From the evidence presented to the Agency it is possible to suggest that, for the Shahab 3 delivery system, Iran has conducted R&D (research and development) into producing a prototype system. However, further work is necessary to manufacture a more robust unit capable of producing an airburst fuzing option that would function both safely and reliably.

“Overall the Agency does not believe that Iran has yet achieved the means of integrating a nuclear payload into the Shahab 3 missile with any confidence that it would work. Nonetheless, with further effort it is likely that Iran will overcome problems and confidence will be built up.”

Thus, the leaked excerpts conclude with a sense of grim humor. Reading this makes immediately clear why the official IAEA report of August 27 does not further entertain such speculations which seem to be irrelevant as long as the 2007 NIE has not been undergone a thorough revision. This revision may be overdue, since British, German, and, of course Israeli intelligence comes to different conclusions about the existence of a military nuclear program in Iran.

The leakage may highlight a tough power struggle within the IAEA between the Department of Safeguards which has drafted the respective paper and the Department of External Relations and Policy Coordination. Outgoing Director General ElBaradei might favor the stance of the latter. It is noteworthy that the leakage to ISIS (most probably via Olli Heinonen, the Director General’s Deputy for Safeguards) has just happened when ElBaradei had left Vienna for visiting the rulers in Tehran for scheduling a first IAEA inspection of the Qom site.

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