Tony Karon writes: Game changer? Hardly. As the dust settles on this week’s release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on Iran, it’s become clear that pre-release hype from Western officials that it would produce a dramatic shift in the international standoff over that country’s nuclear program appears to be wishful thinking. There’s nothing about the report’s contents — all of which had been known to the key players for the past five years — or the fact of its publication that appears likely to shift any of their positions. Instead, it appears to be triggering another round of business as usual: The U.S. and its key Western allies are pressing for new sanctions, unilateral and via the U.N.; Israel is rattling its saber; Russia and China are telling everyone to calm down and resisting any new sanctions; and Iran is keeping its uranium enrichment centrifuges spinning.
Experts parsing with the material say the IAEA’s finding don’t differ substantially with those of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded, to the chagrin of the Israelis and other Iran hawks, that Tehran had halted most of its research into weaponization of nuclear material in 2003. The new report does assert — on the basis of a narrower set of sources — that some lower-level apparent weapons research work did, in fact, continue after 2003. But what it calls a “structured program” of weapons research appears to have been mostly halted in 2003.
Still, there’s little question that Iran has used its nuclear program to bring the capability to build nuclear weapons within closer reach. The IAEA has now formally rejected Tehran’s insistence that all of its nuclear work has been for civilian energy production, and has demanded that it account for research work that appears to have no purpose outside of warhead design. But it has hardly confirmed the notion that Iran is racing hell for leather to build nuclear weapons.
A senior Administration official conceded Tuesday that “the IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons program”, nor does it spell out how much progress has been made in the research effort.