Category Archives: Iran

That 2004 Rouhani Speech

The Wonk published it a while back. By “it,” I mean a speech that current Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani gave in 2004 when he was Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. The speech is an absolute gold mine of information on all sorts of topics, but this post is only about the speech’s date, which was 2004.

At least three credible sources (here, here, and here) have incorrectly written that Rouhani gave the speech in 2005. But that’s actually the year in which the speech, which Rouhani gave to the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, was published.

Now, it’s true that the document Jeffrey published does not give a date for the speech. We can, though, infer a date from the text.

However, we first need a (very simplified) summary of some recent history…Iran reached two different agreements with the E3 which included provisions that Iran would suspend its enrichment program. The first was concluded in October 2003. The second, and more detailed proposal, was concluded in November 2004. From its context, we can reasonably infer that Rouhani’s speech was given sometime in fall 2004 before Iran reached the second agreement.

First, Rouhani argued that the E3 were “pressuring Iran to broaden the scope of its suspension, and they included that demand in the recent September [IAEA Board of Governors] resolution.” That’s a pretty clear reference to this resolution, which the board adopted in September 2004. The board did adopt a resolution in September 2005, but that resolution was adopted after current President Ahmadinejad had taken office. Since then-Iranian President Khatami was in the audience for the speech, though, we know that Rouhani wasn’t referring to that resolution.

Second, Rouhani refers several times to a proposal that Iran was discussing with the E3; for example, he mentions the “package that the Europeans have offered us.” We know that Rouhani was discussing the November 2004 proposal because his description of that package includes references to European support for Iranian membership in the WTO and European counter-terrorism cooperation with Tehran – items which do not appear in the 2003 agreement.

Third, Rouhani mentions several times that about a year had passed since the 2003 agreement.

I’m not (just) being pedantic here; the date of the speech matters from a substantive standpoint. But I’ll address that in a later post.

Tour D’Iran

Not sure if any pro cyclists (or fans thereof) read this blog (actually, I’m not sure _anyone_ reads this blog), but the International Presidency Tour takes place in Iran this coming May, according to “the UCI”: and “this site.”:

I’m sure more info is contained on the Cycling Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s “site,”: but I can’t read Farsi.

According to the UCI, Iranian riders comprise 5 of the top 10 ranked riders on the “UCI Asia Tour”:, including the # 1 slot.

Iran Weaponization Intel: A Cautionary Note

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The following is a guest post from *Oliver Meier*, the international representative and correspondent of the “Arms Control Association”: and a researcher with the Hamburg Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, also known as “IFSH”: Dr. Meier is based in Berlin.

Take it away, Oliver…

* * *

On July 20, the _Wall Street Journal Europe_ ran an op-ed by German journalist Bruno Schirra, its headline declaring that “Germany’s Spies Refuted the 2007 NIE Report”:

The article was quickly seized upon by “those who”: “have argued”: “all along”: that that the NIE — which concerned Iran’s nuclear weapons development activities — was wrong. But this conclusion may be overstated.

Specifically, Schirra claims that the German foreign intelligence agency (the “Bundesnachrichtendienst”:, or BND) had found that Iran continued to work on nuclear weapons after 2003, contradicting the “Key Judgments”: of the above-mentioned 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.

Schirra bases his argument on a decision by Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, which decided an appeal in the case of a German-Iranian businessman accused of illegally brokering the transfer of dual-use items to Iran.

The details of the technologies in question are blacked out in the legal opinion, but one charge brought against the defendant involves the transfer of high-speed cameras, which the legal opinion describes as “essential for the development of nuclear warheads.” The Court also claims that the defendant “correctly assumed” that the cameras would be used in Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

A second charge involves counting tubes for radiation-resistant detectors, which the legal opinion describes as being specifically designed to withstand nuclear detonations. The U.S. company that produces the instruments describes these instruments as being designed for use in nuclear installations and says that they can be used “for military purposes.”

The counting tubes are covered by Annex 2 of the April 19, 2007 EU Iran Sanctions Act (“423/2007”:, which concerns nuclear technologies. The cameras were not covered in 2007 (and thus the brokering of that technology did not violate EU regulations). High-speed cameras that can take more than 225.000 frames per second were added to the EU sanctions list only in early 2008 (with the amended Iran Sanctions Act 116/2008).

_[The paragraph above has been corrected.]_

Both technologies also have benign uses. In the case of the high-speed cameras, which were supplied by a Russian company, the official end-user was a university in the Middle East. In the case of the counting tubes, which were to be delivered from the U.S. manufacturer through a German firm to an Iranian end-user via Dubai — the defendant apparently considered several possibilities to justify the export. These included uses in agriculture and medicine. In the end, he wrote to the German export control authority (“BAFA”: that the instruments could be used in nuclear facilities, but that their intended use was in the production of cement. BAFA didn’t buy this story, and indeed, it seems difficult to imagine why one would need radiation-hardened detectors in the cement industry.

A lower court in Frankfurt had dismissed the case in August 2008, partly because the prosecution could not convince the judges that Iran was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons in 2007, when the defendant tried to broker the sale of the technology.

The prosecution appealed against this ruling and was partly successful. The Federal Court of Justice ordered the case to proceed for two of three charges brought against the defendant. Schirra uses the Court’s “30-page legal opinion”: and a “press release”: by the Court to claim that the BND “has amassed evidence of a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons program that continued beyond 2003.”

However, the information publicly available about the Court’s ruling does not support such a broad claim.

In fact, the Court found only that, based on a May 2008 BND report, “it is sufficiently likely” that Iran was working on nuclear weapons in 2007 to reopen the case. The lower court in Frankfurt had described the same BND report as “extremely vague” (a fact conveniently ignored by Schirra). The Federal Court came to a different conclusion, saying that the BND made a “plausible case” that Iran continued working on nuclear weapons. But the judges made it explicitly clear that it was not their job to arrive at a substantive judgment about whether Iran had actually been working on nuclear weapons in 2007.

This is more than a matter of semantics. The Federal Court stated that it will be possible to arrive at any conclusion about whether Iran did indeed work on nuclear weapons only after the case against the defendant has been reopened. The Federal Court also stated that it will be necessary to hear additional witnesses and consider new evidence to reach a conclusion about whether Iran did indeed work on nuclear weapons in 2007.

Of course, the BND report itself is classified, but the Federal Court’s legal opinion cautions that the intelligence report is only “secondary evidence” that does not reveal the sources on which its findings are based. The legal opinion states that the BND report is itself partly based on information about Iranian procurement activities involving “well-known institutions” and dual-use technologies. Information about procurement, of course, does not provide direct evidence that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons (a point not lost on the 2007 NIE).

According to the Federal Court, a second report supplied by the BND on August 28, 2008 “specifies and supplements” the first BND document by highlighting (for example) Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons delivery systems, and similarities between Iranian, North Korean, and Pakistani procurement patterns. But again, the Court’s description of the document does not support the claim that it contains actual evidence of Iranian nuclear weapon development efforts.

Schirra calls the Federal Court’s conclusion “unusually strong.” Actually, the opposite is true. Whether the BND actually made a convincing case that Iran continued its nuclear weapons program after 2003 appears to lie in the eye of the beholder. One court (in Frankfurt) dismissed the case, while the higher court found it sufficiently plausible to justify reopening the collection of evidence. It will be worthwhile to follow the proceedings when the case resumes: the question of Iranian nuclear weapons efforts is likely to take center stage.

In any case, the legal opinion provides fascinating reading about continued Iranian efforts to get its hands on dual-use technologies with nuclear applications. And the news is not all bad. While the defendant was able to supply Iran with two high-speed cameras that can be used for nuclear-weapons diagnostics, he failed to deliver the counting tubes for radiation resistant detectors. In the latter case, the German export control authority kept on questioning the end-user certificate until he gave up.

Uncle Sam’s Memo to Yellowcake Producers

Barak Ravid has a scoop in _Ha’aretz_, but the “lede is buried”:

[The story now appears in more sensible form “here”:]

Here’s the good stuff:

bq.. The U.S. has asked 10 uranium-rich countries to tighten their monitoring of sales of the mineral to Iran, according to a document obtained by Haaretz. The move is based on an American estimate that Iran’s uranium reserves will run out by 2010….

The document was distributed by the U.S. State Department to 10 countries that produce yellowcake, a uranium concentrate used as a raw material for enriching uranium. The United States wants the countries to increase monitoring of the sale of yellowcake to Iran.

According to the document, “As a consequence of its geology, Iran’s reported indigenous uranium reserves are insufficient to support its current nuclear reactor program for sustained period of time …. Calculations based on Iran’s rate of uranium conversion thus far suggest that Iran will run out of yellowcake in 2010.”

The document is defined as a so-called non-paper to be used in contacts with privately owned companies that produce the concentrate. It was sent to Russia, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Britain, Kazakhstan and three others countries.

UN sanctions prohibit the sale of uranium to Iran, but the United States fears that the Islamic Republic might be trying to acquire the material anyway. “Iran could soon begin, or may have already begun, to look for outside suppliers of uranium,” the document says. “Extreme vigilance in dealing with Iran and its nuclear program is necessary given the requirements of the UN Security Council and the significant threat Iran presents to international peace and security.”

The document also notes that given “Iran’s publicly stated ambition to pursue its enrichment-related activities, we believe it critically important that the world’s major uranium resource companies prevent all exports of uranium to Iran unless contained in fuel rods and for an established light-water reactor.

Beyond the responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation that we all share and the specific requirements of the UNSC, we believe that nuclear cooperation – particularly the provision of raw nuclear materials – with Iran is a significant business and reputational risk.”

It adds that “we urge companies subject to your jurisdiction not to facilitate Iran’s nuclear ambitions by engaging in new business deals with Iran until all concerns regarding its intentions have been resolved and confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program has been established.”

p. More on this later, maybe — I have to go back to getting other stuff done.

Nuclear Holocaust, Crazy State

I’ve thought three times before posting this. Four times. It’s so bleak that it’s difficult to digest. But it gives too much insight into the regnant Israeli view of nuclear deterrence to withhold comment.

The recently published “interview with Uzi Arad”: by Ari Shavit in _Ha’aretz_ includes this passage about nuclear deterrence failure:

bq.. [Arad] On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world (tikkun olam).* When we say “never again,” this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.

[Shavit] Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?

[Arad] Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem) not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don’t think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.

[Shavit] When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?

[Arad] We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.

p. (*This is an unusual interpretation of “tikkun olam”:, to say the least. Usually it means something like “social justice” and suggests making the world a better place. At least in the present context, it might be understood as meaning “cosmic justice.”)

The “Dror” to whom Arad refers must be Yehezkel Dror, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He may be better known for his “work on public policy”: “and the social sciences”:, but in 1971, he produced a small book published in English as “Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem”:

Lacking a copy at hand, I’ll turn to the summary in Barry Wolf, “When the Weak Attack the Strong: Failures of Deterrence”: As part of his discussion of “highly motivated” attackers, Wolf provides this sketch of Dror’s idea:

bq.. A “crazy state” culture may also result in a cost-benefit calculus that is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. The term “crazy state” has been used by Yehezkel Dror to refer to such groups as “the Christian Crusaders or the Islam Holy Warriors… anarchists… contemporary terrorist groups… Nazi Germany; and–to a more limited extent–Japan before the Second World War.” Although Dror’s concept is multidimensional and cannot be easily defined, the historical examples he uses tend to be groups with an extremely strong commitment to nonrational (by contemporary Western standards) ideologies and a willingness to use force to realize their goals. It is important to remember that the term “crazy state” is used to identify states whose cost-benefit calculus may be extremely difficult for a contemporary Westerner to understand; the term is not a judgment that the state’s values are “crazy” in an absolute or universal sense.

Many states that have attacked substantially stronger counterparts certainly could have been “crazy states,” the Jewish zealots who revolted against Rome being an especially likely example. Both Iran and Libya can arguably be considered states of this type, and a “crazy state” cost-benefit calculus seems likely to have contributed to their attacks against U.S. forces. A weak “crazy state” led by a psychopathological leader may have particularly great potential to take actions that appear to defy logic; Adolf Hitler’s Germany occupied the Rhineland at a time (1936) when France’s army was substantially stronger than Germany’s. Although Hitler in that case read Allied intentions correctly, perhaps no wholly sane leader would have taken this risk because the consequences of failure would have been so terrible. As Hitler himself said, “A retreat on our part would have spelled collapse.”

p. This post has gone on long enough already, and it’s not my intention to revisit the not-so-great “rationality debate”: here. Suffice it to say that there’s not a person alive, let alone a nation-state, that conducts its affairs in keeping with the “von Neuman-Morgenstern axioms”: Vague objectives, impulsivity, and gross errors are altogether commonplace. The worst outcomes are rare, but we are condemned to live with uncertainty.

So let’s conclude with one last snippet from Arad, who insists that Israel must “must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid.” That much, I think, is hard to argue with.

Iran Misconceptions — Plus One

David Albright and Jackie Shire of ISIS fame have published a paper on “seven misconceptions about Iran’s nuclear program”: It’s worth a read.

While we’re on the topic — just for the heck of it — I’d like to add an eighth misconception. Notwithstanding legitimate concerns about “breakout”:, it is mistaken to assume that there is a linear relationship between how many centrifuges are spinning at Natanz and when Iran “gets the Bomb.” It’s a bit more complicated than that. Breaking out of the NPT — whether by treaty action or by sneaking out — would be an extremely risky proposition, no matter how many centrifuges Iran builds.

Under the logic of a worst-case scenario, where sheer enrichment capability leads to swift weaponization, heedless of consequences, breakout would have happened already.

That’s why “attention-getting phrases”: like “the window is closing” or “the clock is ticking” can be a little misleading. Breakout is a high-stakes leadership decision, not a technological threshold.

*Update*. Herb Keinon in the _Jerusalem Post_ — or rather, his anonymous sources — “make exactly this point”:

bq.. “I would be careful about all the declarations on this matter,” said one senior government official who deals with the issue, adding that a decision by Teheran to go full throttle toward the building of a bomb was dependent on numerous different decisions the government would have to make, and which it had simply not yet made.

In the meantime, the official said, the Iranians have decided to continue to enrich as much low grade uranium as they can, and to also continue development in the field of ballistic missiles at a level that would not make their situation with the international community much worse than it already is.

p. Exactly right!

*Update 2*. I should also mention “this recently published interview”: in _Ha’aretz_ with Uzi Arad, a senior adviser to the Israeli prime minister (and very possibly the anonymous person quoted above). The passage starts with a question by the interviewer, Ari Shavit:

bq.. [Shavit] Your main front as national security adviser will be the danger of a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Middle East. But as far as we know, Iran has already crossed the point of nuclear no-return and has enough fissionable material to assemble a first nuclear bomb.

[Arad] The point of nuclear no-return was defined as the point at which Iran has the ability to complete the cycle of nuclear fuel production on its own; the point at which it has all the elements to produce fissionable material without depending on outsiders. Iran is now there. I don’t know if it has mastered all the technologies, but it is more or less there. However, *the term “no-return” is misleading. Even if Iran has fissionable material for one bomb, it is still at a low grade of enrichment. And if it wants to conduct a test, it will not have even one bomb. It follows that Iran is not yet nuclear and not yet operational. Serious obstacles still lie in the way. The international community still has enough time to make it stop of its own volition.*

Still, looking back, we see a dramatic failure here. A red line was defined and Iran crossed it.

p. Emphasis added. I tried to make “a similar point”: back in February:

bq. First, 1 SQ would be one heck of a thing to exit the NPT over. If the Iranians tested their first and only nuclear device to demonstrate that they had it, they would promptly stop having it. So 2 SQ would be the realistic threshold of concern, and even that seems a bit low. The North Korean precedent is instructive: they didn’t proclaim themselves to be nuclear-armed, or prove that point, until they had enough plutonium on hand for maybe half a dozen devices.

Incidentally, the passage from the interview shown above contains the first explicit definition I’ve yet seen of “point of no return,” a phrase much favored by Israeli talking heads when discussing the Iranian nuclear program.

Spot the Difference

This item is brought to you by the Dept. of Non-Correction Corrections.

1) David Sanger and Nazila Fathi, “Iran Test-Fires Missile With 1,200-Mile Range “:, _New York Times,_ May 21, 2009:

bq.. Though she avoided details, Mrs. Clinton was giving voice to a growing concern among administration officials, who have now had time to review the intelligence, that Iran seems to have made significant progress in at least two of the three technologies necessary to field an effective nuclear weapon.

The first is enriching uranium to weapons grade, now under way at the large nuclear complex at Natanz.

p. 2) David Sanger, “Despite Crisis, Policy on Iran Is Engagement”:, _New York Times,_ July 6, 2009:

bq. Israeli officials have been deeply uncomfortable with Mr. Obama’s engagement offer, arguing that Iran is still adding centrifuges to its plant at Natanz, where it can enrich uranium. The last report of the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated roughly 7,000 centrifuges are now enriching uranium into fuel, but without further enrichment it is suitable only for nuclear power.

Way back in ’04, Daniel Okrent, who was at the time public editor of the _New York Times,_ did readers the signal service of defining and explaining “the rowback”: What he wrote then applies just as well today:

bq. The editors who decided to handle the clarification this way may not know the term, but this was a classic example of the rowback. The one definition I could find for this ancient technique, from journalism educator Melvin Mencher, describes a rowback as “a story that attempts to correct a previous story without indicating that the prior story had been in error or without taking responsibility for the error.” A less charitable definition might read, “a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed.”

For previous commentary on the May 21 story, see “here”: and “here”:

Nuclear Politics

From “Roger Cohen”: in the IHT:

bq.. [Mohsen Mahmoudi, a 34-year-old conservative cleric] told me that when he went to study in Qom, he had no idea what Iran’s nuclear program was. But there were regular classes on it. Scientists were brought in to enlighten the clerics. They were sensitized. The aim was that “We go back to towns and villages and talk in the mosques about the people’s nuclear rights.”

“It’s because Ahmadinjad stood for this that he became a hero to many,” Mahmoudi said. “He equated it with the “nationalization of our oil industry”: and made it the core symbol of our independence and pride.”

p. He did a pretty good job of it, too. In 2002, vanishingly few Iranians would have been aware of the uranium enrichment program — a closely held secret, despite the suspicions of Western officials. By 2007 or so, it was the beating heart of the nation. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made it the “centerpiece of his re-election campaign”: So it’s only the more remarkable that “it didn’t work”:

“Musical bonus”: