THE BLOG
05/23/2007 12:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

IAEA Report Contradicts Major Media Narrative On Iran

I read the IAEA interim report this morning with my tea. One thing which is very clear is that in many respects the Iranians are not being cooperative, especially in three key areas:

Iran has not responded to the Agency's long standing requests related to:
·the uranium contamination at the Physics Research Centre;
·Iran's acquisition of P-1 and P-2 centrifuge technology; and
·the documentation concerning uranium metal and its casting into hemispheres.

This comes as no surprise and is not the most urgent aspect of the report, although it will no doubt be seized upon by the media as more evidence of Iranian 'evildoing'.

What is at issue here today is whether recent reports of Iranian breakthroughs in enrichment are true. Before today's report it was pretty clear the media's claims were not correct. The claims had been completely debunked by experts before the IAEA report came out. And yet the claims still managed to form the dominant media narrative, as this ABC Report reiterates:

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to confirm Iran's rapid progress in advancing its uranium enrichment program in a report due tomorrow.

The only problem is that the report confirms no such thing. What the report details and conversations with arms control experts confirm is that the Iranians have made no major breakthroughs like that claimed by David E. Sanger of the New York Times. Furthermore, his story of May 15 was, as one expert put it, "misleading and sensationalized."

The relevant portions of the IAEA Report, released today, conclude:

Since the Director General's last report, Iran has fed approximately 260 kg of UF6 into the cascades at FEP. Iran has declared that it has reached enrichment levels up to 4.8% U-235 at FEP, which the Agency is in the process of verifying. On 13 May 2007, eight 164-machine cascades were operating simultaneously and were being fed with UF6; two other similar cascades had been vacuum tested and three more were under construction.

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of the Belfer Center wrote "[that] Iran does seem to be making steady progress toward continuous operation of their centrifuges." But this is hardly indicative of a nuclear program about to start spitting out bomb grade material next week.

This evidence, presented in the IAEA report, says Paul Kerr of Arms Control Today "does not support [the] rapid progress" described by Sanger in his article and portrayed by the media as a whole. Kerr added, "it doesn't seem like [the Iranians] have crossed a major threshold."

The claims filtering in and out of the media that Iran is one to two years away from producing bomb grade material are, to put it mildly, wildly inaccurate, as the report notes the Iranians are only reprocessing moderate amounts of UF6 to 4.8% U-235, and bomb grade material must be at least 80%.

Will the media correct its inflamed and sensationalized claims in light of this latest of IAEA reports?