In comments addressed to and posted by Jeffrey on Friday, John Carlson drew attention to my omission of a 2008 IAEA visit to Syria in my Carnegie article on the IAEA board of governors’ resolution GOV/2011/40, concerning IAEA access to Syria following the August, 2007 Israeli air attack which destroyed the alleged reactor at Dair Alzour.

Thanks to Jeffrey having posted Carlson’s remarks about my article, I was able to read them, and afterward I modified the offending sentence in paragraph three of that article: “The board reported [IAEA safeguards conclusions] as noncompliance—and it did so without IAEA inspectors verifying the findings first hand in Syria” to conclude “since June 2008.”

That should take care of the issue at hand.

Did I not know about that June, 2008 visit to Syria? Of course I did. In 2008 and 2009 I published in Nuclear Fuel and Nucleonics Week a half-dozen articles about it. In drafting the Carnegie piece, which was intended as a very short “Commentary” on our website, I didn’t explicitly refer to that early and never-repeated IAEA visit to Dair Alzour for reasons of editorial brevity.

In retrospect, I realize that not mentioning it was a mistake. That’s because—as Carlson’s response made clear—anything I write on the subject of Syria’s safeguards compliance following the passing of GOV/40 can put me in the crossfire of competing narratives about the resolution which began unfolding even before it was passed last month, and which may well continue playing out through the end of this year.

One of those narratives–Carlson’s–asserts that GOV/40 represented nothing really departing from previous noncompliance findings. (May we assume that that implies that there’s no real strategy innovation on the part of the sponsors of the Syria issue?) There is a second take which was circulating among its advocates at the time the resolution was under consideration that asserted that GOV/40 was a new departure for dealing with noncompliance.

Carlson wrongly attributed to me the view that GOV/40 “sets a ‘new paradigm’ for noncompliance” with IAEA safeguards. That’s the second narrative.

I never said or “suggested” that I endorsed that interpretation.

Consistent with the question mark in the title of my article, and the text which specifically states that the matter is unresolved, I wrote:

“Some advocates of the successful resolution claimed that [GOV/40] offers a new paradigm for dealing with countries that refuse to cooperate with the IAEA in addressing weighty allegations that they are secretly proliferating.”

The “new paradigm” thesis is not, as Carlson wrote, the view “according to Hibbs.” I would argue, however, that the fact that people in the  resolution sponsoring camp argued that GOV/40 was a new departure is not insignificant. There is method in this.

The “new paradigm” narrative goes like this:

After Syria beginning in mid-2008 barred the IAEA from Dair Alzour and other related sites, the IAEA then called on member states to corroborate its initial but inconclusive findings suggesting that the site could have hosted a reactor. Most was provided by the U.S. The IAEA then looked for other sources—especially open sources—to corroborate the secret data, and it succeeded. After three years, the IAEA was prepared to bite the bullet and declare that in its view Dair Alzour was a reactor, regardless of the fact that it hadn’t been able to actually verify that conclusion in Syria because Syria had refused to cooperate for over three years.

But is this really a new development? Were not other, previous noncompliance cases similar, I asked? Well, not exactly, those holding the “new paradigm” view said. They argued, for example, that Iraq was called out of compliance after IAEA inspectors themselves unearthed a clandestine nuclear program; that Iran was cited for non-compliance after it acknowledged to the IAEA that it failed to report specific nuclear activities and IAEA inspectors in Iran then independently verified that; and that Romania and Libya were found to be out of compliance after they themselves had disclosed specific activities to the IAEA.

There is another narrative on GOV/40–Carlson’s–which asserts that “this non-compliance finding is consistent with previous findings where the lack of cooperation with the IAEA has been a major factor, i.e., Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.” No new approach or paradigm.

So which version of GOV/40 is true?

Now, if I were a country that co-sponsored GOV/40 and if I were trying to convince other board member countries to join, or thereafter to get them to see GOV/40 as a kind of template for pursuing future cases, Carlson’s argument is the one I would make.

Why? As I have written in previous posts and in the above Carnegie article, GOV/40 last month encountered a lot of resistance and in fact was passed by fewer than half the board’s 35 members. In particular, members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which in Vienna increasingly since 2003 have taken their cues on key verification issues from Iran, have been on the lookout for anything that looks like the IAEA or the board are departing from standard verification procedures.  Anything that suggests that GOV/40 represents a novel approach to noncompliance would therefore represent a political challenge for its sponsors and advocates.

Whether GOV/40 will change the tilt of the playing field is ultimately what this interchange is about—including in coming months and perhaps beyond.

On to DPRK and Iran

If this were only about GOV/40 and Syria I don’t think there would be any debate over this on this blog site; I don’t believe Carlson would spend his valuable time writing  Jeffrey a carefully-drafted response to an article that I wrote; and I wouldn’t waste my time writing this post because GOV/40 will be dead-ended at the UN Security Council in New York.

But as I said in the Carnegie article, according to what you hear from those who argue that GOV/40 represents a new departure on noncompliance, board member states which sponsored and supported GOV/40 want to go further and in coming months raise outstanding compliance issues in North Korea and Iran.

We’ll see if that develops.

If so, the DPRK might be next in line. The Republic of Korea (ROK) or Japan, for example, might in advance request Director General Yukiya Amano to prepare a report on safeguards compliance in the DPRK. The ROK (which co-sponsored GOV/40) and other like-minded states on the board might then float a resolution citing the DPRK for noncompliance with its safeguards obligations. How this would play out isn’t exactly clear, since in fact for a long time the IAEA has had no access to the DPRK and, accordingly, if judged by Amano’s own yardsticks, the IAEA may have very little if anything in the way of new official information on the DPRK to report to the board. (Don’t forget that, two years ago, Amano had been asked by the IAEA General Conference to report on Israel’s nuclear capability, and the DG complied by submitting a one-page statement which testified that because the IAEA had no official information beyond what Israel was obliged to provide to the IAEA to fulfill Israel’s Infcirc-66 agreement, he had in fact virtually nothing to say).

More interesting and significant will be how the board of governors deals with Iran in the aftermath of GOV/40.

Again, according to those who say that GOV/40 is a template for a new way forward, the board could request a report from Amano on outstanding safeguards issues with Iran, and in particular, concerning the allegations of nuclear weapons-related experiments and R&D, which the IAEA Department of Safeguards has compiled in its dossier and which Iran—like Syria on Dair Alzour—has claimed are fabrications and therefore has refused to discuss with the IAEA for three years. The board might ask Amano to make a judgment as to whether the IAEA is satisfied that the allegations are supported by evidence, perhaps permitting the IAEA to conclude—as in the Syrian case concerning the reactor—that Iran “very likely” was engaged in weaponization-related activities. As in the case of the reactor allegations concerning Syria, the allegations of Iranian weaponization activities currently are based primarly upon member state intelligence information and, to a lesser extent, upon some corroborative findings that the IAEA has made in the field. As in the case of Syria, were Amano to tell the board that the IAEA deems it likely that Iran conducted weaponization activities, if the current state of affairs persists Amano would report that conclusion regardless of Iran having refused to discuss these allegations with the IAEA.

Since Carlson incorrectly associated me with the view that GOV/40 is a “new paradigm,” I feel obligated to outline what is, in fact, my modest take on this.

Every new noncompliance case contains new and unprecedented facets. None of them are alike. It would appear that the Syria dossier is a composite of different kinds of information. Some of it was obtained in the field early, in June 2008, by the IAEA during the initial stage of its probe from Dair Alzour. It was inconclusive. The IAEA then got other information which, in its view, was consistent with the thesis that Dair Alzour was a reactor. The IAEA also took the trouble of trying to get third-party information, including open source data, to quality control the intelligence data it received from the U.S. and other member states. Some sought-for aerial reconnaissance data was missing. There were questions raised about why the building at DairAlzour was so much smaller, maybe 40% smaller, than its apparent prototype in the DPRK. So in the end it was a judgment call by the IAEA.

I never said GOV/40 is a “new paradigm.” Thirty-five members of the board may decide that during the next six months.