When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sauntered up to the world stage yesterday, he asserted that his views about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were “facts,” which are “stubborn things.”
But a British diplomat writing in LobeLog casts considerable doubt on one of Netanyahu’s central claims: that Rouhani himself wrote that he duped the West while negotiating with them over Iran’s nuclear energy program. The assertion is part of the prime minister’s drive to convince the U.S. that Iran’s willingness to talk is a cover for furthering a nuclear weapons program.
Here’s what Netanyahu said about Rouhani’s book yesterday:
You know why Rohani thinks he can get away with this? I mean, this is a ruse. It’s a ploy. Why does Rohani think he – thinks he can get away with it? Because – because he’s gotten away with it before, because his strategy of talking a lot and doing little has worked for him in the past.
He even brags about this. Here’s what he said in his 2011 book about his time as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, and I quote: “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know, the Isfahan facility is an indispensable part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That’s where uranium ore called yellowcake is converted into an enrichable form. Rohani boasted, and I quote, “By creating a calm environment – a calm environment – we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” He fooled the world once. Now he thinks he can fool it again.
You see, Rohani thinks he can have his yellowcake and eat it too.
Netanyahu is referring to talks between Iran and Europe in 2003 over Iran’s enrichment of uranium. His telling of how they went down–ostensibly based on Rouhani’s own words–is misleading at best. Here’s what Peter Jenkins, the UK Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency at the time of the 2003 negotiations, has to say:
The agreement that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his French and German counterparts (the E3) reached with Rouhani on 21 October 2003 specified that Iran would suspend “all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]”.
The E3 hoped that Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, would produce a definition of enrichment that would stop work at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at Isfahan, which was due to start converting uranium ore (yellowcake) into uranium hexafluoride, the feed material for centrifuge enrichment, in the course of 2004.
Instead, ElBaradei defined enrichment as the operation and/or testing of centrifuges; the installation of centrifuges; the introduction or use of material in any facility capable of isotopic separation; and the construction, testing or operation of any isotopic separation facility.
In doing so, ElBaradei opened the way for Iran to complete, hot test and start up production at the UCF without breaching the Tehran agreement with the E3. Iran also continued to manufacture, assemble and test centrifuge machines — while honouring its commitment to suspend the activities specified by ElBaradei…
As soon as the E3 could, they set about trying to renegotiate the Tehran agreement to close these loop-holes; but it was only in November 2004, in Paris, that they finally got Iranian agreement to extend the suspension to “all enrichment related activities, and specifically the manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges; and all tests or production of any uranium conversion installation”.
It follows that Rouhani is entitled to claim that the agreement he negotiated in October 2003 allowed Iran to complete and start up the UCF. This achievement, however, stemmed from ElBaradei’s judgement that a narrow definition of enrichment would be more accurate than a broad definition. The achievement was not the result of trickery or deceit.
Facts are indeed “stubborn things,” as Netanyahu said at the UN yesterday. He should stop trying to bend them to suit his narrative.