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Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Speak at UN Amid Row over Iranian Nuclear Program

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is headed to the United States for a speech tomorrow to the United Nations General Assembly. His visit comes against a backdrop of widely diverging accounts around Iran’s nuclear activities. Last month, a controversy erupted when the Associated Press reported the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had concluded Iran possesses the capability for a nuclear bomb and had worked on a missile system to carry an atomic warhead. The IAEA has denied the report and says it has no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is headed to the United States for a speech tomorrow to the United Nations General Assembly. Ahmadinejad’s UN visit comes just over a week before Iranian officials are set to hold talks with the US and five partner countries. Earlier this month, the Obama administration accepted an Iranian offer to discuss global nuclear disarmament and other international issues. The talks would mark the first formal, substantive negotiations between the US and Iran in thirty years.

The talks come against a backdrop of widely diverging accounts around Iran’s nuclear activities. The Obama administration says it believes Iran possesses or is close to possessing enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. Last month, a controversy erupted when the Associated Press reported the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had concluded Iran possesses the capability for a nuclear bomb and had worked on a missile system to carry an atomic warhead. The IAEA has denied the report and says it has no evidence of any Iranian nuclear weapons program.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel, meanwhile, continues to leave open the possibility of attacking Iran. On Monday, the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon rejected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s claim to have received assurances Israel wouldn’t launch an attack.

    REPORTER: Yesterday the Russian president said President Peres assured him that Israel will not attack Iran. Is that a guarantee of a hundred percent clarity?

    DANNY AYALON: It is certainly not a guarantee. I don’t think that, with all due respect, that the Russian president is authorized to speak for Israel, and certainly, we have not taken any option off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel’s declaration comes just days after President Obama announced he would replace the Bush administration’s so-called missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe with a weapons arsenal based on naval ships. The administration says the new system will more effectively contain what it calls a threat from short- and medium-range Iranian missiles.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. He writes regularly on Iran for the Inter Press Service, joining us now from Washington, DC.

Gareth Porter, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain the latest controversy around — around Iran, its nuclear weapons, Iran’s relationship with the US and Israel.

GARETH PORTER: Well, there’s a lot of issues here that have come together in the last few weeks, and one of them, of course, as you’ve mentioned, is the decision by the Obama administration to shift its deployment strategy with regard to an anti-missile shield from the Bush administration’s previous deployment decision, which focused on Poland and the Czech Republic and land-based missile-defense weapons. But it should be pointed out that despite the fact that it hasn’t been given much attention in the news media, the Obama administration has not actually dropped the idea of a missile shield in those two former Soviet bloc countries. It has merely essentially delayed until some future date the development of those land-based missile-defense weapons.

And the point that I want to make about that issue is that if you were to construct sort of the ideal type of a threat that is simply manufactured out of thin air, the textbook case would be this case of the so-called threat from Iranian ballistic missiles to Europe. Whether it’s the Czech Republic and Poland or southern Europe, the idea that Iranian missiles are now threatening or are going to threaten part of Europe is sheer lunacy. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The idea was originally that the Bush administration was saying that Iran would be manufacturing intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could reach the United States even and therefore would threaten Europe. The fact is, as pointed out by the East-West Center’s technical study of this problem, it would be crazy for Iran to have surface missiles, ICBMs, because they would be extremely vulnerable. They’re very slow. They would be open to attack. And no one has basically come up with any reason why Iran would want to have ICBMs under those circumstances.

But perhaps more to the point, no one has ever been able to come up with any evidence or any reason as to why Iran should want to target any part of Europe with missiles. It has no problem, for example, with Greece and Turkey, which are said to be the — now the focus of the Obama administration’s policies — or policy, rather, with regard to its basically sea-based anti-ballistic missile system that it’s now planning to deploy. So there’s really no Iranian ballistic missile threat to Europe, and there’s not going to be at any time in the future. The Iranian ballistic missiles are clearly aimed at Middle Eastern targets, particularly, of course, Israel and, as a deterrent measure, the US bases, US facilities in the Middle East and, you know, sort of a threat to those countries which host US military facilities. So, the idea that Europe is targeted is simply not relevant.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And this issue, Gareth Porter, of the Associated Press reporting that the IAEA had concluded Iran was on its way to possess a nuclear weapon, that it could produce one — the IAEA has denied this. There’s controversy over what the documents are, whether they’re authentic. Can you just explain what the differences are?

GARETH PORTER: Yes. The documents that are being talked about here in this particular AP story are really not, you know, basically original documents. It’s a compilation of intelligence reports or summaries of intelligence reports from various Western intelligence agencies — and then I include Israel within that definition — which claim that Iran is in fact headed towards a nuclear weapon and is very far advanced toward that goal. These are obviously intelligence reports or summaries which are biased politically, and they are not in line with the National Intelligence Estimate of the United States in November 2007, which judged that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program at this point, that they have not made a decision to go in that direction. And therefore, the IAEA, particularly the director general who is about to step down, Mohamed ElBaradei, has never agreed to publish these summaries or this summary of intelligence reports, much to the dismay of certain Western governments.

Now, I was just in Vienna a week or two ago, a week and a half ago, and I understand that really it’s the French who were pushing the hardest for getting the IAEA to publish these reports. It’s not clear why France is suddenly taking such a hard line. I don’t think the United States was really that eager to see this pressure on ElBaradei and the IAEA, particularly because the Obama administration has not abandoned and in fact has reinforced — reaffirmed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program. But Germany, on the other hand, has been supporting this pressure on IAEA for political reasons, in order to raise the profile of the issue to — basically as a scare tactic to make it easier to put pressure on Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: This is very interesting in light of, at the same time, the IAEA having their annual meeting of member states and passing a nonbinding resolution voicing concern about Israeli nuclear capabilities and urging the IAEA to tackle the issue.

GARETH PORTER: That’s right. This is a — this is a new development. The Iranians have been able to get more support from the Non-Aligned Movement and even from some of the Arab states for such a resolution, which for the first time really puts the Israeli nuclear weapons arsenal in the spotlight and really brings a bit more political balance to the politics of the Iranian nuclear program.

And I would simply add to that that, behind the scenes, there has also been continuing political maneuvering over the question of the so-called alleged studies, the allegation that Iran was running a covert nuclear weapons research program in the early — from 2001 to 2003. These are the documents that the United States and other governments have shown to the IAEA, but not allowed them to possess, and which the IAEA has been essentially embracing in its reports over the last couple of years, suggesting that they are credible.

But when I sat down with a senior official of the IAEA, who refused to be named, it was very clear to me that they have not done due diligence in terms of really trying to ascertain whether these documents are authentic or not. They have not, for example, really quizzed the United States and other governments as to why there are no security markings of any kind on these documents, which the Iranians have pointed out to the IAEA, which the IAEA has never publicly acknowledged in its reports.

And so, I was quite convinced — and I’ve since published a couple of reports on this — that the IAEA has no longer maintained a strictly objective, neutral and impartial stance on this question, but has really tilted toward the Security Council on this issue and has really decided to keep Iran in the dock on behalf of the United States and the other countries in the anti-Iran coalition.

AMY GOODMAN: Gareth Porter, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative historian, journalist, specializing in US national security policy, writes regularly for the Inter Press Service. And just to clarify, the vote by the IAEA member states, the resolution called for Israel to open its nuclear facilities to UN inspection and sign up for the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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