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Lead IAEA Iran Inspector Fired at Iranian Request

In April 2006, Mohamed ElBaradei made a much-anticipated trip to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials amid a deadlock between the West and the Iranian regime over the nuclear crisis surrounding their suspected nuclear weapons program. The IAEA Director’s mission, in his words, was to “come to Tehran to discuss with Iranian officials to resolve the remaining issues in the way of verifying Iranian nuclear program.” His statements while in Iran were both public and conciliatory, including the proclamation that “We have done our inspection works. No diversion has been found and Iran has the right to enjoy nuclear energy.”

He left with little progress…for the West. At the time, we wrote, “ElBaradei went to Iran and nothing happened. Or did it?”

What none of us knew at the time was that something quite tangible indeed had happened, according to (former) head IAEA Iran inspector Chris Charlier.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, demanded that ElBaradei fire Chris Charlier and remove him from the inspection team entirely. (Also see Regime Change Iran, Anti-Mullah, Security Watchtower and Worldwide Standard.)

According to Charlier and at least one other IAEA inspector in the Die Welt report, firing Charlier is precisely what ElBaradei immediately did in what can only be called a stunning acquiescence. There was, apparently, far more to ElBaradei’s conciliatory tone in April – in both rhetoric and substance - than met the public eye.

Until now.

It is no secret that Charlier has been unpopular with the Iranians. His disposition has long been at odds with ElBaradei’s own. Said Chris Charlier, “I am not a politician, I am a technician and as such the only thing which interests me is whether Iran’s nuclear program is a civil or military one. The inspections have to reach an unambiguous conclusion”

In one of several Charlier interviews included within a 2005 PBS documentary on IAEA inspections in Iran just before Ahmadinejad’s election, the head IAEA inspector openly referred to Iran’s deceptions and video taping of all of their work and conversations as “all part of the game” Iran plays with the IAEA inspectors. (Read the transcript here.) It was within that documentary that Chris Charlier also mentioned that tests of the Kalaye Electric site had returned random swab sample results of highly enriched uranium. “When we did the analysis we find out that there was the spectrum and distribution of the particle and it was, yes quite surprising to have this concentration of particles around thirty-six and fifty-four percent.” The level of Uranium (U235) enrichment required for nuclear power is generally between 3% and 5%. It occurs naturally at a concentration of approximately 0.71%. Weapons Grade Uranium is considered to be at a 90% purity level.

As Charlier now states, “I believe they are hiding what they are doing with their nuclear activities. It is probable they are doing things of which we have no knowledge.” He concludes candidly, “Tehran is obviously making a bomb.”

This appears a conclusion for which Mohamed ElBaradei has no room in his nuclear watchdog agency. As one of Charlier’s fellow inspectors puts it, “For that he is now paying the price. El-Baradei has sacrificed Charlier and set him to counting paper clips in Vienna till he eventually retires.”

However, according to ‘unnamed UN officials,’ Charlier “remains the head of the [IAEA Iran inspection] team.” But not only is the anonymity curious, so too is the current-tense context of the Associated Press’ characterization of the UN officials’ statements that “Iran has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove the head of the inspection team probing Tehran’s nuclear program.” The UN officials are clearly reacting to the story broken by Die Welt which stated that he had indeed been fired, not simply requested.

The same UN officials acknowledged and confirmed to the Associated Press that Chris Charlier had not been back to Iran since April “because of Iranian displeasure with his work,” confirming also that it was, by timing, the April visit to Tehran that initiated the move. All that remains at issue is whether Charlier still has access to the IAEA’s Iranian nuclear dossier. In the Die Welt story, it is reported that he has none and is, in essence, “counting paper clips in Vienna till he eventually retires.”

Whether or not Charlier has access to the IAEA’s Iranian nuclear dossier, ElBaradei and Tehran have clearly blocked the lead inspector’s access Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is again taking what should be the center of discussion - Iran’s nuclear development program - off the table and replacing it with another example of the UN and its agencies failing to adequately fulfill its charge.