Haaretz has published a must-read interview with Olli Heinonen about Iran’s clandestine nuclear program. Before resigning two months ago, Heinonen had worked at the IAEA for 27 years. As such, he’s been following the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities from the very beginning.
In what sense did the IAEA fail?
“We failed in that we did not identify the start of their research-and-development nuclear program earlier – when they started, in 1985, in the middle of the war with Iraq, a nuclear research-and-development effort. Incidentally, the program was initiated when Mir Hossein Mousavi, today the opposition leader, served as prime minister.”
To Heinonen’s credit, after Iran’s secret – which is to say, undeclared – facilities were exposed, he emerged as an energetic public servant, and relentlessly monitored the Iranians’ work. Angry with him, the Iranians threatened to block his entry to the country, tried to bribe him, and watched every step he took. Nor was he deterred by senior IAEA colleagues, who tried diplomatically to doctor the language of the inspectors’ reports, lest the Iranians become incensed.
And, who knew that the Iranians like to embellish their documentation with inspirational film soundtracks?
His turbulent relations with Iran reached their peak in the matter referred to as “Chariots of Fire.” That’s the name given to a brief video, of a few minutes, evidently shot in Iran, showing what appears to be the manufacturing of a mock-up of a missile reentry vehicle, likely designed for a nuclear payload. The clip’s producer embellished the film by using the dramatic theme music from the 1981 film of that name. The Iranians vehemently denied the video existed; then they claimed it was a CIA-Mossad fabrication. They did, however, agree that it was likely a “reentry vehicle of a nuclear missile, but a fake.”
Heinonen says that it was not just one video clip that somehow reached IAEA officials; there were, he explains, several short films and documents that, taken together, comprised a detailed dossier.