Saturday, December 15

Iran has nukes, Iran doesn't have nukes. Well, which is it, General Baluyevsky?

"Iran does have nuclear weapons. Of course, these are non-strategic nuclear weapons. I mean these are not ICBMs with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers and more. But as a military man, I see no danger of aggression against Russia by Iran. As for the danger of Iran's attack on the United States, the danger is zero."
-- General Yuri Baluyevsky, May 2002

"[The Russian military] said from the very beginning we had no data to speak about intensification of efforts in Iran in the field of nuclear armaments."
-- General Yuri Baluyevsky, December 2007

General Yuri Baluyevsky is Russia's First Deputy Minister of Defense and, since July 2004, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The general did not exactly say in the 2007 quote above that Iran had no nuclear weapons, but his other words at the time imply he said as much:
As he commented on [the December US National Intelligence Estimate report] that Iran had suspended its nuclear armaments program back in 2003, Gen Baluyevsky recalled that Russia has always met with much caution the claims that Iran was working on military applications of its nuclear program.
General Baluyevsky's comment about Iran having nuclear weapons came at a press conference during the United States-Russian Federation Moscow Treaty summit, May 23-26, 2002.

As to why his comment didn't make headlines around the globe, I imagine the World Tribune also wondered about that; to my knowledge World Tribune and Iran Press Service were the only news sources to pick up on Baluyevsky's statement.(1) The IPS report mentions that the World Tribune:
... observed that journalists at the briefing completely missed the importance of general Baluyevsky's assertion. "The Russian deputy chief of staff has just said on the record that Iran has nuclear weapons", highlighted World Tribune.
But the spring of 2002 was a different era; news services, and publics around the world, had a great many other things on their mind at that time. Iran's nuclear ambitions were near the bottom of everyone's list, which was still topped by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations and the US presence in Afghanistan.

What would explain General Baluyevsky's flip-flop between the spring of 2002 and the end of 2007? Again, 2002 was a different era. The US and Russia were on much better terms in 2002 than today; the general's announcement about Iran's nuclear weapons came during a summit when the US and Russia were working out greater cooperation on nuclear proliferation issues.

Also, it was to be several months after the press conference before it was clear that the US intended to invade Iraq -- something that Russia was very much against. Even the famous Downing Street meeting, during which British officials first discussed the likelihood of the US invading Iraq, did not come until July 2002.(2)

By 2007 General Baluyevsky was seriously bent out of shape about US attempts to place components of a missile shield in Europe.
MOSCOW, November 13 (RIA Novosti) [...] "If the Americans deploy the radar by 2011 and anti-ballistic missiles by 2012-2013, they will certainly be directed against Russia, and we can easily prove it," the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky said in an interview with Russia Today, an English-language state TV channel. [...]

He also reiterated that the alleged Iranian missile threat was used by the U.S. as a simple pretext to deploy weaponry close to Russia's borders, as Iran does not possess the technology to develop and produce long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Iran promptly repaid Baluyevsky for his generosity by test launching the Ashoura missile, which certainly looks by the map at Missile Monitor as if it could shave easternmost Europe, and certainly cream Turkey.

So then General Baluyevsky had to do some fancy footwork, which he managed rather well:
Russia has no data to confirm reports by Iranian leaders that Teheran has tested a new long-range ballistic missile Ashura [Ashoura], General Yuri Baluyevsky, the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces said Thursday.

An official statement on testing the Ashura missile, the effective range of which ostensibly reaches 2,000 kilometers, was made November 27 by Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar

Gen Baluyevsky quoted his U.S. counterparts as saying the test launch of the missile took place November 20. He said however that officials in the Pentagon, the Department of State and White House’s National Security Council, whom he had talks with, refused to provide any more information on the incident when he asked them about it.

“When I asked them to share technical surveillance data on it, they refused to do it,” he said.

Gen Baluyevsky reiterated that Russian missile experts carefully verify all the information pertaining to development of the Ashura missile by Iran.

“Nonetheless, I can’t tell you for sure right now that the launch took place, indeed, and that the missile covered 2,000 kilometers,” he said.

“I don’t rule out that in this case we see political bluffing on the Iranian side – something that happened in a number of cases before,” Gen Baluyevsky said.
So, General, was Iran bluffing back in 2002 when you announced they had nuclear weapons?

I add that Iran denied what Baluyevsky said in 2002:
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asifi rejects the remarks of General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian deputy chief of staff, that Iran has the equipment to produce nuclear weapons. He adds that the Russian official was not aware of Iran's peaceful nuclear program.
— From "Iran Rejects Reports on Nuke Weapons, reiterates IAEA Pledge," IRNA (Tehran), 10 June 2002(3)
I am not sure which of Baluyevsky's statements Asifi was commenting on; there may have been several statements at that Moscow Treaty conference or at another venue:

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian deputy chief of staff, says that Iran has received tactical nuclear weapons from a country other than Russia. [See NTI March 1993 post, below.]
—From "Iran, Russia Again Argue Over Nukes," Middle East Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 207, 24 May 2002 (4)

Without the transcript of the press conference mentioned by World Tribune, I can't nail down where the general made the above statement.

In any case, reports of Iran acquiring ready-made nukes are an old story:

March 1993
The Arms Control Reporter reports that by December 1991, Iran had imported four nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union, including a nuclear artillery shell, two nuclear warheads that could be launched on Scud missiles, and one nuclear weapon that could be delivered by a MiG-27 aircraft. [Note: See 24 May 2002 NTI entry.]

The report says that fissile material was exported from Kazakhstan to Iran and the rest of the components were exported from other republics of the former Soviet Union through Turkmenistan. Although the codes to arm the warheads were not provided with the missiles, the report says two experts from Russia arrived to bypass arming codes. [...] (2)

As to why I'm mucking around in old reports about Iran's nuclear ambitions, because I got tired of scratching my head over John Batchelor's statement "Iran has nuclear weapons" on his radio show last Sunday.

John has told his audience that he only deals in open source information. "Open source," to my understanding, is declassified data that is published somewhere, even if only in an obscure journal.

I don't have the resources to track down obscure journals on nuclear proliferation but I thought I'd give Google a whirl. The word string "Iran has nuclear bomb" immediately brought up the 2002 mention of Baluyevsky's statement.

That's not necessarily the report John was referencing -- and I noted that the Google page showed more than 200,000 references for the words I entered. Yet given that Russia's government was in a sharing mood during the Moscow Treaty summit, the 2002 statement by Russia's top military commander is interesting. I didn't start listening to Batchelor's show until March 2003 so it's possible he mentioned Baluyevsky's 2002 announcement at the time.

Iran Press Service, which reported on the World Tribune article in 2002, tartly observed that Baluyevsky's happy estimate of "zero" for the chance that an Iranian nuke could reach the US ignored that the Shahab-3 medium-range missile, which Iran was testing in 2002, was a threat to Middle Eastern nations. Yes, the Shahab-3 could hit any nation in the Middle East, from the map at Missile Monitor.

Next question: If Iran indeed has ready-made nukes, where would they store them? Maybe somewhere that the IAEA wouldn't think to look, if they were inspecting for an Iranian nuclear program? And would they store them in one piece, or do as Pakistan does and tuck nuke bomb components in different locations?

To be continued.

1) It is unclear from the June 6, 2002 Iran Press Service report I've linked to whether IPS picked up on Baluyevsky's statement from their own source, or from the World Tribune article that the IPS reporter quotes.

Complicating matters is that IPS did not publish the link to the World Tribune article they referenced. My attempts to locate the World Tribune article via their archives have failed, which might suggest that World Tribune was not the original source for a report on Baluyevsky's statements at the press briefing. I assumed at the time of publishing this post that I could easily locate the World Tribune link via Google, but my attempts came up dry. (Dec 16 update: I have written the World Tribune editor asking for help in locating the article and link.)

2) There was talk during the run-up to the May 2002 summit that Russia would be willing to help the US overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime provided the US supported Russia's financial interests in Iraq. But any such overtures on Russia's part came at a time when it seemed very unlikely that the US could obtain UN aproval for an invasion.

3) NTI Iran Nuclear Chronology 2002

4) NTI Iran Chronology 1993
* * * * * * * * * * *
December 16, 3:00 PM ET Update
I have added a link to my mention of the Ashoura, which underscores the relevance and gravity of Baluyevsky's 2002 statement that Iran has nuclear weapons. I might have waited until hearing from the World Tribune editor. But after reading their December 14 report on the Ashoura I set aside my obsessive insistence on providing links or at least titles for source documents before I published. The Ashoura link takes you to the World Tribune report.
7:00 PM ET Update
Thank you for writing We are familiar with the information but have had trouble with our online archives.

The following may be relevant including the piece in our password-protected newsletter.

Robert Morton, Publisher
East West Services, Inc.
April 12. 2006
Report: Ukraine may have sold Iran 250 nuclear warheads

MOSCOW — Ukraine might have sold nuclear warheads to Iran, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported April 3. Approximately 250 nuclear warheads that had been in the Soviet arsenal were never returned to Moscow.

"Russia's General Staff has no information about whether Ukraine has given 250 nuclear warheads to Iran or not," said Russian Chief of Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, who is also deputy defense minister. "I do not comment on unsubstantiated reports." [...]"

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