December 4, 2015 | Policy Brief

Deciphering the IAEA Report on Iran’s PMD

December 4, 2015 | Policy Brief

Deciphering the IAEA Report on Iran’s PMD

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials presented their report Wednesday to the agency’s Board of Governors on the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. Despite Iran’s unwavering insistence that it has never pursued nuclear weapons, the report confirms that Tehran did indeed have a weapons program – one that continued several years later than U.S. intelligence had previously revealed.

The IAEA concluded that Iran had, as one former senior U.S. official described it, “a full-scale Manhattan Project” until 2003, and had continued “some activities” until 2009. The agency’s director general Yukiya Amano, in his November 18 report to the Board of Governors, wrote that while the IAEA has no evidence of weaponization activities since 2009, it also cannot confirm that Iran is not currently pursuing undeclared nuclear activities.

A close reading of the new report reveals that Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA was minimal. The Islamic Republic refused to answer some of the agency’s most sensitive inquiries, and in certain cases provided misleading information. The agency therefore still faces knowledge gaps related to Iran’s illicit procurement, as well as testing and developing components for a warhead.

At the Parchin military complex, the IAEA has information suggesting that Iran conducted explosive tests related to nuclear-weapons development in one particular facility, contradicting Iran’s claims that the building had always been used for chemical storage. In the IAEA’s own words, Iran’s efforts to clean up the site since 2012 “seriously undermine” its own “ability to conduct effective verification” there.

Resolving PMD matters is not an effort to shame the Islamic Republic into a confession. Rather, the IAEA needs to know how far Iran proceeded along the path of weaponization in order to construct an effective verification regime moving forward. Without a credible baseline, the agency’s ability to detect the resumption of weaponization activities will be dangerously hamstrung.

Despite Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA, Iranian officials are calling for the international community to cease all investigation into Tehran’s PMD issues. Reza Najafi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, said on December 2 that his government had completed its obligatory measures. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has threatened to cease implementation of the JCPOA if the Board of Governors does not close the file.

The PMD docket now moves to Vienna where the IAEA Board of Governors will decide how to respond to the latest report. The Obama administration believes the report is sufficient to the close the issue, but some nuclear non-proliferation experts strongly disagree. Closing the file without addressing the knowledge gap on Iran’s weapons research program would set a troubling precedent. Instead, policymakers should affirm that they will not provide sanctions relief until Tehran provides complete and transparent responses to concerns about its nuclear-weapons work.

Amir Toumaj is a research analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @AmirToumaj


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