January 21, 2016 | Memo

Beyond Implementation Day: Transparency and Enforcement for the Long Term

FDD Research

Implementation Day marks the beginning of the true test of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are embarking on the long walk towards Transition Day – the date by which the IAEA is supposed to confirm that Iran is not engaged in any undeclared nuclear activities and that all of its nuclear materials are for peaceful use. In eight years, the IAEA is supposed to complete the verification of the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations on nuclear material and facilities.

The JCPOA restricts Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities for 8 to 15 years, but allows it to continue to enrich uranium provided its stockpiles stay below 300 kilograms enriched to 3.67 percent U-235. By permitting enrichment, this agreement gives the international community’s blessing to uranium enrichment in the Middle East. This could lead to a regional nuclear cascade, with Iranian rivals like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia expressing interest in similar capabilities.

The agreement also does not explicitly forgo plutonium separation in the long term. The JCPOA’s constraints on weapons-grade plutonium production are irreversible for the first 15 years. Beyond this, however, the text simply states that it is Iran’s intention not to build additional heavy-water reactors or conduct reprocessing. This still leaves the door open for future reprocessing.

The JCPOA negotiators argue that the agreement will reduce tensions and prevent regional nuclear proliferation because, they contend, it is based on full transparency, intrusive verification, and vigilant enforcement. The IAEA’s report this weekend acknowledged that Iran has met the key, initial parameters stipulated under the JCPOA, thereby paving the way for Implementation Day. However, the report does not provide a full picture of Tehran’s current nuclear material inventories, nor does it explain how Iran met the JCPOA requirements.

The IAEA is now responsible for continuous monitoring of Iran’s activities to ensure it remains in compliance with the deal. This will be the true test of the JCPOA. To aid in verification efforts and to reinforce the transparency of the deal, substantially more detailed reports are needed.

The IAEA should, for example, detail the actions it has taken after finding man-made uranium particles in September at the Parchin military facility – samples that could indicate the presence of undeclared nuclear material.

Information on the types and frequencies of inspections, as well as approaches undertaken in its verification work, would also build confidence on the IAEA’s conclusions throughout its verification of the deal.

Additionally, a baseline report would provide a full account of nuclear material inventories, including hold-ups, wastes, scrap, and materials declared as retained waste by Iran. It should also contain the number of rotors and centrifuges subject to the IAEA monitoring, including those which had never been installed at Natanz or Fordow. A baseline should also list the current centrifuge rotor manufacturing installations, indicate the monitoring procedures applied to relevant locations, and explain whether or not Iran has dismantled those specific capabilities at locations previously used for this purpose.

As stipulated in the JCPOA, Iran submitted its uranium enrichment and enrichment research-and-development plan to the IAEA. This is an important first step, and as a confidence-building measure, it should be made public. This transparency would demonstrate to the international community Iran’s justification for ramping up uranium enrichment after the eight-year mark.

Today, Tehran’s breakout time to produce enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear device could be as little as seven months – far less than the one-year figure that the Obama administration claims. The advanced centrifuge and enrichment research that Iran is now permitted to conduct will further reduce its breakout time once Tehran can begin installing advanced centrifuges. On the current trajectory, after 15 years, Iran’s breakout time drops to just a couple of weeks. As the JCPOA’s restrictions lapse, the Islamic Republic will have a patient pathway to nuclear-weapons capability.

Finally, the December 2015 IAEA report on possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program left many questions unanswered. While the IAEA Board of Governors took a note on the report and declared the agenda item closed, the remaining outstanding questions mean the IAEA will continue to pursue answers to open questions. This is needed for the successful verification of the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declaration on nuclear material.

The success of the JCPOA in containing Iran’s nuclear capabilities depends on full transparency and vigorous verification and monitoring. This approach has its risks, since Iran remains a nuclear-threshold state that threatens regional and international security. While the JCPOA caps Tehran’s nuclear capabilities in the early years, the deal may, over the long term, contribute to a proliferation cascade that will make the world’s most volatile region all the more combustible.

Olli Heinonen is the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and served as the head of its Department of Safeguards. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a member of the Iran Task Force, an independent, non-partisan group of former government officials and nuclear, legal, and sanctions experts.