March 18, 2020 | Policy Brief

As Coronavirus Hinders the IAEA, Who Will Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program?

March 18, 2020 | Policy Brief

As Coronavirus Hinders the IAEA, Who Will Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program?

While the Iranian regime continues to call for sanctions relief in response to the coronavirus crisis, the regime appears rather content with the pandemic’s debilitating impact on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Inspectors remain stuck in Vienna or quarantined in their hotels in Iran to avoid exposure to the virus, which continues to spread quickly throughout Iran.

Bloomberg reports a potential “depletion of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s roster of inspectors.” Experts are now considering wider implementation of the remote monitoring technology installed at the Natanz enrichment plant and other Iranian facilities pursuant to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Staff safety is our paramount concern,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) at a meeting last week in the Austrian capital. Grossi instructed his deputies to “consider whether staff travel is essential.”

This challenge to verification and monitoring in Iran comes at a decidedly inconvenient moment. The IAEA is now investigating potential Iranian nuclear violations that were exposed by the documents Israel removed from a secret nuclear warehouse in the outskirts of Tehran in 2018.

Last week’s BoG meeting noted Iran’s violations of the JCPOA and mentioned man-made uranium particles found in a facility in Turquzabad, south of Tehran. The meeting also noted Tehran’s refusal to grant access to some undeclared sites, in direct violation of Iran’s obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) and the CSA’s Additional Protocol. The BoG also discussed Iran’s efforts to clean suspected undeclared nuclear sites and to obfuscate investigations.

Iran, with support from Russia and China, responded by accusing the United States and IAEA of using fake intelligence materials derived from outside sources. The regime did not respond to any of the IAEA’s concerns.

Remote monitoring will not help the IAEA get to the bottom of the issues under investigation. Remote monitoring of enrichment levels at the heavily fortified underground Fordow facility, where the JCPOA explicitly banned enrichment, is particularly risky. Doing so would give Iran de facto approval to continue violating the nuclear boundaries set by the international community. Moreover, remote monitoring cannot replace in-person inspections of Iran’s centrifuge production, advanced centrifuge research and development, heavy water production, and other proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.

Iran’s recent proxy attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq demonstrate the regime’s readiness to exploit the international community’s focus on the coronavirus. In light of the current challenges, the IAEA should demand that Iran close all its nuclear facilities and stop all research and development. All of Iran’s nuclear activities should be halted until IAEA inspectors can adequately resume their duties.

If Iran’s leaders wish to join the world in fighting the coronavirus, they should redirect their efforts and budgets toward protecting the Iranian people. The regime cannot be allowed to exploit this crisis to change or weaken the monitoring mechanisms for a nuclear program that continues to threaten international security.

BG.(Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel, a former head of Israel’s National Security Council and national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a visiting professor with the Technion Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and a senior visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow focusing on nonproliferation. They both contribute to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Jacob, Andrea, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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