March 19, 2020 | Policy Brief

New Sanctions Against Iranian Scientists Underscore Importance of IAEA Investigation in Iran

March 19, 2020 | Policy Brief

New Sanctions Against Iranian Scientists Underscore Importance of IAEA Investigation in Iran

The Department of Commerce on Tuesday added five Iranian scientists to its Entity List, which consists of persons prohibited from acquiring sensitive U.S. items, such as those with dual uses in nuclear, missile, or military programs. The announcement underscores growing concern over Iran’s failure to account for its past nuclear weapons-related activities, and over ongoing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports about Iran’s potential concealment of undeclared nuclear sites, materials, and activities.

According to the Trump administration, the five scientists added to the Entity List all worked for Iran’s pre-2004 nuclear weapons program, called the Amad Plan, and continue to serve the regime today – likely within Iran’s Organization for Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), which is run by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the father of the Amad Plan. In March 2019, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on SPND-affiliated individuals in an effort to make them “radioactive internationally,” as one senior administration official put it.

Information on the designated scientists was uncovered as a result of Israel’s 2018 seizure of a cache of Iran’s nuclear weapons files, commonly known as the nuclear archive, which likely informed the Entity List additions.

According to files from the Iranian archive analyzed by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Institute for Science and International Security, at least two of the sanctioned Iranian scientists worked on sensitive nuclear efforts. Sayyed Mohammad Mehdi Hadavi appears in memoranda as a participant in mid-2003 meetings during which senior Iranian officials plotted to conceal and continue nuclear weapons activities. In a press release on the new designations, the Trump administration confirms that Hadavi was, in fact, an Amad program supervisor.

Mehdi Teranchi, another scientist, is pictured in nuclear archive photographs at a controversial Iranian military site called Parchin, where he worked on flash x-ray tests relevant to nuclear weapons. The administration confirmed that Teranchi was another Amad program supervisor, in charge of subproject 3/30, which carried out nuclear explosives testing.

The three other scientists were added to the list for their involvement in nuclear weapons development. The administration states that Aref Bali Lashak, an electronics and seismology specialist, was a senior Amad Plan expert. An Iranian dissident group also believes that Lashak is the head of a precursor SPND division called the Center for Research and Design of New Aerospace Technology, and that Lashak’s research focuses on manufacturing interior components of a nuclear weapon.

According to the State Department, Ali Mehdipour Omrani, a mechanical or explosives engineer, worked in the Amad Plan’s subproject 3/11, a project simulation group “in charge of nuclear weapons design.” The Iranian dissident group alleges Omrani ran another precursor SPND division, called the Center for Industrial Production and Research, and conducted sensitive work at Parchin that was critical to designing components for a nuclear warhead. IAEA reporting also described the existence of the alleged centers headed by the two men.

The State Department also said that Kamran Daneshjou headed Amad plan project 111, “which according to the IAEA was an effort to modify a Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle to house a probable nuclear device.” Notably, Daneshjou actively campaigned against intrusive international inspections of Iran’s nuclear program.

Last week, the IAEA’s Board of Governors discussed Iran’s ongoing concealment of undeclared nuclear materials and denial of access to potentially undeclared nuclear sites, actions which may violate Tehran’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In light of continued revelations from the nuclear archive about the past (and possibly ongoing) work of Iranian nuclear scientists, it remains critical that the IAEA thoroughly investigate Iran’s work related to nuclear weapons. If Iran continues to impede the IAEA’s investigation, the administration should work with European allies to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council for re-imposition of sanctions and restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow focusing on nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor. They both contribute to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Andrea, Richard, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea and Richard on Twitter @StrickerNonpro and @rich_goldberg. 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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