September 9, 2021 | Institute for Science and International Security

The IAEA’s Iran NPT Safeguards Report – September 2021

September 9, 2021 | Institute for Science and International Security

The IAEA’s Iran NPT Safeguards Report – September 2021

Excerpt

“The Director General remains deeply concerned that nuclear material has been present at undeclared locations in Iran and that the current locations of this nuclear material are not known to the Agency. The Director General is increasingly concerned that even after some two years the safeguards issues…in relation to the four locations in Iran not declared to the Agency remain unresolved.”

-IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi

This analysis summarizes and assesses information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) periodic safeguards report, NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the most recent of which was issued on September 7, 2021.  The IAEA report presents a picture of near total Iranian stonewalling of the IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s undeclared nuclear material and activities, an inquiry that began anew in 2018.  Since the last report, Tehran continues to obfuscate or not respond to IAEA requests for documentation, information, and explanations.  As a result, the IAEA again issued a condemnation of Iran’s cooperation: “The lack of progress in clarifying the Agency’s questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations seriously affects the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The IAEA Board of Governors will next meet from September 13 to 17.  Since June 2020, the Board has not passed a new resolution demanding Iran’s cooperation, which would provide the IAEA with needed support to pursue Tehran’s compliance with its legal non-proliferation obligations.  The Director General underscores this, noting the Board’s previous support in the report and adding: “More than one year later, Iran has still not provided the necessary explanations for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations (Locations 1, 3 and 4) where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses.  Nor has Iran answered the Agency’s questions with regard to the other undeclared location (Location 2), or clarified the current location of natural uranium in the form of a metal disc.”  Director General Grossi also sought to engage Iran prior to the release of this safeguards report, but Iran denied his request to travel to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials.1

New Developments

The IAEA describes its repeated attempts to engage Iran during the summer of 2021 to resolve outstanding questions related to its detection of undeclared uranium particles at three Iranian sites and its questions about activities at a fourth site.  Locations 1, 2, 3, and 4 are described below.2

In June, the IAEA expressed desire to continue discussions with Iran and finalize a date for a new meeting in Tehran, but Iran did not reply.  At a meeting in Vienna on June 26 to discuss “arrangements for future technical discussions,” Iran proposed that the agency conduct additional verification activities at a declared facility related to uranium particles found at Location 2.  Iran demanded that the agency close the probe relating to Location 2 “regardless of the outcome of the additional verification activities,” but the IAEA countered that it “could not accept such a condition.”

The IAEA wrote a letter to Iran dated July 9, expressing “regret that the Agency and Iran had not held further technical discussions” since May 26.  At this meeting, Iran had provided the IAEA with unsubstantiated, written information relating to Location 4.  In a letter dated August 24, Iran finally responded to a series of IAEA questions from the May meeting “aimed at substantiating that written statement.”  In the letter, Iran “included reference to activities conducted at Location 4 in the past by an organization from another Member State.”  The report does not explain which member state or organization Iran was referencing.  Iran told the agency that “there was no activity at this location [second area] between 1994 and 2018.”  Iran further insisted that “the IAEA is highly expected to announce that the issue is resolved and no further action is required.”

The IAEA replied in a letter dated August 27 that it would analyze the information Iran provided and reminded Iran that it had yet to provide explanations for the presence of anthropogenic uranium particles at Location 4.  In a letter dated September 2, the IAEA informed Iran that it had conducted a preliminary assessment of the information Iran provided on August 24, and found it to be “inconsistent with other safeguards relevant information…including commercial satellite imagery…”  The agency provided Iran with technical details of the inconsistencies and asked for explanation and reminded Tehran that it had yet to answer the agency’s original questions relating to Location 4.

Overall, Iran has shown a consistent unwillingness to comply with its safeguards obligations.  Moreover, the evidence of the existence of undeclared materials and equipment has continued to increase, as have the IAEA’s statements of concern.  Instead of showing a willingness to compromise, Iranian government officials have now issued threats to the IAEA and to the Board if it takes action, steps that have been routinely applied to other member states which violate their safeguards obligations or refuse to cooperate with the IAEA.

Before discussing a course of action, we first summarize new developments at the four sites.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.

  1. Laurence Norman, “Iran Blocking IAEA Access to Nuclear-Related Sites,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-blocking-u-n-atomic-agency-access-to-nuclear-related-sites-iaea-says-11631033269.
  2. For fuller descriptions of these four locations and their relationship to today, see David Albright with Sarah Burkhard and the Good ISIS Team, Iran’s Perilous Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Science and International Security Press, 2021).
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International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Military and Political Power