April 21, 2022 | Policy Brief

New State Department Report Admits Iran May Be Hiding Nuclear Activities

The Biden administration has “serious concerns” about “possible undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” according to an annual report the State Department released on Tuesday. The administration’s admission that Tehran continues to stonewall inspectors and conceal its nuclear activities shows why it would be a serious mistake to revive a weaker version of the 2015 nuclear deal, whose verification and enforcement mechanisms were already deficient.

The new findings on Iran are part of a larger publication that assesses countries’ compliance with agreements pertaining to arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. The latest edition of this annual report discusses the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) investigation into Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities at four locations. The State Department notes that Tehran has not cooperated with the agency’s probe at those four sites, which involved Iran’s possible use or storage of nuclear material and equipment or undeclared nuclear activities.

Questions also remain about the fourth location, the site of the Islamic Republic’s alleged experiments with a uranium metal disc. In the State Department’s previous annual report, which covered 2020, the Biden administration warned that “even small amounts of undeclared uranium metal in Iran would be of serious proliferation concern given its applicability to nuclear weapons research and development.” Just last month, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors that Tehran did not declare experiments relating to this nuclear weaponization activity, violating Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency.

While Tehran’s behavior has not changed, the new compliance report omits strong language that last year’s edition used in reference to Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities. That report stated: “These issues raise significant questions of what Iran may be trying to hide, and whether Iran is in compliance with its safeguards obligations today.” (Emphasis in the original.)

The report covering 2020 also declared that “Iran’s intentional failure to declare nuclear material subject to IAEA safeguards would constitute a clear violation of Iran’s CSA [Comprehensive Safeguard Agreement] required by the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and would constitute a violation of Article III of the NPT itself.” This is no less true today.

The most recent report assesses, like the previous edition, that “Iran is not currently engaged in key activities associated with the design and development of a nuclear weapon.” Yet other sections of this year’s report show Tehran is moving toward weaponization.

For example, regarding Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium metal, the report states: “Although uranium metal has civilian and conventional military applications, producing it is also a key nuclear-weapons-related capability because Iran would need to convert weapons-grade uranium from the gaseous form used in enrichment into metal to make nuclear weapon components.”

In addition, subsequent revelations have shown that Iran hid and camouflaged weaponization projects after restructuring its nuclear program in 2003. As such, the U.S. government may not have adequate information to reliably report on such activities. Of the four sites the IAEA now seeks to investigate, three came to light only after the Mossad’s 2018 exposure of Tehran’s secret nuclear archive. Furthermore, the IAEA has never visited several other sites mentioned in the archive.

In the previous edition of its compliance report, the State Department emphasized that the “ongoing investigations and Iran’s failure for much of the reporting period to provide the necessary cooperation with the IAEA in connection with them raise concern with regard to Iran’s compliance with its obligation to accept safeguards under Article III of the NPT.” That is no less true today. Iran is violating its fundamental non-proliferation commitments, not just the terms of the problematic 2015 nuclear deal.

President Joe Biden should not reward Tehran with sanctions relief worth tens of billions of dollars — and possibly much more — while ignoring serious nonproliferation breaches. Instead, the United States should lead an effort at the next Board of Governors meeting to censure Iran for its non-compliance with its NPT obligations.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrea Stricker is a research fellow. Anthony previously served in the U.S. government for more than 19 years, including as senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense (2019-2021) on the National Security Council. They both contribute to FDD’s Iran Program, International Organizations Program, and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from the authors, the Iran Program, the International Organizations Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Anthony and Andrea on Twitter @NatSecAnthony and @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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