June 16, 2022 | Policy Brief

Iran Further Inhibits IAEA Monitoring in Possible ‘Fatal Blow’ to the Nuclear Deal

June 16, 2022 | Policy Brief

Iran Further Inhibits IAEA Monitoring in Possible ‘Fatal Blow’ to the Nuclear Deal

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed last week that Iran had begun removing 27 IAEA cameras monitoring its nuclear program. Tehran’s step, which came in retaliation to a formal admonishment of the regime by the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, further hinders the agency’s ability to detect Iranian advances toward atomic weapons.

Iran had installed the 27 cameras under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to a June 9 IAEA report, Tehran has so far taken down cameras at facilities where Iran conducts mechanical testing of centrifuges, produces centrifuge components, and mines and mills uranium. On Monday, the regime stated that these steps are reversible, suggesting that Tehran seeks to blackmail Washington to make further concessions to Iran.

Some 40 other cameras remain in operation. They must do so pursuant to Tehran’s nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which stays in effect so long as Iran is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The 40 devices monitor activities related to Iran’s production and handling of nuclear material.

In response to the board’s admonishment, the IAEA reported that Iran has reduced monitoring and is escalating its nuclear activities in other ways as well. At the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Tehran is ending operation of an online enrichment measurement device, which measures the amount and purity of enriched uranium that Iran produces. The device sends the information, within hours, to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

Similarly, Iran is halting operation of a flow meter that tracks production of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors. Tehran is also increasing its capacity to quickly enrich uranium by installing hundreds more IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz FEP.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi stated last week that within three to four weeks, the agency would no longer be able to ensure its continuity of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear activities, even if Iran restored monitoring later. This could deal the JCPOA “a fatal blow,” he said. Grossi further explained that during a short window, the agency could reliably estimate and reconstruct what Iran may have done at nuclear sites. However, he added, “these projections are something that you do for a relatively short period of time. You cannot go for months and months without any access, without any information.”

Iran’s restrictions not only inhibit future IAEA monitoring of its nuclear program. Rather, they also cast doubt on the agency’s ability to receive and review past footage and data collected under JCPOA monitoring provisions by cameras and measurement devices. Since February 2021, Iran has denied the IAEA access to this material. In December 2021, in an apparent attempt at extortion, Tehran said it would only turn over the footage and data once it receives relief from U.S. sanctions. Still, Grossi said last week he is unaware of what Iran will ultimately do with past footage and data.

Thus, the IAEA has not been able to guarantee that Iran is not diverting nuclear assets to clandestine facilities, where several hundred advanced centrifuges would be adequate for a breakout to atomic weapons. The IAEA’s June 9 report underscored the situation’s gravity, stating that Tehran’s reductions in monitoring “could have detrimental implications … for the Agency’s ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear [program].”

The Biden administration should not lift sanctions on Iran. Instead, Washington should work to implement the snapback of prior UN sanctions resolutions on Iran and restore a multilateral pressure campaign to deter, contain, and penalize Tehran’s atomic infractions. Such a campaign should continue until the Islamic Republic enacts permanent nuclear limits, allows full transparency, and restores monitoring.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). She also contributes to FDD’s Iran Program, International Organizations Program, and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Andrea, the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program, Iran Program, International Organizations Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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