June 15, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Don’t Stop Digging Into Iran’s Nuclear Secrets

June 15, 2023 | The Algemeiner

Don’t Stop Digging Into Iran’s Nuclear Secrets

Few Americans have probably heard of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Last week, the IAEA’s board of governors convened in Vienna to hear from its director general, Rafael Grossi, who decided to shelve an investigation into a secret nuclear weapons-related high-explosive test site inside Iran, after three years of stonewalling by the mullahs in Tehran.

The IAEA investigation under Grossi stemmed from Israel’s discovery of Iran’s secret nuclear archive in 2018 — a collection of tens of thousands of files documenting nuclear weapons research and experimentation that Tehran kept hidden from both the IAEA and Western diplomats who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. The archive became something of a nuclear treasure map, with the IAEA piecing together clues in order to discover unknown sites inside Iran, which the regime has never declared as part of its nuclear program. 

Iran rushed to empty and clean up its clandestine activities before IAEA inspectors arrived, with commercial satellite imagery showing containers being moved, earth being tossed, and buildings being razed. From 2019 to 2020, the IAEA would ultimately visit four sites and find traces of uranium particles at three of them. And while the cumulative evidence shows Iran is actively concealing secret nuclear weapons-related material, equipment and personnel, the details remain a mystery, because Iran has stymied the IAEA’s investigation since the nuclear archive was disclosed.

Regime apologists argue that these investigations have no bearing on Iran’s nuclear program today — that they are dredging up questions about a weapons program that Western intelligence said in 2007 was halted in 2003. But that’s simply not true. Prior to the Iran nuclear deal, the IAEA assessed that Iran continued various nuclear weapons work until 2009 — and that assessment came before the discovery of Iran’s archive.

To this day, no one can explain why Iran would preserve thousands of papers and digital files meticulously documenting its attempted development of nuclear weapons — or why Iran would preserve nuclear weapons-related sites. No one can explain what Iran was hiding in containers spotted at one of the nuclear sites under investigation, or where those containers are today. No one can account for nuclear equipment and material documented in the archive. No one has questioned the associated personnel.

There is no justification for the IAEA’s decision to stop any unsolved investigation instead of declaring Iran in breach of its most fundamental obligations as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and referring it to the UN Security Council for further consequences.

And yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Why?

Rafael Grossi spent years building a reputation as a maverick and he has pressed Iran for answers since his first election in late 2019. But Grossi’s power largely depends on his board’s support. If Washington and its allies were so inclined, they could pass a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with the NPT and refer Iran to the Security Council.

Instead, for two and a half years, the Biden administration expressed interest in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. At the moment, it is reportedly moving to pay Iran to keep its enrichment below weapons-grade.

Accordingly, Iran has recognized it can push the IAEA around. Tehran has responded to IAEA requests by incrementally closing off the agency’s access and verification at known nuclear-connected sites — withholding video recordings at enrichment plants, removing camerasharassing inspectors, and accelerating enrichment to ever-higher levels. And late last year, Iran declared the IAEA’s investigations into undeclared sites to be a stumbling block to any deal with Washington. 

Grossi has been diligent and independent by the standards of IAEA director generals. But he has no answer to the pivotal question, “Or else what?” In the absence of firm US and allied support, Grossi appears resigned to follow the path of least resistance. 

Still, all hope is not lost. The IAEA still has open safeguards investigations related to two secret sites in Iran where nuclear material was discovered. And Grossi was careful not to declare now-stalled investigations officially closed. Indeed, his reports are filled with indictments of Iran’s undeclared nuclear weapons work and its NPT violations. This gives an opening for Congress and presidential candidates to publicly declare their intent to hold Iran accountable for all undeclared sites and materials whenever control of the White House next shifts, or for the Biden administration to recognize its error and change course.

Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at FDD, directs FDD’s International Organizations program, and contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power. He previously served on the White House National Security Council, as deputy chief of staff to former US Senator Mark Kirk, as chief of staff to former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and as a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. Follow him on Twitter @rich_goldberg. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear