July 7, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Iran must notify about new enrichment facilities

July 7, 2023 | Washington Examiner

Iran must notify about new enrichment facilities

A regime official threatened this week that Iran would enrich uranium to higher levels or withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should European countries retain missile-related sanctions against Iran past their planned expiration in October.

Against this backdrop, the Islamic Republic continues work on a potentially impenetrable nuclear facility where at least one Western intelligence agency fears Iran might construct a new plant to enrich uranium and break out to nuclear weapons. Iran began constructing the new facility near Natanz following sabotage incidents at two centrifuge manufacturing and assembly plants. The replacement facility, buried dozens of meters deep under mountains, may be immune even to America’s deepest bunker-buster bombs. Israel says it disagrees, stating that the facility’s location would render strikes more difficult but not ineffective.

However, the site may be an ideal location for a new enrichment facility — one that Tehran may try to conceal from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog.

In February 2021, the Islamic Republic said it would no longer abide by a legal nonproliferation obligation to notify the IAEA and submit relevant design information as soon as it decides to construct a new facility to produce nuclear material. The obligation, known as modified Code 3.1, is part of subsidiary arrangements to Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, an agreement each NPT state party must conclude. Under a CSA, Iran is required to disclose locations and activities related to the presence and use of nuclear material, a stipulation it has violated on many occasions.

In the 1990s, after proliferation cases involving North Korea and Iraq, the IAEA modified Code 3.1 to provide the agency adequate time to prepare safeguards for new nuclear material-producing facilities. The original Code 3.1 allowed countries to notify the IAEA about such facilities only 180 days before introducing nuclear material — essentially, once they were nearly completed.

Yet Iran has already violated modified Code 3.1 at least twice.

In 2002, the Institute for Science and International Security published satellite images of an Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, which Tehran did not disclose to the IAEA. Under international pressure, the regime subsequently claimed it implemented modified Code 3.1 from 2003 to 2007, after which it suspended adherence in response to U.N. Security Council sanctions.

In 2009, world powers revealed that Tehran failed to disclose the construction of the Fordow facility near Qom, which Iran may have begun building as early as 2002. In violation of its safeguards agreements, the Islamic Republic may have also enriched uranium at other locations.

In 2015, world powers included Iran’s implementation of modified Code 3.1 as a condition of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Thus, in February 2021, when Tehran announced it would no longer abide by JCPOA transparency measures, it included modified Code 3.1 among them. In June, Iran wrote a letter to the IAEA stating that Tehran can unilaterally suspend implementation of the code since world powers failed to fulfill their JCPOA commitments.

Iran has maintained that implementation of modified Code 3.1 is voluntary, but the IAEA strongly disagrees. The agency reminds Tehran in quarterly IAEA Iran safeguards reports that “implementation of modified Code 3.1 is a legal obligation for Iran” that “cannot be modified unilaterally.” The agency also notes there is no mechanism for a state to suspend adherence.

Washington and its allies must hold Tehran accountable.

At the next IAEA Board of Governors meeting in September, the United States and its European partners must formally censure Iran’s failure to implement modified Code 3.1, a fundamental part of its nonproliferation obligations, and must insist on Tehran’s compliance.

Since Iran has also failed to cooperate with the IAEA’s more than four-year investigation into the regime’s undeclared nuclear weapons work, the board must provide the IAEA with an explicit directive to ascertain the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations — including whether the regime maintains nuclear weapons activities — and set a deadline for Tehran to comply.

The Islamic Republic has often gotten off scot-free for its NPT violations. It is time for the international community to proactively counter the next breach and deter Tehran from building a new enrichment facility that puts it on the precipice of nuclear weapons.

Andrea Stricker is deputy director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow her on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Iran Sanctions Nonproliferation