IAEA 19 February Report on Iranian Compliance
Although the U.S. is the primary negotiator with Iran on behalf of the P5+1 team, Iran is required to be compliant with United Nations Security Council (UNSC) approved provisions in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement under the terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) mandatory under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The UNSC is the key reference point, not the U.S. The JPA of 11 November 2013, which took effect on 20 January 2014, was to be concluded by 20 July 2014, but has since been extended first to 24 November 2014 and then to 30 June of 2015. However, as efforts to blow up the agreement by the U.S. Republican-dominated Senate have advanced, with new threatened sanctions against Iran to be voted on near the end of March, pressure has increased immensely to conclude an agreement much before June. The JPA never made provision for any restrictions on Iranian missile development because there are no relevant international agreements on such restrictions. In contrast, there are strict restrictions under the 15 May 1974 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But there are other tools that might accomplish much of the same task. On 19 February, the IAEA issued its latest report on the compliance with the Joint Plan of Action (as extended). The first impression one gets in reading the report is the sense of urgency in resolving differences. On 7 February, when Iran’s Foreign Minister, HE Mohammad Javad Zarif, met with the IAEA Director General, they agreed to discuss the whole program of compliance at all levels and resolve all outstanding issues as soon as possible.
The IAEA confirmed that:
- Iran has not enriched UF6 above 5% U-235 at any of its declared facilities
- As required, all of Iran’s stock of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 has been further processed through downblending or conversion into uranium oxide
- Enrichment of UF6 up to 5% U-235 has continued at the regular and not an increased rate of production
- The amount of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 is 7,952.9 kg
- No additional major components have been installed at the IR-40 Reactor
- There has been no manufacture and testing of fuel at IR-40
- The Agency continues to enjoy managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities.
It should be a done deal, right? Wrong. There were still two outstanding practical measures. First, there remain reasonable grounds to believe that Iran has not provided access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel essential to restoring international confidence, given Iranian previous disregard for international agreements and overt and covert attempts to ignore them. Second, with respect to the initiation of high explosives and neutron transport calculations, Iran has yet to provide any explanations for discrepancies pointed out and failed to make provision for practical measures to resolve such disputes. These issues have been outstanding since last May. They are not new issues that have been placed on the table.
Clearly, Iran’s repeated stalling on these issues raised suspicions as each round of talks passes without these being resolved or Iran even making practical suggestions for their resolution. One is left with the impression that Iran has been stonewalling. In total, Iran has declared 18 nuclear facilities (not counting Parchin which Iran declares is not nuclear – see appendix) and 9 other locations where nuclear material is used (dumps & hospitals using radioactive isotopes. Although activities being undertaken by Iran at some of the facilities remain contrary to IAEA requirements, and although Iran has not suspended all of its enrichment activities, IAEA has managed to verify that material has not been diverted and is being handled in accord with the JPA. As stated above, IAEA has attested that Iran has not produced enriched U-235 above 5% and all its 20% enriched materials has been transformed as required. Further, both Iran’s material and all of its processing facilities are currently under IAEA monitoring and containment.
So what precisely is the problem? I will not rehearse the detailed account of what Iran has done to become compliant. The list is long and detailed. However, in focusing only on the gaps in failures to comply, as I will shortly do, there is a propensity to come away with a distorted picture. Even more important, Iran has been compliant on all items that are not matters of interpretive dispute as to whether compliance is required under the JPA. The interpretive issues are key, not only to assessing compliance, but in the public relations issues to establish transparency in a credible way and to ensure that core related security issues are addressed, such as missile development capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and not simply the ability to produce weapons-grade fuel. The issue of Iran as a regional power, its influence in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, and support of terrorism are other matters that will never become part of these negotiations.
To focus on two key outstanding issues, section H of the IAEA report details the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. The issue is initially one of transparency and the concern of IAEA that Iran has not disclosed nuclear-related activities involving military related organizations. Thus, the issue is not about the core of the nuclear program – the number and status of its various centrifuges and the amount and form of its nuclear materials at the core of the negotiations – but whether Iran is developing a nuclear payload for a missile and a missile capable of carrying such a payload. Does the JPA include the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program? The IAEA says it does. Iran had never said it does not, but has never responded positively to IAEA’s probes on this issue or proposed practical alternatives for resolving them.
It does not matter what Iran thinks for two very different reasons. First, IAEA is the international arbiter, not a party negotiating with Iran. Secondly, if Iran does not deal with the issue, Obama will never get away with signing a deal and he already has more than enough difficulties on his plate from the negotiations. The opposition would turn into a firestorm quite aside from all the other issues not being dealt with in the negotiations. Specifically, IAEA requires access to all sites, equipment, persons and documents requested. IAEA’s suspicions have been further aroused by evidence IAEA has collected that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device, information contained in its November report and further corroborated by additional evidence since.
The site is Parchin, not Fardow or Natanz. Parchin is located just outside of Tehran. It is the facility identified as a possible or even probable nuclear weapons site. But the IAEA has not been able to confirm or disconfirm its suspicions, though IAEA inspectors have accumulated considerable evidence to weigh in on the probability side. Further, the activities are extensive both in terms of size, location, access to needed expertise, links with military facilities and the command centre of the Iranian military. Key evidence has been provided by a series of satellite photos over time. The only reasonable explanation for that type of construction activity seems to be the development of a nuclear military facility.
Iran negotiators have adamantly rejected these suspicions, but, as the IAEA has reported, Iran has never offered a suggested process for falsifying them. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s chief negotiator at the talks, instead insisted that, “we completely, categorically deny any nuclear activities in Parchin. Americans, again, they are lying because the IAEA have never asked for inspections and because they have claimed we rejected the inspections of the IAEA and the IAEA up to now they have never asked for inspections.” But whatever the truth about what is taking place at Parchin, the claim that IAEA has never asked for inspections is an outright blatant lie since even the most cursory reading of IAEA reports clearly shows that Iran has repeatedly been asked for information on and access to all areas of Parchin.
Instead of Mousavian providing a method for resolving the dispute, he repeatedly goes on a rant about American perfidy, accusing the Americans of supplying doctored satellite photos, but never offers access or information to falsify the evidence or even propose a method for falsification. The problem, of course, is that the same evidence supports an interpretation of developing high explosive but non-nuclear warheads. Access to Parchin would provide evidence on what every enemy of Iran would desire – intelligence about Iran’s non-nuclear program. But information on the facility, access and inspection are the only way to resolve the dispute. However, given Iran’s other ambitions, whatever their nuclear goals are, Iran has been totally obstinate about granting information and access to Parchin. Iran has instead insisted that IAEA provide prima facie evidence of nuclear activity at Parchin.
I suspect there will be none when Iran eventually provides access under strict conditions. But developing a military warhead for high explosive material is the same as developing one for nuclear explosions. Iran did provide access to IAEA in the past, in January 2005, but since access was restricted to only one of four areas identified as being of potential interest and to only five buildings in that area, though nothing incriminating was found in the area accessed, restricted access only exacerbated suspicions. These suspicions seemed to be confirmed in November 2011 when satellite photography recorded all kinds of haulage facilities removing material consistent with the possibility of a small nuclear accident at the plant or efforts to remove such material surreptitiously. But from samples taken from the areas visited a few years earlier, IAEA could find no evidence of nuclear material being used on the site. Further, since then, given the time gap and the possible efforts at covering their tracks, the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification has been severely compromised. Even if there is no evidence of nuclear material, Iran has enough rapid centrifuges of advanced design that, given even its stock of depleted uranium, it could rapidly move to becoming a nuclear power as long as Iran masters two other components of the system, warhead design and an appropriate missile delivery system.
If the Parchin site had been used to develop a nuclear warhead, and if there was a contamination clean-up from November 2011 until the first few months of 2012, why would the Iranians not permit full access now? Perhaps, because the inspectors could find traces of nuclear material. Perhaps because Iran did not want any inspectors near its missile development program. But without supplying either access or another satisfactory approach to resolving the issue, IAEA will not confirm Iranian full compliance and there will be no deal.
The second issue is the discrepancy in neutron transport calculations. IAEA has proposed a system assessment to resolve the problem. This involves “considering and acquiring an understanding of each issue in turn, and then integrating all of the issues into a ‘system’ and assessing that system as a whole.” The Agency has assured Iran that once it “has established an understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possible military dimensions, it will quickly undertake its analysis and report back to the Agency’s Board of Governors.
Besides these two major outstanding issues, there are medium ones and several minor ones. A medium range issue is limiting the number of centrifuges. The measure of the number of centrifuges Iran could retain is determined by their collective output. There has been evidence that at Natanz, the technicians had lowered the average separative output of the IR-1 cascades in order to be able to retain more cascades and, hence, more centrifuges. Thus, when limits were agreed to on the average output permitted, Iran would be able to retain a greater total of cascades. It is not as if IAEA could not figure this out. They easily did. However, the effect was to view the Iranians as petty tricksters rather than as key partners in establishing total transparency. This appeared more to be petty cheating rather than inadvertent omission. This and other errors and omissions enhance suspicions. They make it very difficult for the inspectors to retain both their cool and their objectivity. Of course, these unresolved issues also enhanced the belief that the Iranians were planning a breakout in less than one year.
Another example of an even more petty lack of transparency was Iran’s failure to report on the slightly enriched uranium (to about 2%) originating from tailings and dumped into emergency holding tanks. Iran was explicitly required to report on all nuclear material it possessed. Further, Iran has not been able to explain why it has been unable to complete the conversion of 3.5% LEU hexafluoride to the oxide form but only to an intermediate form. So even though Iran’s average daily production of 3.5% low enriched uranium (LEU) has decreased, even though Iran has been compliant with JPA on a very wide front of measures, one suspects a feint. It is as if the IAEA is dealing with a habitual thief and liar who has vowed to go straight and seems to be really trying but cannot help slipping back into old patterns of dissembling and dishonesty on the margins.
Iran continues to enrich U-235 to 5% for medical use and enriched UF6 to 20% U-235i used in its research reactors, but these activities are open to inspection. Iran has not yet provided preliminary design information and the construction schedule for the nuclear plants that Iran had announced it was expecting to construct on the Bushehr site at the beginning of 2015. Until the outstanding issues are resolved, IAEA will not be in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran unless and until Iran provides the necessary cooperation with the Agency. And until the Agency can certify that all activities and nuclear material are devoted to peaceful purposes, no certification will be forthcoming.
Iran has five options. One, it can comply. Two, it can continue to stall, but that now seems to have come to a dead end on that route. Three, Iran can, through a series of small deviations, enhance its inherent capacity to produce weapons-grade uranium and therefore, reduce the real breakout period by months while it appears to be over a year. Four, Iran could try to make a side deal, say with Obama, if indeed he is the pro-Islam outlier that extremist Republicans claim he is; the evidence that Iran was trying to accomplish the third option was a counter-indication that Iranians were not up to the fourth option for that would have required Iran always to appear squeaky clean. Fifth, they could revert to the old order and the suspension of sanctions would then be cancelled. Iran seems to be trying for number three as it tries to get out of the corner in which it found itself.
Israel seems to have collected intelligence that a successful deal is in the offing. Hence the greatly enhanced activism of both Netanyahu and the Republicans in Congress. For both had been betting on the negotiations collapsing. The prospect of a successful outcome sent the fear of God down their spines. For such an agreement would not encompass Iranian missile development, only perhaps nuclear and perhaps high explosive warhead development. But certainly not Iran’s support for terrorism or its ambition to become a regional power. Just as certain, the British concern with Iran’s human rights record would not be addressed. For these reasons, any deal with Iran would be a bad deal for these critics.
Since I cannot envision the new Iran government wanting to revert to the pre-2014 regime that was crippling the Iranian economy or that Obama would agree to undercut the IAEA, and since stalling is no longer practicable, I concur with Israeli intelligence that a deal is in the offing and the IAEA will emerge as the hero of the whole process because it will also prevent the third option. Officials in Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia fear that the U.S. under Obama wants to focus its efforts on establishing order in the Middle East by accepting Iran as a regional power committed to stability and security, which may indeed be true, but this does not entail, as some also fear, replacing America’s traditional Middle East allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey – with Iran.
Whatever the outcome, the use of Israel as a political football within the U.S. and the fallout between the White House and Netanyahu, though understandable from both sides, has left serious scars on the U.S.-Israeli connection. On 18 February, Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, insisted that they would still keep Israel informed on negotiations – as if Israel does not have independent sources for learning about the progress – but that the White House continued to be concerned about leaks. Earnest then practically called Israelis liars. “There’s no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate,” clearly implying that some information was taken out of context and distorted. It would have been better if Earnest had referenced his charge since the dispute, as I have tried to document, is not about the particulars of the agreement, but about an agreement at all. Obama thus appears not to be playing hard ball but croquet or, at best, snooker.
Appendix – Iran’s Nuclear Sites – Note Fardow, Istafan, Natanz, Parchin and Tehran
1 Anarak – near Yazd – nuclear storage site for uranium
2 Arak – IR-40: 40 MW heavy water research reactor online in 2014 to replace Tehran research reactor producing radioisotopes for medical purposes
3 Ardakan – mill with annual capacity 120,000 metric tonnes of ore producing 50 MT uranium
4 Bonab – Atomic Energy Research Center focused on agriculture
5 Bushehr – Nuclear power plant became operational in August 2010
6 Chalus – site not currently operational for nuclear purposes
7 Darkovin – nuclear power plant with 360 MW capacity
8 Fordow – the underground uranium enrichment facility near Qom discovered in 2009 that became operational in 2011 to take over from Natanz’s enrichment of uranium to 5%
9 Gachin – uranium mine
10 Isfahan – nuclear research facility that currently operates four small nuclear research and conversion reactors
11 Karaj – Center for Agricultural Research and Nuclear Medicine
12 Lashkar Abad – pilot plant for isotope separation
13 Lavizan – decommissioned
14 Natanz – 100,000 sq. meter nuclear enrichment facility with 7,000 centrifuges producing LEU hardened by one concrete wall 2.5 meters thick and a second thick wall roof hardened by reinforced concrete and 22 meters of earth
15 Parchin – facility near Tehran for the testing and manufacturing of conventional explosives suspected of developing a nuclear warhead but full access has never been granted to IAEA
16 Ramsar – highest background radiation in the world, but not a nuclear facility
17 Saghand – Iran’s first uranium ore mine
18 Tehran – Nuclear Research Centre originally fueled by highly enriched uranium in 1967 & converted to 20% enriched facility in 1987 and in production in 2012
17 Yazd – Radiation Processing Center focused on geophysical research