The 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA):
Transparency, Inspection and Verification
In Tehran, with the aim of “ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA,” on 11 November 2013, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, and Iran’s Vice-President, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA). Those outstanding issues included disputes over IAEA verification activities, Iran supplying timely information about its nuclear facilities and the implementation of transparency measures. More specifically, the FCA laid out initial practical steps for Iran to take within three months, including allowing IAEA access to the Heavy Water Production Plant at Arak and the Gehine uranium mine in Bandar Abbas. Iran promised to provide IAEA with information on all new research reactors and nuclear power plants that Iran planned to build on sixteen sites. In addition, Iran agreed to provide information on Iran’s announced additional enrichment facilities and its laser enrichment technology. In return, IAEA agreed “to take into account Iran’s security concerns, including through the use of managed access and the protection of confidential information.” The latter qualification to the principle of transparency would offer an enormous target for critics of the IAEA agreement with Tehran.
The FCA is a short agreement that went to the heart of the IAEA role of inspection and verification as well as Iran’s responsibility to be transparent. The qualification: Iran demanded that this not give IAEA free reign to access Iran’s conventional military program. IAEA acknowledged that this would be accomplished through “managed access” and the non-disclosure of sensitive data. As Professor Toope pointed out, the transparency requirement and the inspection and verification procedures were necessarily intrusive because of IAEA’s decade long experience with Iran’s evasions, secrecy, misrepresentations and very low marks for demonstrating transparency. The record clearly shows why this deep distrust was warranted.
However, this absence of full transparency and the provision of misleading information were also characteristic of the data and analysis the U.S. Intelligence services provided to IAEA. The situation got so bad under the Bush administration that in February 2007, IAEA presumably leaked a report by some of the IAEA diplomats that most intelligence reports provided by U.S. intelligence to IAEA had proven to be inaccurate. The information did not lead to any discoveries that Iran had been surreptitiously conducting a military nuclear program.
This IAEA frustration with the U.S. even broke into the open. On 10 May 2007, IAEA, as well as Iran, denounced the report that Iran had blocked IAEA inspections of Iran’s enrichment facilities. Marc Vidricaire, the spokesman for IAEA, stated unequivocally, “We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks.” Thus, IAEA had to walk a fine diplomatic line between hyperbolic and false claims of the Americans under the Bush administration and efforts to sabotage the principle of transparency by the Ahmadinejad government in Iran. It seemed also clear that Iran was only really moved to demonstrate cooperation and transparency to try to head off further sanctions. This seemed certainly to be the case when Iran on 20 July 2007 gave IAEA access to the Arak complex over eight months.
There were even encouraging reports, such as the 30 August 2007 IAEA assessment, that Natanz was operating well below its capacity in enriching uranium; only 12 of the 18 centrifuge cascades were in operation. IAEA was also able to verify that there had been no diversion of the declared nuclear material. Even IAEA’s much repeated complaints about access to Iran’s plutonium experiments and the problem of contaminated spent fuel containers were resolved. Given IAEA’s stringent protocols for inspection and verification, these were impressive findings, especially since they took place midway in Ahmadinejad’s first term in office.
There was even a plan of action to resolve a number of remaining issues within a reasonable time frame. These measures proved to be insufficient even though they addressed the transparency, inspection and verification side of the puzzle. For Iran under Ahmadinejad was unwilling to curtail let alone cut back on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. However, under the work plan, IAEA would be enabled to inspect and verify a number of issues related to the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear program that it had not been unable to do heretofore. As a result, and seemingly undercutting the American push for more sanctions, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA, in October 2007 told the International Herald Tribune that IAEA had no evidence of Iran developing nuclear weapons. However, IAEA still had a number of concerns about weaponization.
Subsequently, IAEA confirmed on 15 November 2007 that Iran’s claims and what was revealed through inspection and verification measures were consistent. The big issue remaining was Iran’s refusal to sign the Additional Protocol of the non-proliferation agreement to include plans as well as activities within its monitoring program. This was the key obstacle that was resolved in 2013. On the more substantive issues, Americans were pushing for complete cessation of all enrichment while Iran insisted on its right under international law to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This insistence persisted for a short period even when Ahmadinejad was replaced by a more progressive political leader in 2013. The logjam was only broken when Iran agreed to allow full transparency re both nuclear weapons production and planning, with the qualification that the secrecy of its conventional military not be breached.
At the end of 2007, after what appeared to be a sincere though very inadequate effort to satisfy IAEA and the P5+1, Ahmadinejad proposed a detour which was also interpreted as a feint. Enriching uranium for Iran would take place in a neutral third country, presumably one of the Gulf states. This was more than the P5+1 achieved in the end, but, as in 2004, a potential opening was closed because the P5+1 under U.S. pressure had adopted a very hard line – no enrichment whatsoever. Iran insisted that no self-respecting state could permit such a limitation on a peaceful nuclear enrichment program and refused to bend.
In spite of IAEA’s stellar performance of integrity as an international inspection and verification agency, the Israelis, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s then Minister of Strategic Affairs in particular, denounced IAEA-director AlBaradei as a lackey of the Iranians.
On 22 February 2008, IAEA issued a clean bill of health on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, including on all outstanding issues. This was confirmed three months later in the IAEA May Report, but Iran still refused access to its centrifuge manufacturing sites. Iran’s acceding to the Additional Protocol was important since, without that and the inspection and verification regime that went along with it, IAEA could only state that there was no evidence that Iran had a nuclear weaponization program. It could not verify the total absence of such a plan and program in undeclared nuclear facilities, for example, whether the claims by Iran’s critics that Iran had clandestinely received information on how to design a high explosive charge suitable for an implosion nuclear device.
What had been revealed? The list included such items as the fact that the number of operating centrifuges at the Iranian fuel enrichment plant in Isfahan had increased. All uranium hexafluoride was under IAEA safeguards, contrary to the multitude of rumours otherwise that uranium hexafluoride was missing. To summarize:
- Even under the Ahmadinejad regime, and under pressure of increasing sanctions, the IAEA had gained access to all of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities
- The outstanding issue on the inspection regime was whether Iran would accede to all the contents of the its nuclear program to enable the AIEA to investigate Iran’s past plans and its potential future ones
- Beyond the transparency, inspection and verification issues, the S. kept insisting on complete cessation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
The IAEA and Tehran were at a standstill. In its 19 February 2009 Report, IAEA noted that Iran continued to enrich uranium and had produced over a ton of low enriched uranium, contrary to the requirements of the UN Security Council, but at levels consistent with similar enrichment plants elsewhere. The Report also confirmed that no ongoing reprocessing had been taking place at Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility. However, Iran still refused to provide design information or access to verify design information for its IR-40 heavy water research reactor in accordance with the Additional Protocol and in spite of Iran’s February 2003 agreement to do so.
The Agency insisted on its right to verify design information independent of the stage of construction or the presence of nuclear material. Hence IAEA’s concerns about possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. So the disagreement over Iran’s repeated refusal to implement the Additional Protocol continued, though the IAEA confirmed that, thus far, the agency had not been able to find any evidence that Tehran was seeking to make a nuclear weapon and that no nuclear material could be removed for further enrichment to make nuclear weapons without the agency’s knowledge though in September 2009 the IAEA reprimanded Iran for not disclosing that it had built another enrichment facility at Qom. IAEA demanded that Iran freeze its construction and any uranium enrichment.
By February 2010, IAEA had become thoroughly exasperated on learning that Iran had purchased additional sensitive technology, had conducted secret tests of high-precision detonators and modified designs of missile cones to accommodate larger payloads, all steps associated with the development of nuclear warheads. Since by May 2010 Iran produced over 2.5 tons of low-enriched uranium, enough when further enriched to make two nuclear weapons. The breakout period was now estimated to be about a year.
The IAEA-Iran dispute escalated. In July 2010, Iran banned two IAEA inspectors. In August, IAEA accused Iran of initiating a new cascade with 164 centrifuges at Natanz capable of enriching uranium to 19.5%. Fifteen months later, IAEA reported that it had credible evidence that Iran was designing a nuclear weapon and, through satellite imagery had identified a large explosive containment vessel inside Parchin. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Parchin.
By the Spring of 2012, IAEA and Iran were engaged in a loud war of words, of accusations and counter-accusations. It was clear that Iran was operating more cascades, was enriching uranium to 19.5% but had not yet been able to get its advanced design centrifuges to work. Even more frightening, in May 2012, IAEA reported detecting uranium enriched to 27% at Fordow, an enrichment level that clearly pointed to the aim of producing a nuclear weapon. By August, Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at Fordow and was now in possession of 190 kg of 19.5% enriched uranium, creeping very close to Israel’s red line of 250 kg, especially since in September 2012 AIAE reported that Iran had completed advanced work on its computer modeling pointing to advanced nuclear weapons research.
The situation continued to worsen. At Fordow, 16 cascades of 174 IR-1 centrifuges each had been installed with half in production mode, though only half of that half were actually operating. By November 2012, the total of highly enriched uranium had reached 233 kg, perilously close to Netanyahu’s red line. Iran continued to deny IAEA access to Fordow. Arak was expected to be operational in early 2014.
By February 2013, Netanyahu’s red line had been crossed. Iran had 280kg of near 20% enriched uranium. The rate of increase was 15 kg per month. The air was filled with rumours of an imminent Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the aftermath of Israel’s 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear facility at Rif Dimahq. (See the 28 September 2012 Report of the Congressional Research Service analyzing the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities – https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf) The signals to Iran and the rest of the world were unmistakable. Even Saudi Arabia let it be known that it favoured such an attack. Netanyahu warned that Iranian nuclear weapons would unleash the possibility of nuclear terrorism, provide Iranian sponsored terrorists with a nuclear cover and would threaten the world’s oil supply as well as instigating Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join the nuclear arms race in the Middle East. However, Israel still lacked the support of the U.S. for such an initiative as the Americans favoured further diplomacy, especially in light of the imminent elections in Iran. Israel had been supplied with bunker buster bombs, the U.S. continued to refuse to supply Israel with deep penetration ones. Even though Israel had only two planes known to be equipped to carry such bombs, Israel let it be known that it had plans to “go it alone.”
2013 was the tipping point. Israel’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz in April 2013 said that Israel was still willing to give sanctions a chance, but warned that Iran could achieve “nuclear capability before the end of the year.” The doomsday clock had only eight months at most left.
Everything changed with the change in government in Iran, especially in the aftermath of Barack Obama becoming president. A Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) was signed by IAEA.
Tomorrow: The 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action