The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its long-awaited official report on Iran’s nuclear weapons work this week, concluding that Iran secretly pursued a nuclear weapons programme until 2009 – longer than previously believed. The findings contradict Iran’s claim that its nuclear work was purely for peaceful purposes.
The mixed findings in the report also indicated that Iran failed to fully cooperate with investigators, and the IAEA could therefore not definitively resolve all of its concerns. The New York Times reported that Iran refused to cooperate on three of the 12 unresolved questions over its past work on weaponisation.
Senior U.S. officials said they expected the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors to vote this month to formally close its decade-long probe of Iran’s suspected past weapons work. International sanctions on Iran could then be lifted as early as January, U.S. officials said, once Tehran completes additional steps required to constrain its broader nuclear programme.
Concluding the five-month probe, the IAEA said it believed Iran had a coordinated nuclear-weapons programme until 2003 and that some of these activities continued as late as 2009.
The agency said there were no credible indications of nuclear-weapons-related activities in Iran after 2009, but it added that Iran provided little information on some points and offered some misleading responses.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), in its initial reaction to the report, wrote that “faced with such outright Iranian efforts to deceive the inspectors, the IAEA broke relatively little ground. The truth of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report”.
Analysts state that since the agency was unable to fully verify Iran’s past work and thereby establish a baseline, it will be very difficult to design an effective verification programme to ensure Iranian compliance under the nuclear deal.
Critics of the deal have argued that it is critical to ascertain whether Iran had a nuclear weapons programme in the past, how far the work on warheads advanced, and whether this has continued. Without clear answers to these questions, outsiders will be unable to determine how fast the Iranian regime could construct either a crude nuclear-test device or a deliverable weapon if it chose to renege on an agreement.
Despite Iran’s lack of cooperation and the IAEA’s inability to resolve all of its questions, U.S. officials have indicated that the report “would likely pave the way for the removal of economic sanctions on Tehran as early as January,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
In September, the IAEA were criticised for their decision to let Iranian technicians take samples at Parchin under agency supervision. Tehran said IAEA personnel were not present at Parchin when the samples were taken, though this was denied by Western diplomats.
In April 2015, in an interview on PBS Newshour, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran would have to disclose its past activities: “They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done…It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be”.
A formal nuclear agreement – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – between Iran and the P5+1 was signed in Vienna on 14th July 2015, following two years of negotiations.