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IAEA Board rebukes Iran, Iran unplugs IAEA cameras

Jun 10, 2022 | Ran Porat

IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi briefs the press on Iran (Image: Dean Calma/Flickr)
IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi briefs the press on Iran (Image: Dean Calma/Flickr)

What Happened

A resolution regarding Iran passed by the Board of Governors (BOG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Wednesday, June 8, used strong diplomatic language to urge Teheran to finally come clean about its illegal nuclear activities.

The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of 30 countries out of 35 BOG members, including support from the Australian representative. India, Libya and Pakistan abstained, while Russia and China opposed it

It is the first IAEA Board resolution to rebuke Iran since June 2020, despite a long series of nuclear advances by Teheran since 2018 – which now seems poised to make Iran a nuclear threshold country, just weeks away from accumulating enough fissile material for at least one nuclear warhead (“zero breakout time”) whenever the decision is made to do so.

These Iranian steps are all gross violations of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement reached with Iran in 2015, but which the US withdrew from in 2018. Negotiations over the past 15 months concerning a return to the JCPOA in Vienna appear to have ended in deadlock over recent weeks.

The new resolution stopped short of stating Teheran has violated its commitments under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Such a conclusion would result in automatically referring the Iran file to the UN Security Council (as first happened in 2006), which has the power to inflict punitive measures on Iran, such as applying more international sanctions on Teheran that would be mandatory on all countries under international law.

In the aftermath of the resolution, Teheran announced it would disconnect a number of IAEA cameras monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites, leaving the IAEA, which has had its access to monitoring in Iran severely restricted since May of last year, even less able to carry out its role there.

The resolution

As the Director-General of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi explained in his opening speech to the BOG (June 6), the resolution requires Iran to immediately provide accurate and truthful information about nuclear materials, equipment and activities detected in three locations – Turquzabad, Varamin and Marivan. As indicated by intel from the secret nuclear archive stolen by Israel from Teheran in January 2018, these sites were part of Iran’s secret AMAD project to quickly manufacture five nuclear warheads in the early 2000s.

The resolution:

Stresses “the importance of Iran’s compliance“ with its obligations to nuclear transparency and demands it “cooperate fully and in a timely manner with the Agency” to clarify the issues under IAEA investigation “without any further delay”.

Notes the IAEA’s “deep concern” about human-manipulated uranium particles found at the three undeclared sites in Iran, and about the unknown whereabouts of equipment and materials that were stored in these sites.

Notes the IAEA’s assessment that Iran did not report the existence of these materials to the IAEA as required based on its NPT obligations.

Notes Grossi’s warning that unless Iran completely and fully hands over all the information pertinent to the sites in question “the Agency cannot confirm the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement”; meaning that the IAEA cannot conclude that the nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful”, and not used for military aims as well, as required by the NPT.

Responses to the Resolution

The US and the E3 (UK, France and Germany) expressed satisfaction over the resolution, describing it as “an unambiguous message to Iran” urging Teheran to “heed the call of the international community” and fully cooperate with the IAEA.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia congratulated the IAEA on the resolution.

Teheran furiously rejected the resolution, with politicians in Iran attacking the IAEA and blaming the “Zionist lobby” for the resolution.

More significantly, the resolution provided Teheran an excuse to push ahead with what seems like pre-planned moves towards its goal of establishing Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold country.

Specifically, citing the resolution, Teheran stated that it disconnected some of the agency’s cameras monitoring enrichment activities stationed at either the Natanz or Fordow facilities.

A short time afterwards, Grossi confirmed that Iran has actually cut off power to 27 agency cameras from the nuclear sites (additional 40+ cameras remain in Iran). Grossi warned that the IAEA will lose its ability to continuously monitor Iran’s nuclear program within “three to four weeks” and this in turn would be a “fatal blow” to hopes of reviving the 2015 JCPOAnuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to Iran actions against IAEA monitoring equipment by saying that it could lead to “deepening nuclear crisis and further economic and political isolation.”

Disconnecting the IAEA cameras is just the latest Iranian step to diminish to near zero international supervision of Iran’s nuclear program, coming on top of harassment of monitors and blocking access to sites and IAEA surveillance footage since last year.

In addition, the IAEA has confirmed in the latest report circulated among BOG member states, that Iran has begun installing a cascade of advanced IR-6 uranium enrichment centrifuges at the new underground hall at Natanz, another JCPOA violation. The newer centrifuge model increases enrichment capacity and speed, further shortening the time needed to reach weapons-grade uranium (WGU) cutting Iranian breakout time further.

As I noted last week, the report’s numbers also made it clear that Iran had already accumulated enough enriched uranium to build 1-2 nuclear warhead cores within a few weeks.

Implications

The US and the European countries, who were signatories to the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, drafted the latest IAEA resolution. In that context, the resolution may be the last Western attempt to salvage the deal which collapsed after the US left the agreement in mid-2018 while Iran gradually increased the level and amount of enriched uranium in breach of its JCPOA commitments. Indirect negotiations to revive the agreement, held in Vienna over the last year between the US and Iran, with the EU as mediators, are currently indefinitely stalled and seem to have ended in failure.

The latest IAEA resolution opens a path for harsher and concrete punitive steps against Iran in coming months if, as seems likely, Teheran continues to stall, hide, lie and cheat in its engagement with the UN watchdog.

However, while Iran is accelerating its race towards nuclear weapons capabilities, the odds that the international community would retaliate in ways that place any effective brake or limit on Iran’s efforts remain unclear. Given the Ukrainian conflict and the tensions between Washington and Beijing, Russia and China may elect to use their veto power in the UN Security Council to block new sanctions against their ally Iran. This may foreclose UN sanctions, and it is not clear how far Washington and its European allies are willing to go on their own to punish and deter Iran given other priorities, such as Ukraine.

This will worry Israel and the moderate Arab countries of the Middle East, all of whom feel strongly threatened by Iran – and these shared concerns may help explain Israeli PM Naftali Bennett’s surprise trip to the UAE on June 9.

Dr. Ran Porat is an AIJAC Research Associate. He is also a Research Associate at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University and a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Reichman University in Herzliya.

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