IAEA Board rebukes Iran; Iran shuts off IAEA surveillance cameras
Jun 11, 2022 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update focuses on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors’ decision to censure Iran for non-compliance at its meeting this week, and Iran’s retaliation in the form of turning off 27 IAEA surveillance cameras at its nuclear facilities.
AIJAC research associate Dr. Ran Porat has written a good summary and analysis blog on these events on our website, which we strongly recommend. This Update is intended to offer supplementary information and background.
We start with a good summary of the events over the past week, complete with links, from the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) thinktank in Washington. While it overlaps with some of the material in Ran Porat’s blog, it also supplements it with some additional information and puts these events more into the context of the current state of the stalled nuclear negotiations. For everything you need to know about the IAEA decision and the Iranian response – as well as the reactions of other key players, CLICK HERE.
Next, American columnist Jonathan Tobin makes the case that Iran’s dramatic response to the IAEA censure motion is a policy opportunity for the Biden Administration. He argues that it is obvious that the current policy of appeasing Iran to coax it to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal has been a failure, and that President Biden should now be implementing much more coercive measures if he is to have any hope of keeping his promise to ensure Iran will not get nuclear weapons on his watch. But looking at Biden’s team and their history, Tobin argues that a failure to take advantage of this chance to shift policy gears on Iran appears more likely than not. For his complete discussion, CLICK HERE.
Finally, this Update features an explainer for all the nuclear terms that are so central to the current debate about Iran, written by Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Henderson explains things like how centrifuges work, how much enriched uranium is needed for weapons, and what Iran would need to make a deliverable bomb once they have this. He also delves into what is known about the three undeclared Iranian nuclear sites discovered by the IAEA and which are at the heart of the recent IAEA Board condemnation of Iran. For all these essential details, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- More on Israel’s reaction to recent events at the IAEA Board.
- Former senior American officials Amb. Eric Edelman and Gen. Charles Wald explain the urgent need for the Biden Administration to move to a “Plan B” on Iran in the wake of recent events.
- Before the IAEA Board meeting, two other former US officials, Jackie Wolcott and Anthony Ruggiero, explained in detail why the condemnation of Iran over its failure to comply with IAEA requests for information about undeclared nuclear sites was essential.
- Israel’s diverse coalition government looks to be in serious strife following a failure to pass a key bill regarding the legal situation in the West Bank. A summary of this latest political crisis is here.
- American academic Anne Bayefsky highlights the danger of a new and quite extreme report issued by the UN Human Rights Council’s controversial, permanent Commission of Inquiry into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. AIJAC’s statement on that report is here.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ran Porat’s previous discussion of the revelation of documents that appear to prove Iran previously spied on the IAEA to help dodge scrutiny from IAEA inspectors.
- J-wire summaries of a recent AIJAC function with top Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari, and AIJAC’s webinar with strategic analyst Brig. Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser.
Iran Nuclear Talks Update, June 9
The IAEA Board of Governors voted 30 to 2, with 3 abstentions, to censure Iran for its non-compliance for the first time since June 2020 at its meeting in Vienna this week (Photo: Flickr, Dean Calma)
- On June 8 as the Board of Governors (BoG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution led by France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States calling on Iran to “urgently cooperate with the IAEA’s probe into undeclared nuclear material in Iran.”
- For years, Iran has blocked efforts by IAEA inspectors to clarify Tehran’s past work on a nuclear weapon, including by denying access to suspected undeclared nuclear facilities.
- Iran’s non-compliance with a three-month roadmap it agreed on with the IAEA in March to resolve these concerns led to the BoG’s decision to pass the resolution at its June meeting.
- The June 8 resolution “expresse[d] profound concern that the safeguards issues related to these three undeclared locations remain outstanding,” and, in the resolution, the IAEA BoG “call[ed] upon Iran to act on an urgent basis to fulfil its legal obligations and, without delay, take up the (IAEA) director general’s offer of further engagement.”
- Prior to the BoG meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister (FM) Amir-Abdollahian told European Union (EU) chief diplomat Josep Borrell on June 3 that “any political action by the United States and the three European countries in the IAEA would provoke without any doubt a proportional, effective and immediate response on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
- On June 5, Amir-Abdollahian also tweeted, “Those who push for anti-Iran resolution at IAEA will be responsible for all the consequences.”
- Iran criticized the resolution “as political, unconstructive and incorrect” on June 9, while Israel lauded the measure, with the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett proclaiming on June 9, “We see here a firm stance by the countries of the world regarding the distinction between good and evil, as they clearly state that Iran is concealing things.”
- Tehran escalated its illegal noncompliance with IAEA transparency measures in retaliation for the BoG’s censure motion.
- On June 8, Tehran removed and obstructed IAEA cameras in preemptive retaliation for the IAEA motion censuring Iran; on June 9, Tehran announced it will eliminate 27 surveillance cameras in its nuclear facilities.
- In addition, Iran plans to “speed up production and installation” of advanced IR-6, IR-4 and IR-2m centrifuges.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the Board of Governors meeting in Vienna: Iran nuclear deal would be dealt a “fatal blow” if Iran fails to provide access to IAEA inspectors within three to four weeks. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)
- On June 7, a German intelligence report showed that Iran has recently expanded its illicit efforts to procure dual use supplies for its nuclear program.
- In a June 9 statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote, “Iran must cooperate with the IAEA and provide technically credible information in response to the IAEA’s questions, which is the only way to remove these safeguards issues from the Board’s agenda.” Blinken also distinguished between Iran’s obligations as they relate to the IAEA under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and actions relating to the JCPOA nuclear deal.
- Even before the IAEA censure, diplomats involved in the nuclear negotiations in Vienna were warning yet again that time was running out to move the talks – stalemated since March – over the finish line.
- E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted on June 4,“The possibility to strike a deal and return to #JCPOA is shrinking.” Borrell did acknowledge that “we still can do it with an extra effort.”
- U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated on June 6 that “a mutual return to compliance… remains a big question mark.”
- The E3—France, Germany, and Great Britain—released a statement to BoG on June 7 noting that a nuclear deal cannot “remain on the table indefinitely” and that they “strongly urge Iran to … urgently conclude the deal that is on the table.”
- On June 7, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran had presented a new proposal to reach a nuclear deal with the United States, saying, “in [indirect] exchange of messages [with the] U.S., we’ve offered new initiatives in past 2 days to open the path.”
- On June 7, the U.S. said in a statement to the IAEA BoG that “we need… a willing partner in Iran” and that Iran’s current demands for the removal of sanctions “are now preventing us from concluding a deal.”
- On June 9, Blinken added that “a deal has been available since March, but we can only conclude negotiations and implement it if Iran drops its additional demands that are extraneous to the JCPOA.”
- Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) Rafael Grossi noted on June 9 that the deal would be dealt a “fatal blow” if Iran fails to provide access to IAEA inspectors within three to four weeks.
- Though Ned Price on June 6 repeated the U.S. talking point that negotiations are subject to a technical clock (as opposed to a chronological clock), saying “the time frame for mutually resuming compliance with the JCPOA … is not based on whether it’s a week or a month from now,” Grossi’s statements appear to have put that technical clock into temporal units.
Iran gave Biden a reason to abandon appeasement. He still won’t do it.
JNS.org, June 10, 2022
What were the leaders of Iran’s Islamist regime thinking when they removed 27 cameras that were supposed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor its nuclear program? Perhaps they meant it to test the mettle of the West and its willingness to hold them accountable for their behavior. It could be one more bargaining trick they’ve pulled out of their sleeve as they wait patiently for the Biden administration to crack and offer more concessions in order to get Tehran to sign on to a new and even weaker nuclear deal than the bargain it struck in 2015 under the Obama administration.
Or maybe the Iranians really don’t care what anyone in Washington or any other Western capital thinks, and it is part of their grand strategy to become, at the very least, a nuclear threshold state.
This latest provocation earned Iran a rebuke from the IAEA. That was followed by a stiff joint message from the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany, urging Iran to heed the will of the international community and live up to their responsibilities under the original nuclear pact and IAEA regulations. But the idea that the ayatollahs and their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) terrorist minions are worried about a slap on the wrist from the IAEA is a joke. Nor, after a year-and-a-half of playing President Joe Biden and his foreign-policy team for fools as they run out the clock in negotiations to get Tehran to return to Obama’s deal can anyone believe that such futile Western gestures present the slightest deterrent from pursuing its nuclear ambition.
The Iranians have been using this time to speed ahead with building up their capacity and enriching more uranium to the point where IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi is saying they are reaching the point where crossing the nuclear threshold “cannot be avoided.”
They’re not there yet and further still from assembling a bomb, which leaves the West time to take action—both in terms of crippling sanctions, a total embargo on Iranian oil, and, as a last resort, the threat of force from the world’s most powerful militaries. And, indeed, by thumbing their nose at the international community in this manner, the Iranians have given Biden every reason to pivot from his efforts at appeasement and to finally start acting like he means it when he says Iran will not get a weapon on his watch.
That’s a risk the Islamist regime seems prepared to take. If so, it’s largely because they’ve already measured up Biden and the gang of former Obama staffers running foreign policy on his watch and decided that it’s no risk at all. Weak figures like Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Robert Malley—that veteran appeaser of terrorists in charge of Iran policy—are committed to diplomacy for its own sake. They are so averse to ratcheting up pressure on this rogue regime that it’s clear there are virtually no circumstances under which anyone can imagine that they will call Tehran’s bluff and return to the only sane policy imaginable with respect to Iran. That involves the aforesaid sanctions, an embargo and a credible threat of military action.
Biden Administration policymakers – like chief nuclear negotiator Robert Malley, shown here at the IAEA headquarters last year – “are committed to diplomacy for its own sake” and highly “averse to ratcheting up pressure” on Teheran (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
Of course, doing that would necessitate admitting that they were wrong and, horror of horrors, former President Donald Trump was right to understand that the only possible response to the empowerment and enrichment of Iran that was achieved by Obama’s pact was to withdraw from it and start working towards Iran’s total isolation. Trump’s strategy was a gamble since it involved the possibility that Iran would race to a weapon before the West could apply all of its leverage.
Yet to his credit, Trump understood that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was put in place by his predecessor didn’t just kick the can down the road in terms of stopping Iran’s nuclear threat. It guaranteed that Iran would get a nuclear weapon with Western approval by the end of the 2020s and would leave Tehran far more powerful than it would have otherwise become. Eventually, an American president was going to have to start the process of forcing Iran to renegotiate the deal, and the sooner that started, the better the chances of success.
Needless to say, from the point of view of the Biden administration, conceding that their reversal of Trump’s policy and doubling down appeasement isn’t working would be a worse calamity than an Iranian nuclear weapon. For Democrats, the idea of undoing the damage that Trump supposedly did to American foreign policy is a matter of religious faith rather than sober analysis. They are so committed to the notion that his administration was a force for evil that it has blinded them to the realities of the Middle East.
Still, the Biden team has other reasons for being soft on Iran.
At present, the administration is almost completely fixated on the war between Russia and Ukraine. Granted, the aggression committed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime was more than illegal. It undermined the stability of Europe and has resulted in the sort of mass casualties not seen on the continent since World War II. It is to be hoped that, combined with the stiffer than expected Ukrainian resistance, the massive aid given to Kyiv by the United States and its allies will both help them deplete the threat posed by the Russian military and send a powerful message to China that it should not believe it can get away with similar aggression against Taiwan.
But the administration’s tunnel vision on Russia, a country that has been exposed as a second-rate power—albeit one with nuclear weapons that shouldn’t be pressed too far—has allowed it to ignore the threat Iran is posing to American allies in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Malley and many others serving under Biden seem to have bought into the delusion, first floated by Obama that Iran could be persuaded to “get right with the world.” That mistaken idea would lead the United States to reconfigure its Middle Eastern policy to allow for a rapprochement with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism while slighting or repudiating Israel and its Arab friends.
Biden is trying to distance himself from Saudi Arabia—a friendly despotic regime that many Democrats view with more distaste than Iran—and at the same time get them to pump more oil to reduce the rising price of gas that is killing the Democrats in the polls. But he also appears eager to find a way to get Iranian oil flowing to the world.
That may be why Iran is upping the ante in its long-running standoff with the administration in the nuclear talks in Vienna. Tehran figures that if it’s patient enough, Biden will eventually cave on the last sticking points in the negotiations—like taking the IRGC off the list of terrorist organizations—and a new deal can be signed to make the Islamic regime richer and stronger (and eventually get a nuke anyway). Since they don’t think Biden will ever take action against them even if they do break out to a weapon, every provocation and breach of international law comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card signed by the president.
The saddest aspect of this debacle is that there is still an opportunity for Biden to stiffen his spine and take the sort of actions that will make it clear to the ayatollahs that if they continue on this path, it will lead to the impoverishment of their country and potential military conflict that they cannot win. Even worse is the realization that Biden is not only unwilling to be honest about the situation, but that he may be incapable of mustering the courage to do what needs to be done to carry out his promise about stopping Iran from going nuclear.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate).
Iran Nuclear Explainer
by Simon Henderson
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2, 2022
A brief summary of technical terms relating to the country’s nuclear progress.
Uranium centrifuges, devices which “spin at around 1,000 revolutions per second, separating the U-238 from the U-235 by using the minute weight difference between the two atoms.” (Photo: STRINGER Image, Shutterstock)
The latest reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) show that Iran could be within two weeks of having enough enriched nuclear material to make a nuclear explosive device. But it is still a matter of speculation whether Tehran is immediately concerned with achieving such a breakthrough or is using its progress as a negotiating tactic to win concessions on sanctions.
To clarify the often technical expressions used in the reporting, the following offers a brief summary of some of the terms:
60 percent enrichment. Enrichment is the process by which the proportion of the isotope U-235 in a sample of natural uranium is increased from seven parts in a thousand—compared with the more prevalent U-238 isotope—to the 193:7 ratio needed for a typical civilian nuclear power reactor or the 1:7, around 90 percent, needed for a nuclear bomb. At 60 percent enrichment, the ratio is about 11:7, meaning just another ten U-238 atoms need to be stripped off the uranium in gaseous form in very high speed-centrifuges. (For a more detailed discussion, see the author’s Iran Nuclear Glossary, cowritten with Olli Heinonen.)
Centrifuges. These encased, vertically mounted devices spin at around 1,000 revolutions per second, separating the U-238 from the U-235 by using the minute weight difference between the two atoms. The process is slow and involves different groupings of centrifuges, known as cascades. Typically, a 5,000-machine centrifuge plant would produce a bomb’s worth of U-235 every six to eight weeks. Iran still relies on the basic IR-1 centrifuge model for lower levels of enrichment, but uses more advanced centrifuges for higher levels. These advanced centrifuges appear to be Iranian developments of Pakistan’s advanced centrifuges, although there are design differences.
Breakout time. Faster, advanced centrifuges shorten the time it takes to make bomb-grade uranium, which is why their use in production was prohibited under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is known. Iran’s use of these centrifuges is a worrying development. A further concern is that a country like North Korea could gift enriched uranium to Iran, effectively jump-starting its nuclear status. This happened in 1981, when China gave Pakistan 50 kilograms of 93 percent–enriched uranium, enough for two nuclear devices. China also supplied a weapon design to Pakistan.
Significant quantity. This is defined as the amount of 90 percent U-235 needed to create a nuclear explosion. (Making a deliverable nuclear bomb is more complicated.) A typical nuclear explosion requires a sphere of U-235 about the size of a grapefruit, which would weigh about 25 kilograms. The sphere is squeezed by an outer sphere of conventional high explosive into the size of a small orange. At this point, an uncontrollable chain reaction is started, aka a nuclear explosion.
Nuclear weapon design. So far, the IAEA has not discovered that Iran is converting on any large scale its enriched gaseous uranium into uranium metal, a necessary prerequisite for making a device. But the Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, who died in 2021, gave Libya plans for molding uranium metal into hemispheres, so Iran should also be assumed to have the knowledge. In addition, Pakistan gave Iran no fewer than three different designs for nuclear weapons, although the multi-page documents may not have been complete.
A nuclear weapon design – Iran is known to have received at least three different plans for nuclear weapons from Pakistan (Image Wikimedia Commons)
Making a bomb deliverable. Experts commonly assume that Iran would use a missile to deliver a nuclear weapon, which means the device must be sufficiently compact to fit inside a warhead, as well as be designed to withstand the temperatures and forces encountered on reentry into the atmosphere. But the first Pakistani bomb, ready by the mid-1980s, was designed to be carried by a U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter, for which the design can be simpler.
Three sites. The IAEA is pressing Iran hard to explain what happened at three sites apparently connected with its nuclear program where scientific sampling has found evidence of uranium on equipment possibly coming from Pakistan. So far, the IAEA has been unsatisfied by Iran’s explanations.
Western officials often say that although Iran is achieving a worrying level of enrichment, it still has more work to do on designing a functioning weapon and a missile delivery system. A two-year time horizon is mentioned. Like Iran’s denials of even having a nuclear weapons program or the desire for one, such comments may contain an element of bluff.
For Washington, the challenge involves balancing concerns of allies on whether Iran is best dealt with by diplomacy or military action, or anonymous acts of sabotage. But in simple terms, Iran may have already reached the nuclear status that some fear.
Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at The Washington Institute.