The latest IAEA reports on Iran
Jun 12, 2020 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released two quarterly reports (only one of which is public) on Iran’s nuclear program that were highly critical of Teheran both for its continued violations of agreed limitations on uranium enrichment and for refusing the IAEA access to two nuclear sites that the agency wants to inspect.
AIJAC has published a detailed factsheet discussing what exactly the IAEA reports say, and some of the implications, but this Update offers some expert opinion and commentary on the political conclusions that can and should be drawn based on these latest IAEA findings.
We lead with a report quoting some experts who took part in a recent conference call on the new IAEA reports. Former weapons inspector and physicist David Albright says these latest reports amount to the IAEA telling the world that there is a “huge problem here”. Meanwhile, another expert, Richard Goldberg, predicts that these reports will have to play a role in an upcoming debate at the UN Security Council about extending the UN arms embargo on Iran, which is currently set to end in October. For more details of their analysis of the IAEA findings, CLICK HERE.
Next up is an editorial from the Wall Street Journal which points out that these latest IAEA findings actually mean that Iran never fully complied with its obligations to come clean on past nuclear work before the JCPOA nuclear deal came into effect in early 2016. The two sites the IAEA wants to inspect are sites where there was alleged past nuclear work which was never declared, the paper notes. It also points out that this evidence of past and ongoing Iranian misbehaviour means it would be foolish to throw away the leverage achieved through the US Trump Administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Teheran over the last few years, regardless of who wins the US election. For the paper’s complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Bob Fefferman, who works for the non-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran, offers more detailed analysis of where the latest IAEA data leaves our understanding of the current state of the Iranian nuclear program. Fefferman warns that the latest information from the IAEA strongly suggests that the world cannot afford to neglect the Iranian nuclear issue despite the current focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and other important issues. He also offers a very useful history of Iran’s nuclear program and what the world has known about it over the past decade. For his full discussion, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- More analysis of the latest IAEA reports from experts at the Institute for Science and International Security – here and here.
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Iran experts react to IAEA: ‘It’s time for the world to get involved’
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) held a conference call, hosting four prominent experts to analyze the recent report filed by the UN Agency.
By OMRI NAHMIAS
Jerusalem Post, JUNE 9, 2020 17:05
A volunteer from Basij forces wearing a protective suit and face mask sprays disinfectant as he sanitizes a bus station, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fears, in Tehran, Iran (photo credit: WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The International Atomic Energy Agency sounded an alarm regarding Iran’s behavior, signaling the world that it’s time to get involved, Washington-based experts said on Monday.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) held a conference call, hosting four prominent experts to analyze the recent report filed by the UN agency.In a report to member states on Friday, the IAEA expressed “serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied access to the Agency… to two locations.”
The UN agency posited that those sites may have been used for storing or processing nuclear material, and that one may have been used for converting uranium ore, including fluorination, in 2003.
The IAEA also warned that Iran has stockpiled more than five times as much enriched uranium as permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal with the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US, which has since withdrawn from it. The agreement limited Iran to 300 kg. of enriched uranium, but it had 1,571.6 kg. as of May 20.
Iran also surpassed the deal’s enrichment limit of 3.67%, with the highest level currently reaching 4.5%. Experts say 90% is necessary for a nuclear weapon.Of their stockpile, 483 kg. of the uranium is only enriched to 2% or less, making it useless. As such, the Institute for Science and International Security says Iran does not have enough low enriched uranium for a second significant quantity of enriched uranium.
In recent months, the IAEA chartered planes to visit Iranian nuclear sites because of the lack of available commercial flights during the coronavirus pandemic.“
The IAEA’s clearly decided to sound an alarm that Iran is not allowing access to two sites to see if there’s a presence of ‘undeclared uranium’ or ‘undeclared nuclear-related activities,’” said David Albright, a physicist and the founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.“What you have is the IAEA pretty much telling the world that there is a huge problem here, and that it’s time for the world to get involved, to try to solve this problem,” he added. Albright noted that the IAEA said that Iran had no willingness to engage in questioning with regard to potential undeclared activities for almost a year.“
We’re finding that Iran has accumulated so much low enriched uranium… it’s enough material in order so that you can shorten the breakout times quite dramatically,” he continued. “It’s kind of a threshold amount of low enriched uranium where you can get the breakout timelines down to as low as three months, in some cases.”
Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the FDD, who previously served as the director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Security Council, estimated that these reports would play a role in the upcoming diplomatic efforts at the United Nations Security Council to extend the arms embargo on Iran.“I think they absolutely will play a role,” he said. “They’re very significant, both reports, in terms of the snapback track.”
“I think importantly, not only does the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]-related reports on compliance obviously heed the evidence for the case for snapback,” Goldberg added. “Under the Security Council resolution you have to demonstrate that Iran is in significant non-performance of its commitments, that’s rather obvious from the JCPOA report that’s coming out now, and that evidence only continues to be stronger, but I think it also addresses some of the concerns of those based on Iranian threats of what they would do in response to a snapback.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
Editorial: Iran’s Pre-Deal Deceptions
Tehran denies U.N. inspectors access to two nuclear sites.
Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2020
The Islamic Republic long has been deceitful about its nuclear ambitions, but for years the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has given the regime cover in public. Maybe not anymore.
“The Agency notes with serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied access to” two sites in the country, says an IAEA report sent to member states Friday and shown to the press. It adds that for nearly a year the Islamic Republic has failed to clarify “questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.”
The IAEA is particularly concerned about the location of an undeclared metal disk made of uranium and the use of other undisclosed nuclear material for research in the early 2000s. The report notes Tehran’s habit of scrubbing or destroying facilities.
The foundation of Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal was ostensibly an honest accounting of Iran’s nuclear misdeeds. Yet the report, and Tehran’s intransigence, make clear the country has been hiding nuclear facilities and material. The evidence raises anew the suspicion that the regime’s plan was to reap the accord’s economic rewards, then—assisted by hidden materials and research—move to produce a weapon once the deal’s restrictions expire.
A separate IAEA report sent Friday noted that Iran had increased its uranium stockpile, though the government has stopped short of weapons-grade enrichment. On June 1 Tehran also told the agency it was now preparing new centrifuges at the Natanz facility, after it began injecting uranium gas into Fordow’s centrifuges last year.
Critics of President Trump’s “maximum-pressure” sanctions say the violations prove the strategy has failed. But this is an expected response to increased economic pressure. Tehran’s escalations are calculated to scare other signatories without pushing them out of the 2015 deal. Mr. Trump has generated significant new leverage to renegotiate a new nuclear accord that also addresses the regime’s regional activity and missile program.
But it’s unlikely Iran will act before the 2020 U.S. presidential election. It’s no secret Tehran wants Mr. Trump to lose. Iranian hackers have targeted the President’s re-election campaign, according to Google and Microsoft. And Joe Biden has said he would re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal before pursuing a new agreement.
No matter who wins, it would be unwise to throw away the new leverage built by maximum pressure. And it would be downright foolish to ease sanctions on Iran amid its IAEA dispute. The nuclear watchdog’s frank report should startle both candidates. There’s no way to negotiate a new deal, or return to the old one, without a real accounting of the country’s nuclear materials and research.
Don’t Ignore Iran’s Nuclear Program
With the world’s attention focused on Coronavirus, there is another crisis developing that deserves immediate attention. Iran’s nuclear program is once again progressing toward a danger point called “breakout”, the time it would take a nation to develop enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon. And once again, Iran is shrinking its nuclear breakout timeline. Ignoring this threat is an invitation to disaster.
Although a nuclear weapons program can seem complicated, there are some fundamental concepts that make the discussion accessible for those of us who are not nuclear physicists.
Ten years ago, David Ibsen, the Executive Director of the non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), gave a talk in which he provided a framework for understanding this very complex subject. His explanation is as relevant today as it was then.
Ibsen said, “In order to develop a nuclear weapons program, you need three things: fissile material that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction, the ability to weaponize that fissile material and a delivery system”.
Since the 1990s, Iran has been working on all three elements of its nuclear weapons program.
The main path that Iran chose to create fissile material for nuclear weapons was through the enrichment of uranium in the gas centrifuges seen in the picture above. The goal was to achieve “breakout” by producing enough highly enriched uranium – or weapons-grade uranium (WGU) – for nuclear weapons.
Developing weapons-grade uranium as fissile material for a nuclear weapon is a violation of Iran’s treaty obligations to the international community. Iran is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows nations to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. In return, Iran is required to declare all nuclear related activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In 2002, Iran was caught hiding the development of an uranium enrichment facility at a place called Natanz. As a result, in 2006 the U.N. Security Council issued the first of six resolutions that required Iran to cease all uranium enrichment activities. Yet, Iran continued to enrich uranium in total defiance of the international community.
Iran had always claimed that their nuclear program was for peaceful purposes. In 2018, that claim was proven to be a total lie.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposes the files smuggled out of Iran in January 2018 which detail the Islamic Republic’s illicit military nuclear program at a media conference on April 30, 2018. (Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.)
In January 2018, a daring operation by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, confiscated Iran’s nuclear archives hidden in a warehouse in the heart of Tehran. The content of these archives proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that in spite of years of denial, Iran never had peaceful intentions for its nuclear program.
Iran had clearly created a program that included all the elements needed for nuclear weapons: the production of fissile material in the form of highly enriched uranium, the ability to weaponize that highly enriched uranium, and a delivery system in the form of long-range ballistic missiles that Iran continues to develop to this day.
In a 2019 article in The Hill that assessed the implications of the Iran nuclear archives, authors David Albright and Olli Heinonen wrote, “The documents show that Iran’s atomic ambitions were much further along than previously known. Most worrisome, breakout time for a missile-deliverable nuclear warhead was much shorter than U.S. officials thought likely”.
It is important to note the expertise and credibility of the two authors of this article. David Albright is a physicist and founder and President of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Olli Heinonen is former deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In order to understand where we are today in regard to Iran’s breakout capacity, it’s helpful to look at a brief history of Iran’s nuclear program over the past decade.
By 2010, it became obvious that the U.N Security Council Resolutions that called on Iran to cease all uranium enrichment activities were ineffective. Stronger economic sanctions were needed. At that point, the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration enacted powerful bi-partisan economic sanctions legislation.
The key to the effectiveness of these new sanctions was not only a prohibition on U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, but the implementation of “Secondary Sanctions”. This innovative method of economic sanctions forced non-U.S. companies to choose between doing business in Iran or business in the United States. Later, the European Union joined the United States by imposing its own economic sanction on Iran.
In addition, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) worked to promote the economic isolation of Iran by highlighting the international companies doing business in Iran and promoting divestment legislation in state governments across the U.S.
The combined impact all of these efforts helped to create the tremendous economic pressure that forced the Iranian leadership to come to the negotiating table to discuss the future of its nuclear program.
In 2013, negotiations began between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (the P-5 plus 1). The negotiations headed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry finally brought about the Iran nuclear deal of 2015, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
One accomplishment of the JCPOA was a limitation on Iran’s nuclear program specifically regarding the number and quality of centrifuges in use for the enrichment of uranium. The deal also limited the amount of enriched uranium that Iran could stockpile.
Those limitations reduced Iran’s breakout time to develop highly enriched uranium to about one year. Unfortunately, the limitations embedded in the JCPOA had an expiration date, a deadly flaw of the deal.
According to the JCPOA, between years 10 and 15 of the deal, the restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment activity would have been eliminated in what were commonly referred to as the “sunset clauses” of the deal.
After 15 years, Iran would have been free to build as many centrifuges as it wants and enrich as much uranium as it wants, including at higher levels of purity closer to weapons-grade uranium.
Because of the sunset clauses in the JCPOA, by 2030 Iran’s breakout capacity could have shrunk from one year back to a period of days.
Despite the smiles when it was announced in 2015, the JCPOA nuclear deal contained sunset clauses which could shrink Iran’s nuclear “breakout time” to just a few days by 2030
After 2030, Iran’s uranium enrichment program could have become so large and advanced that if Iran decided to achieve breakout and build nuclear weapons, no amount of international inspectors would be able to detect and provide adequate warning to prevent that from happening.
These and other problems with the JCPOA were among the key factors that convinced the Trump administration to leave the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.
The Trump administration was also concerned with issues not covered by the JCPOA including Iran’s ongoing support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s support for the brutal Syrian regime, and its continuing development of ballistic missiles.
So where are we today in regard to Iran’s breakout capacity?
After leaving the JCPOA, the Trump administration renewed economic sanctions in order to force Iran to renegotiate the nuclear deal and address its flaws. The renewal of U.S. economic sanctions- combined with the impact of Coronavirus- is definitely taking a heavy toll on Iran’s economy.
In the meantime, Iran has begun to intentionally violate the terms of the JCPOA and enrich uranium at levels far beyond the limitations of the nuclear deal. According to a report published on April 21st by the Institute for Science and International Security headed by David Albright, Iran’s breakout timeline had shrunk to 3.8 months.
On June 8th, the institute issued a new report that says, “Breakout timelines decreased slightly from the last reporting period to an average of 3.5 months, with a minimum of at least 3.1 months. These values reflect greater certainty that Iran possesses sufficient enriched uranium to make enough weapons-grade uranium (WGU) for a nuclear weapon”.
It is time for the international community to refocus attention on Iran’s uranium enrichment program and demand that Iran return to the negotiating table. For its part, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) has outlined the flaws of the Iran nuclear deal that could be fixed through renewed negotiations.
The demands on Iran are not extreme by any measure. As U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo has said on many occasions, “We want Iran to simply behave like a normal nation”.
Ignoring the potential dangers from Iran, while its leaders threaten the destruction of Israel and it continues to sponsor terrorism, is an invitation to disaster. Iran needs to know that the world is ready to join the United States in re-imposing broad economic sanctions that will prevent Iran from achieving breakout and the development of nuclear weapons.
Bob Feferman is Outreach Coordinator for United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group that seeks to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons.