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Will Iran Ever Address Key Issues?

The IAEA Report on Iran

New report shows Iran is willing to explain many lingering issues, but not the most sensitive ones relating to alleged weapons-related activities.


The Institute for Science and International Security has obtained a copy of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s report on Iran.

The report makes it clear that Iran has no intention of addressing the most sensitive of the outstanding questions, namely those that are most closely associated with a nuclear weapons development program. Iran continues to insist that it never had any such program, and considers allegations to this effect to be entirely baseless and not worth addressing. If that’s the case, then ElBaradei’s transparency process has exhausted itself and it is time for a third UNSC sanctions resolution coupled with a real multilateral negotiation process.

The report does not give Iran a clean bill of health, but it does say that Iran has addressed certain issues to the IAEA’s satisfaction. In the past six weeks, Iran has suddenly come up with a raft of documents, reports, and other physical evidence in support of its claim that the polonium-210 experiments, the Gchine uranium mine, uranium particle contamination at a technical university, and suspicious procurement activities by the former head of Iran’s Physics Research Center are all civilian in nature. The IAEA now considers these matters closed, but Iran’s sudden change of heart really stinks: why has it waited so long to address these activities and put up with so much grief if it possessed such a convenient array of exculpatory documents? I wonder…

Iran continues to refuse to address evidence of activities that have a much more clear-cut weapons purpose, such as the green salt project, high explosive testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle. The IAEA report says much of the evidence comes from an unnamed “Member State,” probably the United States. Iran asserts that the evidence is fabricated and, according to the report, has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of entertaining these matters any further.

There is a clear pattern here. For activities that have a colorable civilian rationale, Iran is suddenly happy to offer one. Since the IAEA is not in the business of second-guessing the sincerity of its member states in the absence of a technical rationale, it must accept these explanations unless and until new data comes along that calls the original rationale into question. And for activities that only have a weapons purpose, Iran plays the “How can you trust the Americans?’ card and simply refuses to engage.

It is hard to see what happens next in this process. There are a few lingering issues that the report suggests could resolved, such as the uranium metal document (the report says that Pakistan is the roadblock). But on the most sensitive issues relating to alleged weapons-related activities, this report makes it clear that Iran has no interest in addressing them.

So what next? The UNSC should enact the third sanctions resolution, but this won’t be enough to induce a change of behavior in Iran. I can’t imagine Iran ever coming fully clean—or adopting the kinds of transparency measures needed to verify the peaceful nature of its program, such as the IAEA Additional Protocol—unless it is given a face-saving way out of this mess. Such a pathway cannot emerge until the United States gets serious about meaningful multilateral diplomacy with Iran that includes credible incentives to accompany the sanctions.

For more information on the Center for American Progress’ Iran policies, see"

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