Numerous outlets including the Wall Street Journal have reported that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano admitted that the agency’s report on the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program would not provide “black and white conclusions.” More specifically, he noted that the recently-completed probe did not allow for the agency to credibly certify the absence of undeclared Iranian nuclear materials and activities.
Indeed, some have specifically accused Iran of running a nuclear program that goes well beyond the limits of its publicly acknowledged activities. Last summer, the National Council of Resistance of Iran claimed to have discovered evidence of an undisclosed nuclear enrichment site known as Lavizan-3. Such reports raise the possibility of nuclear research and development that previously took place parallel to declared activities and may continue to make progress even as the IAEA is granted expanded access to the declared sites that were specifically identified in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Amano’s remarks seem to underscore this possibility while also implicitly acknowledging that Iran’s compliance with the probe into possible military dimensions was limited. The Wall Street Journal made this accusation more explicit, noting that certain experts have undermined the Obama administration’s insistence that Iran willingly opened its nuclear program to international scrutiny. Those experts claim that while Iran was technically compliant, it repeatedly delayed its responses and provided only the minimum information necessary to allow the IAEA to complete a report.
It is easy to imagine that a probe with such apparently limited scope would result in a report that leaves some questions open. However, the final determination on that point is still more than two weeks away. The Journal reports that the IAEA’s report on past military dimensions is expected to be circulated among UN officials on December 1 but will only be discussed by the IAEA’s board of governors on December 15.
If the outcome of that report falls anywhere short of permanent closure of the file on Iran’s past nuclear work, it will almost certainly raise the ire of leading Iranian officials. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in all Iranian matters of policy, has repeatedly stated that Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA is contingent upon the finality of the IAEA report. And on Friday, HNGN reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi had once again reiterated this point, saying that the investigation into past military dimensions must end before Iran completes the alternations to its nuclear program that were agreed upon under the July 14 deal.
Araqchi indicated that the persistence of public uncertainty about the nature of the Iranian nuclear program would be considered sufficient grounds for canceling the deal on Iran’s side. However, the Wall Street Journal claims that Amano’s comments are unlikely to be enough to scuttle the agreement altogether, although they may very well slow its implementation.
This will only add to existing uncertainties about the timeframe of the agreement, which has been complicated by widely divergent estimates from Iranian officials and Western experts, as well as by the restrictions imposed on implementation by Khamenei and his associates. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has continually asserted that Iranian measures under the JCPOA could be completed by the end of the year, allowing for the removal of economic sanctions soon thereafter.
Interestingly, Araqchi has supported this timeframe in spite of also supporting Khamenei’s decision to not move forward on reconfiguring the Arak heavy water plant or shrinking Iran’s existing stockpiles of low-enriched uranium until after the IAEA report has been presented and discussed. This appears to indicate that Araqchi supports a plan in which Iran will complete virtually all of its implementation measures inside of two weeks.
As pointed out in an article in the Deccan Herald on Friday, this is slightly at odds with some experts who foresee a mid-January start date for full implementation. But it is dramatically at odds with those experts who believe it will take Iran four and a half months to finish dismantling 14,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges without damaging those that have recently been in operation.
While the IAEA has certified that Iran has already removed about a third of this number, the focus has thus far been on centrifuges that were already idle. This means both that the work that remains to be done, ostensibly by January, is much more sensitive, and also that the completed dismantling can be more easily reversed.
Yet none of this has prevented some Western officials and media personalities from saying, as the Herald said on Friday, that the deal is still “set to move forward.” And what’s more, Western plans for full implementation seem undaunted by the escalation in anti-Western rhetoric coming from leading voices in the Iranian regime. At times, this rhetoric has even directly addressed the Iranian nuclear program, potentially raising questions about the regime’s intentions and its likelihood of complying with the JCPOA over the long term.
The Times of Israel reported on Friday that Hassan Karimpour, an adviser to Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, had boasted that even after the nuclear agreement, Iran stood “closer than ever” to developing a nuclear weapon and that completing the process would be “easier than putting in a contact lens.”
The Times also notes that this comes about a month after former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani publicly acknowledged that the Iranian nuclear program had originally been conceived as leading to a nuclear bomb.
Karimpour also implied that Iran already has adequate delivery systems for such a weapon, as he used Iranian media to call attention to 14 automatic-launch, underground missile depots. Such moves closely parallel the Revolutionary Guards’ decision last month to broadcast images of concealed missile sites, in an apparent show of force in line with the recent surge of anti-Western rhetoric.