In other words, the IAEA reportedly feels confident that it was able to elicit enough data to produce a reasonably full account of Iran’s past activity, but this does not mean that Iran has admitted to any of the revealed wrongdoing. An editorial in The Inquirer pointed out, for instance, that Tehran maintained throughout the process that the long-suspect Parchin military base had never been used for nuclear-related work. The IAEA report was able to debunk those claims on the basis of environmental samples, even though the sampling process was criticized in the West for being carried out by Iranian scientists.
Looking at the report more generally, it confirms that Iran had maintained a coordinated nuclear weapons program at least until 2003, and continued to work on some elements of a nuclear weapon until 2009. The Inquirer quotes Robert Einhorn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as saying that “even without Iranian cooperation the inspectors were still able to reach damning conclusions” in their report.
Naturally, the facts of these conclusions and this lack of cooperation will allow criticism of the nuclear agreement to continue even past the closure of the file on possible military dimensions. And indeed that file appears to be on track to closure even in spite of the “damning conclusions.” The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the IAEA report was now under consideration in the UN, and that a vote to conclude the PMD issue would take place sometime next week.
Critics of recent Western policy toward Iran will no doubt conclude that a vote in favor of this closure would be motivated by an effort to preserve the nuclear agreement and associated trade agreements, even in spite of limited cooperation from Iran and outstanding evidence of Iranian wrongdoing. It may even be characterized as concession to demands and ultimatums from Tehran.
Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic has directed his subordinates over the past several weeks to limit or halt implementation of the nuclear agreement until such time as the PMD file is closed. Some officials insisted that the issue had already been concluded even before the IAEA officially released its report.
Under the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program will not be lifted until Iran completes a handful of essential alterations to its nuclear enrichment, processing, and stockpiles. Because the deal does not go into effect until Iran takes these steps, the Islamic Republic technically has the ability to draw out the process for as long as it wishes, although many analysts find that it is in the interest of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to conclude the issue sooner rather than later.
Toward this end, Rouhani and members of his cabinet have repeatedly declared that sanctions relief would go into effect very soon after the end of the year. This seems unrealistic in light of Western analysts’ assertions that Iran’s required measures would take between four and six months, from beginning to end. But with regard to at least some of these measures, Rouhani has received support for his timeframe from beyond his borders.
Reuters reported on Monday that Russia’s envoy to the IAEA had signified that Moscow would help Iran to reduce its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium in line with the agreement by the end of the year. This was always seen as a likely course of action for Iran, though it is not the only means of making such a reduction.
The envoy, Vladimir Voronkov, used this ostensible agreement to support the broader conclusion that the deal would be fully implemented by January, leading quickly thereafter to the removal of sanctions. Such commentary recalls attention to the broader cooperation and alliance between Iran and Russia, which has long been seen as a complicating factor in the nuclear agreement and in general efforts to contain the two traditionally anti-Western powers.
Sputnik News Agency reported on Tuesday that Moscow now expects the legal expansion of trade with Iran to lead to billions of dollars’ worth of exchanges of military equipment as the need for modernized armed forces drives strong Iranian interest in Russian weaponry. This was already demonstrated with the agreement to complete shipment of an advanced S-300 missile defense system from Russia to Iran, which had been delayed by international outcry prior to the nuclear negotiations.
Such modernization could provide Iran with more advanced components for a potential nuclear weapons delivery system. The IAEA report indicates that any such advancements would be in addition to those which Iran was able to develop on its own prior to 2009. In this context, a yes vote on the closure of the PMD file would likely reflect confidence in the international community’s ability to verify Iran’s long-term compliance with restrictions under the nuclear deal. The Inquirer claims that technological advancements in recent years have made it far more difficult for Iran to evade detection if it cheats.
But that nuclear deal lifts restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile arsenals after eight years, as well as allowing Iran to freely enrich nuclear material after the expiration of the deal. These provisions have led some critics to argue that Iran can eventually obtain a nuclear weapon simply by biding its time while making improvements on some components in the meantime.
These concerns are amplified by Tehran’s arguably combative gestures in broadcasting images of its existing missile stockpiles and test-firing some of its most advanced weapons. The International Business Times reported on Tuesday that one such test had been confirmed as taking place on November 21. The incident involved the Ghadr-110 missile, which is reportedly capable of a 1,200 mile range and is capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. It comes just over a month after a similar test which was widely described as a violation of existing UN resolutions.
Those resolutions remain in place until the nuclear agreement is fully implemented, meaning that latest test is also an apparent violation. Consequently, the US claims to be investigating the November 21 incident, according to Reuters. No formal complaints have been recorded yet, but Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN claims that the Security Council member states will be discussing the issue next week.
Former US Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton referred to ballistic missile tests among other “provocations” by Iran in a speech to the Brookings Institution on Sunday, according to Reuters. She state that Iran would “test our resolve,” but she also expressed tentative support for the implementation of the nuclear agreement, cautioning that the US’s policy should be to “distrust and verify.”