Iran nuclear deal takes another step forward

I kind of let this slip through the cracks (because, hey, it’s just me around here), but the Iran deal took another step toward full implementation in the past couple of weeks, when the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its “Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme.” As the title says, this IAEA report is meant to be the last word on the “past military dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear activities, prior to the adoption of the interim Joint Plan of Action in November 2014. Now the report is in the hands of the IAEA’s Board of Governors, who are supposed to vote on Tuesday either to close the books on the issue of Iran’s past nuclear program or to demand additional investigation. That vote will determine whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action proceeds to the implementation stage early next year or…at some other time, maybe never.

While the IAEA report did conclude that Iran had a nuclear weapons program at one time, its findings comport so closely to what Western intelligence services already knew that it’s highly unlikely that the Board of Governors will vote to delay the JCPOA’s implementation on Tuesday. The IAEA found that Iran had an active weapons program until 2003, and that it continued research on dual-use technologies through 2009–though Tehran continues to insist that those dual-use technologies were not intended for a nuclear weapons program, and the agency continues to dispute that claim. It did not, however, find any evidence that the program ever got past the theoretical/basic research stage. Iranians never diverted enriched uranium from their civilian nuclear program toward military uses, for example which could have been a problem from the standpoint of moving forward with the JCPOA. Crucially, the IAEA seems not to have found any new evidence to support some of its most provocative past accusations about Iran’s nuclear program, like alleged testing at Parchin. Iran, as it will, declared that the IAEA report vindicated their contention that their nuclear program “was peaceful,” even though it, you know, didn’t.

This was a pretty anticlimactic outcome, which is part of the reason why I haven’t written about it yet–I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write, as this post amply proves. Basically the report doesn’t tell us anything that the US wasn’t already claiming about Iran’s nuclear program, and on the points where the IAEA and Iran couldn’t come to some resolution in their disagreements, the IAEA simply opted to note the disagreement and move on. People who support the nuclear deal have no reason to question their support over this report, but people who oppose the nuclear deal also have no reason to modify their opposition.

Ultimately this is little more than a box that needed to be checked in order for the JCPOA to move forward. Former Obama nonproliferation guru Robert Einhorn wrote a couple of days before the report was made public that an inconclusive finding was no reason for the IAEA Board of Governors to derail the deal. Instead, a board resolution that closes the PMD issue, while acknowledging that questions still remain and could be reopened at some point, ought to be enough to satisfy the Iranians and the US. And, Einhorn writes, enough is already known about Iran’s past nuclear work, and the future inspections regime is stringent enough (especially when coupled with the continued monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program by Western intelligence agencies), that from a practical standpoint it doesn’t matter if Iran ever fully comes clean (assuming there’s anything to “come clean” about).

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