Iran's Nuclear Program
November 9, 2011
On November 8, 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on Iran written for the upcoming Board of Governors meeting in late November in Vienna, Austria. This report (GOV/2011/65, available at http://www.isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/IAEA_Iran_8Nov2011.pdf ) contains a 12-page annex on the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Q1: Is there much new in this report?
A1: These reports provide quarterly updates on Iran’s activities and the information Iran provides to the IAEA in the course of inspections. This time, there is more detail about certain activities Iran is alleged to have undertaken, but the scope of activities related to weaponization is essentially the same. In the past, Iran has refused to provide information and, in some cases, claimed that evidence was fabricated. Therefore, the level of detail that the IAEA is able to provide is very important for the credibility of the allegations. The IAEA has clearly done its own analysis and investigation.
Q2: What are the next steps?
A2: In two weeks, the IAEA Board of Governors will consider the report and possibly a resolution in response. Whether or not this gets referred once more to the UN Security Council is unclear. Russian officials have criticized the report as unhelpful to diplomatic efforts to engage Iran and have said they oppose a round of new UN sanctions. This does not mean the West is without options, however, and certainly measures by “like-minded” states are possible.
Q3: How close is Iran to having nuclear weapons?
A3: The public debate is full of estimates of how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear weapon, given certain assumptions. Such estimates draw attention away from the larger question of whether Iran is meeting its international obligations. The answer is clearly no. The pattern of undeclared activities and incomplete information has continued for years while Iran continues to enrich uranium in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. As long as enrichment continues, the stockpile of material that could be useful for a nuclear arsenal grows. Iran has an obligation to answer questions that the IAEA has raised in this latest report, and until it does so, the IAEA will be unable to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
Sharon Squassoni is a senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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