International Security Studies
Iran's Nuclear Program and the IAEA: An Assessment of the Record
This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's International Security Studies and Middle East Program and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.
Michael Adler gave an assessment of the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection of Iran's nuclear program. The IAEA, based in Vienna, is the verification arm of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Adler said there is concern about what role the IAEA will have going forward in the thorny Iranian nuclear crisis. The IAEA's investigation of Iran's nuclear program is stalled. Despite all the issues that have been clarified over the past six years, there are many remaining questions, the most significant of which is the possible military dimensions of Iran's program. The IAEA and the Iranians have had no significant contacts since 2008. The Iranians dismiss the documents in IAEA possession – "alleged studies" on weapons work, including with missiles – as forgeries.
Rejecting Tehran's claim that Iran is solely interested in civil nuclear energy, Washington regards Iran's nuclear activities as a clandestine weapons program that is a threat to the Middle East and to the non-proliferation regime in general. The IAEA has issued 25 reports on Iran as it documents and seeks to have corrected failures by Iran to report nuclear work. Iran is required to make such reports under its NPT Safeguards Agreement. Adler said the IAEA has done well considering its limited mandate, and that it will remain a key player in the future.
The current stalemate, a continuation of the frustrating delays that have marked the IAEA's effort since 2003, does not call into question the essential role of the UN nuclear watchdog, Adler said. Despite the past disputes with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, US officials regard the IAEA remains the world's "eyes and ears." As one official put it, "The window we have into Iran's nuclear program is based on IAEA inspections. You can't replace the eyewitness assessment of experts who are actually in the facility."
Adler backed calls from ElBaradei and a host of experts for the agency's verification powers to be strengthened. As of now, IAEA safeguards guarantee that nuclear material is not diverted for military purposes. This limits an investigation, since there is often no nuclear material present when making centrifuges, for example, or when doing weaponization work. The Additional Protocol to the Safeguards Agreements is designed to remedy this problem. The protocol though should not be "additional" but a no-questions-asked part of safeguards. Current deficiencies in the safeguard regime point to the need for broader, more effective measures.