Next month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to address one of the most important elements of the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal: Iran’s possible past nuclear weapons work, which the IAEA refers to as the “possible military dimensions” or the PMD of Iran’s nuclear program.
Although Obama officials had said Iran’s full cooperation with the PMD investigation was a prerequisite for the lifting of sanctions, this is no longer the case.
Resolving the PMD issue is important because this information is necessary to set a baseline for verifying the nuclear agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry made this clear in a July 24, 2015 speech when he said: “PMD has to be resolved before they get one ounce of sanctions relief. Now that could take six months, it could take a year. I don’t know how long. But the IAEA has to certify that all of that has been done and we have received our one-year breakout before they get a dime.”
Although Iran complied with an Oct. 15, 2015, deadline to reply to the IAEA’s PMD investigation questions, IAEA Director Genera Yukiya Amano indicated in a Nov. 26 speech that Iran did not adequately answer all outstanding questions about possible past nuclear weapons-related work.
Amano said: “As my latest report on safeguards implementation in Iran shows, the agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. But we are not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
Amano also told reporters that his PMD report, which will be issued on Dec. 1, “won’t be black and white” and described it as a jigsaw puzzle for which the IAEA has gathered “pieces.”
Amano’s comments weren’t surprising since his agency was trying to investigate a complex set of PMD-related issues in 11 areas in just a few months that Iran has refused to answer for years.
Moreover, the reliability of the IAEA’s investigation also has been called into question since it partly relied on Iranians collecting samples on possible nuclear weapons-related work for the IAEA under secret agreements between the IAEA and Iran.
Based on statements made by U.S. official a few months ago, an inconclusive IAEA PMD report should prevent the lifting of sanctions against Iran until it provides answers to outstanding PMD questions. However, in October the Obama administration began to downplay the significance of the PMD investigation.
An unnamed senior U.S. official said during a State Department briefing on Oct. 17, 2015 that Iran only had to perform a series of procedural steps to demonstrate its cooperation with the PMD investigation.
The official said that the quality of the data Iran provides to the IAEA was not important because “the U.S. government has already made its assessment on Iran’s past [nuclear] programs.”
This official also said the PMD investigation is not part of the nuclear agreement text and thus has no bearing on whether sanctions against Iran will be lifted.
What this means, one — that Obama administration officials have backtracked on the statements they made before Congress voted on the nuclear deal that Iran would be required to conclusively answer questions about its past nuclear weapons-related work, and two — the Obama administration is prepared to ignore an inconclusive or negative IAEA report on the PMD issue.
Iran’s position on the PMD investigation is that it will cease implementing the nuclear agreement unless the IAEA closes the book on all PMD questions in its December report.
Although it appears the IAEA will not do this, the Obama administration is certain to do so and will probably convince the UK, France, and Germany to do the same. As a result, I believe Iran will probably treat West’s reaction to the IAEA PMD report as closing the book on this issue regardless of what the report says.
Dropping the PMD issue makes the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran even more so because Tehran will not be required to tell the IAEA the types and locations of its nuclear weapons-related activities.
The likely dropping of the PMD question also bodes poorly for an objective evaluation of the requirements for Iran to reach the nuclear deal’s “implementation day” — when most sanctions against Iran will be lifted after the IAEA certifies that Tehran has met certain requirements to cut back its nuclear program.
Iran wants implementation day to occur by the end of December; most Western experts do not expect this to happen before February and possibly later next year.
The Obama administration’s reversal on the PMD issue probably means it will not let any failure by Iran to meet implementation day requirements get in the way of lifting sanctions regardless of what the IAEA says.
It also is the latest indication that Obama officials will not let anything get in the way of President Obama’s legacy nuclear deal with Iran.
Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst, followed the Iranian nuclear program for the CIA, State Department, and House Intelligence Committee. He is senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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