The International Atomic Energy Agency was under pressure to adopt a resolution censuring Iran’s regime over its escalating threat of nuclear weapons development. Still, Britain, France, and Germany decided Thursday not to present a resolution censuring Iran.
At a press conference on Thursday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said Iran had agreed to sit down for what he described as “a focused and systematic effort” to clarify a series of so-called safeguards issues the IAEA has been asking Iran about for the last two years.
On February 23, the IAEA put out its latest report on the Iranian nuclear program and the nuclear deal status, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Included was the agency’s first official reference to the presence of nuclear material at two additional sites that had come under suspicion despite having not been disclosed by the Iranian regime. The new sites were referenced alongside another that had previously been subject to IAEA inspections that yielded evidence of similar particles but no answers from the Iranian regime.
The ongoing lack of transparency about the Parchin site had already indicated that the Iranian regime was never upfront about its nuclear program’s aims and should not have been viewed as a legitimate negotiating partner in the run-up to the signing of the JCPOA. The new revelations about two other sites add to that and have sparked renewed calls for change in Western powers’ collective approach to dealing with the Iranian regime and attempting to constrain or dismantle its nuclear program.
This was the message of a press conference held virtually on Tuesday by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has also been among the most consistent and revelatory sources of information about the Iranian regime’s clandestine activities. In that conference, NCRI presented additional details about one of the two sites identified in the previous month’s IAEA report, a facility in Abadeh, Fars Province, that had reportedly been the site of explosives testing dating back at least to 2003.
NCRI identified the Abadeh site as having been run by Dr. Saeed Borji, “one of the most prominent explosives and impact experts and a senior member of the regime’s nuclear weapons program,” working within the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, or SPND, as abbreviated in Farsi. In countless prior press conferences and written reports, NCRI officials have identified SPND as the primary institution working toward the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear development activities.
Those NCRI disclosures go a long way toward undermining the Iranian regime’s claims of maintaining a nuclear program solely for the purposes of generating energy and conducting peaceful scientific research. But those claims were also weakened by simple common sense. As Iran sits on the world’s fourth-largest petroleum reserves and second-largest reserves of natural gas, there is simply no need for it to prioritize another form of energy, least of all in the face of the price tag that Iran’s nuclear program has carried so far.
Furthermore, the regime’s claims about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program naturally raise questions about why it has felt the need to hide so many aspects of that program over the years. Those questions have arguably become much more urgent in the face of the new revelations about Abadeh and other suspicious sites whose very existence the regime attempted to cover up. Tuesday’s press conference noted Abadeh, “The process used to sanitize this site is very similar to the process implemented in Shian-Lavizan in 2004 as well as part of the Parchin site in 2012.”
In each case, the sanitization efforts were reportedly lead by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after it became aware of the fact that the site’s role in the nuclear program had been exposed. Also, in each case, that exposure was largely attributed to the NCRI and its main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), which maintains a sprawling intelligence network in the Islamic Republic and draws upon human assets inside of various regime institutions.
The IAEA’s February report makes it clear that this sanitization was ultimately unsuccessful, just as it had been at Shian-Lavizan and Parchin. Nevertheless, the stalling tactics in between destruction and inspection placed the nuclear monitoring agency at a serious disadvantage with respect to the goal of identifying specific details of the work that had gone on there. The significance of this loss was underscored by NCRI’s description of nuclear-related activities at Abadeh dating back to the 1990s, years before the Iranian nuclear program’s existence was formally acknowledged to the world.
That most basic revelation came about in 2002, and only after the NCRI had revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak, the latter being the potential source of a plutonium pathway to Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. It was not until 14 years later that that pathway was meant to be closed off with the implementation of the JCPOA. Meanwhile, the more familiar uranium pathway ended up remaining open, albeit ostensibly narrowed, with Iran being held to certain limits on the size of its stockpiles and the level of fissile purity that facilities like Natanz were permitted to pursue.
The limited extent of these restrictions quickly made the JCPOA subject to criticism from Western policymakers who remained skeptical of Iran’s intentions, as well as from the NCRI, which had insisted from the beginning that the regime could not be trusted to abide by any restrictions that were imposed alongside the gift of sanctions relief.
Immediately in the wake of that deal’s signing, NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi issued a statement condemning the conciliatory the negotiating parties’ approach and saying, “Had the P5+1 been more decisive, the Iranian regime would have had no choice but to fully retreat from and permanently abandon its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Specifically, it would have been compelled to halt all uranium enrichment and completely shut down its bomb-making projects.”
More than five years later, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that what has happened instead is that the regime adopted superficial compliance with key provisions early in the life of the agreement but continued to accelerate its activity in other areas of research and development, and even carried on with banned activities at undisclosed locations like Abadeh. Once the regime began openly violating the provisions of the JCPOA in response to the withdrawal of U.S. participation, Iranian officials even began to acknowledge amongst themselves that they had never been committed to upholding the agreement in the first place.
Toward that end, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, boasted to Iranian state media in January 2019 about having feigned compliance with a provision demanding that the core of the Arak heavy water plant be deactivated and filled with cement. Salehi described a series of tubes leading to the core, through which the cement was to be poured, and he noted that the regime secretly obtained identical tubes, poured the cement without affecting the facility’s core, and used Photoshopped images to convince the IAEA that the conversion process had been completed as promised.
Months later, Salehi began commenting upon further deceptions related to the uranium pathway. While still claiming that enrichment activities had initially been wound down at Natanz and other facilities, the AEOI director stated that the regime had put “countermeasures” into place in order to facilitate the rapid return to pre-JCPOA enrichment levels and stockpiles. Though he was vague about the details of those countermeasures, their result was already on display by the time he commented upon them in November 2019. The regime was then on the cusp of its fifth and final step toward total abandonment of even superficial compliance with the JCPOA, and its prior steps had surprised many supporters of the agreement by revealing how quickly Tehran was able to renege on its commitments.
This is only further proof that those commitments had never been serious, and that the regime had been continuing to make subtle progress toward nuclear weapons capability all along.
Tehran has never abandoned the pursuit of nuclear weapons because nuclear weapons are part and parcel of the mullahs’ strategy for survival.
The regime’s behavior is supported by more than 100 revelations the NCRI has made since the early 1990s regarding Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities and its refusal to abandon those activities even in the face of overwhelming international pressure. The NCRI and many other experts reject any notion that the JCPOA is an exception to this trend. Instead, they argue that Tehran’s decision to sign onto the agreement was motivated solely by the goal of securing relief from sanctions while making the fewest concessions possible.
The regime has never abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. It will never abound it, so “giving a chance to diplomacy” gives more time to the regime to pursue its program because, as past activities have proven, the world cannot trust the regime. Triggering the “snapback” mechanism in the U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and return of all the U.N. sanctions is the only language the regime understands. Those sanctions compelled the regime to come to the negotiating table in the first place, not concessions and sanction relief.