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New Head of Iran’s Nuclear Agency Shows Ongoing Commitment to Deceptive Strategies


By Alejo Vidal-Quadras 

On Sunday, Russian state news agency Sputnik published an interview with Mohammad Eslami, the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Eslami hit a number of extremely familiar points when commenting upon the status and the future of Iran’s nuclear program and the seven-party nuclear agreement that remains on life support pending negotiations in Vienna that are aimed at re-implementing it.

Those negotiations have been stalled since June when Ebrahim Raisi was “elected” as the new Iranian president. The overwhelming majority of Iranian citizens boycotted that election, but Raisi’s victory was orchestrated in advance by higher authorities.

Raisi’s promotions were widely recognized as part of a process whereby Khamenei has been consolidating power among a small set of ultra-loyal and ultra-hardline officials. As such, the Raisi administration is expected to preside over an upsurge in Iran’s malign activities, including its activities related to nuclear enrichment and the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons. The regime’s statements and actions over the past few months have largely justified these expectations, as have independent assessments such as the latest quarterly reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

When those reports were released in September, the IAEA estimated that Iran had increased its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium by more than one-third since May, from 62.8 kg to 84.3 kg. The reports also noted that at least 10 kg of uranium had been enriched to 60 percent, putting it only a very short technical step away from weapons-grade.


Sputnik directly asked Eslami about a series of disputes and in each case, Eslami rejected the relevant criticism as a product of Western conspiracies but offered no evidence to suggest that the allegations were false. In one case, Eslami was asked about the presence of nuclear material at three undisclosed sites that were the focus of one of the IAEA’s latest reports. He responded by calling the content of those reports “false news” and blaming them on outdated information furnished by exiled members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the leading Iranian opposition group.

“The IAEA, as an international body, should not fall for these tricks and become a puppet in the hands of this terrorist group”, he said. But regardless of the role the MEK played in bringing attention to the undisclosed sites in the first place, Eslami’s comments simply ignore the fact that it was Iranian authorities themselves who collected soil samples of those sites after demolishing and attempting to sanitize them. It was in those samples that the IAEA found traces of nuclear material, thereby confirming that at one time there was more nuclear activity ongoing in Iran than anyone had realized.

This fact leaves open the possibility that there is still more Iranian nuclear activity ongoing than has been exposed in IAEA reports. The traces of material at Parchin and other undeclared sites represent radioactive substances that are not accounted for and may still be circulating among known or unknown Iranian facilities. This gap in knowledge poses a threat to international security, and that threat has only intensified since Iran began systematically violating the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action following the US withdrawal from that deal in 2018.

Iran: MEK Revelations Played Key Role in Preventing Mullahs to Get Nuclear Bomb

As the IAEA’s latest reports emphasize, those violations have brought the Iranian regime closer to nuclear weapons capability than ever before. In absence of a full account of what the regime accomplished in this field prior to the start of JCPOA violations, there is no way of saying with certainty what that means. We know that Iran has 10 kg of uranium that is just on the brink of weapons-grade, but we don’t truly know whether that is all it has.

Tehran still insists that the US must remove all economic sanctions before the Iranian regime even considers a framework for reversing violations. In recent days, the regime’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian elaborated by stating that if the US is serious about restoring the nuclear deal, it should release 10 billion dollars in Iran’s frozen assets immediately.

To the credit of Western powers, these ultimatums are widely recognized as non-starters where the Vienna talks are concerned. However, it appears those ultimatums still have not seriously challenged Western policymakers’ willingness to take Iranian officials at their word when they say the regime is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons and that Khamenei’s fatwa constitutes a meaningful guarantee of future cooperation.

In reality, there is no such guarantee and the Iranian regime has repeatedly proven itself to be an unworthy negotiating partner. In their forthcoming dealings with the Raisi administration, Western powers must push for much more than Iranian nuclear activities merely falling short of some vaguely defined and easily altered “permissible level” for the regime’s Supreme Leader. In light of recent developments, they should no longer even accept the JCPOA’s original benchmark of 3.67 percent enriched uranium. If Tehran steadfastly refuses to adopt a strategy of total transparency, its nuclear program must be dismantled in its entirety.

Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras

Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)