No Progress Toward Agreement as Tehran Continues Ramping up Nuclear Activity


The International Atomic Energy Agency issued a new report on the status of Iran’s nuclear activities on Wednesday, while Western signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action betrayed growing pessimism regarding the prospects for reviving that 2015 agreement which sought to lengthen Iran’s “breakout time” for a nuclear weapon.

The new report by the UN nuclear agency estimates that the Iranian regime has refined an additional 12.5 kg of uranium to 60 percent fissile purity since May, thus bringing the total to 55.6 kg. Meanwhile, the country’s overall stockpile of uranium grew by more than 365 kg, potentially setting the stage for rapid acquisition of much higher quantities of 60 percent enriched material once the regime’s nuclear facilities begin continually operating “cascades” of advanced centrifuges which were required to be dismantled under the original terms of the JCPOA.

Even with its current capabilities and its existing supplies of 60 percent enriched uranium, the regime is now in a position to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium – more than enough for one nuclear weapon – in the space of three to four weeks, according to experts. Their assessments are based on the IAEA’s latest estimates, but it is worth noting that there is no guarantee of these estimates’ accuracy.

Last year, the Iranian regime revoked international inspectors’ access to declared nuclear sites, and in June, the regime responded to censure from the IAEA’s board of governors by dismantling surveillance cameras and creating what may be permanent blind spots in the agency’s understanding of recent nuclear activities.

The censure in question was based not on Tehran’s systematic violations of the terms of the JCPOA itself but rather on its refusal to cooperate with a probe into the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

Following the nuclear deal’s implementation, the IAEA eventually gained access to soil samples from three suspect sites that Tehran had not declared as having a prior role in the nuclear program. When man-made nuclear material was found in those samples, the IAEA began requesting explanations, and the regime began stonewalling. As of Wednesday, the agency’s reporting affirmed that this obstruction is still ongoing, with Iranian authorities providing either incomplete or non-credible explanations for the IAEA’s findings.

The agency explicitly stated that in absence of accurate and complete explanations, it cannot close the file on PMD and therefore cannot provide assurances that Iran’s existing nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Tehran has publicly maintained that it has never sought nuclear weapons capability, while Western intelligence agencies emphasize that the Iranian regime maintained an active nuclear weapons program at least until 2003.

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), meanwhile, insist that the Iranian nuclear program has never abandoned its military dimensions and that Tehran’s obstruction of the IAEA probe is easily explained as part of an effort to cover up ongoing work in this area. While the agency itself has stopped short of levying such specific allegations against the Iranian regime, its Director General Rafael Grossi is reported “increasingly concerned” about the fact that there has been “no progress” toward resolving the longstanding conflict.

Grossi appeared to endorse June’s censure months in advance when asked by reporters about the possibility. Another board of governors meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday, but it remains to be seen what, if any, further action the agency might take on that occasion to pressure the Iranian regime into coming clean about PMD. Any steps it does take will presumably also be aimed at compelling the regime to accept the European Union’s so-called “final text” for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran and the US have gone back-and-forth on that text in recent weeks, with neither side publicly disclosing its contents or their own comments. However, it has been widely reported that there are still some key sticking points and that Tehran has floated the idea of further negotiations stretching through September and resulting in further changes to a document that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell pointedly described as having no more room for compromise.

American officials publicly expressed readiness to accept the EU’s proposal as originally offered before Tehran submitted its first review. The US later declared with a note of optimism that the Iranians had dropped their ultimatum concerning the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. But this optimism has faded in recent days as some have suggested that Tehran is still pursuing effective de-sanctioning of the hardline paramilitary, even if not delisting.

Furthermore, since the submission of the “final text,” the Iranian regime’s President Ebrahim Raisi has repeatedly stated that his government sees no way forward for the JCPOA revival agreement as long as the IAEA’s probe remains open. This position presumably contributed to the US State Department’s determination on Thursday that the latest communications from Tehran to Washington had not been constructive and had not moved the negotiating process any closer to a resolution.

Borrell conveyed a similar conclusion on Monday, noting with uncharacteristic candor that he felt “less confident” about a resolution and viewed the Iranian and Western positions as “diverging” despite 18 months of effort to establish a mutual agreement.

This loss of confidence may have been further amplified by the fact that the IAEA’s critical report closely coincided with the release of a Swedish intelligence report that found the Iranian regime had attempted to illicitly procure components for its nuclear program inside the Scandinavian country in 2021. This was highly reminiscent of a similar report from German intelligence in June, which was only the latest in a series of similar assessments.

The recent developments indicate that the regime is continuing its deceptive policy to buy time, and this has been the case for the past 20 years.

“For 20-plus years, this regime has lied about its nuclear program,” John Bolton said at a conference held in Washington, D.C. by the NCRI on August 21, 2022. “Therefore, in case of any deal made, the reality is that the regime will not comply with it.”

And as Soona Samsami of the NCRI’s US representative office put it: “The indisputable fact has been and [remains] that the regime in Tehran will never abandon its [pursuit of a] nuclear weapon because it views it as a guarantee for its survival.”

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