by Peter Crail, Daryl Kimball, and Greg Thielmann
For Immediate Release: August 28, 2009
Press Contacts: Peter Crail, Research Analyst (202-463-8270 x102); Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow (x103)
(Washington, D.C.) --According to a report released today by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA), Iran continues to slowly but steadily work to expand its uranium enrichment capacity at Natanz and to complete construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak. Both are safeguarded by the IAEA against use for military purposes, but either could be used to produce fissile material for weapons if Tehran decided to withdraw from the NPT and risk an overt push for nuclear weapons.
The improved access that Iran has provided in some areas is a step in the right direction since greater IAEA monitoring increases the likelihood that any diversion for military purposes would be detected. This cooperation needs to be further expanded. The report is yet another reminder that the IAEA is an invaluable source of direct, on-the-ground information on Iran's nuclear program. Without IAEA inspections and monitoring, we would know far less about Iran's nuclear-related activities.
The Agency receives information from a variety of sources, including national intelligence services. Some of the latter variety is received on condition that it not be made public. The IAEA can use this material to inform its own investigative efforts, but in order to maintain its independence and credibility, it must reach conclusions based on its own investigations and dialogue with host governments.
The IAEA did note today that, "constraints placed by some Member States on the availability of information to Iran are making it more difficult for the Agency to conduct detailed discussions with Iran on this matter." It is important that states with such information make every effort possible to allow the IAEA to press Tehran on these issues.
At the same time, the report goes on to note that the information provided about potential past military nuclear activities is credible enough to require serious answers from Iran. Tehran must provide further explanations about these concerns if it wishes to remove doubts about its claims that its nuclear program is peaceful.
The report's findings do not alter calculations regarding when Iran could have enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. The U.S. intelligence community in its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate judged that the earliest date by which Iran could do so was most likely between 2010 and 2015. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair informed Congress this past spring that the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research continues to estimate Iran would not be able to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon before 2013.
More importantly, the U.S. intelligence community assesses that Iran would be more likely to use a clandestine facility, rather than its safeguarded Natanz enrichment complex, to produce such material.
Other difficult technical obstacles--including bomb design, assembly, testing, and mating it with an effective means of delivery--would have to be overcome before Iran or any could-be nuclear weapon state has a credible nuclear capability.
There is time to test whether a negotiated resolution to the crisis is possible, but only if a serious, sustained, and comprehensive initiative is pursued by Washington and other UN Security Council members.
The Obama administration and the UN Security Council must focus on improving IAEA access to Iran's nuclear facilities, personnel, and plans as much as on halting the production of enriched uranium, the expansion of Iran's uranium enrichment complex, and the construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor. To start, Tehran must be persuaded to halt the expansion of Natanz and accept more comprehensive inspections under the Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Safeguards Agreement, pending the conclusion of negotiations on a more comprehensive, long-term solution.