"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
IAEA, Iran Close to Deal, Amano Says

Kelsey Davenport

A deal allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to pursue its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program could be signed “quite soon,” IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said May 22.

Amano flew to Tehran on May 21 to continue negotiations with Iranian officials on a framework agreement for resolving the outstanding concerns raised by the agency in a November 2011 report to the IAEA Board of Governors. An annex to the report listed the agency’s suspicions over Iran’s suspected warhead development program. (See ACT, December 2011.) The board requested that the IAEA and Iran “intensify their dialogue” to clarify the “unresolved issues.”

During the visit, Amano met with several high-ranking officials, including Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. Jalili characterized his meeting with Amano as “very good” and said that Iran and the IAEA would have “good cooperation in the future.”

Although Amano conceded that “some differences” remained, he said there was an “important development on the structured approach document” that the two parties had been negotiating. Neither Amano nor Jalili elaborated on the differences that remained to be negotiated or when the agreement was expected to be completed, but in a May 25 IAEA report on the status of Iran’s nuclear program, Amano invited Iran to “expedite final agreement on the structured approach.”

U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on May 22 that the United States supports Amano’s efforts to resolve the IAEA’s areas of concern, but said Washington would be looking for “implementation” and for steps by Iran to “truly follow through and provide access” to agency inspectors.

Amano’s announcement that the IAEA and Iran were close to reaching an agreement came the day before Iran resumed talks on May 23 in Baghdad with the so-called P5+1, which includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

The IAEA and Iran have met on three previous occasions this year to discuss an agreement to allow further agency investigations into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The most recent meeting was held May 14-15 in Vienna between Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, and IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts. Progress at the Vienna meeting is believed to have spurred Amano’s short-notice visit to Tehran. Before leaving Vienna, he said it was the “right time to reach agreement.” This was Amano’s first visit to the country since assuming the IAEA’s top position in 2009.

One of the areas of disagreement prior to Amano’s visit to Tehran was the IAEA’s request to inspect a building at the Parchin military complex where the agency was concerned that high-explosives tests may have been conducted. The IAEA asked to inspect the facility during visits to Iran in January and February of this year, but Iranian officials denied the requests. Tehran stated that a framework agreement must be in place before the IAEA conducts any visits to the site.

In the annex to the November 2011 report, the IAEA revealed that it obtained information that Iran had built a “large explosives containment vessel, or chamber” and installed it at Parchin in 2000. Such a chamber could be used for testing the explosives necessary to detonate a nuclear device. In the original work plan that the IAEA submitted to Iran on Feb. 20, Parchin topped the list of concerns that Tehran needed to address.

In the May 25 report, the IAEA indicated that it had obtained additional information on Parchin that “further corroborates” the evidence on explosive testing presented in the 2011 annex.

Tehran allowed the IAEA to visit Parchin twice in 2005, but the agency did not inspect the building that houses the chamber in question. Amano said that the agency’s interest in visiting Parchin was discussed in Tehran and would be addressed in the agreement, but he provided no specifics.

Although an agreement may be near, agency officials have expressed concern over the past several months that Tehran may be attempting to clean up evidence that could indicate the existence of a nuclear weapons program. Iranian officials dismissed the initial allegations that any such efforts were underway. In its May report, the IAEA formally documented its position. The agency said that, using satellite imagery, it had observed “extensive activities” around the areas to which it had requested access. The IAEA had not observed any such activities, which could interfere with “effective verification,” for a “number of years,” the report said.