And the Dismantlement Begins
Iran has begun dismantling centrifuges at its Natanz facility to meet the terms set by the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, according to comments from Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, on Nov. 15. The centrifuges being removed are inactive and not being used to enrich uranium, Salehi said.
Iran has about 15,750 first generation centrifuges at its Natanz plant, of which about 9,500 are enriching uranium.
Under the July 14 deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States), Iran will remove all but 5,060 first-generation machines at Natanz. Those machines will be used to enrich uranium to reactor grade, about 3.67 percent uranium-235. The dismantled centrifuges will be stored under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance.
Salehi said Iran is not yet removing centrifuges from its underground facility at Fordow. Under the deal, Iran will reduce its 2,700 centrifuges at Fordow to 1,044 machines. Some of the machines will be idle, others will be used for isotope research.
Dismantling excess centrifuges is only one step that Iran must take before it receives sanctions relief. The IAEA must also certify that Iran has removed and disabled the core of the Arak reactor, reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to less than 300 kilograms, and put in place additional monitoring and transparency measures.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Oct. 21 that Iran will not remove the core of the Arak reactor or reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium until after Dec. 15, when the IAEA Board of Governors meets to consider the agency’s report on Iran’s past activities related to weapons development.
Iranian officials now say that they could complete the necessary work to receive sanctions relief by mid-January. Previously, Tehran said the work would be done by the end of 2015. P5+1 officials think it could take longer, possibly six months.
—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy
Possible Military Dimensions Report
The IAEA Board of Governors will convene for a special meeting on Dec. 15 to discuss the results of the director-general’s report on the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The report could come out by Dec. 2. The IAEA first laid out its 12 areas of concern in an annex to its November 2011 report. The areas cover a range of issues from acquisition of materials to explosive testing.
In an Nov. 11 speech in Brussels, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said the agency and Iran completed the activities laid out in the road map and he will present his “final assessment on the past and present outstanding issues to our Board of Governors by December 15th.”
He said the agency’s job as a “technical organization” is to “establish the facts.” The IAEA’s report will be “factual, objective and impartial.” He said it would be up to the IAEA member states to “determine the appropriate response.”
Given the IAEA’s role as a technical organization, it is unlikely that the agency will make a determination as to whether or not Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program. It is more likely that the agency will assess whether Iran’s explanations for suspect activities are consistent with, or inconsistent with, the agency’s findings.
The agency’s Board of Governors, comprised of 35 member states including the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners, will meet on Dec. 15 to consider the report. The board could pass a resolution responding to the report.
While it is critical to the agency’s mission that it complete its investigation and issue a report, the investigation is about Iran’s past possible weaponization work. Implementation of the nuclear deal is critical to provide the international community with the assurance that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons in the future. The monitoring and verification was based on the worst-case scenario assessment, namely that Iran already achieved a nuclear weapons capability.
When the deal is fully implemented, its comprehensive multilayered approach to monitoring and verification will cover every element of Iran’s fuel supply chain for over a decade. It will also give the IAEA increased access to Iran’s nuclear sites and the ability to investigate evidence of any alleged illicit nuclear activities at undeclared sites, including military bases.
Moving forward, with theses measures from the deal in place, the IAEA will have considerable flexibility to investigate evidence and concerns about any possible future weaponization activities. Without the deal, the agency would have far less access and information about Iran’s nuclear activities.
Despite completion of the investigation into Iran’s previous work possibly related to developing nuclear weapons, Iran will still remain under the IAEA’s microscope as the agency verifies Iran’s multi-year commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and seeks to reach a broader conclusion about the nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The broader conclusion is a rigorous designation issued by the IAEA to provide assurance that a country’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials, and no indication of undeclared nuclear materials and activities.
An Iranian ICBM? Not in 2015
U.S. intelligence has publicly assessed for years that Iran could flight test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2015 with “sufficient foreign assistance.” But the ice has now broken on that frozen timeline as U.S. officials are finally revising their estimates and conceding that “by 2015” is no longer a realistic assessment.
Admiral William Gortney, chief of Northern Command, responded to a written question from a congressional hearing earlier this year with his assessment. The response, recently published, noted that: “…Iran will not be able to deploy an operational ICBM until later this decade at the earliest.”
The earlier 2015 estimate for a potential Iranian ICBM flight test was originally set forth in an unclassified version of a 1999 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on foreign missile threats. As recently as March 2015, Missile Defense Agency head, Vice Admiral James Syring, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that “[the Defense Intelligence Agency] assesses Iran is capable of such flight tests in 2015.”
The 2015 estimate persisted despite the lack of evidence of an ICBM and Iranian assertions that Tehran was focused on medium-range systems.
Non-governmental experts, like Michael Elleman from the International Institute for Strategic Studies and David Wright from the Union of Concerned Scientist, have been arguing for some time that Iran is unlikely to field an ICBM before 2020.
Under the negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, UN sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program will remain in place for eight years. And by preventing Iran from developing nuclear warheads for over a decade, the deal also renders Iran’s ballistic missiles less of a threat because they cannot be armed with nuclear warheads.
In Brussels, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano discussed the agency’s role in the Iran deal on Nov. 11 at the EU Nonproliferation and Disarmament Consortium Conference.
Amano concluded: “The agreements reached in July represents a clear net gain for the IAEA from the verification point of view. The combination of our comprehensive safeguards agreement with Iran, the Additional Protocol, and the transparency measures agreed in the JCPOA enhances our ability to verify the nature of Iran’s nuclear activities.”
Looking Ahead ...
November 26-27: IAEA Board of Governors quarterly meeting in Vienna.
December 2:IAEA Director General Amano completes the report on the agency’s investigation into the PMDs of Iran’s nuclear program (estimated).
December 10: SAVE THE DATE: Arms Control Association event on the implications of the IAEA’s PMD report and implementation of the nuclear deal.
December 15: Special IAEA Board of Governors meeting to consider the PMD report.