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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Iran

Iran’s Simorgh Rocket Test in Perspective

Iran announced Thursday it had launched a Simorgh rocket space-launch vehicle (SLV) from the Imam Khomeini National Space Station. Although Iranian state media claimed a successful launch, no independent sources have confirmed this assertion. The rocket launch comes amid escalatory rhetoric between Tehran and Washington surrounding the future of the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Last week, the State Department certified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, as required by Congress every 90 days. Nevertheless, President Trump recently told The Wall...

IAEA Investigations of Iran's Nuclear Activities

July 2017

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

Updated: July 2017

Ali Akbar Salehi (left), the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Yukiya Amano, director-general of the IAEA, sign a framework agreement in Tehran on November 11, 2013. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first publicly outlined its concerns about Iranian activities related to the development of a nuclear weapon in an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program. The report laid out 12 main areas for investigation, discussed in detail below. These issues became known as the possible military dimensions, or PMDs, of Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA’s concerns about these activities pre-dated the public report, and little progress was made to resolve these issues until 2013. 

In November 2013, Iran and the IAEA announced a Joint Framework for Cooperation in which Iran agreed to take several steps to address the IAEA’s concerns, including providing information and access to research reactors and production plants. The IAEA added additional steps in 2014. Before Iran completed all of the steps, the 2013 Framework for Cooperation was superseded by the 2015 Roadmap for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program, which required Iran to provide information on all the concerns the IAEA had identified in the 2011 report.

The 2015 Roadmap was announced concurrently with the nuclear deal concluded between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). Sanctions relief in the nuclear deal was contingent upon Iran cooperating with the agency’s investigation. The IAEA released its assessment to conclude the Roadmap process in December 2015. 

2015 Roadmap for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Program 

The July 14, 2015 Roadmap laid out a schedule for Iran to address the IAEA’s concerns and the agency to complete its investigation.

The IAEA announced on August 15, 2015 that Iran met the first deadline for providing documents and written explanations to the agency's questions regarding the 12 main areas for investigation as outlined in the November 2011 annex. The agency submitted follow-up questions to Iran on September 9, and on September 20, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and Deputy Director General Tero Varjoranta traveled to Tehran to discuss the investigation and visit the Parchin site. They confirmed that environmental samples were taken at Parchin for analysis in IAEA labs. On October 15, 2015, the deadline for additional responses, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had responded to its follow-up questions and completed all activities under the roadmap.

The completed assessment, released on December 2, 2015, concluded that Iran had pursued a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, including a coordinated “range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” but did not divert nuclear material from its civilian nuclear program as part of its weaponization efforts.

The report found that although Tehran’s organized nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, some activities continued through 2009. According to the assessment, the “activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.” The agency said it found “no credible indications” that nuclear material was diverted to the weapons program or that any undeclared activities have taken place since 2009.

In several areas, like nuclear testing preparations and fuzing, arming, and firing a payload, the IAEA did not receive any new information. In other areas, such as Iran’s work at a uranium mine, the IAEA assessed that Tehran’s activities were consistent with its declaration to the IAEA. However, the IAEA assessed that Iran’s program structure, computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device, and certain types of experiments with detonators were part of a nuclear weapons development program prior to 2003.

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the U.S. Department of State, said on December 2 that the IAEA’s conclusion is “consistent with what the United States has long assessed with high confidence.”

Following a meeting on December 15, 2015, the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors voted unanimously to close the investigation into Iran's past weaponization work while continuing to report on Iran's implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal with the P5+1.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi said that Iran "disagreed" with some of the agencies findings, arguing that the “scientific studies of dual-use technologies have always been for peaceful civilian or conventional military uses” rather than nuclear weapons work, he said.

The full text of the "road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program" is available here. Highlights of the IAEA's findings in each of the 12 areas are below:

  1. Program management structure: The IAEA assessed that, prior to 2003, Iran had an organized structure “suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant” to nuclear weapons design. The activities that continued beyond 2003 were not a coordinated program.
     
  2. Procurement activities: The IAEA had “indications” that Tehran attempted to purchase items relevant to developing a nuclear weapon prior to 2007 and information that Iran purchased materials for its fuel cycle activities through companies not affiliated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Iran admitted to looking into procuring a high speed camera for conventional purposes, but said it ultimately did not do so.
     
  3. Nuclear material acquisition: The IAEA assessed that the Gchine uranium mine, previously thought to be a potential source of uranium for undeclared nuclear activities between 2000-2003, would not have produced any substantial amounts of nuclear material before 2006. The IAEA found that the activities at the mine were consistent with Iran’s explanations and declarations. Overall, the IAEA assessed that “any quantity of nuclear material” that would have been available for the nuclear weapons development program “would have been within the uncertainties associated with nuclear material accountancy and related measurements.”
     
  4. Nuclear components for an explosive device: The IAEA had evidence that Tehran had access to documentation on the conversion of uranium compounds to uranium metal, which is part of the weaponization process, and made progress on reducing a uranium compound into a metal form. Tehran denied that it conducted any metallurgical work for weapons purposes. The IAEA’s final assessment found no indication of Iran conducting activities related to the uranium metal document.
     
  5. Detonator development: The IAEA assessed that Iran’s work on explosive bridgewire detonators have “characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device.” The agency found that some of Iran’s explanations, that the detonators were developed as a safer alternative because of explosive accidents, were “inconsistent” and “unrelated” to the IAEA’s timeframe for detonator development.
     
  6. Initiation of high explosives and associated experiments: Iran admitted to the IAEA in August and September 2015 that it conducted work on certain types of explosives, but had a “technical requirement for the development” of multipoint initiation explosive technology for conventional weaponry. The IAEA noted that there are non-nuclear weapons applications for the development, but assessed that the work was “relevant to a nuclear explosive device.”
     
  7. Hydrodynamic experiments: As part of its investigation over the past several months, IAEA officials were able to visit Parchin, a military site where the agency suspected that Tehran conducted hydrodynamic tests in an explosive chamber. Since the IAEA requested access in 2012, Iran conducted extensive construction and renovations. Tehran said in September 2015 discussions with the IAEA that one of the main buildings in question was used for storing chemicals for the production of explosives. Environmental sampling at the site found “chemically man-made particles of uranium” but did not indicate that it was used for long-term storage of chemicals as Iran claimed. The IAEA assessed that its satellite imagery analysis and environmental sampling “does not support Iran’s statements on the purpose of the building” and that Iran’s activities at the site impeded the agency’s investigation. The IAEA did not draw a definite assessment as to what occurred at Parchin.
     
  8. Modelling and calculations: The IAEA assessed that Iran conducted modelling and calculations related to nuclear explosive configurations prior to 2004 and between 2005-2009. During the agency’s investigation between August-October 2015, Iran maintained that it was not in a position to discuss its work on hydrodynamic modelling because it was for conventional military purposes and not an IAEA concern. The IAEA noted in its report that there are conventional applications for such modelling, and that the calculations derived from the modelling were incomplete and fragmented, but assessed overall that Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device between 2005-2009.
     
  9. Neutron initiator: The IAEA’s evidence indicated that Iran continued work on neutron initiators after 2004, although the agency assessed prior to the July 2015 agreement with Iran that some of the indicators that Iran undertook work on generating neutrons through shock-compression was “weaker than previously considered.” Iran provided the IAEA with information about its neutron research and let the IAEA visit a research intuition in October 2015. Iran maintained that its research in the area was not related to “shock-driven neutron sources.”
     
  10. Conducting a test: The IAEA noted it has not received any additional information regarding Tehran's plans to conduct a nuclear test since its November 2011 report. The IAEA noted in the November 2011 report that Iran may have undertaken “preparatory experimentation” relevant to a nuclear weapons explosive device and obtained a document on the safety arrangements for explosive nuclear testing.
     
  11. Integration into a missile delivery vehicle: The IAEA assessed that two of the workshops it identified in 2011 as producing components and mock up parts for engineering of a Shahab-3 (Iran’s medium-range ballistic missile) re-entry vehicle for a nuclear warhead exist, and that the capabilities are “consistent with those described” in documentation provided to the agency on Tehran’s work on a re-entry vehicle.
     
  12. Fuzing, arming, and firing system: The IAEA report noted in the Final Assessment report that it had not received any new information since the November 2011 report on development of a prototype firing system for a Shahab-3 payload that would allow the missile’s payload to safely re-enter the atmosphere and then explode above a target or upon impact.

2013 Joint Statement on Framework for Cooperation

Prior to reaching the July 2015 roadmap, the IAEA and Iran had taken some steps to clarify the outstanding issues between 2013-2014. 

Under the November 11, 2013 Framework for Cooperation, Iran and the IAEA committed to resolve the agency's concerns through a step-by-step process to address all of the outstanding issues. An annex to the framework laid out the first six actions that Iran pledged to take within three months (see details below).

On February 9, 2014, Iran and the IAEA announced a further seven actions that Iran would take by May 15, 2014 (see details below). Iran completed the initial two sets of actions within the time period specified, all of which fall into one of the 12 main areas of investigation. In June 2014, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said that the agency would not issue an assessment on any action until the investigation was completed and the agency could assess the information gathered as a system.

A May 20, 2014 meeting resulted in an agreement on an additional 5 actions to be taken by August 25, 2014 (see details below). Iran completed three of the five actions by the end of August 2014. Two remaining issues related to nuclear weapons development remained unresolved. Iran and the IAEA met several times throughout the spring, and in its May 29, 2015 quarterly report, the IAEA noted that Iran shared information on one of the outstanding issues related to nuclear weapons development. Before all of these actions were completed, this agreement was superseded by the July 2015 Roadmap. 

The full text of the initial Framework for Cooperation and its accompanying annex is available here. The detailed steps taken under the original framework are laid out below.

Iranian Actions to be Completed by February 11, 2014

Status

Provide mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Gchine mine in Bandar Abbas.

Completed

Iran facilitated IAEA access to the Gchine uranium mine on January 29, 2014.

Provide mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Heavy Water Production Plant.

Completed

The IAEA visited the Heavy Water Production Plant at the Arak site on December 8, 2013.

Provide information on all new research reactors.

Completed

In a February 9 joint statement, the IAEA and Iran announced that Iran completed the actions agreed to on November 11.

Provide information with regard to the identification of 16 sites designated for the construction of nuclear power plants.

Completed

In a February 9 joint statement, the IAEA and Iran announced that Iran completed the actions agreed to on November 11.

Clarification of the announcement made by Iran regarding additional enrichment facilities.

Completed

In a February 9 joint statement, the IAEA and Iran announced that Iran completed the actions agreed to on November 11.

Further clarification of the announcement made by Iran with respect to laser enrichment technology.

Completed

In a February 9 joint statement, the IAEA and Iran announced that Iran completed the actions agreed to on November 11.

Iranian Actions to be Completed by May 15, 2014

Status 

Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Saghand mine in Yazd.

Completed

An IAEA team was provided access to the Saghand mine on a May 5-6 visit to Iran.

Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Ardakan concentration plant.

Completed

An IAEA team was provided access to the Ardakan plant on a May 6 visit to Iran.

Submission of an updated Design Information Questionnaire (DIQ) for the IR-40 Reactor (Heavy Water Reactor at Arak).

Completed

In its March 20 report on the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA noted that Iran completed an updated DIQ for the agency on February 12. Iran provided follow-up information in response to the agency's questions about the DIQ on March 29.

Taking steps to agree with the Agency on the conclusion of a Safeguards Approach for the IR 40 Reactor.

Completed

Iran and the IAEA met on May 5 to continue work on the safeguards for the IR-40 reactor at Arak. The approach is not yet completed.

Providing mutually agreed relevant information and arranging for a technical visit to Lashkar Ab’ad Laser Centre.

Completed

The agency was able to visit the center on March 12.

Providing information on source material, which has not reached the composition and purity suitable for fuel fabrication or for being isotopically enriched, including imports of such material and on Iran’s extraction of uranium from phosphates.

Completed

Iran provided this information to the IAEA in an April 29 letter.

Providing information and explanations for the Agency to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.

Completed

Iran provided the IAEA with information on the detonators at a meeting on April 26 and in subsequent letters on April 30 and an additional May 20 meeting.

Iranian Actions to be Completed by August 25, 2014

Status

Exchanging information with the Agency with respect to the allegations related to the initiation of high explosives, including the conduct of large scale high explosives experimentation in Iran.

Completed
In its May 29, 2015 quarterly report, the IAEA noted that Iran shared information on one of the outstanding issues related to nuclear weapons development.

(While Iran did not complete this activity on schedule, it was resolved by Aug. 15, 2015 as part of the new July 14, 2015 roadmap)

Providing mutually agreed relevant information and explanations related to studies made and/or papers published in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials.

Completed

In its May 29, 2015 quarterly report, the IAEA noted that Iran shared information on one of the outstanding issues related to nuclear weapons development.

(While Iran did not complete this activity on schedule, it was resolved by Aug. 15, 2015 as part of the new July 14, 2015 roadmap)

Providing mutually agreed information and arranging a technical visit to a centrifuge research and development centre.

Completed

According to the Sept. 5 IAEA quarterly report, IAEA inspectors were able to visit this facility on Aug. 31.

Providing mutually agreed information and managed access to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities.

Completed

The Sept. 5 IAEA quarterly report said that the agency was able to access these sites Aug. 18-20.

Concluding the safeguards approach for the IR-40 reactor.

Completed

The agency and Iran completed the safeguards approach on Aug. 31, six days after the Aug. 25 deadline.

Note: this factsheet was previously titled "Implementation of the Iran-IAEA Framework for Cooperation"

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Senator Reiterates Support for Iran Nuclear Deal

Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), in keynote remarks yesterday at a Middle East Institute conference on U.S. policy toward Iran, argued the United States should continue upholding the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while also pushing back on Iran for other actions as needed. The Trump administration is currently reviewing its own policy toward Iran, including U.S. participation in the nuclear deal, despite the success of the agreement to date. Coons said the Iran review is being conducted in a “thorough and professional manner” by the National Security...

PRESS RELEASE: Iran Nuclear Deal Still Working Effectively

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Statement from Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy

Body: 

Statement from Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy

For Immediate Release: July 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107 

(Washington, D.C.)—Two years ago on July 14, six world powers and Iran finalized an historic nuclear agreement with Tehran that removed the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has proven to be a nonproliferation success. The agreement has significantly restricted Iran’s nuclear activities and imposed an intrusive monitoring and verification regime. The threat of a nuclear-armed Iran no longer looms over the international community.
 
Despite the success of the deal, some policymakers in Washington are recklessly urging the Trump administration to abandon the agreement on the basis of inaccurate claims that Tehran is violating the accord. Six reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency demonstrate that Iran is meeting its commitments and the Trump administration certified in April that Iran is living up to its end of the deal.
 
Before taking unilateral steps that risk the success of the agreement, Washington should carefully consider the consequences. Abandoning an agreement that is verifiably blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons is irresponsible and dangerous. It would further destabilize the region, and could open the door to a nuclear-armed Iran or increase the prospect of a costly war in the Middle East. Additionally, pulling out of a multilateral agreement that benefits international security sends the message to U.S. allies and partners that Washington cannot be trusted to follow through on its commitments.
 
Given the current instability in the Middle East, it is now more vital than ever that Washington continue to support the nuclear deal with Iran and look for options to build on the agreement. Full implementation of the accord benefits U.S. national security and international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
 
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The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, July 2017

The Iran Nuclear Deal Turns Two Friday, July 14, will mark the two-year anniversary of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran finalizing the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.) Since the deal was completed in 2015, Iran has restricted its nuclear activities and allowed for far more extensive monitoring and verification. Six reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) show that Iran is meeting its commitments under the deal. In return, Iran is benefiting from U.S., EU, and UN sanctions...

Iran Hits Syria With Ballistic Missiles

Iran Hits Syria With Ballistic Missiles

 

Iran launched six ballistic missiles at the Islamic State group in Syria following a June 7 terrorist attack in Tehran. The June 19 strike used Zolfaghar missiles, a solid-fueled system with a claimed range of 700 kilometers. According to Israeli news reports, three missiles fell in Iraq, short of the target in Syria. Iranian Gen. Ramazan Sharif described the strike as successful and threatened more if there are further attacks by the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the June 7 attack on Iran’s parliament and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mausoleum.

This was Iran’s first use of ballistic missiles since its war with Iraq in the 1980s, and it is unclear if the launch runs counter to the July 2015 UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. Security Council Resolution 2231 calls on Iran not to undertake “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The Zolfaghar’s specifications likely meet the international standard for nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which is defined as one capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers. Iran has argued after testing missiles meeting the nuclear-capable specifications that its activities do not run counter to the resolution because the systems are not “designed” to carry nuclear weapons.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Missing the Mark on Iran's Missiles

Despite implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the Iranian missile program remains controversial. Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley excoriated Iran for its “destructive and destabilizing role” in the region, with Iran’s missile testing and procurement of missile-related technology featuring prominently in her remarks. Yet as the Trump administration conducts its Iran policy review, it would be wise to consider the facts when...

The UN Report on the Iran Deal Resolution: The Good, the Unclear, and the Troubling

The UN Secretary General’s biannual report on UN Security Council Resolution 2231 affirms Iran’s compliance with nuclear provisions of the 2015 agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), but raises concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile activity and compliance with UN restrictions. Resolution 2231 (July 2015) endorsed the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and lifted some UN sanctions, while maintaining the arms embargo on Iran and ballistic missile restrictions. In the recently...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, June 2017

EU Reiterates Commitment to Nuclear Deal as U.S. Moves Forward with Sanctions EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini reiterated the European Union's commitment to the nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a June 13 Oslo Forum press briefing . She said the EU will “guarantee that the deal keeps” and she is confident that the Iran policy review in the United States will lead to "wise decisions” and keep “something that is working.” The Trump administration is conducting an interagency review of U.S. policy toward Iran, which includes examining...

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

A supporter of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who backed the nuclear deal with world powers, celebrates in Tehran after he won the presidential election on May 20. (Photo credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)The Trump administration renewed sanctions waivers on Iran, meeting requirements under the July 2015 nuclear deal between the United States and its negotiating partners and Iran. The May 17 waivers are the first by President Donald Trump to maintain U.S. compliance with the agreement he has repeatedly denounced. Most sanctions waivers must be renewed every 120 days, and President Barack Obama issued waivers shortly before leaving office in January. If Iran continues to comply, these sanctions could be lifted statutorily by 2023. The waivers follow a certification by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in April that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal. The certification to Congress is required by U.S. law.

In the press release announcing the waivers, the State Department said that the Treasury Department was sanctioning additional Iranian entities and a Chinese network for suppling items applicable to ballistic missile development to Iran, which is “inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” The resolution, passed in July 2015, endorsed the nuclear deal and lifted some UN sanctions, but called on Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles, arguing that the systems are not designed for nuclear warheads.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

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