Iran Slowing Cooperation With Nuclear Monitors

October 31, 2014 3:32 PM
An undated photo of the reactor building of Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. Iranian Students News Agency photo
An undated photo of the reactor building of Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. Iranian Students News Agency photo

Iran has slowed its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency since this summer and is not providing assurance that all its nuclear material is being used for peaceful purposes.

Speaking Friday at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, Yukiya Amano, director general of the agency for the past five years, said that from 2011 to 2013 “virtually no progress was made” in identifying material in Iran that could be diverted to military use.

The situation now is one of “limited cooperation” on resolving 13 issues on which the agency is seeking clarification, which were part of the Joint Plan of Action between it and Iran. Amano said resolving these issues “could be done in a reasonable time” by addressing several of them quarterly.

Although the agency is not an international police force, “we are not a debate club. We deliver concrete results” on nuclear proliferation, security and safety. He cited its work in Syria in 2008, saying that a reactor built there should have been declared and opened to monitoring to ensure it was for peaceful purposes.

“I don’t regret my decision on Syria’s reactor case,” he said. “We have quite good knowledge of the facility that was destroyed” in an Israeli air raid in 2007.

Returning to Iran, “we would like to have access to people, to sites, to information” quickly and over time; but that access can be controlled by the country in question, especially when it comes to inspections of military sites.”We can request access to military sites, but the country can refuse” and provide an explanation—other than it is a military facility—as to why. A country, such as Iran, can also arrange “managed access” to scientists and facilities.
Amano said he “expects Iran to be as transparent as possible” in dealing with the agency but acknowledged that “access to scientists is a very sensitive issue in Iran.”

He added, “IAEA has not said Iran has nuclear weapons” although in November 2011 Iran ‘”carried out activities consistent with developing nuclear devices.”
Amano also made a distinction between his agency’s work and the talks between the United States, Great Britain, France, China and Russia on one side and Iran the other, over Iran’s nuclear programs—scheduled to resume next month.

When asked what he thought the United States would do if Iran declared it had a nuclear weapon, Amano said that “is too difficult a question for me to answer.”

Founded in 1957, the agency is now operating in a very different world, where access to knowledge and materiel for nuclear weapons is easier to obtain. Helping the agency in its work are satellite imagery and improved technology for remote monitoring of a state’s activities.

While Iran, Syria, and North Korea are scrutinized most often by the international community over nuclear proliferation, he said the nuclear programs in each of those countries is different because they are at different stages of development. Syria signed the non-proliferation agreement after Amano became director general, and North Korea has withdrawn from the pact.

Although each state is responsible for the security of nuclear materials and facilities within its borders , non-state actors pose a new challenge.

“IAEA has a database on illicit trafficking” available to its members to help them establish responses to security concerns. He added miniaturization is helping in this area. “Nuclear detectors are not big machines. Some are the size of BlackBerrys,” and customs agents can be trained how to use them.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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