The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its final assessment of Iran’s past and current nuclear activities, also known as the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its nuclear program. The assessment reflects a long and difficult effort to investigate Iran’s past nuclear activity, which Iran agreed to as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) announced earlier this year. As part of the process, Iran was subject to inspections by the IAEA, technical-expert meetings, and safeguard activities including visits and samplings from Iranian facilities and areas of interest.
According to the assessment, which corroborates other existing analyses including a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, Iran conducted “a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” in a “coordinate effort prior to the end of 2003”. The assessment indicates that “these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.”
While the formal program was ended by 2004, the report indicates that uncoordinated efforts to conduct computer modeling occurred up until 2009. The IAEA also indicates that there is no credible evidence that any nuclear weapon-related activities continued after 2009 and that there is “no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material in connection with the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.”
The assessment acknowledges that there are activities for which a conclusion could not be reached regarding their nature and purpose.
What does this mean?
The assessment corroborates previous intelligence assessments: Iran likely had a nuclear program in 2003, scrapped it and has tried to conceal the evidence and deny its existence ever since. The fact that there is still ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear programs is not a surprise, but also does not bar effective implementation of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1.
The JCPOA includes intrusive verification and monitoring systems to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is effectively constrained and in compliance with the agreement. The monitoring regime is based on conservative estimates of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, assumes Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, and is designed to be effective regardless of whether or not Iran admits to its past nuclear activity.
The JCPOA limits Iran’s possession of centrifuges and nuclear material, prohibits specific nuclear weapon development activities, restricts procurement of nuclear weapons-related technology, and monitors Iran’s facilities involved in the mining and enriching of nuclear material.
Enforcement of these restrictions, unprecedented inspections by the IAEA, and the collective intelligence efforts of the United States and its negotiating partners will ensure that the international community is in the best possible position to detect, deter, and address a potential violation of the JCPOA by Iran.
Now that the IAEA report has been released, Iran can complete its initial obligations under the agreement. Iran has already removed over 4,500 centrifuges of the roughly 13,000 it is obligated to decommission, and still has considerable work to complete (and be verified by the IAEA) before it receives relief from international sanctions.
The IAEA Board of Governors will convene a special meeting on December 15 to discuss the results of the assessment and likely recommend next steps. That process is expected to pivot the IAEA’s focus from inspecting the past to monitoring Iran’s current and future behavior.
Both an Iranian confession and exoneration by the IAEA are unlikely, which means no parties will be fully satisfied with this process. Regardless, the international community has gathered enough knowledge to know what Iran has done in its past, and through implementation of the JCPOA, can prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in the future.