Two new reports from the IAEA shed light on the current nuclear status of both Iran and Syria. The confidential reports were issued ahead of the IAEA Board of Governors’ June 6-10 meeting, where Iran and Syria will be at the top of the agenda.
There is both good and bad news, so in the spirit of ending on an optimistic note, let’s start with the bad.
1) Syria was probably building a nuclear weapon:
The IAEA reports that a long-gone Syrian site (the one that was bombed by Israel in 2007) was “very likely” to have been a nuclear reactor. The US has made this assertion all along, stating that the site was near-completion partially due to the help of North Korea. The IAEA, however, has never shown its explicit support for the claim. This is no longer the case.
“Based on all the information available to the agency and its technical evaluation of that information, the agency assesses that it was very likely that the building destroyed at Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the agency,” the report said.
Syria, like Iran, denies harboring a secret nuclear weapons program, but has refused to allow inspectors to return to the site after an initial visit revealed traces of uranium and other suspicious materials.
2) Iran is probably building a nuclear weapon:
Building on previous comments by Director General Amano, the IAEA’s second report says that the agency has “received further information related to such possible undisclosed nuclear-related activities, which is currently being assessed.”
According to the New York Times, the report reveals for the first time that the agency has evidence Tehran has conducted work on nuclear triggering technology that experts say could be used for only one, weapons related, purpose. Iran’s “experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons” also suggest another possible connection between Iran’s nuclear program and AQ Khan, since the same rare material was used by Pakistan.
Overall, “The agency remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities … including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” said the IAEA. The report states that the agency cannot “conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
1) Syria’s facility is gone:
Intelligence services have ruled that the Israeli bombing effectively ended Syria’s covert nuclear activities and, at the moment, Syria has other things to worry about.
Glyn Davies, the US ambassador to the IAEA, said that the US plans to use the IAEA’s report to press the agency’s board of governors to refer the issue to the Security Council for possible sanctions. But, as the New York Times notes, “at a moment when the Syrian government is struggling to stay in power amid uprisings, the shooting of protesters in Syrian towns will almost certainly seem like a more urgent matter for the United Nations to address.”
2) Iran’s work may have slowed down:
Although the IAEA’s report points to “indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004,” a “senior official” told The Associated Press that “while intelligence up to 2004 had indicated a concerted effort at developing weapons, the more recent information had pointed only to ‘bits and pieces’ of work that seemed weapons related.”