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On 2 December 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its final assessment on past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program.[1] The agency finds no “credible indication of diversion of nuclear material” and “based on all the information available to the Agency relating to nuclear material acquisition…the agency has not found indications of an undeclared nuclear fuel cycle in Iran, beyond those activities declared retrospectively by Iran.”

 

However, the IAEA found that the explosive bridgewire (EBW) detonators developed by Iran “have characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device.” Iran also conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009. A range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted prior to the end of 2003 and some activities after 2003. But these, as mentioned in the assessment, did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.

 

If this is the truth, “Iran had lied that it had never any interest in nuclear arms or past work on such weapons.” Yet, this assessment “wraps up a near decade of investigations and opens the way to implementing a landmark deal aimed at reducing any future nuclear threat from Tehran.”[2] The nuclear deal agreed between the P5+1 and Iran on 14 July 2015, unless any untoward move unleashed, would completely rinse out Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons. After almost two years of unrelenting negotiations, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and the United States reached the agreement with Iran to constrain and verify its nuclear programme, in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Iran under the deal, among other conditionality, will be required to maintain an inventory of no more than 300 kg of uranium enriched to no more than 3.67% for 15 years. The deal has been adopted on 18 October marking an important milestone towards preventing Iran from getting the nuclear weapon.

 

The JCPOA

 

A cursory look at the provisions and implementation schedule of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed during the negotiation gives an impression that no complacency would be entertained when it comes to Iran’s laxity. A Joint Commission consisting of the E3/EU+3 and Iran has been established to monitor the implementation and issues arising out of the JCPOA. If fully implemented, the framework agreement “will bring unprecedented insight and accountability to Iran’s nuclear program forever.”[3] The deal stipulates a very complex process of dismantlement, decommissioning, transparency, and adherence to some stringent and verifiable constraints to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful. Consequently, the international community will commence the waiver of sanctions imposed on Iran. However, the pace of waiver and mainstreaming Iran’s nuclear programme to nonproliferation order largely depend on the qualitative implementation and endurance of the commitments agreed upon by Iran, especially in the following domains:

 

  1. Reactors and Heavy Water plants: Iran will redesign and rebuild a modernised heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on an agreed conceptual design, using fuel enriched up to 3.67 %, in a form of an international partnership which will certify the final design. The reactor will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes. There will be no additional heavy water reactors or accumulation of heavy water in Iran for 15 years. All excess heavy water will be made available for export to the international market.

 

  1. Spent fuel and reprocessing: For 15 years Iran will not, and does not intend to thereafter, engage in any spent fuel reprocessing or construction of a facility capable of spent fuel reprocessing, or reprocessing R&D activities leading to a spent fuel reprocessing capability, with the sole exception of separation activities aimed exclusively at the production of medical and industrial radio-isotopes from irradiated enriched uranium targets.

 

  1. Centrifuge and Enrichment: Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years (it will not manufacture or assemble other centrifuges). During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz facility at up to a total installed uranium enrichment capacity of 5060 IR-1 centrifuges. Excess centrifuges and enrichment related infrastructure at Natanz will be stored under IAEA continuous monitoring. From the end of the eighth year, Iran will start to manufacture agreed numbers of IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuge machines without rotors and will store all of the manufactured machines at Natanz, under IAEA continuous monitoring.

 

For 15 years, Iran will carry out its uranium enrichment-related activities, including safeguarded R&D exclusively in the Natanz Enrichment facility and keep its level of uranium enrichment at up to 3.67%, and, at Fordow, refrain from any uranium enrichment. Iran will continue to conduct enrichment R&D in a manner that does not accumulate enriched uranium. Iran's enrichment R&D with uranium for 10 years will only include IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges. Iran will convert the Fordow facility into a nuclear, physics and technology centre.

 

  1. Uranium stocks and fuel: Iran will keep its uranium stockpile under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms. The excess quantities are to be sold based on international prices and delivered to the international buyer in return for natural uranium delivered to Iran, or are to be down-blended to natural uranium level. Enriched uranium in fabricated fuel assemblies from Russia or other sources for use in Iran's nuclear reactors will not be counted against the above stated 300 kg UF6 stockpile. All remaining uranium oxide enriched to between 5% and 20% will be fabricated into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Any additional fuel needed for the TRR will be made available to Iran at international market prices.

 

  1. Transparency measures: Iran will allow the IAEA to monitor the implementation of the voluntary measures for their respective durations, as well as to implement transparency measures. These measures include: a long-term IAEA presence in Iran; IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for 25 years; containment and surveillance of centrifuge rotors and bellows for 20 years; use of IAEA approved and certified modern technologies including on-line enrichment measurement and electronic seals; and a reliable mechanism to ensure speedy resolution of IAEA access concerns for 15 years. Iran will cooperate and act in accordance with the procurement channel Implementation, verification, and waiver of sanctions.

 

Persisting Apprehensions

 

Despite the optimism over the deal, apprehensions persist with the unfolding domestic political and regional strategic dynamics. Recently, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has banned further talks between the United States and Iran beyond the nuclear deal; meanwhile Iran has joined Russia in military operation in Syria; reportedly, Iran has conducted a ballistic missile test in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and the spirit of the nuclear agreement. To that extent, Iran has announced its intention to send warships to the Atlantic Ocean if situation warrants.[4] Given these unhealthy geopolitical developments, one would wonder what the nuclear deal would culminate in.

 

Beyond Fifteen Years

 

Any prognosis would be futile in the nuclear business in general and premature in case of Iran in particular. There are speculations as to what would happen after 15 years. Although several key restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and its stockpile of enriched uranium will expire after 15 years, “the deal establishes several other restrictions and tools that will help constrain and provide deep insights into Iran’s nuclear program far beyond. These restrictions are more intrusive and permanent inspections regime that will provide the IAEA greater access to and information about Iran’s nuclear program”, and warn early if Iran intends to increase its enrichment capacity.[5]

 

In addition, the JCPOA permanently prohibits Iran from conducting certain “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device.”[6] The IAEA will be able to continuously monitor Iran’s production of centrifuges for 20 years and uranium mines and mills for 25 years. Given the provisions for continuous surveillance on these elements, the IAEA and the international community will come to know Iran’s capabilities and resources to assess how quickly it could produce enough material for nuclear weapons. Moreover, Iran also agreed to permanent restrictions prohibiting activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device under the JCPOA. “While Iran committed not to pursue nuclear weapons when it joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the JCPOA commits Iran to adhere to restrictions beyond its NPT obligations.”[7]

 

The Bailout

 

The first impression one gets is that the JCPOA and subsequent developments aim for a win-win situation. Undoubtedly, concrete results would onset only when Iran starts fetching the benefits of more than $100 billion in sanctions relief.

 

The United States and other global powers are willing to help Iran to update and reconstruct the Arak nuclear reactor.[8] Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed Moscow's readiness to provide a $5 billion loan for the implementation of priority projects in Iran.[9] China is also in discussions with Iran about supplying nuclear power reactors.[10] It is in the best interest of everyone that Iran be made settled with its civilian nuclear energy ambition foregoing its strategic designs if any. If things go right the world will see the return of prodigal Iran into the non-proliferation fold soon.

 

Disclaimer: Many provisions of the JCPOA, IAEA Final Assessment, and analyses by scholars are reproduced verbatim to disseminate the debate.

The views expressed in this article are personal.

 

END NOTES

 


[1] Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme, GOV/2015/68, 2 December 2015, http://static.nzz.ch/files/6/4/8/IAEA_PMD_Assessment_2Dec2015_1.18656648.pdf

 

[2]Jennifer Rubin, “Iran lied: Another sign we’ve been had”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/12/04/iran-lied-another-sign-weve-been-had/

 

[3] “Iran Nuclear Deal Formally Adopted”, The Wall Street Journal, 19 October 2015.

 

[4] Lawrence J. Haas, “Obama's Iran Gambit Flops”, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2015/11/03/obamas-iran-nuclear-deal-gambit-is-a-flop, 03 November 2015.

 

[6] Ibid.

 

[7] Ibid