The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters in Vienna.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Tehran has submitted “substantive” data regarding its past nuclear activity to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency this month, the agency’s director said on Tuesday.
Yukiya Amano, director- general of the nuclear watchdog, declined to comment further on the documents, submitted on August 15 and currently under the agency’s microscopes. The IAEA has long sought answers to a list of questions concerning Iran’s past nuclear work that may have had a military dimension.
“At this stage it is premature to say if there is any new information or not,” Amano told reporters. “[It] could be even misleading to provide a partial assessment.”
Iran denies ever working on the weaponization of nuclear technology, and has refused to participate in the IAEA's near-decadelong quest for answers. The agency's questions focus both on Iran's work with fissile material for a nuclear warhead, as well as the technologies necessary for the detonation and miniaturization of such a device— experimentation that does not include the use of radioactive material and is harder for inspectors to trace.
Tangential to an agreement reached with world powers last month – intended to govern the country’s nuclear program for the next 15 years – Tehran and the IAEA have agreed on a road map to resolve the outstanding questions.
Only once the IAEA is satisfied with Iran’s participation in that investigation will the country receive sanctions relief, according to the deal reached in Vienna.
Concerns emerged last week over the strength of the IAEA road map agreement, however. That agreement included several documents intended to remain confidential between the nuclear watchdog and Iran, which is a member state of the organization as well as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty since 1968.
According to a document obtained by the Associated Press, soil samples, as well as photo and video evidence from a key site of interest to international inspectors, Iran’s Parchin military complex, will be collected and relayed by Iranian experts using Iranian equipment. Neither the IAEA nor Iran have denied the authenticity of the document, but Amano says he is confident in the strength of the agreements brokered.
Nevertheless, an Iranian official in Vienna signaled displeasure with the apparent leak on Tuesday.
The IAEA should “exercise utmost vigilance to ensure full protection of all confidential information coming to its knowledge,” Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi told a meeting of the watchdog group in Vienna.
“We won’t accept any kind of leakage of classified information by anyone,” he added.
Should the IAEA close its investigation into the “possible military dimensions” – or PMD – of Iran’s nuclear program, implementation of the deal will begin swiftly. That will require an additional $183,000 a month in IAEA funding in the lead-up to implementation day, as well as an additional $10.6 million a year during the lifespan of the deal.
The United States provides the IAEA with a fourth of its annual Technical Cooperation Budget. The nuclear watchdog relies on contributions from member states. One US lawmaker and Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has threatened to cut that funding unless the IAEA provides the US with direct access to its road map agreements with Iran over PMD.
“As an indication of how serious I view the provision of copies of these side agreements to our national security, I intend to condition and/or withhold voluntary contributions to the IAEA in fiscal year 2016 should they not be provided prior to the congressional debate next month,” Graham wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry dated August 11.
The Obama administration denies the existence of “side deals,” and instead refers to the agreement tangential to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as documents consistent with standard IAEA protocol.
The deal is expected to proceed despite significant opposition in the United States. Polls suggest the American public stands opposed to the agreement by a 2-1 margin, including in key states during presidential election years such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Nevertheless, the deal is likely to weather a vote of disapproval in Congress next month. For that resolution to pass and survive a presidential veto, both the House and Senate would need two-thirds of their members to vote against the deal – an unlikely prospect given that Democrats continue to line up in support of it.
Despite the pending vote in Washington, European nations are proceeding as if the deal is a fait accompli.
Hailing the deal and its impact on Iran’s relations with Europe, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond visited Tehran over the weekend to reopen Britain’s embassy there.
Iran, Hammond said, appears to be exercising a more nuanced approach toward Israel than it has in the past.
“Our positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all,” Hossein Sheikholeslam, the Iranian Parliament speaker’s adviser for international affairs, told local media in response to Hammond on Tuesday. “Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan.”
Hammond said sanctions relief for Iran may begin as early as the spring of 2016.