Iran deal violation: Sign of emboldened country... or simply more transparency?

"Regardless, Iran’s breach of the heavy water stockpile limit underscores the need for greater transparency on implementation of the deal.”

November 14, 2016 03:25
3 minute read.
A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian fla

A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Weak reaction from the US and others to Iran’s violation on Wednesday of “heavy water” limits mandated by its nuclear deal with the West, “obviously strengthens Iran’s hand and emboldens it,” Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies, a research institute affiliated with Tel Aviv University, said on Saturday.

In contrast, Kelsey Davenport with the Arms Control Association said, “More information in the public domain would paint a clearer picture of Iran’s compliance... and could allay concerns that Iran intends to flirt with the deal’s restrictions.”

Iran violated the agreement by storing marginally more heavy water than its provisions allow, according to a report released on Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN agency that monitors compliance with the agreement.

The US State Department noted that Iran was not hiding the violation and will ship out the excess heavy water.

This is the second time Tehran has surpassed the 130 metric ton threshold for heavy water since the deal became effective in January. The first violation was in February.

Heavy water is used to cool nuclear reactors, which are capable of making substantial amounts of plutonium to produce “fissile” material, the stuff that undergoes nuclear fission needed for nuclear warheads. Iran had 130.1 metric tons of the material, according to the IAEA report seen by Reuters and others.

Landau, a leading critic of the deal, said that even if the violation was not terribly serious, as the second similar violation, it “underscores the bigger problem in the overall dynamic,” weak international reaction to a range of violations.

It shows that “Iran had the gall to violate again... in a string of issues that have arisen over the course of 2016,” he said, adding “the administration plays down the issues and denies wrongdoing by Iran.”

Landau cited several ongoing issues of concern, including: German intelligence reports of Iran trying to acquire nuclear material illegally, a large US payment to Iran that many saw as tantamount to ransoming American prisoners, continued missile tests, US lobbying for reinvestment in Iran, and exemptions from several oversight requirements in the deal for some countries.

An administration spokesman who responded to a reporter’s question on whether Iran’s action was a violation, “refused to use the V word,” Landau noted, and said the answer “would be comical if the issue was not so serious.”

“The message that is projected to Iran is that the US is not only not going to give it a hard time in the face of these issues, but will actually act in its defense in the face of critics,” she said. “What happened to the administration’s promise to remain vigilant and to ensure compliance to the letter?” Davenport, a leading supporter of the deal, sounded some similar notes, but was generally more hopeful that concerns surrounding the violation could be addressed.

She said, “In isolation such a small excess quantity of heavy water is relatively insignificant, and does not pose a proliferation threat, particularly given that Iran is modifying its heavy water-moderated reactor to ensure it will not produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.”

Still, Davenport did acknowledge that the violation is “the second time that Iran has slightly exceeded the heavy water limit, and without additional information it is difficult to say if Tehran is intentionally pushing the boundaries of the agreement, or if the excess resulted from a technical mistake, or an unforeseen delay in exporting heavy water for sale.”

“Regardless, Iran’s breach of the heavy water stockpile limit underscores the need for greater transparency on implementation of the deal,” she said.

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