WASHINGTON – The UN International Atomic Energy Agency voted on Tuesday to close its investigation into Iran’s past military nuclear work, ending a decade-long quest for answers as to the true nature of Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.
The decision by the 35-nation board of governors allows the nuclear watchdog “to turn its focus now to the full implementation and verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which prohibits the resumption of such nuclear weapons-related activities and provides comprehensive tools for deterring and detecting any renewed nuclear weapons work,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement welcoming the vote.
The JCPOA – the comprehensive nuclear accord reached by Iran and world powers last summer – is intended to cap Iran’s nuclear work and allow for strict international monitoring in exchange for sanctions relief.
Alongside the deal, the IAEA and Iran agreed on a road map toward the conclusion of its investigation – a prerequisite for implementation of the deal itself.
That road map granted the IAEA increased access to key materials and facilities in Iran throughout the fall, and led to a December 2 agency report that found Tehran had conducted activities consistent with weaponization work over the course of several years. Much of that work ended upon the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the IAEA director-general assessed.
With that report, the IAEA board found it acceptable to conclude the investigation.
“Closing the PMD [possible military dimensions] agenda item will in no way preclude the IAEA from investigating if there is reason to believe Iran is pursuing any covert nuclear activities in the future, as it had in the past,” Kerry asserted.
“In fact, the JCPOA – by providing for implementation of the additional protocol as well as other enhanced transparency – puts the IAEA in a far better position to pursue any future concerns that may arise.”
Israel is not convinced. Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded to the IAEA report by saying that it “clearly indicates once again that Iran has conducted a coordinated effort to develop a nuclear device, including activities taking place after 2003. For over a decade, Iran has been non-cooperative and deceptive.”
According to a statement issued by the ministry, “Serious doubts and outstanding issues regarding Iran’s program still remain.”
Iran, the statement read, “is still required to cooperate fully and in a satisfying manner” with the IAEA “to resolve all outstanding issues and verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s program.”
Yuval Steinitz, national infrastructure, energy and water minister, called the decision “political,” resulting from pressure from powers that brokered the JCPOA .
“The decision made today was political and not practical,” he said, “and for this reason it sends a wrong message to the Iranians that the international community is willing to look the other way.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which aggressively lobbied against the deal, also condemned the vote as a “deplorable” development.
“The IAEA is closing this file even after discovering further suspicious evidence and experiencing additional Iranian obstinacy,” the group said in a statement. “The IAEA could have recommended delaying ‘implementation day’ until Iran demonstrated substantial compliance with its obligation to explain its past illicit nuclear activities. This decision to whitewash the past represents an inauspicious beginning to the implementation process of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
In Iran, the country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, praised the vote as a development toward the end of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“This resolution goes far beyond closing the issue of so-called PMD and cancels the 12 previous resolutions of the Council of Governors of the IAEA, which seriously restricted our country’s nuclear program,” Zarif is quoted saying.
“Implementation day” for the deal is not a set date on the calendar, but the day on which all commitments made by Iran are satisfactorily met – the dismembering of much of its nuclear infrastructure, the deconstruction of its plutonium reactor at Arak, and the installation of monitoring equipment, among other steps.
Iran is “undertaking the preparatory steps at quite high speed,” one IAEA official said on Tuesday.
But within hours of the IAEA vote, UN officials warned that Iran may have violated a separate set of international laws by conducting yet more ballistic missile tests.
The Emad rocket that Iran tested on October 10 was a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, which makes it a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution, a team of sanctions monitors said in a confidential new report.
“On the basis of its analysis and findings, the Panel concludes that [the] Emad launch is a violation by Iran of paragraph 9 of Security Council Resolution 1929,” the council’s Panel of Experts on Iran said in its new report.
In response to the report, the White House said it would not rule out additional punitive steps toward Iran that were consistent with US national security. Obama administration officials did not elaborate.