Iranian President Rouhani at the UN 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
The November 2013 International Atomic Energy Agency periodic report to the IAEA
board of governors and the UN Security Council disclosed several interesting
facts: No new gas centrifuge machines for the enrichment of uranium had been
installed at any of the known Iranian facilities; construction of the IR-40
heavy water reactor at Arak was not progressing; the 20 percent enriched uranium
UF6 stocks increased very little; and the IAEA concluded an agreement with Iran
on the implementation of several inspection rights and the provision of
additional information that the IAEA requested.
At first sight, these
could be seen as confidence- building measures, designed to reduce tensions in
preparation for the upcoming new round of discussions between the P5+1 and
On the down side, these can also be viewed as minor actions, with
no real consequence regarding slowing down or halting Iran’s development of the
capabilities for producing nuclear weapons.
There could be several
reasons for not installing new centrifuges: there are already enough of these;
there is a shortage of materials for the production of centrifuges; the Iranians
have decided not to install any more centrifuges of the old and inefficient
type, and are waiting for the results of the testing of the new centrifuges (as
mentioned in the IAEA report); the Iranians do not want to provoke severe
reactions while the negotiations are ongoing.
Some of the reasons for
stopping the intensive construction of the Arak reactor could be much the same
as for the centrifuge installations. The Iranians continued enriching uranium to
the level of 20%, but continued with the practice of converting much of the
product to an oxide compound, or transferring the product outside the enrichment
And, while the agreement between the IAEA and Iran is
impressive, it is of very little practical application to the issue of verifying
the development of nuclear weapons and related activities.
production of enriched uranium in Iran has not slowed down, contrary to what
some in the media have been implying. Iran continued enriching uranium to the
level of 3.5% at much the same rate as before, and has accumulated significant
quantities of this material. It should be recalled that by achieving this, the
Iranians have accomplished some 70% of the enrichment work needed for the
enrichment of uranium from its natural concentration of 0.7% to the military
grade of 90%.
BY ENRICHING to the level of 20%, some 90% of the work has
been accomplished. Thus the potential for a quick “breakout” has been
maintained, and if the newer IR-2m type centrifuges are used, this potential
will increase, and the time needed for enrichment to military-grade will be
So, in any case, the result is that these facts
can be viewed as calculated actions to reduce tensions and facilitate the
discussions and the arrival at an agreement that will be acceptable to
In showing that they are not pressing with full steam toward the
goal of producing nuclear weapons, and that they can behave “reasonably,” they
are hoping establish that they will continue to behave in the same manner in the
However, what they have done up to now is not nearly enough. Even
if one decides to ignore the Security Council resolutions (which brought on the
sanctions against Iran), Iran must halt, as a first step, all development work,
including the construction of the Arak reactor, stop enriching to 20% and
transfer the existing quantities outside Iran, and start providing information
to the IAEA concerning the military aspects of their program, as demanded by the
IAEA for a long time.
THE NEXT steps must come almost immediately, or any
agreement to ease some of the sanctions will be voided immediately.
application of these first measures will be the real test of the reasons for the
above-mentioned apparent manifestations of Iranian goodwill.
imperfect past of Iran regarding its agreements and signatures (and one should
recall the disregard of so called “suspension” agreements and the
non-application of the safeguards “Additional Protocol”) should make their
opponents more cautious and thus more demanding in the negotiations toward a
final agreement on the outstanding issues.
Iran has yet to make its first
big concession to prove to the world that it is trustworthy. Failure to do this
could doom the whole negotiation process.The author is a Senior Research
Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.