In a move that sounded like a rerun of previous interactions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran provided new assurances to the agency’s director-general, Rafael Grossi, that it would adhere to its nuclear commitments.
This came in the aftermath of the organization’s detection of uranium particles that had been enriched to 83.7%, just shy of 90%, regarded as weapons grade.
During his last trip to the Iranian capital, Grossi told the press that he was certain the Iranians would restore all access to UN inspectors including cameras used by the IAEA for surveillance of Iran’s nuclear sites. The cameras had been removed by Iran.
Iran breaking previous IAEA deals
This had been part of pattern in which Iran has been constantly pushing the envelope. The 2015 Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the JCPOA, put a cap on enrichment of 3.67%. In 2021, Tehran began unilaterally enriching its uranium to 60%, getting closer to what it needed to manufacture atomic bombs.
Uranium comes in two isotopes that have different numbers of neutrons at their core: U-235 and U-238. U-235 can generate the enormous energy needed in a nuclear blast; enrichment involves increasing the amount of U-235 and separating it from the U-238 which does not have any military utility.
Iran also began testing high speed centrifuges like the IR-9 that can enrich uranium at fifty times the speed than the older IR-1 centrifuges that were permitted in the JCPOA.
In the past, it was assumed that Iran’s main obstacle for completing a nuclear weapon had to do with constructing the actual warhead that carries the bomb in a ballistic missile. Iran proved in the previous two decades that it had made progress in its development of capabilities in this area.
An IAEA report from May 2011 warned that Tehran recent research included “the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”
A former deputy chairman of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Motahhari, disclosed in an April 2022 interview that when the Iranian nuclear program was launched the Iranians aimed “to develop the bomb.” Subsequently, he added that Iran changed its policy at a later stage.
According to David Albright, who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, the biggest bottleneck in producing nuclear weapons for Iran was once the production of weapons grade uranium, but that was no longer the case.
There was little to find encouraging in the new Iranian assurances to the IAEA. Tehran had a history of violating past commitments it had made to the international community. At the Parchin weapons development complex Iran asphalted large areas in order to preclude the collection of soil samples by the West.
In 2004, the Iranians razed six buildings at the Lavizan-Shian complex and dug out the earth around them to a depth of 1-2 meters. At another building that had a pilot enrichment program, the Iranians cleansed the site and repainted it making environmental swipes completely irrelevant.
Now, Tehran is positioning itself for the final sprint to a nuclear weapon. From its experience over the last two decades it is hoping that the West will acquiesce to the fait accompli it aspires to create.
The writer served as Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations between 1997 and 1999, where he dealt with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In 2015, he was asked to serve as the director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.