Some Want Iran’s Past to Poison its Future

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February 9, 2019

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By Peter Jenkins

The Washington Times reported on January 14 that the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) is accusing Iran of having failed to declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a site charged with “producing components for nuclear weapons.” The accusation is based, apparently, on satellite imagery and documents that the Israeli intelligence service claims to have stolen from a warehouse in a suburb of Tehran. ISIS urges the IAEA to “verify sites, locations, facilities, and materials involved in these activities.”

This accusation came to the notice of the National Security Advisor John Bolton. According to the Washington Times, he used it as a pretext to accuse Iran, in a tweet, of “fudging its reports to the nuclear disarmament watchdog” and of “not-identifying a former nuclear weapons site under Project 110 of the Amad Plan.” Bolton added: “Pressure on Iran to abandon nuclear ambitions will increase.”

These accusations are curious in a number of ways.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commits Iran to refrain from engaging in activities that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The commitment came into effect in January 2016. The stolen warehouse material relates to Iranian nuclear weapon activities prior to 2004. Whether or not, prior to 2004, Iran ran a site producing components for nuclear weapons is irrelevant to a post-2015 JCPOA commitment. A belief that something was happening prior to 2004 cannot serve as a reason to suspect that the same thing is happening in 2019. In fact, since Iran’s Supreme Leader ordered a stop to nuclear weapon research and development in late 2003, it is very unlikely that Iran is still running a site “charged with producing components for nuclear weapons.”

It may be, however, that ISIS—not to mention the Israeli suppliers of the stolen material and John Bolton—wants the IAEA to revisit Iran’s historic nuclear weapon activities, which used to be referred to as a “possible military dimension” (PMD). If so, they are likely to be disappointed. The PMD file was closed in December 2015. That was when the IAEA Board of Governors noted (in resolution GOV/2015/72) that “all the activities in the Road-map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule,” and further that “this closes the Board’s consideration of this item.”

In theory, of course, the Board could decide that it had been a little hasty in closing its consideration of a PMD. It could ask the IAEA director general to re-open the file and request access to the location that ISIS has in its sights. But that would be a gross breach of faith. One of the understandings that made possible the JCPOA was that, if Iran did everything the IAEA asked to clarify “past and present outstanding issues,” the file would be closed.

Perhaps a gross breach of faith is precisely what ISIS and its Israeli backers hope to cause. If so, they will probably fail. Why would the remaining JCPOA parties and most IAEA Board members provoke Iran, through a breach of faith, into renouncing the JCPOA? Their interest is to sustain an agreement that gives the IAEA an exemplary opportunity to acquire confidence that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran, and in complying, unlike the United States, with UN Security Council resolution 2231.

Another curiosity is that Bolton referred to the IAEA as a “nuclear disarmament watchdog.” In as much as the IAEA has any canine features, it is a nuclear non-proliferation watchdog. It verifies the non-diversion of nuclear materials to uses incompatible with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. It would be surprising if Bolton, for all his limitations, were unaware of this. So presumably the reference to disarmament is intended to mislead. It conveys the impression that Iran possessed nuclear weapons and is being deprived of them. This is the sort of alternative reality usually associated with Bolton’s current boss.

Bolton’s reference to Iran abandoning nuclear ambitions is similarly off base. It seems improbable that Bolton has in mind Iran’s civil nuclear energy program. Almost certainly, he wants readers of his tweet to believe that Iran still harbors an ambition to be a nuclear weapon possessor-state. If so, he is ignoring that for more than a decade the U.S. national Intelligence community has judged Iran’s decision-makers to have abandoned a nuclear weapon program in 2003 and to have no plan to acquire nuclear weapons.

Reader, beware attempts to use Iran’s past to poison its future!

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard.

21 January 2019

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