On Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its long-awaited report on the history and status of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
The report and the investigation preceding it were prerequisites for the implementation of the landmark nuclear deal reached between Iran and a US-led group of six world powers in July.
Under the US’s interpretation of the nuclear deal, Iran was not actually obligated to fully cooperate with the IAEA probe, according to The Wall Street Journal. Even with such a loose standard for Iranian compliance, the IAEA found that Iran had engaged in nuclear-weaponization activities until 2009, some six years longer than previously available open-source information had suggested.
Still, the IAEA’s 16-page report, the culmination of nearly a decade of agency queries into Iran’s weaponization efforts, fails to address at least one major aspect of the country’s program.
The IAEA reports that Iran engaged in computer modelling of nuclear-explosive devices, and conducted research into engineering controlled materials for possible weaponization purposes until 2009. But it says relatively little about the human infrastructure of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon — an infrastructure that survived beyond 2009.
In 2014, Al Jazeera published an October 22, 2014, cable that Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, sent to its counterparts in South Africa’s State Security Agency on the status of Iran’s nuclear program. The cable found that Iran had not yet decided whether to build a nuclear warhead.
But Mossad also concluded that scientists involved in pre-2003 weaponization work had “formed an organisation called SPND [Organisation of Defence Innovation and Research]” under Iran’s Ministry of Defence, “for the purpose of preserving the technical ability and the joint organizational framework of Iranian scientists in the R&D of nuclear weapons, and for the purposes of retaining the skills of the scientists.”
Even assuming Iran had halted most weaponization work in 2003 and all such work by 2009, the country in 2012 had preserved a formal network of scientists that could be mobilized for the development of a nuclear bomb.
Iran retained the personnel, the infrastructure, and the technical knowledge of its earlier weaponization push, even if an actual weapons program had been suspended. The “organizational framework” for a nuclear weapons program was still in place as late as 2012.
The IAEA report mentions SPND once — in a footnote. It includes a paragraph-long treatment of Iran’s disclosures on existing institutions that could have some relevance to a weaponization push.
But the IAEA treated the surviving “organizational structures” of a possible weapons program in terms that could at best be described as inexact.
“Iran, inter alia, denied the existence of a coordinated programme aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device, and specifically denied the existence of the AMAD Plan and the ‘Orchid Office’ [organisations related to weaponization activities] as elements of such a programme,” the report reads.
“The Agency submitted questions to Iran on this subject on 8 September 2015, which were then discussed at technical-expert meetings in Tehran.”
The report doesn’t say what, if anything, Tehran told the agency.
This isn’t the only part of the report where vital information on the nuclear program appears to be incomplete.
On the crucial question of Iran’s progress in developing a fusing and firing system that would allow a nuclear weapon to detonate mid-air from the top of a ballistic missile, the report includes a vague paragraph about past work, followed by an admission that “The Agency has not received additional information on this area since the 2011 Annex [a previous IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program].”
In its probe, the IAEA learned nothing new about an alleged test of a ballistic nuclear trigger that Iran “may have planned and undertaken” in 2002 or 2003, also basing its conclusions on information received before 2011.
“Faced with such outright Iranian efforts to deceive the inspectors, the IAEA broke relatively little new ground,” an assessment from the Institute for Science and International Security concluded.
And as far as the organizational structures of a weaponization program go, the IAEA report went into even less detail than previously available sources.
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