"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Nuclear Verification in Iran
Share this

Tariq Rauf and Robert Kelley

For nearly a year, negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have been underway between Iran and the EU3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).[1] The two sides in the negotiations, which the European Union has facilitated, are seeking a “mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.”[2]

In November 2013, the sides agreed to an arrangement known as the Joint Plan of Action, under which Iran has taken substantial steps to address proliferation concerns about its nuclear activities. In particular, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards supplemented by additional IAEA monitoring and verification pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action, Iran has halted the production of uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 and down-blended half its entire stock of that material to below 5 percent U-235 while converting the rest to uranium oxide, which cannot be immediately used for enrichment. In addition, Iran has capped the production of 5 percent-enriched uranium and accepted daily IAEA inspector access at its uranium-enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and monthly access at the under-construction Arak heavy-water reactor, among other measures.[3]

In July, the sides agreed to extend the arrangement until November 24, exactly one year since it was finalized, to provide additional time to conclude the comprehensive agreement.

This article provides a brief review of the Iran nuclear issue as it has developed since 2002, covers the ongoing IAEA verification, addresses the allegations of nuclear weaponization activities, and concludes with some recommendations on the way forward in reaching a long-term solution.


Concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities came to a head in August 2002 when an exile group using information supplied by unidentified states revealed enrichment activities in Iran that had not been declared to the IAEA as required by Iran’s safeguards agreement. Subsequent investigation by the IAEA led to Iran submitting an updated declaration to the IAEA. On the basis of this updated declaration, the IAEA reported that Iran had developed a nearly complete front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling; facilities for uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, separation of plutonium from targets, fuel fabrication, and heavy-water production; a light-water reactor; a large heavy-water research reactor; and associated research and development facilities.[4]

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei concluded that Iran had failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its comprehensive, or full-scope, safeguards agreement.[5] ElBaradei called on Iran to take the required corrective measures.

In September 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution in which it concluded that “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement…constitute non-compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute.”[6] This referred to the previously undeclared part of Iran’s nuclear program, namely enrichment and reprocessing activities and the import and use of nuclear material, which Iran had concealed from the IAEA. The resolution also concluded “that the history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities referred to in the Director General’s report, the nature of these activities, issues brought to light in the course of the Agency’s verification of declarations made by Iran since September 2002 and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the [UN] Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

In February 2006, Iran resumed enrichment activities, which it had suspended from 2003 to 2006 as a “voluntary and non-legally binding” confidence-building measure under an agreement with France, Germany, and the UK. In response, the IAEA board decided to report to the Security Council that Iran was required to “implement transparency measures, as requested by the Director General…which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations.”[7]

Over the next 28 months, in particular after agreement on the work plan between the IAEA and Iran in August 2007, the IAEA was able to clarify past enrichment activities and to put in place the safeguards approach for the Natanz enrichment plants. In late May 2008, ElBaradei reported that the plants had been operating as declared.[8]

Unresolved questions remained regarding allegations that there were “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program and that the IAEA had not detected the actual use of nuclear material in this regard.[9] The allegations were based on information provided by several states.

The IAEA has limited means to determine the veracity of such information independently because, in many instances, the states concerned do not give the agency access to the origins of the information, the original documentation, or the sources of the documentation. There were several notable instances regarding Iraq in which the IAEA was given fabricated or false information. Nevertheless, the IAEA critically assesses all information provided to it, in part by corroboration with information available to the agency from other sources and from the agency’s own findings. To the extent possible, the IAEA shares such information with the state concerned with a view to obtaining clarification. This process is based strictly on the rights and obligations of the IAEA Secretariat enshrined in the safeguards agreement (and additional protocol, for states that have adopted one) with the state and in certain cases in pursuance of a request of the Security Council.[10]

ElBaradei noted that the constraints placed by some member states on the sharing of information with Iran were making it more difficult for the IAEA to conduct detailed discussions with Iran on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.[11] In the case of Iran, the IAEA has been provided with more than 1,000 pages of information on this issue by certain Western states, but they have prohibited the IAEA from giving Iran copies of the bulk of such information, citing the need to protect sources and methods. The number of pages is misleading in that a significant fraction is computer printouts of repetitive calculations of little practical interest. In May 2008, ElBaradei reported that although the IAEA “had been shown the documents…it was not in possession of the documents and was therefore unfortunately unable to make them available to Iran.”[12] Iran consistently has maintained that this information is “baseless,”[13] “fabricated,”[14] or “forged” or based on publicly available information[15] on the location and activities of certain nuclear and military facilities.

The IAEA has continued to verify the nondiversion of declared nuclear material in Iran,[16] but the director-general cannot conclude that all nuclear material and activities are in peaceful uses. This is the same conclusion he must draw for all states that do not have an additional protocol.

The Joint Plan of Action addresses civilian nuclear activities in Iran that could be used to produce highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium, which are the nuclear materials needed for a nuclear weapon. The plan does not address the questions of possible weaponization. Those questions must be addressed directly between the IAEA and Iran.[17]

Safeguards Implementation

Iran is an original party to the NPT; its safeguards agreement with the IAEA entered into force on May 15, 1974.[18] As an NPT party that is a non-nuclear-weapon state, Iran has accepted the obligation to use nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes and to allow verification of nuclear material in all nuclear activities “for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[19] The underlying premise is that, without access to weapons-usable nuclear material, there can be no weapons.

For its part, the IAEA has the corresponding right and obligation to verify not only that Iran’s declarations of nuclear material subject to safeguards are “correct,” accurately describing the types and quantities of the declared nuclear material holdings, but also that they are “complete” and include all material that should have been declared pursuant to its comprehensive safeguards agreement.

The secretariat has defined three safeguards objectives[20] that are common to all states with comprehensive safeguards agreements. The IAEA seeks to detect undeclared nuclear material and activities, undeclared production or processing of nuclear material at facilities and at “locations outside facilities,”[21] and diversion of declared nuclear material at facilities and locations outside facilities.

To meet these objectives, the IAEA determines an optimized combination of safeguards measures based on a comprehensive state evaluation that takes state-specific factors into consideration at all stages of safeguards implementation (fig. 1).

alternate text

Click image to enlarge.

Presently, in accordance with these objectives, the IAEA is implementing safeguards at 18 nuclear facilities and nine locations outside facilities in Iran (fig. 2).


To restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of all Iranian nuclear activities, Tehran would have to take a number of steps in addition to full implementation of its comprehensive safeguards agreement. Tehran would have to revert to full implementation of modified Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to its comprehensive safeguards agreement, under which a country must provide early design information on modifications to existing nuclear facilities or construction of new ones. Under the old requirement, countries had to provide such information 180 days prior to the introduction of nuclear material into the facility.

In addition, Iran would have to revert to the implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. Iran signed the protocol in December 2003 and provisionally implemented it until March 2006. The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, rejected ratification in response to the IAEA board decision in February 2006 to report the Iran nuclear file to the UN Security Council.

Of the nuclear facilities, the ones of immediate proliferation concern are the enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow and the Arak heavy-water reactor. Iran is constructing the indigenously designed Arak reactor to produce medical isotopes. That reactor is intended eventually to replace the aging Tehran Research Reactor, originally supplied by the United States under President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace plan.

All reactors can be used to produce plutonium, but certain heavy-water reactors are considered to be especially useful for producing weapons-usable plutonium.[22] Plutonium obtained from the reprocessing of fuel or targets from a research reactor or a production reactor can be more easily optimized for weapons use than plutonium from a power reactor. Many countries are concerned about the plutonium-production potential of the Arak reactor. Any plutonium produced in the fuel irradiated in the Arak reactor would need to be reprocessed to separate plutonium, and thus far, the IAEA has consistently reported that there are no reprocessing activities being carried out at the facilities to which it has access in Iran.[23] The U.S. Department of State goes further to note that Iran did not construct a facility capable of reprocessing.[24]

Verification of Enrichment

The technical objective of IAEA safeguards is the timely detection of diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from peaceful activities and deterrence of such diversion by the risk of early detection.[25]

The enhanced monitoring and verification measures under the Joint Plan of Action implemented at Natanz and Fordow, along with routine safeguards involving weekly or biweekly inspections, are completely adequate for verification of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran and the EU3+3 should cover the added costs to the IAEA for monitoring and verification, which go beyond normal safeguards.

For centrifuge enrichment plants such as Natanz and Fordow, the main safeguards concerns are production of a significant quantity of uranium enriched to a level higher than declared, in particular highly enriched uranium (HEU); diversion of a significant quantity of declared uranium; and production of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in excess of declared quantities. The early detection of undeclared HEU production is of the greatest importance, as HEU is a direct-use material for a weapon.

To achieve its safeguards objectives, the IAEA successfully utilizes a number of verification and monitoring measures at centrifuge enrichment plants in Iran, as well as elsewhere, to provide a high level of confidence in and knowledge of a country’s enrichment activities. These measures include plant design verification, nuclear material accountancy, material balance areas, sampling, containment and surveillance (seals, cameras, and monitors), physical inventory verification, routine inspections, limited frequency unannounced access, and short-notice random inspections. The combination of these measures with those under the Joint Plan of Action, such as daily access by IAEA inspectors to Natanz and Fordow, a ban on production of uranium with an enrichment level above 5 percent U-235, and continuing full IAEA access to the cascade halls of the enrichment facilities, can provide assurance against diversion or undeclared production of enriched uranium in Iran.

IAEA inspectors have a greater level of access to enrichment plants in Iran than they do at similar plants in Brazil and Japan and those operated by Urenco in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. A novel idea could be to make the Natanz and Fordow facilities into examples of state-of-the-art monitoring and verification of centrifuge enrichment plants and implement a combination of overlapping verification measures that later could be implemented in all such plants under safeguards. These additional measures could include continuous online enrichment monitors, tamper-indicating devices, and centrifuge and cylinder tracking.

Under the latter measures, in addition to centrifuges, cylinders of enriched uranium hexafluoride and depleted uranium hexafluoride can be individually tracked using bar codes and radio-frequency identification devices to maintain continuity of knowledge for verification and security purposes. Such tracking can ensure that only declared centrifuges and cylinders are introduced for use in the cascades and autoclaves at the Natanz and Fordow plants and that the IAEA can ensure continuity of knowledge there. In this way, the IAEA could further ensure that the enrichment plants in Iran are not misused to divert material or to produce undeclared LEU or HEU and are even more effectively safeguarded than at present.

Heavy-Water Reactors

As noted above, the IAEA has been reporting for several years that it can confirm that there are no ongoing reprocessing-related activities with respect to the Tehran Research Reactor and the other facilities to which it has access in Iran. Iran has declared that the Arak reactor will be used for the production of radioisotopes for medical uses, like the Tehran reactor. That reactor, which originally burned HEU enriched to 93 percent U-235 supplied by the United States, has been converted to run on LEU. The Arak reactor is to be fueled by natural uranium although Iran has indicated the reactor could be converted to use LEU fuel to reduce its plutonium-production potential.[26]

The most effective way to monitor the Arak reactor and verify its actual plutonium content in irradiated nuclear fuel is to have a full and correct declaration by Iran of the initial supply of fuel and targets in the reactor core. Knowledge of irradiation time and an accurate mass balance for the core material balance area will allow the IAEA to determine the quantity of plutonium being produced in spent fuel and targets and the isotopic composition of the plutonium. As the concentration of the isotope plutonium-239 drops, the suitability for weapons use drops as well.

The IAEA and Iran are working on devising an effective and efficient safeguards approach for the Arak reactor. If Iran modified the reactor to burn 3 percent-enriched LEU rather than natural uranium, the plutonium content would be significantly reduced.[27] Frequent IAEA inspector access, short-notice random inspections, and unattended instrumentation such as surveillance cameras and reactor power monitors could ensure that the reactor is operated to produce medical isotopes, which is a legitimate need of Iran. In addition, novel technologies could be explored, such as anti-neutrino monitoring to detect and monitor the plutonium content in the reactor’s core.

Allegations of Military Activities

In addition to the talks between Iran and the EU3+3, negotiations between Iran and the IAEA over a possible weapons program have continued over the years. The focus of the EU3+3 negotiations has been the fear that the ultimate goal of Iran’s declared nuclear program is development of a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran vigorously denies. Discussions with the IAEA over the program’s possible military dimensions have become unusually acrimonious and a major stumbling block to making progress.

alternate text

Click image to enlarge.

The IAEA director-general has provided a report to the Board of Governors every three months since 2003 on implementation of safeguards in Iran. In his November 2011 report, Director-General Yukiya Amano added an annex describing all of the information the IAEA had suggesting that there is a clandestine military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.[28]

The issue of discovering possible weapons activities is much more difficult to resolve than the normal safeguards issues described above. The information on this issue comes from a number of sources that provide information and hearsay that the IAEA cannot verify. Much of the information is old and exaggerated, and the most recent items are among those that are not from verifiable sources. The annex gives great weight to experiments with high explosives and detonators suitable for a nuclear weapon in the 2002-2004 time frame. In 2007 the United States concluded that Iran had had weapons ambitions but gave them up in the fall of 2003.[29]

The technologies under discussion are complex and are outside the experience of most IAEA safeguards staff and all upper management. For example, according to the annex, the IAEA “recognizes that there exist non-nuclear applications, albeit few, for detonators like [exploding bridge wire devices].” In fact, there is a large civilian and non-nuclear market for such devices.[30]

The IAEA claims that its weaponization information is “highly consistent” because it comes from 10 or more countries.[31] An examination of the claims in the annex, much of which was leaked to the press even before the IAEA report was published,[32] shows that the majority comes from two or three countries. A postulated list of 10 or more countries that the IAEA claims have provided the weaponization information has to include all countries that provided information on the finances and travel of the supply network headed by Pakistani metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan, but this does not directly concern alleged weaponization studies. Rather than being highly consistent, the information seems to be thinly sourced when limited to weaponization, the subject of the annex, rather than foreign assistance with centrifuges. In addition, multiple countries held identical sets of documents.

Iran is accused of receiving, although not requesting, a document on uranium metallurgy from the Khan network describing processes for converting uranium compounds into metal and the production of uranium metal hemispheres, such as might be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. This information has been in the public domain since at least the 1950s.[33] Yet, Iran, which voluntarily showed this document to the IAEA, is accused of pursuing a weapons program because it received the document from Khan. Experts in material processing should examine this information to see if there is anything new and explain why Iran’s possession of the document is of proliferation significance.

Adding Expertise to the IAEA

In 1991 the UN Security Council gave the IAEA the task of forming a special unit, the Iraq Action Team, to investigate nuclear activities in Iraq that had come to light as a result of the Persian Gulf War. The IAEA had been inspecting nuclear activities in Iraq for many years and had not detected undeclared activities to produce nuclear materials.

The IAEA mandate, as interpreted at the time by the secretariat, did not require it to look for undeclared activities. In fact, IAEA member states discouraged such an initiative, citing the obligations in the text of the standard comprehensive safeguards agreement that safeguards will be applied for the exclusive purpose of verifying that nuclear material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.[34]

The failure in Iraq led to a new initiative by the Board of Governors to interpret the IAEA mandate under comprehensive safeguards agreements as giving the agency the authority to look for undeclared nuclear materials and activities and to show more curiosity and initiative in its safeguards activities. This realignment of safeguards, called Programme 93+2, resulted in the promulgation of the Model Additional Protocol in May 1997.

The situation in 1991, however, led to the IAEA’s total lack of preparation to investigate Iraq’s nuclear activities in the postwar environment. To ensure a new approach, a new unit that was established under UN Security Council auspices had two components. First, IAEA career safeguards staff worked to re-establish knowledge of nuclear materials that had previously been safeguarded in Iraq. Second, as new materials were discovered in large quantities, the materials verification teams produced excellent new accountability records and brought those materials under safeguards.

In all of the inspections in other areas, such as gas centrifuges and electromagnetic separation, high explosives, detonators, hydrodynamic testing, weaponization, procurement, and machine tools, the analysis and verification were done by specialist outsiders recruited to work in or with the Iraq Action Team, of which one of the authors was a director. For example, in the area of gas centrifuges, the investigation was managed by experts from Urenco. They were assisted in their analysis by experts from U.S. national laboratories, the UK Ministry of Defence, France’s atomic energy commission, and elsewhere.

The outside experts came armed with technical knowledge, a detailed understanding of the gas centrifuge process, detailed prior knowledge of Iraq’s centrifuge procurement activities gained from intelligence, and a team-building attitude. They carried out dozens of inspections of equipment and facilities and put together a very coherent picture of Iraq’s centrifuge program. In the process, they sensitized IAEA personnel to proliferation indicators of centrifuge technology so that they would know when to ask for help in the future.

The process for analyzing the extensive Iraqi electromagnetic separation program was similar. The solutions came almost entirely from the U.S. nuclear laboratories because the technology, which was old and considered to be obsolete until Iraq revived it, originated in the United States. U.S. experts from the Savannah River Laboratory built an environmental radioactive material sampling network for the IAEA. They designed the network, provided assistance in taking samples, and analyzed the samples.

In the area of nuclear weapons analysis, the work was done entirely by outside experts. Due to the sensitivity of weapons design information, the outsiders only summarized their findings to the IAEA and UN Security Council. The results were examined cooperatively, however, by experts from the nuclear-weapon states. Their summary assessment of Iraq’s nuclear weapon design was adequate for the Iraq Action Team to inform the Security Council that the task had been completed; the details remained in classified channels.

The IAEA Department of Safeguards used a similar approach in South Africa for a weapons assessment. Because South Africa had actually built nuclear weapons, it was important to restrict access to South Africa’s design documentation to avoid making the IAEA a conduit for proliferation-sensitive information.

In the area of alleged Iranian weaponization, the IAEA needs to replicate its experience in Iraq by recruiting an unbiased team of specialized experts to analyze data. The IAEA has made a major issue of alleged high-explosive experiments by Iran that could significantly improve and miniaturize a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, the IAEA shared the information on this improved nuclear weapons concept with Iran. The Iranians said they did not understand it.[35] An international team of weapons experts would have recognized that giving Iran details of better designs is not in the best interests of nonproliferation.

The Parchin Controversy

The IAEA has reported that weaponization experiments were carried out at a site called Marivan in the far west of Iran.[36] Instead of visiting Marivan, the IAEA has demanded access to a defense facility at Parchin. There are hundreds of buildings at Parchin involved in all aspects of Iran’s conventional military programs. The IAEA has visited Parchin twice, inspecting a total of 10 buildings of its choice. The IAEA sampled the site for radioactive contamination and found none.

Radioactive contamination is only one small indicator of a nuclear weapons program. Equally important in a weapons development complex are the many other indicators, such as explosive testing, initiator development, ultra-fast diagnostics, and metallurgy. The IAEA does not normally hire staff with skills in these areas.

Clearly, privileged information about alleged weaponization and enrichment activities in Iran has been leaked or otherwise made available to sources outside the IAEA.[37] In many cases, the leaks are selectively designed to support weaponization theories. Because of the many leaks, Iran is not interested in letting the IAEA continue to inspect the Parchin site. This has produced an impasse of massive proportions, with the IAEA fishing for information about items such as high explosives and exploding bridge wire detonators, areas outside IAEA expertise.

Iran has been accused of carrying out unspecified weaponization experiments in a large chamber in a building at Parchin. Extensive earth moving, paving, and road building for a kilometer on the northeast side of the alleged containment building began shortly after the IAEA first publicly indicated interest in the building. As a result of this activity, Amano said in a November 2012 report to the board that when the IAEA “gains access to the location, its ability to conduct effective verification will have been seriously undermined,” a reference to sanitizing the site to remove putative traces of uranium.[38]

There are many flaws in this analysis, which could be better addressed by experts in construction, environmental sampling, satellite imagery analysis, and civil engineering. At the same time, Iran should be encouraged not to create uncertainty by conducting earth-moving activities nearby until the issue is resolved.

Similarly, information that a 19-meter-long cylinder devised to contain alleged high-explosive experiments involving uranium and weighing more than 100 tons was still being designed in the year 2000 but was fabricated and installed at the Parchin facility in the same year is implausible. Mechanical engineers and experts in explosive containment chambers are needed to correct such a faulty assessment.

In the weaponization annex, exaggeration, innuendo, and careful choices of words make the data look much more significant than they are. The chamber “was said to have been put in place in 2000,” according to the report.[39] In the report, the IAEA says it has acquired commercial satellite images “that are consistent with this information.”[40] Experienced intelligence analysts would not be satisfied with vague phrasing of this kind. They would not be satisfied with settling on one scenario to the exclusion of all others for an undistinguished rectangular building, as the annex does repeatedly. A team of experts that should review the weaponization data needs to tighten up language to reflect what is known, not what is said to be.

The IAEA is not subject to independent external review and does not have to respond to challenges to its technical conclusions. The IAEA board should correct this flaw and appoint a qualified group of external experts to review contentious issues and information. In academia and intelligence, peer review and “red-teaming” are essential tools to avoid groupthink.

The Question of Breakout

One objective of the Joint Plan of Action is to improve the quality and timeliness of IAEA activities in the verification of declared nuclear materials. It does not relate to undeclared materials or activities. Some observers are mistakenly using the term “breakout” as the metric for constraining a hypothetical Iranian nuclear weapons program. This is incorrect.

Breakout concerns a case in which a state makes a sudden and unexpected move that gives it a strategic advantage. An example is the sudden resumption of nuclear testing by the Soviet Union in 1961, which caught the United States completely off guard. In Iran, it would be the discovery of a mature and clandestine parallel nuclear materials production and weaponization program.

The Joint Plan of Action is concerned with prolonging Iran’s projected capability threshold, but the definition of the capability that constitutes the threshold varies from observer to observer. Accumulating sufficient fissile material for a weapons program in a slow, steady process in a way that is being monitored and reported by IAEA inspections is not breakout. Applying that term in such a situation is a misuse of this well-defined concept in arms control.

The IAEA is the world’s eyes and ears in Iran. All that is known about Iran’s declared nuclear materials programs qualitatively and quantitatively comes from IAEA safeguards and inspections. If this vital source of real-time, verified information on the main issue of nuclear material is compromised or sidetracked because of confrontations over weaponization issues, it will be a significant and irreversible loss.

Resolution of the outstanding questions about possible Iranian weaponization requires a broad set of skills. If a very small team of accountancy experts, unfamiliar with conventional arms, construction sites, and common practices in nuclear weapons studies is allowed to analyze the data, the team may envision nuclear activities because that is all it knows. This led to the disaster of U.S. claims that aluminum tubes destined for Iraq in 2002 were for centrifuges when they actually were for rockets, and it can happen again.

Iran should be encouraged to end its ban on accepting inspectors from France, the UK, and the United States and other countries, now that the EU3+3 negotiations have been ongoing for some 10 months. By forcing the IAEA to rely on inspectors with little or no nuclear weapons experience, Iran is obstructing IAEA efforts in a way that works against Iran’s interest in reaching a comprehensive agreement and resolution of the open questions.

In November 2013, the IAEA and Iran agreed on a work plan to cooperate further with respect to verification activities to resolve all present and past issues and to proceed with such activities step by step.[41] A dedicated Iran Verification Team should be established at the IAEA. The team should comprise experienced specialists from the five nuclear-weapon states and Iran to work with the IAEA safeguards team to assess and resolve questions relating to alleged weaponization activities. The IAEA and Iran then would consider the findings for possible finalization.


With the implementation of the full suite of IAEA safeguards measures, supplemented by additional monitoring and verification measures under the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA should be able to continue to provide credible assurances regarding the peaceful nature of Iran’s uranium-enrichment and heavy-water activities. The IAEA has stated that it has not detected any diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, nor has it found any indications of nuclear material being used in connection with alleged activities concerning possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. Safeguards continue to be implemented at Natanz and Fordow. With the declarations and access provided to the IAEA, the whole world knows the precise number and types of centrifuges in operation, as well as the quantities and enrichment levels of enriched uranium produced by Iran at those facilities. None of this is in question; the question is the purported use of these capabilities.

Only the IAEA is positioned to legally and definitively reach a conclusion about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, much as it has done in the cases of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. States may have defectors, other intelligence sources, analysts, and aerial and satellite imagery, but it is only IAEA safeguards inspectors that have access to states’ declarations, operating records, sampling results, facilities, and personnel. A satellite image may be worth a thousand words, but it cannot show what is inside a building or facility. That is where IAEA safeguards are invaluable.

Under the legal authority available to the IAEA from Iran’s comprehensive safeguards agreement and the IAEA Statute, the IAEA is positioned, if it receives Iran’s full and proactive cooperation, to sort out the questions related to alleged military activities. As noted above, the IAEA would need to supplement its safeguards personnel with nuclear weapons experts.

A long-term comprehensive agreement between Iran and the EU3+3 would be a good basis for facilitating a technical resolution of the open issues between the IAEA and Iran regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. If Iran does its part in safeguards and verification implementation, it eventually should be no different from Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, or the Netherlands, with an enrichment capability fully accountable under IAEA safeguards and in accordance with the NPT.

In 2003 and 2005, Iran and the EU3+3 missed opportunities for resolving the issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations. In fall 2013, negotiations resumed after eight lost years of recriminations and posturing. Now, both sides appear to have come to the logical conclusion that the only credible course is negotiation of a long-term comprehensive agreement that address all the concerns of both sides. For its part, Iran would continue to limit its nuclear program to reduce its proliferation potential, continue with stringent IAEA safeguards, and cooperate proactively with the IAEA in resolving open questions. The EU3+3 would refrain from threats of use of force and remove all multilateral and national sanctions against Iran. There is no rational alternative.

Tariq Rauf heads the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). From 2002 to 2011, he was head of verification and security policy coordination, reporting to the director-general, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Robert Kelley, an associated senior research fellow at SIPRI, worked on documenting nuclear weapons programs in Iraq, Libya, and South Africa for the IAEA and was a director of the IAEA Iraq Action Team. He previously worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. He also was director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Remote Sensing Laboratory.




1. The six-country group is also known as the P5+1.

2. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Communication Dated 27 November 2013 Received From the EU High Representative Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/855, November 27, 2013.

3. IAEA Board of Governors, “Status of Iran’s Nuclear Program in Relation to the Joint Plan of Action,” GOV/INF/2014/16, July 20, 2014.

4. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agremement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2003/75, November 10, 2003.

5. Ibid.; IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2003/40, June 6, 2003.

6. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2005/77, September 24, 2005.

7. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2006/14, February 4, 2006.

8. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007) and 1803 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2008/15, May 26, 2008 (hereinafter May 2008 IAEA implementation report). See IAEA, “Communication Dated 27 August 2007 From the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Agency Concerning the Text of the ‘Understandings of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA on the Modalities of Resolution of the Outstanding Issues,’” INFCIRC/711, August 27, 2007; IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2007/58, November 15, 2007; IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006) and 1747 (2007) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2008/4, 22 February 2008 (hereinafter February 2008 IAEA implementation report).

9. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2008/59, November 19, 2008.

10. IAEA Division of Public Information, “IAEA Safeguards Reporting Process,” August 28, 2009, http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/mediaadvisory/2009/ma200918.html.

11. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2009/55, August 28, 2009.

12. May 2008 IAEA implementation report.

13. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2006/15, February 27, 2006.

14. February 2008 IAEA implementation report.

15. May 2008 IAEA implementation report.

16. IAEA Board of Governors, “The Safeguards Implementation Report for 2013: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2014/27, April 23, 2014.

17. IAEA Office of Public Information and Communication, “Joint Statement by Iran and IAEA,” 2014/11, May 21, 2014.

18. IAEA, “The Text of the Agreement Between Iran and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” December 13, 1974, INFCIRC/214.

19. Ibid., arts. 1 and 2; IAEA, “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/140, April 22, 1970, pp. 2-3 (Article III).

20. See IAEA Board of Governors, “Safeguards Implementation Report for 2013.”

21. For a full explanation of “locations outside facilities,” see IAEA, “Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Security: Overview of Safeguards Requirements for States with Limited Nuclear Material and Activities,” September 2011, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Safeguards3/safeguards0806.pdf.

22. See World Nuclear Association, “Plutonium,” August 2014, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Fuel-Recycling/Plutonium/.

23. For example, see IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2014/28, May 23, 2014; IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2006/53, August 31, 2006.

24. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Summary of Understandings Related to the Implementation and Extension of the Joint Plan of Action,” July 22, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/07/229658.htm.

25. A significant quantity is used in establishing the quantity component of IAEA inspection goals. The IAEA defines a significant quantity as the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded: 8 kilograms of plutonium, 8 kilograms of uranium-233, and 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (U-235). IAEA, “IAEA Safeguards Glossary, 2001 Edition,” International Nuclear Verification Series, No. 3 (2002).

26. See Ali Ahmad et al., “A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor,” Arms Control Today, April 2014.

27. See R.S. Kemp, “Two Methods for Converting Iran’s IR-40 Reactor to Use Low-Enriched-Uranium Fuel to Improve Proliferation Resistance After Startup,” March 2014, http://www.princeton.edu/~rskemp/Kemp-Arak.pdf.

28. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2011/65, November 8, 2011 (hereinafter November 2011 IAEA implementation report).

29. “Key Judgments From a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s Nuclear Activity,” The New York Times, December 4, 2007.

30. For example, see Teledyne RISI Inc., “Selecting the Right EBW Detonator,” n.d., http://www.teledynerisi.com/products/0products_1ebw_page10.asp.

31. November 2011 IAEA implementation report.

32. See Julian Borger, “IAEA Secret Report: Iran Worked on Nuclear Warhead,” The Guardian, September 18, 2009; George Jahn, “IAEA: Leaked Iranian Graph on Nuclear Weapons Is Flawed, but Supports Suspicions That Tehran’s Vying for a Bomb,” Associated Press, December 1, 2012.

33. For example, see A.B. McIntosh and T.J. Heal, eds., Materials for Nuclear Engineers (New York: Interscience Publishers, 1960).

34. IAEA, “The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/153 (Corrected), June 1972, paras. 1-2.

35. November 2011 IAEA implementation report.

36. Ibid.

37. Borger, “IAEA Secret Report”; Jahn, “IAEA: Leaked Iranian Graph.”

38. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2012/55, November 16, 2012.

39. November 2011 IAEA implementation report.

40. Ibid.

41. IAEA Division of Public Information, “IAEA, Iran Sign Joint Statement on Framework for Cooperation,” 2013/21, November 11, 2013.