UN report on Iran's nuke program affirms past weapons effort

A much-anticipated report from the UN's nuclear watchdog on Iran’s nuclear program indicates the Islamic Republic worked in the past on nuclear weapons, but leaves many key questions unanswered.

The report, which the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) circulated to its 35-nation board, shows that Iran worked in the past on nuclear weapons but “these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies.”

Iran has consistently claimed that its nuclear program has always been for peaceful purposes, so the reported nuclear weapons-related activity appears to debunk such a claim. The IAEA admits in the report that not all information was made available by Tehran, leaving findings inconclusive. On the basis of what the IAEA received from the Islamic Republic, IAEA Director General Yukiya Aano wrote in his report, “The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.”

Should the report be approved by the IAEA’s Board of Directors at a December 15 meeting in Vienna, the issue of possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program will be settled. Such an outcome would further clear the way toward lifting UN sanctions on Iran, in accordance with the P5+1 nuclear deal that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in July. Iran still needs to abide by its commitments under the July 14 accord to get UN sanctions relief.

Addressing the IAEA Board of Governors last week, Director General Yukiya Amano conceded that his organizations is “not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

Iran immediately sought to spin the IAEA report as proof that there is no military link to their nuclear program.

According to Iran’s Tasnim news, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Wednesday, “The final report of IAEA shows no evidence of a nuclear weapons program or diversion of nuclear material in Iran has been found." Araghchi claimed that the report clear Iran of any wrongdoing, adding, “ “Now we can say all measures regarding past issues have been completely resolved and the issue of PMD is now finished.” The Islamic Republic has threatened to not follow through with the agreement unless the PMD issue is taken off the agenda.

How the report is received by the international community is significant not only for the lifting of sanctions, but also the future of the Iran deal. The IAEA findings will likely be met with fierce criticism from Republicans and Democrats opposed to the nuclear deal and redoubling of efforts to stop the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic as stipulated in the agreement.

The report came up during Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the “brutal and destabilizing role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”  The IRGC plays a central role in Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs, as well as military activity in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The IRGC also trains and supports Hezbollah and Hamas.  The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, R-Calif., accused the IRGC of preventing “international investigators from accessing the information needed to conclusively finish” the IAEA report.” Royce warned that the nuclear deal opens the way for Iran to soon “have access to tens of billions in new cash.” He added that the funds from the nuclear deal will serve as a “stimulus package” for the IRGC.

Alireza Jafarzadeh with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a political opposition organization in exile, accuses the “Iranian regime of using deceptive tactics to circumvent IAEA’s probe into the PMD question.” NCRI claims that it has reliable information that “a secret committee, comprised of IRGC commanders, has been responsible in preparing the regime’s answers to the IAEA probe on PMD to deceive the agency for the purpose of this report.”