Iran Obstructing IAEA Investigation

On June 19, the U.N. nuclear watchdog and the United States rebuked Iran for denying access to two suspect sites where it may have used or stored undeclared nuclear material. The resolution, which passed 25 to 2 with seven abstentions, called on Iran to fully cooperate with an investigation into its past nuclear work after more than a year of stonewalling. 

The resolution was the first formal challenge of Iran in eight years from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors. Rafael Grossi, the IAEA chief, expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s obstruction. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Tehran’s behavior was “deeply troubling and raises serious questions about what Iran is trying to hide.” The international community “must be prepared to take further action” if Iran fails to allow inspectors into the suspected sites, he added.    

Grossi
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi

The sites and activities in question date from Iran’s weapons program until 2003. They became an issue after the archives of Iran’s nuclear program were seized in a covert Israeli raid on a warehouse in Tehran in 2018.

Iran is one of the 62 signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the most important global treaty on the world’s deadliest weapon. It went into effect in 1970 and has been the standard of nuclear arms control ever since. It banned countries other than United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France from acquiring nuclear weapons. Under the NPT, Iran is required to implement its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Under the agreement, Iran must declare all nuclear materials to the watchdog. As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to the additional protocol, which provides the IAEA with expanded access to sites and information.

Related Material: “Iran and the NPT

The following are statements by major powers and members of the IAEA board of governors as well as Iran.

 

United States

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 19, 2020: Today, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) adopted a resolution calling on Iran to provide IAEA inspectors the information and access they have requested and that Iran is obligated to provide. Iran’s denial of access to IAEA inspectors and refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation is deeply troubling and raises serious questions about what Iran is trying to hide. Over the past months, Iran has not only continued its nuclear escalation and extortion, but it has also stonewalled the IAEA. These actions are unacceptable and underscore the continued threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to international peace and security.

Iran has so far shown no intention of curtailing the ongoing expansion of its nuclear program and for months has refused to provide the answers and access required for the IAEA to conduct its critical verification work. As the IAEA Board made clear today, Iran must immediately comply with its IAEA safeguards obligations and provide the IAEA nothing short of full cooperation. If Iran fails to cooperate, the international community must be prepared to take further action.

The United States remains committed to denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon and will work through the IAEA’s Board of Governors to provide the IAEA the support it needs to resolve these serious matters. Iran is legally obligated to answer the IAEA’s questions and provide the required accesses. Given Iran’s prior covert nuclear weapons effort, it is imperative that Iran verifiably demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned all such work. We seek a comprehensive diplomatic solution to addressing nuclear concerns in Iran, a solution that must be built on effective verification.

Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook on June 19, 2020: The news today out of Vienna at the IAEA is significant and it raises serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and its lack of transparency.  The IAEA announced that for nearly a year, Iran has refused to answer the IAEA’s questions about multiple locations in Iran related to its past nuclear program. 

Yesterday, Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted that Iran has nothing to hide.  If only that were true.  In fact, it seems that Iran does have something to hide.  This explains why, for almost a year, it has refused to answer the IAEA’s questions and is now denying inspectors access to potentially sensitive nuclear sites.  If Iran really has nothing to hide, then it should have no problem granting full access to IAEA inspectors.
This all comes down to Iran upholding its commitments under international law.  Iran is legally obligated to permit the IAEA to access sites it deems necessary to inspect.  This commitment arises from Iran’s obligations under the nonproliferation treaty and its safeguards agreements.  Iran has a choice:  It can answer the IAEA’s questions and comply with the legitimate requests for access, let inspectors travel freely, and be transparent about its activity, or Iran can take its current path of stonewalling and deception.  This, however, will only increase Iran’s diplomatic isolation.  All NPT signatories, all of them including Iran, have an obligation to uphold their commitments under the NPT.  There are no exceptions.

We are pleased that the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution today making clear that Iran must answer the IAEA’s questions and provide full access and cooperation.  I want to especially thank our European partners, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany for the leadership role they played in getting this resolution passed.

Russia and China tried to shield Iran from scrutiny.  As nuclear powers, China and Russia have special responsibilities not to support nations who play cat and mouse with the IAEA.  Their votes were irresponsible, and the international community deserves better behavior.  As nearly all nations will attest, the IAEA has handled this issue with skill and competence.  The United States continues to have full faith and confidence in the professionalism and independence of the IAEA.

President Trump is committed to ensuring that the Iranian regime never develops a nuclear weapon.  The United States will continue to work with countries around the world to hold Iran to its international nonproliferation commitments.  I think it’s worth reminding everyone that just last month, Iran’s supreme leader invoked Hitler’s “final solution.”  Iran regularly threatens to wipe Israel off the map.  A regime like this which endorses genocide should never be allowed to obtain the means to do so.  The United States will never let that happen.

Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Dr. Christopher Ford on June 19, 2020: Let me start, for my part, with congratulating the IAEA secretariat and the director general for the continuing professionalism and integrity of the work that they have been doing.  This is a very challenging job dealing with some very challenging interlocutors, and they’ve been doing a fantastic, fantastic job of it.  But let me also congratulate – especially today – congratulate the Board of Governors on the important statement that it has made with the passage of this resolution.  It’s hard to overstate what an important juncture this is, but let me also here, for those of you listening, emphasize what this isn’t. 

For the last few years, most nonproliferation-related debate concerning Iran has revolved back and forth and around and around about the merits and demerits of the JCPOA nuclear deal.  But this is not that question.  What has happened here is that while everyone was staring at the JCPOA, new safeguards problems have arisen in a very different lane.  What we have here for the first time since – well, since the JCPOA was agreed, is the emergence of evidence of potential undeclared nuclear material and/or activities being potentially hidden in Iran.  That’s the first time these issues have arisen in quite a while, and it is the first time ever by any country anywhere that a government has rejected and refused to comply with its obligations under the IAEA’s Additional Protocol.  Those two facts together are rather a game changer. 

What this means is that whatever disagreement there may still be about the JCPOA – and I don’t doubt that there are some – the whole world has an interest in coming together now to protect the integrity of the global system of IAEA safeguards that everybody has relied upon to detect or prevent the diversion of nuclear material to weapons purposes for generations in countries all around the world.  In other words, this is not just about Iran, as important as that is; it is also about the integrity of the entire system of safeguards upon which we all rely. 

As the director general of the IAEA made clear in his June 5 report, it has now been four months during which Iran has been denying access to two locations at which the IAEA believes that there may be undeclared nuclear material or activity.  At one of those sites since July of last year, the agency has also reported that activity that looks like sanitization has been occurring.  What this means of course is that while the IAEA has been improperly denying access, and striking a blow at the integrity of the Additional Protocol in the global safeguard system, it may also have been using that delay to hide evidence.  What we do know from IAEA reporting is that it has now been over a year in which the Iranians have refused to resolve the IAEA’s questions about possible undeclared nuclear material or activity shown by site sampling evidence at another location.  And none of these locations were, of course, declared to the IAEA by Iran.

So this is why it’s hard to overstate the significance.  We have evidence of possible material or activity potentially still being hidden at Iran at multiple locations, and Iran is denied access for the first time ever under the Additional Protocol.  So that’s why congratulations are in order to the board for a clear and necessary statement.  It’s great that the board has spoken to associate itself with the director general’s serious concerns about this, and it’s essential and at a great step forward for the board to have insisted, as it has, that Iran live up to its obligations by providing full cooperation without any further delay.  
 

Britain, France and Germany

British, French and German Foreign Ministers on June 19, 2020: We also note with grave concern that despite the IAEA’s continuous efforts, Iran has denied the access requested by the Agency for many months, which prevents the Agency from fulfilling its mandate, and risks seriously undermining the global safeguards system if no progress is made.

At the initiative of the E3, a resolution was adopted with a very strong majority at the latest IAEA Board of Governors. We commend the IAEA for its work in verifying Iran’s safeguards obligations, and call on Iran to cooperate in a timely and complete manner with the IAEA and to grant access to sites as requested by the Agency.

 

Russia

Ambassador to International Organizatons Mikhail Ulyanov on June 19, 2020: Everyone knows one of the main principles of medical ethics, which says - "Do no harm." It certainly applies to the work of the IAEA on safeguards issues. The implementation of safeguards is intended to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and not vice versa.

We noticed qualitative changes in the draft resolution submitted by the France, Germany, and UK. We are grateful to their respective delegations for taking into account a number of Russian comments. At the same time, our comprehensive thorough analysis of the situation led to the conclusion that adopting any resolution of the Board on this issue will not bring a positive result. On the contrary, it is very likely that the situation will become even more complicated.

We believe that undoubted progress has been made in the work between Iran and the Secretariat on the issue of access. To achieve a positive result, the Agency and Tehran need to continue dialogue in accordance with standard practice, taking into account the concerns of the parties. Iran has definitely confirmed that it is committed to meeting the requests of the Secretariat, but in order to make a positive decision, it needs to clarify a number of issues. This is normal. In these circumstances, intervention by the Board of Governors in such a delicate matter is not required. It is simply counterproductive and can have consequences directly opposite to the declared intentions.

The tension around the issue of access in this particular case seems completely abnormal, since there is no the slightest risk of proliferation. If at the sites that the Secretariat seeks to visit, undeclared activity with a small amount of nuclear material was actually conducted, such activities were stopped by Iran itself 16-17 years ago. There are no evidence that Iran is currently conducting undeclared nuclear activities at these locations.

The Agency has no other issues, as confirmed by the IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards Massimo Aparo during the technical briefing on June 10. The only matter is verifying the completeness of the Iranian declaration. Such stories do not pose any threat to the safeguards system - not to mention international peace and security - and should be settled in a calm, professional and non-confrontational spirit within the framework of the ongoing dialogue between the IAEA Secretariat and Tehran.

In the light of what was explained the Russian delegation voted against the draft resolution.

 

China

Ambassador Wang Qun on June 18, 2020: China takes note of DG's report on NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, as contained in GOV/2020/30. Although the question of Iran's provision of access in itself is a CSA issue, this report, together with certain countries' draft resolution on the above issue, could, however, set forth a process, under the current circumstances, that may bring the Iranian nuclear issue back to a crossroad full of uncertainties again. China is deeply concerned about the development based on the above report.

For some time now, tensions surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue have been escalating again. The root causes of this situation lie in the unilateral and bullying practices of the U.S., as evidenced by its unilateral withdrawal from JCPOA and its policy of maximum pressure towards Iran. In addition, the U.S. has not only ended the sanctions waiver covering all remaining JCPOA-originating nuclear projects, but also openly pushed for the extension of the conventional arms embargo against Iran in UN Security Council in an attempt to completely destroy JCPOA.

Against this backdrop, China expresses its deep concern about the Agency's persistence to hastily jump to the conclusion of the Iran's denial of access and, on this basis, publish its corresponding report before the current Board session.

Madam Chair,

Three basic facts, on issues of safeguards implementation in Iran, need to be born in mind:

-- First, the non-urgent nature of the access issue focused in DG's report. The secretariat, clearly on record, shared with the Board members before the March Board session this year that this issue dated back a long time and involved a very small amount of nuclear material, and that the issue in itself was not urgent, and did not entail proliferation risk.

-- Second, since implementation of JCPOA in 2016, Iran has always maintained a high level of cooperation with the Agency on monitoring and verification, and it is actually the country that hosted the highest number of inspections by the Agency.

-- Third, the DDG of the Agency has visited Iran twice for political dialogue. Iran has also repeatedly reaffirmed its readiness to continue dialogue and cooperation with the Agency in fulfilling its obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol and to cooperate with the Agency. And Iran has invited the Agency for further visit and consultation.

Madam Chair,

The aforementioned report (GOV/2020/30) is a report submitted in the DG's personal capacity, requiring no endorsement of its Member States, but it could nevertheless still be possible to become a basis for subsequent actions by the Board, and even the Security Council. For this very reason, such a report will have to be impartial and objective on the basis of the provisions of the relevant CSA and AP of the Agency. In this context, I wish to seek the following clarifications from the Secretariat:

Firstly, what are the specific legal basis of the Agency's request for access vis-a-vis the provisions of relevant CSA and AP? Is it an undeniable fact that there are different views within the Board on the question of the legitimacy of the above request by the Agency?

Secondly, the Agency has concluded in its report, in the absence of verification, that there are "three possible activities" in Iran, i.e. the "possible" drilling and hybriding of natural uranium, the "possible" processing and conversion of uranium ore including fluorination related to nuclear fuel cycle, and the "possible" conventional explosive testing, including in relation to testing of shielding in preparation for the use of neutron detectors. Is it, under such a circumstance, an approach based prejudgment, or even presumptions of guilt?

Thirdly, from the three above "possibles", it is just axiomatic that there is no certainty, on the part of the Agency, over the above activities. Under such circumstances, especially at a time when Iran has repeatedly reiterated its determination to continue cooperation with the Agency and invited the Agency to Iran for further discussions, why the Agency still persisted on coming into the conclusion of Iran's denial of access and submitting the report in such a hurry? Will this move help solve the problem, or just escalate the situation?

Madam Chair,

In view of the above, China has reinforced its conviction that there is still room for a solution on the question of Iran's access. Under such a circumstance, China cannot go along with, in terms of the approach, the DG's report currently submitted, nor can China go along with the conclusion contained therein. Still less, China can go along with any resolution tabled on a controversial basis. Certain countries, while pushing ahead the draft resolution, have denied the peril of such a move. This is a classic case in point of an ostrich policy, totally irresponsible. Such a draft resolution, once adopted, may well be the basis for further actions in the Security Council, leading to the ultimate termination of JCPOA, to the detriment of, not only the CSA and AP, but the entire global non-proliferation regime, with NPT as its cornerstone, as well.

Madam Chair,

China calls upon Iran to earnestly implement its obligations under the CSA and AP, demonstrate flexibility and constructiveness, and continue its in-depth communications with the Agency on the issue of access with a view to finding an earliest solution through dialogue and cooperation.

China calls upon the Agency to conduct its activities in an objective, impartial and independent manner and carry out monitoring and verification activities on Iran in accordance with provisions of the relevant CSA and AP, while avoiding politicization.

China calls upon the US to change the erroneous policy by abandoning its maximum pressure towards Iran.

China also calls upon relevant countries to refrain from the practice of exerting undue pressure on Iran by means of resolutions, by no longer pushing it into vote.

Madam Chair,

At this critical moment, preserving JCPOA helps preserve multilateralism and the international non-proliferation regime. It also helps maintain peace and stability in the Middle East, in the fundamental interests of all parties.

China calls upon all relevant parties to position themselves on the right side of the history by shouldering their historic responsibilities and by continuing their support to the constructive dialogue and cooperation between the Agency and Iran so as to properly settle relevant safeguards implementation issues.

In no case can we afford to allow the Iranian nuclear issue to go back to the old road of confrontation.

 

Iran

President Hassan Rouhani in a cabinet meeting on June 24, 2020: “Iran is still ready to accept the legal monitoring of the IAEA and to cooperate with it within the framework of the law.”

“We have always cooperated with the agency. Agency inspectors were always present on a daily basis, inspecting and reporting wherever they wanted.”

“Recently, unfortunately, the Zionist [Israeli] and American regimes have put pressure on the IAEA, and I am afraid that these swindlers infect the IAEA, and the IAEA, whose judgement must always be accurate, fair and correct, has been forced to exhume. The agency's job is to let the world know that nuclear material is completely under control and how it is consumed. The agency has nothing else to do.”

“Now the Zionist regime and the United States have come, and they are pressuring the IAEA to monitor the issue of 18 or 20 years ago and find it. They are deceiving the IAEA and deviating it from its path. Of course, whenever we want to give a definite answer, it is easy for us, but the basis of Iran's work is cooperation with the IAEA, but the IAEA must maintain its independence and not deviate from its legal path under pressure from the United States and the Zionist regime.”
 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

Ambassador Kazem Gharbi Abadi on June 19, 2020: I would like to put on record the position of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the resolution just adopted. 

At the outset, I would like to sincerely appreciate Russia, China, Azerbaijan, India, Mongolia, Niger, Pakistan, South Africa and Thailand for not supporting the Resolution, especially Russia and China for all their efforts in objecting this unconstructive path. 

Considering the extensive level of constructive cooperation between Iran and the Agency and simply overlooking this level of cooperation, adoption of this resolution aimed at requesting Iran to cooperate with the Agency is deeply disappointing.

It is also a deep regret that this resolution was presented by the three European States which have not taken any concrete practical step in the implementation of their obligations under the JCPOA.These lacks of willingness or inability to take practical actions in this regard, along with the unilateral, illegal and destructive measures by the US caused the future of the JCPOA to remain gloomy. Our advice to the E2+1 States is that if they cannot do something to save the deal, they can at least avoid making the situation more complicated and difficult! Paradoxically, your lack of action was needed here, which it seems that you couldn’t even do this. 

It is noteworthy that we consider the current state of affairs as a trap set by the US and Israeli regimes, who in the past two years, not only spared no efforts to destroy the JCPOA, but also used all tools of pressure on the Agency including through presentation of such baseless allegations, to deflect the ongoing appropriate course of cooperation and divert the attention from their non-compliance with their relevant international obligations, or being stayed out of the most important international instruments on disarmament and arms control. 

2 Saying that this resolution is required for strengthening of the Agency’s safeguards system proves how inconsistent are the behavior and actions of the Secretariat and the main sponsors of the resolution. If one really wants to maintain and strengthen the safeguards and verification regime, it is advised to take a professional and impartial approach. The fact that on the one hand the Safeguards Implementation Report for 2019 and the DG’s report on the status of implementation of safeguards during COVID-19 indicate that there are a number of safeguards related difficulties in several States, andon the other hand, the Secretariat and the PMOs, especially the Board, opted to keep their eyes closed over these difficulties especially the nuclear activities of Saudi Arabia and the regime of Israel, who are not even allowing the Agency to do the required inspection, should be considered as a concern. 

Distinguished Colleagues,

I would also like to put on record that the Islamic Republic of Iran is applying the Additional Protocol voluntarily and provisionally due to its political commitment under the JCPOA, and since it is not yet adopted officially through its national legislative procedures, Iran does not consider it as a legal obligation. 

Adoption of this resolution will neither encourage Iran to grant access to the Agency based on fabricated and unfounded allegations, nor will it force Iran to come down from its principal positions. Iran categorically deplores this resolution and will take appropriate action in response, the repercussions of which would be upon the sponsors of this resolution. 

Finally, Iran does also have a solemn advice to the Secretariat of the Agency to: adhere to the limits of your authorities; acknowledge the cooperation between Iran and Agency; carry out your mandate in a professional, independent and impartial manner; do not pave the way for manipulation of issues for those with political agendas through taking positions and reporting hastily; behave in a way not to be blamed for the obliteration of the last bastion of multilateralism in Vienna and the destruction of the JCPOA. 

Photo Credit: Rafael Grossi by Dean Calma / IAEA via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). 
Updated