Why Is the IAEA Getting Iran Wrong?

November 14, 2014 Topic: Nuclear WeaponsNonproliferation Region: Iran

Why Is the IAEA Getting Iran Wrong?

Here is a hint: There are only a couple of IAEA inspectors with nuclear-weapons knowledge—and Iran is not helping by banning these very Western inspectors from looking at its nuclear file.

In the longer term, possibly the best way to stop the propagation of dual-use nuclear technology would be to implement a revamped “NPT 2.0” that explicitly discourages the propagation of nuclear fuel-cycle and nuclear-power technology and does not set up false expectations in signatory states.

The IAEA should also urgently revisit whether it will continue to accept intelligence from third partiesparticularly non-NPT member states. Most importantly, perhaps, the Agency should clarify what it sees as its overall mandate: is it going to be the technical nuclear-materials accountancy shop it was originally supposed to be, or is it trying to morph into a nuclear-weaponry investigator? If the latter, it will need enormous injections of the relevant weapons skills, manpower and a much bigger budget. The technologies under discussion are complex and remain outside the experience of most IAEA safeguards staff and all upper management.

In the short term, Iran should consider relenting on its blanket ban of Western IAEA inspectors: if even a couple of experts with weapons knowledge are able to critically examine the “PMD” file, they may be able to quickly exonerate Iran from at least some of the allegations. In turn, the IAEA should revisit whether it will continue to press Iran on the PMD issues, and not accept Tehran's contention that some of the material is forged. If, instead, the Agency wants to pursue Iran on this, it should urgently vet the PMD file using qualified, outside weapons experts.

Failure to do so could unnecessarily sour the prospects for a comprehensive nuclear deal that would be in everyone's interest. With only a couple of weeks to go before the November 24 deadline, there is little time to waste in setting the record straight on allegations surrounding Iran's past nuclear work.

Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is senior scientific advisor to the British-American Security Information Council in London.

Image: Flickr/IAEA Imagebank/CC by-sa 2.0