November 20, 2015

IAEA Report Shows Iranian Compliance with Nuclear Accord

IAEA DG Amano w/ Iran’s President Rouhani. Via BBC

Washington, DC – Iran has taken the first steps to implement the nuclear accord struck with the U.S. and world powers in July, according to the latest quarterly report by the nuclear monitoring agency, the IAEA. These steps move the parties a bit closer to “Implementation Day,” a to-be-determined date when nuclear sanctions on Iran will be relieved in conjunction with Iran’s completion of a number of key benchmarks in limiting its nuclear program.

If Iran continues at its present pace, some experts predict that Iran could finish its work by early to mid-January, enabling the relief of sanctions before February 26 elections for Iran’s next parliament and Assembly of Experts — the body that appoints the country’s Supreme Leader. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates will want to move quickly in order to point to the lifting of sanctions prior to the February elections, a key electoral promise that helped sweep Rouhani into office in 2013. Even if it takes the Iranian economy more time to reap the benefits of relief, such a key step would be an important symbolic victory that could provide a boost for moderates at the polls. However, Iranian hardliners are unlikely to sit still with moderates poised to gain an advantage in elections that will help determine the direction of Iran for years to come. Already, hardliners have overseen an internal crackdown and sought to throw up roadblocks to stall the lifting of sanctions until after the elections.

A number of technical and political obstacles remain for Iran to fully implement its obligations by January, though significant progress has been made. Since October 18, known as “Adoption Day,” Iran has dismantled 4,530 centrifuges, roughly one-third of the more than 13,000 centrifuges it is required to dismantle and place under IAEA monitoring under the terms of the accord. Additionally, Iran has notified the IAEA that it is prepared to implement enhanced monitoring measures under the nuclear agreement. Iran must undertake a number of additional steps before sanctions are relieved, including dismantling roughly 9,000 additional centrifuges, reducing its uranium stockpile to 300 kg or less, and removing and destroying the core of the Arak reactor.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has indicated that Iran will not implement many of its remaining obligations until after the IAEA issues a report resolving the agency’s investigation into past “possible military dimensions” (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program. A group of hardline parliamentarians issued a letter earlier this month citing Khamenei’s position while warning that the dismantlement of centrifuges was occurring too rapidly. The letter reportedly led to a slow-down in the process, but the IAEA report appears to indicate that Iran’s preparatory work continues.

On December 15, the IAEA Board of Governors will be briefed on the PMD report’s findings, and could move to effectively close the PMD investigation. The report is the product of a long investigation that had been stalled for years as the nuclear issue lingered. Now, the issue appears close to resolution following the successful nuclear negotiations and final nuclear agreement. Iran has implemented a road map to resolve the investigation, including by providing answers to the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues and by enabling environmental sampling at the Parchin military site. The report will shed additional light on the extent of Iran’s nuclear activities prior to 2003. However, the report is not expected to make a determination on whether Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and a broader determination that all nuclear activities in Iran remain peaceful is still years away.

After the finalization of the report in mid-December, Iran is likely to begin to fulfill its remaining obligations, but Iran’s pace could be dictated by internal domestic battles as well as the highly technical nature of their remaining obligations. 

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