Despite U.S. Concessions, the IAEA Can Take Tehran to Task | Opinion

Rafael Grossi, the director general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is losing patience with Iran's nuclear duplicity. Last week, he took Tehran to task for failing to explain uranium traces found in at least two sites during agency visits to the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is a "big problem" that damages Iran's credibility, Grossi explained. He demanded that the clerical regime immediately "come clean." In an IAEA report released on Sunday, Grossi demanded full transparency from Iran in order for the agency to provide assurances of the peaceful nature of the country's nuclear program.

Grossi's announcement and the agency report come at a critical moment. The Biden administration is currently negotiating a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with Iran in Vienna. But, as American diplomats tout the necessity of a JCPOA return, the U.N. nuclear chief made it clear that the agreement is outdated. The agreement does not address Tehran's increased nuclear expertise or its development of advanced centrifuges. Nor does it address Iran's nuclear weapons activities. In Grossi's words, "You cannot put the genie back into the bottle."

The Iranian strategy in Vienna is obvious: wield the threat of nuclear escalation to extort tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and win tacit permission to forge ahead on nuclear R&D. Under a restored JCPOA, Tehran's clerical regime will be legally allowed to install advanced centrifuges, build up its enrichment capabilities and wait for key restrictions to sunset over the next two to nine years. After 2030, none of the JCPOA's prohibitions on the Islamic Republic's ability to enrich massive uranium quantities to weapon-grade will still be in effect.

But the problem goes beyond Iran's capabilities to enrich fissile material for atomic weapons. It goes to the heart of the Islamic Republic's nuclear weaponization. Prompted by then-secretary of state John Kerry, the IAEA in 2015 closed its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. These military nuclear activities are now known to the world because of the nuclear archive that Israel's Mossad spirited out of Iran in 2018, which revealed that the regime was much closer to weaponization than was previously believed.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks to the media about the agency monitoring of Iran's nuclear energy program on May 24, 2021 in Vienna, Austria. The IAEA has been in talks with Iran over extending the agency's monitoring program. Meanwhile Iranian and international representatives have been in talks in recent weeks in Vienna over reviving the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal. Michael Gruber

Now, history is repeating itself as Biden administration negotiators return to the JCPOA without insisting that Iran come clean on weaponization. Under pressure from Tehran and the U.S. delegation in Vienna, the IAEA previously failed to submit reports outlining its findings about undisclosed nuclear materials. Now, we hear rumors from Vienna that the Iranians have demanded that the IAEA close all current investigations, recant its previous findings and dismiss all evidence from the Iran nuclear archive. This would mean the continued closure of the investigation into the clerical regime's military nuclear activities and the termination of all open IAEA investigations. Capitulation to these demands would demonstrate, yet again, that one of the Obama administration's biggest selling points for the 2015 agreement—"unprecedented monitoring and verification" of Iran's nuclear program—has no meaning.

Grossi said that his "responsibility is the credibility and integrity of the non-proliferation regime." To remain silent on Iran's noncompliance, he said, would be "a dereliction of duty on our part." He added, "We found traces of uranium that has been subject to industrial processing in different places, which had not been declared by Iran. That is a big problem."

Grossi's warnings came after his deputy returned from the Islamic Republic without any answers to the agency's questions. Iranian obstinance, however, is not surprising. After all, why would the clerical regime cooperate if it expects to receive U.S. concessions without any reciprocal demands? While lead U.S. negotiator and Iran envoy Robert Malley seems prepared to surrender to Iranian demands, the IAEA needs to act on the nuclear archive's detailed evidence and press its open investigations. The next IAEA board of governors meeting will be important. All member states should demand that IAEA investigations follow their own course, regardless of the Vienna discussions. Grossi and his organization should stand firm on their demands; the credibility and effectiveness of his agency—and the survival of the global nonproliferation regime—are on the line.

The IAEA has an opportunity to insist on full Iranian transparency, but risks being undermined by an American rush back to a fatally flawed JCPOA. With American negotiators throwing concession after concession at Tehran, Grossi is the right person to insist on the intrusive monitoring and verification needed to prevent the clerical regime from developing atomic weapons.

Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a visiting professor at the Technion Aerospace faculty. He previously served as acting national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and as head of the National Security Council.Mark Dubowitz is FDD's chief executive. An expert on Iran's nuclear program and sanctions, he was sanctioned by Iran in 2019.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.