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Iran, IAEA and the Challenges of 'Politicised Safeguards' Implementation

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  • September 20, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chair: Ambassador R. Rajagopalan
    External Discussants: Ambassador Sheelkanth Sharma and Prof. R. Rajaraman
    Internal Discussants: Dr G Balachandran and A Vinod Kumar

    The paper examined three issue areas that according to the author exemplified the politicised nature of the interactions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These included dispute over access to military sites like Parchin where nuclear-related activities could have taken place; disputes pertaining to the sources as well as the nature of the information being used by the IAEA to carry out its safeguards activities inside Iran; and the ‘nuclear activism’ of Western non-governmental organisations like the ISIS. The paper noted that charges of politicisation by Iran – made justifiably or conveniently - make the task of safeguards implementation by the IAEA that much more complicated and is a factor not only prolonging a resolution of the issues concerned (primarily due to the absence of ‘smoking gun’ evidence of either Iranian complicity or innocence) but even possibly inhibiting it.

    On Parchin for instance, despite 10 rounds of talks from January 2012 to May 2013, Iran and the IAEA have not yet agreed on the contours of a ‘structured approach’ regarding further cooperation. In July 2013, Iran charged IAEA Director General Yukiyo Amano of ‘partiality’ and accused him of intending to ‘keep open this issue [Parchin] in order to pave the way for Iran’s enemies’. Iran’s arguments for not agreeing to facilitate access pending an agreement on the contours of such access include the failure of the IAEA to deliver ‘all relevant documents related to the Agency’s concerns’, and the IAEA not allegedly sticking to its end of the bargain on negotiated portions of a possible agreement in subsequent meetings, during the 10 rounds of talks.

    Iran more specifically contends that since Parchin is a ‘military site, granting access is a time-consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly’ and insists that the Agency focus on a non-nuclear site was beyond its mandate. However, Iran had given IAEA access to military sites in the past, like Lavisan-Shian, Kolahdouz, and Parchin twice in 2005. Iran’s arguments therefore that it cannot give ‘repeated access’ – when the last time the IAEA was given access was way back in November 2005 – starkly illustrates the limitations of IAEA under INFCIRC/214 (Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA) to draw safeguards conclusions for Iran.

    As for the second issue area, Iran has expressed concern over what it alleged was leaks of confidential information provided to the IAEA on such subjects like ‘plutonium research project’. Iran has also been urging the IAEA to share information about the member-states/sources which indicated ‘possible military dimensions’ (PMD) of its nuclear activities. The paper highlighted the fact that the IAEA therefore faced real challenges in its efforts to broad-base the sources of information as it strives to build a ‘state-level’ safeguards picture, if the information so generated is not shared or is viewed as having ulterior motives. The IAEA however on its part is faced with the dilemma of protecting genuine sources of information, to the extent they are.

    As for the third issue area, the paper noted that the role of the ISIS highlighted the political jostling that accompanied safeguards implementation in Iran, especially on such aspects as posting of IAEA DG reports on its website on the day they are presented to the Board of Governors, which Iran takes exception to. The ISIS however contends that it is doing a ‘public service’ by disseminating the reports which are not ‘safeguards confidential’.

    The author went on to highlight safeguards implementation in countries like South Korea and Brazil. In the latter case for instance, concerns relating to access to a new uranium enrichment facility in 2004 were resolved within the framework of the IAEA. The author highlighted Brazil’s continued reluctance to sign the AP and its nuclear submarine project as issues that could have an impact on how other countries like Iran could view such endeavours.

    In the light of the as yet unresolved nature of contentions between Iran and the IAEA, the paper noted on-going IAEA efforts to improve the efficiency and efficacy of safeguards implementation in the face of emerging challenges amidst budgetary, organisational and legal constraints. In the Iran case, while budgetary or organisational constraints seem not to have played a negative role (over 800 man-days of inspections were conducted for instance between February 2003 and September 2004), lack of adequate legal authority (as embodied in the IAEA Additional Protocol) has hindered its ability to conclude that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. The author closed by noting that even as the IAEA safeguards department has an important role to play, the resolution of the decade-long imbroglio would however eventually depend on a political understanding between Iran and its P5+1 interlocutors.

    Ambassador Sharma suggested that safeguards implementation was inherently a ‘political’ job. He pointed out that Iran itself went ‘political’ when it approached the EU-3 after concerns relating to its activities were first brought into limelight in 2002. Amb. Sharma urged the author to also consult the writings of former IAEA officials like Ollie Heinonen and Mohammad El Baradei to get their view on the issues involved. He wanted the author to bring into the paper aspects relating to Iran’s interactions with the P5+1 to situate the Iran-IAEA interactions in the overall political context. Amb. Sharma noted that Iran cannot possibly cite the Brazil case in defence of its own position.

    Prof. Rajaraman stated that the paper was exhaustively cited and had clarity in its arguments. He noted that though Iran may or may not cite the issue of safeguards implementation in Brazil, the author had complete freedom to examine the issue from a purely academic perspective to draw comparison or lessons if any. Prof. Rajaraman proceeded to give a brief presentation on the technical aspects relating to the Iranian nuclear issue, including on such issues as the different types of Iranian centrifuges and the impact of the Stuxnet virus on the Iranian programme. He pointed out that Iran could use the same centrifuges in which it had enriched uranium to 3.5 per cent to further enrich it to weapons grade within a considerably shorter amount of time if it so desired, thus fuelling concerns about a possible breakout. The IAEA remained wary of Iran’s intentions as it had a history of not declaring its nuclear projects to the agency. He noted that it was imperative that ratifies the AP, and bring all their facilities under IAEA safeguards and inspection.

    Dr. G. Balachandran urged the author to examine whether the AP gave the Agency the necessary authority to demand access to sites like Parchin. He further highlighted the fact that the IAEA has been able to verify both ‘correctness’ and ‘completeness’ in close to 80 per cent of states having significant nuclear activities (SNA)and therefore was reasonably successful in its safeguards implementation efforts. This experience should be helpful to the IAEA if and when it is required to verify that all of Iran’s nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. Vinod Kumar urged the author to provide more empirical elaboration to show the politicisation process in play.

    Dr. Arvind Gupta noted that the paper does a good job of listing the Iranian contentions on the three issue areas that the author has explored and that this was a useful exercise to know where Iran stood. The validity or otherwise of its arguments however are open to contention. Dr. Dany Shoham enquired whether IAEA safeguards implementation in North Korea could be explored by the author as another case study.

    Amb. Rajagopalan urged the author to more clinically examine the issues in the light of the comments received. He urged the author to provide a few paragraphs on the background to the political dispute between Iran and the P5+1 so that lay reader could more easily understand the issues being discussed. The Chair closed the session by commenting on the larger geo-political issues at stake in the light of the Syria crisis and Mr. Rouhani’s election as the new Iranian President.

    Report prepared by S. Samuel C. Rajiv and Daneesh Sethna.