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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was established in 1957 to promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies. The IAEA has a special relationship with the UN and reports annually to the UN General Assembly and, when appropriate, to the Security Council regarding non-compliance by States with their safeguards obligations as well as on matters relating to international peace and security.
In late 2002, the agency started to show concern about developments in Iran and, a few months later, began to question Iranian assurances regarding the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities and to seek access to sites where Iran was suspected of enrichment activities.
In December 2003, the Deputy Director General of the IAEA reported:
As a result of the numerous inspections, repeated dogged questioning from the Agency, and intense international pressure, today we have significantly greater knowledge and understanding of Iran's nuclear program - its history, nature and extent - than at any time in the past. And, in the past few months, Iran, as you know, has finally admitted to having failed to adhere to many of its obligations under its NPT safeguards agreement. Agency inspectors have been on the ground in Iran, have been in the unique position of having seen and taken samples at all the facilities in question, have had direct interaction with the relevant people, and have brought their past experience to bear in addressing this latest challenge…. But our work in Iran remains a 'work in progress'; we have found no conclusive evidence, to date, of a weapons program, but neither are we ready to conclude that the program is conclusively peaceful in nature. Extensive verification work remains, and full co-operation and transparency on the part of Iran - which we expect - will be essential. (IAEA Conference, December 8, 2003).
The IAEA expressed concern about the concealment of Iran's nuclear activities until 2003 and the "many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement" and has repeatedly sought "credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." (IAEA Board Report, November 29, 2004)
The IAEA released a report February 1, 2006, which found evidence of links between Iran's nuclear program and its military work on high explosives and missiles. The report documents work Iran has conducted on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design, which contradicts Iranian claims that it is only interested in electrical power. The IAEA also reiterated its past complaints that Iran has not been cooperative on all of the outstanding nuclear issues that the agency has been investigating (New York Times, February 1, 2006).
Following the IAEA decision, Iran announced that it had resumed uranium enrichment efforts and will no longer comply with voluntary measures designed to enhance international inspectors' access to its nuclear facilities (Washington Post, February 15, 2006).
Iran has begun testing about 20 centrifuges used in enriching fuel and is making improvements at its Natanz nuclear facility according to a February report by the IAEA. The organization also said that it was not "in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran." The report criticizes Iran for failing to reveal "the scope and nature" of its nuclear program despite three years of IAEA monitoring efforts (Washington Post, February 28, 2006).
In May 2006, UN inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military. Initial reports suggested the density of enrichment was close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads. But later a diplomat accredited to the IAEA said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level (AP, May 13, 2006).
On March 8, 2007, the IAEA announced the suspension of nearly two dozen nuclear technical aid programs to Iran as part of UN sanctions imposed because the country's nuclear defiance. Perhaps even more important was the decision two weeks later by Russia to withhold nuclear fuel for the Bushehr power plant unless Iran suspends its uranium enrichment.
The IAEA issued a report on November 15, 2007, which said Iran was cooperating with the agency, but also said that Iran has ignored for more than a year the Security Council's demand that it stop enriching uranium. Moreover, the report warned that its understanding of Iran's nuclear program "is diminishing" because Tehran was preventing more extensive inspections. In addition, Iran reportedly denied IAEA requests to interview at least two Iranians about their nuclear work. According to Newsweek, "agency investigators are still waiting for Iranian explanations and documents about uranium contamination at a technical university, the operations of a uranium mine, and alleged studies related to atomic weapons research, including high-explosive testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle." The magazine also noted, "The report was unequivocal in verifying that despite Security Council demands to the contrary, Iran is proceeding with uranium enrichment and construction of a heavy-water production plant, which would supply a heavy-water reactor capable of producing plutonium. The IAEA found that Iran had installed nearly 3,000 centrifuges at its main uranium enrichment plant as of November 3." A week earlier, Iran gave the IAEA a document that essentially described how to make components for a nuclear bomb (Newsweek, November 15, 2007).
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on November 29, 2007, that nothing would deflect the Islamic Republic from its pursuit of nuclear technology and that Washington had "lost" in its attempts to stop them. "The Iranian nation will never return from the path that they have chosen and they are determined and decisive to continue this path (to obtain nuclear technology)" (Reuters, December 1, 2007).
The IAEA issued a report on May 26, 2008, that accused Iran of stonewalling the agency. "Iran has not provided the Agency with all the information, access to documents and access to individuals necessary to support Iran's statements" that its activities were purely peaceful in intent. The agency also noted that Iran had ignored three sets of Security Council sanctions calling for an end to its enrichment activities and, instead, expanded its operational centrifuges by about 500 since the IAEA's February report (AP, May 26, 2008). The IAEA, moreover, found "substantial parts of the centrifuge components were manufactured in the workshops of the Defense Industries Organization." It also describes evidence of detonators, testing systems, and missile configuration that can only go with a nuclear weapon (Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2008).
In September 2008, IAEA officials reported that enough enriched uranium to make six atom bombs (if processed to weapons grade level) disappeared from the main production facility at Isfahan. The officials suspect the material may have been moved to one of the installations spotted by American spy satellites, which intelligence officials believe are being used for covert research (Telegraph, September 12, 2008).
The European Union issued a statement on September 24, 2008, that said the IAEA's information "leads one to think that Iran has methodically pursued a program aimed at acquiring the nuclear bomb."
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security said in 2008 that Iran has solved many of the problems it had with its centrifuges and they are now "running at approximately 85% of their stated target capacity, a significant increase over previous rates." The IAEA's 2008 report said Iran has produced nearly 1,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium; Albright says it needs a minimum of 1,500-pounds for a simple nuclear bomb, a figure it could reach in six months to two years (AP, September 24, 2008).
One proposal floated to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program was to guarantee guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel from abroad. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected that idea: "No ... Iran's uranium enrichment policy remains unchanged. Enrichment will continue until Iran becomes self-sufficient in fuel production for nuclear plants." Iran will also not hesitate to proliferate nuclear technology. "As soon as we become self-sufficient in fuel production," Mottaki said "we are ready to supply it to countries in need" (Reuters, October 5, 2008).
According to the IAEA's May 2010 report, Iran has produced a stockpile of nuclear fuel that, with further enrichment, would be sufficient to build two nuclear weapons. In addition, the report says Iran has expanded work at Natanz and that inspectors have been denied access to facilities and their questions have gone unanswered. The IAEA noted that Iran has also raised the level of uranium enrichment up to 20 percent, far beyond the 4 percent needed to run nuclear power reactors that Iran claims is the purpose of their program. Additional centrifuges have been set up it is believe to increase the level of enrichment to weapons grade (New York Times, May 31, 2010).
In August 2010, Iran announced that it had selected the locations inside protected mountain strongholds where it would build 10 new uranium enrichment sites. In an additional move seen as retaliation against the international community for its sanctions against Iran, President Ahmadinejad also announced the implementation of a new law banning the Iranian government from anything beyond the minimum level of cooperation with the IAEA (AP, August 16, 2010).
In April 2011, scientists from Iran's atomic energy program announced that they had successfully tested advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium and were less than a month away from starting Iran's first commercial nuclear reactor. Though the advances were not yet fully implemented, the announcements countered international perceptions that Iran's nuclear program had suffered significant setbacks during a series of cyber attacks on the country's main uranium enrichment facilities in 2009 and 2010 and prompted some experts to redraw their forecasts for how quickly the country could build an atomic arsenal (Washington Post, April 14, 2011).
A May 2011 IAEA report on the progress of Iran's nuclear program included that Iran had conducted work on a sophisticated triggering device to be used to set off a nuclear weapon. The same report also indicated that Iran was recovering from the Stuxnet computer worm that had stalled its production of nuclear fuel and was believed to have been designed and released by Israel and the United States in 2010 (JTA, May 25, 2011). The following month, Iranian state television broadcast images of a number of missile silos deep underground, saying they held medium- and long-range missiles. While Iran claimed the subterranean silos were defensive assets, as they are harder to destroy than surface installations, the London-based arms analysis group the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported evidence of Iranian silos that could fire missiles at Israel, Turkey and through the Persian Gulf and that the most logical reason for building the silos was in preparation to field larger missiles (New York Times, June 27, 2011).
A UN panel of experts, which was convened after the UN Security Council imposed stiffer sanctions against in Iran in 2010, released a report in June 2011 which compiled information provided by Security Council member nations, monitors sent to various countries where unauthorized Iranian activity has been uncovered and input from outside experts on Iran's development of medium- and long-range missiles, nuclear program and weapons-smuggling operations. The report warned: "Iran's circumvention of sanctions across all areas, in particular the use of front companies, concealment methods in shipping, financial transactions and the transfer of conventional arms and related materiel, is willful and continuing. Iran maintains its uranium enrichment and heavy water-related activities, as noted in reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in the area of ballistic missiles, continues to test missiles and engage in prohibited procurement." According to the report, in a period of less than six months, the Iranians launched Sejil and Shahab 3 missiles on three occasions, and conducted an additional trial of the Fateh-110 missile (Haaretz, June 10, 2011).
In September 2011, Iran moved its most critical nuclear fuel production to a highly guarded underground military facility outside the city of Qum, where - according to intelligence officials - it is less vulnerable to an air or cyberattack such as the 2010 Stuxnet computer worm that reportedly set back Iran's nuclear program by a year or two (New York Times, September 2, 2011).
In its November 2012 report, the IAEA said Iran had installed 700 new centrifuges at its fortified underground facility at Fordo. Iran has already been enriching uranium to 20 percent and the new equipment will allow the facility to double its output of higher-enriched uranium. According to the IAEA, this will allow Iran to make the core of a nuclear warhead within months. The plant is now believed to have approximately 2,800 centrifuges (AP, November 16, 2012). Later, Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, said no progress had been made toward determining whether Iran was building a bomb. Suspicions were raised further after reports that Iran had conducted nuclear weapons tests at its Parchin military site. The IAEA wanted to inspect the site, but Iran refused, and began cleaning the area, the IAEA believed, to prevent it from learning what sort of tests were conducted (Reuters, November 29, 2012).
In May 2013, the IAEA released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program which showed the Islamic Republic accelerating the installment of advanced uranium enrichment equipment at Natanz. Iran has installed almost 700 advanced IR2m centrifuges at the plant, compared with 180 in February, prompting the agency to restate its ongoing concern about the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear project. The report also says the heavy water reactor in Arak will be completed and online by the end of 2014. One positive finding was that Iran has not started to operate new equipment at the Fordo facility, which, unlike Natanz, can enrich uranium to the sensitive 20% level. The report said Iran did not produce a significant amount of of ths enriched uranium so as, to approach but not cross the red line that might trigger a military response. A more disturbing development, however, it the revelation that Tehran has started to produce plutonium. Iran is also continuingt to conceal the military base at Parchin, covering it with asphalt and restricting the work of nuclear inspectors who believe it was used to test nuclear triggers. In the last three months, the IAEA disclosed that Iran increased its total stock of low-enriched uranium by almost 8 percent, to nearly 10 tons (BBC, AFP, Haaretz, New York Times, May 22, 2013).
Despite hopes that the new Iranian regime would change its policy, the IAEA found in its August 2013 report that the nuclear program had continued to accelerate. According to the report, Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached 185.8 kilogram, an increase of only about 4 kilograms since May 2013, because Iran is continuing to convert 20% material into powder. This continues a pattern where Iran increases its enriched uranium supply, but keeps the total below the estimated 240-250 kilograms which, when further enriched to weapons grade, would be enough for one nuclear weapon. This is Israel's stated “red line.” The IAEA also found that Iran has now installed 1,008 advanced (IR-2M) centrifuges at Natanz but these centrifuges are not yet producing enriched uranium. Iran continues to make progress on the Arak (heavy water) reactor (IR-40), but its anticipated start-up date (early 2014) is no longer achievable due to construction delays.
On November 23, 2013, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings that if followed, halts the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolls it back in key respects. The agreement was hailed as only an interim deal, set for six months, that will give world powers extended time to work with the Islamic Republic on a permanent solution to the nuclear crisis. The details of the deal stipulate that Iran committs to halt enrichment above 5%, neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium, halt progress on its enrichment capacity, halt progress on activities at the Arak reactor and provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at the Natanz and Fordow sites. In return for these steps, the international community will not impose new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran for at least six months and will suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran's auto sector, and Iran's petrochemical exports. Pursuant to this agreement, by August 25 2014 Iran was required to complete certain transparency measures for the IAEA to aid in their investigation. As of November 2014, these transparency measures have not been completed. (White House, November 23, 2013)
IAEA Yukiya Amano arrived in Tehran on August 17, 2014 for meetings with Iranian leaders and senior officials. The IAEA had recently been given increased access to Iran's nuclear facilities pursuant to the interim agreement struck in November, and they are trying to determine the past, present, or future military capacity of the Iranian nuclear program. During these meetings, Hassan Rouhani repeatedly emphasized that missiles were not on Iran's nuclear agenda and that Iran was willing to cooperate with the IAEA. The meetings saw the two go over the previously agreed to joint cooperation plan, along with IAEA regulations. After returning, Mr Amano said that the meeting with Rouhani was "useful" and he recieved a firm commitment from the Iranian officials that they will cooperate with the IAEA's inquiry. This meeting came before the August 25 deadline for Iran to implement transparency measures and provide relevant information to the IAEA on the military dimensions of it's nuclear program, and these meetings are seperate and unrelated to Iran's relations and meetings with the P5+1. (Bloomberg, August 17 2014)
The IAEA deadline with Iran for them to implement transparency measures and fully disclose the possibe militarization of their nuclear capabilities came and went without a final word from Iran. By the August 25 deadline, set in November, Iran had to accomplish a number of things in order to calm international concerns of their possible weaponization and militarization of their nuclear program. This list of 5 demands from the IAEA has not been fully publicly disclosed, but it includes full disclosure of explosive experimentation, and statistical measurements of their nuclear facilities. Statements from Iranian officials point to the fact that some of these demands have been met and others have not. Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that "They have 5 demands and questions... some are completed, and some are in the process of being completed," providing no elaboration on this statement. (Voice of America, August 25 2014)
Iran failed to submit reports to the IAEA detailing it's experiments with explosives that could be used for an atomic device, and studies relating to nuclear program yields. The IAEA report for August 2014 included that Iran has effectively stopped cooperation with the IAEA and the international community. Iran so far has carried out the minor components of the 5 transparency measures but still has to submit the most important portions including details of it's explosive expirementation and studies relating to nuclear program yields. These are by far the most critical components of the transparency measures because they evaluate the potential military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program. The international community cannot be sure of what the intentions of the Iranian nuclear program are until they disclose these aspects, and by refusing to cooperate in this way Iran has completely shut off the international negotiations. Especially because of the renewed activity at the Parchin nuclear base, the IAEA is extremely concerned about concealed Iranian nuclear activity that they have not reported as part of the transparency measures. To read the complete IAEA report for August 2014, click here.
Western states pushing Iran to scale down it's nuclear program got a rude awakening on August 27, when it was revealed that Iran had been undertaking "mechanical" tests on a new centrifuge system. Iran claims that it's centrifuges are not for nuclear weaponization purposes and that it is manufacturing new ones to replace it's old and accident-prone centrifuges. These new advanced centrifuges could allow Iran to come up with a nuclear weapon at a much faster rate than before. The interim deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 in November 2013 states that Iran could not go beyond the current centrifuge research and development programs it had in place. This restriction expressly prohibits the manufacture or testing of new centrifuges and centrifuge materials, and Iran has blatantly disregarded the agreement by carrying out new tests. The IAEA's monthly report for August, released on August 20 made no mention of new centrifuge development taking place. According to the IAEA document titled Centrifuge Research and Development Limitations in Iran the IAEA clearly state that "Iran’s development of more advanced centrifuges would also significantly complicate the verification of a long-term agreement. In a breakout or cheating scenario, Iran would need far fewer of these advanced centrifuges in a clandestine plant to make weapon-grade uranium than in one using IR-1 centrifuges".
Throughout the negotiations process Iran continued to prevent IAEA nuclear investigators and officials from gaining access to Iranian nuclear sites or scientists. This refusal to cooperate has effectively crippled the negotiations and peace process, and made it exceedingly complicated to reach agreements between the P5+1 and Iranian leaders. With the November 24 2014 deal deadline approaching, at the end of October Iranian officials once again denied IAEA inspectors access to their nuclear sites including Parchin, where a suspicious explosion had occured recently. Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano stated on October 31 2014 that "almost no progress" had been made over the course of 2014 involving the allegations of Iranian nuclear weapons development.
In an IAEA report released on November 7 2014, which can be found here , the agency reported that Iran "has not provided any explanations that enable the Agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures, nor has it proposed any new practical measures in the next step of the Framework for Cooperation". According to the report Iran has failed to answer almost every critical question about the potential military dimensions of it's nuclear program, and has continued to thwart further investigations into the program. The report states that no progress has been made into the investigation since the last report was published.
With the stipulations from the temporary agreement still in force until at least the end of June 2015, the IAEA requested more funds on December 3 to continue their monitoring of Iran's nuclear program. The IAEA announced in a confidential note to members that they would need an estimated additional 4.6 million Euros ($5.67 million) in external contributions in order to continue their monitoring practices in the same way as before. Yukiya Amano, the director of the IAEA stated that "[any] member states which are in a position to do so to make the necessary funding available for the continuation of the agency’s monitoring and verification." (Reuters, December 3 2014)
The IAEA announced on December 11 that they had indeed secured the funding required to continue their monitoring of Iran's nuclear program. At an IAEA meeting that week international donors including large contributors the Netherlands and Norway pledged more than the expected 4.6 million Euros, demonstrating the international support for avoiding a nuclear Iran.
The IAEA report for the end of 2014 included details that showed that Iran was cooperating in certain aspects with the temporary deal agreed to in January 2014. According to the report, the Iranians kept their word and continued to not enrich uranium over 5%, and had also not made any other technological advances at their nuclear facilities.