Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Questions about the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Archive

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a dramatic announcement about a daring Israeli intelligence operation to steal over 100,000 documents from a secret Iranian nuclear weapons archive. The documents confirm what we have known for years, and what the IAEA has known since 2011 - that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu did not provide a straight answer on whether Iran continues to have an active nuclear weapons program—something that would clearly violate the JCPOA—or if Iran paused the program at some time. The IAEA has said that Iran's program is not active.

The reaction to Netanyahu's press conference was predictable. Once again, I find myself disappointed as the good questions, the PMD agreement questions, remain an afterthought.

The IAEA, in their report about Iran's PMDs, stated that "all the activities contained in the "Road-map" were implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule". The organization effectively gave a thumbs up to Iran, saying that things are ok from the past, and that we can move forward. The new documents raise questions about what the IAEA okayed, what they knew about Iran's nuclear weapons research, and what the separate agreements referenced in the Road-map include. Did the IAEA agree to let Iran store its previous work? Was the IAEA aware that work had been saved? Did the IAEA order Iran to destroy their research? The PMD report, released in 2015, is very detailed, but without the original documents (from both the IAEA and Iran), it is nearly impossible to compare the report to what Netanyahu revealed yesterday.

While the focus of the JCPOA critics rancor about PMDs has mostly revolved around the Parchin agreement, all of these issues are important, and any obfuscation by Iran and/or the IAEA would be of interest. As I noted in 2015, the IAEA is facing a crisis of confidence; if they cannot be trusted to do their job, what is their utility?

It does not help that many critics are either lazy or deceitful. Then Representative and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Senator Tom Cotton, claimed that they had not heard about side deals when they met with IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano days after the accord was signed. The "Road-map" containing the reference to these side deals is noted explicitly in the text of the JCPOA, and they were all announced and made public on days before this meeting.

There are real and serious questions to ask, but instead, superficial questions, gross insinuations, politicking, and deceptive bombast are all the critics seem able to come up with.

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