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Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, April 27

Kerry and Zarif Discuss Sanctions and Heavy Water U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York on April 22 to discuss implementation of last July’s nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action . The meeting was the second for Kerry and Zarif in a week, and took place amidst concerns from Iranian officials that the United States has not met its sanctions-relief obligations under the deal, despite Iran implementing required restrictions on its nuclear program. Valiollah Seif, head of Iran’s Central Bank, said at the...

Iran’s Missile Tests Raise Concerns

April 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Iran tested two ballistic missiles last month, raising calls in the United States for new national and international sanctions on the country.

On March 9, Iran launched two different variations of the Qadr medium-range ballistic missile as part of a military drill from a site in the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran. One of the missiles, the Qadr-F, has a range of 2,000 kilometers; the other, the Qadr-H, has a range of 1,700 kilometers, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The calls by U.S. officials and members of Congress for additional sanctions stem from concerns that the missile tests run contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls on Iran not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are “designed to be nuclear capable.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on March 15 that the launches were permitted under the resolution because the missiles tested were not designed to be capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Zarif, in an address at the Australian National University, said that Resolution 2231 does not call on Iran “not to test ballistic missiles, or ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.”

The international community generally defines a ballistic missile as being nuclear capable if it can carry a 500-kilogram payload a distance of 300 kilometers.

Passed last July, Resolution 2231 endorses the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) earlier in July and terminates past Security Council resolutions on Iran’s nuclear program, including Resolution 1929. (See ACT, September 2015.) Resolution 1929, which prohibited Iran from developing and launching missiles that were “capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” was terminated on Jan. 16, when the nuclear deal was formally implemented. Resolution 2231 came into effect that day.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on March 14 that she raised the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile tests being inconsistent with Resolution 2231 at a Security Council meeting that day. In remarks to press after the meeting, Power said the missiles were “designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons” and called the launches destabilizing and provocative.

Power said Iran’s reaction merits a response from the Security Council.

Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, took a different view, saying that Iran’s tests did not violate Resolution 2231 because the resolution only “call[s] upon” Iran to abide by the restriction. Churkin said that “you cannot violate a call.” The earlier resolution said that Iran “shall not” undertake any activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Members of the U.S. Congress are also considering national sanctions against Iran.

One of the sanctions bills introduced in response to the ballistic missile tests was sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on March 17 and co-sponsored by 11 other Republican senators. It includes new sanctions against individuals involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and entities that own 25 percent or more of Iran’s key ballistic missile organizations.

Ayotte said in a March 17 press release that she led efforts on the Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 because “the potential danger to our homeland, as well as the urgent threat to our forward deployed troops and our allies like Israel, is only growing.”

Israel is in range of the ballistic missiles that Tehran tested on March 9. But Iran would need a ballistic missile with a range of more than 9,000 kilometers to target the United States. Iran has never tested or displayed a long-range ballistic missile.

Iranian officials have said that Tehran would limit its missiles to a range of 2,300 kilometers. (See ACT, March 2016.)

Democrats also are raising concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile tests. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a March 18 statement that “recent events in Iran underscore the need for a statutory framework to respond to Iran’s ballistic missile tests.”

Cardin said he is working on bipartisan sanctions legislation that will respond to Iran’s repeated ballistic missile launches.

Controversy over the potential nuclear capability of two ballistic missiles tested by Iran last month prompted calls for new U.S. and UN sanctions on Tehran.

The Iranian Ballistic Missile Launches That Didn't Happen

Iran’s binge of short- and medium-range ballistic missile launches on March 8 and 9 garnered considerable attention in the press and in American political circles. These provocative launches, which coincided with a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, were roundly condemned by U.S. politicians in both parties. It may be more revealing, however, to focus on two Iranian missile types that were not launched last week—launches that have been expected for years. These systems, the Simorgh space rocket and the Sejjil-2 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), represent aspects of missile...

Iran Nuclear Deal Implemented

March 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left); Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (center); and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrive for a press conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on January 16 to announce that the agency had verified that Iran had met its obligations under a July agreement to curb its nuclear activities. (Photo credit: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Iran and six world powers in January passed a critical point in the implementation of the nuclear deal they reached last July as the international agency in charge of ensuring that nuclear programs are exclusively peaceful verified that Tehran had met its obligations under the deal to curb its nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced on Jan. 16 in Vienna that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had issued a report verifying that Iran had taken the necessary steps. Under the timetable laid out in the deal, that announcement triggered an easing of the web of sanctions that had been imposed on Iran for its nuclear activities.

Mogherini led the six countries known collectively as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that negotiated with Iran.

The IAEA report noted that Iran had taken steps required under the deal, such as reducing the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 5,060, shipping out its enriched uranium in excess of 300 kilograms, removing the core of its incomplete heavy-water reactor at Arak, and allowing the agency to enhance its monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

On Implementation Day, as it is called, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran imposed by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States were lifted or waived. Past UN Security Council resolutions on Iran were also terminated and replaced by UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The resolution, which the council unanimously approved on July 20, endorsed the July 14 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In the Jan. 16 statement, Zarif and Mogherini said that “all sides remain firmly convinced that this historic deal is both strong and fair, and that it meets the requirements of all; its proper implementation will be a key contribution to improved regional and international peace, stability and security.”

In a Jan. 17 speech, U.S. President Barack Obama said that, under the deal, “Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb. The region, the United States, and the world will be more secure.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a Jan. 17 statement that, with the arrival of Implementation Day, “Iran’s nuclear rights have been accepted by all and the Iranian economy became a global one.”

In testimony on Feb. 9 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that, as a result of the enhanced monitoring and verification, the international community “is well postured to quickly detect changes to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities” and that the deal provides the IAEA with tools to “investigate possible breaches of prohibitions” in the agreement.

Iran and the P5+1 will continue to work on a number of additional provisions required under the deal. One of these measures is modifying the heavy-water reactor at Arak and fitting it with a new core.

The redesigned reactor will still produce medical isotopes but far less weapons-grade plutonium than it would have under its original design.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on Jan. 26 that Iran and China had signed a basic agreement to formalize China’s assistance in redesigning the Arak reactor during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Iran the previous week. 

IAEA Funding

In the United States, members of Congress expressed support for funding IAEA efforts under the Iran deal. In a Feb. 8 letter to Obama, Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) and 34 other members of the House of Representatives called for “robust funding” for the IAEA in the fiscal year 2017 budget. The letter said that providing the agency with the necessary funding to fulfill its responsibilities puts Washington “one step closer to achieving our ambitious goals for global non-proliferation.”

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano estimated in August that implementation of the IAEA’s obligations under the Iran deal would cost an additional 9.2 million euros (about $10.1 million).

Amano said that the additional costs for fiscal year 2016 would need to be met by extrabudgetary contributions but that for 2017 and beyond, they would be built into the IAEA budget.

The U.S. contribution to the IAEA comes primarily from the budget of the State Department.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 9. Clapper said that under the nuclear deal, the international community “is well postured to quickly detect changes to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities.” (Photo credit: Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images)The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, which was released Feb. 9, includes an assessed contribution of $101 million and a voluntary contribution of $89.8 million to support a number of IAEA programs, including nuclear safeguards and verification activities. The voluntary contribution request is a $2 million increase over the fiscal year 2016 appropriation.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 11 email that the voluntary contribution includes planning for the United States to “pledge a significant share” of the estimated costs of IAEA activities under the nuclear deal. The official said that the “full costs” will not fall to the United States for fiscal year 2017 because of “strong international support and recent contributions” by other IAEA member states.

The official said that the State Department estimates that the U.S. voluntary contribution plus the support pledged by other IAEA member states will “fully cover” the IAEA’s financial requirements for implementing the Iran deal in 2017.

A spokesperson for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in a Feb. 18 email that a total of $13 million in the NNSA budget was requested for “activities related to implementation” of the nuclear deal.    

Missile Restrictions

On Jan. 17, the day after Implementation Day, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on 11 individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile programs.

Iran conducted two ballistic missile tests, in October and November, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which prohibited Iran from testing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Nuclear-capable ballistic missiles are generally understood to be missiles capable of delivering 500 kilograms a distance of more than 300 kilometers. Resolution 1929, which the Security Council adopted in 2010, was terminated on Jan. 16 as part of Implementation Day, but the United States went ahead with the sanctions because the violations took place last fall.

Under Resolution 2231, the resolution adopted shortly after the deal was concluded, Iran is “called upon” not to test or develop ballistic missiles “designed” to be nuclear capable.            

Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, said on Jan. 18 that Iran’s missile program will continue undeterred despite the new sanctions. A statement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry said that the missiles are not designed for carrying nuclear weapons and therefore missile tests “do not violate any international rule.”

But Iranian officials say that Tehran intends to voluntarily constrain the range of its ballistic missiles. Abbas Qaidaari, director of the Defense and Security Studies Department at the Center for Strategic Studies in the Office of the Iranian President, wrote in a Feb. 11 piece for the Atlantic Council that “Iran’s strategic defense plan currently sees no justification” for ranges greater than 2,000-2,300 kilometers. Qaidaari said that although Tehran is committed to developing its “deterrent conventional defense capabilities,” it will limit its ballistic missiles to that range.

The tests last fall involved variants of the Shahab-3 ballistic missile. The Shahab-3 is a medium-range system with a range of less than 2,000 kilometers. 

Inspectors verified that Tehran is adhering to the deal’s nuclear limits.

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, February 26

IAEA Reports on Iran’s Compliance The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued its first quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program after the agency certified on Jan. 16 that Tehran met the requirements for formal implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. While light on details, the Feb. 26 report noted that Iran is meeting its nuclear obligations under the deal. Iran briefly exceeded the 130 metric ton limit on its heavy-water stockpile imposed by the nuclear deal, but took steps to reduce the 130.9 tons to under the required...

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, January 21

Iran, P5+1 Mark Deal Implementation Day Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini announced on Jan. 16 that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Tehran completed its nuclear commitments under the July 14 nuclear deal. The agency’s verification triggered “implementation day” according to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). On implementation day, nuclear-related sanctions on Iran imposed by the United...

The Nonproliferation Impact of Iran Nuclear Deal Implementation Day

On January 16, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that Tehran completed its nuclear-related commitments under the July 2015 nuclear agreement and sanctions were lifted accordingly. Zaif and Mogherini said that “proper implementation will be a key contribution to improved regional and international peace, stability and security.” The arrival of implementation day of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action , marks a historic milestone in the process to block Iran’s pathways to a nuclear...

Iran Nuclear Deal Implementation Day is a Historic Milestone That Strengthens the Nonproliferation Regime



For Immediate Release: January 16, 2016

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102; Communications Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 110

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) completed requirements for implementing the historic July 14 nuclear deal, which blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and strengthens the global nonproliferation regime.

Taken together, the restrictions dramatically roll back Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity, block its route to nuclear weapons using plutonium, and put in place a multi-layered monitoring regime that keeps every element of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle under surveillance. Additionally, Iran is prohibited from conducting activities or experiments relevant to a nuclear explosive device, even for conventional purposes. Without this deal, the time it would have taken Iran to develop nuclear warheads would have shrunk dramatically, putting Tehran just weeks away from producing enough fissile material for a bomb if it chose that path.

This hard-won nonproliferation victory demonstrates the international community’s commitment to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and significantly diminishes the future prospect of an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

In the months and years ahead, the United States and its negotiating partners must continue to diligently implement every element of this critical agreement and fully support the International Atomic Energy Agency in its work to verify compliance with the deal.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director. 


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.


Today’s announcement that Iran and six world powers completed requirements for implementing the historic July 14 nuclear deal...

Country Resources:

IAEA Noncompliance Reporting and the Iran Case

January/February 2016

By Trevor Findlay

Mohamed ElBaradei (left foreground), director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks with Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abderrahmane Chalgam (right foreground) in Tripoli on February 24, 2004. (Photo credit: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)On July 14, 2015, after marathon negotiations in Vienna, Iran reached agreement with six world powers—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and the European Union on a deal to roll back and constrain Tehran’s nuclear program. The agreement handed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) its greatest noncompliance reporting challenge yet.

As the multilateral organization charged with determining compliance with nuclear safeguards agreements, the IAEA has had experience with eight significant noncompliance cases, including that of Iran prior to this latest agreement. None, however, matches the procedural complexity, technical intricacy, and political sensitivity of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Vienna agreement is formally known. To fulfill its role, the IAEA Secretariat and the agency’s director-general, Yukiya Amano, will need to draw on the IAEA’s extensive experience with past noncompliance cases, exploit the latest verification technology promised by the agreement, marshal its finest report-crafting expertise, and steer an impartial, balanced, sensitive path through treacherous political waters.

Reporting in Theory

In theory, the way that the IAEA determines noncompliance with nuclear safeguards agreements is clear, straightforward, and automatic. Article XII.C of the agency’s 1957 statute provides that safeguards inspectors “shall report any non-compliance” to the director-general, who “shall” in turn report such noncompliance to the 35-member Board of Governors, the agen­cy’s policymaking body. If the board determines that noncompliance has occurred, it “shall” report it to the agency’s membership at large (most readily through the annual General Conference), the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council.1 The word “shall” makes such steps legally binding. Action to bring a state back into compliance may be taken by the board, although its powers are limited, and by the Security Council, which has enforce­ment powers under the UN Charter. Beyond this, the details of the process, as in all multilateral arms control and disarmament regimes, are sparse. IAEA member states have not even sought to agree on a definition of noncompliance.2

Safeguards agreements themselves do not contain much more guidance than the statute and in some respects are inconsistent with it. Comprehensive safeguards agreements address noncompliance in just two para­graphs (18 and 19) and do not use the word “non-compliance.”3 Instead of the apparent automaticity of the statute, they give the agency flexibility in deciding what constitutes noncompliance, what actions should be taken by a state to redress it, and whether it should be reported to the Security Council.

Reporting in Practice

Eight safeguards noncompliance cases, beginning with Iraq in 1991, have resulted in special reports to the Board of Governors, the Security Council, or both. Five are considered by most observers to be serious and three less serious, although the agency itself does not categorize them this way in order to avoid implying that minor transgressions are not to be taken seriously. The agency’s noncompliance reporting has ranged from a single report that resolved the case to the board’s satisfaction (Romania, South Korea, and Egypt), to a limited number of reports (Libya and Syria), to voluminous and complicated series of reports lasting more than a decade on particularly egregious cases (Iraq, North Korea, and Iran).

Because the format, scope, and nature of reports and the process by which they are produced are not set out in the statute or elsewhere, the IAEA Secretariat has had to invent every aspect from scratch. As the first multilateral arms control verification organization and the one that still has the most-intrusive powers, the agency has had no precedents to emulate. At the outset, the only guidance it had was the traditional, generic way that the United Nations and, before it, the League of Nations reported to member states on a range of subjects. The diplomatic niceties, especially the respectful language used in addressing states; document format and numbering; and the formal, impartial tone of IAEA reports derive from these traditions. In all other respects, the IAEA Secretariat has been obliged to be innovative, flexible, and constantly aware of the significance of establishing precedents.

Each of the noncompliance cases that the IAEA has confronted has been unique, dynamic, and nonlinear. None has conformed to the straightforward trajectory envisaged in the statute or safeguards agreements. No longer is it just “inspectors” who discover and report noncompliance, but an entire safeguards department, employing inspectors, analysts, and other experts, that did not exist when the statute was negotiated.

The director-general’s role also has evolved far beyond simply reporting noncompliance to the board. He (all IAEA directors-general have been men) may, for instance, seek to resolve a noncompliance issue with the state concerned before it gets to the board. He may present an oral briefing to board members instead of or in addition to a written report. Directors-general are now intimately involved, for better or worse, in drafting and finalizing noncompliance reports. Technical briefings by IAEA personnel to the board are increasingly common.

The role of the board also has evolved. Contrary to what is envisaged in the statute, the board may or may not act in response to a noncompliance report by adopting a resolution or taking some other action. It may or may not report a case to the Security Council even when noncompliance has clearly occurred. In two cases, those of Romania and Libya, it has even taken to reporting to the council “for information purposes only,” presumably signaling that the council should take no action. The council took the hint and did not act.

When the council does act, the intensity of reporting by the agency usually increases as the council directs it to verify compliance with new undertakings imposed on noncompliant states. The scale of secretariat reporting also has increased markedly through the practice of ad hoc groups of states negotiating agreements that task the director-general with verifying compliance with additional undertakings. Such agreements, notably those imposed on or agreed with North Korea, Libya, and Iran, may involve the agency verifying and reporting on matters considered to be well beyond traditional safeguards, such as weaponization, dismantlement, disarmament, or a freeze in nuclear activity.

The secretariat’s reporting on noncompliance has thus increased in com­plexity, intensity, and technical sophistication over time. Long, drawn-out noncompliance sagas, such as those involving Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Syria, were not envisaged by the statute, which is charmingly naive in its assumption that noncompliance will be speedily addressed. Certain cases have lasted so long that consolidated reports, summaries, timelines, maps, and diagrams have become commonplace. Complexity has also come from overlapping and linked noncompliance cases, also not envisaged in the statute. In 2004 the agency was dealing with five cases simultaneously (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and South Korea). Currently, it has three (Iran, North Korea, and Syria). Revelations during the Libyan episode about the Abdul Qadeer Khan illicit nuclear export network soon linked several cases not just temporally but substantively.

Political controversy has attended the handling of every noncompliance case. This is inevi­table. Gover­nors representing member states, with all of their divergent interests and allegiances, make the ultimate judgment on noncompliance. Unless the evidence is overwhelming. which seldom is the case, the board is unlikely to rush to a decision. Because of the political implications, the board has a natural reluctance to report a fellow member state to the Security Council. Instead, the board is prone to ask for more verification and more reporting. Some governors may be unconvinced by the evidence and be reluctant, whether for political or substantive reasons, to declare a state in noncompliance. Some may wish to give the state a chance to explain itself or return quickly to compliance. Although the statute is silent on the matter, comprehensive safeguards agreements oblige the board to “afford” the state “every reasonable opportunity to furnish the Board of Governors with any necessary reassurance.” The board also may collectively wish to keep the case within its own control rather than hand it over to an unpredictable Security Council, especially one sub­ject to the veto of any of the five permanent members.

At least at the outset, the board’s inclination is to seek consensus in making a noncompliance judgment, invoking the famous “spirit of Vienna.” The board resorts to a vote only when it becomes clear that consensus is unachievable. Voting in favor of finding a state in noncompliance has steadily declined, providing evidence for the thesis that there is increasing politicization of the board due largely to the split between the Western group and the Non-Aligned Movement. Yet, this may not be the only factor. The increasing technical complexity of cases, the ambiguity of verification data, and the unprecedented solidarity among accused states, such as that between Iran and Syria, may also account for a reluctance by board members to vote yes or no and instead find refuge in abstention (fig. 1).

The Iran Precedents

In 2002, allegations that Iran was construct­ing undeclared nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak plunged the IAEA into a noncompliance saga that has consumed enormous amounts of the secretariat’s energy, time, and resources; generated political controversy about the IAEA’s noncompliance role; and set new precedents.

The Iran noncompliance case has been running for so long that it has resulted in more than 50 reports to the board and the Security Council, as well as innumerable oral reports, technical briefings, and bilateral and multilateral consultations. Although the reports are mostly cumu­lative, largely repeating what has been reported previously with the addition of an update, they are sometimes novel. The Iran case has set several new reporting precedents as a result of the multiple alleged violations involved, the waxing and waning of Iranian cooperation over the years, the involvement of outside parties in the case, and the sheer technical detail necessary for the agency to make its case. Novel areas of investigation, such as the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program—that is, its alleged past weaponization activities—have appeared.

The Iran reports paint a changing picture of the secretariat’s relationship with and attitudes toward Iran. At times, the secretariat demonstrates a willingness to give Iran the benefit of the doubt with respect to rel­atively minor issues that Tehran apparently clarified to the reasonable satisfaction of the agency. At other times, the secretariat draws a much harder line. An extreme example of the latter is its continuing concern about the alleged installation of a chamber for conducting hydrodynamic experiments with high explosives at the Parchin
mili­tary base.

Even more than the other cases, the Iran case has been complicated by diplomatic efforts by other parties to negotiate a resolution. These efforts, not necessarily in consultation with the IAEA, have mainly involved various permutations of the parties involved in the Vienna agreement but also at one time Brazil and Turkey. The Security Council itself, by imposing bans on Iranian activities relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, obliged the IAEA to report on Iran’s compliance with such measures. Such reporting was pointless because Iran had indicated from the outset it would never accept such constraints. The Iran case also became entangled with other noncompliance cases, most notably those of Libya and Syria, and the A.Q. Khan connection.

One particular precedent that the Iran case has established concerns the use and nonuse of the term “non-compliance” by the secretariat in reporting alleged safeguards breaches to the board. In all previous cases, the director-general had used the term “non-compliance,” and the board had followed his lead in using it (table 1). In 2003, the George W. Bush administration began pressing the secretariat to use the term in order to trigger Iran’s “referral” to the Security Council, relying on the presumed automaticity the statute provides. Other countries, including France, Germany, and the UK, which were seeking to negotiate a settlement with Iran, preferred not to have it found in noncompliance at that time.

Faced with such divisions, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei sought legal advice. After examining the statute, successive types of safe­guards agreements, and precedents set by the previous cases, the IAEA legal office concluded that he had discretion as to whether and when to report noncompliance to the board and whether to use the term “non-compliance.” Moreover, it was concluded that there was no difference between the terms “non-compliance,” “breach,” and “failure to comply.” In his report of November 10, 2003, ElBaradei thus spoke of Iran’s “breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of its Safeguards Agreement” and of “serious concerns.” The board used the same language in its resolution. Only in a subsequent resolution did the board use the word “non-compliance.” The secretariat has never done so with regard to Iran or in any subsequent noncompliance cases—those of Libya, South Korea, Egypt, and Syria.

Although this may sound like terminological hair-splitting, it illustrates the fine line that the IAEA Secretariat has to walk in noncompliance reporting. It has to provide strictly technical, factual reports using standard safeguards formulations, which are often unrevealing except to the cognoscenti, while signaling unambiguously that noncompliance has occurred. Furthermore, it has to perform this feat while taking into account the interests and concerns of interested member states.

The July 2015 Agreements

On July 14, 2015, a new phase of the Iran case began.4 The Vienna accord is a long, complex agreement that imposes new constraints on Iran’s nuclear program while offer­ing sanctions relief in return. This includes Iran’s implementation of the stricter verification requirements of an additional protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement. Also on July 14, Amano and Ali Akbar Salehi, vice president of Iran and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, signed a “Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme.”5 On July 20, the UN Security Council, in Resolution 2231, endorsed the agreement and added its own requirements.6 The agency is now involved in even more voluminous and complex reporting on Iran, pursuant to even more legal and quasi-legal undertakings.

The first major test for the IAEA came in December 2015 when Amano was obliged to provide his “final assessment on the resolution of all past and present outstanding issues” to the board, specifically the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program that the agency had been investigating since 2002.7 His report, released on December 2, was like standard IAEA compliance reports in its use of routine formulations.8 It recorded that the agency had found no “evidence” or “indications” that Iran had undertaken proscribed activities after 2009, that it currently had an undeclared nuclear fuel cycle, or that it had diverted nuclear material from its belatedly declared program. The report also spoke of the agency’s inability to undertake the necessary verification with respect to alleged activities, notably at the Parchin military base. As expected, the report abjured the word “non-compliance” and did not mention breaches or even “serious concerns,” the term used in ElBaradei’s November 2003 report, even though it recorded that Iran had not cooperated to the extent necessary to resolve certain concerns. It also deemed implausible some of Iran’s claims about the nonmilitary nature of some of its dual-use technologies.

In other respects, however, the report was extraordinary. It was not geared toward assessing compliance with standard safeguards undertakings in a legally binding safeguards agreement but with a series of steps to be undertaken not just by the state concerned but by the IAEA itself, all of which were reported to have been accomplished on schedule. Most unusually, the report did not indicate that the IAEA would continue to carry out verification activities in pursuit of any of the unresolved issues. Normally, IAEA noncompliance reports signal that the director-general will remain “seized” of the issue and that monitoring and verification will continue.

On December 15, the board adopted a resolution that noted that the activities listed in the road map were indeed implemented on schedule, but it did not declare that all issues had been resolved. Although the resolution explicitly “closes the Board’s consideration” of the issue of the alleged past weaponization activities, a step that Iran had long demanded, it hardly let Iran off the hook as to its past activities. The board indicated that the IAEA will indeed continue to be seized of the Iran issue for the lifetime of the Vienna accord. The director-general was asked to report on a quarterly basis and at any time he has “reasonable grounds to believe there is an issue of concern.” The artful layering of the various elements of the Vienna deal ensures that if Iran wishes to obtain complete sanctions relief in less than eight years, the IAEA must reach the so-called broader conclusion that all of Iran’s nuclear material since the beginning of its nuclear activities decades ago has been declared and is under safeguards. Even for countries such as Australia and Canada, which offered full cooperation to the IAEA, reaching this determination took many years.

In the meantime, a complicated set of verification and reporting tasks awaits the agency with regard to the multiple new constraints imposed by the Vienna accord on Iran’s nuclear and related activities for the coming 10 to 15 years. Amano must submit a report, expected by some as early as January 2016, assessing whether Iran has completed all of the actions specified in the Implementa­tion Plan (Annex V of the Vienna agreement). These include removal and storage of most of its functioning centrifuges, conversion of the Arak reactor so it can no longer produce significant amounts of plutonium, and removal from Iran of most of its stockpile of enriched uranium. Implementation Day will be declared when the IAEA concludes that Iran has complied with the plan. Most sanctions will be terminated, waived, or suspended on that day.

This puts great responsibility on the shoulders of the IAEA Secretariat and director-general. They will be under pressure from Iran, China, Russia, and their supporters to give the green light for sanc­tions to be lifted, while the United States and its allies will be scrutinizing the agency’s verification activities and compliance reporting to ensure they are credible. In accordance with the precedent set earlier in the Iran case, the secretariat does not have to use the word “non-compliance” in order to convey that noncompliance has occurred, but it must do more than simply report data. It should provide analysis and assessment and indicate clearly where there is evidence of breaches and shortcomings.

The secretariat faces several challenges in performing this role. First, even with the best will in the world, Iran’s compliance is unlikely to be perfect. Distinguishing between technical and material breaches and between what is unintentional and deliberate is crucial. A second challenge is the sheer complexity of the Vienna agreement, the Security Council resolution, and associated elements of the deal, as well as the number of stakeholders involved. This is bound to produce interpretive differences. Notwithstanding the exquisite detail of the Vienna agreement, there is no such thing as an unambiguous undertaking in arms control, no matter how hard negotiators try.

A third difficulty arises from the well-known challenge of assessing and reporting on research and development, which Iran is permitted to pursue with respect to uranium enrichment.

A fourth challenge is how to make an overall assessment of Iran’s compliance at any one time. There are so many moving parts, technical subtleties, and potential compliance lacunae that the IAEA Secretariat will be hard pressed to provide the pithy summary assessments necessary to keep the process moving forward politically and to convince all interested parties of the validity of its assessments. These parties include IAEA member states without deep technical knowledge of verification and compliance matters; an often skeptical media; legislators in some countries, especially the United States; and nongovernmental experts. Finally, considerable uncertainty pertains to the precise relationship among the IAEA; the joint commission established by the Vienna agreement, comprising all the parties to that accord; and the Security Council in determining and acting on Iran’s compliance. The IAEA’s mandate and authorities must be respected in order to avoid harming its credibility in implementing nuclear safeguards globally, far beyond the specifics of the Iran case.

To boost the chances of the IAEA successfully carrying out its new responsibilities, the following ingredients are necessary:

  • As past cases have demonstrated, the director-general and the board need to be afforded flexibility in handling the complexities of noncompliance issues, no­tably in navigating the line between inadvertent, technical noncompliance and systematic, willful noncompliance. 
  • The IAEA needs as soon as possible to obtain the state-of-the-art verification technology promised in the Vienna accord, the additional personnel and funding that Amano has requested, and the best analytical and report-crafting skills it can muster. 
  • It is the responsibility of the board and the Security Council, not the secretariat, to declare Iran in noncompliance if necessary. The declaration should be based on evidence and analysis, not just raw data, prepared by the secretariat and presented by the director-general. 
  • Care must be taken to avoid the joint commission usurping the roles of the IAEA director-general and board.

Ultimately, Iran’s compliance will depend on whether it has made a strategic decision to comply. If it provides grudging cooperation, under­takes minimal compliance, constantly tests the boundaries of toleration, and seeks overall to game the system, no amount of finely crafted, technically competent, and politically astute reporting by the IAEA Secretariat and director-general will suffice to avoid a crisis. On the other hand, if Iran offers its full cooperation, there may still be uncertainties, minor disputes, or inadvertent noncompliance, but none of this will be insoluble. To ensure this outcome, Iran would be wise to work proactively with the IAEA Secretariat to facilitate the agency’s reporting and to provide as much transparency and access as possible in order to build confidence in its full compliance.


1.  Despite common usage, including at times by successive directors-general and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, nowhere do the legal documents speak of “referring” a case to the board or UN Security Council. The correct term is “report.”

2.  The Safeguards Glossary—which the secretariat, not the board, created—defines “non-compliance” as “a violation by a State of a safeguards agreement with the IAEA.”  It provides several examples but no definitive list. See IAEA Safeguards Glossary (Vienna: IAEA, 2002), p. 13.

3.  IAEA, “The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/153 (corrected), June 1972.

4.  UN Security Council, S/RES/2231, July 20, 2015, annex A (“A Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Vienna, 14 July 2015”).

5.   IAEA Board of Governors, “Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” GOV/INF/2015/14, July 14, 2015.

6.  UN Security Council, S/RES/2231.

7.  IAEA Board of Governors, “Road-map for the Clarification of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” para. 8.

8.  IAEA Board of Governors, “Final Assessment on Past and Present Activities Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” GOV/2015/68, December 2, 2015.

Trevor Findlay is a principal fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, and an associate with the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center for Science and International Security at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of “Proliferation Alert! The IAEA and Non-Compliance Reporting,” on which this article is based.

To fulfill its role in implementing the Iran nuclear deal, the IAEA will need to draw on its extensive experience with past noncompliance cases, exploit the latest verification technology...

IAEA Finds Iran Did Weapons Work

January/February 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, shown above in a November 2013 photo, welcomed a recent report by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program. (Photo credit: Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, but did not divert nuclear material from its civilian nuclear program as part of its weaponization efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported last month, leading the organization’s governing body to close the investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons activities.

The Dec. 2 IAEA report found that although Tehran’s organized nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, some activities continued through 2009. Nevertheless, the agency said, it found “no credible indications” that nuclear material was diverted to the weapons program or that any undeclared activities have taken place since 2009.

In an annex to its November 2011 quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities, the IAEA had laid out 12 areas of concern that could be relevant for a nuclear weapons program, but the agency made little progress investigating its concerns until it reached an agreement with Tehran last July 14 to complete the probe. Between July and October, Iran provided the agency with information and with access to individuals and sites as part of the IAEA investigation.

The IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors met on Dec. 15 to consider the Dec. 2 report. The board passed a resolution by a unanimous vote that closed the investigation into the past weapons work.

In a statement to the board released after the vote, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said the agency’s finding that Iran has not diverted nuclear material “clearly shows that Iran’s nuclear programme has always been for peaceful purposes.”

Najafi said that Iran “disagreed” with some of the agency’s findings. The “scientific studies of dual-use technologies have always been for peaceful civilian or conventional military uses” rather than nuclear weapons work, he said.

The report found that some of the activities that Iran claimed were for conventional military or peaceful purposes, such as the testing of certain types of explosive detonators, had “characteristics relevant to a nuclear explosive device,” but noted that the detonators have applications that are not related to nuclear explosives.

In several cases, the agency also said Tehran was not fully forthcoming with information in response to its questions.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Dec. 15 that he welcomed the resolution and that closing the investigation will “in no way preclude the IAEA from investigating if there is reason to believe Iran is pursuing any covert nuclear activities in the future.”

The Dec. 15 resolution said Iran should “cooperate fully and in a timely manner” with the IAEA through implementation of its safeguards, including by providing the agency with access to sites in Iran.

Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, chair of the UN Security Council committee on Iran sanctions, briefs the council on December 15, 2015. (Photo credit: Evan Schneider/UN)The board asked the agency to continue to report quarterly on Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the nuclear deal reached between Tehran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

As part of the July nuclear deal, Iran agreed to implement and eventually ratify an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The protocol gives IAEA inspectors expanded access to information and sites in Iran.

Iran also agreed to continuous monitoring at some of its nuclear facilities, including its uranium mines and mills and centrifuge production workshops.

The Dec. 15 resolution requested that the IAEA director-general report to the board and the UN Security Council if any concerns about Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement arise.

Kerry said that the “focus now appropriately moves toward full implementation” of the nuclear deal and “its enhanced verification and transparency regime.”

Next Steps

In October, more than a month before the IAEA report, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran would not complete some of its obligations under the nuclear deal with the P5+1 until after the IAEA board closed the investigation on Iran’s past work related to nuclear weapons development.

The day after the board resolution terminating the probe, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told reporters that Iran was ready to ship out its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU), about nine metric tons, to Russia.

Iranian officials confirmed that the LEU was shipped from the port city of Bushehr on Dec. 28. Kerry said in a Dec. 28 statement that removal of the LEU from Iran is significant and “more than triples” the time it would take for Tehran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade for one bomb. Prior to the removal, he said the time was about two to three months.

Under the deal with the P5+1, Iran committed to reduce its stockpile of uranium enriched to reactor-grade levels, less than 5 percent uranium-235, to 300 kilograms.

In return for the LEU, Iran will receive natural uranium from Russia. Salehi said Iran would receive 140 metric tons of uranium yellowcake from Russia in return for the LEU. Russia already has shipped 137 metric tons to Iran, Salehi said in his Dec. 16 comments.

Also contingent on the conclusion of the IAEA’s investigation, according to Khamenei, is the removal of the core of the Arak reactor.

Iran committed to remove and disable the core of the reactor under the nuclear deal with the P5+1. The six-country group is to work with Iran to modify the reactor and construct a new core that will produce significantly less weapons-grade plutonium than the original design.

Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted Iranian officials on Jan. 11 as saying that work on removing the core had begun.

He has stated on several occasions that Iran can complete all of its commitments under the nuclear deal, including removal of the reactor core, by mid-January.

Another Missile Test

Despite the progress on the nuclear deal, Iran and the United States are still at odds over Iran’s recent missile activities.

Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Nov. 21, likely violating UN Security Council Resolution 1929 for the second time since October, when Iran tested its Emad missile. (See ACT, November 2015.)

That resolution, adopted in June 2010, prohibits Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” Under a widely accepted definition, ballistic missiles are considered nuclear capable if they can carry a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers.

The UN Security Council panel charged with overseeing sanctions on Iran found on Dec. 15 that the Emad test violated Resolution 1929.

The missile tested in November is reported to be a Ghadr-110, a liquid-fueled missile with a range of about 2,000 kilometers. The Ghadr-110 and the Emad are variants of Iran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missile.

In a Dec. 17 letter to President Barack Obama, 21 Senate Democrats, including a number of senators who support the nuclear deal, called on the president “to take action unilaterally, or in coordination with our European allies” in response to the missile tests. Without action from the United States or the UN Security Council, “Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations” of the nuclear deal, the letter said.

A separate Dec. 17 letter to Obama from 35 Senate Republicans called on him to keep the sanctions on Iran in place.

Iran is not prohibited from testing ballistic missiles under the nuclear agreement with the P5+1. When the agreement is fully implemented, Resolution 1929 will be replaced by Security Council Resolution 2231.

That resolution, unanimously passed by the Security Council on July 20, endorses the nuclear deal and calls on Iran “not to develop or test ballistic missiles that are designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear warheads. 

The [IAEA]’s finding that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003 was endorsed by the agency’s board, which also closed the investigation into past weaponization work. 


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