News ANALYSIS: IAEA Limits Leave Iran Intel Gaps

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, October 2006 | Go to article overview

News ANALYSIS: IAEA Limits Leave Iran Intel Gaps

Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today

As negotiators seek to start talks to ease concerns about Iran's nuclear program, Tehran's February decision to limit the access of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors is contributing to additional doubts about its nuclear intentions and capabilities.

When the IAEA referred Iran's case to the UN Security Council in February, Tehran retaliated by halting its voluntary implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the agency. Iran has signed the protocol, which augments the IAEA's authority to investigate possible clandestine nuclear programs, but has not ratified it.

The resulting vacuum of information raises concerns that the international community could either underestimate or overestimate the progress of Tehran's gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. It is particularly important as U.S. officials spar among themselves and with foreign officials over the potential threat posed by the program, which could produce either civilian nuclear fuel or fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

In order to promote Iranian transparency, the Security Council in July adopted Resolution 1696, which calls on Tehran to act in accordance with its additional protocol. Iran has not complied.

Without Tehran's implementation of its protocol, inspectors find their access limited to the terms of the country's standard safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties' declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. But inspectors have considerably less access to nuclear-related sites and information without an additional protocol in effect.

Nor has Iran so far heeded the Security Council's call for cooperation that extends even beyond the terms of its additional protocol. The agency has said that its inspectors need greater access to facilities and personnel than is granted by Iran's additional protocol. Tehran has previously provided some of this cooperation but not enough to resolve some ambiguities surrounding its nuclear program.

In a Sept. 18 statement to the IAEA General Conference, agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the agency has accounted for "all the nudear material declared by Iran" but added that it has not been "able to make progress on resolving" the outstanding questions regarding Iran's nudear activities.

This lack of full Iranian cooperation means that the IAEA "cannot make any further progress in its efforts to provide assurances" that Tehran is not pursuing undeclared nuclear activities, ElBaradei said, calling the situation "a matter of serious concern."

Although Iran has provided the agency with the required access to declared nuclear facilities and materials, it has somewhat hindered the inspectors' work by, for example, declining to give access to certain records of its operating centrifuge facility. The IAEA inspectors' decreased access to Iranian nuclearrelated facilities in recent months also appears to be impeding the agency's understanding of several other aspects of Tehran's centrifuge program. For instance, the agency is unable to monitor Iran's advanced centrifuge research because the country is no longer granting access to the relevant workshops.

Wayne White, a former top Middle East intelligence analyst at the Department of State, expressed concern in a Sept. 27 interview with Arms Control Today that Tehran could already be taking advantage of the IAEA's lack of access by moving some, though not all, components related to its nuclear program.

Grappling With Uncertainty

Echoing knowledgeable current and former U.S. officials, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told National Public Radio Sept. 1 that U.S. intelligence about Iran is limited, calling the country a "hard target."

Providing an example of the uncertainty regarding Tehran's nuclear program, Negroponte said that the United States does not know "whether there's a secret military program and to what extent that program has made progress. …

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