IAEA: Iran is keeping up its end of the nuclear deal

Yet the deal’s opponents continue to focus on how it could, possibly, one day, under certain circumstances, go wrong.

By Derek Davison

An IAEA expert demonstrating how the safeguards Next Generation Surveillance System (NGSS) works, March 20, 2015. (Photo: Dean Calma / IAEA)
File photo of an IAEA expert demonstrating how a nuclear monitoring system works, March 20, 2015. (Photo: Dean Calma / IAEA)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is reporting that Iran has so far complied with its obligations under the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which went into effect in January and limits Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. The IAEA report, which is confidential but was apparently shown to the Reuters news agency, “did not point to any violations in Tehran’s observance of the deal”:

“Throughout the reporting period, Iran had no more than 130 metric tonnes of heavy water … Iran’s total enriched uranium (up to 3.67 percent purity) stockpile did not exceed 300 kg,” the report said, citing the nuclear deal’s limits on the two substances.

The IAEA report appears to contradict last week’s claims by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), led by former IAEA inspector David Albright that Iran had been granted several “exemptions” to its JCPOA obligations. Those exemptions allegedly allowed Iran to meet its obligations by the date of the deal’s implementation. Per Reuters:

Earlier this month, a U.S. think-tank said Iran had been secretly allowed to overstep certain thresholds in order to get the deal through on time, but a diplomat said no limits had been exceeded apart from one incident which the agency reported in February.

The Institute for Science and International Security think-tank, headed by a former IAEA inspector, said one of the secret concessions exempted unknown quantities of low-enriched uranium contained in liquid, solid and sludge wastes.

It also said Iran had been allowed to keep operating 19 radiation containment chambers more than set out in the deal. These so-called “hot cells” are used for handling radioactive material but can be “misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation efforts,” it said.

The diplomat in Vienna said any hot-cell activity that could be used to breach limits would be reported by the IAEA, which it had not done.

ISIS, which often—but dubiously—claims to be “objective” with respect to the JCPOA, did not appear to have commented on the new IAEA report at the time this piece was being written. It’s not clear how, or even if, the anti-JCPOA community will react to the IAEA’s apparently positive assessment of Iran’s behavior under the treaty.


The AP’s Vienna bureau chief, George Jahn, has weighed in with his own report on the IAEA’s findings. In Jahn’s interpretation, though the IAEA found Iran to be in compliance with the JCPOA, Tehran may nevertheless be perpetrating nefarious deeds even as we speak:

But touching on one potentially sensitive area, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a review issued Thursday that Iran had begun manufacturing rotor tubes for centrifuges, the spinning machines used to enrich uranium. Iran is allowed to make the parts, but only under certain conditions.

To reiterate, the IAEA says that Iran has complied with its obligations under the JCPOA, so it seems that those “certain conditions” must have been met. But Jahn, whose objectivity when it comes to Iran has been called into question in the past, nevertheless opted to portray the manufacturing of these rotor tubes in the scariest possible light:

The agency needs to keep a close eye on how many rotor tubes are being made and for what models of centrifuges to make sure they are being produced only in quantities and for machines allowed under the 2015 nuclear agreement that sets a schedule for when and how many advanced centrifuges can be tested.

Any overproduction could hint at possible plans by Iran to expand advanced centrifuge testing beyond pact limits. That could be a significant issue, considering enriched uranium is a potential pathway to nuclear arms because more technically sophisticated models can enrich the uranium much more quickly than Iran’s present mainstay centrifuges.

The reaction to the IAEA report among JCPOA opponents now seems clearer: ignore the topline finding that Iran is in compliance and instead focus on the possibility that maybe, someday, under certain conditions, its manufacture of centrifuge parts could perhaps be a problem.

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. This article is reprinted, with permission, Lobelog.com.