The opponents of these sanctions argue that Tehran has curtailed its nuclear weapon ambitions thanks to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was agreed by six world powers and the Islamic Republic in July 2015. The argument is anchored in the notion that the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shows that the Islamic Republic is complying with the nuclear deal.
However, this argument is fallacious for several reasons. First of all, the IAEA has repeatedly failed to comprehensively report on Iran’s nuclear activities. It should be recalled that it was not this organization that exposed Iran’s major clandestine activities and undeclared nuclear sites in the cities of Arak and Natanz in 2002. Rather, it was the Iranian oppositional group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), that revealed Tehran was secretly working on uranium enrichment at a facility in Natanz and producing heavy water in Arak.
Even before the revelations regarding these critical and clandestine facilities, the international community was warned about Iran’s secret nuclear activities. But the IAEA, which reports to the UN, failed to take those intelligence reports seriously.
Ultimately, when the Iranian leaders were caught red-handed for not declaring the existence of nuclear facilities and for violating the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, they immediately claimed that their nuclear facilities and activities were solely designed for “peaceful” purposes.
Currently, the IAEA, as well as those who oppose the newly imposed sanctions, seem to be repeating the same mistake by ignoring reports and revelations surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities. One of these credible reports is linked to Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, which in 2016 revealed that the Iranian government had been pursuing a “clandestine” path to obtaining nuclear technology and equipment from German companies “at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.”
The following year, the NCRI again made new revelations, stating that a location at the highly protected Parchin military base in Iran is being secretly used to continue the nuclear weapons project. It said: “The unit responsible for conducting research and building a trigger for a nuclear weapon is called the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact, known by its Farsi acronym as METFAZ.”
METFAZ and the Parchin facility are part of Iran’s umbrella engineering unit for the nuclear weapons program, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known as the SPND. This unit comprises seven subdivisions. The SPND has several secret centers, and possibly some that have not been detected yet. But the IAEA has not taken any action to inspect Iran’s military site at Parchin.
The NCRI warned the international community that “the ‘nerve center’ of the Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons project, responsible for designing the bomb, has been continuing its work.” It added: “Following the establishment of the JCPOA in 2015, not only has the unit remained in place and its activities have not subsided, but it is now clear that in some fields its activities have even expanded.”
This is why the Iranian regime has not allowed the IAEA to inspect or monitor many of its nuclear-related sites, including the SPND centers. During the nuclear talks, Iran was determined that Parchin must be beyond the reach of IAEA inspectors. Iran has also frequently boasted that the IAEA is not permitted to inspect many locations, including Parchin.
The Iranian regime has become skilled at disguising the true nature of its nuclear centers by using tactics such as labeling them as military sites or conventional research centers.
Even the Iranian leaders are declaring that they have not scaled back their nuclear activities since the JCPOA was reached. For example, in an interview with Iran’s Channel 2 last week, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stated that the nation’s nuclear program has advanced in comparison to 2015. He said: “If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before. We will be standing in a much, much higher position.”
Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities are most likely carried out at the country’s military sites. The IAEA ought to thoroughly inspect the Parchin military site and all SPND centers in order to accurately report on Iran’s compliance with international rules and agreements. In addition, the IAEA must conduct interviews with the nuclear program’s lead figures, scientists and researchers.