The International Atomic Energy Agency Further Shreds Its Credibility

The IAEA visits Iran’s first nuclear-energy plant in Bushehr. (Photo: AEOI INRA / IAEA Imagebank)

The IAEA visits Iran’s first nuclear-energy plant in Bushehr. (Photo: AEOI INRA / IAEA Imagebank)

The United States and Iran seem to be moving, however haltingly, toward a nuclear deal. Iran continues — arguably, it’s in the right — to stonewall U.S. demands that it drastically reduce its enrichment program. In an effort to reach a new deal before the interim one expires on Nov. 24, Washington has proposed leaving Iran’s centrifuges in place but disconnected from uranium.

Meanwhile, in an article on Sept. 8 at BloombergBusinessweek, to which Dan Joyner linked at ArmsControlLaw, Jonathan Tirone writes that inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will not be tasked with making a decision about whether Iran tried to develop nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team will likely have to make an assessment based on incomplete information. … It isn’t realistic to expect the IAEA to provide a black-and-white assessment showing that Iran either did or did not have a nuclear-weapons program … officials said. … Whether the directors give inspectors another one, five or seven years to investigate won’t help them reach a firmer decision, they added.


… its board of nationally-appointed governors [will] draw definitive conclusion about the country’s past nuclear work, said the two senior international officials, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public.

Odd, isn’t it, that inspectors who are presumably expert would choose or be forced to hand off the decisions to the board of governors, who Joyner characterizes as “political representatives.” Beyond that, Joyner reiterated a theme of his: “the IAEA has absolutely no mandate or authority to investigate and assess whether safeguarded states have done research and development work on nuclear weaponization not involving fissile materials.” Joyner continues. (Note: PMD refers to the possible military dimensions often attributed to Iran’s nuclear energy program.)

Notwithstanding this lack of legal authority and … a lack of technical expertise to assess nuclear weaponization R&D as well, the IAEA has proceeded over the past three years to gather what information they could about the PMD claims, and has tried to engage Iran on this issue, with little success.

It’s never been clear to me what [IAEA Director General Yukiya] Amano’s game plan was on the PMD issue – i.e. how he thought the investigation would realistically play out, and what he thought would be achieved through it. Again, there is no legal source that lays out the IAEA’s authority and tools for investigating nuclear weaponization, so there are no standards for the agency to follow.

It now appears that the final chapter of the IAEA’s PMD inquiry in Iran will consist of the IAEA DG’s office handing over whatever technical information they have, however incomplete, to the national political representatives who constitute the 35 member Board of Governors of the IAEA, and asking them to determine whether Iran worked on nuclear weaponization in the past.

Yes, it does sound crazy. Joyner again.

This seems to me to be a complete cop-out – a surrender by the IAEA DG’s office. … This is a punt – a buck passing, plain and simple.

Joyner, referring to his contention that the IAEA has no mandate to investigate violations adds:

And even though the IAEA should never have gotten involved in this issue in the first place, this sets a very bad precedent for the agency going forward.

He concludes:

The IAEA DG’s office is basically admitting that they cannot do their job of making a technical determination here, and they are instead punting the issue over to the BOG for a politicized vote. What does that say to IAEA member states about the IAEA’s ability to objectively apply technical safeguards to their nuclear programs, and about the independence and apolitical nature of the agency?

It sounds as if the technical side of the IAEA has reservations about the allegations that possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear energy program exist, but that it lacks the guts to stand by its findings. In other words, it’s handing its findings over to the political side of the IAEA and saying, “Here. Twist these any way you want.”