IAEA’s jigsaw puzzle: Iran’s nuclear weapons-related experiments

It has become evident that it will be challenging to envision any kind of tangible final nuclear deal before the July 20th deadline

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Based on the latest results from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its inspectors, it has become evident that it will be challenging to envision any kind of tangible final nuclear deal before the July 20th deadline, the expiration day of interim nuclear deal.

Several factors will contribute to the failure to meet the specified deadline. Although the six world powers and the Islamic Republic are showing political eagerness and willingness to push the final nuclear deal beyond the finish line, the IAEA’s previous documentation about Iran’s nuclear activities still raises multiple critical and unanswered questions.

The gaps between the G5+1 (U.N. Security members: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany) and Iran, which first seemed too deep to bridge, have been significantly narrowed. The disagreements were centered on Iran’s heavy-water plutonium reactor, the nation’s number of centrifuges and Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium. Nevertheless, due to political will and interests, both sides have shown willingness to compromise to reconcile and find a middle ground.

What makes meeting the July 20th deadline very unlikely is that the IAEA must still investigate Tehran’s efforts to revamp a ballistic missile cone

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

More fundamentally, the two key players, Tehran and Washington, have increasingly shown signs of political willingness to compromise and strike a comprehensive nuclear deal.

The jigsaw puzzle

As a result, the deadlock currently primarily lies between Tehran and the IAEA’s inspections. To be more specific, the deadlock is centered on the nuclear weapons-related experiments conducted by the Islamic Republic as well as the military dimensions of Iran’s atomic activities. One of the sub-categories is linked to whether Iran previously tested some type of detonator for setting off a nuclear charge.

Iranian authorities have recently submitted some documents to the U.N. atomic agency indicating that Tehran’s detonator tests were totally for civilian purposes. On the other hand, the U.N. atomic agency does possess documents revealing that Iran’s research and tests were solely aimed at triggering a nuclear bomb.

Secondly, what makes meeting the July 20th deadline very unlikely is that the IAEA must still investigate Tehran’s efforts to revamp a ballistic missile cone, which would be utilized for a nuclear warhead. Iranian authorities, who formerly rejected any talks about their ballistic missile and defense system, have agreed to compromise and offered to provide documentation to clarify those efforts.

One of the best approaches for the IAEA to verify the falsehood or accuracy of the allegations for illicit atomic tests, is to get access to the Parchin military base, where there are significant suspicions about nuclear-related explosives tests. Tehran still refuses to provide access to this military base because it is against Iran’s law, according to Iranian authorities.

Some policy analysts, scholars and politicians might make the argument that Iran’s previous illicit atomic work, tests, and underground atomic activities should not be critically considered when striking a final nuclear deal as long as the Islamic Republic follows the guidelines outlined in the interim nuclear deal and the rules in the prospective comprehensive and final nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, removing Tehran’s previous illicit atomic work and tests from the whole equation seems to be asking for disaster down the road. It is crucial for the IAEA to have a complete understanding of Iran’s previous nuclear activities, the military dimension of its nuclear program, nuclear weapons-related experiments, possible undeclared nuclear sites, as well as the allegations regarding nuclear-related explosives tests.

If a comprehensive and final nuclear deals is sealed, without the IAEA’s full understanding of the allegations linked to Tehran’s illicit atomic work, several fundamental challenges will emerge. First of all, the IAEA’s leverage over Iranian authorities and its efforts to fully comprehend Iran’s intentions and nuclear activities will be significantly diminished the moment a comprehensive nuclear deal is struck. There would be no significant political pressure from the six world powers. In addition, the IAEA will fundamentally lose its political supports to fully dig into Iran’s nuclear intentions. How can world powers make sure that the Islamic Republic is not tacitly conducting nuclear weapons-related experiments after reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal, if a whole picture is not obtained prior to comprehensive nuclear deal?

Nuclear negotiations falling apart by July 20th?

Despite the fact that some scholars and policy analysts might argue that if a comprehensive nuclear deal is not sealed before July 20th, then the nuclear talks might fall apart as it occurred in 2005, this phenomenon is very unlikely. The reason is that the two key players, the United States and the Islamic Republic, have been spending a considerable amount of political capital to forge a final nuclear deal.

This is not to claim that there would not be any challenges down the road. The main opposition and challenges would come from domestic political pressures in Washington and Tehran, as well as from Israel. The political parties in the United States and the Islamic Republic are looking for immediate and positive results from these ongoing nuclear negotiations. The failure to meet the deadline of July 20th will definitely increase the domestic pressure in congress regarding the sanction bill against Iran and in Majlis (Iran’s parliament) regarding Rowhani’s efforts to boost Tehran’s economy and his submission to the West for Iran’s right to its nuclear program.

The main state’s opposition will come from Israel as Israeli Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz stated in a briefing in Jerusalem this week that Iran seeks to remain a “nuclear threshold state.” Netanyahu’s government believes that Rowhani’s government is trying to obtain the G5+1 approval to continue its nuclear program with only making some minor concessions.

Nevertheless, the domestic pressures in Washington and Tehran, as well as the Israeli opposition, to extend the interim nuclear deal and seal a comprehensive one will not outweigh the political eagerness from the Obama and Rowhani governments to strike a deal. Although it is very difficult to envision a comprehensive nuclear deal before the July 20th deadline, the interim deal is more likely to be extended into next year and the IAEA will find itself compromising regarding the allegations regarding Iran’s illicit atomic tests. This is due to pressures from Washington and the political willingness from Tehran and Washington to strike a final and comprehensive nuclear deal.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University and Harvard scholar. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected].

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