Deal or No Deal, The IAEA Must Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program

Olli Heinonen, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 21 May 2018

Read the full memo here.


Although the United States is withdrawing from the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) retains both the right and the obligation to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The Agency’s responsibilities derive from United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 and from Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA). All parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) must have a CSA with the IAEA. In other words, regardless of the results of Washington’s decision, Iran has a binding legal obligation to grant the IAEA access to all relevant sites, materials, equipment, documents, and personnel to resolve outstanding questions about the military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear activities.

While the IAEA has long been in possession of evidence that Iran once pursued a nuclear weapons capability, the cache of documents removed from a Tehran warehouse by Israel’s Mossad reportedly proves that the scope of Iran’s weaponization program was likely far greater than previously suspected. The fact that the regime in Tehran maintained this archive also indicates that Iran sought to preserve its ability to weaponize in the future. Pursuant to its mandate, it is now the IAEA’s obligation to investigate fully the personnel, sites, equipment, and activities described by the archival materials, even if this requires inspections at military sites. For its part, Iran must comply fully with the Agency’s investigation, lest it breach the NPT safeguards obligations.

An additional excerpt from the FDD research memo follows:

“Unquestionably, the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA has generated substantial tension between the U.S. and the EU-3, whose partnership is essential to creating a permanent solution to concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, not to mention to defending the broader nuclear nonproliferation regime. But rather than viewing the exposure of Tehran’s atomic archive as a source of transatlantic discord, the U.S. and its European partners should approach it as a potential basis for building a new consensus. The path toward that consensus goes through the IAEA board of governors, where the U.S. and the EU-3 are all represented. Together, they should ensure that the IAEA secretariat carries out the Agency’s obligations under the NPT and CSA, even if there is a risk of discovering Iranian non-compliance.”

The full memo is located here.

Dr. Olli Heinonen is a senior advisor on science and nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He is the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of its Department of Safeguards.

BG (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is the Former Israeli acting National Security Advisor and a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Scroll to Top