Iran Steps Closer to Sanctions Relief With IAEA Progress Report

  • Inspectors let into Parchin military base that raised concerns
  • IAEA inspectors still evaluating Parchin environmental samples

Iran took another step toward implementing a landmark agreement that will curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief amounting to billions of dollars.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors told world powers in Vienna on Monday that Iran’s cooperation since the July 14 accord had advanced their investigation into past nuclear activities that may have had a military dimension. The United Nations agency gained access on Sunday to an Iranian military site to which it had been denied entry since 2011.

“Significant progress has been achieved,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said following a meeting with the organization’s 35-member board of governors. “We entered a building which the agency had previously only been able to observe using satellite imagery.”

The IAEA has until Oct. 15 to conclude its investigation into Iran’s nuclear past and two more months to write its assessment. Once that report is complete and Iran complies with the terms of its July 14 agreement with world powers, conditions will have been met for the lifting of sanctions against its financial and energy industries.

No Equipment

Inspectors didn’t find any equipment linked to nuclear-weapons research inside the Parchin military complex, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Tehran, said Amano, who was accompanied by the IAEA’s top inspector, Tero Varjoranta, on the visit. It will take weeks for the Vienna-based agency to analyze samples taken by Iranians at Parchin.

“The agency can confirm the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples,” Amano said. “The process was carried out under our responsibility and monitoring.”

Amano reiterated that Iranian work at the Parchin site since 2012 has undermined the agency’s ability to “conduct effective verification.”

The IAEA keeps track of enriched uranium in over 160 countries and routinely takes environmental samples to make sure that states aren’t lying about the presence of undeclared nuclear material. Laboratories can trace material to a single nanogram, or one billionth of a gram.

Continuous Surveillance

“Over the years we have cooperated in this manner with over 40 different member states,” Varjoranta said. Samples are taken “under redundant continuous surveillance,” he said, adding that camera systems, geographic coordinates and IAEA seals are all used to ensure authenticity.

Access to Parchin had become a contentious issue for opponents of the Vienna accord with Iran. Opponents in the U.S. Congress have threatened to cut off IAEA funding unless they receive confidential details of the agreement that gives inspectors access to information about the site.

For its part, Iran has cautioned the agency that revealing details of its inspections arrangement at Parchin would be a violation of its terms. Before the nuclear accord was agreed, Iran routinely accused the IAEA of abetting assassinations and sabotage on its soil.

Iran still needs to comply with a series of commitments -- from modifying a reactor to eliminating uranium stockpiles and mothballing centrifuges -- before sanctions are lifted. Depending on how fast Iran can move to meet its end of the nuclear bargain, sanctions relief may come as soon as the first quarter of next year, diplomats said earlier this month.

Once the restrictions are removed, relief is expected to fuel economic growth in the nation of 77 million people by removing barriers to Iran’s oil exports and ending the isolation of its banks.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE