Iran Nuclear Inspectors Said to Hand Final Judgment to Nations

Investigators probing Iran will let national officials from places including the U.S., China and Russia decide if the Persian Gulf country hid a nuclear weapons program, according to two officials familiar with their work.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team will likely have to make an assessment based on incomplete information and let its board of nationally-appointed governors 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.

Eleven years into the United Nations’ investigation and two decades after the U.S. warned Iran may make weapons, diplomats are closer than ever to reaching a permanent agreement to limit the country’s nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief. The IAEA’s inability to provide a conclusive assessment means the final decision on whether to close the file on Iran will be taken by political appointees rather than scientists.

Under the interim deal running to Nov. 24, the IAEA was put in charge of wider monitoring of Iran’s nuclear work and continuing to investigate its past activities. The interim nuclear agreement also envisioned a “joint commission” that would “work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.”

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, the officials said. The IAEA will set a time to end the investigation and submit its findings to the 35-member board of governors to make a ruling, they said. The board also includes representatives of France and Germany as well as India, Pakistan and Venezuela.

Iran’s Engagement

Whether the directors give inspectors another one, five or seven years to investigate won’t help them reach a firmer decision, they added. The officials didn’t say when inspectors will deliver their assessment to the board.

“Iran’s engagement with the agency, including the provision of information, and the agency’s ongoing analysis” are building a better understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, inspectors said last week in a 19-page report. The IAEA isn’t though “in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.”

While monitors have verified Iran is living up to its interim agreement with six world powers, the country hasn’t given them access to people and places that may have been connected with past nuclear work. Iran denies ever having a nuclear-weapons program and says the IAEA is being led by forged intelligence.

Bogged Down

The investigation has been bogged down by Iran’s development of dual-use technologies that can be used in commercial and conventional military purposes, or for developing nuclear devices. IAEA monitors will again meet with their Iranian counterparts at the end of this month, according to the officials.

The IAEA’s board of governors convenes Sept. 15 in Vienna. Their encounter will overlap with the next meeting between Iran and the P5+1 -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. -- scheduled to begin Sept. 18 in New York.

Unity among the six nations negotiating with Iran is at risk as the U.S. and European countries involved in the talks have themselves targeted Russia with sanctions because of President Vladimir Putin’s role in the Ukraine conflict. Russia has also sought to boost its economic ties with Iran even as the U.S. and Europe want to maintain leverage through trade restrictions.

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