Iran Nuclear Arms Probe May Never Yield Verdict, IAEA Says

The 11-year investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work may never yield conclusive evidence on whether the country sought weapons, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said.

Amano reported to the IAEA’s board of governors, which convened its quarterly meeting today in Vienna, that Iran needs to step-up co-operation with inspections. Investigators are eventually expected to give board members a document which falls short of drawing conclusions, Amano said.

“I prefer not to say conclusion but assessment,” Amano told reporters, confirming a report last week from two international officials who said the IAEA can’t be expected to reach a black-and-white conclusion. “We are making our best efforts to clarify the outstanding issues. This is not an endless process,” he said.

With diplomats closer than they’ve ever been to reaching a long-term accord to broaden oversight of and caps on Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief, the IAEA investigation could prove to be a hurdle. Iran pledged in its interim agreement with world powers to clear up issues of past and present concern. The U.S. and its allies have accused Iran of pursuing weapons, a charge the Islamic Republic denies.

Diplomats from the six world powers negotiating the nuclear issue -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. -- will meet their Iranian counterparts Sept. 18 in New York to try to negotiate a final accord.

‘Bad Precedent’

“The normal mandate is for the agency to provide a ‘conclusion,’” Tariq Rauf, the IAEA’s former head of verification and security policy, said today in a telephone interview from Stockholm. “Drawing or making an ‘assessment’ would be novel and set a bad precedent for safeguards.”

IAEA safeguards verify that declared nuclear material stays in use for peaceful purposes and isn’t diverted for weapons programs. The IAEA’s board occasionally asks inspectors to go beyond their verification duties and conduct investigations, as in the cases of Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Amano declined to say whether the IAEA has been permitted to share intelligence with Iran that allegedly shows weapons work. Iran has repeatedly said the information is fake.

The IAEA hasn’t been deterred from reaching conclusions based on incomplete information in the past. In May 2011 Amano reported Syria to the United Nations Security Council, citing an alleged reactor built in secret.

‘Insufficient Evidence’

“Notwithstanding the loss of substantial information,” the IAEA reported in Syria’s case that “the agency concludes that the destroyed building was very likely a nuclear reactor.” Syria denied the accusation.

Dan Joyner, a law professor at the University of Alabama and author of the book “Interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” said that if the IAEA doesn’t have enough information to reach a conclusion, it should close the Iran investigation.

“It doesn’t need to conclude that Iran never had a weaponization program, only that there is insufficient evidence to make a finding that they did have,” Joyner said in a written response to questions.

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