(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday welcomed a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s governing board to close a probe into Iran’s past work relevant to building a nuclear bomb, a decision critics denounced as a “whitewash.”
The decision in Vienna – adopted by “consensus” – removes the last major hurdle to the beginning of implementation of the controversial nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“The focus now appropriately moves toward full implementation of the JCPOA and its enhanced verification and transparency regime,” said Kerry in an upbeat statement after adoption of a resolution put forward by the U.S. and its P5+1 negotiating partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) deplored the decision, which it said amounted to “an incomplete accounting of Iran’s past nuclear weapons activity.”
“The IAEA is closing this file even after discovering further suspicious evidence and experiencing additional Iranian obstinacy,” it said in a statement.
“This decision to whitewash the past represents an inauspicious beginning to the implementation process of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
AIPAC also warned that the way the issue has been handled “lessens the prospect that Iran will comply with the JCPOA in the future.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) described the IAEA move as “capitulation” to the regime in Tehran.
“Iran’s lies and obstruction have paid off,” he said. “This capitulation allows the ayatollah [supreme leader Ali Khamenei] to keep vital nuclear research, materials and technology away from international inspectors while Iran moves closer to tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief.”
“Until the Obama administration steps up and starts holding Iran accountable for its dangerous acts, the American people will be increasingly at risk,” Royce said.
The key element of the adopted resolution states that all of the steps laid down in a “roadmap” agreement between the IAEA and Iran, aimed at clarifying the past and present possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Tehran’s nuclear program, had been “implemented in accordance with the agreed schedule.”
Accordingly, “this closes the Board’s consideration of this item.”
The final step of the roadmap – the contentious confidential “side deal” to the JCPOA – was the release on December 2 of an IAEA report on its investigation. The report concluded that Iran carried out a coordinated program relevant to development of a nuclear bomb until 2003, and then further nuclear weapons-related activity after that date, until at least 2009.
Iran has never admitted to the activities which the IAEA determined it has carried out – a stance reiterated Tuesday by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in his response to the IAEA decision.
“Based on this resolution, it can be said unequivocally that the fake issue of so-called military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, known as PMD, now belongs to history,” he said.
‘The file simply cannot be closed’
But some of the most prominent specialist observers of Iran’s nuclear program have argued that the U.N. agency’s PMD investigation could not possibly be closed, given the regime’s failure to cooperate fully.
“To many of the Agency’s questions, Iran offered no new information, or made denials without explanation, or gave explanations contradicted by other information available to the Agency,” researchers at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control wrote in an evaluation of the Dec. 2 IAEA report.
“This ‘final’ report fails to present a complete picture of Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons,” they concluded.
Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director-general who is now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, wrote last week that Iran had not met its obligations, set down in U.N. Security Council resolutions, to “cooperate fully” with the IAEA in the PMD investigation.
“Without Iran’s cooperation and transparency, the file simply cannot be closed,” Heinonen argued.
“Iran’s cooperation was certainly not sufficient to close the overall PMD file,” the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said in its analysis of the IAEA’s Dec. 2 report.
ISIS experts wrote that the IAEA board’s resolution “should emphasize that the IAEA is still not in a position to provide assurances on the strictly peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” and “should state that Iran should provide a full declaration of its past [PMD] efforts.”
The resolution adopted on Tuesday does neither.
It does welcome Iran’s commitment as part of the JCPOA to apply the “additional protocol” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – a point Kerry underlined in his statement.
“Closing the PMD agenda item will in no way preclude the IAEA from investigating if there is reason to believe Iran is pursuing any covert nuclear activities in the future, as it had in the past,” he said.
“In fact, the JCPOA – by providing for implementation of the Additional Protocol as well as other enhanced transparency measures – puts the IAEA in a far better position to pursue any future concerns that may arise,” Kerry added.