Yet just four days earlier, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog complained once again that Iran was not cooperating fully. As a result the agency was unable to draw a line under questions about past activity in the nuclear field that may have had military applications – some of which may be ongoing.
Speaking in Vienna, Austria shortly after negotiators agreed to throw out Monday’s deadline for a final deal and prolong the talks for seven more months, Kerry sought to justify the extension by citing areas of improvement since an interim agreement was signed in November 2013.
“Now I want to underscore that even as the negotiations continue towards a comprehensive deal, the world is safer than it was just one year ago,” he said.
Among the areas he then listed was Iran’s dealings with the IAEA.
“A year ago, inspectors had limited access to Iran’s nuclear program,” Kerry said. “Today, IAEA inspectors have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s program.”
“They have been able to learn things about Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, and other facilities that are important to building trust,” he continued. “That’s how you build trust, and that’s why Iran made the decision to do it.”
Since implementation of the interim agreement – the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) – began early this year, Iran has indeed allowed IAEA inspectors to pay regular visits to some of its facilities.
But what it has not done – and what Kerry did not mention at the press briefing – is answer satisfactorily the agency’s questions about so-called “possible military dimension” (PMD) issues, activities Iran is suspected to have carried out with applications for developing an atomic bomb.
Despite repeated denials that it wants to develop nuclear weapons, Iran has for years refused to allow IAEA inspectors to visit Parchin, a military facility near Tehran where the agency suspects Iran conducted experiments on nuclear detonators.
Just four days before Kerry spoke in Vienna, IAEA director Yukiya Amano – speaking in the same city – reported to the agency’s board of governors on Iran’s non-cooperation in the PMD area.
Amano said that despite two meetings in Tehran (in October and November), and “despite several requests” from the IAEA, “Iran has not provided any explanations that enable the agency to clarify the outstanding practical measures [regarding the military dimensions of its nuclear program].”
“I call upon Iran to increase its cooperation with the agency and to provide timely access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel,” he said. “Once the agency has established an understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possible military dimensions, I will present our assessment to the board.”
Amano also said that although the IAEA continues to verify that the materials Iran has declared are not being diverted away from peaceful use, “we are not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
Kerry said Monday that Iran has been “living up to its JPOA commitments.” Yet resolving the PMD issues is covered in the JPOA, which states that Iran and its negotiating partners “will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern.”
United Against Nuclear Iran president Gary Samore and CEO Mark D. Wallace said in a statement Monday that any agreement with Iran failing to resolve all of the PMD questions “is a bad deal.”
Earlier this month the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security warned that failure to resolve the PMD questions could affect the chances of getting to an agreement at all.
“By failing to address the IAEA’s [PMD] concerns, Iran is complicating, and even threatening, the achievement of a long term nuclear deal,” it said in a Nov. 17 report.
“The United States and its allies have repeatedly stated that Iran must demonstrate concrete progress on addressing the IAEA’s concerns,” the institute said. “The importance of Iran doing so cannot be overstated.”
Testifying on the JPOA before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last February, the lead U.S. nuclear negotiator, undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman, stressed that the talks on a comprehensive agreement would depend on a resolution of IAEA questions about the PMD issues, including the activities at Parchin.
“In the Joint Plan of Action we have required that Iran come clean on its past actions as part of any comprehensive agreement,” she said, adding that the parties would work with the IAEA to address “past and present issues of [PMD] concern.”
Both Kerry and Sherman are likely to face tough questioning in the coming months as they try to persuade skeptical members of the GOP-controlled Congress not to go ahead with new sanctions legislation against Iran.