Iran Nuclear Deal Formally Begins; IAEA Probe Into Iran’s Weaponization Activities Doesn't Matter

By Patrick Goodenough | October 18, 2015 | 7:55pm EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led their counties’ delegations at the nuclear negotiations, are photographed at the United Nations in September 2013. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

( – As the U.S., Iran and others mark the formal start of the Iran nuclear agreement, Obama administration officials have confirmed that the findings of a separate but related investigation by the U.N. nuclear watchdog into Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons activity will have no bearing on the deal moving ahead.

Sunday marks the formal start – “adoption day” – of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): Iran is due to begin taking the steps it has agreed to on limiting its nuclear activities, and the U.S. and European Union will start preparations to lift sanctions, including the issuing of sanctions waivers.

Actual sanctions relief is scheduled to take place only at the next JCPOA milestone, “implementation day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has completed the steps laid out in the deal. (How long it takes to reach implementation day” depends on the speed at which the Iranians carry out those actions, but officials in Tehran have spoken about getting there by year’s end.)

Separately, the IAEA is expected to report by December 15 on its probe into the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear program. The agency said last week Iran had met an Oct. 15 deadline to provide the data necessary for it to wrap up the PMD investigation.

Senior administration officials briefing reporters on background at the weekend confirmed that the agency’s findings in the separate PMD investigation will not play a part in the lifting of sanctions.

“That final [PMD] assessment, which the IAEA is aiming to complete by December 15, is not a prerequisite for implementation day,” one of the four briefing officials said, adding that the conclusions drawn in the PMD report “are entirely up to the IAEA.”

“We are not in a position to evaluate the quality, as you say, of the data. That is between Iran and the IAEA.”

The PMD probe arrangements were contained in a confidential, Iran-IAEA “separate arrangement” whose existence and secrecy troubled many Republicans in Congress. Critics were also unhappy with the fact the IAEA agreed to let Iran collect its own samples – with no agency officials physically present – from a military site where some of the most serious PMD work is suspected to have been carried out.

Early on the administration stressed the importance of understanding clearly what nuclear weaponization work Iran had done in the past, but Iran resisted. Towards the latter stages of the nuclear negotiations Secretary of State John Kerry and others started playing down the need for Iran to come clean publicly, saying the U.S. was in any case fully aware of its past PMD activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano in Vienna. The IAEA has been tasked to verify and monitor Iran’s overall implementation of the nuclear agreement. (Photo: IAEA)

The State Department official moderating the background briefing made that point again, saying, “As you all have known for a long time, the U.S. government has already made its assessment on Iran’s past programs.”

In the same vein, one of the briefing officials implicitly downplayed the importance of the contents of the IAEA’s final PMD report, and said, “what was important was that the Iranians provided sufficient information and sufficient access such that the IAEA was in a position to complete that report.”

The IAEA says Iran has now done so, but House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) questioned just how cooperative Iran has been.

“In a key test of its commitment to the nuclear agreement, Iran has given minimum cooperation to international inspectors attempting to determine the extent of Iran’s past bomb work,” he said in a statement responding to JCPOA “adoption day.”

Iran’s regional behavior a separate matter

Royce also cited other Iranian activity in recent months, including its deepening military involvement in Syria, conviction of an American journalist, and last week’s ballistic missile test.

“The Obama administration’s belief that this nuclear agreement can usher in a new era of partnership is a complete misread,” he said. “It’s sure tough to look at Iran’s actions over the last three months – let alone 35 years – and think Tehran will live up to its end of the nuclear bargain. If this is what the last 90 days look like, the next few years look like a disaster.”

The administration says the recent ballistic missile test did not violate the JCPOA – but that it did appear to have contravened existing U.N. Security Council resolutions, something which the U.S. plans to raise at the Security Council.

During the background briefing a reporter pointed to some of Iran’s conduct since the JCPOA was struck in July between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – and asked, “Is this really the sentiment you were hoping for to start this agreement?”

“This isn’t about sentiments, right?” the State Department moderator said. “This is about whether or not Iran lives up to its commitments, to the letter of them that is in the JCPOA very clearly.”

“This deal is focused on the nuclear issue, period,” the official said, recalling that President Obama has made clear the negotiated agreement deals solely with the nuclear issue, that Iran continues to do “things we don’t like in the region,” and that the U.S. has separate ways of countering those activities.

Another reporter said some diplomats viewed Iran’s ballistic missile test as “a major slap in the face by the Iranians to the U.S. and other members of the P5+1,” and a signal that it does not intend to meet other commitments.

“The Iranians have been testing ballistic missiles for a long time,” the official said. “I would hesitate to draw any conclusion from their recent ballistic missile test and link it to their willingness to comply with the JCPOA and the commitments that are contained in that given this is a long pattern of Iran ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions on ballistic missiles.”

MRC Store