Yukiya Amano Discusses the IAEA’s Challenges, and Its Role in the Iran Nuclear Issue

Ahead of this month’s deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran, the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative hosted Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for a dicussion as part of the Alan and Jane Batkin International Leaders Forum. At the event, “Challenges in Nuclear Verification: The IAEA’s Role on the Iranian Nuclear Issue,” Amano and Robert Einhorn, senior fellow at Brookings, discussed the IAEA’s role in nuclear verification, including monitoring the November 2013 interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries.

During the discussion, Amano said that the IAEA is determined to continue monitoring Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the interim agreement as the November 24 deadline for a final deal approaches. He stressed the importance of Tehran’s cooperation in providing information and allowing access, which he said could restore international confidence that Iran’s nuclear activities are intended solely for peaceful purposes

In his opening remarks, Einhorn called the IAEA an indispensable player in nuclear verifications and global non-proliferation, and noted its essential role in verifying Iran’s commitments under the Joint Plan of Action. He suggested that Amano’s steady implementation of the IAEA’s strengthened safeguards system has improved global nuclear security, and commended Amano’s leadership of expanded technical cooperation programs which have allowed new nuclear states to reap the full benefits of peaceful nuclear technologies.

Amano emphasized that the IAEA is an independent, technical organization intended to establish and administer safeguards and ensure that fissionable material and accompanying technologies and facilities are not used to further any military purpose.

He noted, however, that the IAEA’s mission and mandate have expanded in recent years. With the early 1990s discovery of covert nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iraq, the agency realized that states could not be trusted to comprehensively declare their nuclear activities. In response, the IAEA designed the Additional Protocol, first approved in 1997, to provide new tools for verifying that countries are not engaged in covert or illicit use of fissionable material outside of declared facilities.

Amano said that the agency’s new tools have received perhaps their toughest test since 2002 revelations that Iran was operating a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz. The disclosure prompted Iran to acknowledge the site and implement IAEA safeguards there. The agency has repeatedly assessed that although Iran was not diverting nuclear material from declared facilities, it cannot confirm that all material in Iran was being used for peaceful purposes. Amano said that he urged Iran to swiftly clarify its activities, implement the Additional Protocol, and rule out “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of its use of nuclear material and technologies.

Amano said that in 2011, IAEA expert analysis indicated that Iran had engaged in activities relevant to development of a nuclear bomb as part of a structured program. Although the IAEA has not concluded that Iran has tried to develop a bomb, Amano urged Iran to clarify its past activities to restore international confidence that its nuclear program is now exclusively peaceful.

The IAEA has verified Iran’s compliance with the 2013 Joint Plan of Action, and will also be responsible for safeguards and verifications under a final deal, if one is reached. But Amano said, in recent months Iran has been less willing to cooperate, especially in resolving concerns about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program, and has still failed to implement the Additional Protocol, an essential step.

Despite this, Amano said that the IAEA is determined to resolve all outstanding issues incrementally. He expressed hope that Iran will fulfill on its commitment to propose concrete additional steps to clarify the PMD issue. The IAEA’s processes and protocols are clearly defined and limited, he said, but the pace of verification and ultimate progress depends on Iran’s cooperation.