Despite progress in resolving certain matters regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, the United Nations atomic watchdog agency reported today that other important issues still need to be verified, although Iran has agreed to a work plan to settle these within a specific time framework.
“This is the first time that Iran has agreed on a plan to address all outstanding issues, with a defined timeline, and is therefore an important step in the right direction,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the IAEA Board of Governors in his latest report on the nuclear programme, which many countries see as an effort to produce nuclear weapons but which Tehran says is solely for the peaceful purpose of producing energy.
“Naturally, the key to gauging Iran’s commitment will be its willingness to implement this work plan fully and in a timely manner. This would require active cooperation by Iran and its undertaking of all the transparency measures needed to reconstruct the history of its nuclear programme,” he said of the steps, which include access to locations, documents and individuals.
“Resolving all outstanding verification issues in the next two to three months, after a long deadlock, would go a long way towards building the confidence of the international community in the peaceful nature of Iran’s past nuclear programme,” he added.
On the progress made, Mr. ElBaradei reported that the IAEA has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material, with Iran continuing to provide access and reporting, as well as additional information and access needed to resolve a number of long outstanding issues.
Questions about past plutonium experiments have thus been satisfactorily answered, and “the issue has been resolved,” as have questions about the presence and origin of high enriched uranium particles at the Karaj Waste Storage Facility.
But despite Security Council calls, Iran has not suspended enrichment related activities, and is continuing with the construction and operation of the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and a heavy water reactor at Arak. “This is regrettable,” Mr. ElBaradei said. Enriched uranium can be used both for energy generation and weapons production.
The crisis began with the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Security Council has since imposed a series of sanctions, with members considering further action.
Mr. ElBaradei reiterated a call he made earlier this year for a “double time-out” suspending all enrichment related activities and sanctions and providing a breathing space for negotiations to be resumed.
“The earlier we move from confrontation and distrust to dialogue and confidence building, the better for Iran and for the international community,” he said, calling on Iran to provide the IAEA with renewed access to information on its advanced centrifuge research and to ratify and bring into force an additional protocol of the NPT, allowing for short-notice, on-the-spot inspections.
“This would enable the Agency to provide assurances not only regarding declared nuclear material but, equally important, regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” he added, repeating his past conviction that a durable solution can only be achieved through negotiations.
On the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Mr. ElBaradei reported a “positive step forward” in ending the country’s nuclear weapons programme following agreements in July, noting that the IAEA had been able to verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
“I particularly welcome the active cooperation the IAEA team is continuing to receive from the DPRK. The Agency looks forward to continuing to work with the DPRK as the verification process evolves,” he said.
But on efforts to apply safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East and move towards the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, he reported no progress.
“Consultations with concerned States of the region has not produced an agreement on the agenda” for a forum to discuss the experience of other regions with existing nuclear-weapon-free zones, including confidence building and verification measures, for establishing such a zone in the Middle East, he added.