The Joint Statement on Framework for Cooperation signed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran has enhanced the transparency of Tehran’s nuclear program. It includes six steps that will help the international community gain a better understanding of the status of Iran’s nuclear efforts by allowing the IAEA to inspect the program on a daily basis. While much work has yet to be done to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, increased transparency is a step in the right direction.
The Joint Statement agreed upon on November 11, 2013 includes initial steps that must be taken within three months for the IAEA to gain more clarity on Iran’s nuclear intentions. The arrangement includes: providing relevant information and access to a uranium mine and a heavy water production plant, providing information on all new research reactors and the identification of sixteen nuclear power plant sites that are planned for future construction, and clarification on enrichment facilities and laser enrichment technology. The pact between the IAEA and Iran is not to be confused with the Joint Plan of Action, a separate temporary arrangement between the U.S. and other world powers that will hopefully lead to a final deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Two of the six steps in the Joint Statement have been achieved thus far. For the first time in two years, the IAEA inspected Arak, a heavy-water production facility, in December 2013. Arak worries political officials because it could be exploited to create plutonium and uranium cores for nuclear weapons even though Iran claims the site’s purpose is to yield medical isotopes. Undersecretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, publicly questioned its function stating, “Quite frankly, we’re not quite sure that you need a 50-megawatt heavy water reactor – which is what Arak is – for any civilian peaceful purpose.” Inspectors also visited Gchine uranium mine in January of this year, last accessed in 2005. The uranium mine inspection will increase awareness as to the amount of uranium that is unearthed at the location and will make it more difficult to conceal natural uranium, according to the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security.
At this time, the IAEA awaits for Tehran to answer questions pertaining to its nuclear program’s possible military use. Some questions the IAEA has asked Tehran include why Iran experimented with nuclear trigger devices, why it needs 20,000 centrifuges, and why it has a heavy water plant that is inefficient for producing electricity but efficient for generating plutonium to develop nuclear weapons. If President Hassan Rouhani truly desires good relations with other countries then Tehran needs to provide answers to these critical questions soon.
Inspections of Iran’s nuclear program performed by the IAEA are definitely a step in the right direction to ease worries around the world. While these assessments provide a better understanding of the status of Tehran’s nuclear program, plenty of time at the negotiating table is essential to reach a final agreement acceptable to the international community. One of the main sticking points in future negotiations is whether Iran can maintain a nuclear program for peaceful purposes – a capability that concerns many members of Congress and political leaders abroad.
Former secretaries of state Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz warned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that a final agreement allowing Iran to possess a nuclear threshold power would institutionalize the Iranian nuclear threat and have “…profound consequences for global nonproliferation policy and the stability of the Middle East.” The IAEA and Tehran will meet on February 8 to discuss future steps towards fulfilling remaining criteria included in the cooperation agreement.
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