U.S. and allied efforts to curb Iran’s developing nuclear capabilities are failing. Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convenes its quarterly meeting, where Iran’s nuclear activities will once again be a key agenda item. The IAEA reported in its latest assessment that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride stands at 3,606 kilograms—enough to fuel three bombs once converted to highly-enriched uranium. The language in the IAEA’s latest report signals the growing concern over Iran’s nuclear weapons activities and the agency’s frustration with Iran’s obfuscation. The agency’s findings, based on inspectors’ work and analysis of intelligence provided by IAEA-member nations, are the basis for its declaration that Iran is failing to cooperate with the watchdog.
The IAEA reported that it has received new information about Iran’s nuclear weapons activities and that “Iran is not providing access to relevant locations, equipment, persons, or documentation” to facilitate the agency’s oversight work. For the first time, the report includes an annex itemizing each area in which Iran is failing to respond to IAEA inquiries. This annex contains references to experimentation with nuclear payload and high explosives development – activities directly related to a nuclear weapons program.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano has also rejected the assessment that recent technical problems significantly disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment. In response to a question about the extent of damage that a malware virus inflicted on Iran’s centrifuges, Amano said, “Iran is somehow producing uranium enriched to 3.5 percent and 20 percent. They are producing it steadily, constantly.” The IAEA report and Amano’s comments indicate that Iran continues to develop and refine its capabilities, including in uranium enrichment, which is the most technically complex element of a nuclear weapons program.
Iran’s leadership has recently affirmed its commitment to remaining on its current nuclear path. Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed in February that the regime would not retreat from its current stance on the nuclear issue. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in January that “in the Iranian nation’s point of view, the nuclear issue has ended.” These statements are an explicit rejection of U.S. and international efforts to bring about a change in the regime’s policies.
Iran’s leadership is committed to pursuing a nuclear weapons capability and continues to support terrorist proxies in the greater Middle East. Its hard-line foreign and nuclear policies remain immune from disputes within Iran’s ruling elite. The regime has violently suppressed the only potential tempering force on those policies – the Green Movement opposition – thereby entrenching the current leadership for the time being. Moreover, an aggressive Iranian regime will seek to exploit the recent wave of unrest across the Middle East that has unsettled its neighbors.
The war in Afghanistan and the revolutionary shifts across the broader Middle East have, rightly, consumed significant attention. Today’s IAEA meeting will bring the Iran nuclear issue back into focus, and should serve as a reminder of the mounting Iranian threat to U.S. national security.
Maseh Zarif is research manager at the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project.