On Friday, hot on the heels of its second failed mission to Iran in as many weeks, the IAEA released its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. The report confirms that Iran refused to allow the IAEA inspectors access to the Parchin military facility, where Iran is suspected of conducting high-explosives testing related to nuclear-warhead detonation; that Iran is enriching more uranium to 20 percent enrichment (far above the 5 percent needed for reactor fuel, and but a hop-skip-and-a-jump to weapons grade) than we thought; and that Iran has changed its story about the purpose of the formerly secret Fordow uranium-enrichment plant at least once per year since we discovered the facility in 2009.
These tidbits — all of which continue to confirm that Iran is in the final stages of establishing a nuclear-weapons capability — are mostly being reported in the press, and come as no surprise. But perhaps the most interesting part of the IAEA’s current work in Iran has not yet drawn media notice. As Friday’s report explains,
An intensive discussion was held on the structured approach to the clarification of all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear programme. No agreement was reached between Iran and the Agency, as major differences existed with respect to the approach.
This was a reference to a new “structured approach” proposed by the IAEA to resolve its most serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, a departure from the previous back-and-forth over disjointed details. At some point, the IAEA should give Iran an ultimatum: Either satisfy us that your program is for peaceful purposes, or we will report that the program as a whole constitutes a “diversion” of nuclear materials for weapons use, in contravention of Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The challenge to the non-proliferation regime is to develop criteria for such a determination well in advance of firm evidence that Iran has actually produced a warhead, which would be too late for the news to be valuable.
This, it seems to me, is the key to the entire Iranian nuclear crisis. If Iran merely declares a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment, the diplomatic front arrayed against it could start to fracture. But, as I argue today over on the homepage, such a suspension would not resolve the crisis. The danger will only pass when Iran has transparently abandoned its nuclear-weapons program — or in IAEA parlance, when it has “clarified all outstanding issues” related to its program through a “structured approach.” That structured approach should leverage the nuclear issue in a way that makes the regime itself more transparent, as a vital step toward changing the nature of the regime, the sine qua non of a real solution to this crisis.