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Director General's Speech on Iran, the JCPOA and the IAEA

Yukiya Amano

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be back at the Belfer Center. It is four years since my last visit.

Iran’s nuclear programme was one of the main issues we talked about last time. I have been asked to focus today on the same subject and specifically on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA.

The Iran nuclear issue has a long and complex history. I have been involved in this issue from the very beginning, first as a senior Japanese diplomat, then as Ambassador of Japan in Vienna and Chairman of the IAEA Board, and now as Director General of the IAEA. I have consistently taken an approach based on facts and rules.

This is a very important issue for me. I have visited Iran many times, most recently on October 29, when I met President Rouhani, Vice President Salehi and Foreign Minister Zarif. I stressed the importance of the full implementation of the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA. Last week, I visited Washington and New York for discussions with senior Administration officials and Senators at which Iran was a key issue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now explain briefly how the Iran nuclear issue began and how we got to where we are today.

In 2002, an Iranian opposition group claimed that Iran had nuclear facilities under construction at Natanz and Arak which it had not declared. The IAEA began looking into the matter. The first IAEA report, in June 2003, indicated that Iran was building uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and a heavy water production plant at Arak. In addition, the report found that Iran had failed to meet a number of its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement.

The Agency thus began a process of trying to clarify safeguards issues in Iran that continued for well over a decade. Our reports often stated that Iran was not very forthcoming in clarifying unresolved issues. In August 2003, the IAEA stated that it had found high enriched uranium particles at Natanz and this was “not consistent with the nuclear material declarations made by Iran.” Later that year, Iran started to implement, on a voluntary basis, the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the Agency. The Additional Protocol is a powerful verification tool which gives the Agency more access to locations and information.

In September 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution in which it found Iran to be in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations. In February 2006, the Board, of which I was Chairman, decided to report Iran’s non-compliance to the UN Security Council. In response, Iran suspended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.

In July that year, the Security Council adopted its first resolution on Iran, demanding that Iran should suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities within one month. In December 2006, the Security Council adopted a second resolution requiring Iran to suspend work on all heavy water-related projects and imposing sanctions on Iran.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the following years, despite further resolutions of the Security Council and the IAEA Board, Iran continued its enrichment-related activities and its work on heavy water-related projects. The Agency continued to work hard to resolve the Iran nuclear issue. There were a number of initiatives, including the so-called Work Plan, which ultimately delivered little, and the situation gradually deteriorated. International tension over Iran rose, at times to dangerous levels.

When I became Director General in December 2009, I felt it important to spell out clearly our assessment of the situation in light of relevant safeguards rules, the facts that we had established through many years of verification efforts, and the concerns that we had.

In my first report to the Board in February 2010, I said information available to the Agency raised concerns about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

I also stated that the Agency could not confirm that all nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful activities because Iran had not provided the necessary cooperation. In my view, this was a very logical conclusion based on the facts and the rules, but it was characterised by many commentators as “blunt.”

In my first few years in office, little headway was made in our talks with Iran. In the hope of achieving a breakthrough, I presented a detailed report to our Board of Governors in November 2011 in which I identified 12 areas of concern on what had become known as the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Our information indicated that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. It also indicated that, before the end of 2003, these activities had taken place under a structured programme, and that some activities might still be ongoing.

I did not say that the information was correct. But I did say that our information was broadly consistent and credible in terms of technical detail. I asked Iran to clarify the 12 areas. In response, the Board asked Iran and the IAEA to cooperate to resolve the issues.

The report aroused strong opposition in some quarters, but also received much support. Looking back, I see the release of this report as one of the turning points in the Iran nuclear issue. It showed the path to a possible solution by identifying the areas that needed clarification.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the next two years, some progress was made in our discussions, but no agreement was reached. Mostly, we were going around in circles.

Then, in late 2013, after the election of President Rouhani in Iran, we started to see a change in both atmosphere and substance and there was some movement in the right direction. The IAEA and Iran agreed on a Framework for Cooperation. We started to work with Iran to resolve all the outstanding issues, including the possible military dimensions, through strengthened cooperation and a step by step approach. Separately, Iran and the P5+1 countries agreed on a Joint Plan of Action and began talks aimed at achieving a mutually agreed, long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme would be exclusively peaceful.

This twin-track approach succeeded in moving things forward.

In July 2015, I signed a Road-map with Iran aimed at clarifying the possible military dimensions by the end of that year. Later on the same day, Iran and the six countries, plus the European Union, agreed on the JCPOA. The Security Council endorsed the agreement and asked the IAEA to undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Our Board authorized us to do so.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In September 2015, I travelled to Iran for high-level meetings with Iranian leaders. I also visited a location at the Parchin site to which the Agency had long requested access. This visit was an important milestone because Parchin had been seen as a litmus test of Iran’s willingness to cooperate with the IAEA to clarify the possible military dimensions under the Road-map.

Implementation of the Road-map enabled us to obtain a much better understanding of Iran’s nuclear activities. As a result, I was able to present a Final Assessment on past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear programme to our Board in December 2015.

In that report, I stated that Iran had conducted a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device before the end of 2003. However, these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.

Based on my report, the IAEA Board noted that all activities under the Road-map had been implemented as agreed and declared that its consideration of this issue was closed. This report, as well as preparatory work undertaken by Iran and verified by the Agency, paved the way for implementation of the JCPOA to begin on January 16th, 2016.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have now been in the JCPOA implementation phase for nearly two years. During that time, some misunderstandings have arisen about the IAEA’s activities related to the JCPOA, so I thought it might be helpful if I run through some of the questions I am most frequently asked. Of course, you can still ask your own questions at the end.

The first question I am often asked is:

What is the Agency’s view of the JCPOA?

The JCPOA is a substantial gain for verification, because the combination of the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, Additional Protocol and additional transparency measures represents the most robust verification system in existence anywhere in the world. The JCPOA has led to a significant reduction in Iran’s nuclear activities.

Let me explain a little bit more about the current verification regime in Iran. Iran has committed itself to fully implementing its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

Iran also committed itself to provisionally applying its Additional Protocol. This is a key element. The Additional Protocol requires Iran to make an extensive declaration of all of its nuclear fuel-cycle-related activities and update that declaration at least once a year. This includes submitting its future nuclear plans. We review the declarations, seek clarification, and have access to locations when needed. If Iran were to cease applying the Additional Protocol, we would have less access to important information and locations.

As far as nuclear activities are concerned, Iran accepted many restrictions. For example, its stockpile of low enriched uranium hexafluoride must not exceed 300 kilos and the number of centrifuges used for producing low enriched uranium must not go above 5,060. The Agency verifies and monitors that Iran is abiding by these restrictions.

I informed the IAEA Board in September that the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented. That is our assessment of the current situation, based on our findings on the ground. I provided the Board with my latest report yesterday.

What is the role of the IAEA in the JCPOA?

While not a party to the Agreement, the IAEA played a key role before, during and after the negotiations on the JCPOA. In fact, the Agency has been at the heart of the Iran nuclear issue from the start. I provided a clear assessment of the situation at each stage and identified the questions that needed to be answered to resolve the Iran nuclear issue. During the negotiations, we provided technical advice to the P5+1 countries and Iran, based on our experience of safeguards implementation.

And now the Agency is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Our inspectors are on the ground 24/7. We also monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities and centrifuge manufacturing and testing locations, using permanently installed cameras and other sensors. We have regular access to more locations under the Additional Protocol, which has also provided the Agency with more information about Iran’s nuclear programme.

There is a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities under the JCPOA. It is the responsibility of Iran to implement its JCPOA commitments. The role of the Agency is to verify and monitor implementation of the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA. We report our findings to the IAEA Board and the Security Council. The parties to the JCPOA interpret its provisions and pass judgement on compliance.

How strong are the IAEA’s verification activities in Iran?

Our inspectors visit nuclear facilities and other sites as we consider necessary to implement effective verification. Let me give you a few examples:

•      IAEA inspectors now spend around 3,000 days in the field in Iran each year, twice as many as in 2013.

•   They have taken hundreds of environmental samples.

•    They have placed around 2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.

•    The Agency collects and analyses hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras.

•      We collect and analyse several million pieces of open-source information each month.

All of our activities are supported by state-of-the-art technology, including data collecting and processing systems. Our current verification capability is much stronger than it has ever been. Having the latest technology is indispensable if we are to have the best possible overview.

Our goal in Iran, as in any other country in which we implement a comprehensive safeguards agreement and additional protocol, is to acquire a full understanding of its nuclear fuel cycle related capabilities – everything from the mining of uranium all the way through to the final disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This enables us to spot any anomalies, or the possible diversion of nuclear material from peaceful activities, in a timely manner.

Why do you not disclose more information in your reports on Iran?

The basic rule is that safeguards information obtained by the Agency from all countries is confidential. We must protect it. This is a strict legal obligation and has been solid IAEA practice throughout the past 60 years. If we failed to respect confidentiality, States would stop reporting information to us and the global safeguards system would be seriously undermined.

However, the Director General can disclose confidential safeguards information to our Board of Governors if concerned about possible violations by countries of their safeguards agreement, additional protocol or other relevant resolutions or agreements. If that happens, I share the relevant information with the Board to the extent necessary for the Agency to fulfil its responsibilities. Both I, and my predecessors, have done so in the past.

My reports on Iran since January 2016 have contained less information than those of previous years because we are now operating on the basis of new resolutions by the Security Council and the IAEA Board, which are different from the previous ones. Before the JCPOA, Iran carried out activities which were in contravention of UN resolutions valid at that time, so more detailed reporting was required. That is not the case today. My reports always reflect the current facts. If the situation changes, I will report any findings and concerns to our Board of Governors.

What level of access does the Agency have in Iran?

As of today, we have had access to all the locations that we needed to visit. However, for reasons of confidentiality, we do not disclose details, including which locations were visited by our inspectors, or whether these were civilian or military.

There is a view that the Agency should give priority to so-called “military” locations. In fact, our interest is in locations with nuclear material, nuclear fuel-cycle related equipment, and expertise, or combinations of these elements. If we have indications that any of these might be present at a location, including one that has not been reported to us, we can have access to it under the Additional Protocol using what we call “complementary access.” Whether or not a particular location is civilian or military is not relevant for the Agency. This is true for all countries under safeguards, not just Iran. 

How does the IAEA address any undeclared or secret nuclear sites?

The basic process of verification and monitoring is that Iran, like all countries with comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols in force, submits declarations about its nuclear material and activities to the Agency. The declarations are very extensive and must be revised at least once a year. We carefully analyse and evaluate the declarations. We seek clarifications and, when necessary, have access to information and to locations, including those that have not been declared. Access to locations not included in Iran’s declarations is not limited to cases in which we have concerns. We have such access when we need it. In the case of complementary access under the Additional Protocol, we have access to a location within 24 hours, and in some cases with as little as two hours’ notice.

With Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and, in particular, the Additional Protocol, being implemented, we are confident that we can detect diversion of nuclear material, or misuse of nuclear facilities, and any nuclear activities and materials that are not included in Iran’s declaration, in a timely manner.

As I said, Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. We are undertaking very strong verification activities. Our systematic safeguards processes enable us to develop a full understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle and to spot any anomalies.

Is the IAEA being too soft and accommodating with Iran?

No, certainly not. The IAEA has done everything possible to gain a full picture of Iran’s nuclear activities, always on the basis of facts and established rules. I have been very candid, and at times blunt, in presenting the Agency’s findings, right from my first report on Iran in 2010. In 2011, I made public detailed information spelling out 12 areas of concern. I encouraged Iran to agree to clarify the possible military dimensions in the absence of implementation of the additional protocol. And in my Final Assessment in 2015, I said Iran had engaged in activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.

IAEA verification is always rigorous, impartial and objective. This is essential for maintaining the credibility of the Agency and of the non-proliferation regime, which is in everyone’s interest. The verification and monitoring activities being conducted in Iran are rigorous by any standard.

 For now, I can state that Iran’s nuclear-related commitments are being implemented. If that changes, I will report to the Board.

Do the so-called “sunset clauses” in the JCPOA affect your safeguards work in Iran?

The provisions that limit certain nuclear activities by Iran will expire after a specified time period. However, the sun does not set on IAEA safeguards. The Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol are agreements between the Agency and Iran. Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA will remain in force as long as Iran is a party to the NPT. Iran has committed itself to implementing the Additional Protocol. I have urged Iran to ratify the Additional Protocol as a very important step to reinforce the sustainability of the JCPOA.

What is the significance of Section T of the JCPOA?

The Agency is verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of all of its nuclear-related commitments, including those set out in Section T of Annex 1. There is no doubt about our authority in this area.

Among other things, Section T prohibits or restrains activities related to the use of certain dual-use technologies, unless such activities are approved by the Joint Commission, which was set up by the parties to review implementation of the JCPOA.

Despite some misconceptions to the contrary, Section T does not contain any reference to verification and monitoring and it does not deal with access. In practice, we are addressing the activities set out in Section T using the tools available under the Additional Protocol.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I have made clear, the role of the Agency is to verify and monitor the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA. It is not our role to comment or speculate on the current or future positions of parties to the agreement, the UN Security Council or the IAEA Board of Governors.

The IAEA is a technical organisation, not a political one. Maintaining credibility is very important for us, and for the world, because we are the only multilateral nuclear verification authority. The Agency will continue to play the role we have been authorised to play by our Board.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I will stop here so we can open up the discussion.

Thank you.

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