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Reflections on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Copenhagen, Denmark
Danish Institute for International Studies
Yukiya Amano

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

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me to speak to this distinguished Institute.

The Kingdom of Denmark was a founder member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957 and participates actively in all areas of our work.

I have been asked to speak to you today about Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA.

As you know, this is a landmark agreement that was concluded in 2015 between Iran, the so-called P5+1 countries, and the EU. I should make it clear that the core of the nuclear verification regime in Iran is, in fact, the IAEA’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with Iran, and the Additional Protocol, a powerful verification tool. Transparency measures contained in the JCPOA strengthen the verification regime in Iran.

The Agency is not a party to the JCPOA, but the JCPOA helped us by committing Iran to implement its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol.

We were requested by the UN Security Council, and by our own Board of Governors, to verify and monitor Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. Implementation of the JCPOA began in January 2016 and we have now been carrying out our verification and monitoring work for some 16 months.

The JCPOA is a clear and substantive gain for nuclear verification in Iran. It also represents a significant achievement for international diplomacy, with the UN, the EU, major countries and the IAEA all playing their part and working together effectively.

For the IAEA, the Iran nuclear issue has been a top-priority issue for more than ten years and we made an important contribution to bringing about the agreement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Iran nuclear issue has a long history. Let me explain how it began and how we got to where we are today.

In 2002, an Iranian opposition group claimed that Iran had nuclear facilities which it had not declared. The IAEA began looking into the matter carefully.

The first IAEA report on the subject, in June 2003, indicated that Iran had secretly built underground uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and a heavy water production plant at Arak.

The report stated that: “Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material, and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed.”

The Agency thus began a process of trying to clarify key safeguards issues in Iran that continued for well over a decade. Our reports made clear from an early stage 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. This was “not consistent with the nuclear material declarations made by Iran,” the Agency said in its report.

In October 2003, a parallel political process was established when the EU-3 countries – Britain, France and Germany – with the support of the EU High Representative, began negotiations with Iran with the goal of ensuring that Iran would not seek to acquire nuclear weapons.

Under an agreement with France, Germany, the UK and the EU in autumn 2003, known as the Tehran Agreement, Iran pledged full cooperation with the Agency. In December that year, Iran signed the additional protocol, which gives the Agency greater access to information and locations than provided for in safeguards agreements. It did not actually bring the additional protocol into force, but implemented it on a voluntary basis for around two years.

However, developments after the Tehran Agreement turned out to be unsatisfactory. Despite promising full disclosure, Iran continued to withhold information. In February 2004, the Agency reported that, in a declaration purporting to detail “the full scope of Iranian nuclear activities”, Iran had failed to mention its work on manufacturing and mechanical testing of P2 centrifuges. In August 2005, Iran started some conversion activities. Conversion is a process that purifies uranium into a form that can then be enriched.

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 decided to report Iran’s non-compliance to the UN Security Council.

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 urging Iran to suspend work on all heavy water-related projects and imposing sanctions on Iran.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over 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 which ultimately delivered little. International tension over Iran rose, at times to dangerous levels.

When I became IAEA Director General in December 2009, I felt it important to spell out clearly both the facts that we had established through many years of verification efforts, and the concerns that we had.

I stressed the fundamental principle that all safeguards agreements between the IAEA and States should be implemented fully. So should other obligations, such as Security Council resolutions.

In my first report to the Board in February 2010, I 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.

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 urged Iran to cooperate with us in clarifying outstanding issues. These had become known as “possible military dimensions” and were the focus of much of the Agency’s work for many years.

In my first few years in office, I made little headway in my talks with Iran. Iran insisted that a Work Plan that had been agreed between Iran and the Agency in 2007 should be the basis of the Agency’s clarification work. This proved to be a dead end and, by the summer of 2011, the situation was completely deadlocked.

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. I believed a new approach was required and that stating clearly the questions that needed to be answered was a vital first step towards a solution.

I stated that 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 Iran had nuclear weapons. But I did say that our information was broadly consistent and credible in terms of technical detail. I requested Iran to clarify these twelve areas. Iran had a case to answer.

As you can imagine, Iran did not agree with my report. In the next two years, Iran and the Agency worked on a new Structured Approach to resolve past and current outstanding issues. Some progress was made, but no agreement was reached. At times, we were going around in circles.

However, 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.

In October 2013, Iran and the IAEA signed a Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation. The basic objective was to resolve all outstanding issues, past and present, through strengthened cooperation and a step by step approach. This represented progress, but further negotiation was needed to implement the Framework.

The following month, Iran and the P5+1 countries agreed a Joint Plan of Action. It set out concrete steps to be taken by both sides towards a mutually agreed, long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme would be exclusively peaceful. The seven countries and the EU asked the Agency to undertake monitoring and verification of nuclear-related measures to be implemented by Iran.

There were thus two separate strands of negotiations. One was between Iran and the P5+1 countries, plus the EU, aimed at agreeing a comprehensive solution.

The second was between Iran and the IAEA, aimed at clarifying all outstanding issues, including possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. Its objective was to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran remained in peaceful activities.

The two sets of negotiations were independent, but they were related in substance. The P5+1 and the EU used their political influence to help the Agency to achieve its objectives. The IAEA helped the broader negotiations by seeking clarification of past issues so that a political agreement could be reached with Iran. The IAEA was not party to the talks between Iran and the six countries, but we did provide technical advice.

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. Some hours later, on the same day, Iran and the six countries agreed the JCPOA. The Security Council asked the IAEA to undertake verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, and our Board authorized us to do so, subject to the availability of funds and in accordance with standard safeguards practices.

For the IAEA, it was important that, under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to provisionally apply the additional protocol because this is essential for us to confirm that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities. It was also important that the Agency was requested to verify and monitor transparency measures, agreed to by Iran, including enhanced access for our inspectors to uranium mines and mills, and continuous surveillance of centrifuge manufacturing plants.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The next phase was the implementation of the Road-map and preparations for implementation of the JCPOA.

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 been requesting access. This visit was a decisive milestone because Parchin had been seen as a litmus test of Iran’s willingness to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community.

Implementation of the IAEA Road-map enabled us to obtain a much better understanding of Iran’s nuclear activities.

 As a result of the Road-map, 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.   

In the meantime, preparations for implementation of the JCPOA were underway, under the verification of the IAEA. This was a complex process, fraught with technical difficulties. It involved long hours and many late nights for our inspectors and their Iranian counterparts over the holiday period.

My Final Assessment report, and the Agency’s confirmation that preparatory measures had been completed, paved the way for implementation of the JCPOA to begin on January 16th, 2016.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You may ask – where are we today?

Well, as I mentioned, the IAEA is not a party to the JCPOA, but we have the key role of verifying and monitoring Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments.

Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. Our inspectors are on the ground 24/7. We monitor nuclear facilities remotely, using permanently installed cameras and other sensors. We have expanded access to sites, and have more information about Iran’s nuclear programme.

That programme is smaller than it was before the JCPOA came into effect. Iran accepted many restrictions on its nuclear activities. For example, its stockpile of low enriched uranium must not exceed 300 kilos and the number of centrifuges used for producing enriched uranium must not go above 5,060. 

Iran is implementing its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, including what is known as modified Code 3.1. This requires countries to report a new nuclear facility to the Agency as soon as a decision is taken to build it, or to authorise construction.

Under the additional protocol, Iran is required to make an extensive declaration of all of its nuclear fuel cycle-related activities. This is updated regularly.

If we find inconsistencies in the information supplied, or if there are areas where we have questions, we can request further clarifications, ask to review documents, or seek access to undeclared locations.

In short, as I said a moment ago, the JCPOA represents a significant gain for nuclear verification. 

However, the Iranian nuclear programme is complex and our work of verification and monitoring is not easy. Problems inevitably arise.

There is a lack of trust among some of the parties involved. Any technical issue has the potential to turn into a major political issue. It is therefore essential that Iran fully implements all of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA to ensure it is sustainable.

There is some speculation about the future of the JCPOA pending a review by the new U.S. administration, and ahead of the forthcoming presidential election in Iran.

The IAEA does not operate on the basis of speculation. We have been requested by our Board of Governors, and the UN Security Council, to act, in effect, as the eyes and ears of the world on the Iran nuclear issue. And that is what we are doing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is a technical organization. This means doing our job impartially, professionally and thoroughly, day by day, dealing with any problems that may arise and escalating issues to our Member States when necessary.

We will continue to implement safeguards in Iran with a view to being able to draw, when all conditions are met, what we call the “broader conclusion” – that all nuclear material remains in peaceful activities.

But we can already point to several valuable lessons from the process so far.

The first is that even complex and challenging issues can be tackled effectively if all parties are committed to dialogue – not dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at achieving results.

In this case, the Security Council, the P5+1 countries, the IAEA, and Iran itself all did what they needed to do. The result was an agreement which moved the Iran issue forward after an impasse of more than a decade.

My second observation is that the IAEA was able to make a vital contribution, and maintain the confidence of all sides, by sticking to its technical mandate and not straying into politics. Virtually every political breakthrough in recent years was preceded by a technical agreement between the IAEA and Iran. This objective and factual approach will continue to characterize our work in the coming years.

My third observation is that, as far as verification is concerned, it is of the utmost importance that all the parties concerned, including the IAEA, act in accordance with the relevant international norms. For verification, that means IAEA safeguards agreements and additional protocols, resolutions of the UN Security Council, General Assembly and the IAEA Board, and standard IAEA safeguards practices. The JCPOA also belongs on that list. Developments related to the Iran nuclear issue have shown clearly that this is the right approach.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have spoken exclusively about the JCPOA. Let me mention briefly, before concluding, that the work of the IAEA is much broader than many people realise and goes well beyond efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Through the IAEA technical cooperation programme, of which Denmark is a generous supporter, we help countries to use nuclear science and technology to achieve their development goals.

This includes helping them to grow more food, manage their water supplies, use radiation techniques in industry, deploy nuclear medicine and radiotherapy to fight cancer, and control insect pests such as mosquitoes and tsetse flies.

These are just a few examples of this fascinating area of our work. I would be very happy to tell you much more about this, or about our activities in other areas such as nuclear safety and security.

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

Thank you.

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