IAEA BoG – U.S. on NPT Safeguards Agreement in Iran

Vienna International Centre with Buildings A and B, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Photo Credit: Rodolfo Quevenco/IAEA

IAEA Board of Governors Meeting, Agenda Item 6(e): NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran

U.S. Statement as Submitted to the Board
Vienna, Austria, June 18, 2020

Madam Chair,

We thank the Director General, the Deputy DG for Safeguards, and their staff for this critical report on safeguards implementation in Iran. Continued timely and factual reporting such as this is essential for the Board to accurately assess Iran’s implementation of its safeguards obligations.

In March, Board members spoke clearly and firmly on this important issue. Compliance with international obligations to provide information and access to the IAEA is at the core of the global safeguards regime, and an overwhelming majority of us voiced strong support for the IAEA and called on Iran to cooperate fully and without further delay with its legally binding safeguards obligations, including by providing the access required under its Additional Protocol.

At the time of the March report, Iran had been refusing for over a month to allow the IAEA to carry out access that Iran is obligated to provide. Board members made clear this was unacceptable, but in the three months that have since passed, Iran has still not cooperated with the IAEA. To the contrary, Iran has raised unfounded questions about the legal basis for the Agency’s requests and suggested that matters of possible undeclared nuclear material and activities are somehow not urgent, significant, or compelling. Accepting such claims would undercut the entire global safeguards regime and the international assurances regarding non-diversion of nuclear material that it provides, assurances on which every one of us in this room relies.

It has now been nearly one year since the IAEA first sought clarifications from Iran about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities at these three locations, and Iran has denied the IAEA access for over four months to two of these locations. With this new report, we now better understand the IAEA’s questions related to each of these locations and the seriousness of the outstanding issues.

We now know the Agency is seeking clarification about the possible presence in Iran of a uranium metal disc with indications of drilling and hydriding. The Agency believes this disc was at one time present at a location that later underwent significant sanitization. This revelation is particularly concerning given the potential for use of uranium metal in nuclear weapons research and development activities, and we note with concern that some such R&D requires only small quantities of uranium metal.

We also know now that the Agency’s questions related to a second location involve indications of possible processing and conversion of uranium ore into oxide and fluoride compounds, a necessary step to produce the feed material for a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant of the type Iran built originally in secret at Natanz. If undeclared nuclear material was previously present at this facility, where is it today? Could it be the source of the chemically processed uranium particles the IAEA found in samples taken at yet another location, as the IAEA reported last year?

Finally, related to the third location, past preparation for the use of neutron detection equipment at this locale has led the IAEA to raise questions about “the possible use and storage of nuclear material.” Such questions, in combination with past high explosives testing at the site, raise deeply troubling questions about possible nuclear weapons-related work at the location in the past and possible nuclear material that may remain undeclared to this day.

For all three locations, the Agency reports indications of sanitization or demolition. In one case, these sanitization activities occurred from July 2019 onward, immediately after the IAEA reportedly questioned Iran about the detection of particles of chemically processed uranium at the separate location reported earlier.

As we consider the unanswered questions and access denials detailed in the Director General’s report, it is important to note the significance of the Agency’s finding of uranium particles, the source of which the IAEA is still trying to discern. It has now been nearly a year since analysis of environmental samples revealed their presence, and seven months since this issue was brought to this Board’s attention in a special session in November. This finding of unexplained uranium means that inspectors are pursuing the previously mentioned additional access and questions regarding credible indications of possible hidden nuclear material in Iran in the context of having already found physical evidence that such nuclear material may exist today. Until resolved, therefore, this issue is a current and compelling safeguards concern. Iran’s claims dismissing the proliferation risk before us are as transparently false as they are self-interested.

Iran has posited that if it agrees to provide the IAEA with the required clarifications and access, such cooperation will only lead to further questions, even if nothing is found. First, as I have just underscored, something has already been found— the traces of still unexplained chemically-processed uranium. Second, Iran’s claim ignores the IAEA’s mandate to follow the facts where they lead in order to ensure all nuclear material is declared and in peaceful uses. Doing less would mean an end to the practical effectiveness of the global safeguards regime. The IAEA’s long record of effective professionalism in pursuing such cases is clear and there for all to see, which makes Iran’s attempts to imply that the Agency is acting somehow inappropriately all the more transparently misleading.

So, let me reiterate a few key facts that Iran cannot wish away: the Director General has reported to the Board that there are no less than four undeclared locations in Iran at which undeclared nuclear material has potentially been present and at which undeclared activities have possibly occurred. The IAEA has tirelessly sought Iran’s cooperation, but Tehran continues to stonewall the investigation. In the Director General’s own words, “this is adversely affecting the Agency’s ability to clarify and resolve the questions, and thereby to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at these locations in Iran.”

Madam Chair,

What was concerning and unprecedented in March has become a truly alarming threat to the integrity of the safeguards regime today. Iran’s refusal to cooperate cannot be allowed to stand unanswered. The Board must respond.

These issues are central to Iran’s current safeguards obligations and have direct relevance to potential undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran today. For the sake of the safeguards regime, the Board cannot simply look the other way and allow Iran or any other state to dictate whether and how it will comply with its safeguards obligations.

Without verified answers from Iran, the IAEA cannot determine whether nuclear material may remain undeclared and unaccounted for, and if so, how much, where the material may be today, and how it is being used. The IAEA’s questions regarding possible undeclared uranium metal that has undergone processing, possible undeclared fuel cycle activities that could produce feed material for a uranium enrichment plant, and indications of possible use and storage of nuclear material at a high explosives test site are all clear proliferation concerns. Ignoring such critical safeguards-related questions in Iran would undermine the implementation of safeguards everywhere. For those who seek a comprehensive, stable, and enduring diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue, resolving such questions and establishing continued IAEA confirmation that Iran is truly meeting its NPT and safeguards obligations is absolutely essential.

Iran has defended its intransigence by claiming the information on which the IAEA relies is insufficient. The Director General’s report and the follow-on technical briefing leave no question the Agency has sufficient grounds to seek clarifications from Iran about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declaration and, where needed, access to specified locations.

The Secretariat has made every possible effort, even in a very challenging time, to allow Iran to make the right choice. Instead, Iran has refused to cooperate, and we now face the unprecedented scenario of a state denying access it is obligated to provide under its Additional Protocol. We firmly believe that the Secretariat’s approach in this matter is above reproach, and that Director General Grossi and his team deserve the full support of this Board.

We shared our respective views in our national capacities in March, and Iran clearly feels it can continue to dismiss our individual voices. It is time now for us to speak formally and with one voice as the Board of Governors, making clear that making clear that Iran’s refusal to comply with its safeguards obligations and decision to deny access to the Agency are unacceptable. The resolution tabled by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom is a balanced and fair reaction to Iran’s alarming refusal to comply with its legal obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and its Additional Protocol. While we firmly believe the text could be strengthened to underscore the essential nature of the IAEA’s outstanding requests, the United States accepts and fully supports this resolution and urges all other Board members to do the same.

We again thank the Director General and the Safeguards Department for their continued professionalism in undertaking their responsibilities in Iran. We request that the Secretariat continue to provide the Board timely reporting on this issue.  In the interest of transparency and consistent with the Board’s past practice, we ask that GOV/2020/30 and GOV/2020/15 be made public.