Two weeks ago in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gave Iran until October 31 to prove it does not possess a hidden nuclear weapons program. The agency's board demanded Iran answer a host of outstanding questions about its nuclear activities and quickly comply with requests for expanded inspections. The board's action was widely lauded as surprisingly strong—most had expected it to issue only a weak statement, and few had thought a deadline would be imposed.
But, while the IAEA ultimatum was a tactical victory, it may be setting the stage for a strategic disaster. The IAEA's chief goal is a more transparent Iranian nuclear program: If Iran accounts for all its nuclear materials by October 31 and agrees to give the IAEA expanded inspection authority, the agency's board is unlikely to cite
In late August, those contradictions were catalogued in an IAEA report providing overwhelming evidence that
AT THE LAST IAEA board meeting in June, delegates were presented with evidence that Iran had secretly imported 1,800 kilograms of uranium from China—uranium it had been required, under the NPT, to declare; they were told of a well-developed uranium-enrichment program, which suggested that Iran had previously tested centrifuges with uranium, in clear contravention of its NPT obligations; and they learned of Iranian plans to build a plutonium-production reactor based on heavy-water technology, which could provide material for nuclear weapons. But Iran offered explanations for all these findings: Officials claimed they'd been unaware of their obligation to report the uranium imports; insisted they had used inert gas, not uranium, to test their centrifuges; and said they planned to use their plutonium production reactor to produce medical materials, such as radioisotopes used to diagnose cancer. These arguments, while not entirely convincing, were plausible enough to deflect international concern.
Since the June meeting, however, the IAEA has uncovered abundant evidence that the Iranian explanations are, in fact, false. A report delivered in late August by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to the IAEA board asserts that “some of the information [provided by
There are several key inconsistencies in
The IAEA also rejects
Despite the implications of last week's resolution, it is too late for
Now it is time for the IAEA to turn the question of how to deal with an NPT violator over to the Security Council. Options would range from demanding
Michael Levi is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and is the author of the new book On Nuclear Terrorism. This article appeared in the October 6, 2003, issue of the magazine.