The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticized Iran for stonewalling an investigation into past activities and jeopardizing important monitoring work, possibly complicating efforts to resume talks on the Iran nuclear deal.
“The Agency’s confidence that it can maintain continuity of knowledge is declining over time and has now significantly further declined," Reuters reported.
“This confidence will continue to decline unless the situation is immediately rectified by Iran,” it added.
Meanwhile, Iran's representative to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said no one has the right to request Iran to halt its nuclear activities, accusing IAEA members of pressuring Tehran.
What Do the IAEA Statements Indicate?
Last week, Iran’s parliament approved all but one of President Ebrahim Raisi's big-name nominees for a cabinet.
The government later continued to take shape, increasing expectations that Tehran would soon accelerate its malign activities, as well as its crackdown on local dissidents.
Raisi appointed Mohammad Eslami as the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), replacing Ali Akbar Salehi who served in the post since August 2013.
Under Salehi’s supervision, the AEOI engaged in the duplication strategy, which allowed the regime to enhance key aspects of its nuclear program. However, the program appeared to comply with the restrictions imposed when viewed by international inspectors.
In January 2019, Salehi bragged to state media that he used deceptive components and a photoshopped image to convince the IAEA that Tehran destroyed the Arak water reactor's calandria by filling it with cement, in accordance with the terms included in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This allowed the regime to continue producing weapons-grade plutonium.
In November 2019, Salehi again boasted that the uranium enrichment process has remained more intensely operational than the international community had thought.
“They thought they won the talks,” Salehi said of Western participants in the JCPOA negotiations that were concluded in 2015. “Yet, we have a countermeasure,” he added, noting that while Tehran was negotiating the treaty, the West did not achieve its plan, and Iran did not become caught up in the enrichment impasse.
The potential significance of these “countermeasures” was boldly highlighted in February, when Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi made statements that prompted the regime to officially admit its ambition to develop a nuclear weapon.
Alavi began his remarks by repeating the false claim that the regime's nuclear activities were for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and civil research. He then cited the fatwa (religious decree) issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that bans the development or use of nuclear arms. It is noteworthy that this fatwa does not provide an actual guarantee that Iran would not attempt to “rush” the development of a nuclear weapon.
“The Supreme Leader has explicitly said in his fatwa that nuclear weapons are against Sharia law and Iran sees them as religiously forbidden and does not pursue them,” the Minister told State TV.
“But a cornered cat may behave differently from when the cat is free. And if they (Western states) push Iran in that direction, then it’s no longer Iran’s fault,” Alavi noted.
These remarks stress Tehran’s long-standing nuclear duplicity. It also underscores the regime’s strategy of intimidation and extortion. This strategy has been clearly applied during the recent talks in Geneva which were an attempt to revive the nuclear deal.
Since the beginning of these talks, Tehran insisted on its initial position and requested the United States to lift all sanctions before the regime considers any further increase in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has reached the highest-ever levels of uranium enrichment, with some being applied to uranium metal, which is a key component in the nuclear weapon development process.
Iranian officials, including former president Hassan Rouhani, publicly bragged during the stalled talks about the regime’s intention and ability to move forward with its nuclear program and obtain weapons-grade uranium.
Raisi’s administration will continue to pursue its predecessor’s goals, but it will be more open with its warmongering and continue its covert progress in nuclear activities that are not currently under tight scrutiny.
Raisi and Eslami will now focus more on intimidation and blackmail in an effort to extract concessions and allow themselves to declare victory over Western powers.
But this does not mean that Raisi and Eslami will stop being equivocal, as they have proven to be in various situations. For instance, Raisi has been a major contributor to the regime’s efforts to downplay the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, in which he played a leading role.
Eyewitnesses to that incident affirmed the killing of at least 30,000 dissidents and activists, most of whom belonged to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), over a three-month period, International law experts consider this episode to have been a genocide.
However, on several occasions the regime’s leaders implicitly objected to this characterization of their mass murder. They also strived to justify the mass executions which Raisi said were an implementation of God’s will.
Meanwhile, Eslami’s official lies proved to be more complex. In January 2020, while he was the Minister of Roads and Urban Development, he gave a detailed story of a missile strike carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps on a commercial airliner which killed all on board.
Eslami also denounced “rumors” published by foreign media outlets of a “terrorist attack, an explosion or a shooting.”
Setting a Square Peg in a Round Hole at the Nuclear Talks
Eslami will soon apply his apparent skill in rhetoric to deny and misrepresent AEOI activities.
Informed observers are certain he will also take advantage of heading the organization to push forward towards the development of a nuclear weapon.
He has been doing so since the establishment of the Iranian nuclear program.
In 1986 and 1987, Eslami participated in at least two meetings between the IRGC and Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father of Pakistan’s atomic weapons program.”
One of the outcomes of the last meeting was the sale of centrifuge components and designs to the Iranian regime, which put Iran on the path of being a nuclear state.
Eslami maintained further contact with the nuclear black market since then. In 2008, the United Nations sanctioned him for “being engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation of sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.”
Appointing him as chief of the AEOI provides an unprecedented opportunity to carry on with these activities even while working within teams tasked with negotiating directly with Western powers that remain hopelessly committed to the JCPOA.
In order to end the regime’s race to develop a nuclear bomb, Western powers and countries in the region must increase pressure on the regime and take practical measures.
*Mahdi Akabaei is a Member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).