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As the United States and its negotiating partners reengage with Iran over the renewal of the Iran nuclear deal, the lessons from the Iran nuclear archives, taken by Israel’s Mossad in 2018, should serve as a guide for the negotiations.
In order to achieve the goal of preventing Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons, the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must be significantly improved. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said on numerous occasions that the United States will work to make the JCPOA, “longer and stronger”.
What would a “longer and stronger” JCPOA look like?
In a new book titled, “Iran’s Perilous Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons”, co-authors David Albright and Sarah Burkhard provide a detailed overview of Iran’s nuclear weapons program known as the Amad Plan. Based on information they obtained through extensive access to the Iran nuclear archives, they have helped us to understand the serious flaws of the JCPOA and what it would take to improve it.
As one of America’s leading experts on nuclear weapons, David Albright certainly has the credentials to analyze the archives. Albright (pictured above) is a nuclear physicist, has worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and is the founder and director of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. which he calls, “the good ISIS”.
The lessons learned from the nuclear archives should not be ignored.
Many initial reactions to the revelation of the Iran nuclear archives were highly dismissive about their importance. One analyst who wrote an oped published in the New York Times just days after the revelation called it a “nothingburger.” For serious analysts like David Albright, a close examination of the archives revealed a much different reality.
In a conversation with Michael Doran, Albright said, “If you look at the archives documents you see a much more developed and larger nuclear weapons program than was known before… You had many facilities that were never known about until the discovery of the archives, and important facilities where they were going to build weapons grade uranium cores for the nuclear weapons”.
These revelations are important for the discussion over the JCPOA and whether it can ultimately prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Supporters of the JCPOA argue that the restrictions put in place on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium were verified by intrusive inspections of Iran’s declared nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
While that may be true, critics of the deal argue that one of the main problems with the JCPOA were the “sunset clauses” that will lift all of these restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity by 2030. That will make it much more difficult for the IAEA to monitor Iran’s uranium enrichment program to ensure they are not producing highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
Through their detailed analysis of the nuclear archives, Albright and Burkhard focus on another fundamental flaw with the JCPOA: a failure to inspect undeclared nuclear sites where suspicions were raised about nuclear activities, especially the efforts to develop nuclear weapons out of highly enriched uranium.
In this regard, David Albright said of the JCPOA, “… it fails utterly on facilitating access to military sites many of which were engaged in making nuclear weapons. Now we know of at least three and we have evidence of undeclared uranium”.
When the JCPOA was completed in 2015, these locations were not known to the IAEA or Western intelligence agencies. Nor did Iran reveal them in the negotiations over the JCPOA. In fact, Iranian negotiators have consistently deceived western negotiators by sticking to their narrative that they never had a nuclear weapons program. It was only through the revelations from the nuclear archives taken by Israel’s Mossad in 2018 that these locations were discovered.
One example is a site known as Marivan. In the book, the authors explain how the archives identify it as a place that “…tested nuclear weapons components closer to full-scale…” (page 110)
Another site known as Shahid Boroujerdi is located deep underground in tunnels within the Parchin military complex. According to the authors, “This facility, composed of a series of underground workshops and laboratories, was designed to manufacture weapons-grade uranium components for a few nuclear weapons per year, a capacity more than sufficient to meet the Amad Plan’s initial goal of building five nuclear weapons”. (p. 141)
The lessons learned from the archives have had a significant impact on the public debate over the JCPOA.
In a document titled, “Key Failings of the Iran Nuclear Deal”, the non-partisan advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) identified the failure to hold Iran accountable to inspections of undeclared nuclear sites as one of the key flaws of the deal. According to UANI, “The JCPOA does not require Iran to submit to “anytime, anywhere” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of facilities and military sites where nuclear activities are suspected to have occurred”.
The nuclear archives prove that through the Amad Plan, Iran has developed the ability to weaponize highly enriched uranium. In order to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons, simply renewing the JCPOA in its current form will be insufficient to achieve this goal.
If the United States and the international community want a JCPOA that is truly “longer and stronger”, two things must happen. The clauses of the JCPOA that “sunset” the restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity by 2030 must be eliminated, and “anywhere, anytime” inspections of any suspect nuclear facility must become mandatory.