A glimpse inside Iran’s nukes

New UN report shows that transparency, not sanctions and assassination, will secure U.S interests

Topics: Iran, nuclear,

A glimpse inside Iran's nukesIran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. (Credit: Reuters)

The media spin preceding the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran was more exciting than the report itself. Contrary to speculation, the report largely reinforced the reigning assessment of the Iranian nuclear program: Tehran is, and has been for decades, seeking nuclear latency—the capacity to make nuclear weapons–but the IAEA does not conclude that it currently has an active program to build nuclear weapons

The report added some detail to what was already known  with a high degree of likelihood: that Tehran had engaged in weaponization activities but ended those efforts around 2003. According to the Arms Control Association, “The IAEA report and annex reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some time: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.

The Obama administration has been careful not to overstate the report’s conclusions. A senior administration official told reporters yesterday that “[t]he IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons program nor does it [say] how advanced the programs really are.”

But beyond detailing Iran’s foul play, at least pre-2003, the report shows that after two more years of both targeted and indiscriminate sanctions by the United States, the trajectory of the Iranian nuclear program has not changed. The prospects for a tenable solution remains elusive.

Where do we go from here?

The immediate impulse in Washington will be to opt for more sanctions. Behind closed doors, talks abound about more sabotage, computer viruses and even assassination.

Much can be said about the negative repercussions of indiscriminate sanctions, the questionable ethics of assassinations and the Pandora’s box that is opened by launching cyberwars. But if we focus specifically on the nuclear program, and assume for a moment that the West is behind the recent assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists. Assume, as has been reliably reported, that Israel helped develop the Stuxnet virus which crippled Iranian nuclear machinery the question that must be asked is whether these efforts change facts on the ground in Iran at a faster pace than the progression of the nuclear program itself.

Sanctions targeting the nuclear program have made procurement of material and parts for the nuclear program more difficult. The assassination of key nuclear scientists has been costly to Iran, as has the Stuxnet virus.

Still, these combined efforts still seem to have changed facts on the ground at a less rapid rate than the continued growth of the Iranian program itself; whether it be the growing stockpile of low enriched uranium, the enrichment at 19.75%, or the expansion in Iranian knowledge about these processes and their various applications.

The fact that the Iranians have not retaliated against the assassinations of their scientists raises interesting questions. Is it because Tehran lacks the capability to retaliate? Or is it because the Iranians simply can absorb the pressures from the combined efforts of sanctions, assassinations and sabotage without losing significant momentum? If so, retaliating against the assassinations and risking an escalation may be less attractive to Tehran compared to continuing a status quo where Iran faces painful sanctions, but can still outpace the problems these punitive measures inflict on their program.

A different approach

So if not doubling down on sanctions, how should Washington react to the IAEA report? The report shows that the greatest danger lies in the lack of transparency. During periods of insufficient inspections, the Iranians were engaged in suspect activities.

Rather than sanctions, a solution centered on inspections and verification is more effective in ensuring that Iran won’t divert its program in a military direction. The specific tool in question is the Additional Protocol (AP) to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which would significantly enhance the IAEA’s ability to inspect and verify the nature of the Iranian program.

For instance, it would enable the IAEA to install instruments inside Iran’s nuclear facilities that would detect any foul play within 24 hours(compared to the 30-90 days that it would take with the existing tools). It would also enable the IAEA to have a permanent presence in Iran and to conduct un-announced spot checks. Currently, the IAEA can only inspect declared sites and the inspectors have to secure visas before travelling to Iran, giving Tehran ample heads-up.

Washington should make Iran’s adherence to the AP a key objective and devise a plan to reach this objective. A sanctions-centric approach is unlikely to yield the desired results. Even if it did, its value would be questionable since the AP is most efficient when states adhere to it voluntarily and find collaboration with the IAEA beneficial. Forcing the AP onto a state would likely only change the current cat-and-mouse game to a different game of deception.

It is only through a strategy centered on sustained diplomacy — one where instantaneous results are not expected and where the negotiations are insulated from domestic actors in Washington and Tehran who have a stake in the continuation of the status quo — that Iran’s full and effective adherence to the NPT can be achieved. And it is only through transparency on the part of Iran that nuclear diversion can be prevented – and the trust deficit between Iran and the West over this issue can begin to reverse.




Trita Parsi is the author of the new book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012) and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemayer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>