The IAEA report highlights troubling developments about Iran’s nuclear program, but it also confirms yet again that Iran is still using its enriched uranium strictly for peaceful purposes. Nonetheless, the report has unleashed new speculations about ‘how far Iran is from the bomb’. Breathless predictions that Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons have persisted for more than a quarter century. In 1992, for example, Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran was 3-5 years from the ability to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran, however, never decided to race toward the bomb, and diplomacy has the potential to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran forever.
In contrast, even proponents of a military strike admit that an attack would only delay Iran’s (currently civilian) nuclear program for a couple years at best. As U.S. and Israeli officials have warned, an attack could lead to a catastrophic war and encourage Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
2. Experts agree: Report is not a game changer
The Obama Administration and preeminent experts on Iran’s nuclear program, including Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Daryl Kimball and Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association, all agree that while the report is certainly troubling, it is “not a ‘game-changer’ and there is still time and space to pursue diplomacy.
Three major findings have defined the latest IAEA report:
A) Iran took a cue from my laundromat
Iran doubled its enrichment capacity at Fordow by doubling its centrifuges, but Iran has not turned the centrifuges on. An unnamed U.S. administration official told the New York Times, “they are creating a tremendous production capability, but they are not yet using it.
” It reminds me of a laundromat my family frequented when I was growing up. In response to complaints that there weren’t enough washing machines, the owner promised new machines. It was clear, however, from the snake of coils around the base of several machines that many of the ‘new’ washing machines wouldn’t be turned on for quite some time, and that this ‘expanded capacity’ was of questionable value. The administration official mentioned above described how Iran’s approach “gives them leverage, but they think it also stops short of creating the pretext for an attack.”
B) Iran reduces potentially dangerous stockpile
While Iran increased its enrichment of 20-percent uranium, there is also some very good news: Iran reduced its stockpile of this uranium that could be used for ‘breaking out’ to weapons-grade uranium.
The Washington Post summed up this positive development by reporting: “the IAEA also found that Iran had converted much of the new material to metal form for use in a nuclear research reactor. Once the conversion has taken place, the uranium can't be further enriched to weapons-grade material, Obama administration officials said.”
C) Iran Fails to Fully Cooperate with IAEA
The IAEA reports Iran’s failure to fully cooperate with its investigations of Iran’s nuclear program underscores the urgency for full IAEA cooperation to be a central component of the negotiations with Iran.
3. Still time and space for diplomacy to work
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor rightfully asserted that “there is still time and space” for diplomacy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. However, that time should not be squandered, and the U.S. should seize this opportunity to jumpstart its diplomatic efforts.
Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund astutely explained Iran’s calculations in considering future diplomatic initiatives:
“The Iranians are excellent chess players. They are continuing to enhance the value of their bargaining chips. [...]If you were the Iranians, why would you negotiate right now? You would want to wait for a better deal.”
Despite the stalled talks, there is widespread agreement between U.S. and Iranian officials that any crisis-ending deal would require Iran to limit its enrichment program and fully cooperate with the IAEA, while the U.S.-led sanctions siege currently imposed on Iran would end, and normalization of relations with Iran would begin.
That deal will only happen through robust, sustained, and comprehensive diplomacy, which Congress has all too often sabotaged rather than fully supported.
Gould is legislative associate for foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).