The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, could not be achieved until Iran was cleared of suspicions that it had worked on developing nuclear weapons. This was because earlier, in 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had published an unequivocally incriminating report stating that Iran’s nuclear activity was aimed at producing nuclear weapons.[1]

How was it possible for IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano to clear Iran of these suspicions, thus allowing the JCPOA to be achieved?[2]

The procedural stages

In 2013, following several rounds of secret U.S.-Iran negotiations, U.S. intelligence agencies published a joint assessment that contradicted both all previous assessments and the IAEA’s 2011 report and stated that Iran was not currently engaged in military nuclear development. This assessment, however, did not address Iran’s previous efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

On the morning of July 14, 2015, just hours before the JCPOA was declared, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano announced that he had reached a secret agreement with Iran on a roadmap that would allow Iran’s PMD file to be closed.[3]

The substantive stages

IAEA director-general Amano agreed to a scandalous inspection process at the Parchin military site, in which he complied with the following demands from Iran:

  • No IAEA inspector entered the site. Amano himself entered Parchin for a token visit for only a few minutes, but not for inspection purposes. He was not even permitted to carry his cellphone.
  • Iran refused to allow the IAEA to question Iranian nuclear scientists.
  • The soil samples from the site were taken and handed over by the Iranians themselves, with no way of ascertaining their source.
  • Amano even accepted Iran’s demand that the title of his report not be “Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s Nuclear Programme,” but that it be “Final Assessment of Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme.”

The above was confirmed by Iran’s representative in the IAEA, Reza Najafi, in a September 21, 2015 interview with Iran’s ISNA news agency: “I deny the Reuters report that the samples from Parchin were taken in the presence of IAEA inspectors. We ourselves took the samples. This is the red line for us, and no inspector is authorized to enter a military site and conduct an inspection. The visit of Amano and his deputy was strictly a general protocol visit; they had no equipment, not even a cellphone; their visit lasted no longer than a few minutes, [and it was] only in order for them to see that there is nothing suspicious and that the claims about [Parchin] were completely wrong.”

In a Nov. 26, 2015 interview with Reuters, IAEA director-general Amano said, regarding the conclusions of the report that he was about to submit, that “the report will not be black and white,” and that the PMD issue “is an issue that cannot be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ” It is noteworthy that the final IAEA assessment report confirmed that suspicious nuclear activity had taken place in Iran, but refrained from stating that the Iranian regime was responsible for it—as if it had been carried out by a body completely independent of the Iranian regime, which is ludicrous.

The prior U.S.-Iran-IAEA agreement to close the PMD file

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed in a June 16, 2015 statement that the United States knew of the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and clarified that the U.S. was not interested in focusing on Iran’s past military violations, but was looking towards the future. He said: “The possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussions in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. … “We know what they did … We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to certain military activities they were engaged in …

“What we’re concerned about is going forward. It’s critical to us to know that going forward, those activities have been stopped and that we can account for that in a legitimate way… That clearly is one of the requirements, in our judgment, for what has to be achieved in order to have a legitimate agreement. And in order to have an agreement, to trigger any kind of material, significant sanctions relief, we would have to have those answers.”

Senior Iranian officials close to the negotiations attested to the prior political agreement among the parties as follows:

In a July 21, 2015 interview on the Iranian TV channel IRIB, Iranian vice president and negotiating team member Ali Akbar Salehi disclosed that Iran had reached agreement with the IAEA on Iran’s PMD. Now that the problems had been resolved on the political level, he said, and since there was political backing (i.e. for closing Iran’s PMD file)the IAEA could no longer act independently, unlike when there had been no such political backing (that is, when it had published reports incriminating Iran). Therefore, the IAEA’s PMD investigation would be extremely positive for Iran. Salehi added that the IAEA had to “be reasonable” or “they would be the losers.”

Conclusions and ramifications

Although the United States, the Europeans and the IAEA had unequivocal information that Iran had conducted activity to develop nuclear weapons, the three of them colluded to clear Iran of these suspicions, and the report published by IAEA director-general Amano served this purpose.

Israel’s exposure of Iran’s military nuclear program is justification for a suspension of the JCPOA agreement pending a comprehensive investigation, unconditional and without restrictions on Iran’s part, of Iran’s military nuclear activity, at every site about which information on such activity has been discovered. If Iran does not allow such an inspection, this will mandate a return to the pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran.

It is also necessary to investigate the conduct of the IAEA, which was obligated to act an independent professional body not subject to political pressure, but wrote its reports of inspections in consultation with the party under investigation, that is, Iran. The conduct of IAEA director-general Amano must be examined, since he agreed to a scandalous, unprofessional, and unreliable inspection procedure at the Parchin military site; also there must be an examination of the IAEA’s claim that it was impossible to determine with certainty that the suspect activity was carried out by the Iranian regime.

While the West now says it knew of previous Iranian activity to develop nuclear weaponsachieving the JCPOA was not based on this knowledge, but on Iran’s denial of any military dimension to its nuclear program, and on the IAEA report that cleared it of the accusation that it existed.

Y. Carmon is president of MEMRI. A. Savyon is director of the Iran Media Project.

The full report can be viewed at MEMRI here.