IAEA Board of Governors – U.S. on Implementation of NPT Safeguards in Iran

U.S. Statement as Delivered by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott
March 11, 2020

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • United States

Thank you, Madam Chair,

The United States thanks the Director General, the Deputy Director General for Safeguards, and their staff for their continued professionalism and dedication in carrying out their safeguards responsibilities in Iran. We note with significant concern the Director General’s report before us on safeguards implementation in Iran. It is unfortunate that such a report, the first of its kind issued to the Board since 2015, is now once again necessary, but Iran’s refusal to address vital safeguards questions require such a response. We fully support the Secretariat’s pursuit of the critical safeguards questions noted in the report, consistent with the Agency’s longstanding safeguards practice. In the face of Iran’s refusal to cooperate, it is clear Iran has left the Director General no option but to bring these urgent issues to the Board’s attention. A core responsibility we have as members of the Board is to review and respond to information reported to the Secretariat commensurate with its significance. And the information in the report before us today is very significant. It should trouble all of us.

As we learned from the Deputy Director General’s technical briefing, the issues outlined in the safeguards report are in addition to the Agency’s unresolved effort, now well over a year long, to determine the origin of chemically processed uranium particles detected at an undeclared location in Iran. Altogether, these four issues paint a deeply worrying picture of Iran’s safeguards implementation. The nature of the safeguards issues reported to us, and Iran’s lack of response and cooperation with the Agency over many months now, raise very serious concerns regarding Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations.

Perhaps most disturbingly, Iran’s own official statements leave no question that it has chosen to directly reject the Agency’s requests for clarifications and access related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities in Iran, which were made in accordance with the terms of Iran’s safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol. The Secretariat has explicitly invoked specific provisions of these agreements, making clear Iran’s obligations to provide such clarifications and access. Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA on these matters raises very serious concerns about its compliance with its safeguards obligations—and potentially also with Article III of the NPT.

Especially in circumstances such as those reported by the Director General, we must act to ensure the continued integrity of the global safeguards system, and the Board of Governors thus has a special responsibility to uphold and defend the Agency and its professional and independent administration of safeguards. In light of the serious issues reported to us, the Board should state unequivocally today that Iran must resolve these concerns immediately.

Madam Chair,

Let us examine the three very serious issues brought to the Board’s attention in the Director General’s safeguards report, which are in addition to the Agency’s ongoing efforts – and Iran’s apparently continuing refusal to provide adequate explanations – regarding the detection of uranium particles at an undeclared location. Compounding our deep and growing concerns, the Director General has reported that Iran has refused all substantive engagement with the Agency on the three issues noted in the safeguards report since they were first raised in letters to Iran in July and August of last year, almost eight months ago. The refusal of a Member State to provide any substantive engagement whatsoever with the IAEA on questions relating to the possible existence of undeclared nuclear material, while at the same time refusing repeated requests for access as it reportedly takes actions consistent with sanitization, is absolutely unprecedented. Even for Iran, which has a long and truly infamous history of obstructing the Agency, its total refusal to cooperate on these issues is a new low.

First, Iran has refused to address the Agency’s questions regarding possible undeclared natural uranium at a location that has been heavily sanitized. In the Agency’s assessment, the nuclear material in question may potentially be uranium metal. Any refusal to cooperate with the IAEA on questions of possible undeclared nuclear material would be of serious proliferation concern. But given the potential for use of uranium metal in nuclear weapons research and development activities, the presence of even small quantities of undeclared uranium metal in Iran today would raise even more worrying questions. Iran must immediately cooperate with the Agency to resolve the Agency’s questions regarding the possible existence of such nuclear material in Iran today. And should such material exist, Iran must place it under Agency safeguards without further delay.

Second, Iran has refused the Agency access to a specified location for the purposes of assuring the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities, specifically, activities potentially related to uranium conversion. And third, the Director General has reported that Iran has refused access to yet another specified location with a possible connection to undeclared nuclear material or activities. If Iran has nothing to hide, then it should have no concerns with providing such access. However, it seems clear from Iran’s own statements that it has no intention of substantively addressing – much less resolving – the Agency’s concerns. Alarmingly, from Iran’s reported actions to apparently sanitize locations, it seems that Iran still has much to hide.

It is widely recognized that Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003. The matter now before us is whether there is undeclared nuclear material or activity in Iran today. Rather than respond in a timely way to the Agency’s requests, Iran has belatedly released a public response that dismisses the Agency’s basis for requesting access. Iran’s failure to address the IAEA’s concerns strikes at the heart of the Agency’s essential verification role and Iran’s safeguards obligations, and potentially also Iran’s compliance with the NPT. The seriousness of Iran’s refusal to clarify these matters cannot be overstated.

Iran’s safeguards obligations relevant to these matters are clear – any such nuclear fuel cycle-related activities must be declared to the IAEA, and Iran must provide the IAEA with clarifications regarding its declarations upon request by the Agency. If Iran has any legitimate concerns regarding the Agency’s request, it may make those known to the Agency. However, over the course of many months now, Iran has apparently conveyed no legitimate concerns, and instead has taken issue with the IAEA’s very authority to carry out such access. Iran’s official statements in response to the Agency’s requests are as disturbing as they are outrageous.

In an attempt to justify its lack of cooperation, Iran has questioned the adequacy of the information provided by the Agency in connection with its questions. The argument lacks all merit. The Secretariat has reported to us that this information was subject to an “extensive and rigorous corroboration process,” consistent with the standard safeguards practices followed in all states with safeguards agreements in force. The Secretariat has made clear that in the matters before us such information includes open source information, commercial satellite imagery, and information provided to the Agency by Iran itself.

We have full faith and confidence that the Agency is undertaking this work with the care and professionalism that it requires, and we reject any attempt to call into question or undermine the Agency’s integrity. Given the Secretariat’s rigorous review process and the seriousness and commitment with which the Agency’s conducts its important work, we can all be sure of the adequacy of the information that it has presented. Iran has been caught in so many lies about its nuclear program over the years, its claim today that it has somehow been framed is ludicrous – and is firmly and uncontestably rebutted by this Board’s long experience with and deep knowledge of the credibility, professionalism, and integrity of this Agency. The only way for Iran to resolve the Agency’s concerns is to provide the Agency with the information and access that it seeks – and that Iran is obliged to provide.

In response to each of these matters, alarming in isolation but profoundly troubling in combination, Iran has argued that they are somehow off limits to the IAEA because they involve “past activities.” The Secretariat has stated clearly that each issue pertains to questions relating to the possibility of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran today, and that nuclear material has no expiration date. The Secretariat has a responsibility to pursue such questions, as it does in all states under safeguards. However, the reason that Iran receives the level of attention that it does from the Agency is because Iran sits virtually alone in its past safeguards noncompliance and current noncooperation regarding potential undeclared nuclear material and activities.

The IAEA has the authority to access any location in Iran to resolve a question relating to the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations or to resolve an inconsistency regarding the same. In light of the new information being reported to the Board, we should recall the IAEA’s fundamental responsibility to pursue any concern regarding possible undeclared nuclear material or safeguards-relevant activities in all states under IAEA safeguards, and its responsibility to bring sufficiently serious concerns arising from these efforts to the attention of the Board. This is what now has occurred. We have full faith and confidence that the Agency and its highly skilled and professional inspectors will continue to do so appropriately.

Some in the Board have offered their judgment that the matters before us supposedly present little “proliferation risk” – and this in spite of Iran’s refusal to cooperate, which prevents us from understanding the true scope of the matters. However, even small amounts of undeclared nuclear material raise serious questions about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations, and Iran’s refusal to cooperate and its sanitization activities raise questions about whether larger amounts of nuclear material or additional nuclear-related activities may also still be unaccounted for. Moreover, the refusal of a state to cooperate with the IAEA to address questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material – in any quantity – risks undermining the international safeguards regime more broadly. The significance of the proliferation risk before us can only be assessed once the facts become clear, but the significance of ignoring evidence of this sort would be unquestionably grave.

Iran has a long history of deception, and it is the role of the Board to ensure that Iran’s actions do not distract from the Agency’s vital verification efforts. Iran’s past pursuit of nuclear weapons – and its well-documented efforts to preserve and conceal information from its prior nuclear weapons work – underscores the seriousness with which the international community must view these pressing matters. A country with a history of pursuing nuclear weapons cannot be allowed to evade the IAEA’s legitimate questions regarding potential undeclared nuclear material. As a Board of Governors, we should speak with one voice today in underscoring that Iran must comply fully with its nuclear safeguards obligations without further delay, and it must immediately provide the IAEA nothing short of full cooperation. Any further delay, denial, or deception by Iran that inhibits the IAEA’s essential safeguards verification work would require that the Board appropriately escalate this issue.

Madam Chair,

Timely reporting on the pressing issues raised today is essential for the Board to accurately assess Iran’s implementation of its safeguards obligations. We request that the Director General’s report be made public, consistent with the Board’s longstanding practice, so that the international community may understand the serious and urgent nature of the issues under discussion. The Board should continue following this closely and with serious concern. We request that the Board be kept fully apprised on this matter until the Director General can confirm that Iran has satisfactorily resolved the Agency’s concerns regarding Iran’s safeguards obligations.
With these comments, the United States takes note with deep concern of the Director General’s report contained in GOV/2020/15.

Thank you, Madam Chair.