Politics vs. Protocol: Iran’s Nuclear Archive and the IAEA’s Responsibilities

August 19, 2019


Tzvi Kahn


Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Related Country: 

  • Israel

In an April 2018 press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disclosed that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had conducted a raid on a warehouse in Iran the previous January, removing a half-ton of files cataloguing Tehran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.1 The covert archive contained a wealth of new information that contradicts longstanding assumptions about Iran’s nuclear program. While a 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate judged “with high confidence” that Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003, the archive shows that the program continued, albeit in a more circumscribed and diffuse manner.

Specifically, the archive identifies additional nuclear facilities, equipment, and activities previously unknown to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program and verifying its key nuclear-related commitments. Israeli officials estimate that the Jewish state seized only 20 to 50 percent of the archive’s contents, suggesting that the IAEA’s knowledge base likely has additional gaps.

The IAEA harbors an obligation to remedy these gaps by securing prompt access to the facilities, equipment, and materials described in the archive. This responsibility stems directly from the IAEA’s legal mandate, as established by the multiple non-proliferation agreements that Iran has concluded. A careful review of these accords shows that the IAEA has no pretext for inaction or delay. Further investigation of Iran’s nuclear program remains necessary to ensure that no covert nuclear activity persists today.

This report assesses that the IAEA, despite its clear duty, has not demonstrably satisfied its mandate. In the years since the finalization of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the IAEA has provided insufficient transparency and clarity about its inspections in Iran. This opacity raises questions about the diligence of the IAEA’s investigations – particularly its probe of sites, equipment, and activities documented in the archive.


Read the full report at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.