Relief as Talks Extended; Surrender on Bomb Research; Smuggling Ignored

December 2, 2014

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs


Gary Milhollin and Valerie Lincy

Relief was the main reaction to the announcement last week that the nuclear talks with Iran, scheduled to end on November 24, had been extended for another seven months.  Israel, long the loudest critic of the talks, accepted the outcome as better than the “bad deal” it feared might have come from an agreement.  Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saw the extension as proving Iran could refuse U.S. demands, and did not denounce it.  And the United States and its negotiating partners, glad to avoid the confrontation that would have followed the talks’ failure, argued that extending them was the best outcome available.

The main loser was the International Atomic Energy Agency.  In comments on November 24, Secretary of State John Kerry applauded Iran’s compliance with the terms of the interim nuclear accord struck in November 2013, saying “we produced an agreement that, for one year, Iran has lived up to.”  However, Secretary Kerry neglected to point out that Iran has failed to live up to another agreement, struck with the IAEA one year ago.  Under this agreement, Iran was supposed to explain suspicious research that seemed intended for atomic bombs.  Iran has been stonewalling the Agency since last summer, yet this attitude was not a factor in the decision to extend the talks, and was not mentioned afterward as an issue that had prevented agreement.  In effect, the United States and its negotiating partners appear to have dropped the issue.  That decision amounts to an additional concession to Iran, and leaves the Agency without leverage in its effort to get Iran to explain the research.      

While attention focused on the talks, there were reports of Iran’s continued reliance on illicit imports.  A British businessman, Gary Summerskill, was fined and jailed for selling Iran more than three million pounds’ worth of illegal goods, including alloy valves controlled for their potential use in weapons.  Mr. Summerskill’s company, Delta Pacific Manufacturing Limited, was also punished and ordered to pay a fine of over one million pounds.  The German press reported that Iran had been seeking components for its nuclear program in Germany during the past several months, and quoted a German customs official as saying that “we continue to observe criminal purchases related to proliferation.”   According to this official, “straw men and front companies have tried to smuggle sanctioned goods from Germany to Iran a dozen times – in some cases successfully.” 

A respected American analyst, Leonard Spector, wrote in Yale Global that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is “profoundly contaminated” with illegally obtained items, and argued that Iran should be made to account for them.  He argued that as part of any final accord with Iran, the items should be returned to the senders or destroyed, and that any illicit imports in the future should be deemed a material breach of that accord.