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Nuclear censure for Iran is long overdue

5 min read

After the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany introduced a draft resolution highlighting Tehran’s persistent refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) inquiry into prior nuclear activities, the Agency’s Board of Governors last week issued an official censure of the Islamic Republic.

It was the first of its kind since Iran fully halted compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) in 2020, and only the third since 2012.

Even before the Board of Governors voted (almost unanimously) for the censure, Iranian state media announced that the authorities had deactivated two essential monitoring devices at the Natanz nuclear site. After the censure was issued, it was reported that Tehran had immediately begun the process of similarly dismantling 27 surveillance cameras and monitoring devices, creating even greater opacity in the international understanding of Iran’s nuclear programme.

That opacity had been rapidly increasing since early last year when the regime ceased cooperation with IAEA nuclear inspectors, barring them from nuclear facilities and denying them access to surveillance footage and monitoring data. Months later, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) even goaded the IAEA over the effects of this obstructionism, announcing that Iran’s stockpiles of highly enriched uranium were actually higher than the IAEA had estimated in its quarterly report.

This claim has sadly been under-reported, but its implications are even significantly alarming in light of the IAEA report that sparked Thursday’s censure. In presenting the report to the United Nations, IAEA director general Rafael Grossi noted that Iran had stockpiled at least 43.1 kg of uranium enriched to 60 per cent fissile purity. That represents enough for one nuclear weapon if enriched further to 90 per cent, or weapons-grade – something that experts describe as only a short technical step.

There is no immediate indication that western powers are prepared to take the necessary steps to hold Iran accountable

In fact, the Institute for Science and International Security released a report to coincide with Grossi’s, noting that if Iran opted for the development of a cruder form of a nuclear weapon, its “breakout” time would essentially be zero. Furthermore, the report indicated that by continuing enrichment activities in line with the regime’s existing, known capabilities, it could develop three more such bombs in the space of three months.

In light of the AEOI’s earlier claims of larger-than-estimated nuclear stockpiles, this extremely dangerous state of affairs demands that the international community quickly rein in Iran’s nuclear activities.

Unfortunately, even in the wake of the censure vote, there is no immediate indication that western powers are prepared to take the necessary steps to hold Iran accountable for its provocation and its disregard for its international obligations.

Iran’s leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), has gone so far as to accuse European and American policymakers of “appeasing” the Tehran regime while indulging a false hope of internal reform. This sentiment was evident on Thursday in a statement from NCRI President-elect, Maryam Rajavi, which welcomed the IAEA censure but also emphasised that it is nowhere near sufficient on its own.

“For the past seven years since the nuclear deal with the P5 + 1 countries [was implemented], this regime has continued to deceive and conceal, and has used all the facilities and privileges that the nuclear deal has provided against the Iranian people in the service of repression, terrorism, and warmongering,” Rajavi said.

She further described Iran’s nuclear programme as an essential guarantor of the regime’s survival, one that has become increasingly important in recent years as the regime has faced greater domestic dissent and an organised push for a fundamental change.

That popular movement has been especially visible over the last few months.  Protests are growing, after sharp increases in food prices and a building collapse in Abadan resulting in dozens of fatalities, which activists blame on the consequences of government corruption.

The PMOI has previously criticised western policymakers for paying too little attention to the organised opposition movement, and for playing directly into the Iranian regime’s efforts to downplay its chances of success. It is a criticism that is well warranted and has been repeated by western critics who have long recognised the PMOI and the Iranian people as a natural allies in Middle Eastern affairs.

The importance of that prospective alliance should have been apparent since 2002. It was the PMOI who first revealed key details of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme, followed by around 100 subsequent disclosures, which underline the danger posed by Iran’s defiance of the IAEA’s censure.

The importance of heeding the advice of the PMOI, which has proved so accurate over the years, is unquestionable.  As Rajavi put it in Thursday’s statement, “The regime's nuclear dossier must be referred to the UN Security Council as soon as possible, and the six UNSC resolutions [suspended under the JCPoA] should be reinstated.”

Not only would this be the best means of halting Tehran’s alarming progress toward a nuclear weapon, but the resulting economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime would demonstrate much-needed and much-deserved support for a courageous resistance movement that has been spearheading the struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran for the last four decades.


David Jones is the Conservative MP for Clwyd West.

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