A much anticipated IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities was leaked today. The report indicates that, among other things, Iran has conceded to additional safeguard at Natanz. This is a welcome development but occurring amidst a contested Iranian election, European threats of increased sanctions, continuing oblique hints of Israeli military action, and US talk of cutting off Iranian gasoline imports if nuclear talks are rejected. How important are these increased safeguards? Do they represent a change of course for Iran?
Some have suggested that Iranian compliance with IAEA requests is a sign that Teheran is preparing the ground for negotiations. Iranian officials themselves have stated that they are open to talks without preconditions and there was even a domestic proposal for an enrichment halt. The statement was quickly corrected making Iranian intentions as ambiguous as ever.
From a technical perspective, we believe that Iranian concessions on enhancing safeguards at Natanz do no present a fundamental change nor do they cause Iran much inconvenience. The changes are proportionate with the continued build up in the number of centrifuges and failure to implement them would have soon amounted to a violation of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement.
We should not read much political significance into Iran’s acceptance of additional safeguards. Whether Iran is cooperating with inspections because of, or in spite of, the threat of increased sanctions, their centrifuge program is continuing. Indeed, cooperation with the IAEA helps to weaken international political support for sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. We could say that Iran would rather have IAEA inspections than violate its Safeguards Agreement and suffer greater international sanctions, but we believe that agreeing to additional safeguards monitoring is not, by itself, an indication that Iran is willing to sit down at the negotiating table, let alone give up its centrifuge program.