At a celebration of National Nuclear Technology Day, Iran’s president and the director of its nuclear program denied Iran has ever pursued nuclear weapons research. This is another area in which Iran’s understanding of the framework agreement seems to be at odds with explanations published by the U.S.
Press TV reports that President Rouhani spoke at a ceremony intended to highlight Iran’s technological development in the area of nuclear science. In addition to praising accomplishments in nuclear medicine, Rouhani took the opportunity to emphasize Iran’s peaceful intentions saying, “We tell the world now that the path of moderation, logic, negotiations, peace, tranquility, humans’ dignity and stability in the region has overcome extremism, the logic of bullying, the logic of violence and the logic of sanctions and achieved a victory.” Rouhani then added that his country had never intended and would never wish to develop nuclear weapons.
Another speaker at the National Nuclear Technology Day event was Ali Akbar Salehi. Salehi is director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and also a negotiator in the nuclear deal with the P5+1 powers. Like Rouhani, Salehi used a portion of his speech to reject “unfounded allegations” about Iran’s nuclear program.
The new statements denying past nuclear arms research touch on an issue in the current nuclear deal which has been a longstanding concern of the IAEA. A UN member state, believed to be the United States, turned over hundreds of pages of documents to the IAEA back in 2005. After careful examination and the gathering of additional documents, the IAEA concluded the documents were credible evidence of an Iranian research program. Among other things, the documents demonstrated Iran had worked on the development of a missile-mounted nuclear weapon.
When confronted in 2008 with the evidence the IAEA had collected, Iran claimed it was all “fabricated.” It has not budged from that position since. IAEA Director Yukiya Amano stressed the importance of resolving this issue in an interview with PBS prior to the announcement of the deal. “Our information indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices. We do not draw conclusions. But we are requesting Iran to clarify these issues,” Amano said.
The fact sheet published by the U.S. State Department last week states that Iran had in fact agreed to resolve these issues. One bullet point in the document read “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.” In addition, the document stated, “the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).” In other words, coming clean on past nuclear work appeared to be a condition for sanctions relief. But today’s comments by Rouhani suggest Iran hasn’t softened its position at all.
The latest comments are part of a growing series of disagreements between Iran and the U.S. about what the Iran deal specifies. Earlier this week, Iran’s Defense Minister said that IAEA inspections would not be allowed at Iran’s military sites. That was backed up on Thursday by Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader. Both statements appear at odds with unequivocal assurances in the State Department fact sheet that the IAEA will have access to sites “anywhere in the country.” Also this week, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that Iran planned to begin enriching uranium using advanced IR-8 centrifuges as soon as the deal went into effect. Previous disagreements over the deal have included the timing of sanctions relief. Beginning the day the deal was announced, Iran claimed sanctions relief would be immediate rather than gradual. By contrast, the U.S. has repeatedly suggested the relief will be phased and conditional upon Iran meeting certain conditions (with a resolution of the PMD issue being one of those).