New Iran IAEA Report: Reading Between the Lines

| Feb. 28, 2008

The International Atomic Energy Agency released its much-anticipated report on Iran last week. It follows on the heels of another high-profile report on Iran, the National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus estimate of the US intelligence agencies. Graham Allison offers his insight and analysis — as well as questions that remain unanswered.

"Six Unanswered Questions on Iran's Nuclear Program"

In August 2007, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed to a work plan that included questions Iran was to answer by the end of the year. Once these final questions were answered, it was understood that Iran's nuclear file would be closed. The December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, however, raised new questions about Iran's nuclear program. While the most recent IAEA report concluded that several of Iran's answers were "consistent" or "not inconsistent" with the Agency's findings, many of the questions about Iran's nuclear program remain unanswered. Here are a few:

  1. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessed with "high confidence" that Iran's weaponization program was halted in 2003. Who were the key scientists in Iran's nuclear weapons program? What are they doing today? What was done with the product of their program?
  2. How far along was the program when it was halted? The NIE stated with moderate confidence that Iran would use covert facilities if it were to restart its program. What has the IAEA learned about Iran's covert program that would help the international community identify future covert efforts? Will Iran admit to having had a nuclear weapons program in the past?
  3. The NIE assessed with "low confidence" that Iran had probably imported at least some weapons-usable fissile material, but not enough for a weapon. What exactly did Iran acquire from AQ Khan? How much fissile material did Iran get its hands on? Where could it be stored?
  4. According to the NIE, there is evidence that Iran had been engaged in covert enrichment activities that were "probably" halted in 2003. How much confidence does the IAEA have that there are not significant covert enrichment activities currently underway? How many centrifuges might have been produced so far? How many might be operating somewhere we don't know about?
  5. The NIE expressed "high confidence" in the finding that military entities had been working under governmental direction to develop nuclear weapons before the program was halted in 2003. The U.S. decided to share some of the intelligence linking Iran's military to its nuclear weapons program. As the IAEA reported, Iran did little to address the U.S. concern over the so-called Green Salt Project and the connection between Iran's military and civilian nuclear program, calling the evidence "fabricated" and the allegations "baseless." How does the IAEA plan to proceed?
  6. The NIE stated that Iran was continuing to conduct research and development projects that could be of use to a nuclear weapons program. What is the nature and extent of these projects?

The views expressed in this piece represent those of the author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Belfer Center, Kennedy School or Harvard University.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Allison, Graham. “New Iran IAEA Report: Reading Between the Lines.” News, , February 28, 2008.