There has been a lot of back-and-forth on the blog, especially in the comments, about the ongoing revelation of Iran’s enrichment facility near Qom. A couple of points:
1. Iran has unequivocally violated its safeguards obligations
James Acton laid this out in exquisite detail. The short version is this:
US officials said they new about the facility for “several years” and that construction began “before” March 2007. If ISIS is right about the identification, satellite images suggest tunneling began prior to March 25, 2005.
At the time Iran began construction of the facility, therefore, it was obligated to notify the IAEA “as soon as the decision to construct, to authorize construction or to modify has been taken.”
It was only in in March 2007 — after Iran began construction on its undeclared facility — that Iran attempted to unilaterally alter the Subsidiary Arrangement to its safeguards agreement. Such an alteration requires consent of both parties and the IAEA has been screaming to high-heaven that it does not consent as I blogged at the time.
Iran also seems to have tried a novel argument — that it never submitted the subsidiary arrangement to its parliament, the Majlis. But, as James points out, “Iran—like every other state—modifies its Subsidiary Arrangements regularly, without asking for parliamentary ratification.”
Any way you look at it, Tehran is in violation of its safeguards agreement. Furthermore, the manner in which the facility was constructed and then revealed, clearly suggests that Iran had no intention to declare the facility — until it was clear that the jig was up.
2. The location of the facility itself is the matter of some debate.
The United State only noted that the facility is “near the city of Qom” — although subsequent press reporting notes that the facility is about 100 miles from Tehran.
ISIS has zeroed in on a facility; their guess is as good as mine. It is worth noting that we shouldn’t expect any overt nuclear signatures in the images — the intelligence community monitored the site because it was suspicious, but didn’t conclude it was nuclear until they received some other information. So, externally, the site will just look suspicious.
Unless Washington, Tehran, Vienna, or the like confirm “that’s it,” we’re just guessing. It is fun, though.
3. Where do we go from here?
I suspect the Iranians will allow the IAEA to inspect the facility, but they will continue to resist the Additional Protocol, which would give the IAEA considerably more access to other suspect sites, and Code 3.1 of their Subsidiary Arrangement.
They will probably start digging another hole in the ground someplace else — assuming they weren’t digging multiple facilities. Welcome to enrichment whack-a-mole where, if you miss, Iran gets the bomb.