Jeffrey LewisWhat About the OTHER Bomb Factory?

Dafna Linzer helpfully confirms that the IC is sticking with its 2015 estimate for an Iranian bomb, noting that Iran still cannot operate continuously its cascades of centrifuges:

“The whole game for the Iranians is to present a fait accompli,” said one U.S. official who agreed to discuss sensitive aspects of the program on the condition of anonymity. “They can put thousands and thousands of centrifuges together, but if none operate the way they need to over a sustained period, then they haven’t mastered enrichment. But they want to create the impression that they have and then use it as a bargaining ploy in negotiations.”

Wow, that sounds familiar.

Meanwhile, Iran’s efforts to build the IR-40 reactor near Arak are relegated to below the fold in most news stories. (That is metaphorical, I haven’t seen a hard copy of a newspaper in months)


Two of the three paragraphs in Heinonen’s letter have nothing to do with enrichment but rather focus on Iran’s refusal to provide design verification information on the IR-40, which Iran plans to complete in 2009.

When fully operational, IR-40 will be able to churn out 9 kilograms of weapon-grade plutonium per year. (IR-40 is sized comparably to other heavy water reactors used in nuclear weapons programs in India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and Taiwan.)

David Albright and Paul Brannan released beautiful annotated images documenting Iran’s progress on the reactor.

Iran’s claim is that it won’t build a reprocessing facility, but I am not sure how chill I will feel about that promise once they’ve got lots of spent fuel sitting around the country.

Anyway, the dispute now is over when Iran needs to provide the IAEA with design information on the bomb fac … er, IR-40.

Tehran claims that it is no longer adhering to the Additional Protocol, which requires Iran to provide design information on its nuclear facilities at a much earlier stage than earlier so-called “Subsidiary Arrangements” to Iran’s Safeguards Agreement. An earlier Report from the IAEA Director General provides the relevant backstory:

The Subsidiary Arrangements General Part in force with Iran from 1976 to 26 February 2003 included what was, until 1992, standard text which called for provision to the Agency of design information on a new facility no later than 180 days before the introduction of nuclear material into the facility, and the provision of information on a new [Location Outside of Facilities] together with the report relating to the receipt of nuclear material at the LOF. With the acceptance by Iran on 26 February 2003 of the modifications to the Subsidiary Arrangements proposed by the Agency, the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part now requires Iran to inform the Agency of new nuclear facilities and modifications to existing facilities through the provision of preliminary design information as soon as the decision to construct, to authorize construction or to modify has been taken, and to provide the Agency with further design information as it is developed. Information is to be provided early in the project definition, preliminary design, construction and commissioning phases.

Iran now wants to go back to the pre-February 2003 requirements. Heinonen claims that Iran has already negotiated a new Subsidiary Arrangement with the IAEA and Article 39 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/214, 13 December 1974) requires consent of both parties to modify a Subsidiary Arrangement:

The Government of Iran and the Agency shall make Subsidiary Arrangements which shall specify in detail, to the extent necessary to permit the Agency to fulfil its responsibilities under this Agreement in an effective and efficient manner, how the procedures laid down in this Agreement are to be applied. The Subsidiary Arrangements may be extended or changed by agreement between the Government of Iran and the Agency without amendment of this Agreement.

Can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.


  1. Anonymous


    Actually the IC assessment still stands not at 2015 but at 2011-2015, i.e. “early-to-mid-next decade.” Linzer’s article skirts the issue of how IC estimates are made—the IC estimate actually couldn’t have changed unless there was an updated National Intelligence Council product (the most formal being an NIE) being produced on Iran. There is no evidence that has happened, and thus there really isn’t much meaning to stating that the IC hasn’t changed its assessment. Individual agencies/analysts may now believe something different that will only be reflected in future IC products.

    Anyhow, those are just technical points and Linzer is probably essentially correct for the reasons you and others have cited regarding the centrifuge program.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Thanks. I was being lazy. You are both correct about “early to mid next decade” as well as the process for commissioning NIEs.

    I was, however, under the impression that the Iran NIE is in the process of being updated — or was recently completed. That doesn’t change the fundamental correctness of your point, however, about the role of process in NIEs.

  3. Pieter

    It might be useful to stress that Iran’s claim it will complete the IR-40 in 2009 may, like its claims regarding industrial enrichment, be propaganda or part of a bargaining strategy.

  4. Allen Thomson (History)

    A point of detail that I doubt is relevant here, but there are other NIC-coordinated IC products than the NIE: Special NIEs (SNIE) which are what it sounds like, Interagency Intelligence Memoranda (IIM) and Interagency Intelligence Assessments (IIA), both of which are NIE-lite products, plus others.


  5. hass (History)

    Arak can produce enough plutonium for 1 or 2 bombs per year at best, assuming it wasn’t monitored. Not much of a “factory” is it?

  6. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    And don’t forget the “memo to holders”!

  7. Allen Thomson (History)

    [NIE, SNIE, IIM, IIA…]

    Hopefully all of these artforms are being wikified, with suitable gatekeeping by the NIC.

  8. Anonymous

    Actually, SNIEs, IIMs, and IIAs have all been retired as NIC product lines. They’ve been replaced with ICAs, ICBs, SOCMs, and probably something I’m forgetting. (Seriously.) I wonder who can guess what those acronyms all mean (and isn’t currently in the government).

  9. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I was under the impression that these were in addition to the NIE, not in replacement of it.

    Intelligence Community Brief (ICB): These “mini-estimates” provide a brief (compared to NIEs) focus on a specific issue or question.

    Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM): These memos, usually only one page in length, provide a general “sense” of the IC on a single key issue. They are likely to be produced quickly in response to a sudden event or crisis (such as a coup) at the request of the DCI, President, or other senior government officials.

    Intelligence Community Assessments (ICAs): These assessments are similar to NIEs in that they are formally coordinated within the IC and reflect the Community’s position. However, ICAs are intended for the working-level policy makers, not senior officials. Generally, they address issues of broader IC interest and may include substantial reference material.

    (From the Hart Rudman Commission Report.)

  10. Rwendland (History)

    Just to correct the record, North Korea’s reactor isn’t a heavy water reactor, but a gas cooled reactor, and a bit smaller at about 25-30MWt. You knew that – just a typo.

  11. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Egads. I really should proof-read. Thank you.

  12. Rwendland (History)

    I was surprised by your assertion that Iran has actually irrevocably agreed to an Additional Protocol, as my recollection of news reports at that time are contrary to that. You give your source as GOV/2003/40 of 6 June 2003, but the more recent GOV/2003/75 of 10 November 2003 says the Additional Protocol agreement is only pending, and Iran would for (for the time being) only act in accordance:

    “18. On 10 November 2003, the Agency received from the Government of Iran a letter of the same date in which Iran conveyed its acceptance of the draft text of the Additional Protocol based on the Model Additional Protocol (INFCIRC/540 (Corr.)) Iran indicated that it was prepared to sign the Additional Protocol, and that, pending its entry into force, Iran would act in accordance with the provisions of that Protocol.”

    Do you have a more recent source for your assertion that Iran has irrevocably agreed to an Additional Protocol? Seems to me all Iran has agreed to is the wording of a possible agreement, and can legally walk away from it.

  13. Rwendland (History)

    In my last comment I confused the new “Subsidiary Arrangements” of 26 February 2003, with the proposed “Additional Protocol” so it seems my comment doubting your assessment was wrong. I’m probably not alone in this confusion.

    But delving deeper, I notice that GOV/2003/81 of 26 November 2003 says:

    “9. Notes with satisfaction the decision of Iran to conclude an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, and re-emphasises the importance of Iran moving swiftly to ratification and also of Iran acting as if the Protocol were in force in the interim, including by making all declarations required within the required timeframe”

    This suggests that some of the new/longer declaration timeframes are associated with the voluntary Safeguards Agreement, opening up the confusion again. I’d welcome an explanation from my betters on this!

  14. Binh (History)

    Now it seems the U.S. and EU are thinking of letting Iran keep “some” (whatever that means) of its nuclear program and possibly re-define what “halting enrichment” means:

    My guess is Iran won’t go for it.

  15. hass (History)

    Iran signed and agreed to implement (but did not ratify) the Additional Protocol during the course of the Paris Agreement negotiations, as a gesture of good faith and in return for the EU-3’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. When the EU-3 violated the Paris Agreement by demanding that Iran give up enrichment, Iran was no longer under any legal obligation whatsoever to implement the Additional Protocol because the Protocol was not ratified. Iran has stated that it will ratify the Protocol, and has even offered to allow inspections in excess of the Protocol, if its rights are recognized. Thus far, the US and EU insist on not recognizing those rights.