The new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear program—at least the elements of the program that inspectors are given limited access to—reads much like previous quarterly reports in its demonstration of an unrelenting adversary and a failing strategy. Over the last three months, Iran has increased its production of low- and near-weapons grade enriched uranium, installed additional first-generation and advanced centrifuges, continued work on a heavy water reactor, and refused to cooperate with inspectors on evidence of weaponization work.
Each of these trends has immediate policy-relevant effects:
- The increasing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, particularly the growth over the last four years, is putting Iran in a position to build a nuclear arsenal rather than being able to break out and build simply one or two weapons.
- The near-weapons grade enriched uranium and the installation of additional centrifuges, especially the more advanced IR-2m’s, translates into shorter timelines for the production of weapons-grade fuel and the increasing risk that it could take that step undetected.
- The heavy water reactor gives Iran a second pathway to acquiring nuclear weapons fuel (plutonium).
- The weaponization dossier and Iran’s obfuscation of its current activity on that front could potentially undermine a core assumption regarding Iran’s capabilities. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu both recently said that it would take Iran about a year to manufacture its first nuclear weapon, assuming it has not already done so covertly. If the Iranians are pursuing and hiding weapons-related research and experimentation, perhaps with the help of North Korea, at what point does that 12 month timeline begin to shrink and confidence erode in the ability to detect the construction of a nuclear device (a task we historically have not excelled at)?
Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit is inseparable from the problem of the ruling regime in Tehran. The same leadership intent on acquiring a robust nuclear weapons capability is also exacerbating instability in the region stretching from the Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean Sea, plotting terrorist attacks globally, threatening to destroy Israel, and crushing dissent within its own borders. These spokes all flow from the hub of a revolutionary, deeply ideological state. From Iran’s forward base in Syria to its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability to its proxies like Hezbollah, our efforts to roll back must ultimately be rooted in addressing the core challenge.