As soon as Iran completes all these steps – a process the Obama administration believed would take four to six months – the deal reached in July will be formally implemented, and Iran will begin receiving sanctions relief.
Having promised in election campaigns past an improved economy in short order, the government of President Hassan Rouhani has been pushing toward implementation before Iran’s parliamentary elections at the end of February. At the start of the process, Iranian officials even expressed hope they would complete the initial steps by the end of this year.
IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano, whose agency must verify that Iran has put the required nuclear restrictions in place for sanctions to be lifted, told Reuters in an interview this week that the electoral deadline could be met.
“If everything goes well, it is not impossible,” he said. “Our inspectors are on the ground and they are observing their activities, and with their report I can tell that Iran is undertaking activities at a very high pace.”
Iran said after an IAEA board meeting on Tuesday that it hoped to have put the restrictions in place within two to three weeks. Amano has said his agency would then need a matter of weeks to verify the curbs.
Also this week, the IAEA Board of Governors closed its investigation into Iran’s past work on nuclear weaponization, after confirming in a December 2 report that the country had indeed coordinated a program prior to 2009 that was consistent with illicit weapons work.
The US praised the board’s decision, while Israel, and several US-based Jewish groups, condemned it as a political move.
“We are deeply dismayed at the vote,” said Malcolm Hoenlein and Stephen Greenberg, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“This action by the IAEA board will compromise future inspection regimes and increases the likelihood of Iran’s continuing deceptions and clandestine advances of its nuclear weapons program.”
B’nai B’rith International, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League also expressed disappointment in the UN agency’s decision.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, one of four Democrats in the upper chamber to stand against the deal in a key September vote, said, “I don’t accept that the IAEA report competently or fully addresses the true nature of Iran’s past weapons of mass destruction program. The report was a whitewash. And it certainly doesn’t give us any more insight into Iran’s past activities or future intentions.
“This sets a terrible precedent for the IAEA with respect to investigations in other countries,” he said, “and more importantly, does not provide the United States with full information on the scope and progress of Iran’s nuclear weapons program – information that is critical to guide the IAEA’s inspection and verification regime under the JCPOA.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement explaining US support for the move, said that closure of the investigation was a “critical component of the implementation process” of the JCPOA.
The IAEA’s December 2 report “is consistent with what the United States had long assessed concerning Iran’s past nuclear program,” Kerry said. “This resolution allows the Board to turn its focus now to the full implementation and verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which prohibits the resumption of such nuclear weapons-related activities and provides comprehensive tools for deterring and detecting any renewed nuclear weapons work.”