Iran nuclear program
Iran nuclear programiStock

Iran’s nuclear: the genie and the lamp

Worldwide, interest has been focused on the recent escalation in the Gaza Strip, Biden's visit to the United Kingdom and Israel's new government.

Also, a compromise on the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal is believed to be imminent. Meanwhile, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made remarks starkly illustrating the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. A threat that should not be brushed aside.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Grossi called the program “very concerning.”

He noted that the mullahs’ regime is enriching uranium with a purity that only countries making weapons can achieve. “A country that gets rich at 60% is very serious - only bomb-making countries reach that level,” he explained. “60% is almost to the point of making weapons, the enrichment for commercial purposes is 2.3%.”

The statements are nothing new to the parties involved and observers. But they do matter because they are a forthright testimony from the head of Iran’s nuclear program watchdog.

Most importantly, he speaks directly rather than through his agency’s reports. These often come in a form that does not directly indicate risk. They do not leave out information, but neither do they draw specific conclusions on it. These reports are indeed based on statistics and numbers but do not attempt to reach the level of analysis and conclusion to provide an opportunity for consensus among agency members on their content.

Another important point in Grossi’s remarks: he emphasized that Iran’s level of uranium enrichment requires “a vigilant eye.” The level of research and development they have achieved is a major concern.

“You cannot put the genie back into the bottle - once you know how to do stuff, you know, and the only way to check this is through verification,” he continued. “The Iranian program has grown, become more sophisticated so the linear return to 2015 is no longer possible. What you can do is keep their activities below the parameters of 2015.”

These words show the threatening level of Iran’s nuclear program, not only in light of it reaching enrichment levels of clear purpose and intent. This limit to the accumulation of nuclear knowledge also means that things will not go back to square one, no matter what.

The matter is in the hands of vigilant oversight. This is by no means reassuring, though, given the ayatollah regime’s stonewalling and deception of IAEA inspectors. Moreover, absolute discretion is the watchword of Iran’s nuclear program.

Truth be told, the real danger level of Iran’s nuclear program may be far greater than as revealed by Grossi. The mysteries of this program go beyond revelations about facilities and research. Therefore, our region and the world should read these statements carefully. The genie might get out of the bottle.

Efforts to restrain this process do not mean preventing it, only delaying it. Yet even restriction is subject to the Iranian side’s desire to cooperate and limit itself to the “knowledge” stage. Then again, the difference in time between knowledge and execution is slim.

So, after international mechanisms failed to curb the nuclear jockeying, security and stability are now subject to the mullahs’ “intentions.” I’m not one to be overly dramatic. But neither do I like understatements.

Until recently, many, including yours truly, questioned any statement or hint that the mullahs were inches away from having the bomb absent reliable official information, especially from the international agency charged with keeping tabs on the program. Most of the information was unverifiable analysis, conclusions or intelligence.

Then came Grossi’s assessment, he who quite often does not paint a realistic picture of the Iranian threat. In the end, he is an international official who does not want a confrontation with the mullahs’ regime, but rather to keep ties of cooperation and communication with IAEA inspectors.

His statements clearly tell me that the region and the world must face this level of threat with a dose of realism. More serious solutions must be pursued to ensure that a new nuclear arms race does not take place in a region rife with political, sectarian, historical and religious tensions and conflicts.

Reaching agreement at the Vienna talks on a return to compliance with the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program should not trump the IAEA Director General’s statements.

Above all, our countries must deal with the new evidence as they see fit to uphold their strategic interests without relying on off-the-mark assurances, as happened in 2015. This is to avoid falling into the cycle of Iranian threats and blackmail. Otherwise, the world might wake up one day to discover that the genie broke out of the lamp.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate