Dr. Salem Al Ketbi
Dr. Salem Al Ketbi Courtesy:

In a major statement, IAEA Director General Raphael Grossi said Iran’s gradual lifting of its nuclear program obligations does not mean the country is developing nuclear weapons. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Grossi said that Iran has a much larger nuclear program than it had in 2015. This growth is not only quantitative, but also qualitative.

It does not mean that Iran is building nuclear weapons. But no country has the military development to produce enrichment at this level - to 60 percent. This statement, which looks like an attempt to contain the escalation of tensions between Iran and the IAEA in recent weeks, is unhelpful in this regard.

The top official at the agency that oversees Iran’s nuclear program acknowledges several things. First, that Iran remains out of compliance with its obligations regarding its nuclear program.

Second, the recognition that Iran’s nuclear program has changed qualitatively and quantitatively since 2015, when the nuclear agreement was signed between Tehran and the P5+1 under former US President Barack Obama.

Finally, he acknowledged that no country has as large an arsenal as Iran and enriches uranium to 60%, and I think this part refers to the development of Iran’s missile program, which adds an even more dangerous dimension to Iran’s nuclear threat. So Grossi’s statement does very little to inspire relief.

The attempt to analyze the link between the existence of a high enrichment capacity, on the one hand, and the production of nuclear weapons, on the other, is a “theoretical” attempt and is in line with the nature of the Agency’s work, which must base its conclusions on concrete and reliable evidence.

But in the case of Iran in particular, it cannot draw conclusions or have evidence to do so, both given the practices of the Iranian regime in dealing with the Agency and its observers, and because of the difficulty of finding such evidence in general, whether in Iran or elsewhere. At present, statements by the head of the IAEA are not reassuring to states concerned about Iran’s nuclear threat.

Iran’s possession of uranium enrichment capabilities near the level required to build a nuclear bomb certainly does not require evidence to prove the magnitude of the threat. In such cases, the production of nuclear weapons probably requires only a political decision.

Everyone knows that the Iranian regime has been trying to buy time from the beginning, dodging at some points and signing agreements full of loopholes at others, such as the flawed 2015 agreement, to reach the nuclear threshold.

And everyone knows that the possession of technology and knowledge is the foundation, not the possession of nuclear weapons. Accumulating and storing enriched uranium and the knowledge needed to build a bomb is more dangerous and threatening than, say, buying nuclear weapons off the shelf. How should Rafael Grossi’s statements be interpreted?

Here, it can be said that the IAEA chief official definitely does not want to sabotage the relations between Iran and the IAEA. He does not want tensions between the two sides to escalate and plunge the world into another meltdown that would exacerbate the effects of the Ukraine crisis.

But on the other hand, he is not trying to whitewash Iran’s violation of its nuclear obligations; he is exposing the truth to the world. So in the analysis of the scene, this looks like a statement that characterizes the reality. This is what you can expect from an expert.

But at the political level of the discussion, one must take into account that the possibility that the Iranian regime will order the construction of nuclear weapons is not completely excluded. The leaders of this regime invoke an ancient religious fatwa that prohibits the production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. But such a view can be very easily skirted and justified away.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, admitted in a televised speech in 2019, “According to the nuclear agreement, it had been decided that we would fill the fuel storage pipes of the reactor in Arak with cement to seal them once and for all, and we did that. But then I bought other similar tubes in the same quantity and with highest-level knowledge [of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei], and now we have these pipes.”

The justification for such cheat-like behavior is found in Iranian political and religious jurisprudence, based on the principle of takiya. On this account, Supreme Leader Khamenei always finds a rationale for not trusting the West - this is his own opinion.

But no one has forced the regime’s leadership to keep talking about the fatwa that Iranian negotiators keep promoting to their Western interlocutors. Moreover, the fatwa itself is not in written form. It has not been pronounced in any of the official documents reviewed so far, especially since the regime’s behavior contradicts any narrative in this direction.

The long-range multi-purpose missiles, on which Tehran is spending enormous resources, have a great impact only if they are armed with nuclear warheads.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is aUAE political analyst.