Throughout its negotiations over an agreement to restrict its nuclear development program in exchange for economic sanctions relief, Iran insisted that its historic nuclear activities were for peaceful purposes only. Some may have taken the Iranians at their word, but at the time it would have been naïve to assume that a regime that sponsored terrorism around the world and kept Western journalists prisoner in a labyrinth of secret judicial proceedings was being truthful about anything.
The doubters of Iran’s veracity were proved right last week with the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which confirmed that Iran had a “coordinated effort” to develop a nuclear weapon until at least 2003 and that it conducted uncoordinated experiments until 2009. Since then, according to the report, there is “no credible indications of activities.”
There are two broad conclusions to be taken from the IAEA report. One is that Iran lied. As the United States and others have long insisted, the report confirms that Iran was developing a bomb. The second conclusion is that Iran is not now working to develop such a weapon.
“With this report, the IAEA says unequivocally that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and that it has been discontinued. Both of those are incredibly important conclusions,” James Acton, co-director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Post.
Iran’s critics say that since the country lied in the past, it cannot be trusted in the future. But even those who approved of the recent nuclear agreement with Iran agree on the need for comprehensive inspections to verify Iranian compliance. And according to one report, the United States will not rely solely on what Iran willingly reveals in the inspection process. Rather, the United States is reported to have independent sources of information regarding Iran’s ongoing actions.
Based upon the IAEA report, it appears that Iran now considers the matter closed. But the West should not rush to that conclusion. Since Iran did not cooperate fully with the IAEA in its investigation — a key requirement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that paves the way for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran — the agency itself may still have open issues it wishes to explore. But even if the IAEA has finished its investigation, the confirmation of Iran’s years of past lies makes clear that Iran still has a long way to go to win trust and credibility with much of the world community.