One of the big stories over the next few days, and, indeed, for the rest of this month, is going to be the (largely) Western drive to bring Iran's nuclear program to heel. Along with the war in Afghanistan, this issue could come to define Barack Obama's presidency, especially if Iran does weaponize or if the United States or Israel decides to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
Last week, the IAEA teed up a fresh round of debate by circulating a new report outlining Iran's technical progress since June 5 and its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and various U.N. resolutions. You can read it here, though don't ask me to explain it all...
Commenting on the report, nuke wonk Jeffrey Lewis says, "Iran is not slowing its nuclear program, ok?" He then goes on to analyze Iran's recent expansion of centrifuges, which are grouped in "cascades" to enrich uranium.
"I continue to believe that Iran will install between 3-5 cascades a month for the next five years, barring some external intervention, until Natanz houses its complete set of 54,000 centrifuges," he adds.
The big news making headlines in Israel is the report's mention of "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program, a murky subject the agency wants Tehran to clarify. This is important because to be in compliance with the NPT, Iran has to prove that its nuclear activities are peaceful. Israel's Foreign Ministry is hammering the IAEA for allegedly withholding information on the militarization issue, which presumably means that Israel has supplied the IAEA with intelligence that the agency didn't discuss in the report.
(It also sounds like the IAEA is trying to get member states to let the agency share some of the documents they've given it directly with Iran, so that the Islamic Republic can respond to whatever it is being accused of.)
Asked Friday about the report, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "As the IAEA's report makes clear, the recent limited and overdue steps Iran has taken fall well short of Iran's obligations and do not constitute the full and comprehensive cooperation required of Iran."
"Absent Iranian compliance with its international nuclear obligations and full transparency with the IAEA," he continued, "the international community cannot have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iran's nuclear program."
On Wednesday, the P5+1, the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, are going to meet to talk over the report and figure out what to do next. Then, IAEA member countries will hold their annual meeting in Vienna, where Iran will top the agenda. Meanwhile, Obama has said that unless Iran takes him up on his offer of talks ahead of the U.N. General Assembly's opening session next month, he'll push for new sanctions that his secretary of state has said should be "crippling."
Then what? Stay tuned.
Photo by the Office of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran via Getty Images