More Iranian nuclear cheating uncovered

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors held its quarterly meeting last week. The meeting was one of several events taking place simultaneously that provide outlets for dueling recommendations about how the international community should approach the Iranian regime's nuclear development and other malign activities.

On Monday, March 1, European political and business leaders met virtually with Iranian counterparts for the Europe-Iran Business Forum, a three-day event sponsored by the European Union and aimed at expanding bilateral trade relations without regard for the unresolved tensions over such matters as the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. 

The next day, a news conference organized by the main Iranian opposition exposed new information about a major Iranian nuclear site, called Abadeh. The latest report by the IAEA says that it has found anthropogenic uranium particles at two sites in Iran, including Abadeh in Fars province.

Former US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and former member of the European Parliament Struan Stevenson also spoke at the press conference.

Ali Safavi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), explained that the Abadeh site had been the venue for a project known as Marivan. It was built in the mid-1990s by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and managed by the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, or SPND, the main entity in charge of the regime's nuclear weapons program.

The NCRI’s recent findings were obtained from the social network of its biggest constituent organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which has assets inside regime institutions. The MEK is widely credited with being the first to expose the regime's clandestine nuclear program back in 2002.

According to the NCRI, the Abadeh site was built specifically for a SPND subsidiary, METFAZ, which specializes in research and building of high-explosive detonators.  After the IRGC discovered that the site has been exposed, in July 2019, it abruptly destroyed the facilities on it. The regime only made the site accessible to the IAEA on August 26, 2020, more than a year after sanitizing it.

The Abadeh initiative was headed by “one of the most prominent explosives and impact experts” in the regime, Dr. Saeed Borji. Currently, Borji is believed to be conducting research for the nuclear weapons program's explosives and impact fields.

The regime has set up multiple front companies that Borji and his colleagues run to procure technical components, carry out development and testing, and raise money for exclusive use as part of the nuclear program. They have thus created the foundations for the continuation of activities related to the nuclear weapons program and objectives of SPND.

During Tuesday's press conference, Ambassador Robert Joseph noted that one of his four main policy takeaways from the new revelations about Abadeh was that the US and Europe “simply can’t do business with this regime” because “hoping for a change in its behavior is nothing but a false hope.”

Ambassador Joseph added that the regime cannot be trusted – not with regard to declaring nuclear sites, not with regard to details of the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, and not with regard to any other controversial matters that might be the focus of dialogue between the regime and its Western adversaries.

Safavi echoed the same sentiment. “Deception, denial, and duplicity are part of the regime’s DNA. Neither Europe nor the US should trust this regime as a credible and honest interlocutor, believe its promises, and give into its blackmail and posturing…. If history is a guide, the only effective policy to curtail not only Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, but also its ballistic missile program and its nefarious and destabilizing interference in the Middle East is the exercise of firmness,” he said.

Former MEP Struan Stevenson criticized European governments for seeking to do business with the regime as it continues to pursue nuclear weapons.

“There must be no lifting of sanctions until all clandestine nuclear activity, involvement in foreign wars, and domestic repression have ended,” Stevenson said. He also called explicit attention to the Europe-Iran Business Forum as an example of policies that make Western leaders seem “oblivious” to Tehran's threats.

Of course, this sentiment is at odds with the Iran-Europe Business Forum, which saw participation from the likes of EU head of foreign policy Josep Borrell. While the NCRI and its international supporters will be able to point squarely at the IAEA’s findings when arguing that Tehran is inherently untrustworthy, it remains to be seen what evidence anyone will be able to bring to bear on the other side of the debate.