Mohammad El-Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is pressing the agency’s board of governors to make one last effort to find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions before sending the case to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. A decision to refer Iran to the Security Council could come as early as November 24, when the IAEA’s board meets to discuss “new information” discovered by inspectors on the ground.
Thanks to the IAEA’s inspectors, we now have a fairly detailed picture of Iran’s nuclear archipelago – at least those facilities that the Iranian government has been forced to open. We know that Iran has discovered, mined, and milled natural uranium, the basic building block of any enrichment program, without telling the IAEA. We know that Iran built a uranium conversion facility in Isfahan to convert uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6), the feedstock for uranium enrichment, without the required prior notifications to the IAEA.
We also know that Iran built an underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, hardened it against missile attack, and erected dummy buildings on the surface to conceal it from overhead surveillance. The authorities agreed to open this facility to the IAEA only after its existence was confirmed by commercial satellite imagery, and they appear to have swept the underground halls of whatever equipment was installed before the inspectors arrived. Once fully operational, these facilities will give Iran mastery of the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
For eighteen years, Iran’s government concealed these activities from the IAEA, in clear violation of its safeguards agreement. For this reason alone, the IAEA’s board must refer Iran to the Security Council for further actions, as required by the agency’s charter.