By Benjamin Weinthal and Alireza Nader
June 8, 2021
With the U.S. moving at an astonishingly fast pace to re-enter the complex 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it is time for wiser heads to prevail. As negotiators hit pause on the talks this week, over unresolved points of contention, it is time for the American negotiators in Vienna to take a timeout to evaluate recent European intelligence findings about the Islamic Republic’s illicit atomic weapons activities.
It is unclear whether the U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, has examined the intelligence from the European agencies. Malley has been criticized for his concessionary bargaining that will release tens of billions of dollars into the Tehran regime’s coffers without any effort to permanently halt its drive to build nuclear weapons.
The intelligence gathered by European countries is significant, and alarming. Even as EU countries push for a U.S. return to the nuclear deal, reports by their agencies make it clear that Tehran sought technology in 2020 for constructing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
“Iran also conducts industrial espionage, which is mainly targeted against Swedish hi-tech industry and Swedish products, which can be used in nuclear weapons programs,” Sweden’s Security Service declared. “Iran is investing heavy resources in this area and some of the resources are used in Sweden.”
The Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) reported that Iran’s regime sought technology for nuclear and possibly other WMD weaponry. According to the Dutch intelligence agency, “The joint Counter-Proliferation Unit of the AIVD and the MIVD [the country’s Military Intelligence and Security Service] is investigating how countries try to obtain the knowledge and goods they need to make weapons of mass destruction. Countries such as Syria, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea also tried to acquire such goods and technology in Europe and the Netherlands last year.”
Dutch intelligence services “investigated networks that tried to obtain the knowledge and materials to develop weapons of mass destruction. Multiple acquisition attempts have been frustrated by the intervention of the services,” the document noted.
Meanwhile, in Germany, each of the country’s 16 states has its own intelligence agency and publishes an annual report that documents threats to its democratic, constitutional system. Two of these outlined Tehran’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction material on German soil in 2020.
“Proliferation-relevant states like Iran, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan are making efforts to expand their conventional arsenal of weapons through the production or constant modernization of weapons of mass destruction,” the state of Bavaria’s agency wrote in its report. The German state of Schleswig-Holstein disclosed in its intelligence report the deceptive methods Iran uses to cover up its efforts to secure illicit technology for the world’s most deadly weapons: “Proliferation-relevant countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, but also Pakistan, try to circumvent safety precautions and legal export regulations and to disguise illegal procurement activities. To do this, they turn to mostly conspiratorial means and methods,” the intelligence agency wrote.
While these reports have gotten relatively little attention from Western journalists, the media in Middle Eastern countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — which will be within a stone’s throw of any Iranian nuclear missile — have followed them closely. In the U.S., Malley’s immediate predecessor, Elliott Abrams, has argued that the reports call for caution in the ongoing talks over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as the Iran nuclear deal is called. The Trump administration withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018 because the accord only reduced Tehran’s capability to construct atomic weapons to within a 10- to 15-year timeframe.
“Surely the fact that Iran continues actively to seek the elements it needs to build nuclear weapons is relevant to those talks [in Vienna],” Abrams wrote on his blog at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Those Iranian procurement efforts remind us how closely Iran must be monitored — far more closely than is guaranteed by the JCPOA.”
If Iran’s regime, as it claims, has nothing to hide about its atomic program, why is it concealing its efforts to obtain WMD technology?
The U.S. government and its European allies need to know what types of illicit goods Tehran sought in 2020 and how many attempts the Islamic Republic of Iran made to obtain them. A joint U.S.-EU task force ought to be set up, with its findings released, at a minimum, to Congress.
European intelligence agencies aren’t the only ones sounding a warning. Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the Iranian regime and the U.S. could not simply return to 2015 JCPOA, since the old terms are obsolete given Tehran’s violations of the agreement and its work on more advanced centrifuges.
“We found traces of uranium that has (sic) been subject to industrial processing in different places, which had not been declared by Iran,” Grossi said. “That is a big problem.”
“My responsibility is the credibility and integrity of the non-proliferation regime. I could say, ‘Don’t say anything,’ but then five years down the line something happens, and then it is a dereliction of duty on our part.” It is also unclear whether the IAEA examined the fresh European intelligence.
Malley should heed Grossi’s warning and take heed of the damning intelligence that shows the Islamic Republic certainly hasn’t halted its nuclear-weapons ambitions. To safeguard the Middle East and the world, there is a pressing need to temporarily halt the talks with Iran and evaluate the European findings.
Act I of the nuclear talks require an intermission. There is always time for an Act II.
Foundation for Defense of Democracies