Resolving the “Possible Military Dimensions” of Iran’s Nuclear Program

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Resolving the “Possible Military Dimensions” of Iran’s Nuclear Program
By: Bobby Kim
@csis_isp

In November 2013, Iran and the P5+1 signed the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) on Iran’s nuclear program, resulting in one of the most significant movements on the issue in decades. Intended to be an interim agreement, the JPA outlines mutual concessions over a six-month period while negotiators craft a comprehensive long-term agreement. As the July 20 deadline of the JPA nears, negotiators are working to resolve several outstanding concerns, including the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and redesigning the Arak reactor so that it produces less weapons-grade plutonium.

Beyond this, there are the lingering questions about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation of these concerns in a separate but parallel track to the P5+1 negotiations has yielded a few results (e.g., explanations with respect to Iran’s development of exploding bridgewire detonators, which can be used as components in an implosion-type nuclear device), but the more controversial questions about suspect activities at the Parchin military complex remain unresolved.

The resolution of Iran’s PMD file will be an essential pillar of a verifiable and comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Without clarification of PMD activities, the P5+1 would be unable to accurately quantify Iran’s “breakout” time for producing a nuclear weapon, and the P5+1’s confidence in the intentions of Iran would be diminished. The IAEA would also be limited in its ability to confirm the completeness and correctness of Iran’s material declarations, which could undermine the broader nonproliferation regime.

Undoubtedly, resolving the PMD issues will be a difficult task. Absent a sufficient resolution of PMD concerns, Congress could limit key concessions to Iran by refusing to amend or repeal sanctions. However, Iran publicly renounced nuclear weapons through religious decree, and “coming clean” could place Iranian leaders in an uncomfortable spotlight. While complete transparency might be ideal for the P5+1, it would be difficult for Iranian leaders to accept. Ultimately, the resolution of the PMD file will be a contentious political debate, dependent on how badly both parties want to resolve the standoff that has lasted for more than a decade.

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