The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has hailed the “significant progress” made over Iran’s nuclear program in the past year as a real success for diplomacy, saying it will work to provide a report on his final assessment of Tehran’s atomic work by mid-December. Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, made the remarks in an address to the 70th regular session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He said the conclusion of the talks over Iran’s nuclear program was “a real success for diplomacy,” and welcomed efforts by Iran and the P5+1 group in reaching the agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in mid-2015. Etemad Persian daily journalist, Sara Massoumi has interviewed Dr. Pierre Goldschmidt in this regard and other issues such as, Nuclear-Weapon-Free Middle East and its major challenges, Nuclear Weapons States, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and its Technical steps, JCPOA implementation, IAEA report about Iran's nuclear program and PMD, JCPOA prospect and…Pierre Goldschmidt, a Belgian nuclear scientist, retired June, 2005, as Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), succeeded by Olli Heinonen. Mr. Goldschmidt is currently a researcher of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The following is the full transcript of the interview: 

Q: Israelis believe that with refusing to sign NPT, they have not violated any international treaties, therefor refuse to acknowledge international calls for transparency on its nuclear program. Why hasn’t the IAEA thought of a solution to deal with this trick over the past years? Could this issue lead to Nuclear Proliferation?

Pierre Goldschmidt
Goldschmidt was a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment.
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A: Israel, like India and Pakistan, has not signed the NPT. Therefore those three states do not have to conclude with the IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements and to submit all their nuclear material and facilities to IAEA verification. All three countries have however voluntarily concluded with the IAEA a limited number of facility-specific safeguards agreements. Israel and India have strong nuclear export controls and do not appear to present a risk of horizontal proliferation. Pakistan, on the contrary, was a huge source of nuclear proliferation by exporting undeclared nuclear components and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In recent years it has strengthened its export control system, but the damage has been done.

Q: For the past few years the Idea of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Middle East has been raised. However, no practical steps have been taken in this direction. In your opinion what major challenges will this idea face?

A: As I told you when you asked me a similar question two years ago: "Achieving a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East is a noble and important goal on the road to attaining a world free of nuclear weapons. The international community should take every opportunity to get closer to that objective."

However, the notable absence of favourable conditions for establishing such a WMDFZ in the Middle East presents significant challenges. Indeed, such a zone has never been established among states at war, as is formally the case between Israel and Syria, and has never been established between states that do not officially recognize each other as political entities and thus share no diplomatic relations, as is the case of Iran with regard to Israel.

It also raises the question of why the Non Aligned Movement emphasizes the great importance of creating a WMDFZ in the Middle East while generally remaining silent about the lack of NPT membership, not to mention possession and testing of nuclear weapons, of two of its own members: India and Pakistan?

As a first constructive step on the road to the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East, I suggested in 2012 first establishing a “Nuclear-Test-Free Zone” (NTFZ) in the Middle East. Indeed, the region can implement a NTFZ without waiting for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, or for diplomatic relations between Iran and Israel. It would simply require that all Middle Eastern states—in particular Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria—ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in a coordinated way and within an agreed period of time.

Q: Regarding North Korea’s case, considering the numerous nuclear bomb tests the country has conducted, is there a possibility in particular, that this country could be accepted among the Nuclear Weapons States?

A: In my opinion, although North Korea has a small arsenal of nuclear weapons, it will never be accepted as a NPT Nuclear Weapon State by the international community. The reason is that North Korea ratified the NPT and then, after being found to be in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations, withdrew from the Treaty. This is so far a unique case in the NPT history and should remain so. It would create a most damaging precedent if North Korea were to be accepted as a Nuclear Weapon State.

Q: According to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the IAEA must have a comprehensive report (Broader Conclusion) in an eight-year period after the JCPOA implementation on Iran’s nuclear program. What technical steps should be taken for this process in the eight-year period (or shorter) for this report to be published? What technical steps should be taken for Iran’s nuclear case to be normalized at the International Atomic Energy Agency?

A: The JCPOA "Adoption Day" was achieved on 18 October 2015. The implementation of the JCPOA will now comprise three steps:

*When the IAEA issues a report confirming that Iran has fully implemented nuclear-related measures foreseen in the JCPOA, UN sanctions will terminate, EU sanctions will be terminated or suspended, and the US will “cease” the application of nuclear-related sanctions. This "Implementation Day" will likely take place during the first half of 2016. The process is well under way.

*The next milestone will take place at most 8 years after Adoption Day or, if earlier, when the Director General of the IAEA submits a report to the Board of Governors stating that the IAEA has reached the "Broader Conclusion" that all nuclear materials in Iran remain in peaceful activities. At this point in time the EU and the US will terminate all remaining nuclear-related sanctions, and Iran will ratify the Additional Protocol. In order to draw such "Broader Conclusion" the IAEA does not need to conclude that Iran never undertook nuclear weapons-related activities in the past. I am therefore convinced that, if Iran fully cooperates with the IAEA, then the IAEA should be able to draw the "Broader Conclusion" in a few years’ time, well ahead of the eight-year deadline.

*Then, 10 years from Adoption Day, the UNSC resolution endorsing the JCPOA shall  terminate, and the UN Security Council “would no longer be seized of the Iran nuclear issue”.

Q: Which countries have been given a carte blanche for the “Broad Conclusion” report?

A: It is only in countries with both a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol in force that the IAEA has sufficient information and access rights to draw the "Broader Conclusion". For the year 2014, this conclusion has been drawn for 65 of the 118 States with both comprehensive safeguards agreements and additional protocols in force. This in no way means giving a "carte blanche", but only that the IAEA can implement so-called "integrated safeguards" in those states. The "Broader Conclusion" must be reconfirmed every year by the IAEA.

Q: After the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 in July, the opponents of the deal in the US Congress called for disclosing details of the agreement between Iran and the IAEA. Isn’t disclosing the details in conflict with the IAEA security and safeguards protocols?

A: Under the "Road-map" concluded on 14 July 2015 between Iran and the IAEA, the parties agreed on a separate arrangement that would allow them to address the remaining outstanding issues, listed in the annex of the 2011 Director General report (GOV/2011/65). The fact that the terms of this "separate arrangement" have not been disclosed has indeed raised some questions. I believe that not disclosing these arrangements is in line with past practices and confidentiality clauses adopted by the IAEA Secretariat.

Q: It seems like Yukiya Amano will announce his report on Iran’s nuclear past and present (PMD) by the beginning of December. In the matter of case closure, what impact would it have on Iran and the IAEA future cooperation in the shadow of JCPOA?

A: Recently President Rohani has stated that: "The whole deal requires a leap of faith between two longtime enemies. The Iranians have always insisted that their nuclear program is peaceful and that a religious fatwah prohibits them from building nuclear weapons. But there is little doubt that the Iranians know how to build them and have had the wherewithal to do it." 

Similarly, on 26 October 2015, former President Rafsanjani has admitted that, at least during the war with Iraq in the 1980's, when Iraq was developing nuclear weapons, " we wanted to have such an option for the day our enemies wanted to use nuclear weapons" and " we never abandoned [the idea] that if we were some day to face a certain threat, and if it became necessary, then we would have the option of going to the other side" [i.e. to develop nuclear weapons].

Considering such statements, I am curious to see how the IAEA December report will be phrased. No doubt it will be factual and objective. The credibility of the IAEA is at stake.

It is however important to realize that the content of the December report, will have no impact on the further implementation of the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions.

Q: And the final question: How do you assess the JCPOA prospect in the next ten years? Considering the distrusts and uncertainties between Iran and the P5+1, do you think that this agreement will successfully complete its ten years?

A: I am confident that the deal will be implemented by all the parties because they have more to gain than to lose in doing so. The JCPOA is an excellent deal for Iran. The end of nuclear-related sanctions and renewed international trade and economic cooperation should boost Iran's economy and improve the Iranian people standard of living. Even nuclear electricity production will increase faster in the future while Iran has kept all its nuclear options open for the long term. But the future is unpredictable and some people can be very effective when it comes to undermining what would otherwise be a great opportunity.

This interview was originally published by the Iran Review.