Photo Credit: Associated Press
By Farnaz Alimehri, Columnist
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s Vice President and Nuclear Chief, recently traveled to the Czech Republic. There, he met with several Czech officials, including the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, in an attempt to develop a bilateral nuclear cooperation between Iran and the Czech Republic. Specifically aimed at bolstering Iran’s civilian nuclear program and the Iranian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (IRNA), the success of the trip is a positive step for Iran as it becomes more involved in international nonproliferation efforts.[i]
While the IRNA already implements the framework and regulatory obligations required by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and its management system is based on various IAEA safety standards and guidelines, it appears that Iran is eager to work with European nations to help implement more effective standards of nuclear safety and security. While in the Czech Republic, Salehi stated, “I was really astonished and bewildered by the level of the advancement of your scientists at this very sensitive and important technology,” and he hopes to glean insight into nuclear safety using the Czech experience.[ii]
Coming in on the heels of the release of the first progress report on the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), momentum regarding Iranian cooperation continues to build. In the report, Iran highlights what it has accomplished since Implementation Day, including the reduction of centrifuges in the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant and the conversion of Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant from an enrichment facility to a research and development complex.
Salehi’s statements might also indicate that Iran is moving towards a more transparent civilian nuclear program. Critics still doubt Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA, claiming that Iran could quickly move to a weaponized nuclear program once the 15-year restrictions on enrichment have been lifted. Though it is difficult to say whether Iran would flout the JCPOA, the country thus far seems committed to the agreement and other nonproliferation opportunities. Iran has complied with nearly 65% of the terms of the JCPOA, and currently plans to tick off additional obligations by the end of the year.[iii]
Tellingly, the Islamic Republic’s News Agency, the official news agency of the Iranian government, also reported that Salehi indicated that the execution of the JCPOA has laid the groundwork for closer ties between Tehran and the international community.[iv]
The Czech and other similar meetings are indications that Iran is making strides to regain the trust of the international community with regard to nuclear issues. Crucially, however, there are still several more steps the country can take before such trust will be earned, in addition to these public declarations.
Additionally, Iran should seriously consider ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Lassina Zerbo stated last Fall that if Iran did not ratify this treaty, “it would leave room for the doubt that people have put in [the JCPOA] and the good intentions of Iran.”[v] Of course, Iran has since signed the JCPOA. Further, Iran could connect its auxiliary seismic stations to send relevant seismic information to the CTBTO. This would be a measure of good faith, indicating Iran is willing to take part in the International Monitoring System for the CTBT Organization. One of the three stations that was installed has been inactive since 2006, and Tehran has not yet signed the required activation agreement with the CTBT.
Ratification of the CTBT could be the significant step Iran takes towards legitimizing itself in the international nuclear community. It would not only be a significant move for verification and monitoring within Iran, but it would also give Iran an added edge over the United States, China, Israel and Egypt, all of which have yet to ratify the treaty. There is still a long way to go before the world can begin to trust Iran, but each step taken towards greater verification is a positive move for Iran and the international community.
[i] “Iran Nuclear Regulatory Authority,” Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, 2016, http://www.aeoi.org.ir/Portal/Home/Default.aspx?CategoryID=5a0b3285-63f2-4ff2-a9e0-5f98bd13a00c.
[ii] Karel Janicek, “Iran’s Atomic Chief Visits Prague to Talk Business,” Associated Press, May 2, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/143f9148a5584efdaa4ed5de16b03f9e/irans-nuclear-chief-visits-prague-talk-business.
[v] Edith M. Lederer, “UN Official Urges Iran to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty,” Associated Press, September 12, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/0c3f35dcfe8e4c948aa3e07b6015a79f/un-official-urges-iran-sign-nuclear-test-ban-treaty.