Two publications from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are useful in understanding the role of the IAEA in the Iranian nuclear issue.
IAEA Critical for Making Diplomacy with Iran Work, by Mark Hibbs, Ariel Levite, and Pierre Goldschmidt
They are long and fairly complex, however, so let me attempt to pull out their main points.
As Susan noted (Nuclear Diner link), there are two negotiation tracks with Iran: one with the IAEA and the other with the P5+1. The two are separate, but not unrelated. Hibbs and his co-authors discuss how they might interact, and Goldschmidt suggests negotiating strategies that would involve IAEA interactions with Iran. Quotes are from the Hibbs paper.
As a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The purpose of this agreement is to verify that Iran’s nuclear activities are confined to peaceful use. Because Iran did not declare the Natanz facility to the IAEA, as it was required to under the agreement, the IAEA increased its scrutiny of Iran in 2003. Iran signed an Additional Protocol for safeguards, which gives the IAEA additional access beyond the original agreement. And
Iran also agreed—as had many other NPT states before—to a 1991 safeguards provision called “Code 3.1” which required states to inform the IAEA about new nuclear facilities as soon as it was decided to build them. But in 2006 and 2007, respectively, Iran suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol (which it never ratified) and Code 3.1. Meanwhile, the IAEA was probing Iran’s nuclear history, and finding evidence it deemed credible that Iran had engaged in secret military research related to nuclear weapons since the late 1980s.
The IAEA was also instructed by its board of governors to investigate this history.
Under the IAEA statute, these findings may serve as the basis for decisionmaking by the board of governors and, thereafter, the UN Security Council. Beginning in 2006, on the basis of the secretariat’s reports to the board and followed by IAEA board referrals, the Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran and enlarged the IAEA’s role in Iran to monitor its compliance with Security Council resolutions.
That is where the IAEA and the Security Council, sponsor of the current talks, have come together in the past. The P5 are the permanent members of the Security Council; Germany is the +1.
In 2007, the IAEA agreed to a “work plan” sought by Iran to eventually conclude the IAEA’s investigation. Since 2008, Iran has claimed it has fulfilled the work plan and, therefore, that Security Council sanctions are groundless and that the IAEA’s role should be limited to routine safeguards on activities that Iran has formally declared to the agency. Since 2011 Iran has promised the IAEA it would increase cooperation if the IAEA declares the 2007 work plan fulfilled. So far, [IAEA Director General Yukiya] Amano has not been willing to do this, especially because Iran has not cleared up allegations that it has worked on development of nuclear explosives.
The backward-looking role of the IAEA would be to investigate and provide a history of Iran’s nuclear activities. This would allow the P5+1 to understand the likely state of Iran’s nuclear program with respect to the development of a nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s making this information available would help to mend the credibility it has lost by its evasions and unwillingness to work with the IAEA on this subject.
The forward-looking IAEA role would be to negotiate agreements with Iran that provide assurance that Iran is not violating its obligations. This would require a new agreement, which has been in negotiation between Iran and the IAEA. Iran has proposed
to address outstanding issues one by one until remaining boxes are checked and without imposing a deadline for Iran to respond to IAEA requests for access to locations, individuals, and documents.
Clearly, this would not provide the assurance needed. An agreement that would allow the IAEA to investigate and resolve questions about its nuclear program would be a basis for a P5+1 agreement with Iran on such issues as limiting 20% enrichment.
The United Nations Security Council, on the basis of IAEA board of governors recommendations, has passed resolutions asking Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and sanctioning Iran. The P5+1 negotiations address Iran’s enrichment and the sanctions.
The papers recommend specific negotiating points:
For the IAEA reconstruction of Iran’s nuclear program,
The six powers negotiating with Iran could support the IAEA by giving Iran immunity from sanctions for any previous undeclared nuclear activity which Iran discloses to the agency.The six states negotiating with Iran should spell out that a comprehensive settlement must include ratification of the Additional Protocol and the acknowledgement that it is already legally committed to implement the new Code 3.1.Additional authority should be given to the IAEA to investigate, beyond the Additional Protocol.
They recognize that insisting on Iran’s giving up all enrichment activities will not be accepted by Iran.
The paper by Goldschmidt alone also suggests:
Freeze (not dismantle) activities at the Fordow enrichment facility with verification by the IAEA;
Cease enriching beyond 5% U-235, with provision from the P5+1 of fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR)
Send abroad its low-enriched uranium (LEU) every six months for fuel fabrication for Bushehr and other reactors.
The P5+1 commit to impose no additional UNSC sanctions. This is a significant concession because continuing to enrich uranium below 5% U-235 contravenes five UNSC resolutions.
The U.S. and the EU commit to impose no unilateral or multilateral sanctions beyond those already decided and to suspend those which will take effect this summer as soon and as long as Iran implements its IAEA agreements.