Let this be a warning to Biden: Iran has been cheating this whole time!
In May 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically revealed to the world the existence of a secret Iranian nuclear archive — a curation of Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons, which had never been disclosed to international inspectors or nuclear deal negotiators. The archive contained a treasure trove of documents and computer files, including information on the organizational structure of Iran’s nuclear work.
Sitting at the top of Iran’s nuclear food chain was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time. For those who forgot, a brief refresher.
Fakhrizadeh was the founder of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, known as the Amad Plan — charged with building some of the world’s deadliest weapons for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In 2011, he broke off to lead a secretive organization called the Organization for Defensive Innovation and Research, commonly referred to by its Persian acronym of SPND.
In 2014, the Obama administration declared SPND as “primarily responsible for research in the field of nuclear weapons development” and accused Fakhrizadeh’s new organization of taking over “activities related to Iran’s undeclared nuclear program.”
Last year, the State Department revealed that SPND has employed as many as 1,500 individuals, including nuclear weapons scientists associated with the Amad Plan. These scientists “continue to carry out dual-use research and development activities, of which aspects are potentially useful for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 14 SPND employees and 17 SPND-linked front companies for their involvement with proliferation-sensitive activities. This September, the Commerce Department blacklisted another five Iranian nuclear scientists “for enabling or assisting Iran’s nuclear development program.”
All of this, of course, prompts an obvious question: How could Fakhrizadeh and SPND continue to operate during the Iran nuclear deal when the deal was premised on Iran’s commitment to an exclusively peaceful nuclear program? Indeed, the existence of SPND and the discovery of Iran’s nuclear archive paints a picture of regime that never truly halted its nuclear weapons program — but instead separated its pieces, keeping its personnel fresh and ready for a time of Iran’s choosing.
That reality was deliberately obfuscated to sell the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran deal supporters wanted the world to believe that Iran had left its nuclear ambitions in the past. To clear the way for the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was pressured to close the book on Iran’s past activities and remove issues related to Iran’s undeclared nuclear work from the agency’s agenda. Outstanding questions were left unresolved. Iran was required to respond to questions posed by the IAEA — but under the terms of the nuclear deal, those responses could remain incomplete, untruthful and unverifiable for sanctions relief to follow.
We now know Iran lied to the IAEA and to the participants of the Iran nuclear deal. Today, the IAEA is again investigating Iran’s concealment of undeclared nuclear material, activities and sites. The investigation reportedly stems from an inspection of a warehouse in Iran where commercial satellite imagery suggested Iran was engaged in sanitization work after Netanyahu had exposed the location in a speech to the UN General Assembly.
This month, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters that Iran’s responses to the agency were deemed “not technically credible” — which is IAEA speak for “liar, liar, pants on fire.”
Taken together, SPND’s existence, Iran’s curation of a secret nuclear weapons archive and its concealment of undeclared nuclear material present a simple truth. We do not face an Iran deal crisis created by President Donald Trump, as members of the incoming U.S. administration have alleged. Instead, we face a more fundamental Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty crisis created by Iran.
President-elect Joe Biden can no longer pretend that the Iran deal prevented the Islamic Republic’s nuclear advancement. It did not.
Nor can Biden’s incoming Secretary of State or National Security Adviser — both of whom were instrumental players in putting the deal together — pretend that Iran can return to compliance with that flawed deal without addressing all outstanding questions about the archive, SPND and its undeclared activities.
Team Biden should issue a clear message to Tehran: come clean or say goodbye to future talks.
Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, previously served as a National Security Council official and deputy chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)