Iran’s past nuclear efforts are among the many thorny issues in the continuing Iran nuclear talks. But focusing on the past is a mistake. Instead of insisting on knowing all about what Iran’s nuclear program looked like 10 years ago, the United States and its allies should focus on preventing Tehran from building a nuclear weapon in the future.
Though discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are proceeding in parallel to the six-power nuclear negotiations with Iran, some argue that Tehran must “come clean” on past military experiments before it can be trusted to make new commitments. But reaching and implementing a nuclear agreement should not be held hostage to resolving all the complicated questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear programs.
We have good reason to believe Iran has been engaged in prohibited activities. In 2007, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that, for a number of years, “Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.” But intelligence indicated that these activities had ended in the fall of 2003.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has been investigating these allegations, which are based on information from the United States and other sources. The agency reported in detail about the specific activities of concern in November 2011.
Until this year, Tehran had denied the truth of any accusations suggesting it had engaged in nuclear weapons activities. It would not cooperate fully with the agency’s efforts to investigate, which only added to suspicions. For its part, Iran (joined by some in the West) argued that the atomic agency has not provided enough information about the basis for its allegations and is, in any event, far from being a neutral arbiter.