A shorter version of this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
Nuclear alarm bells should have sounded after the New York Times’ editorial board published on April 23, 2021, its paean to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Why the Past Haunts Talks with Iran.1
“Nuclear talks in Vienna… are said to be making progress, which is good news,” the newspaper heralded. It was difficult for the Times editorial writers to understand why Americans opposed Iran’s “technological advancement.” After all, “Under the Iran nuclear deal struck in 2015, Iran took steps to assure the world that it would not develop weapons, including pouring cement into the core of a heavy-water reactor.”
The core of the Arak reactor – before decommissioning.
The heavy water reactor at Arak was slated to produce weapons-grade plutonium. American negotiators on the Iran Deal were ecstatic after securing Iran’s promise to put the reactor out of commission. In January 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced, “Just yesterday, the foreign minister (of Iran) reported to me that the calandria [core] of the plutonium nuclear reactor is now out and in the next hours it will be filled with concrete and destroyed.” According to the Reuters report, “The removal of the calandria is a key part of last year’s Iran nuclear deal.”3
The New York Times reported on January 12, 2016, that a senior Iranian nuclear official denied that the reactor core had been decommissioned. The story was “baseless,” according to Iran’s deputy nuclear chief. The New York Times correspondent, Thomas Erdbrink, however, came to the rescue of Iran’s credibility. “Analysts cautioned,” he wrote, “that the denial did not necessarily mean that the actions, which are required by the nuclear deal reached in Vienna, will not be taken.”4
More verification of the cement sealing and the fate of the plutonium reactor at Arak was provided by “Nuclear Nonproliferation Experts on the Iran Deal,” in a September 2017 declaration, signed, among others, by Robert Malley, former Iran deal negotiator and today the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, and Colin Kahl, another former negotiator and today the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.5
One month later, Malley briefed members of Americans for Peace Now on the JCPOA in a video session: “concrete has been poured into the only reactor that’s capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium [Arak]. It’s now permanently inoperable.”6
The American spokespeople were parroting Behrouz Kamalvandi, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesperson, who said in January 2016: “The core vessel of the Arak reactor has been removed … and IAEA inspectors will visit the site to verify it and report it to the IAEA … We are ready for the implementation day of the deal [signed with international powers in July 2015].” Kamalvandi added that the core would be filled with concrete to make it unusable.7
The core of the Arak reactor – after decommissioning (Twitter)
Even Iran’s Top Atomic Official Scoffed at the Report
The New York Times’ repeating last week the report that Iran decommissioned its Arak reactor with cement. The claim is audaciously false, considering that the act was even denied by the highest nuclear official in Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, Atomic Energy Organization chief. In January 2019, Salehi told an Iranian Mojahedin TV interview that the calandria core was not filled with cement.9 The proof he presented was a “photoshopped” version. Moreover, while narrow tubes were blocked by cement, another set of identical tubes were purchased to replace the decommissioned ones, Salehi explained with amusement. “Only one man in Iran knew this (the secret switch). We told no one but the top man of the regime (Khamenei).” The latter disclosure was picked up by some media, but there was little repercussion.10
U.S. negotiators to the JCPOA walked out of the 2015 Vienna negotiations stripped bare – no decommissioned Arak reactor, no negotiations on ballistic missiles, no attempt to stop regional terrorism or to extend the “sunset” obligations. Even without the leak of Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s recent interview, the negotiators’ misfeasance, gullibility, and malfeasance point to dangerous leaks that could hemorrhage.
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6 https://peacenow.org/entry.php?id=25446#.YIZuLegzaM9 Audio at 5:27.