Analysis of the IAEA’s Iran NPT Safeguards Report - February 2024

by David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Andrea Stricker [1]

March 4, 2024

Download PDF


For the first time, the latest quarterly International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards report on Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) draws a direct line between Iran’s non-compliance with its comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA) and concern about Iran’s current ability to make nuclear weapons. A former high-level Iranian official recently made comments about the regime’s ability to make nuclear weapons. The IAEA writes, “Public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the Director General’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”

The report emphasizes Iran’s lack of complete nuclear declarations, as required by its safeguards agreement. In particular, the IAEA stated that it had not changed its assessment of the undeclared nuclear material and/or activities at four sites – Lavisan-Shian, Varamin, Marivan, and Turquzabad. While inspectors are still seeking Iran’s clarification of activities at Varamin and Turquzabad – in essence continuing to provide Iran the option of telling the truth – the report highlights Iran’s complete lack of cooperation. With Iran’s refusal to cooperate, the IAEA will likely finalize its investigation of these two sites in the same way as it did with the other two – namely, stating that Iran had undeclared nuclear materials and/or carried out nuclear weapons-related activities at the sites.

Concluding that a declaration is incomplete means Iran has violated its safeguards agreement. In its next report, the IAEA should take the next step and directly indicate that Iran is in violation of its CSA, to signal that this issue needs urgent consideration by the Board of Governors, in addition to the issues that the IAEA still considers outstanding.

The IAEA reports a successful effort to press Iran to admit that it falsely declared that nuclear waste, related to previously admitted undeclared nuclear activities, held more uranium than it actually did. After many rounds of verification activities at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) to identify why an IAEA-verified amount of uranium transferred to the UCF was less than indicated in Iran’s declaration, Iran admitted a mistake in its declaration and rectified it. However, this leaves the question of where the missing uranium is today, and whether it is related to Iran’s undeclared use of a uranium metal disk for nuclear weapons development, which the IAEA established took place in the early 2000s at Lavisan-Shian. The IAEA’s finding also highlights a concern that even when Iran admits to undeclared activities or materials, it is hiding something else.

The report once again expresses the IAEA’s condemnation of Iran’s de-designation of several of its key inspectors and failure to reinstate them.

The IAEA also details Iran’s refusal to declare new nuclear facility construction as required under Modified Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to its CSA. The IAEA highlights that Iran broke ground on a new power reactor, the IR-360, without fulfilling its Modified Code 3.1 safeguards obligations. Recently, Iran even publicly announced new construction plans for several other nuclear reactors, but has refused to provide the IAEA with preliminary design information. This development adds to concern that Iran will not notify the IAEA if it constructs a new, secret enrichment facility. This concern is magnified by Iran’s construction of a new facility in the mountains near Natanz that is deeply buried and could include a new enrichment plant.

Implementation of the March 2023 IAEA/Iran Joint Statement, whereby Iran pledged to take steps to cooperate with the IAEA, expedite a resolution over the outstanding safeguards issues, and allow the IAEA to implement appropriate verification and monitoring activities, may have failed.2 The IAEA is seriously concerned that Iran has failed to live up to its end of the agreement and questions Iran’s continued commitment to its implementation.

It is long overdue that the Board of Governors provide more support to the IAEA, not only condemning Iran’s lack of cooperation as it did in its November 2022 resolution, but also providing a deadline for compliance. If it does not, the best-case scenario is that Iran will succeed in maintaining secrecy over past and potentially ongoing nuclear weapons activities indefinitely, weakening the IAEA in the process. At worst, it will succeed in building a nuclear weapon undetected until too late, causing irreparable damage to the IAEA and the NPT.


Iran is obligated under its comprehensive safeguards agreement, a key part of the NPT, to cooperate with the IAEA and fully account for nuclear material and both past and present nuclear activities. The IAEA refers to this process as a country providing both a correct and complete nuclear declaration. Without a complete declaration, the IAEA cannot provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

For more than five years, the IAEA has been investigating and reporting on undeclared uranium and nuclear-related activities at four Iranian sites. The sites are related to Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons under the Amad Plan, Iran’s crash nuclear weapons program dating to the early 2000s, but concern its NPT compliance today, including the current whereabouts of nuclear material and equipment, as well as whether Iran continues nuclear weapons-related activities.

A November 2022 IAEA Board of Governors resolution spelled out four steps Iran must take in order to clarify the outstanding safeguards issues. These include providing technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium at the three sites, informing the IAEA about the current location(s) of the nuclear material and/or contaminated equipment, providing all information the IAEA needs, and providing access to locations and materials as needed. The Board has not passed a new resolution since, nor has it referred Iran’s case to the UN Security Council for countermeasures, over Iran’s failure to comply with these demands.

This analysis summarizes and assesses information since the IAEA’s last NPT safeguards report on Iran — the latest report was issued on February 26, 2024.


Concerning Comments by Former Iranian Official about Nuclear Weapons Capabilities

On February 12, former Iranian foreign minister and former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, suggested in an interview that Iran has an unstructured nuclear weapons program and all the components needed to make nuclear weapons, and must only assemble them.3 He said, “Here’s an example: Imagine what a car needs; it needs a chassis, an engine, a steering wheel, a gearbox. You’re asking if we’ve made the gearbox, I say yes. Have we made the engine? Yes, but each one serves its own purpose.” In response, Director General Grossi said at the World Governments Summit in Dubai that Iran was “not entirely transparent” with its nuclear activities. “A very high official said, in fact, we have everything, it’s disassembled,” Grossi said. “Well, please let me know what you have,” he urged.4

In its latest report, the IAEA writes, “Public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the Director General’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.” The IAEA calls for constructive engagement and Iran’s full cooperation.

Investigation at Undeclared Sites Involving Undeclared Production or Use of Nuclear Material

The new report emphasizes Iran’s lack of complete nuclear declarations, as required by its safeguards agreement. In effect, Iran remains in noncompliance with its CSA. In particular, the IAEA stated that it had not changed its assessment of the undeclared nuclear material and/or activities at four sites – Lavisan-Shian, Varamin, Marivan, and Turquzabad. While the inspectors are still seeking Iran’s clarification of activities at Varamin and Turquzabad, the report highlights Iran’s complete lack of cooperation. The IAEA will likely finalize its investigation of these two sites in the same way as the other two – namely, by stating that Iran had undeclared nuclear materials and/or carried out nuclear weapons-related activities at the sites.

With regards to the IAEA’s recent efforts to obtain clarification about the Varamin and Turquzabad sites, the IAEA states in its NPT report, “once again there has been no progress in resolving the outstanding safeguards issues during this reporting period.” The IAEA again underscores that “despite numerous resolutions of the Board and many opportunities provided by the Director General over a number of years, Iran has neither provided the Agency with technically credible explanations for the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at two undeclared locations in Iran nor informed the Agency of the current location(s) of nuclear material and/or of contaminated equipment.” In a renewed call for support from the board, the IAEA notes that no progress has been made since the board’s November 2022 resolution.

Iran has stated that it exhausted all its efforts to discover the origin of such particles. Given that this statement is not recognized as true and in light of Iran’s consistent non-cooperation, one can expect a conclusion by the IAEA that the materials and activities are undeclared.

De-designation of Inspectors

The IAEA reports no progress by Iran to restore the designation of around one-third of the agency’s key enrichment-related inspectors, who it barred from the country last fall. In this report, as well as in the separate report on Iran’s compliance with UN Resolution 2231, the IAEA again condemns Iran’s “sudden” disbarring of inspectors in September” 2023, writing that the move “was exercised by Iran in a manner that directly and seriously affects the Agency’s ability to conduct effectively its verification activities in Iran, in particular at the enrichment facilities.” The IAEA “regards Iran’s stance as not only unprecedented, but unambiguously contrary to the cooperation that is required and expected in order to facilitate the effective implementation of its NPT safeguards agreement.” The IAEA reports that the de-designation of inspectors occurred after the withdrawal by Iran of the designation of another experienced IAEA inspector.

In September, Iran reportedly disbarred experienced French and German enrichment inspectors, and perhaps inspectors from one other country (The Wall Street Journal reports eight inspectors were de-designated in total). 5 Iran took this action after several dozen states, led by the United States and Europe, signed a joint statement at the September 2023 IAEA board meeting demanding Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation into undeclared nuclear weapons work. The IAEA again writes, “The Director General regarded the linking by Iran of statements by IAEA Member States to the withdrawal by Iran of designations of Agency inspectors with the same nationality as extreme and unjustified: it effectively makes the independent technical work subject to political interpretation of other Member States’ views about Iran’s nuclear activities.”

Director General Grossi previously reported that he wrote in an October 31 letter to AEOI head Mohammad Eslami, “Iran’s sudden withdrawal of previously agreed designations for several Agency inspectors adversely affects the Agency’s ability to conduct inspections and risks impeding the conduct of inspections…” Iran delayed addressing the matter, replying only on November 15 to the IAEA’s overtures that Iran was “within its rights to de-designate agency inspectors.” Eslami stated that the IAEA’s assertion about impeding inspections “is not compelling and lacks any legal basis.” Eslami said only that he was exploring possibilities to address the issue. In a previous IAEA report on the matter, Grossi called upon Iran to “reconsider its decision and to return to a path of cooperation with the Agency.” In the most recent report, he “deeply regrets that Iran has yet to reverse its decision.”

Electronic Monitoring of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Production at Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) and Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP)

The IAEA reported in May 2023 in the NPT report that Iran permitted the installation of enrichment monitoring devices (EMDs) at the FFEP and PFEP. The IAEA reported in its September 2023 NPT report, “The evaluation of the data collected confirmed the general good functioning of the systems. Technical adjustments and changes to operational procedures required to enable their commissioning have been identified and are being discussed with Iran.” The IAEA reported no new information about the status of the EMDs in this and the previous report.

Violation of Modified Code 3.1

The IAEA reports that Iran has violated a mandatory provision of the subsidiary arrangements to Iran’s CSA, Modified Code 3.1, by starting construction on a new nuclear power reactor known as the IR-360. 6 Since February 2021, the IAEA has been seeking Iran’s pledge that it will adhere to the modified code. The code requires Iran to provide notification and early design information when it has taken a decision to build a new nuclear facility, including, for example, a reactor or an enrichment plant.
In November 2023, Eslami “made a statement referring to the excavation of the main building of the planned 360-megawatt reactor ‘in the coming days.’” In December, the IAEA then observed through analysis of satellite imagery “excavations of the reactor site.” The IAEA wrote a letter to Iran dated February 5, 2024, requesting updated design information for the site, as well as preliminary design information for the “Iran Hormoz” nuclear power plants. The AEOI also made available on its website information regarding the start of construction “by order of the president.”

According to the IAEA, in a reply dated February 7, 2024, Iran “repeated its position that ‘implementation of modified code 3.1 is suspended’; ‘currently the legal obligation of the initial Code 3.1 is the legal obligation’ for Iran ‘under the Subsidiary Arrangements (General Part) of the CSA’; and that ‘relevant safeguards information for any new facilities… will be provided in due time.’” The IAEA acknowledged that Iran “was no longer prepared to work with the Agency to find a mutually acceptable solution” regarding implementation of Modified Code 3.1.

Iran illegally reverting to the original Code 3.1 means Iran believes it must provide notification to the IAEA only six months before it introduces nuclear material into a facility, which experience has taught could be when the plant is essentially operational. By violating Modified Code 3.1 with the construction of the new reactor and failing to notify the IAEA or provide design information, Iran is indicating it could also outfit a clandestine enrichment facility, for example, and not notify the IAEA of the plant’s existence until right before it begins operating, if at all.

The IAEA emphasizes Iran’s violation of Modified Code 3.1, writing, “The Director General has reminded Iran on many occasions that implementation of modified Code 3.1 is a legal obligation” which Iran may not modify or suspend. “Iran continues not to implement modified Code 3.1,” it concludes.

Discrepancy at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF); New Links to Undeclared Uranium at Lavisan-Shian

While the IAEA pressed Iran to resolve a discrepancy in the amount of uranium present at the UCF, the resolution re-opened the question of whether uranium went missing long ago from the Jaber Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratory (JHL).

The discrepancy at the UCF involved the dissolution of what Iran stated was 302.7 kilograms (kg) of natural uranium and an IAEA-verified amount that was less than this. The uranium came from the JHL, which housed undeclared nuclear activities and materials in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Newly in this report, the IAEA specifically states that “the amount of the uranium contained in the solid waste, arising from undeclared conversion experiments between 1995 and 2002, sent from JHL to UCF for dissolution, was less than had been declared by Iran in 2003 - 2004.” JHL has figured prominently in past IAEA efforts to understand the fate of undeclared uranium dating to Amad Plan activities at the Lavisan-Shian site in Tehran (see Annex). According to The Wall Street Journal, the discrepancy was “connected to Iran’s dissolution of a natural uranium metal disc the IAEA has been looking for as part of a probe into undeclared nuclear material found in Iran.”7

During this reporting period, Iran and the IAEA held technical discussions on this issue and Iran “agreed to the Agency’s request to correct the nuclear material accounting records and reports.” Thus, the IAEA now considers the discrepancy of uranium at the UCF as “rectified.”

However, this development actually indicates that instead of uranium missing at the UCF, uranium may have gone missing at JHL, before it was transferred to the UCF. The IAEA previously identified a “possible discrepancy of several kilogrammes in the accountancy records” of previously undeclared uranium conversion experiments. The IAEA notes in its report that “this new element requires further consideration by the Agency.”

Notably, this also means that in a perceived effort by Iran in 2004 to fully declare past undeclared nuclear materials and activities at JHL, it found a way to only declare select materials and activities.

Failure of the Joint Statement

In a March 2023 Joint Statement, Iran and the IAEA agreed to cooperate on restoring some monitoring and on resolving safeguards issues relating to the sites under IAEA investigation. 8 The Director General reports that “following some limited progress towards implementing the Joint Statement of 4 March 2023 in the reporting period March-June 2023, no further progress has been made since.” According to the report, “The Director General is seriously concerned that Iran has unilaterally stopped implementing the Joint Statement and questions Iran’s continued commitment to its implementation.”


The IAEA should release a report summarizing its understandings and findings about Iran’s past nuclear weapons program and any nuclear weapons-related materials, equipment, or activities that have continued up to today. While the IAEA’s recent effort to focus exclusively on undeclared nuclear material is understandable, this amounts to exploring the tip of the iceberg. It is time for the IAEA to expose the entire iceberg and reconstruct the history and nature of all aspects of Iran’s nuclear weapons activities.

Due to Iran’s prolonged, ongoing lack of cooperation, the IAEA Board of Governors should pass a resolution condemning Iran’s failure to fully meet the demands spelled out in the November 2022 resolution and provide one last chance, with a deadline, for Iran to meet these demands, after which the board will refer Iran’s case to the UN Security Council. Such a referral would not in any way halt the IAEA’s investigations of Iran’s undeclared materials and activities; in fact, it should encourage IAEA members to provide additional information and resources aimed at assisting the IAEA in pressing Iran to come into compliance with its safeguards obligations.

Despite the IAEA hesitating to state the obvious, the agency has essentially concluded that Iran is non-compliant with its safeguards agreement. Non-compliance can trigger specific activities by the Director General and the Board of Governors under the IAEA’s Statute when a country fails to take corrective action “within a reasonable time.” Five years is certainly a reasonable time. Under Article XII.C of the Statute, “In the event of failure of the recipient State or States to take fully corrective action within a reasonable time, the Board may take one or both of the following measures: direct curtailment or suspension of assistance being provided by the Agency or by a member, and call for the return of materials and equipment made available to the recipient member or group of members. The Agency may also, in accordance with article XIX, suspend any non-complying member from the exercise of the privileges and rights of membership.”

In anticipation of the near futility of additional efforts to convince Iran to rectify its violations and address outstanding demands, yet as a way to provide additional incentives for Iran to come into compliance, it is time for the Director General and board to start invoking the measures specified in, or implied by, the IAEA’s Statute. This may include curtailing IAEA technical assistance, reducing Iran’s privileges at the IAEA, and discouraging member states providing nuclear assistance, whether for nuclear research or nuclear power.


1. Andrea Stricker is deputy director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program and an FDD research fellow.

2. “Joint Statement by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” March 4, 2023,

3. “Iran Signals It Is Closer to Building Nuclear Weapons,” Iran International, February 12, 2024,

4. Jon Gambrell, “The head of UN’s nuclear watchdog warns Iran is ‘not entirely transparent’ on its atomic program,” The Associated Press, February 13, 2024,

5. Laurence Norman, “Iran Maintains Steady Expansion of Nuclear Program,” The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2023,

6. Tzvi Joffre, “Iran Building New Nuclear Power Plant in Southwest of Country,” The Jerusalem Post, December 4, 2022,

7. Laurence Norman, “U.N. Agency Confirms Iran Produced Enriched Uranium Close to Weapons Grade,” The Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2023,

8. “Joint Statement by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” March 4, 2023,

email us twitter share on facebook