If Iran abrogates international agreements that seek to restrict Tehran’s nuclear capabilities, the move could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, warned Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA.
Speaking Sunday on “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” on New York’s AM 970 The Answer, Heinonen said even with the current implementation of an interim international deal with Iran, the country is still capable of assembling a nuclear weapon “within months.”
He accused Iran of having an “unfortunate history of misleading and not disclosing all its nuclear material.”
Heinonen previously also served as head of the Department of Safeguards for the IAEA, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.
Amid reports Iran is meeting its commitments under a temporary arrangement with six world powers, Heinonen said the IAEA does not have a complete picture of Iran’s nuclear profile since inspectors have been kept out of some sites.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know,” he said.
Continued Heinonen: “Is this all the uranium in Iran? The IAEA has not been able to verify what is called the completeness of Iran’s declaration. It has only verified that which has been presented. But it has not been able to make an historical assessment (of) how much uranium has been produced in Iran over these years.”
The former inspector said the IAEA is also in the dark about the total number of Iran’s centrifuges and the degree of sophistication and advancement of some of Iran’s nuclear machinery at secretive sites.
Klein cited reports that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are concerned Iran could follow in the footsteps of North Korea, which signed international agreements to end its nuclear program only to later abandon those deals and conduct nuclear tests.
The radio host asked Heinonen whether such a move could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
Heinonen replied: “I think this is an unfortunate possibility that if Iran or someone in the region acquires nuclear weapons, the others have to look how to defend their own security. Then they may need to do hard decisions.”
Heinonen explained Iran’s current nuclear infrastructure puts it far ahead of other regional countries which may consider starting a nuclear program.
He said Iran could currently assemble a nuke within months.
“It can do certain things within few months. At least to have a kind if primitive nuclear explosive. And it puts Iran into a very different file because it has this capability. And it’s always looming there.”
Heinonen recommended that any final deal between Iran and the P5 Plus One Western powers be performance based, meaning international sanctions should be scaled back gradually as Iran complies with the agreement and allows inspectors to visit all nuclear facilities.
He said the West “needs an agreement that provides the IAEA access to all sites beyond the normal rights under the safeguard agreement. Iran has now this unfortunate history of misleading and not disclosing all its nuclear material.”
Listen to Heinonen’s interview with Klein below: