Nuclear non-proliferation experts Ray Takeyh and Joseph Cirincione have penned an op-ed for Britain's Financial Times which says that the recent IAEA report shows that the Agency has been successful in ensuring that iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program going forward.
The investigation and inspections – even the limited ones the IAEA is currently able to conduct – have, in effect, shut down direct weapons work and resolved many of the outstanding historical questions.Others, including Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, had already come to the same conclusions about what is actually in the "smoking laptop" - that the data therein relate to that earlier and now cancelled phase of experimentation that never actually got as far as using nuclear materials and was, in many ways, deeply flawed in any case. That is, the Iranian designs as contained in the laptop wouldn't have worked. But this view stands in stark contrast to the opinions from the neocon mothership, the American Enterprise Institute, where they called the IAEA report a "whitewash"...mainly, it must be said, for not insisting on war with Iran right now.
...the IAEA investigations have produced enough circumstantial evidence to support the view that Iran probably conducted nuclear weapons research in the past. But the evidence to date also indicates, as the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran concluded last November, that Iran stopped this direct weapons work. The path now is to recognise this success, deepen it, find a way for Iran to come clean safely on its past work and to prevent Iran from developing capabilities that could allow it to produce weapon material in the next decade.
Mr ElBaradei has disproved the notion that Iran’s nuclear strategy is immutable. Despite its apparent solidarity, there are divisions within the theocratic regime on the urgency of the nuclear programme. It is true that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad and his militant allies’ calculations are susceptible to neither offers of incentives nor threats of force. However, for the more tempered members of the ruling elite, the nuclear issue is considered within the context of international relations. Indeed, the fact that Iran has suspended the weapon design component of its programme since 2003 and is largely complying with the IAEA “work plan” reflects the propensity of the state to adhere to certain limits.
The best means of diminishing the hardliners is for the US and its European allies to offer Iran a chance for a resumed relationship...the west should appreciate that a nuanced diplomacy of reconciliation could both regulate Iran’s nuclear programme and help stabilise the Middle East. It is the much maligned Mr ElBaradei that has paved the way for success.
However, Russia is now indicating that it may support further sanctions on Iran because it is worried about Iran's heavy water plant. Heavy water reactors can be used to breed plutonium (from uranium-238) or uranium-233 (from thorium-232) and actually make it easier to extract weapons-grade material than conventional uranium enrichment techniques, so they are seen as major non-proliferation risks. But they also enable natural, un-enriched, uranium to be used in reactors - making them ideal for a small nation with limited resources to spend which is worried about being forced into dependency on other states for fuel. It may be that Iran's heavy water plant is a worrying risk - or it may just be that Russia is keen to see Iran locked in to a very profitable dependency on the larger nation for nuclear purposes. As usual with Iran's nuclear plans, there's a best-case and a worst-case scenario and which one you believe will depend on your own opinion of Iran's motivations.