For several weeks the Obama administration has argued that the sanctions are beginning to bite, cutting off Iran’s access to foreign capital, halting investment in its energy sector and impeding its ability to send its ships in and out of some foreign ports.
While there are strong indications that Iran is beginning to feel pain — largely from additional sanctions imposed by the United States and European and Asian nations over the summer — the report on Monday from the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates that so far they have failed to force Iran to comply with longstanding requests.
The agency protested that Iran had barred two of its most experienced inspectors from the country. They were barred only days after the Security Council passed its latest sanctions, part of a longstanding pattern of reducing access in retaliation for United Nations action. Iran has, however, permitted some other inspectors to enter.
The report also reiterated that for two years, since August 2008, Iran has refused to answer questions “about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” The report said it was “essential that Iran engage with the agency on these issues” because evidence can degrade with “the passage of time.”
Iran has argued that it has the right to throw out inspectors it does not trust, and said in case after case that the agency, a unit of the United Nations, had “no legal basis” to make its requests.
The Obama administration said the report demonstrated that Iran “continues its effort to expand its nuclear program and move closer to a nuclear weapons capability,” an acknowledgment that, at least so far, the sanctions have not forced Iran to change its direction.
A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, added that “the United States is applying unprecedented and growing international pressure on the Iranian government,” and that “so long as Iran continues on its current path, its leaders will deepen Iran’s isolation and the price it is clearly paying.”
In recent weeks, top officials in the Obama administration have said that they believe it would take Iran at least a year to convert its stockpiles of nuclear fuel into weapons, giving the United States, Israel and others considerable time to react to any effort at a “breakout” — converting stocks of low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade material.
That estimate, officials acknowledge, assumes that Iran does not have any hidden production facilities. Little work has taken place at one such facility, near Qum, since its existence was revealed last year, the I.A.E.A. report indicated. But Iran is still refusing to lift the veil on the origins of that plant, declining to give inspectors the design plans that they have demanded to understand its true purpose.
“The information requested is essential,” the report said.
In areas that inspectors have been allowed access, the report indicates slow but steady progress in the production of low-enriched uranium. Inspectors said that Iran had now produced 6,108 pounds of low-enriched uranium at its main facility at Natanz. That represents an increase of 15 percent in the country’s stockpile over the past three months. With further conversion, that is enough to produce roughly two weapons.
The new report cited case after case of Iran’s continuing defiance in providing information, material and access to inspectors, as well as its failure to halt its increasingly aggressive program to enrich uranium.
The report also faulted Iran’s refusal to provide details of its projects to develop a plant for the production of heavy water, as well as a new reactor. Iran holds that it had renounced any legal obligation to give the agency such details.
On Monday, the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington, stressed the military peril. It said the growing opaqueness raised the risk that “Iran may seek to increase its capability to divert nuclear material in secret and produce weapon-grade uranium in a plant unknown to the inspectors or Western intelligence agencies.”
In surprisingly blunt language, the report strongly criticized Iran’s barring in June of two agency inspectors from entering Iran. The government said it did so because of their connection to “false and wrong statements.”
But the agency insisted that inspectors had done no wrong. “The agency has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned,” it said.
The report also criticized a previous shutting out of inspectors in early 2007, saying the agency needs “inspectors with experience in Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and facilities.” The repeated bars, the report charged, “hampers the inspection process.”
The report noted that Iran had refused to disclose information about its operations to manufacture centrifuges, which are used in enrichment, and for another path to produce nuclear fuel, called laser enrichment.
Nor did Iran provide information on its mining and milling of uranium, the agency said. The report said that Iran, in addressing these issues late last month, “did not provide the agency with the requested information but reiterated that it was ‘continuing to cooperate.’ ”
A European diplomat called the report’s language about the barring of the inspectors “quite strong.” Iran’s actions, he added on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic rules, are slowly blinding the agency and undermining its ability to conduct inspections with the kind of freedom it needs to dig beneath official denials and disavowals.
The report, in its conclusion, declared that Tehran “has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”