The Trump administration is reportedly preparing massive budget cuts to American support for the United Nations and its agencies. The extent of the cuts will be known when the White House submits its budget request to congress and in all likelihood, they will be huge — and have a significant impact on UN operations around the world.
But even as the UN potentially comes into the budgetary crosshairs, one UN agency has been quietly soaking up praises from the new American administration. Last week, the acting head of the US Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, Chargé d’Affaires Andrew J. Schofer, heaped plaudits on the International Atomic Energy Agency and its staff for keeping close watch on Iran’s nuclear programs. The IAEA is the UN agency that serves as a global nuclear watchdog, monitoring and reporting on nuclear activities around the world, including Iran. And apparently the USA thinks it’s doing an excellent job.
In a statement at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors (on which the USA sits) the US official said:
The Agency’s continued verification and monitoring of Iran’s JCPOA commitments is essential to building international assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful. As we have made clear in the past and underscore again today, Iran must strictly and fully adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration to enable the IAEA to provide such assurance. Nothing short of strict implementation will assure the international community that Iran is upholding its commitments. I can promise you that the United States will approach questions of JCPOA interpretation, implementation, and enforcement with great strictness indeed.
Should any new nuclear concerns arise in Iran, the IAEA maintains its full safeguards-related authorities to investigate them. Any new and credible concerns of undeclared nuclear activities can and must be pursued by the IAEA. We expect and have full confidence that the Agency and its skilled cadre of professional inspectors would do so appropriately and with vigor. In this regard, we welcome the Director General’s report that the IAEA continues to evaluate the initial declarations submitted by Iran under the Additional Protocol. We also welcome the Agency’s conduct of complementary access inspections under the Additional Protocol to sites and other locations in Iran.
The United States greatly appreciates the characteristic professionalism of the Director General’s reports under this agenda item. The United States welcomes the more detailed nature of this report, including new information related to the decisions of the Joint Commission that the E3/EU+3, or P5+1, and Iran have now made public. This information is needed to allow the Board of Governors and the JCPOA. (Emphasis Added)
The context here is important. The nuclear deal reached between Iran, the United States, Germany and the rest of the UN Security Council calls for Iran to restrict its nuclear activities in exchange for an easing of sanctions. But Iran’s continued compliance with the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — JCPOA” (as the plan is known) requires verification from the IAEA. To that end, nuclear inspectors are continuously monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities to ensure they are in compliance wth the deal.
This statement from the USA is essentially a pat-on-the-back. For the IAEA, this was an important signal that the new administration is not-yet-ready to gum up the works when it comes to the Iran deal–something the president has criticized relentlessly on the campaign trail. It is also an important affirmation for the work of the IAEA on a highly charged topic from its top donor.
It is also a reminder that the day-to-day technical work of the UN agencies like the IAEA serve critical national security interests of the United States–something that bears keeping in mind as US funding of the UN may be in the budgetary crosshairs in the coming weeks. A cut to UN funding means fewer resources for experts at the IAEA. That, in turn, means it would be easier for Iran to cheat on the deal or for other countries to development nuclear knowhow without detection.