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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

"Completely Nuts"

Daryl G. Kimball

As the international confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program gradually escalates, the Bush administration insists it is seeking a diplomatic solution even as it refuses to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive military strikes against Iran. President George W. Bush himself said last year, "I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table."

One option he certainly should rule out is the use of nuclear weapons. As former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently commented, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran’s nuclear and leadership targets is "completely nuts," for several reasons.

The threat alone reduces the chance Tehran’s leaders will respond positively to multilateral diplomacy designed to persuade them to halt Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and accept more intrusive international inspections. A nuclear or conventional strike on Iran’s nuclear complex would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, enhance popular support for its radical leaders, and provide it with a rationale to pursue nuclear weapons openly. Worse still, it could inflict mass casualties, trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles, and prompt terrorist attacks against U.S. targets abroad and at home. Bush’s foray into Iraq would become even more costly.

Iran has violated its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards, but it says its program is solely for peaceful purposes and that it has a "right" under the NPT to pursue it. Although outsiders cannot be sure if Iran has made a strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons, Tehran could have the capacity to mass-produce bomb-grade nuclear material within several years if it continues to improve and expand its enrichment facilities.

Since August, diplomatic efforts by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have broken down, and Iran has resumed enrichment and stopped certain inspections. European offers of access to foreign sources of nuclear fuel and economic integration could not overcome the prestige Iran now associates with nuclear technology and Tehran’s concern about U.S.-led regime change intentions.

New U.S. diplomatic overtures are less likely to succeed so long as the threat of force, especially nuclear force, is held out as an option. Unfortunately, credible press reports indicate that the U.S. government is refining plans for conventional air strikes against some 400 key nuclear and leadership targets in Iran. These plans include contingencies for nuclear strikes using B61 Mod 11 bombs against Iran’s major underground uranium-enrichment facilities.

The Bush administration is not the first to convey ambiguous nuclear threats against non-nuclear-weapon adversaries. When asked about the possible use of nuclear weapons against a Libyan chemical weapons installation in April 1996, a Clinton administration spokesperson said, "We would not foreclose any options for dealing with that threat."

Yet, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi continued his pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for several years. Only after quiet, direct engagement with U.S. and British officials and offers of normalized trade and diplomatic relations, an end to sanctions, and increased foreign investment did Libya agree in December 2003 to renounce its unconventional weapons. Without a public and direct threat of attack, Gaddafi could claim that he arrived at his decision "voluntarily."

Now, the Bush administration believes that if Tehran’s leaders can be made to believe Bush is willing to attack, even with nuclear weapons, they will soften or reverse their position. Think again. Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he is willing to hold talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear agenda but not with Israel or countries that hold "bombs over our head." His defiance has won him broader support in Iran.

The threat of force also makes it more difficult to win international support for a new package of incentives and disincentives that would give Iran a clear choice between the benefits of nuclear restraint and compliance or international financial and economic strangulation.

U.S. officials have sought a fresh UN Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which could lead either to sanctions or the use of military force if Iran does not comply. With the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in mind, veto-wielding China and Russia want it to rule out the use of force. European officials have said they would not support a military attack.

A new and more comprehensive diplomatic push is needed. In exchange for the indefinite suspension of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and full cooperation with international inspections, the major powers should not only offer Iran guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies and trade benefits, but also normalized diplomatic relations and binding negative security guarantees as well.

Just as Iran should not necessarily exercise its "rights" under the NPT to enrich uranium, which could be used for weapons production, certain U.S. military options should not be considered, let alone pursued.



Reports Grow That U.S. Plots Strike Against Iran

Paul Kerr

Even as the Bush administration continues its diplomatic efforts to resolve the international dispute surrounding Tehran’s nuclear programs, recent press reports have increased concern that the United States may take military action against Iran in order to end the perceived threat posed by the programs.

The press for more than a year has reported that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for possible air and missile strikes. But several April reports have brought greater attention to the issue.

An April 10 New Yorker article reported that the Department of Defense is considering a range of targets. These include Iran’s nuclear facilities, as well as unrelated targets. Striking these other targets could be part of a broader strategy to bring about regime change in Tehran, the article said.

Perhaps most alarming, the magazine also reported that the United States may attack some of Iran’s nuclear sites with nuclear weapons. According to the article, one of the “military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11 [bomb], against underground nuclear sites.”

Iran has buried key elements of its nuclear program including its gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and has constructed tunnels at its uranium-conversion facility located near Isfahan.

The possibility that Iran also has clandestine, underground, nuclear-related facilities has vexed U.S. intelligence for some time. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today in February that the United States believes Iran has such facilities because of the underground construction at Natanz and Isfahan, as well as military bases. Iran is also known to have buried many of its missile facilities, the official said. (See ACT, March 2006.)

But two former State Department officials familiar with the matter indicated in interviews with Arms Control Today earlier this month that the United States has no specific information about other buried Iranian facilities. “I have been wondering myself about the ‘numerous’ buried facilities,” one former official said, adding that “press reporting about other facilities is unconfirmed.”

That has not stopped experts from debating responses to the possibility of such facilities. Some experts have argued that air strikes would not stop Iran’s nuclear program because Tehran could just continue to work at its secret sites or reconstitute any damaged facilities or equipment. On the other hand, the New Yorker article indicated that, according to some U.S. officials, the Pentagon needs to retain a nuclear option in case it lacks sufficient information about a newly-found Iranian underground nuclear facility to mount a successful conventional attack.

Whether the administration is seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons against Iran is unclear. Recent Bush administration national security planning documents have suggested that the United States might use nuclear weapons against such targets, perhaps pre-emptively. (See ACT, September 2005.)

However, the New Yorker reported that U.S. military commanders do not support the use of a nuclear weapon against Iran. And British Foreign Minister Jack Straw called the notion of a nuclear strike “completely nuts” in an April 9 BBC interview.

U.S. allies and other countries involved with the ongoing diplomatic efforts have not voiced support for any sort of military action against Iran.

President George W. Bush and administration officials have stated repeatedly that Washington will not take any options “off the table” but have generally refrained from overtly threatening Iran with military force. Bush dismissed reports of military action as “wild speculation” during an April 10 speech in Washington.

View From Tehran

In response to the reports of U.S. military strike planning, Iranian officials have displayed both concern and bravado. For example, Iran’s Foreign Ministry sent a complaint to the UN Security Council in March protesting “thinly veiled [ U.S.] threats of resort to force against” Iran. Some Iranian officials have suggested that they want an assurance that the United States will not attack.

But other Iranian officials have downplayed the possibility of a U.S. strike, citing such factors as the U.S. military’s ongoing difficulties in securing Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Iranian officials have hinted at Tehran’s likely response to a military attack. According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said April 26 that Tehran would retaliate against “ U.S. aggression” by damaging the U.S. interests worldwide “twice as much” as any military strikes. Iranian officials have made similar threats of retaliation in the past.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, stated the previous day that military strikes would fail because Iran would respond by starting “covert” nuclear activities, IRNA reported.


House Approves Iran Sanctions Bill

Miles A. Pomper

The House April 26 overwhelmingly approved legislation tightening sanctions aimed at curbing progress in Iran’s nuclear program. The 397-21 vote came despite Bush administration concerns that the measure might harm relations with some U.S. allies.

The Senate has yet to act on the legislation, but a similar Senate bill by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has 58 co-sponsors, enough to ensure majority support in the 100-seat chamber.

The legislation updates and extends the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which was revised in 2001 and is set to expire later this year. (See ACT, September 2001.) The existing law requires the United States to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million per year in Iranian oil or gas development. French, Italian, Malaysian, and Russian entities have well surpassed these limits, and the Chinese company Sinopec is planning a major investment in Iranian natural gas. But neither the Clinton or Bush administrations have ever allowed any sanctions to take effect because of diplomatic opposition to such “secondary sanctions.”

The House-passed bill would drop the Libya provisions because of Tripoli’s 2003 pledge to comprehensively dismantle its nuclear and chemical weapons programs. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) It would permit the president to impose sanctions on any person that exports, transfers, or provides to Iran “any goods, services, technology, or other items” that knowingly aid the ability of Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction or “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.”

It also urges the Bush administration “to work to secure support at the United Nations Security Council for a resolution” to impose sanctions on Iran “as a result of its repeated breaches of its nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The bill is to remain in effect until Iran has verifiably dismantled its suspected “weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The House-passed bill includes measures that tighten the application of existing sanctions. In particular, congressional aides said that it seeks to force the executive branch to investigate credible reports of sanctionable activities. The law requires that the president issue a sanctions determination within one year of receiving such a report and clear an existing two-year backlog of such investigations. It seeks to broaden the net of firms covered by these activities to institutions such as insurers, underwriters, or guarantors who knowingly help finance any investments as well as to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms. It also encourages U.S. pension funds and mutual funds to divest from foreign companies investing in Iran’s petroleum sector.

However, the Bush administration has not fully embraced the measure. In March testimony, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns raised concerns that some provisions in the bill might strain relations with close U.S. allies whose help the United States will need to change Iran’s behavior.

France , Russia, and China wield vetoes as permanent members of the UN Security Council at a time that body is considering further moves in response to Iran’s failure to meet the goals of a previous Security Council presidential statement, which could include sanctions (See "Security Council Mulls Response to Iran").


Security Council Mulls Response to Iran

Paul Kerr

The UN Security Council is mulling possible responses to Iran’s failure to comply with a March 29 presidential statement that called on Tehran to resolve concerns about its nuclear programs and to re-suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.

The statement, which did not specify any consequences and is not legally binding, instructed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report on Iran’s compliance to the agency’s Board of Governors and the Security Council within 30 days.

There was no indication prior to ElBaradei’s report, which was issued April 28, that Iran had complied with the council’s demands. Indeed, Iran in April accelerated work on its nuclear programs and said its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program would continue. Nevertheless, Iranian officials have repeatedly said that Tehran wishes to address concerns about its nuclear efforts.

Officials from Germany and the five permanent, veto-wielding Security Council members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are scheduled to meet May 2 in Paris to discuss the matter.

Enrichment Breakthrough

Rather than suspending its enrichment program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated April 11 that Tehran’s effort had achieved a technical breakthrough. He said that Iran had “completed the nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level.” Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who also heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said that Iran enriched uranium to approximately 3.5 percent uranium-235 in a cascade of 164 centrifuges. He said that Iran only plans to produce uranium containing between 3.5 percent and 5 percent uranium-235.

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Low-enriched uranium typically has about 3-5 percent uranium-235 and is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) has much higher concentrations of uranium-235, typically around 90 percent, and can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Iran claims that it wants to master the enrichment process for its peaceful nuclear program, but the United States and some of its European allies contend that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons development. Iran had agreed in November 2004 to suspend “all enrichment- related” activities for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But the negotiations ended when, beginning in August 2005, Tehran resumed the program in several stages.

Ahmadinejad said that Iran will “continue on this path…until we have produced industrial-level fuel, which we will use in our power plants.”

A Department of State official confirmed press reports April 25 that Iran is also preparing to operate two additional 164-centrifuge cascades.

Aghazadeh said that Iran plans to install 3,000 centrifuges by April 2007. Stephen Rademaker, acting assistant secretary of state for security and nonproliferation issues, claimed on April 12 that such a plant would enable Iran to produce enough HEU for a nuclear weapon within 271 days.

Moreover, an April 13 speech by Ahmadinejad focused renewed attention on Iran’s P-2 centrifuge program, one of the most contentious unresolved nuclear issues. Ahmadinejad reportedly said that Iran is “presently conducting research” on such a centrifuge, a statement suggesting that Tehran has conducted undisclosed work on the program.

The United States has long suspected that Iran has a secret program to develop a P-2 centrifuge, which is more advanced than the P-1 centrifuges Iran currently uses, allowing it to produce enriched uranium more quickly.

Iran has told the IAEA that it previously conducted research on P-2 centrifuges but stopped in 2003. Apparently contradicting Ahmadinejad, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamidreza Asefi told reporters April 23 that Iran is not conducting P-2 research. The IAEA has not yet been able to verify Iran’s accounts of its previous P-2 research.

Despite Iran’s recently announced achievements, however, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told a Washington audience April 20 that the U.S. intelligence community continues to estimate that Iran will not have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon for at least a “number of years…perhaps into the next decade.”

Other Confidence-Building Setbacks

Other Security Council requests also apparently went unheeded. In addition to calling for an enrichment suspension, the March 29 statement had urged Tehran to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program by cooperating with the IAEA and implementing several measures called for in a February 2006 IAEA resolution. (See ACT, April 2006.)

The IAEA board had urged Tehran to reconsider its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor and had called on Iran to allow IAEA inspectors greater authority to investigate questionable nuclear activities on its territory.

Nonetheless, Aghazadeh said April 11 that Iran has continued construction of its heavy-water reactor and would begin operating it sooner than previously anticipated. Aghazadeh said the reactor would be commissioned by the end of 2009; Tehran had previously told the IAEA that the reactor would begin operating in 2014. Iran has begun producing heavy water at a production plant located at the same site, he added.

The IAEA is concerned that Iran may intend to use the heavy-water reactor under construction to produce plutonium for fissile material from its spent fuel.

Iran has also not agreed to ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement or to resume voluntarily abiding by its provisions. Safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the IAEA to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes.

Additional protocols, based on the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including by inspecting facilities that have not been declared to the IAEA. Tehran has signed such a protocol but stopped adhering to the protocol in February 2006. Subsequently, Iran has reduced the agency’s access to its nuclear-related facilities. (See ACT, March 2006.) But Iran’s deputy secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for Strategic Affairs, Ali Hosseini-Tash, said Tehran is willing to ratify the protocol “under appropriate circumstances,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported April 22. He did not elaborate.

The IAEA’s reduced access leaves the international community without a key source of information regarding Iran’s nuclear program. For example, agency inspectors cannot inspect workshops where Iran is suspected of conducting secret centrifuge work.

This loss of information comes at a time when U.S. intelligence regarding Iran’s nuclear program is weak. The State Department official said that Washington has “no hard evidence” to give to the IAEA that Iran is pursuing undeclared nuclear activities.

Moreover, ElBaradei reported to the IAEA board in late February that Tehran’s laggard cooperation with the agency left the agency unable to determine whether Iran has “undeclared nuclear materials or activities.”

The IAEA board has also called on Iran to take other actions beyond those required by its safeguards agreement, such as providing IAEA inspectors with access to certain military facilities and government officials, in order to resolve a number of questions about Iran’s nuclear programs. (See ACT, April 2006.)

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, told reporters the day after an April 13 meeting with ElBaradei that Tehran would “discuss and solve” the remaining outstanding issues, IRNA reported. But there is no indication that Iran has done so.

Security Council Split

The permanent members of the Security Council continue debating the proper response to Iran’s failure to heed their call. The United States, France, and the United Kingdom advocate an approach that would gradually ratchet up pressure on Iran, including the possibility of future sanctions designed to target the Iranian leadership. Russia and China have favored a more cautious pace and a greater role for the IAEA.

As a next step, British, French, and U.S. officials have indicated that they support passage of a Security Council resolution making Iran’s compliance with the February IAEA resolution mandatory. The resolution would invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the Security Council to take punitive action, such as imposing sanctions or using military force, against offending countries “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

For their part, Moscow and Beijing have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of sanctions and have also been resistant to invoke Chapter VII. A Russian diplomat indicated during an April 27 interview with Arms Control Today that Moscow does not want a resolution that would give Washington a pretext to take military action against Iran (See "Reports Grow That U.S. Plots Strike Against Iran").

In addition to its UN diplomacy, the Bush administration has been encouraging other governments to increase pressure on Tehran unilaterally, for example, by halting exports of weapons and dual-use items to Iran.

Additionally, the State Department official confirmed April 25 that Washington is attempting to persuade Japanese and European banks to halt financial transactions with Iranian entities. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told reporters April 21 that he had discussed similar measures with several Persian Gulf countries.

Russia may also be exercising its leverage on Iran, albeit more subtly. A senior European official and the State Department official told Arms Control Today that they believe Moscow is pressuring Tehran by slowing work on a nuclear power reactor Russia is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Press reports have indicated that work on the reactor has slowed, but Russia has not explicitly linked the project’s pace to Iran’s IAEA compliance.

Anatomy of a Stalemate

The Security Council and Iran are at loggerheads partly because both believe that making concessions will weaken their negotiating positions.

Despite its defiance, Tehran has said it is willing to reach a negotiated solution to the dispute but will not do so “under pressure.” For its part, Washington argues that isolating Iran will induce it to comply with the council’s demands.

One reason for Iran’s intransigence, an Iranian diplomat told Arms Control Today April 19, is Tehran’s skepticism of the Bush administration’s willingness to negotiate a solution to the nuclear issue. Explaining that Tehran views Washington as driving the Security Council’s actions, the diplomat added that Iran suspects the United States of using the nuclear issue as a pretext for increasing international pressure on the Iranian regime.

The Bush administration has indicated that it is pursuing a policy to build up democratic opposition to Iran’s Islamic regime and also frequently criticizes the government about non-nuclear matters, such as its support for terrorist organizations. (See ACT, April 2006.)

Tehran has refused to comply with the council’s demands for fear that Washington will view any compromise as a sign of weakness and attempt to extract more concessions, the diplomat added.

A 2004 speech to high-ranking Iranian officials by then-secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Hassan Rowhani suggests an additional explanation for Iran’s diplomatic tactics. Attaining the ability to enrich uranium could enable Iran to overcome international opposition to its enrichment program, he argued, adding that the international community ultimately accepted Brazil’s nuclear fuel program after initial opposition.

Iran’s Compromise?

Iran has discussed what it termed as compromise proposals with its European interlocutors. For example, Tehran has stated its willingness to negotiate limits to industrial-scale enrichment. Larijani indicated in early March that Iran is also willing to negotiate limits to its research activities.

But both Iran’s refusal to suspend its current enrichment research and insistence on retaining at least a small centrifuge plant continue to meet with resistance. Iran’s European interlocutors maintain that they will not resume negotiations unless Tehran suspends all of its enrichment-related activities.

Predictably, the Europeans rejected an Iranian proposal presented during an April 20 meeting in Moscow. A State Department official familiar with the meeting confirmed reports that Iran proposed to implement a “technical pause” of its enrichment program while resuming long-term negotiations over larger-scale enrichment. Tehran, however, said it would continue to operate its completed cascade and only suspend work on the two cascades under construction.

Iran has also been discussing a related proposal with Russia, but the two sides seem no closer to reaching an agreement. Moscow has proposed allowing Tehran to own 49 percent of a centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. (See ACT, December 2005).

Asefi said April 23 that the proposal remains “on the table.” But Iran’s insistence on having its own centrifuge plant has also been a point of contention with Russia. According to the proposal, enrichment would take place in Russia, and Iran would have no access to the centrifuge technology.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki described another possible multilateral solution in a March 30 speech to the Conference on Disarmament. Mottaki argued for the establishment of regional enrichment consortiums to be jointly operated under IAEA safeguards by regional participants. Countries from outside the region could also participate, he said. Ahmadinejad has previously suggested that other countries could invest in Iranian enrichment facilities.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.


Tehran Tests Missiles

Wade Boese

Amid growing international pressure and tension surrounding its nuclear program, Iran conducted several missile tests as part of a week-long military exercise ending April 6.

Dubbed variously by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as the Holy Prophet or Great Prophet of Islam war game, the exercise appeared to be aimed at bolstering domestic resolve and warding off foreign military attacks. “We hope the trans-regional powers have got the message of the war game,” Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said on the exercise’s final day, IRNA reported.

Iran claimed the maneuvers showcased some new military capabilities, including a torpedo, an air-to-surface anti-ship missile, and a surface-to-sea anti-ship missile. Iranian officials also boasted that these weapons systems were indigenously produced.

Both assertions were disputed to some extent by a Department of State official interviewed April 20 by Arms Control Today. Although acknowledging that “there is a lot we do not know,” the official said that the U.S. government is “not sure we are seeing anything new, particularly regarding the torpedo.”

The official noted that the Iranian torpedo appeared similar to the Russian Shkval torpedo, which is an observation shared by other press reports citing anonymous Western intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts. However, the degree to which Russia might have assisted the program is unclear, and there is speculation that Kyrgyzstan may somehow be involved. Kyrgyzstan’s embassy in Washington, D.C., denied this implication, stating in an April 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today that Kyrgyzstan “never assisted” Iran with torpedoes.

Some of the other “new” Iranian systems are widely reported as closely resembling Chinese missiles. The Bush administration has sanctioned Chinese entities more than 50 times for alleged proliferation transactions with Iran or Iranian entities. Washington also has imposed penalties five separate times on Chinese entities for missile-related activities, although the recipients were not specified.

Even though the Iranian missiles may not be indigenous or wholly new, Washington still condemned the tests. State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli said April 3 that they constituted “a further reminder of an aggressive program of…development and deployment of weapons systems that many of us see as threatening.”




Iran: Breaking the Cycle of Escalation

Daryl G. Kimball

Since talks between Iran and three leading European states fell apart last August, the impasse over Iran's nuclear program has steadily worsened. Each time Washington and its European partners ratchet up international pressure on Iran to slow its nuclear efforts and provide greater transparency, Tehran has pushed back and accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, which could eventually be used to produce bomb-grade material.

Consequently, the main antagonists are moving further away from the diplomatic solution both say they want. As a result, we may eventually see a military confrontation, a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, or both. If such perilous outcomes are to be averted, Washington and Tehran need to engage in direct talks aimed at a grand bargain that addresses each of their concerns.

Last month, in defiance of a UN Security Council statement calling for an immediate suspension of all enrichment activities, Iran announced that it had produced a small quantity of reactor-grade uranium using a test assembly of centrifuges and said it plans to expand the facility's production capacity for "peaceful" purposes.

In response, the United States is calling for "strong steps" to force Tehran to abandon its uranium-enrichment program. U.S. officials say they want a Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would designate Iran's nuclear program as a threat to international security.

Bush administration officials say they favor a diplomatic solution even as they seek to build support for multilateral sanctions and refuse to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive strikes on Iran's underground nuclear complex. Iran's leaders also say they are ready to hold further talks with the Europeans and Russians but have so far been unwilling to accept European offers of economic incentives and assurances of nuclear fuel supplies. If pressured further, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hinted that Iran might withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Virtually all other states are alarmed by Iran's violation of its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and refusal to exercise restraint. But Security Council members, including veto-wielding China and Russia, are understandably wary of a Chapter VII resolution because it would create a trip wire for sanctions or military strikes against Iran's underground facilities. This is the same formula pursued by the same U.S. administration in preparation for its imprudent 2003 invasion of Iraq. As a consequence, the council is divided on what to do next.

Avoiding a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is a vital objective for many reasons. If Iran develops a full-blown enrichment capacity, let alone nuclear weapons, several other key states, including Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, might feel compelled to follow suit. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability may also embolden radical groups supported by Tehran.

However, Iran has not mastered uranium-enrichment technology and will not likely be able to amass enough fissile material for bombs for several years. There is sufficient time to adopt and pursue a new diplomatic approach that can break the current cycle of crisis escalation.

Avoiding the worst requires that the United States and Iran engage in direct talks on the nuclear question and take the other's security concerns seriously. Iran's leaders need to accept that the only way to establish confidence that their once-secret nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes is to suspend enrichment work for a substantial period and cooperate fully with international inspectors.

U.S. allies must also press the Bush administration to rule out pre-emptive military action as long as Iran does not openly pursue nuclear weapons development or support attacks of any kind on the United States or our allies in the region. Pre-emptive attacks could spark a wider war and incite Iranian-supported terrorism against U.S. interests. Such strikes would only delay Iran's nuclear program and tilt Iranian opinion in favor of building nuclear weapons.

Given the stakes, Western states, along with Russia, must fortify their previous offers of economic trade and integration, as well as legally binding nuclear fuel supply guarantees and a joint nuclear fuel production partnership in Russia. Russia and other states must also hold off further assistance for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr reactor project and Iran's military forces.

As President George H. W. Bush did 15 years ago, leading states should also convene talks on a framework for arms control and stability that aims to curb the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East. The effort should be designed to establish a regional, verifiable ban on the production and acquisition of weapons-usable nuclear material and the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, including both Israel and Iran.

The current Bush-Cheney vision may be too limited to see the value of these steps. But the administration's strategy of incremental coercive diplomacy is not working and may in fact be an exercise designed to fail. Either way, the stakes are too high not to pursue a new and more effective diplomatic strategy.


U.S. Shifts Policy on Iran

Matt Dupuis

In addition to pushing for increased multilateral efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program, the United States has taken several unilateral and bilateral measures recently to adjust its relationship with Tehran.

The measures include stepped-up efforts to build a democratic opposition to Iran’s Islamic regime, direct talks with Tehran about its activities in Iraq, and congressional efforts to further tighten U.S. sanctions on those who might aid Iran.

How well these policy strands will work together is not clear. For example, as a Department of State official involved in ongoing diplomacy acknowledged March 17, the administration’s challenge is, “Can we come up with something clever enough to support two aims: one, get Iran to make a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons program and two, help bring leadership change and democracy to Iran.”

But the most dramatic step might be the recent agreement by the two countries to participate in bilateral talks about Iraq. Following U.S. requests for such talks, Iran announced on March 16 that it would be willing to participate. A date for the talks has not yet been set.

The United States has sought to end what it terms Iranian interference in Iraq’s political affairs, including its belief that Tehran is pro viding components used in improvised explosive devices found in Iraq and employed by insurgents fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said March 17 that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been authorized for “some time…to meet with his Iranian counterpart if he believes that it would be useful to do so,” a policy that dates back to Khalilzad’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

But U.S. officials, including Rice and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, have insisted that the talks will be restricted to that subject and not venture into the nuclear realm. Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, agreed to those conditions in announcing Iran’s acceptance of the talks, and the talks were later publicly endorsed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.

Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, March 16 explained the administration’s rationale for limiting the talks to Iraq. Hadley said that in Iran “there is beginning to be a debate within the leadership, and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people, about whether the course they are on is the right course for the good of their country. That has only come about because they have heard a coordinated message from the international community. It has been difficult to hold together; it has taken a lot of time.

“And I think when you talk about saying, well, let’s have bilateral diplomatic contacts, you have to ask yourself whether that is going to serve the overall interests or is in fact going to break the international consensus and suggest to Iran that they have an alternative way, other than responding to the demands of the international community,” Hadley added on the nuclear issue.

Other U.S. Policy Moves

However, in a two-part Feb. 27 interview with TIME magazine, Larijani did not rule out directly meeting with the United States on the nuclear issue.

“We have no problems in negotiating on nuclear issues, and also issues of interest to Muslims, things that will bring calm to the region, provided that they are honest and that Mr. Bush does not harangue us. To us, negotiations are not the end. If the aim is clear, then this means can be used too,” Larijani said.

The announcement came against a backdrop of other U.S. policy moves, including veiled threats of military force and ambiguous statements about whether the United States favors a regime change policy in Iran.

Hadley’s remarks, for example, came after a speech in which he released the administration’s newest National Security Strategy. That document, which updates a similar Bush administration document, reaffirms the pre-emptive use of military force as an option in pre venting attacks with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. It also says that, with Iran, diplomacy “must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided” and says that the United States “may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran.”

U.S. officials have also said that their disputes with Iran go be yond resolving the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors vis-à-vis its nuclear program. Other long-standing U.S concerns include Iran’s alleged support for terrorism, its opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its alleged violations of human rights.

In that light, Rice made another policy departure in Feb. 15 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She announced that the administration would ask Congress for $75 mil lion in current-year supplemental funds for democracy promotion inside Iran , with $15 million to support “civic education,” $5 million for sponsoring Iranian student visits to the United States, and $5 million for media efforts to reach people in Iran. The remaining $50 million is to be used to increase U.S. broadcasting efforts inside Iran , likely through Radio Farda. Radio Farda is the broadcast through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that began transmitting into Iran in October 1998 and was renamed in December 2002.

Rice also said the administration planned future funding boosts “to increase our support for the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people as we identify worthy initiatives.” Bush has previously given rhetorical support to such efforts but little funding.

The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on March 13 that the Iranian Foreign Ministry forwarded a letter to the Swiss embassy in Tehran protesting the funds for democracy promotion. The letter reportedly called the move “provocative and interference in Iran’s internal affairs.”

Nonetheless, U.S. lawmakers indicated support for such measures in legislation approved by the House International Relations Committee March 15 on a 37-3 vote. The measure is also aimed at curbing progress in Iran’s nuclear program by updating the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. That law was revised in 2001 and is set to expire later this year. (See ACT, September 2001.) It requires the United States to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million per year in Iranian oil or gas development. No sanctions have ever taken effect under it, however, despite major violations by French, Italian, Malaysian, and Russian entities because of diplomatic opposition to such “secondary sanctions.”

The current legislation would allow for imposing sanctions, at the president’s determination, on any person that exports, transfers, or provides to Iran “any goods, services, technology, or other items” that knowingly aid the ability of Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction or “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.”

It also urges the administration “to work to secure support at the United Nations Security Council for a resolution” to impose sanctions on Iran “as a result of its repeated breaches of its nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The bill is to remain in effect until Iran has verifiably dismantled its suspected “weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The committee-passed bill includes measures that tighten the application of existing sanctions. In particular, congressional aides said that it seeks to force the executive branch to investigate credible reports of sanctionable activities. The law requires that the president issue a sanctions determination within one year of receiving such a report and clear a two-year backlog of such investigations. It seeks to broaden the net of firms covered by these activities to institutions such as insurers, underwriters, or guarantors who knowingly help finance any investments as well as to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms. It also encourages U.S. pension funds and mutual funds to divest from foreign companies investing in Iran’s petroleum sector.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, said persuasion will not work with Iran. “We can only hope to inflict such severe economic pain on Tehran that it would starve the leadership of the resources they need to fund a costly nuclear program,” he said .

However, the administration has not fully embraced the measure. In testimony on March 8 before the House panel, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns raised concerns that some provisions in the bill might strain relations with close U.S. allies whose help the United States will need to change Iran’s behavior.


Iran's Nuclear Efforts, Capabilities Still Murky

Paul Kerr

Even as the UN Security Council has begun considering potential responses to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Tehran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions remain shrouded in ambiguity.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not “in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,” Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in a Feb. 27 report to the agency’s Board of Governors.

Largely because of Iran’s lack of full cooperation with the investigation, the report adds, there remain “uncertainties related to the scope and nature” of Iran’s nuclear efforts, particularly its uranium-enrichment program. An IAEA investigation, which began more than three years ago, has discovered a variety of clandestine Iranian nuclear activities, some of which violate the country’s safeguards agreement with the agency. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the IAEA to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not used for military purposes.

Iran ’s secret nuclear activities, laggard cooperation with the IAEA, and evidence of military ties to its ostensibly peaceful nuclear program have fueled concerns that Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, the evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program remains largely circumstantial. The IAEA has not recently discovered evidence of any undeclared Iranian nuclear programs. There is also no direct evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials, however, continue to insist that Iran is intent on acquiring such weapons, although they acknowledge that it would take Tehran some time to do so, even if the programs continue.

Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the House International Relations Commit tee March 8 that the U.S. intelligence community estimates Iran to be approximately five to 10 years away from a nuclear weapons capability, a time frame consistent with previously reported U.S. estimates. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Joseph explained that Iran faces technical obstacles to developing its uranium- enrichment program but has the ability to overcome those problems over time. Washington, however, may not have a good sense of how much longer Iran needs, he said, adding that several “wildcards,” including potential assistance from foreign entities, could “accelerate that timeline.”

Uranium-Enrichment Program

U.S. officials’ most immediate concern is Tehran ’s development of a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. They can produce both low-enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear power reactors, and highly enriched uranium, which can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors and as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Iran has a pilot centrifuge facility and is constructing a much larger commercial facility. Tehran has told the IAEA that the pilot and commercial facilities will eventually contain approximately 1,000 and 50,000 centrifuges, respectively.

Although Iran has made progress on its enrichment program during the past several months, its ability to produce centrifuges currently appears to be limited. Iran has told the IAEA that it plans to install 3,000 centrifuges in the commercial facility beginning in the last quarter of this year. But a Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 17 that Washington is uncertain that Iran will be able to manufacture enough centrifuge components in time. In addition, Iran is still dependent on foreign suppliers for some key components, the official said.

A diplomatic source had previously indicated that Tehran can build large numbers of P-1 centrifuges but not enough to meet the commercial centrifuge facility’s planned capacity. Tehran lacks the expertise to pro duce more advanced P-2 centrifuges, the source said. (See ACT, March 2006).

Tehran resumed work on the conversion facility in August 2005 and began work on the centrifuge program several months later. Iran had agreed to suspend the program in November 2004 as part of an agreement governing Tehran’s negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom . Tehran terminated the suspension completely in February.

According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran has begun testing both a 10-centrifuge cascade and a 20-centrifuge cascade in the pilot facility. Only the 10-centrifuge cascade tests have involved uranium hexafluoride.

The pilot facility also contains a cascade of 164 centrifuges that Iran has never operated with nuclear material, according to the IAEA. Learning to operate cascades with at least that number of centrifuges is considered critical in developing the skills necessary to operate larger cascades, the State Department official said.

A diplomatic source in Vienna indicated to Arms Control Today in February that Iran is “months away” from producing enriched uranium. Asked about press reports that Tehran is on the verge of operating the cascade, the source said March 22 that Iran “is not there yet.”

Iran also has a uranium-conversion facility, which converts lightly processed uranium ore into several compounds, including uranium tetrafluoride and uranium hexafluoride.

Iran has had difficulty producing uranium hexafluoride of sufficient purity, but its con version capabilities appear to be improving, said both the Vienna diplomat and the State Department official. Uranium hexafluoride with high levels of contaminants can corrode centrifuges when used as feedstock.

The United States assesses that Iran’s uranium hexafluoride is now of high enough quality that it will not damage the centrifuge, the State Department source said.

ElBaradei reported that Iran’s current uranium-conversion “campaign,” which began last November, is scheduled to end this month. Iran has produced about 85 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride since September 2005.

Centrifuge Acquisitions

ElBaradei reported that the IAEA has not yet been able to verify the “correctness and completeness” of Iran’s statements regarding its P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programs.

Iran acquired its centrifuge materials and equipment in the 1980s and 1990s from a clandestine supply network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, then a high-level Pakistani nuclear official.

Tehran has provided the IAEA with some information regarding these acquisitions as well as related offers from foreign suppliers, but it has not been fully forthcoming.

ElBaradei reported that Iran clarified during a February meeting some information regarding its P-1 procurement efforts. But the agency still thinks, partly because of information provided by members of the network, that Iran may be withholding relevant documentation and other information about its centrifuge acquisitions. The agency is concerned that Tehran may have conducted undisclosed work on both types of centrifuges and may also have an ongoing clandestine centrifuge program.


The IAEA appears to have found more evidence that calls into question Tehran’s past claims regarding experiments to separate plutonium, which can also be used as fissile material. Iran has in the past misled the agency about the duration of its experiments, but the new evidence suggests that Iran may have separated more plutonium that it had previously acknowledged.

Iran allowed the IAEA to take samples of the plutonium solution produced in a Tehran research reactor and also provided the agency with plutonium disks Tehran said were produced from the solution.

According to ElBaradei’s report, the IAEA has determined that the isotopic composition of the disks differs from the isotopic composition of the solution. This discrepancy suggests that the disks were made with plutonium that Iran has not disclosed to the IAEA, the State Department official said.

Iran has provided the IAEA with some additional information regarding the matter, which the agency is currently assessing.

The IAEA is concerned that Iran may intend to use a heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak to produce plutonium for fissile material. But Iran does not have a known dedicated plutonium-separation facility and has not announced plans to build one.

Possible Nuclear Weapons Research

Uranium-Casting Document

ElBaradei reported to the IAEA board in November that Iran possesses a document containing instructions for reducing uranium hexafluoride to metal, as well as casting uranium metal into hemispheres. Uranium cast in such a manner is used in explosive cores of nuclear weapons. (See ACT, December 2005.)

ElBaradei noted that “there is no indication” Iran has actually used the information in the document, but he also suggested that Iran may possess additional related documents. The report indicates that the Khan network provided the same document, along with “other similar documents,” to a country now known to be Libya.

According to the State Department official, IAEA Deputy Director-General Olli Heinonen told diplomats March 3 that members of the Khan network revealed that Iran requested the document. Tehran had earlier maintained that its suppliers initiated the document transaction.

Other Possible Military Projects

The IAEA also continues to investigate other possible nuclear weapons-related projects that were described in documents found in an Iranian laptop computer.

IAEA officials met with their Iranian counterparts in January and February to discuss the discovery of documents relating to a “Green Salt Project.” Specifically, the documents disclosed designs for a “small-scale” facility to produce “green salt,” another name for uranium tetrafluoride. A former State Department official confirmed in February that the computer contained designs for a “small-scale” facility to produce green salt. However, Tehran denies that the project exists and has declined to discuss the matter.

The IAEA also is investigating intelligence that Iran has conducted “tests related to high explosives” and has produced a “design of a missile re-entry vehicle.” According to the State Department official, the “tests” refer to evidence also reportedly found on the laptop, which indicates that Iran has conducted research on electronically driven detonators used to ignite conventional explosives at high speeds. This research is applicable for building an implosion-type nuclear device.

Whether and to what extent a re-entry vehicle design would improve Tehran’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon is unclear. A State Department official confirmed information first reported in the March 13 edition of Time magazine describing what U.S. officials believe is an Iranian nuclear-weapon design. The intelligence, which was found on the laptop, describes a sphere about 0.6 meters in diameter with a mass of 200 kilograms.

The former State Department official said that there is insufficient information to determine Iran’s weapons-making capability. But it is generally believed that explosive nuclear tests are required to develop a reliable nuclear warhead of that size. Iran has never conducted such a test.

The IAEA is investigating evidence indicating that some Iranian officials involved in the re-entry vehicle project are also associated with Iran’s nuclear program. For example, the State Department official said that there is a “paper trail” connecting at least one such official with a research center that has been the subject of IAEA scrutiny.

Located at a site called Lavizan-Shian, the Physics Research Center has attracted the agency’s attention because it was involved in nuclear research and had been connected to the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

ElBaradei reported that Iran recently fulfilled a long-standing agency request by allowing IAEA inspectors Feb. 26 to interview the former head of the research center about the center’s efforts to obtain equipment potentially related to uranium enrichment. The IAEA still wishes to interview another official involved in the center’s procurement efforts, his report says.


UN Urges Iran to Halt Enrichment

Paul Kerr

UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Iran

After several weeks of contentious debate, the UN Security Council March 29 adopted a presidential statement calling on Iran to resolve the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) concerns about its nuclear program and to re-suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.

The statement, which is not legally binding, instructs IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report the status of Iran’s compliance both to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council within 30 days. It does not suggest any specific council actions.

According to the Associated Press, Emyr Jones-Parry, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the Security Council, told reporters March 29 that the council “will continue its discussion of this issue and will assume its responsibilities” if Iran fails to comply. But despite this display of consensus, it appears likely that tactical differences among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council will persist for the near future. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States want the council to play a more prominent role in resolving concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear fuel program. Russia and China, however, want the IAEA to remain the main forum for resolving the matter.

Security Council President César Mayoral of Argentina read the statement the day before the foreign ministers of Germany and the five permanent council members met in Berlin to discuss medium- and long-term diplomacy toward Iran. The council statement “notes with serious concern” the conclusions of a Feb. 27 report from ElBaradei to the agency board.

That report said that Iran had failed to resolve a number of “out standing issues” and concerns concerning the country’s nuclear programs, especially its gas centrifuge-based enrichment program. Consequently, the IAEA was unable to “conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,” he added.

The statement calls on Iran to take the steps required by a Feb. 4 IAEA resolution. That resolution requested that ElBaradei report Iran’s case to the Security Council and update the IAEA board on Iran’s compliance before its March 6 meeting. The permanent council members and Germany agreed at the time that the council should wait until after that meeting before deciding on future action.

The resolution also requested that Iran “extend full and prompt cooperation” to the IAEA and reiterated the board’s past demands that Iran implement several confidence-building measures.

These measures included a resumption of Iran’s enrichment suspension, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. The board also urged Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which would provide the IAEA with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including inspecting facilities that have not been declared to the agency. Tehran has signed the protocol, but its parliament has never ratified it.

According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran has made virtually no progress in complying with these requests. Indeed, Iran accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program and stopped voluntarily adhering to its additional protocol. (See ACT, March 2006.)

Echoing the IAEA, the UN statement calls the transparency measures “essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose” of Iran’s nuclear program. It also “underlines” that Tehran should resume “full and sustained suspension” of its uranium-enrichment activities. (See ACT, March 2006.)

Iran had agreed in November 2004 to suspend “all enrichment- related activities” for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But the negotiations ended when, beginning in August 2005, Tehran resumed the enrichment process in several stages. Uranium enrichment can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The permanent council members and Germany have all repeatedly called on Iran to resume the suspension and return to negotiations.

Security Council, IAEA Act

The permanent council members began discussions about the statement shortly after the IAEA board’s March meeting. But it represents the latest step in a months-long diplomatic effort to bring the Iranian nuclear issue before the Security Council.

The board adopted a resolution last September that formally found Iran in “noncompliance” with its agency safeguards agreement but did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council.

Under the IAEA statute, the board is required to notify the Security Council if a member state is found in noncompliance with its agency safeguards agreement. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes.

The March 29 statement was the product of a compromise that reflected Moscow’s and Beijing’s persistent differences with Iran ’s European interlocutors and Washington. Russia and China abstained from the September IAEA vote because they preferred that the issue be resolved within the agency.

France , Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States all support Security Council action as part of a strategy of gradually ratcheting up pressure on Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained during a March 26 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that a unified position will alter Iran’s behavior because it “cannot stand…isolation from the international community.”

During the recent council debate, U.S. and European officials repeatedly said that the statement would not mention any punitive measures. Nevertheless, Russia and China were wary of language they believed could lead to such action against Tehran.

For example, Beijing and Moscow reportedly insisted that the statement not use the phrase “international peace and security” because that same language is in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That chapter allows the council to take punitive action, such as imposing sanctions or using military force, against offending countries “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Additionally, the deadline for ElBaradei’s report was extended from 14 days to 30 days at Russia’s and China’s request.

Russian Diplomacy Falls Through

Russia ’s own diplomatic efforts with Iran have also failed to produce results. Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a gas centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride.

The proposal is an attempt to address Iran’s stated need for an assured nuclear fuel supply while minimizing Tehran’s ability to produce fissile material. Iran and its European interlocutors were unable to reach such an agreement before the talks ended in August 2005.

Russia currently has a fuel supply agreement with Iran for the nuclear power reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia is to supply LEU to the reactor and take the spent fuel back to Russia. (See ACT, April 2005.)

Iran ’s ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, said that the two sides were “agreed on the basics” of a deal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported March 29. But no final agreement has been reached. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told re porters two days earlier that Moscow’s offer “remains on the table.”

The two sides have disagreed about whether Iran should be al lowed to retain a centrifuge facility. Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that Tehran will retain at least a pilot facility, but some have also indicated that the country might be willing to accept limits on its larger facility.

Russian diplomats were reported to have floated a proposal in early March that would have allowed Iran to operate a pilot enrichment facility for research purposes. But Lavrov denied those claims during a March 7 press conference with Rice. France, the United Kingdom , and the United States have all said that Iran should not be allowed to retain even a small centrifuge plant as that could provide Iran with the necessary skills to operate a similar clandestine facility.

Looking Forward

U.S. and European officials have said that, in the event that Tehran continues to defy the IAEA, they will pursue a Security Council resolution making the agency’s demands for confidence-building measures a legal obligation. Iran’s safeguards agreement does not mandate that it comply with such measures. (See ACT, October 2005.)

A British diplomat asserted in a March 16 letter to his French, German, and U.S. counterparts that such a resolution should invoke Chapter 7 in order to signal to Iran that “more serious measures are likely.”

The letter does not specify what these measures might be, but U.S. officials have said that the council’s next step, if necessary, would be to implement sanctions designed to target the Iranian leadership.

China and Russia, however, remain wary of such actions. The letter acknowledges that Beijing and Moscow will not “accept significant sanctions over the coming months.” Indeed, Lavrov indicated during a March 29 press conference that Moscow does not currently support increased council pressure on Iran.

The British letter also stated that the permanent council members and Germany should propose new incentives for Iran to mothball its centrifuge program, but does not elaborate. In August, the country turned down a proposed European package of incentives.

Tehran has continued to demonstrate little willingness to compromise on its enrichment program. Iran’s permanent representative to the UN Mohammad-Javad Zarif told reporters March 29 that Tehran is willing to “find a negotiated solution to the issue” but only if it is allowed to pursue its nuclear program.

Perhaps displaying some flexibility, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated March 25 that Iran may “reconsider implementing” the additional protocol if the Security Council returns Iran’s dossier to the IAEA, IRNA reported.

During a March 30 press conference in Geneva, Mottaki also suggested a “regional consortium” for the production of nuclear fuel as a possible solution to the nuclear dispute, the agency reported. He provided no additional details.


UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Iran

The United Nations Security Council March 29 approved the following statement on Iran’s nuclear program:

The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of states party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.

The Security Council notes with serious concern the many IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports and resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, reported to it by the IAEA director-general (Mohamed ElBaradei), including the February IAEA board resolution (GOV/2006/14);

The Security Council also notes with serious concern that the director general’s report of 27 February 2006 (GOV/2006/15) lists a number of outstanding issues and concerns, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension, and that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.

The Security Council notes with serious concern Iran’s decision to resume enrichment-related activities, including research and development, and to suspend co-operation with the IAEA under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty’s) Additional Protocol.

The Security Council calls upon Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors, notably in the first operative paragraph of its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear program and to resolve outstanding questions, and underlines, in this regard, the particular importance of reestablishing full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.

The Security Council expresses the conviction that such suspension and full, verified Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA Board of Governors would contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, and underlines the willingness of the international community to work positively for such a solution, which will also benefit nuclear nonproliferation elsewhere;

The Security Council strongly supports the role of the IAEA Board of Governors and commends and encourages the director-general of the IAEA and its secretariat for their ongoing professional and impartial efforts to resolve outstanding issues in Iran, and underlines the necessity of the IAEA continuing its work to clarify all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program;

The Security Council requests in 30 days a report from the director- general of the IAEA on the process of Iranian compliance with the steps required by the IAEA Board, to the IAEA Board of Governors and in parallel to the Security Council for its consideration.






Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle

Daryl G. Kimball

Three years after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had secretly built uranium-enrichment facilities, diplomatic opportunities to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are narrowing fast.

To improve the chances for success, U.S. and European leaders must pursue a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy. They must further reduce Iran’s incentives to enrich uranium and motives to acquire the bomb. They also need to strengthen the IAEA’s authority while maintaining broad international support for greater Iranian restraint and compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

In August 2005, Iran rejected inducements by the European Union to suspend its enrichment program and restarted enrichment-related work. That gave IAEA member states little choice but to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements in September and to report Iran’s file to the UN Security Council last month.

Despite the 27-3 IAEA Board of Governors vote, Iran’s leaders seem more determined than ever to proceed with uranium enrichment, which they say is solely for nuclear reactor fuel production but which can also create bomb-grade fissile material. In recent days, Tehran ended its voluntary cooperation with enhanced IAEA inspections and restarted small-scale enrichment experiments in defiance of IAEA member-state requests not to do so.

In response, the United States and the EU, along with Russia and possibly China, are expected to pursue a strategy in the Security Council of targeted political and economic sanctions. By itself, this will not likely induce Iran to suddenly reverse course, let alone stick with a decision to suspend uranium enrichment.

It offers little gain and high costs, but the pursuit of nuclear technology has become a popular rallying cry for Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s leaders are betting they can avoid meaningful penalties or, as India and Pakistan did, wait for international support for nonproliferation-related sanctions to erode.

Although there is no direct evidence of an illegal nuclear weapons program today, neither has the IAEA been able to determine that Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran requires several more years to master the operation of centrifuge cascades and construct a large-scale plant that can produce highly enriched uranium for bombs. It would also take time to develop a bomb capable of delivery on a missile. But if Iran can master enrichment on research scale, Iran could pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program, especially in the absence of intrusive inspections.

To avoid such an outcome, several steps must now be pursued and others avoided. The EU and Russia should redouble their efforts to provide Iran with a face-saving option to continue uranium-enrichment research and get a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel through the managed use of Russian facilities. This approach would not require Iran to disavow its “right” as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to “peaceful” nuclear pursuits.

At the same time, the international community must demonstrate it will respond to Iran’s defiance by strengthening the IAEA’s authority in Iran and elsewhere. The Security Council could adopt a resolution stipulating that if a state is in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, the agency’s verification authority will automatically expand until questions about possible nuclear weapons activity are resolved. The council could also require a noncompliant state to accept permanent, facility-specific IAEA safeguards. This would legally preclude the state from using equipment, facilities, and nuclear material for weapons purposes if it decides to withdraw from the NPT.

Such measures would not only strengthen the NPT but would ensure that IAEA inspections and reports, rather than potentially politically biased national intelligence assessments, serve as the basis for compliance actions. They would also provide noncompliant states a way to demonstrate they have taken corrective steps and help deter states from frivolously withdrawing from the NPT in the future.

Other tactics, such as punitive economic sanctions against a major oil exporter such as Iran, could divide and immobilize the Security Council or else provoke Iranian countermoves and even lead Iran to withdraw from the NPT. Washington-funded “regime change” initiatives will only harden Iranian resistance. The effect of a pre-emptive strike by Israel or the United States on Iran’s nuclear complex would be temporary, provide a rationale for Iran openly to pursue nuclear weapons, and could trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles.

Rather than rushing toward confrontation with an uncertain outcome, the Bush administration must overcome its historic antipathy toward meaningful engagement with Iran. The people of Iran need to see that nuclear restraint and compliance will put Iran on a path toward peace and prosperity. Too much is at stake not to offer a better U.S.-Iranian political relationship, including a mutual nonaggression pledge, which is essential to changing Iranian perceptions that it should retain a nuclear weapons option.

There is no quick fix. Renewed and more creative diplomacy remains the only practical way to resolve the Iranian nuclear puzzle.


Making the Right Call: How the World Can Limit Iran's Nuclear Program

Charles D. Ferguson and Ray Takeyh

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Feb. 4 voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council because of concerns over its nuclear program, the rituals of diplomacy persist. The international community sees the Security Council move as ratcheting up pressure in order to deter Iran from moving closer to potential weapons capability. Yet, the Islamic Republic of Iran is seemingly determined to acquire a sophisticated nuclear infrastructure that will avail it a weapons option at some point in the near future. Whether Iran will actually cross the threshold and assemble nuclear bombs remains debatable, but the notion that Tehran will be deterred from its contemplated course through invocations of threats and perfunctory sanctions seems far-fetched, and military action would likely only prove counterproductive.

Before Tehran achieves mastery of enriching uranium, which would give Iran the potential to make nuclear weapons, Washington and its allies should swallow hard and offer Iran a multilateral dialogue involving the United States that would seriously address Iranian security concerns and provide substantial economic incentives. In exchange, Tehran would have to agree to verifiable restraints on its nuclear program, including a cessation of its uranium-enrichment program. If Iran rejects this generous offer, the United States would then be in a stronger position to form a coalition to enforce tough, multilateral economic sanctions.

Understanding the Nature of the Iranian Regime

From the outset, it must be emphasized that the bewildering array of political fac tions that constitute the Islamic Republic’s governing elite have united on building up the peaceful nuclear program while maintaining the option of crossing the weapons threshold. Contrary to the usual patterns of a polarized Iran, the nuclear issue has transcended the divisions and rivalries within the state and is driven by a national consensus. However, the Islamic Republic is not an irrational rogue seeking the poten tial for such weaponry as an instrument of an aggressive, revolutionary foreign policy designed to project its power abroad. This would not be an “Islamic bomb” to be handed over to terrorist organizations or exploded in the streets of New York City or Washington . For the theocratic oligarchs, this would be a weapon of deterrence, as they seek a means of ensuring regime security and Iran’s territorial integrity.

It is tempting to attribute Iran’s defiant stance to the rise of a new reactionary regime, but the hardening of Iran’s per spective on the nuclear issue predated the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office in August 2005 and has since infuriated the international community with his incendiary denials of the Holocaust. The previous reformist government decided to restart operations at the Isfahan uranium-conversion plant last August and loudly complained that negotiations with France , Germany, and the United Kingdom were proving inadequate. In the end, both reformers and hard-liners arrived at the conclusion that the European diplomacy was ill serving Iran’s interests. After nearly two and a half years of suspension of its program, Iran neither obtained the type of security and economic concessions that North Korea may garner, nor did it generate sustained European opposition to U.S.attempts to coerce and isolate Iran.

Nonetheless, Iran’s nuclear calculations have been somewhat altered by the rise of Ahmadinejad to political power. For the new president and his allies, it is not so much the original revolution that launched the Islamic Republic but the prolonged war with Iraq in the 1980s that has defined their strategic assumptions. Even a cursory examination of Ahmadinejad’s speeches reveals that for him the war is far from a faded memory. In his defiant speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2005, he pointedly admonished the assembled dignitaries for their failings:

For eight years, [Saddam Hussein’s] regime imposed a massive war of aggression against my people. It employed the most heinous weapons of mass destruction [WMD]

including chemical weapons against Iranians and Iraqis alike. Who, in fact, armed Saddam with those weapons? What was the reaction of those who claim to fight against WMDs regarding the use of chemical weapons then?[1]

The international indifference to Hussein’s war crimes and Tehran’s lack of an effective response have led Iran’s war veteran turned president to perceive that the security of his country cannot be predicated on global opinion and international treaties. Moreover, after nearly three decades of acrimony and tension, the younger generation of Iranian hard-liners perceives that conflict with the United States is inevitable and that the only manner of deterring an aggressive United States is through possession of the “strategic weapon.”

Such perceptions were ironically rein forced by the 2003 U.S.-led Iraqi invasion, as the Bush administration’s belief that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons did not deter it from military intervention. The arch-conservative Kayhan newspaper, which acts as the mouthpiece of Ahma dinejad’s government, stressed this point, noting, “All we have to do is look at Iraq to see what happens to a country that cannot defend itself.”[2] Although today the United States may seem entangled in an Iraqi quag mire that tempers its ambitions, for Iran’s rulers, America is still an aggressive state whose power cannot be discounted and whose intentions must not be trusted. Despite their bitterness and cynicism, the theocratic hard-liners are eternal optimists when it comes to how the international community might respond to an Iranian nuclear breakout. Many influential conser vative voices insist that Iran would follow the model of India and Pakistan, namely, that the initial international outcry would soon be followed by acceptance of Iran’s new status. Thus, Tehran would regain its commercial contracts and keep its nuclear weapons. Former Iranian Foreign Minister Akbar Velayati noted this theme when stressing that, “[w]henever we stand firm and defend our righteous stands resolutely, they are forced to retreat and have no alternatives.”[3] The notion of Iran’s mischievous past and its tense relations with the United States militating against the acceptance of its nuclear status by the international community is rejected by the right.

The Bush administration’s discursive nuclear diplomacy has only validated such perceptions. In the aftermath of the Sep tember 11 terrorist attacks, Washington was all too eager to absolve Pakistan of its nuclear sins for sake of its tentative and limited cooperation in the war against ter rorism. This past July, the administration also proposed rewarding and essentially welcoming India to the “nuclear club” with a full civil nuclear cooperation agreement despite New Delhi’s snubbing of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Given these steps, it is difficult to make the case that Washington ’s policy is seriously motivated by preventing proliferation and that the Bush administration is concerned about halting the spread of nuclear technologies.

However, should they be proved wrong and Iran become subject to sanctions, the hard-liners are willing to pay that price for an important national prerogative. Ahmadinejad has pointedly noted that even if sanctions were to be imposed, “the Iranian nation would still have its rights.”[4] In a similar vein, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the Guardian Council, has noted, “We do not welcome sanctions, but if we are threatened by sanctions, we will not give in.”[5]

The notion of the need to sacrifice and struggle on behalf of the revolution and resist imperious inter national demands is an essential tenet of the hard-liners’ ideological perspective.

Still, in Iran’s complex political system the president does not make all the security deci sions, as the ultimate authority rests in the hands of the enigmatic supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a hard-liner himself, Khamenei’s instincts would be to support the reactionary elements in their call for defiance and pursuit of the nuclear option. How ever, in his role as the guardian of the state, he must consider the nuclear program in the context of Iran’s international relations. Thus far, regardless of his ideological compunc tions, Khamenei has opted for restraint. In fact, Iran suspended its nuclear program for more than two years and still continues its commitment to the core components of the NPT. Ahmadinejad’s acceptance of the negotiations despite his campaign rhetoric reflects his willingness to accede to the direction set out by Khamenei.

In such a dynamic and uncertain politi cal environment, the levers of threats or security reassurances that the United States and its allies decide to pull will have a profound effect. Determining what that effect will be, however, can be difficult. Impor tantly, Iranian leaders tend to make their most dramatic changes in policy when their rhetoric is most uncompromising. Ironically, the recent escalation of rhetoric might signal a policy shift soon to come.

Heading to the Brink?

Nevertheless, after everything that has taken place, the one thing that can be assumed with certainty is that Iran is determined to advance its nuclear program and systemati cally reverse its commitments to the Euro pean Union to halt progress in its nuclear program in return for potential economic and security benefits. However, this is not to suggest that Iran will brashly dispense with its NPT obligations and launch a crash pro gram designed to construct nuclear weapons.

The demands of the United States and the European powers exceed the mandates of the NPT. The NPT does offer member states the right to enrich uranium so long as they ad here to the safeguard provisions and openly declare their facilities. Iran’s rejection of its voluntary commitments to the EU, however serious, is not the same as dispensing with the NPT. Iran may be ruled by hard-liners, but it is still a cautious power that will cali brate its moves on the level of international pressure and the conduct of external powers. It is possible that Tehran is testing the limits of what it can do with its nuclear program before the United States and its allies decide to enact meaningful sanctions, or seeking to increase its leverage for future talks.

Nonetheless, the Jan. 10 removal of IAEA seals from Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities, the February IAEA vote, the sub sequent decision by Tehran to suspend its voluntary adherence to the agency’s Model Additional Protocol[6]

and to restart uranium enrichment, as well as tough statements by some Iranian and Western leaders, move all players in this high stakes nuclear game closer to the brink. Stay ing on the current course, there will soon come a point where a real crisis will erupt. Barring a decision by Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities again, the next probable step on the escalation ladder would involve a Security Council resolu tion in March to reinforce the February IAEA resolution that Iran “extend full and prompt cooperation” to the IAEA and “clarify possible activities which could have a military nuclear dimension.”

The United States has staked its reputa tion on sending Iran to the Security Council. The Bush administration favors a strategy that isolates and chastises Iran. This plan hinges on Iran’s desire not to become a pariah. Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear ne gotiator, has recently indicated that Iran is open for talks with the United States,[7] but Washington opposes direct negotiations with the Islamic Republic. At a Feb. 6 news briefing, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph said that the United States has “a number of fundamental problems with this Iranian regime, including terrorism and human rights, and I don’t think it’s now time that we sat down with them.”[8]

The United States refuses to grant diplomatic recognition to Iran and fears that direct talks about the nuclear program would bestow legitimacy on Tehran without addressing Washington’s other concerns.

If the strategy of making Iran into a pariah does not work, what are the next possible steps in the present trajectory? Having painstakingly assembled a coali tion of China, the EU, and Russia, the United States would likely be wary of shattering this fragile consensus. Although the Unit ed States has had sanctions against Iran for decades, the other members of the coali tion have significant economic ties with Iran . In particular, China, as a fast-growing developing nation with a thirst for oil, has cut major oil deals with Tehran. Although Russia ’s construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant has earned the Rus sian nuclear industry close to $1 billion in revenue, Moscow has more widespread economic and political interests at stake in Iran by cultivating it as a potential economic partner as well as a strategic partner, particularly in relation to problems in the Caucasus, such as Chechnya.

Still, faced with a continuing impasse on Iran’s nuclear activities, Washington could try to enlist support for economic sanctions by making the case that bearing this bur den is necessary to stop proliferation. Effective sanctions would have to be multilateral and enforceable and could target exports to Iran and foreign investments.[9]

The most powerful sanction would pull the oil embargo lever. For the time being, in a tight oil-supply market, this sanction appears unlikely to be used because the United States and the EU would not want to risk a substantial increase in the price of gasoline. If employed, however, such a sanction would cut both ways. Iran relies heavily on money from oil exports. The Iranian economy appears ill prepared to handle a blow dealt to this sector. A more targeted and smarter type of oil sanction would focus on Iranian gasoline imports. Because Iran is lacking in gasoline refining capacity, it imports more than 40 percent of its gasoline. The Iranian government also heavily subsidizes the price of gasoline so that consumers pay much less at the pump than they would without the subsidies.

Conventional thinking is that Russia and China, as veto-wielding members of the Security Council, have little or no appetite for sanctions. The United States would likely have to bargain with these countries to win their support.

Russia might be swayed by an incentives package that gave it a long-desired agreement for cooperation concerning the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Such an agreement could pave the way for Russia to receive U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel from various countries for storage. Russia hopes to earn billions of dollars from offering this service. Moreover, this agreement could help President Vladimir Putin achieve his plans to transform the Russian nuclear in dustry into one of the world’s leaders in fuel and reactor services. Furthermore, an embargo of Iranian oil leading to higher prices could provide a windfall for Russia, a major oil exporter. Still, Moscow would likely resist imposing tough sanctions because it would want to preserve close commercial contacts with Iran even if Tehran crosses the nuclear weapons threshold.

Having China agree to sanctions seems a much tougher task than reaching agreement with Russia. China would most likely abstain when faced with a Security Council vote on sanctions, but it would have to be prepared to accept a council decision to impose them. China’s support, acquiescence, or opposition would depend strongly on whether the sanctions would significantly harm its economy.

If the credible threat or actual imposition of sanctions does not convince Iran to sus pend its sensitive nuclear activities again, the next step on the escalation ladder could be the use of military force against Iran’s nucle ar facilities, but this option is fraught with considerable risk. Having learned an impor tant lesson from Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq ’s Osiraq reactor, Tehran has dispersed its many nuclear facilities. It has also hardened and partially buried some of the most critical facilities, such as the commercial-scale ura nium-enrichment plant under development at Natanz. Another complicating factor is finding out where all the facilities are located. Moreover, assembling a coalition of the willing currently appears extremely difficult to do, especially when the United Kingdom, the closest U.S. ally, has all but ruled out the military option for the near term.

A military strike could try to destroy or degrade Iran’s nuclear program. Short of an all-out invasion, destroying the program appears extremely far-fetched. By contrast, degrading the program would be relatively straightforward but might not accomplish the ultimate aim of preventing a nuclear- armed Iran. Some bombs detonated, for example, on the enrichment facilities at Natanz would hamper Iran’s program. Likewise, some analysts have contemplated using sabotage and assassination as tools to slow Iran’s nuclear endeavors.[10]

Delaying the onset of a potential weap ons program by years might be possible if enough damage is inflicted on Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, there is an equal and perhaps greater likelihood that this attack could motivate Iran to accelerate its nuclear program. Also, if Tehran had not already decided to build nuclear weapons, an attack would probably compel it to do so. Further more, Iran would almost certainly not feel restrained to stay within the NPT and would kick out IAEA inspectors. The United States and its allies would then confront a black box similar to what they experienced after UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in late 1998. In the Iraqi situation, the absence of inspec tors over a four-year period of time fostered worst-case thinking and fears that Hussein had resurrected his nuclear program. Those fears were partially behind the U.S.-led inva sion in March 2003. Three years later, the United States remains bogged down in Iraq with no clear endpoint in sight.

Time for a New Approach

Even if sanctions were employed or a military strike launched, the underlying motivations for an Iranian nuclear program would not have been addressed. Iranian thinking on the nuclear issue is shaped by external security concerns and internal politics. In the first set of factors, Teh ran perceives threats from neighboring countries. Some observers have quipped that only Canada, Mexico, and Iran share extensive borders with the United States. Iranians see U.S. forces to the east in Afghanistan and to the west in Iraq. Iran also is located in a nuclear-armed neighborhood, with Israel, Pakistan, and Russia as well as China and India nearby.

In the second set of factors, pride and prestige influence Iranians in wanting fully to exercise their right to a nuclear program. Creating an indigenous nuclear industry could be perceived as a crowning achieve ment in a long history of Persian scientific accomplishments. The Iranian government has also made the nuclear program a major nationalist issue. It is inconceivable that an Iranian politician could run for office on a platform to negotiate away completely Iran ’s ability to exercise its right to have an indigenous nuclear program.

Consequently, the need for a new ap proach to resolve the current impasse is urgent, taking into account Iranian perceptions of its security as well as pride about its nuclear program. This approach should address Iran’s security concerns. Successfully doing so would tend to undercut much but not all of the rationale for a nuclear weapons program.

To alleviate Iran’s fears of regime change imposed by the United States, President George W. Bush could pledge not to attack Iran as long as it did not acquire nuclear weapons or the capability to make those weapons. The administration, of course, would also want to keep open the option of militarily responding to an Iranian attack or a terrorist incident initiated by Tehran. As a further security assurance, Washington could offer to engage in talks about security concerns contingent on Iran meeting the conditions spelled out in the February IAEA resolution, such as ratifying and implement ing an additional protocol, indefinitely suspending its uranium-enrichment activities, and reconsidering its work on a heavy-water research reactor that could make plutonium.

Although the United States currently opposes direct negotiations with Iran, the odious nature of a “rogue” regime did not stop Washington from negotiating an agreement with Tripoli to disarm its nu clear and chemical. The Libyan model of disarmament can be described as “tyranny without weapons of mass destruction,” with Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gaddafi remaining in power. Similarly, the United States has embraced the six-party talks with North Korea to work toward a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. In the September 2005 round of talks, “the United States affirmed that it…has no intention to attack or invade [ North Korea] with nuclear or conventional weapons.”[11] A comprehensive security-assurances approach should address the concern in the Middle East about Israel’s nuclear weap ons. The time may be right to convince Israel to move toward greater transparency of its nuclear infrastructure. Israel could seize the opportunity presented by the plutonium production reactor at Dimona nearing its end of life. As a first step toward openness, Israel could announce that it will suspend operations at Dimona and place it under IAEA monitoring. A further step could involve Israel announcing that it is prepared to place some or all of its plutonium under watch by a nuclear-weapon state such as the United States. However, Israel would only carry out this activity once it is assured that other regional states, such as Egypt and Iran, would suspend work at their nuclear facilities, which can produce enough fissile material for one or more bombs every one to three years.[12]

These steps could build confidence to move toward a comprehensive nuclear- weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Nota bly, the February IAEA resolution recognizes “that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.”

From the perspective of the United States , it would be ideal to convince Iran to stop or at least suspend development of its nuclear program before it masters the key technologies to make nuclear-weapon materials. Such mastery could occur sooner than some recent assessments indicate. Last year, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Iran may be up to 10 years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.[13]

As Israeli officials have stressed, however, there are intermediate barriers that if crossed would likely constitute a technical point of no return, allowing Iran to enrich enough uranium to make its own weapon. Until now, Iran reportedly has been struggling to solve problems with both its uranium-conversion and -enrichment plants. The conversion plant has been producing uranium hexafluoride gas with too high a concentration of chemi cal contaminants, especially molybdenum. Uranium hexafluoride is the gas that is fed into the enrichment plant either to make low- enriched uranium for reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons. U.S. technical experts assess that Iran would prob ably need months of independent work to produce clean uranium hexafluoride.[14]

Yet, if Iran received outside assistance, it could solve the impurity problem much faster. Moscow , for instance, has offered to enrich Iran ’s uranium in order to provide Tehran with reactor fuel. Although the details of the potential deal remain uncertain, one variant of the deal would allow Iran to convert ura nium into uranium hexafluoride. To ensure quality fuel is produced, Russia would have an incentive to aid Iran’s uranium-conversion program. Such assistance would unintentionally remove one of the main barriers to Iran’s mastery of uranium enrichment. Another worrisome aspect of a potential Russian deal could involve allowing Iran to continue research on enrichment. Regardless of any agreement with Moscow, however, Iranian officials have made clear that they are deter mined to pursue uranium enrichment.

The Way Forward

Can the Iranian nuclear Gordian knot be cut? We see three options to break through the current impasse.

1) Accept an Iranian nuclear program involving research-level uranium enrichment but try to offer Iran incentives not to develop an industrial-scale enrichment plant.

2) Keep ratcheting up the pressure on Iran and attempt to form a coalition that will enforce multilateral economic sanctions.

3) Create a security dialogue with Iran to lessen the perceived need for nuclear weapons.

The first option could keep Iran in a stra tegically ambiguous position and would worrisomely allow Iran to master weapons- usable nuclear technologies. This is presently unacceptable to the United States. If either increased incentives or increased disincen tives do not work, however, the international community would be stuck with Iran for the coming years moving ahead with its enrichment program. Then, perhaps the best way to contain the program would be to keep Iran inside the NPT with additional pro tocol inspections and to provide rigorous fuel as surances from trusted outside vendors to undercut the perceived need for an in dus trial scale plant, which could, in principle, make enough HEU for about two dozen bombs annually.

At this point, though, the third option is preferred because it holds the most prom ise for producing a long-term solution. The security dialogue would involve seven parties: China, France, Germany, Iran, Rus sia , the United Kingdom, and the United States . The seven-party format would provide the Bush administration with enough political cover so that it could state publicly that it has not bestowed formal diplomatic recognition on the Islamic Republic. This would be similar to the stance Washington has taken vis-à-vis Pyongyang in the six-party talks.

Along with security assurances and confidence-building measures, these talks could offer Iran nuclear fuel guarantees that could place the fuel with a trusted third party. Fuel assurances alone, how ever, would not be enough incentive to convince Tehran to suspend its uranium- enrichment program. In addition, the talks should provide Iran with tangible economic incentives designed to help its ailing economy. Furthermore, Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technologies should be recognized. However, in return, Tehran would have to agree to cease its enrichment activities as well as other work that could lead to production of weapons-us able fissile material. In addition, Iran would need to ratify and implement an additional protocol to help provide verifiable evidence that these activities have been suspended.

If Iran rejects this concerted diplo matic effort, then the United States would have an easier time reaching a consensus through the United Nations to enact tough multilateral sanctions. Examining the past history of countries that have renounced nuclear weapons or potential weapons programs, the predominant theme is that these renunciations took place only after those countries experienced a substantial lessening of external threats.


Tehran’s Point Man: An Interview With Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh

On Jan. 23, Oliver Meier, the Arms Control Association’s international representative and correspondent, talked to Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh about the escalating confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. Soltanieh became Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in January. A physicist by training, he had previously served in the same position from 1980 to 1997. The interview took place soon after Iran restarted research and development into enriching uranium, a move that prompted the IAEA Board of Governors Feb. 4 to report Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council.

ACT: Can I start off by asking you why Iran has chosen to resume work on centrifuges and the operation of the pilot uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz[1] now?

Soltanieh : You should not ask me why now, you should ask me why so late? We [waited] because we wanted to prove our good intentions to the international community and to [our] European friends. When we were negotiating in Paris,[2] we were optimists. They promised us that if we would extend our cooperative suspension [of enrichment-related activities] to cover also research and the UCF [uranium-conversion facility] at Isfahan,[3] the issue will be removed from the agenda of the [IAEA] Board of Governors and routine inspection would be continued in Iran and everything would be settled down. And we were counting on that promise and their word. But, unfortunately, they didn’t keep their promise. This whole thing continued, therefore, after long frustration. And seeing the Iran issue kept on the agenda of the Board of Governors, we couldn’t continue [with the suspension, and] therefore, we restarted this research.

ACT: So you would acknowledge that research was covered under the Paris agreement and operation of centrifuges was clearly part of the Paris agreement and, therefore, this was a breach of the Paris agreement?

Soltanieh : No, that is not what I am trying to say. In the Paris agreement we agreed to expand the scope of the suspen sion to also cover the UCF and also to cover the research and testing of course. One thing we have to bear in mind is that in both the October 2003 Tehran agreement[4] and the [November 2004] Paris agreement, what was agreed was a suspension of enrichment ac tivities and not their cessation. And this was very well elaborated and we insisted on this and it is in both documents. And on that basis, when [our] European friends unfor tunately rejected our proposal for objective guarantees that our activities would remain exclusively for peaceful purposes, we expected them to bring their own proposal so that it [would] be within the framework of the Paris agreement. [Instead], they brought a proposal that explicitly rejected and deleted and excluded nuclear fuel-cycle activities in Iran, including enrichment.[5] And this was in full contravention to the Paris agreement.

In the Paris agreement there is one paragraph that says that the suspension has to be sustained as long as negotiations for a long-term agreement continue. When this proposal was given contrary to the Paris agreement, the negotiations were stopped, and therefore the suspension could be stopped because they were linked in the Paris agreement. Therefore, we started and we had the right to start the UCF. And now after again some time we decided that we cannot continue depriving our scientists of the ability to conduct research, and there fore we started research.

ACT: I would like to come back to the Rus sian proposal later on, but just to ask on the is sue of Security Council referral, given that there is so much at stake and Iran is so interested in not having the case referred to the Security Council, why have you not answered the few questions that you said remain? For example, on the P-2 centrifuge program[6] and in that context, are there additional steps that Iran would be willing to take to resolve the IAEA and IAEA Director- General Mohamed ElBaradei’s concerns about its nuclear program?

Soltanieh : First of all, regarding the P-2, I refer you to the reports and, if you go one by one since this issue was raised, there was tremendous progress and information given to the IAEA. The only outstanding question is that the IAEA is wondering why between 1995 to 2002 or so, there has been a gap [when] we did not work on the P-2. I have to clearly reiterate what even [IAEA] scientists and inspectors have told us, that this was a wise decision by Iran, technically sound and justified, that while we have not been achieving any progress on P-1, it was not wise to go to next-generation P-2. Therefore, during that period we should not have worked on the P-2. This is what European industry URENCO also did.[7]

ACT: Are there other steps that Iran would be willing to take to resolve the agency’s concerns, and specifically, could you foresee that Iranmight again suspend activities at that time to support a new set of negotiations?

Soltanieh : For research, no. It is irreversible. The decision has been made as I said after a long time of suspension and frustration, particularly as the [limits on] research have already disappointed our sci entists. In fact, this has given this message to Iranian scientists that they have no right even to think and do their research. But at the same time I want to call your attention to the fact that all the research we are doing we have informed the IAEA about and given them prior notice. Everything is under the supervision of IAEA and inspectors since we have started.

ACT: Finally, about the Russian proposal to conduct Iran’s enrichment activities in the framework of a joint venture on Russian soil, the press has reported both positive as well as negative reactions from Iran. Could you explain to us the Iranian position on the Russian proposal? In principle, would Iran be willing and able to conduct all of its enrichment activities on another country’s soil?

Soltanieh : If there are suggestions for having enrichment jointly, we have to talk about it to see what are the impacts on our work. In principle, we do not want to be deprived from enrichment in Iran and we want to have this possibility. But since we do have the plan for 20,000 megawatts in our program, we need the required fuel for those 20 power plants in the future. Therefore, it is a matter of how and where we can supply and get the fuel for it. Partly, we are going to supply our own because unfortunately in the past we have had lack of assurance of supply and, as you noticed, there is no legally binding instrument—rec ognized document—for a source of supply. Therefore, we want to have some sort of safety factor that, in case the supply would be interrupted, we will be able to have the supply.

ACT: The way I understood your answer is that this can complement activities in Iran but not all of the activities would be moved to Russia.

Soltanieh : At this stage, we are not in a position to go [into] details because we don’t know. The Russians are going to ex plain to us in more detail in the next round of negotiation. But in principle, I said we don’t want you to conclude that Iran will accept that enrichment will not be made in Iran and Iran will be deprived from this right. For the supply of fuel for its future power plants, Iran might look for different avenues, of course.

This transcript has been edited for space and clarity. Please click here for a full version of the transcript is avail able on the Arms Control Association’s web site.



1. Iran is building a pilot gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility, as well as a much larger commercial centrifuge facility, near the Iranian city of Natanz.

2. France , Germany, and the United Kingdom concluded an agreement with Iran in November 2004 to negotiate “a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements,” which includes “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities for the duration of the negotiations.

3. Uranium-conversion facilities such as Isfahan produce uranium hexafluoride gas from lightly processed uranium ore. Gas centrifuges such as those at Natanz can enrich uranium by spinning this gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Uranium enrichment can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

4. In October 2003, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iran in a joint statement agreed on “measures aimed at the settlement of all outstanding IAEA issues with regards to the Iranian nuclear programme and at enhancing confidence for peaceful cooperation in the nuclear field.” Iran agreed to take three steps that, if followed, will meet the IAEA’s demands: cooperate with the IAEA “to address and resolve…all requirements and outstanding [IAEA] issues,” sign and ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and voluntarily “suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.”

5. During at least two meetings with their European interlocutors, Iranian diplomats proposed in the spring of 2005 several measures to provide confidence that its nuclear program would not be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. These included allowing the continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors, a pledge to produce only LEU, and immediate conversion of LEU to nuclear reactor fuel. See Paul Kerr, “IAEA: More Questions on Iran Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2005.

6. The Europeans presented a proposal to Iran in August 2005 describing a package of economic, technical, and security incentives that Iran would receive if it agreed to forswear indigenous uranium enrichment.

7. Iran has conducted work on two types of gas centrifuges: the P-1 and P-2. The P-2 is the more advanced of the two. The centrifuge designs are reportedly based on the L-1 and L-2 centrifuges produced by URENCO (URENCO is an international uranium-enrichment consortium jointly owned by Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). The IAEA has found that Iran failed to disclose several aspects of its centrifuge program. The agency is still investigating certain outstanding issues about the program.



Charles D. Ferguson is a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council.


1. Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), September 17, 2005.

2. Kayhan , December 12, 2004.

3. IRNA, September 22, 2004.

4. Sharq , October 25, 2005.

5. Aftab-e Yazd , October 16, 2005.

6. An additional protocol gives the International Atomic Energy Agency greater authority and access to determine whether a state has any undeclared nuclear activities.

7. Barbara Slavin, “ Iran Wants Nuclear Independence,” USA Today, February 6, 2006.

8. Robert Joseph, “Results of the IAEA Emergency Meeting on Iran: The U.S. View,” Foreign Press Center briefing, Washington, DC, February 6, 2006.

9. George Perkovich and Silvia Manzanero, “Plan B: Using Sanctions to End Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, May 2004; George Perkovich, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, February 1, 2006.

10. Terence Henry, “The Covert Option,” The Atlantic Monthly, December 2005, pp. 54-55.

11. Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks, September 19, 2005.

12. Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson, eds., Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran ( Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, October 2005), pp. 16-17.

13. Dafna Linzer, “ Iran Is Judged 10 Years From Nuclear Bomb,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2005, p. A1.

14. Richard Stone, “ Iran’s Trouble With Molybdenum May Give Diplomacy a Second Chance,” Science, January 13, 2006, p. 158.



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