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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Iran

Questions Surround Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

IAEA Resolution on Iran

Since its investigation of Iran’s nuclear programs began during the latter half of 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has discovered a series of clandestine nuclear activities, some of which violated Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency.

Others did not, but have nevertheless raised suspicions regarding Iran’s claim that its nuclear programs are exclusively for peaceful purposes. During the course of the investigation, Iran has failed both to disclose some of its nuclear activities to the agency and misled inspectors about others.

Iran, as a member state of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has an IAEA safeguards agreement allowing the agency to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and facilities to ensure that they are not used for military purposes.

Based on interviews with knowledgeable officials, IAEA Deputy Director-Gen eral Olli Heinonen’s Jan. 31 report to the agency’s Board of Governors, and previous IAEA reports, this article describes some of the unresolved questions concerning Iran’s nuclear activities as of Feb. 24.

Iran ’s Nuclear Programs

Tehran is developing a gas-centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program and con structing a heavy-water moderated nuclear reactor. Both programs could potentially produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentra tion of the uranium-235 isotope. They can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which can be used in nuclear power reac tors, and highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors and as fissile material.

Iran has a pilot centrifuge facility, which so far contains a cascade of 164 centrifuges, and is constructing a much larger commercial facility. Tehran has told the IAEA that the pilot facility will eventually contain approximately 1,000 centrifuges and the commercial facility will ultimately house more than 50,000 centrifuges.

Iran also has a uranium-conversion facil ity, which converts uranium oxide (lightly processed uranium ore) into several com pounds, including uranium tetrafluoride and uranium hexafluoride. Heinonen reported that the country’s current “conversion campaign,” which began in November 2005, is expected to end this month.

Tehran claims that it wants to produce LEU for its light-water moderated nuclear power plant currently under construction near the city of Bushehr, as well as additional power plants it intends to construct.

Iran says that its heavy-water reactor, which is being constructed in Arak, is intended for the production of medical iso topes. But the IAEA is concerned that Iran may use the reactor to produce plutonium, and the board has asked Iran to “reconsider” the project. Tehran has told the IAEA that the reactor is to begin operating in 2014.

The spent nuclear fuel from both light- water and heavy-water reactors contains plutonium—the other type of fissile mate rial in use. But clandestinely obtaining weapons-grade plutonium from light-water reactors is considerably more difficult.

Uranium-Enrichment Program

Tehran has been conducting research on two types of centrifuges: the P-1 and the more advanced P-2. Iran acquired its cen trifuge materials and equipment from a clandestine supply network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Iran has not been fully forthcoming to the IAEA about either of these programs. 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.

Iran ’s capability to produce enough centrifuges for its programs is unclear. A diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA told Arms Control Today recently that Iran currently lacks the expertise to pro duce P-2 centrifuges. Tehran can build large numbers of P-1 centrifuges but not enough to meet the commercial centrifuge facility’s planned capacity, the source said.

Procurement Efforts

The IAEA’s investigation of these efforts has been hampered by Iran’s lack of full cooperation. Tehran has both lagged in fulfilling IAEA requests for documentation and provided the agency with false information regarding its centrifuge procurement efforts.

Iran has acknowledged receiving centrifuge components and related materials dur ing the late 1980s and 1990s. Tehran has provided the agency with some informa tion regarding these acquisitions as well as related offers from foreign suppliers.

According to a November 2005 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei, Iran has recently provided the agen cy with substantial amounts of additional documentation regarding its P-1 procure ment activities. This information appears to have resolved some of the discrepancies in Iran’s previous accounts, but the IAEA has requested additional documentation. For example, Heinonen reported that “ Iran has been unable to supply any documentation or other information about the meetings that led to the acquisition of 500 sets of P-1 cen trifuge components in the mid-1990s.”

Heinonen’s report also says that Iranian officials’ accounts of “events leading up to” the mid-1990s centrifuge deal offer “are still at variance” with accounts provided by “key members of the [secret procurement] net work.” The report provides no details about these discrepancies but does note Iran’s claims that “there were no contacts with the network between 1987 and mid-1993.”

Iran claims that it conducted no work on its P-2 centrifuge program between 1995 and 2002, but the IAEA is skeptical of this claim.

Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, told Arms Control Today Jan. 23 (see page 9) that Iran suspended work on the program dur ing those years because Iran had not yet “achieved mastery” of the P-1 centrifuge.

However, this response does not appear to address the basis for the agency’s con cern. According to ElBaradei’s September 2005 report, the agency suspects that Iran may have conducted undeclared centrifuge work because an Iranian contractor was able to make modifications for certain centrifuge components “within a short period” after first seeing the relevant drawings.

Additionally, ElBaradei reported in No vember that the agency is assessing documentation provided by Tehran indicating that an Iranian contractor who had worked on the program obtained related materials that the government had apparently not disclosed to the IAEA.

Heinonen’s report states that the IAEA, after sharing with Tehran information “indicating the possible deliveries” of P-2 centrifuge components, asked Iran in No vember “to check again” whether it had received additional components after 1995. Both the Vienna source and a former De partment of State official familiar with the issue confirmed that the IAEA’s information originated with Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a businessman who has been detained by Malaysia for his role in the Khan network.

Both sources also noted that Tahir only recently revealed this information, although he has been in custody since the spring of 2004. Tahir had no documentation for his claim, the former U.S. official added.

Enriched Uranium Particles

According to Heinonen’s report, the IAEA is still investigating the origin of some LEU and HEU particles found in Iran by agency inspectors in 2003. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to 1.2 percent uranium-235, but the presence of LEU particles enriched to higher levels has suggested that Iran may have conducted other centrifuge experiments that it concealed from the IAEA. Tehran claims that the particles in question came from imported centrifuge components.

IAEA inspectors took environmental samples from a location in the United Arab Emirates where centrifuge components from the Khan network were stored before being shipped to Iran. The samples showed no “traces of nuclear material,” according to ElBaradei’s November report.

A Western diplomat told Arms Control Today in November that the sample results indicate that the LEU particles did not come from these components—a finding that could contradict Iran’s account. But according to interviews with a State Department official, Washington is almost certain that all the LEU particles found in Iran originated in Pakistan and believes that any further discoveries of undeclared Iranian-produced LEU would likely reveal previously concealed P-1 experiments, but no similar P-2 experiments.

ElBaradei reported in September 2005 that “most” HEU particles found in Iran by agency inspectors came from imported centrifuge components. Both the source in Vienna and a State Department source says that, for all practical purposes, the HEU issue has been resolved.

Uranium Mining

The IAEA is investigating questions about the ownership and operation of Iran’s Gchine uranium mine. U.S. and European officials have told Arms Control Today that Iran’s military or an affiliated organization might have been working at the mine in an effort to obtain an independent uranium source.

Plutonium

ElBaradei first reported in November 2003 that Iran had conducted plutonium-separation experiments. Iran first said that it completed this work in 1993 but later admitted continuing experiments until 1998. The agency is still investigating the matter.

ElBaradei stated in September that the IAEA has not received requested informa tion regarding Iran’s efforts to obtain equipment for hot cells, which are facilities that can be used to produce medical isotopes as well as separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel. ElBaradei reported that Iran has attempted to procure hot cells with specifications more consistent with plutonium separation than medical isotope production.

Iran says it is no longer attempting to build hot cells.

Possible Nuclear Weapons Research

The IAEA is also investigating several activi ties and documents suggesting that Iran may be attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Uranium-Casting Document

According to Heinonen’s report, Iran has shown agency inspectors a 15-page document detailing the procedures for re ducing uranium hexafluoride to “metal in small quantities” and “casting…enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispheres.” But the document did not “include dimensions or other specifications for machined pieces for such components,” the report says, reiterating information ElBaradei first reported in November.

This revelation has generated additional concern about Iran’s nuclear program be cause shaping uranium into hemispheres is used in developing explosive cores for nuclear weapons. The report acknowledges that the procedure is “related to the manufacture of nuclear weapon components.”

Whether the document is evidence of a previously unknown Iranian capability is unclear. Iran has previously acknowledged that it was offered equipment for casting uranium but maintains that it has never received any such equipment. Tehran claims that the document had been “provided on the initiative of the procurement network,” rather than at Iran’s request.

During a January 2006 visit, Iran allowed agency inspectors to “examine the docu ment again and to place it under IAEA seal,” Heinonen’s report says. Tehran, however, declined the IAEA’s request to provide a copy of the document, according to the report.

Parchin Military Complex

According to ElBaradei’s November report, Iran granted IAEA inspectors ac cess to Iran’s Parchin military complex Nov. 1, the inspectors’ first visit since January 2005. The inspectors “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited,” but the IAEA is awaiting the results of environmental samples taken during the visit before assessing whether Iran conducted any nuclear activities there.

The United States and the IAEA have both expressed concern that Iran has been testing conventional high explosives at Parchin for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon.

The report also says that the IAEA seeks additional visits to the site but does not say why. However, a State Department official told Arms Control Today in November that the agency may still have “suspicions” about Iranian activities at the site. The official also confirmed a November Agence France-Presse report that the inspectors saw a high-speed camera during their visit. Such cameras can be used to monitor experiments with high explosives, such as those used in an implo sion-type nuclear weapon.

Other Possible Military Projects

The former State Department official confirmed press reports Feb. 22 that the United States acquired a laptop computer, believed to be of Iranian origin, contain ing information documenting what appear to be several related projects that may constitute evidence of a nuclear weapons program. The United States has provided this intelligence to the IAEA, the Vienna source said.

According to Heinonen’s report, the agency received information describing the “Green Salt Project.” “Green salt” is another name for uranium tetrafluoride, the precursor for uranium hexafluoride. The former State Department official also confirmed that the computer contained designs for a “small-scale” facility to produce green salt. The most recent documents related to the project are dated 2003, but it is not known whether the project ended at that time, the official added.

The intelligence also indicates that Tehran has conducted “tests related to high-explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle,” Heinonen said. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in August 2005 that the United States has what it believes to be documentary evidence suggesting that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear-weapon payload for its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. (See ACT, September 2005.)

But whether and to what extent such a re-entry vehicle design would improve Iran’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon is unclear. The former State Department official said that a nuclear warhead built according to a design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too large to fit in the re-entry vehicle that Iran may have designed. (See ACT, March 2004.) That acquisition has sparked concern that Tehran also may have obtained similar designs, but no evidence has emerged that Iran has actually done so.

Nevertheless, the official cautioned that “[n]ot enough is known about the Iranian bomb-making capabilities” to determine whether Iran is capable of building a warhead suitable for the re-entry vehicle described in the laptop documents.

Tehran responded to a December IAEA request for a meeting by dismissing the agency’s recently acquired intelligence as “related to baseless allegations.” But Iranian officials later agreed to meet with Heinonen Jan. 27.

During that meeting, IAEA inspectors pro vided Iranian officials both with a diagram “related to bench-scale conversion” as well as communications related to the Green Salt Project. The Iranians promised to “provide further clarifications [about the project] later” but “declined to address the other topics during that meeting,” Heinonen’s report says.

Apparently calling into question Iran’s claims that its nuclear program has no military dimension, the report says that the uranium project, high-explosives tests, and re-entry vehicle design all have a possible “military nuclear dimension and appear to have administrative connections.” This claim is based partly on the fact that the relevant documentation was all found on the laptop.

Lavizan-Shian Physics Research Center

According to Heinonen’s report, Iran has increased its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation of a physics research center that operated between 1989 and 1998 at a site called Lavizan-Shian that had been connected to the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

Iran razed the site in late 2003 and early 2004, a move that raised suspicions that Tehran might be trying to cover up evidence of undeclared nuclear activities. However, ElBaradei reported in September that Iran provided information consistent with the government’s explanation for this action.

ElBaradei reported in November that the IAEA wished to take samples from a trailer that had been located at the site and contained dual-use nuclear equipment. The agency also sought to interview Iranian officials who had been involved in the center’s efforts to obtain equipment related to uranium enrichment, he said.

According to Heinonen, Iran provided IAEA inspectors with some requested information Jan. 26 regarding Tehran’s efforts to acquire equipment with poten tial uranium-enrichment applications. The inspectors, however, were not allowed to interview a key official involved in the center’s procurement efforts.

Iran did provide the IAEA with informa tion regarding other dual-use acquisition efforts and allowed the inspectors to take environmental samples of some dual-use equipment, Heinonen said. The report says nothing about the trailer discussed in ElBaradei’s report.

According to the former State Department official, the United States has “good reason” to believe that Iran has moved the research center elsewhere but added that Washington has no “evidence” that Tehran actually did so.

Polonium-210 Experiments

The IAEA has also not been able to resolve residual uncertainties regarding Iran ’s experiments involving the separation of polonium-210, which is a radioisotope that can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction in certain types of nuclear weapons. ElBaradei reported in November 2004 that the IAEA is “somewhat uncertain regard ing the plausibility” of Iran’s claim that the experiments were not for nuclear weapons because the civilian applications of polonium-210 are “very limited.”

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

 

 

IAEA Resolution on Iran

In its Feb. 4 resolution on Iran’s nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors said 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.” Following are key excerpts from the resolution.

1. Underlines that outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s programme by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence building measures which the Board has made on Iran, and in this context deems it necessary for Iran to:

• Re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the Agency;

• Reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water;

• Ratify promptly and implement in full the Additional Protocol; pending ratification, continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol, which Iran signed on 18 December 2003;

• Implement transparency measures, as requested by the Director General, including in GOV/2005/67, which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual-use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations;

2. Requests the Director General to report to the Security Council of the United Nations that these steps are required of Iran by the Board and to report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions, as adopted, relating to this issue;

3. Expresses serious concern that the Agency is not yet in a position to clarify some important issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, including the fact that Iran has in its possession a document on the production of uranium metal hemispheres, since, as reported by the Secretariat, this process is related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components; and, noting that the decision to put this document under Agency seal is a positive step, requests Iran to maintain this document under Agency seal and to provide a full copy to the Agency;

4. Deeply regrets that, despite repeated calls from the Board for the maintaining of the suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities which the Board has declared essential to addressing outstanding issues, Iran resumed uranium conversion activities at its Isfahan facility on 8 August 2005 and took steps to resume enrichment activities on 10 January 2006;

5. Calls on Iran to understand that there is a lack of confidence in Iran’s intentions in seeking to develop a fissile material production capability against the background of Iran’s record on safeguards as recorded in previous Resolutions, and outstanding issues; and to reconsider its position in relation to confidence-building measures, which are voluntary, and non legally binding, and to adopt a constructive approach in relation to negotiations that can result in increased confidence;

6. Requests Iran to extend full and prompt cooperation to the Agency, which the Director General deems indispensable and overdue, and in particular to help the Agency clarify possible activities which could have a military nuclear dimension;

7. Underlines that the Agency’s work on verifying Iran’s declarations is ongoing and requests the Director General to continue with his efforts to implement the Agency’s Safeguards Agreement with Iran, to implement the Additional Protocol to that Agreement pending its entry into force, with a view to providing credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and to pursue additional transparency measures required for the Agency to be able to resolve outstanding issues and reconstruct the history and nature of all aspects of Iran’s past nuclear activities;

8. Requests the Director General to report on the implementation of this and previous resolutions to the next regular session of the Board, for its consideration, and immediately thereafter to convey, together with any Resolution from the March Board, that report to the Security Council; and

9. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

 

 

 

 

IAEA Reports Iran to UN Security Council

Paul Kerr

Suspension Unravels; IAEA Reacts

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors voted Feb. 4 to report its concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, including Tehran’s failure to comply with its agency safeguards agreement, to the UN Security Council.

The decision raised the stakes in the IAEA’s ongoing dispute with Iran. Although Tehran has recently accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, Iranian and Russian officials claimed last month to have made progress on a compromise proposal designed to ease concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

The Feb. 4 resolution, adopted at a special board meeting, expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s nuclear program and noted that Tehran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA investigation. The resolution listed a series of measures deemed necessary for Iran to provide “confidence” in the “exclusively peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear program.

The resolution was adopted after IAEA Deputy Director Olli Hei nonen reported Jan. 31 that Iran has yet to resolve several outstanding questions about its nuclear program. The report also discussed specific evidence that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program may have a nuclear weapon dimension.

The resolution also requested that IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report to the Security Council on all relevant IAEA reports and on Iran’s implementation of related IAEA resolutions. This would include any resolutions adopted at the board’s scheduled March 6 meeting. The board is expected to review a Feb. 27 report from ElBaradei on the investigation.

Tehran has increasingly defied the IAEA’s demands. Perhaps most significantly, over the last several months Iran has gradually terminated the suspension of its uranium-enrichment program and reduced considerably IAEA inspectors’ ability to investigate Iran ’s nuclear programs.

In September, the board formally found Iran in violation of its agency safeguards agreement more than two years after ElBaradei reported that Tehran conducted a variety of clandestine nuclear activities. But the board did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council. (See ACT, October 2005.)

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 Security Council may then take action against the offending state.

Iranian, Russian Cooperation

Meanwhile, Iran and Russia were set March 1 to continue their discussions over a plan designed to allay fears that Iran will use its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a gas centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluo ride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Uranium enrichment can produce both low- enriched uranium, which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Iran is constructing its own pilot centrifuge facility, as well as a much larger commercial facility. Tehran has also built a uranium conversion facility for producing uranium hexafluoride gas from lightly processed uranium ore.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Orga nization, said during a Feb. 26 press conference that Russiaand Iran had reached “an agreement in principle.” And Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko asserted that “there are almost no problems…of an organizational, technical, or financial nature regarding” the planned joint venture.

But Kiriyenko also noted that “a whole series of serious measures and serious decisions” remain, pointing out that the joint venture proposal is only one element of a comprehensive approach to ensuring security. Russia also wants Iran to resume the moratorium on its enrichment activities until the IAEA resolves the open ques tions concerning Iran’s nuclear programs, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the next day.

In November 2004, Tehran had agreed to suspend “all enrich ment-related activities” for the duration of negotiations with France , Germany, and the United Kingdom. These included “manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges.”

The main sticking point in the Iranian-Russian discussions will likely be the question of whether Iran will be allowed to retain a centrifuge facility. Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that Iran will retain at least a pilot facility, but some have also indicated that Tehran may accept limits on its larger facility.

Aghazadeh would not answer when asked if Iran would be will ing to resume the suspension, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesper son Hamidreza Asefi stated the same day that Iran would not suspend its “research work.”

Lavrov also made it clear that Russia wants Iran to resume its negotiations with the Europeans. But Asefi said that such talks “are not on the agenda.”

IAEA Resolution

The 35-member board adopted the resolution by a vote of 27-3, with five abstentions. Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela cast the negative votes.

Significantly, Russia and China, two of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, voted for the resolu tion after abstaining in September. Persuading Moscow and Beijing to support a Security Council report was one of the major reasons that the United States and Europeans supported Russia’s diplomatic efforts during the past several months. (See ACT, December 2005.)

Russia and China agreed to support the resolution during a Jan. 30 meeting after reaching a compromise with the United States and Iran ’s European interlocutors. According to a statement that day from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the six countries agreed that the board should request that ElBaradei report Iran’s case to the Security Council. But they said that the council should wait until after the March IAEA meeting “before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process.”

The resolution reiterates the necessity for Iran to implement confidence-building measures, which are also described in the September resolution. For example, it includes past board calls to resume the “full suspension of all enrichment-related activity” and “reconsider” its construction of a 40-megawatt heavy-water nuclear reactor.

Although Iran claims the reactor is for peaceful purposes, the board is concerned that Tehran intends to separate plutonium—another fissile material—from irradiated reactor fuel. The IAEA is still investigating past Iranian plutonium-separation experiments, but Iran has no known facilities for separating plutonium.

The resolution also exhorts Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The additional protocol would provide for more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities Iran has not declared to the IAEA, to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The government should continue to “act in accordance” with the protocol’s provisions in the meantime, the resolution says. Tehran has signed the protocol, but the Iranian Majlis, or parliament, has never ratified it.

Iran 1, Suspension 0

Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in January called for the February board meeting after Iran took a series of steps to resume what it called “research and development” on its centrifuge program.

Iran ’s move marked the last step in terminating the suspension of its uranium-enrichment program.

Tehran first violated the suspension in August by resuming opera tions at its uranium conversion facility. (See ACT, September 2005.) Although Iran’s European interlocutors were willing to discuss resuming negotiations, they insisted that Iran first halt conversion.

The day after the board adopted the Feb. 4 resolution, Iran made good on its previous threats to stop adhering to its additional protocol in the event of a Security Council report. For example, at Tehran’s insistence, the IAEA has removed its containment devices, such as surveillance cameras, except for those required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.

Tehran also said that it will no longer permit the agency to un dertake measures—such as visiting certain Iranian facilities—that are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.

Next Steps

U.S. officials have said for months that they plan to pursue a strategy at the Security Council designed to reinforce the IAEA’s authority and steadily increase pressure on Iran to comply with the agency’s demands.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters Feb. 5 that “the Iranians are going to face a fairly bright spotlight.” He added, “[W]e’re going to ratchet up the pressure, step by step and then focus on diplomacy as a way to isolate and hope fully change their behavior.”

A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that the first step would be to push for the adoption of a Security Council President’s Statement exhorting Iran to cooperate with the demands described in the IAEA board’s Feb. 4 resolution.

If Tehran refused, Washington would then pursue a Security Council resolution making the IAEA’s demands a legal obligation for Iran.

The next step, if necessary, would be for the council to imple ment sanctions, such as implementing travel bans and freezing bank accounts, targeted at the Iranian leadership. According to the official, this would occur around mid- to late summer.

If necessary, the council would later need to implement “tough er” economic and diplomatic measures, the official said, but did not specify further.

The official acknowledged that these plans could face increas ing resistance because Russia and China have repeatedly expressed their preference for handling the issue within the IAEA.

Asked about other diplomatic tracks, the official said that the United States would soon begin a “full-court press” to persuade certain countries to pressure Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA.

 

Suspension Unravels; IAEA Reacts

Iran has recently taken several steps to resume its uranium-enrichment activities, which Tehran had suspended since November 2004 as part of a broad series of negotiations with leading European countries. In response, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council even as the agency’s probe of Iran’s nuclear activities continues.

Jan. 3

Iran notifies the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it has decided to resume research and development activities on gas centri fuges used in its uranium-enrichment program. These activities had been suspended as part of a November 2004 agreement that Iran concluded with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides began negotiations shortly after.

Jan. 7

The IAEA receives a letter from Iran asking the agency to remove seals from facilities at Pars Trash, Faryand Technique, and Natanz. Iran removes the seals, used to verify the suspension, several days later in the presence of agency inspectors.

Jan. 12

Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, along with EU Council Sec retariat Javier Solana, issue a statement calling Iran’s decision to restart enrichment activity “a clear rejection of the [negotiating] process.” The statement says that “discussions with Iran have reached an impasse,” adding that the three governments will call for an “extraordinary” meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Jan. 25-29

An IAEA team headed by Deputy Director-Gen eral Olli Heinonen meets with Iranian officials to discuss outstanding issues concerning Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. One meeting focused on the “Green Salt Project,” an alleged Iranian program for a small-scale uranium-con version facility, which Tehran had denied existed.

Jan. 31

Heinonen issues a report to the board describing the agency’s ongoing investigation of Iran’s nuclear programs.

Feb. 2

The board receives a letter from Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, warning that Tehran will “suspend all…voluntary measures and extra cooperation” with the IAEA. These “measures” include cooperating with the IAEA as if the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement were in force, as well as other “transparency measures” not required by the safeguards agreement.

Feb. 4

The board adopts a resolution listing five steps that Iran must take in order to resolve “outstanding questions” regarding its nuclear program, as well as build “confidence” that Tehran ’s nuclear programs are used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The resolution also requests IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the UN Security Council that “these steps are required” by the board.

Feb. 6

The IAEA receives a letter from E. Khalilpour, vice president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organi zation, stating that Iran has “suspended” its cooperation concerning its additional protocol and other transparency measures.

The letter also requests that the IAEA re move by mid-February those “containment and surveillance measures,” such as seals and surveillance cameras, that are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement. The agency does so on Feb. 12.

Feb. 11

Iran begins “enrichment tests” by feeding a single P-1 centrifuge with uranium hexafluoride gas.

Feb. 15

Iran begins feeding a 10-centrifuge cascade with uranium hexafluoride. A week later, Iran tests a 20-centrifuge cascade, but without uranium hexafluoride.

Feb. 27

ElBaradei issues a report to the board updating the IAEA’s investigation.

 

 

 

Top Iranian Nuclear Diplomat Interviewed by Arms Control Today

Sections:

Body: 

Says Decision to Resume Uranium Enrichment Research "Irreversible" and Iran Wants to Negotiate Assurances on Non-diversion of Nuclear Material

For Immediate Release: January 26, 2006

Press Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107, Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102, and Oliver Meier (in Berlin) +49 171 359 2410

(Washington, D.C.): Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said January 23 that international concerns about the Tehran government's nuclear activities should be resolved through negotiations and at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rather than the UN Security Council, which is the preferred U.S. and European approach. He also said that Iran is willing to work with the IAEA during its inspection visit this week in Iran "on the whole range of issues they want discussed."

Soltanieh, who is Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, discussed the current crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear program during an exclusive interview with Dr. Oliver Meier, international correspondent for Arms Control Today, which is the monthly journal of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

An emergency meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors will begin on February 2 in response to Iran's recent renewal of "research" on uranium enrichment at its pilot facility at Natanz and its failure to respond to outstanding questions concerning the nature of its nuclear activities. Uranium must be enriched to produce nuclear fuel for power reactors, but the enrichment process can also produce highly enriched uranium, a fissile material that can be used to produce nuclear bombs.

Arms Control Today asked why Iran has chosen to break the 2004 pledge it made to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to voluntarily suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities, while negotiations on "objective guarantees" about Iran's peaceful nuclear intentions continued. Amb. Soltanieh told Arms Control Today that it was Iran's belief in 2004 that "if we would extend our cooperative suspension [on enrichment-related activities] to cover research" at the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan and at the pilot enrichment facility at Natanz, "the issue will be removed from the agenda of the [IAEA] Board of Governors, and routine that inspections would be continued in Iran, and everything would be settled down."

"But," Soltanieh continued, "they didn't keep their promise. Instead, this whole thing continued, therefore after long frustration and seeing the Iran issue kept on the agenda of the Board of Governors, then we couldn't continue [with the suspension]. Therefore, we restarted this research."

The European trio have said they will not engage in further negotiations until Iran resumes the suspension of its voluntary uranium enrichment activities.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei first reported in 2003 that Iran had conducted clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement with the agency. He reported Sept. 2 that a number of outstanding questions concerning Iran's nuclear programs-particularly its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program-still leave the IAEA unable to conclude that "there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran." On September 24, the IAEA Board of Governors voted 22-1 (with 12 abstentions) that Iran was in violation of its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Soltanieh condemned efforts to have the Iran nuclear matter referred to the Security Council as a path of "confrontation" that could be "very dangerous." Instead of taking "hasty measures," he suggested governments should be "patient" and resolve the matter within the IAEA and let "fruitful" negotiations between Iran and Russia proceed.

In an effort to resolve the crisis, Russia has floated an offer that would provide Iran with joint ownership in a uranium enrichment facility in Russia, in lieu of using enrichment facilities within Iran's borders. The proposal has been backed by the United States and others.

"The Russian proposal … is worthwhile. It is worth discussing and negotiating with them," Soltanieh said. A second round of talks between Iran and Russia on the proposal are set for Feb. 16. But he also noted that Iran wants to develop its own enrichment capabilities because "in the past we have had lack of assurance of supply."

He said that if Iran's case was to be referred the Security Council, "… then following the law almost unanimously passed by our parliament ... then the government [of Iran] would immediately stop the implementation of the Additional Protocol and we will start large-scale enrichment." Since 2003, Iran has voluntarily allowed the IAEA to operate under the authority of an additional inspection and monitoring protocol, which gives the agency broader investigative powers.

When asked what substantive contribution the United States could make to resolve the situation, Soltanieh responded: "Just support having the issue settled in the IAEA. Just do not put obstacles in the way…and just let the Europeans do their work, and do not underestimate the achievements we have made and let everything go in the right direction."

Arms Control Today also asked Soltanieh what steps Iran would be willing to take to resolve the agency's concerns and whether Iran might again suspend uranium enrichment activities to support a new set of negotiations. Soltanieh replied that the decision to pursue "enrichment research" is "irreversible," but added that "we are interested and have been interested to promote cooperation and work with the Europeans."

Soltanieh said, however, that Iran is now interested in narrowing the scope of negotiations with the Europeans. He said that "in order to have a conclusive negotiation and an effective one, we have decided in this new round of negotiation to focus on non-diversion of enrichment processes … on the large commercial industrial scale, which is now under suspension."

The full interview is available at: http://www.armscontrol.org/interviews/20060123_Soltanieh.asp

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Interview with Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency

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Interviewed by Oliver Meier

On Jan. 23, Oliver Meier, the Arms Control Association’s international representative and correspondent, talked to Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh about the escalating crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. Soltanieh, Iran’s Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), took up this post for a second time earlier in the month. Soltanieh, a physicist by training, had previously served in the same position from 1980 to 1997. He has also served as deputy director-general of International Political Affairs in Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has been involved in several multilateral arms control negotiations. The interview took place soon after Iran restarted research and development into enriching uranium, a move that sparked calls by the United States and Europe to have the UN Security Council take up the dispute over the program.

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 [the Europeans] 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] that the issue will be removed from the agenda of the [IAEA] Board of Governors, and that 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.

Now, the question that you might have in this respect is whether in this second round of negotiations we were honest with the Europeans to tell them in a transparent and frank manner what we were going to do. Before we started the second round of negotiations, which started Dec. 21—in fact we did it before Dec. 5—His Excellency Dr [Ali] Larijani the Secretary of the [Iran’s] National Supreme Security Council, officially in an interview announced to the whole world that we cannot continue suspension of research and, therefore, we are going to start research. And he also clearly informed—very crystal clear—that research is not part of the negotiation. When we came to Vienna to negotiate with our European friends on Dec. 21—and I was present—we said to our European friends again that this issue [was] not covered in our negotiation—it [was] not part of the agenda. What we said we [were] well prepared to talk about [was] nondiversion of [the] enrichment process to military purposes.

ACT: So you would acknowledge that research was covered under the Paris agreement and that 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 suspension to also cover the UCF and also to cover the research and testing of course. But after all, 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 by both sides was a suspension of enrichment activities and not their cessation. And this was very well elaborated and we insisted on this matter and it is in both documents. And on that basis, when [our] European friends unfortunately rejected our proposal for objective guarantees that our activities would remain exclusively for peaceful purposes—they rejected this proposal in Geneva when we offered it last year[5] — we expected them to bring their own proposal so that it [would] be within the framework of the Paris agreement.

What they did [instead], they brought a proposal that explicitly and clearly rejected and deleted and excluded nuclear fuel cycle activities in Iran, including enrichment.[6] And this was in full contravention to the Paris agreement. In fact, the Europeans violated the agreement between Iran and the EU-3 [ France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU]. The EU-3 in fact did not follow the Paris agreement.

Now the question is why we restarted the UCF in August or whether any short notice or prior notice had been given. I want to draw your attention to the fact that Secretary Larijani met the three distinguished foreign ministers of the [ United Kingdom], France, and Germany in Geneva, and he announced officially that you have rejected our proposal and we will wait for your proposal. But, if your proposal excludes Iran’s rightful nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment, you can assume that it will be rejected right away. It was announced well in advance in August when the Europeans gave their proposal. And when we noticed that their proposal excluded this right, there was no necessity to study it any more, because this was in contravention and contrary to the Paris agreement. Since the Paris agreement in fact was not followed by the Europeans, negotiations did not continue.

And 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, therefore, 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, therefore, we started research.

ACT: On the question of research, we would appreciate it if you could define what you mean by the term. What does this entail from the Iranian perspective? Are there further sites and facilities that you would want to operate to conduct such research and development? And if the situation remains as it basically is today, at what point does Iran plan to resume full-scale operations and construction in Natanz?

SOLTANIEH : We have decided at this juncture not to start full-scale or so-called commercial industrial scale enrichment, which goes to more than 50,000 centrifuge machines and with the capacity of 30 tons [of low-enriched uranium] per year. This activity and this larger scale is still under suspension, and, therefore, this is a very important point and a positive gesture from Iran to give room for possible negotiations and peaceful settlement of the whole issue. And, therefore, we advised our European friends not to make any hasty decisions, not to ruin the achievements that we both have made following our negotiations and the compromise and concession from Iran, namely the over [the] three-year suspension that we made to show our good intentions to you, the Europeans and the international community, and come to the negotiating table. Then, to answer your question as to when we are going to start [full-scale enrichment] or not, the answer is very clear. If the second of February [at an emergency International Atomic Energy (IAEA) board meeting], or any time, there is a resolution passed [at the IAEA] that this issue of Iran will be referred outside of the domain and the framework of the IAEA and referred to the United Nations Security Council, then following the law almost unanimously passed by our parliament--over 180 [legislators] voted for and only 10 voted against-- almost then the government would immediately stop the implementation of the additional protocol[7] and we will start large-scale enrichment.

ACT: It is possible there may be a different scenario for referral to the Security Council. That is, as you may have seen in the press, there has been mention of a scenario that Iran’s nuclear case may not be formally referred to the Security Council by the IAEA but it could be put on the agenda in some other way. Would that change your thinking in terms of whether the parliamentary law on the resumption of enrichment and also the termination of the additional protocol, would that change the scenario? And how would the Iranian government react to such a scenario, where the Security Council does not pick up the issue after formal referral?

SOLTANIEH: The issue is very simple. Either we talk in the framework of the IAEA statute and legal documents or we are talking about general political approaches. If we are referring to the statute, if it is referred in fact it is for the purpose of reporting. When the issue is reported to the United Nations Security Council, this is something that is in fact calling for our parliament’s law to be implemented because it means that the issue has gone out of the IAEA. And we will be strongly disappointed and object. This issue—a technical issue—should be settled in the IAEA.

Therefore, by doing so, either for the information purposes or for any action by the United Nations Security Council, namely to go to Chapter 7[8] or whatever, it means that the IAEA has not been able to settle this issue. It means [IAEA Director-General Mohamed] Dr.ElBaradei has not been able to manage this issue and to do his work despite the fact that he has been granted the Nobel Peace Prize. It means that all the achievements and tremendous progress made since the last three years are in fact put in jeopardy. It also means that Iran which has been implementing the Additional Protocol—[and] which is the only country in the world that is doing so—this whole activity will be immediately stopped, and this of course will have a serious impact on the whole IAEA and the future of universality of the Additional Protocol. And I am afraid that if we go down this route—this course of action which is the confrontation route—it would be very dangerous and there are groups in Iran that on many occasions have called for withdrawing from the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty]. And the government has convinced them or convinced some parliamentarians that we will not withdraw from the NPT and this is the policy of Iran not to withdraw from the NPT, and we are implementing the Additional Protocol.

Therefore, I think that this [Security Council referral] is not the right course of action. We have to be patient not to take these hasty measures. As I said, we have announced our readiness, and we have started fruitful negotiations with the Russians in Tehran (we are going to have the second round of negotiations on the 16 th of February in Moscow) and, therefore, it is premature at this stage…to do any action [that] puts all future progress in jeopardy. And we are closely working with the IAEA. And I have to also inform you that out of over 30 pages of reports of the director general in 2003 almost all [issues] are solved. Only four pages were presented in November[9] and it would be much less of course in March [the IAEA Board of Governors has a regularly sch eduled board meeting March 6 at which ElBaradei has said he would present a report on the status of the IAEA investigation into Iran’s nuclear program], if there is going to be a report, because almost all the issues have been resolved.

ACT : I would like to come back to the Russian proposal later on, but just to ask on exactly the issue 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[10], which is one of the major issues for which they are still seeking answers. And in that context, would there be additional specific steps that Iran would be willing to take to resolve the IAEA and ElBaradei’s concerns about its nuclear program?

SOLTANIEH: First of all, regarding the P-2. I have to 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 thing which is an 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 the scientists and inspectors— technical people of the IAEA—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[11] also did. It means that they worked for about 10 to 12 years on the P-1 and then went to P-2, or a similar model. Therefore, this is what we’ve done. And, therefore, what we have done is well justified technically; the only thing is they just want us to say why. The answer is very simple. We had not achieved mastery of the P-1 before we could go to P-2 or our next generation. That is the only thing left about the P-2.

If you remember from last year, the issue was whether we have purchased any components or not, and if you notice in the report, one of the reports, it said that the Iranian statements regarding the components related to P-2 were contradictory and changing. I want to recall that in that meeting of the board--this paragraph also was immediately taken by the Europeans in their draft resolution-- we brought all the documents from Tehran which I myself presented to the DDG [deputy director general] and the director general, and they found out that they have made a mistake. The inspectors have made a mistake in reporting, and, therefore, ElBaradei was courageous enough, he explained to the media that they had made a mistake. Therefore that issue of P-2 was clear enough at that time and we assume since then that the P-2 [issue] would be closed. The chapter should have been closed back there.

The other issue is of course, we have been informing them that we are ready to cooperate, on issues related to the discussion of P-1 and other matters. But these are only related to procurements and these kind of purchases which have been made from the intermediaries. This has nothing to do with the technical matters which the agency is mandated for. There are only some non-technical issues regarding the intermediaries and the meetings which have been made with them years back or so, which is of course, as I said, not at all a technical matter. But anyway we have tried to, so far we have helped cooperate with the agency beyond our obligation and we are planning to do so. And for your information, a team is going to go to Tehran tomorrow,[12] and I’m going to accompany them, so that we’ll give another try and to make sure that if there are any questions left, try to help them in order to hopefully close this whole chapter.

ACT: And this will be, this visit to Tehran, specifically on P-2, or will be on the whole range of issues?

SOLTANIEH: No, on the whole range of issues, the remaining issues that they want discussed. If there are issues that they are willing to raise and discuss, we want to make sure that they would be exhausted and this whole thing will be over.

ACT: If I can try to look a little bit into the future, and if I can just ask that question again, are there other steps that Iran would be willing to take to resolve the agency’s concerns, and specifically could you foresee that Iran might 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 scientists in universities and also in the atomic energy organization. Sitting doing nothing, this is something that has been very discouraging. In fact they have 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. They are present in Iran and in Natanz; therefore everything is under supervision in fact.

ACT : Still the question remains what the topic, if you like, of new negotiations could be, and Iran has called for the resumption of talks with the Europeans also. The Europeans, on the other hand, contend that there’s nothing left to talk about because enrichment activities at Natanz have resumed. Now in your interview with the BBC recently,[13] you said that Iran is prepared to negotiate on the issue of nondiversion of enrichment-related products. In possible future negotiations with Europe, would Iran also be willing to talk about the scope of its nuclear program at all? And in your view, is it still sensible to pursue the broad agenda that was previously the basis for talks with the Europeans, which included political and economic issues as well?

SOLTANIEH: Well, in fact, this is a good question. We have come to the conclusion that previously the scope of negotiations was wide. Of course we are interested and we have been interested to promote cooperation and work with the Europeans, the European Union, and we attach great importance to that. But in this particular issue we have come to the conclusion that it is more effective and constructive if we focus on nuclear affairs and particularly enrichment which is so-called more sensitive in order to be able to conclude negotiations in a short time frame rather than [conduct] lengthy negotiations without any conclusion. Therefore, in order to have a conclusive negotiation and an effective one, we have decided in this new round of negotiation to focus on nondiversion of enrichment processes and as I said now, from now on also we are going to propose a nondiversion of enrichment of the large commercial industrial scale which is under suspension. And I think that is exactly what I’m sure Europeans should pay attention [to] and should support, because this is their main concern.

ACT: So would the issue of scope of Iran’s nuclear activities also be on the table still?

SOLTANIEH: I mean, this is the main concern because all other activities are under the routine inspection of the IAEA now. Therefore, there is nothing that is in question. The only thing that the Europeans have always insisted about is the issue of the nondiversion of enrichment and that is on the table. That is the main concern of the Europeans, and we are willing to do that.

ACT: Another important actor obviously is the United States and some observers believe that active U.S. support for any negotiated agreement will be vital for its success. What steps could the United States take to contribute to a satisfactory outcome?

SOLTANIEH: Well, if the United States has good intentions and they want to prove that they do not want or they are not pushing for confrontation and tension and for a security problem in the region and for global security, [they should] just support having the issue settled in the IAEA. This is the best thing that could be done [to have it settled] in the framework of the IAEA. This is the way I think that this is the best. Because if the issue is within the framework of the IAEA, it means that we are supporting multilateralism, and it is in fact a historic test for the United States, to what extent they are going to reconsider the previous unilateral approach and to support this international pertinent organization. This is the way to do it. And I think this is the best way they can do that in this respect.

ACT: The question is not in terms of the process right now, that is what can the United States do to contribute to keeping the issue in Vienna. But rather in terms of the final agreement to settle the issue of increasing confidence in Iran’s nuclear program, is there any substantive contribution that the United States could make to reach such a deal?

SOLTANIEH: As I said, just do not put obstacles in the way. That is the first thing. Second thing, just let the Europeans do their work, and do not underestimate the achievements that we have made and let everything go in the right direction.

ACT: Finally, I was just going to ask you 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 what the Iranian position on the Russian proposal is? What parts of the deal would you find attractive and where the differences are that you have with the Russian proposal?

SOLTANIEH: The thing is very simple. The Russian proposal idea which they have raised, namely to have the possibilities of working with enrichment, we have now decided it is worthwhile. It is worth discussing and negotiating with them and also since there are points that we need clarification, we decided to have the first round in Tehran and it was a useful exchange of views, and we tried to discuss with each other and now we will have the second round of discussions. Therefore, now we are returning to our constructive negotiation with them so that we will study all dimensions of their proposal, and they are going in the next round to give further detailed information about economic and technical matters of their proposal and we will see what happens. Therefore, we are looking forward to hopefully having a useful negotiation with the Russians.

ACT: But in principle, would Iran be willing and able to conduct all of its enrichment activities on another country’s soil?

SOLTANIEH: Well, as I said, the commercial-scale, large industrial-scale, it is still under suspension. And as I said, we are ready to talk about nondiversion. But if there are suggestions for having enrichment jointly, we have to talk about it to see what are the impacts on our work. Because 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—recognized 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: It is a matter of how to see, but of course at this stage we are not in a position to go [into] details because we don’t know. The Russians are going to explain to us in more detail in the next round of negotiation. Therefore, we don’t [know in detail] what they really have in mind, and we are anxious to know about it. But in principle I said that 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, in that respect.

ACT: There were also reports that China might be part of such a project. Is that something that would be interesting for Iran, to have other countries participate in such a project?

SOLTANIEH : Since our president [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] issued an invitation in the UN General Assembly, to all private and governmental sectors to come for a joint venture and contribute to our enrichment project,[14] we will welcome any initiative and any country or companies that are interested to have a joint venture with us. And, therefore, we would welcome if China or other countries are interested, even Europeans that are interested to jointly work together. And this is the maximum transparency that we could ever give and confidence building, that we are opening our enrichment activities and not only the IAEA inspectors will be there, all experts from different countries will be present. Therefore, this is maximum transparency and nobody will have any doubt that these activities will remain peaceful.

ACT : Thank you very much.

 


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. See Paul Kerr, “Iran Agrees to Temporarily Suspend Uranium-Enrichment Program,” Arms Control Today, December 2004.

3. Uranium-conversion facilities like 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, 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 [International Atomic Energy Agency] 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 which, 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.” See Paul Kerr, “With Deadline Looming, European Foreign Ministers Strike Deal to Restrict Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, November 2003.

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 low-enriched uranium, 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. Paul Kerr, “Iran Restarts Uranium Conversion,” Arms Control Today, September 2005.

7. Iran signed an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement on Dec. 18, 2003, but has not yet ratified it. However, for the last two years it has pledged to the IAEA that it would act as if the protocol were in force until it is approved by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament. States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) all have safeguarrds agreements to ensure that they do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes, but additional protocols grant the IAEA authority to conduct more rigorous, short-notice inspections at undeclared nuclear facilities to ferret out secret nuclear activities.

8. Chapter VII of the UN Charter provides authority for the UN Security Council to “ take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security” if it determines that peace is threatened or an act of aggression or breach of the peace have occurred.

9. A November 2005 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the agency’s Board of Governors listed several outstanding issues related to Iran’s uranium-enrichment program that the IAEA wants Iran to clarify. The agency has received sufficient information from Iran to resolve several other issues concerning its nuclear programs. The agency is still trying to resolve questions concerning procurement activities for Iran's P-1 centrifuge program, undisclosed work on its P-2 centrifuge program. It is also investigating possible nuclear activities at a military facility and a former physics research center, as well as recently disclosed documents that Iran obtained, which contain instructions for shaping uranium metal into "hemispherical forms"—a key step in developing explosive cores for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the IAEA is investigating questions about Iran's Gchine uranium mine. U.S. and European officials have told Arms Control Today that the lack of clarity surrounding the mine's operation suggests that Iran's military or an affiliated organization might have been working at the mine in an effort to obtain an independent uranium source. See Paul Kerr, “Russia Joins Diplomatic Push on Iran,” Arms Control Today, December 2005.

10. 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. These centrifuges’ design are reportedly based on the L-1 and L-2 centrifuges produced by URENCO. 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.

11. URENCO is an international uranium-enrichment consortium that is jointly owned by Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

12. According to a Jan. 25 Reuters article, “ UN Security Council leaders to meet on Iran issue,” IAEA safeguards investigators led by deputy agency director-general Olli Heinonen flew to Tehran Tuesday[ Jan. 24] in a concerted effort to get Iran to cooperate fully with the agency's demands on past nuclear activities.”

13. “Iran-UN: tense relations,” BBC Hard Talk, Interview with Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, January, 19, 2006.

14. Iran has proposed allowing foreign companies and governments to invest in Iranian enrichment facilities as a means of providing transparency into Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad first suggested this idea during his September speech to the UN General Assembly. See Paul Kerr, “New Iran Talks Set, but Prospects Gloomy,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2006.

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Interviewed by Oliver Meier

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U.S. Sanctions Nine Companies for Iran Trade

Wade Boese

The United States imposed sanctions Dec. 23 on nine foreign firms for allegedly making exports to Iran that could contribute to unconventional weapons programs. It also rescinded 2004 sanctions against an Indian citizen.

Six Chinese companies, two Indian firms, and an Austrian company were penalized under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. For two years, the accused will be barred from receiving U.S. government contracts, assistance, or military trade, as well as any goods controlled by the 1979 Export Administration Act, which regulates exports that have both civilian and military purposes.

The Bush administration had sanctioned three of the Chinese firms earlier. One of them, NORINCO, now has been penalized for the seventh time. Still, three of the Chinese companies—Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, LIMMT Metallurgy and Minerals Company Ltd., and Ounion International Economic and Technical Cooperative Ltd.—had not been sanctioned previously.

Similarly, two Indian firms, Sabero Organic Chemicals Gujarat Ltd. and Sandhya Organic Chemicals PVT Ltd., as well as an Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher GmbH, were punished for the first time. The sanctions come at an awkward time for the Indian and U.S. governments, which have lauded India’s nonproliferation credentials as a justification for increasing bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Both New Delhi and Beijing protested the sanctions. A spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs Dec. 28 called the penalties “not justified,” while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dec. 29 expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the U.S. action.

India, however, welcomed the U.S. decision to remove September 2004 Iran Nonproliferation Act sanctions on Dr. C. Surendar, a retired scientist from India’s atomic energy establishment. (See ACT, November 2004.) It also urged that sanctions levied at the same time against Dr. Y. S. R. Prasad be waived.

All told, the Bush administration has imposed proliferation sanctions 134 times against 81 foreign entities. Thirty-three Chinese entities account for 68 of the sanctions. A dozen North Korean firms have racked up 21 sanctions, while seven Indian entities have totaled eight penalties. The remaining sanctions are spread out among 29 entities in at least 13 different countries and Taiwan.

 

New Iran Talks Set, but Prospects Gloomy

Paul Kerr

Prospects for a successful resolution to Iran’s nuclear crisis appear increasingly bleak despite a recent flurry of diplomatic activity.

Iranian officials met Dec. 21 in Vienna with their counterparts from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in an attempt to restart negotiations aimed at resolving concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities, particularly its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program.

French Foreign Ministry political director Stanislas de Laboulaye indicated that the two sides are still far apart, Agence France Presse reported Dec. 22. But the two sides reportedly have agreed to meet again Jan. 18 to prepare for future negotiations.

Meanwhile, Iran and Russia agreed to meet Jan. 7 to discuss a related Russian compromise proposal that purportedly would allow Iran access to Russian uranium-enrichment services. But Tehran has publicly demonstrated only weak support for the idea.

All parties have indicated that their patience is wearing thin. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told Der Spiegel Dec. 20 that Tehran needs to demonstrate that it is willing to return to negotiations “over the next several weeks or months.” Similarly, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated Dec. 29 that “[t]ime is short now.”

Sounding an even more pessimistic note, a Western diplomat told Arms Control Today that the Russian proposal is the “last serious offer on the table,” adding that the Europeans “have run out of options there.”

Adding his two cents, Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, asserted during a Dec. 5 press conference that there is a “time limit” for solving the nuclear issue.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s multiple anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements in recent months also have complicated the situation. His comments have received widespread condemnation in the United States and throughout Europe. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier argued that such behavior is jeopardizing the chances for the success of the negotiations, the Associated Press reported Dec. 14.

Security Council Referral Looms

The United States and the Europeans are seeking to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. The European governments, as well as the United States, believe Russia will support such a move if Moscow’s diplomatic efforts fail. (See ACT, November 2005.)

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 that they are not diverted to military purposes. The Security Council may then take action against the offending state. Moscow’s support is considered to be crucial because, as one of five permanent members of the Security Council, it can veto a council resolution.

In September, the board found Iran in violation of its safeguards agreement after an IAEA investigation discovered that Tehran conducted several clandestine nuclear activities. But the board did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council. (See ACT, December 2005.)

Moscow’s position on a referral is unclear. President Vladimir Putin told reporters Dec. 6 that the IAEA route was “far from having been exhausted.” Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov said during a Dec. 26 interview that Russia still wants Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to dispel doubts about Tehran’s peaceful intentions.

But a Russian embassy official told Arms Control Today Dec. 22 that at least some Russian officials will reconsider their position on a referral if Tehran turns down Moscow’s proposal.

One likely explanation for Russia’s position is that Moscow’s view of the potential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear programs differs from Washington’s. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but Moscow has no proof that Iran is “violating the nonproliferation regime,” Lavrov said.

Russia also is constructing a civilian light-water nuclear reactor near the Iranian city of Bushehr.

Herding Cats

Iran and Europe

The recent European-Iranian talks marked the first time the two sides have met in several months. They had been meeting regularly since November 2004 in an attempt to devise mutually acceptable “objective guarantees” that Iran’s nuclear facilities would be used solely for peaceful purposes. But the talks broke down in August when Iran restarted its uranium-conversion facility. Iran had agreed to suspend several enrichment-related activities, including uranium conversion, for the duration of the negotiations. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Uranium-conversion facilities produce uranium hexafluoride gas from lightly processed uranium ore. Gas centrifuges 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, which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The NPT permits Iran to operate uranium-enrichment facilities under IAEA safeguards. But the United States and Iran’s European interlocutors are concerned that Iranian expertise gained from operating enrichment facilities could help it develop a nuclear weapons program.

The Europeans want Iran to forswear its indigenous uranium-enrichment facilities. In return, Iran would receive economic, technical, and security incentives, as well as an assured supply of nuclear fuel. The Europeans presented a proposal in August 2005 that described such incentives. But Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it wishes to enrich uranium, and there is no indication that it has seriously considered the proposal.

Iran also is continuing to push the envelope regarding the scope of its suspension. For example, Iran has shown no indication that it will suspend uranium conversion despite the Europeans’ repeated statements that negotiations will not resume unless Iran does so.

Moreover, Larijani upped the ante Dec. 5 by suggesting that Tehran may resume research and development on centrifuges, another activity that the November 2004 agreement required Iran to suspend. Larijani argued that the suspension should only cover Iran’s partly constructed centrifuge facility.

The three European countries responded with sharply worded statements indicating that negotiations might not resume if Iran restarts its centrifuge activities. Apparently undeterred, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamidreza Asefi repeated Larijani’s argument Dec. 25.

Iran and Russia

In an attempt at compromise, Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. But two Russian embassy officials told Arms Control Today in December that several aspects of the plan have yet to be decided, such as the proper method for transporting the nuclear material and the specific enrichment plant to be used. Iran has sent somewhat conflicting messages regarding the plan. On one hand, de Laboulaye told Agence France Presse Dec. 21 that, during the Vienna talks, the Europeans had mentioned the “Russian initiative,” and Iran did not reject it.

However, Iranian officials have said repeatedly that Iran wants to conduct enrichment in its own country. Larijani said Dec. 5 that Iran might participate in foreign enrichment projects but only to supplement its indigenous program. Javad Veidi, the head of Tehran’s negotiating team, told Iran’s Fars News Agency Dec. 30 that the government would study the Russian proposal “on the assumption that Iran’s rights for uranium enrichment on its soil is guaranteed.”

Veidi also indicated two days earlier that Tehran views Russia’s proposal as a potential way of improving Iran’s own centrifuge program, the Islamic Students News Agency reported.

However, a Russian embassy official told Arms Control Today Dec. 20 that were its proposal accepted, Iran would not be granted access to centrifuge technology, even if Iranian officials are allowed to visit the facility.

For its part, Iran has proposed allowing foreign companies and governments to invest in Iranian enrichment facilities. Such arrangements, first suggested by Ahmadinejad during his September speech to the UN General Assembly, would provide “maximum transparency” for Iran’s nuclear programs, Larijani told reporters.

Another U.S. Track?

The Bush administration has continued to push for a Security Council referral, as well as other means of pressuring Tehran.

During a Dec. 9 speech, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph reiterated that a Security Council referral will “reinforce” the IAEA’s efforts by augmenting its authority to “investigate all Iranian weaponization efforts.” The administration also has said that the Security Council could impose more punitive measures such as economic sanctions.

Last spring, the United States made some minor policy changes in order to aid the Europeans’ offer to support Iran’s application to the World Trade Organization and supply spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft. (See ACT, April 2005.)

In response to Iran’s increasingly hostile behavior, the Bush administration is augmenting its censure of Iran’s nuclear program by stepping up criticism of Tehran’s anti-democratic policies and its support for terrorist organizations. Moreover, Washington also appears to be encouraging other countries to take it upon themselves to pressure Iran to change the same objectionable behavior.

During a Nov. 30 speech in Washington, Burns recommended isolating Iran. He argued that the international community has leverage “[t]hrough its diplomatic contacts and its trade and its investment” that “could be used constructively now to convince the hard-liners in Tehran that there is a price for their misguided policies.” He also indicated Dec. 20 that the United States and other countries could take such actions without a UN mandate.

Washington has for now ruled out giving Iran additional incentives to give up its enrichment program, such as U.S. security assurances. Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli said Dec. 12 that the United States would only consider providing such assurances to Iran if Tehran cooperates with the IAEA.

 

Iran and Foreign Enrichment: A Troubled Model

Oliver Meier

In an attempt to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, Russia has proposed a compromise between Iran and the United States and its European allies. To meet Iranian concerns, it has suggested that Tehran be allowed to retain some elements of the nuclear fuel cycle on its territory. At the same time, to assuage the concerns of the United States and the European Union, Moscow has suggested that Iran renounce enrichment—the most sensitive element of the fuel cycle—and participate in a joint venture to enrich uranium on Russian soil. So far, Iran has been sending mixed signals in response to the second part of the offer. Behind Iran’s reluctance may lie an often overlooked chapter in nuclear history: Iran’s experience with Eurodif, a multinational enrichment facility based in France.

Eurodif was founded in 1973 as a joint venture between then-five participating partners: Belgium, France, Iran, Italy, and Spain. The idea was to place an enrichment facility in one country (France) and deliver the products (enriched uranium) to the co-financing partners, which would buy all their enrichment services from Eurodif. From a nonproliferation perspective, the model has distinct advantages. Because the financial partners do not participate in the actual operation of the plant, risks of diversion of technology or fissile materials are minimized. Co-ownership of the plant provides strong assurances of supply. Because France is a nuclear-weapon state, diversion of material to support a clandestine nuclear weapons program is not an issue.

Even though Eurodif is a multinational joint venture, its operation is governed solely by French national legislation. The only other multinational enrichment facility, Urenco, which is based in the Netherlands, operates on the basis of an international agreement among Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The Urenco arrangement avoids one disadvantage of the Eurodif model: the unequal status of partners participating in the consortium. Because access to enrichment technology is limited to the host state, other Eurodif partners are denied critical information. Thus, it may be difficult for them to make informed decisions about the operation of the plant, such as investments in new technologies.

Since its inception, Eurodif has gone beyond supplying its participating partners with low-enriched fuel for energy production and now exports such fuel to almost 100 reactors worldwide. Eurodif’s provision of 8 million separative work units (SWU) of enrichment services makes it one of the world’s four largest such organizations. Unlike Urenco, Eurodif is not involved in the development of enrichment technology. In the future, both enterprises will move closer together. On Nov. 24, 2003, Areva, the French government-owned company that runs Eurodif, acquired a 50 percent equity interest in Enrichment Technology Co., which owns Urenco.

The biggest hurdle to making Eurodif the prototype for a future extraterritorial Iranian enrichment facility, however, is the tangled history of Iran’s involvement with the multinational venture. In 1974, Iran’s ruler, Shah Reza Pahlavi, lent $1 billion to the French Atomic Energy Commission to build the Eurodif plant. The loan would have entitled Iran to buy 10 percent of enriched uranium produced by Eurodif. In 1977, Iran paid another $180 million for future enrichment services by Eurodif. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979—ironically, the year Eurodif began its operation— Tehran cancelled its agreement with Eurodif and halted its payments for enriched-uranium deliveries because Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini initially was not interested in nuclear power. Eurodif never delivered any nuclear fuel to Iran.

A bitter legal dispute followed, during which time Iran demanded repayment of its original $1 billion loan, plus interest. France argued that Iran owed it payments beyond the $180 million for enrichment services ordered by the shah but which were subsequently cancelled. The legal suit was settled only at the end of 1991. Iran was reimbursed a total of $1.6 billion for its original 1974 loan plus interest, and French firms were compensated for their losses, partly through an export insurance company. Iran remained an indirect shareholder through Sofidif, a French-Iranian consortium that has a 25 percent interest in Eurodif.

Ironically, the settlement came just as Iran had changed its position vis-à-vis Eurodif and demanded delivery of enriched uranium based on the old contract. Paris maintained that the contract had expired in 1990. By that time, Iran was already subject to Western sanctions. France refused to deliver the fuel even though Tehran still held an indirect share in Eurodif. Iran views this refusal as proof of the unreliability of outside nuclear supplies and uses the Eurodif episode to argue its case for achieving energy independence by supplying all of the elements of the nuclear fuel cycle itself.

 

Russia Joins Diplomatic Push on Iran

Paul Kerr

A Nov. 18 report from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the agency’s Board of Governors indicated that Iran has only partially complied with a September board resolution that found Tehran in “non-compliance” with its agency safeguards agreement. But the board took no action at its Nov. 24 meeting. Instead, the United States is continuing to support European and Russian diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to resume negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

With U.S. and European support, Moscow also has made Iran a potentially face-saving offer tied to a resumption of negotiations. The proposal would allow Iran to operate a uranium-conversion facility permanently if Tehran renounces the ability to enrich uranium on its own territory.

European-Iranian talks, which were designed to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear fuel programs, began in December 2004 but broke down in August when Iran restarted its uranium-conversion facility. Iran had agreed to suspend such operations for the duration of the negotiations. (See ACT, November 2005.)

A Department of State official and a Western diplomat told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the Europeans want to give such diplomacy a chance to succeed before moving forward with a referral to the UN Security Council. They also agreed that even an Iranian refusal to negotiate would help build international support for such a referral and for more effective Security Council action because Tehran would be seen as unwilling to compromise.

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, required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military purposes. The Security Council may then take action against the offending state.

In September the board found that Iran had not complied with its safeguards agreement but did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters Nov. 21 that Washington believes Tehran “should be referred to the Security Council, but we will reserve the right to seek that action at the time of our choosing.”

Speaking to a Vienna audience Nov. 17, U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Gregory Schulte reiterated the U.S. view that the council would “reinforce” the agency’s efforts, perhaps by giving the IAEA “enhanced” investigative authority. The IAEA has determined that Iran violated its safeguards agreement by conducting clandestine work on several nuclear programs. The agency is still attempting to resolve a number of questions about Tehran’s nuclear activities, especially its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, October 2005.) Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU), used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Uranium-conversion facilities convert lightly processed uranium ore, or “yellowcake,” into several compounds, including uranium hexafluoride. Under the NPT, Iran is permitted to operate uranium-enrichment facilities under IAEA safeguards, but the United States and the Europeans are concerned that Iranian expertise gained from operating enrichment facilities could support a nuclear weapons program.

Diplomacy Continues

The three European governments say that they will not resume negotiations unless Iran suspends operations at its conversion facility, but both the State Department official and Western diplomat said that the Europeans are willing to have discussions with Iran about resuming negotiations. These talks would likely not be conditioned on Iran suspending conversion.

Iranian officials told the Europeans earlier this month that they would engage in talks, but Tehran has shown no sign that it will stop converting uranium. According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran resumed converting yellowcake Nov. 16 after stopping the facility for a short maintenance period.

According to the State Department official, Iran’s European interlocutors have outlined a new diplomatic approach in a paper circulated to other countries. Under this approach, Iran would be allowed to produce uranium hexafluoride but would have to forswear uranium enrichment on its territory. In return, Iran would receive the economic, technical, and security incentives described in a detailed proposal that the Europeans presented in August. Iran has shown no sign of having seriously considered the proposal.

Under the Europeans’ new approach, Iran would be required to limit its conversion activities to only its domestic uranium reserves and export any converted nuclear material, the official said. This provision is apparently designed to prevent Iran from augmenting its limited indigenous uranium reserves, thus constraining Iran’s nuclear aspirations to some extent. The United States estimates that these reserves are sufficient to produce 250-300 nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Permitting Iran to produce uranium hexafluoride is a change from the previous U.S. and European policy of opposing any Iranian conversion capabilities. The Western diplomat explained that the Europeans changed their position because the previous one “had not been getting us anywhere.”

As for Washington, the State Department official said that the Europeans have persuaded Bush administration officials that, by demonstrating a good-faith diplomatic effort on their part to resolve the matter outside the Security Council, the compromise would aid efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran to cooperate. The Europeans also argued that, in the event that Tehran makes a genuine decision to forswear enrichment, its conversion program will then be unnecessary and Iran will end it for pragmatic reasons.

Rallying additional international support, especially from Russia and China, is another key component of the U.S.-European diplomatic strategy. Both countries still oppose referring Iran’s case to the Security Council. Their support is considered to be crucial because, as permanent members of the Security Council, either can veto a council resolution.

Indeed, the United States and Europeans are supporting Russian diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis partly because they believe that Russia will support a referral if those efforts fail.

Both the Western diplomat and the State Department official confirmed press reports that Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov presented a proposal to the Iranians earlier in the month that dovetails with the European approach. The proposal is apparently conditioned on Tehran resuming negotiations with the Europeans and would give Tehran part-ownership of a centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. (See ACT, November 2005.) Iran would not have access to the centrifuges, the State Department official said.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley expressed explicit U.S. support for Moscow’s diplomacy Nov. 18, calling the Russian proposal “a good avenue to explore.” Although Iranian officials have been cool to the idea, Hadley stated that it has not yet been rejected.

Despite these diplomatic efforts, the United States and the Europeans may be running out of patience. Both Schulte and the European Union (EU) issued statements to the board indicating that Iran only has a limited time to comply with the September resolution. Neither statement specified a date, however.

Report Details

ElBaradei’s report provides a mixed picture of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA board’s September resolution.

The resolution called on Tehran to suspend its conversion efforts, as well as provide agency inspectors with procurement documents, interviews with Iranian officials, and access to two sites where Iran is suspected of conducting undeclared nuclear weapons-related activities. These steps are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement, but the IAEA believes them necessary for developing a complete history of Iran’s nuclear efforts.

ElBaradei told the board Sept. 24 that “[c]larification of these issues is overdue.”

According to the report, Iran has provided a considerable amount of additional information related to its P-1 centrifuge program but comparatively little with respect to other outstanding issues, such as the nature of Tehran’s program based on more-advanced P-2 centrifuges. Iran also has not yet allowed the IAEA access to all of the sites the agency has asked to visit.

Both U.S. and IAEA officials have said previously that Iran’s failure to account fully for its centrifuge procurement activities may indicate that the government has pursued undisclosed centrifuge programs.

Iran also has failed to take other steps called for by the September resolution, such as reconsidering its ongoing construction of a 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor. Iran claims the reactor is intended for peaceful purposes, but the United States argues that Iran intends to use it to produce plutonium.

Uranium-Enrichment Program

During a series of meetings with the IAEA held in October and November, Iran gave the agency additional documents that Tehran said came from a nuclear procurement network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, who helped found Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Iran also allowed the agency to interview two unnamed Iranian officials.

Iran had previously admitted to receiving centrifuge designs and related components from the Khan network. (See ACT, October 2005.) According to the report, the recently submitted documentation related to offers it received from foreign intermediaries in 1987 and around 1994.

Many of the new documents related to the 1987 offer date from “from the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s,” the report says. They include drawings of P-1 centrifuge components, technical specifications related to assembling centrifuges and manufacturing related components, and drawings for a 2,000-centrifuge plant.

Iran also has provided information about its late 1980s and early 1990s procurement efforts, as well as centrifuge components it obtained in the mid-1990s. The report says that the information about the earlier efforts “seems to be consistent with Iran’s declarations” of what it had procured in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it draws no conclusion about the materials Iran obtained in the mid-1990s.

By comparison, Iran has apparently provided little new information about its P-2 centrifuge program. According to the report, the agency is assessing documentation that Iran has provided since September indicating that an Iranian contractor who had worked on the P-2 program obtained related materials that it had apparently not disclosed to the IAEA.

ElBaradei’s report says that the agency remains concerned that Iran has conducted undisclosed work on the project. The IAEA has requested additional documentation regarding both programs.

The report also says that the agency is still investigating the origin of some LEU particles found in Iran by IAEA inspectors. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to very low levels, but the uncertainty regarding these LEU particles suggested that Iran may have conducted additional centrifuge experiments that it concealed from the IAEA.

According to the report, environmental samples taken from a location in an unnamed country where centrifuge components from the Khan network were stored “did not indicate any traces of nuclear material.” That country is known to be the United Arab Emirates.

Although the Western diplomat said these findings indicate that the particles did not come from these components, the State Department official said that Washington is almost certain that, based on an examination of uranium samples taken from Iranian facilities and Pakistani centrifuge components, all the LEU particles in question originated in Pakistan.

Arms Control Today reported in October that, for all practical purposes, the investigation has resolved similar concerns about HEU particles found in Iran.

Weaponization

According to the report, Iran has turned over a document detailing the “procedural requirements” for reducing uranium hexafluoride to “metal in small quantities.” The document also discussed the “casting and machining of enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms.”

Iran claims that the document had been “provided on the initiative of the procurement network,” rather than at Iran’s request.

This revelation has generated additional concern about Iran’s nuclear program because shaping uranium in such a fashion is used in developing explosive cores of nuclear weapons. According to the EU statement to the board, “Such a process has no application other than the production of nuclear warheads.”

The Western diplomat said that the document is not a “smoking gun” but does constitute “potential evidence of weaponization.”

Whether the document is evidence of a previously unknown Iranian capability to develop nuclear weapons is unclear. Iran has previously acknowledged that it was offered equipment for casting uranium but maintains that it has never received any such equipment.

Transparency Visits

After months of agency requests, Iran granted IAEA inspectors access to Iran’s Parchin military complex Nov. 1. The visit was the inspectors’ first since January. According to the report, the inspectors “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited,” but the IAEA is awaiting the results of environmental samples taken during the visit before assessing whether Iran conducted any nuclear activities there.

The United States and the IAEA have both expressed concern that Iran has been testing conventional high explosives at Parchin for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. In such weapons, conventional charges compress a core of fissile material in order to start a nuclear chain reaction. (See ACT, October 2004.)

The report also says that the IAEA wishes to “undertake additional visits” to the site but does not say why. However, the State Department official said that the agency may still have “suspicions” about Iranian activities at the site. The official also confirmed a Nov. 18 Agence France Presse report that the inspectors saw a high-speed camera during their visit. Such cameras can be used to monitor experiments with high explosives, such as those used in an implosion-type nuclear weapon.

Iran has still not cooperated with the IAEA’s investigation of a physics research center that was operating at a site called Lavizan-Shian between 1989 and 1998, the report says. (See ACT, April 2005.)

 

Congress Amends Iran Nonproliferation Act

William Huntington

Congress in November amended the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act and renamed it the “Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act.”

The new measure would direct the president to impose additional sanctions against governments and individuals responsible for transferring missile, weapons of mass destruction, and advanced conventional weapons technologies to Syria, now placing transfers to that country on par with transfers to Iran. It would also broaden the scope of the sanctions to cover exports from those countries in addition to their imports and put additional pressure on governments involved in this trade. Whereas the past legislation only held foreign governmental entities liable under the sanctions provisions if they were “operating as a business enterprise,” foreign governments themselves will be liable under the new bill.

The act was amended to remove a clause which could have caused U.S. astronauts to lose access to the International Space Station. That clause prohibits the United States from making space station-related payments to Russia without a presidential certification of Russia’s nonproliferation compliance vis-à-vis Iran. But with the space shuttle program plagued by uncertainty, NASA wanted to retain the ability to use Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for transportation to and from the space station.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) chose to add Syria to the legislation when it took up the legislation in October, a congressional source told Arms Control Today. “If the Bush administration was going to weaken an important nonproliferation law, they thought it best to take the same opportunity to strengthen and extend the same nonproliferation law,” this source said. The original Senate version, which was approved Sept. 21, did not contain the Syria provision. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law Nov. 22.

When Congress enacted the law in 2000, it targeted Russia and the Russian Space Agency because of persistent reports that Russia was violating the Missile Technology Control Regime and helping Iran develop ballistic missiles, as well as concern over Russia’s construction of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. The new bill waives restrictions on payments to Russia for space station-related services, including use of the Soyuz. The administration originally requested Congress permanently strike the purchase restrictions, but the new law only allows an exemption from the restrictions through the end of 2011.

 

IAEA Unlikely to Refer Iran to Security Council

Paul Kerr

On Nov. 24, following an anticipated report from Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors is set to evaluate Iran’s cooperation with a Sept. 24 resolution that found Tehran in “non-compliance” with its agency safeguards agreement. Although Iran seems unlikely to comply with all of the resolution’s demands, there seems to be little chance that the board will refer the matter to the UN Security Council.

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

However, the September resolution does not specify when or under what circumstances such a referral will take place. Iran violated its safeguards agreement by conducting clandestine work on several nuclear programs and has yet to resolve a number of questions, especially with regard to its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, October 2005.) Uranium enrichment can produce both fuel for civilian nuclear reactors or fissile material for nuclear weapons.

IAEA board decisions are usually made by consensus, but a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Oct. 17 that Washington anticipates that the board would have to vote on any future referral decision because of the contentious nature of the Iran dispute.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told an academic audience Oct. 21 that, after receiving such a referral, the council could seek to “reinforce” the IAEA’s efforts, perhaps by calling on Iran to cooperate with the agency and giving the IAEA “new, needed authority to investigate all Iranian weaponization efforts.”

Still, a State Department source told Arms Control Today Oct. 28 that Iran will likely avoid Security Council referral at this month’s board meeting by providing the IAEA with “at least superficial cooperation.” The official would not describe the extent of Iran’s cooperation, but Reuters and the Associated Press reported Oct. 20 that Iran gave the IAEA some documents and allowed agency inspectors to interview a government official.

The September resolution calls on Iran to “implement transparency measures,” such as providing IAEA inspectors with procurement documents and access to certain Iranian officials. These steps are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement, but the agency believes them necessary for developing a complete history of Iran’s nuclear efforts.

Stalled Diplomacy, Possible Compromises

The September resolution also urges Iran to suspend operating its uranium-conversion facility near Isfahan and resume talks with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides had been engaged in negotiations since November 2004 to resolve concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran agreed at that time to suspend operations at the Isfahan facility for the duration of the negotiations, but the talks broke down when Iran restarted the facility in August.

Tehran has said that it is willing to return to the bargaining table but will not suspend the facility’s operation. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Oct. 23 that Iran would continue its nuclear efforts until its “fuel cycle becomes operational.”

Uranium-conversion facilities convert lightly processed uranium ore into several uranium compounds, including uranium hexafluoride, which is the feedstock for gas centrifuges. Iran is permitted to operate uranium-enrichment facilities under IAEA safeguards, but both the United States and the Europeans are concerned that Iranian expertise gained from operating enrichment facilities will support a nuclear weapons program.

The Europeans still want Iran to suspend conversion operations and respond to their August proposal, which laid out incentives aimed at persuading Iran to cease its enrichment program permanently. (See ACT, September 2005.)

But the State Department official told Arms Control Today that the Europeans are now exploring solutions that would allow Tehran to keep a limited uranium-conversion capability, perhaps by permitting Iran to produce some uranium compounds but not uranium hexafluoride.

A Western diplomat asked about this possible compromise said that the Europeans’ formal position is that Iran should give up its nuclear fuel programs. But a “credible” proposal allowing Iran to retain a residual conversion capability would not be “ruled out automatically,” the diplomat admitted.

In an effort to strengthen ongoing multilateral diplomacy, the United States and Europeans have increasingly focused on efforts to persuade Russia, who currently opposes a Security Council referral, to change its position. As a permanent member of that body, Russia can veto any Security Council action. Moscow is also widely believed to have considerable influence on Tehran.

Russia and China—another veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council—abstained from voting for the September resolution. Asked about Chinese opposition to a council referral, the State Department official indicated that U.S. officials believe Beijing would moderate its position if Russia does so.

At a press conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters Oct. 15 that the IAEA should “do everything possible” to resolve concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program before referring the matter to the Security Council. But he also emphasized “the necessity” for Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA.

The United States is encouraging Russia to propose creative solutions to facilitate the Europeans’ diplomacy, although there is no indication that Russia will join the talks.

For example, Moscow has proposed that Iran share ownership of a uranium-enrichment plant located in Russia, the State Department official said. Designed to address Iran’s claim that it cannot rely on outside nuclear fuel suppliers, this proposal could be combined with Moscow’s months-old proposal to enrich Iranian uranium in Russia. It would also satisfy Washington’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, the official added. Lavrov mentioned the joint-ownership proposal to his Iranian counterpart during a recent meeting, and Moscow is awaiting Iran’s reaction.

Washington anticipates that Iran will reject the offer, the State Department official said, but argued that such a decision would demonstrate Iran’s lack of interest in compromise and make Russia more likely to support the U.S. position.

South Africa has also reportedly offered its own compromise that would allow Iran to convert South African uranium to uranium hexafluoride. The gas would then be sent back to the country. South African embassy and foreign ministry officials did not respond to requests for further details.

The Western diplomat, however, said that no country has approached the Europeans with a proposal. In fact, no government is performing an intermediary role between the two sides, the diplomat said.

Iran Adrift?

Tehran’s more aggressive diplomatic stance since Ahmadinejad’s June election has drawn criticism from some prominent Iranian figures, such as former presidential candidate and current head of Iran’s Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who have called for a more moderate approach.

But, whether Iran’s policies will change remains unclear. Iran had shown signs of moderation by its apparent cooperation with the IAEA and its failure to carry out recent threats to resume work on its other enrichment-related facilities. However, Ahmadinejad’s Oct. 26 call for the destruction of Israel provoked widespread international condemnation and cast further doubt on Tehran’s ability and desire to conduct cooperative diplomacy.

Courting the NAM

To try to win greater support for its preferred hard-line position on Iran at the IAEA, Washington has also lately made an effort to reach out to developing countries, such as those belonging to the Nonaligned Movement (NAM).

These efforts, such as a September statement from U.S. Ambassador Gregory Schulte that emphasized U.S. support for peaceful nuclear energy, are meant to counter Iran’s efforts to gain support among developing countries. Iran has portrayed U.S. and European nuclear diplomacy as an attempt to deny such countries access to peaceful nuclear technology.

NAM countries have generally shown some sympathy to Iran at past board meetings and frequently display an ambivalence regarding nonproliferation efforts in general. Although these governments express concern about the spread of nuclear weapons, they also fault the NPT nuclear-weapon states, such as the United States, for lagging in their disarmament commitments under the treaty.

The State Department official and the Western diplomat differed as to the extent to which Iran’s argument has been effective. Indeed, the September vote tally reflects a degree of disunity within the NAM countries. All told, 22 board members voted for the September resolution, with 12 abstentions and Venezuela casting the only negative vote. Aside from Venezuela, all NAM board members either supported the resolution or abstained from voting. But the board has subsequently added some new members less favorable to the United States: Belarus, Cuba and Syria.

Demonstrating the situation’s complexity, U.S. officials are still lobbying India to support a future Security Council referral. New Delhi voted for the September resolution, but issued a statement later that day which disputed the resolution’s key noncompliance finding.

A source from NAM chair Malaysia told Arms Control Today Oct. 19 that the NAM wants Iran to resolve its outstanding issues with the IAEA but is concerned that removing the issue from the agency at this time would be “counterproductive” and could damage the IAEA’s integrity. However, the source indicated that the NAM could eventually support a Security Council referral if Iran persists in its failure to cooperate fully with the agency.

Apparently referring to Washington’s disregard for UN weapons inspectors’ findings prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the source emphasized that the NAM would base its Iran assessments on reports from the IAEA rather than an “individual country.”

 

IAEA Iran Vote Tally

Paul Kerr

Below is how the then-members of the IAEA Board of Governors voted on a Sept. 24 resolution that said Iran was in “non-compliance” with its safeguards agreement. The resolution was adopted with 22 board members voting for it, 1 against, and 12 abstaining. Some of the board members have subsequently changed.

For Resolution
Argentina
Australia
Belgium
Canada
Ecuador
France
Germany
Ghana
Hungary
India
Italy
Japan
Republic of Korea
Netherlands
Peru
Poland
Portugal
Singapore
Slovakia
Sweden
United Kingdom and
Northern Ireland
United States

Against Resolution
Venezuela

Abstaining
Algeria
Brazil
China
Mexico
Nigeria
Pakistan
Russian Federation
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Tunisia
Vietnam
Yemen

 

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