The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011

U.S. Offer Fails to End EU-Iran Impasse

Paul Kerr

Despite a U.S. offer in March designed to strengthen their hand, three European nations have been unable to produce any major breakthroughs in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Still, both sides have agreed to continue talks, and Iran has pledged to continue the suspension of its controversial uranium-enrichment program for the duration of the negotiations.

In a March 10 letter to Javier Solana, EU high representative for Common Foreign Security Policy, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom acknowledged that the negotiations are not progressing “as fast as we would wish.” The major sticking point is defining “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Both sides agreed in November to negotiate a long-term agreement that includes such guarantees. (See ACT, December 2004.)

The three European countries want Tehran to cease completely its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Uranium enrichment can produce both fuel for nuclear reactors and fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials have stated numerous times that Iran will not give up this program, arguing instead that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring can provide the necessary assurances. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Although Tehran has previously threatened to break off the negotiations, the Europeans said in a March 23 joint statement that the talks would continue. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamidreza Asefi told reporters the next day that the talks were a “step forward and constructive.”

The Europeans’ statement followed the first meeting of a higher-level steering committee set up to review the progress of three working groups, which have met several times since beginning work in December 2004. (See ACT, January/February 2005.) The groups had been tasked with developing proposals for mutual cooperation on nuclear and non-nuclear technical projects, as well as political and security issues.

The March 23 joint statement reported that the groups have made “progress on a number of interim measures,” but did not elaborate. According to the foreign ministers’ letter, the Europeans have offered to assist Iran on various aspects of “technical preparation” for its negotiations to accede to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The two sides have already found “some common ground” in discussions about terrorism and drug trafficking, the letter added.

At least two additional meetings have been scheduled. The working group concerned with nuclear issues is to meet during the week of April 11, followed by another steering committee meeting at the end of the month, according to a Department of State official and a European diplomat familiar with the talks.

U.S. Policy Shifts
Meanwhile, in an effort to bridge tactical differences between the United States and the Europeans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated March 11 that Washington “will drop its objection to Iran’s application to the [WTO] and will consider, on a case by case basis, the licensing of spare parts for Iranian civilian aircraft, in particular from the EU to Iran.”

Although the United States still refuses to participate in the talks, Rice’s statement signaled a modest U.S. policy shift. National security adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN March 13 that the policy change was an effort to bolster the negotiations, adding that these particular incentives were chosen at the Europeans’ request. The Bush administration had previously stated its cautious support for the negotiations but had not offered any incentives to Iran.

U.S. support for Iran’s WTO negotiations is especially important to the Europeans, who promised in November to “actively support the opening of Iranian accession negotiations at the WTO,” which the United States has blocked numerous times. U.S. export licenses are also needed for European firms to be able to sell certain spare aircraft parts, a senior administration official told reporters March 11.

The administration had been mulling a U.S. incentives proposal since President George W. Bush returned from a February trip to Europe, where he held related discussions with various European leaders. Rice’s announcement came in response to the Europeans’ March 10 letter, according to the senior administration official, who implied that the Europeans have toughened their position on Iran in response to U.S. persuasion.

In particular, the official cited the Europeans’ commitment in their letter to push the IAEA Board of Governors to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if Tehran does not continue with the negotiations and cooperate with the IAEA’s ongoing investigation of Iran’s past and current nuclear activities. The letter just reiterates European policy, but it is the most explicit public written statement about the Security Council referral option that the Europeans have offered to date. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Under the IAEA’s 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 safeguards agreements. Those agreements allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. The council may then take action against the offending state. The IAEA has already found several Iranian safeguards violations, but the United States has repeatedly failed in past attempts to persuade the IAEA board to support a Security Council referral. Tehran has signed an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and agreed to abide by its provisions until ratified by Iran’s parliament. Such protocols augment the agency’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said that Iran should end its enrichment program. Yet, State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli would not say during a March 18 press briefing whether the United States would now support a European deal that did not end Iran’s enrichment efforts. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan also refused to answer a similar question earlier in the month.

Continued Disagreement on Nuclear Facilities
Still, the recent U.S. offer has not yet visibly influenced the negotiations. Hossein Moussavian, secretary of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Supreme National Security Council in Iran, dismissed the U.S. incentives as insignificant in a March 13 BBC interview. Other Iranian officials have stated that economic incentives will not induce them to end their enrichment program.

Article IV of the NPT permits non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to possess uranium-enrichment facilities for civilian purposes under IAEA safeguards. The crux of the two sides’ disagreement is the extent to which Iranian “objective guarantees” of its peaceful nuclear intentions should exceed IAEA safeguards requirements.

Iranian diplomats presented “certain ideas” at the steering committee meeting about such guarantees, according to its European interlocutors’ joint statement. The State Department official and European diplomat said Iran informally proposed to limit its enrichment program to an IAEA-monitored plant containing about 3,000 centrifuges. Iran has a pilot 164-centrifuge facility and has said it wants to build a more-than 50,000-centrifuge commercial facility.

Tehran would also ratify its additional protocol and would allow “intrusive IAEA access” to other facilities, although the Iranians apparently provided no details about the latter.

The State Department official said that Iran’s proposed plant would still cause concern because it could provide Iranian personnel with expertise they could use in a secret centrifuge facility. Washington, the official added, believes Iran has yet to master key steps of the enrichment process, such as producing feedstock for the centrifuges and operating them for sustained periods of time.

Hadley, however, acknowledged March 13 that U.S. intelligence about Iran’s nuclear programs is limited.

The Europeans have also offered to support Iran’s “acquisition” of a light-water nuclear research reactor to replace the heavy-water version Tehran is currently constructing. Both the Europeans and the United States are concerned that Iran may use the latter to produce plutonium for weapons. Light-water reactors are more proliferation resistant. Iran has signaled that it may allow a team of European experts to visit Iran to discuss construction of the light-water reactor but has not agreed to replace the heavy-water reactor, the European diplomat said.

The Iranian “ideas” were not formal proposals and may well not represent Iran’s final negotiating position. A senior Iranian negotiator told the Islamic Students News Agency March 6 that “there could be diverse solutions to this problem.”

Iran, Russia Reach Nuclear Agreement

Paul Kerr

The conclusion of an agreement in which Russia will supply Iran with nuclear fuel for a 1,000-megawatt light-water nuclear power reactor marks the latest step in a decade-long controversy.

Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy Director Alexander Rumyantsev announced Feb. 27 that Tehran and Moscow had finally signed off on a deal to supply fuel for the reactor near the southern Iranian city of Bushehr for a period of 10 years. Although the United States has long opposed the reactor project, the Bush administration did not publicly criticize the agreement.

In 1995, Russia agreed to finish the reactor project, which is widely reported to be worth about $800 million. The original German contractor abandoned the project following Iran’s 1979 revolution.

A final deal was delayed several times as the two sides negotiated a provision that requires Iran to return the spent reactor fuel to Russia. The arrangement was designed to reduce the risk that Iran will separate plutonium from the spent fuel. Separated plutonium can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons. (See ACT, October 2003.)

Iran does not have a known facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to obtain plutonium, although Tehran has conducted related experiments.

Although the full fresh-fuel delivery schedule has not been made public, Rumyantsev said that the first shipment will occur “some six months” before the reactor begins operation in late 2006. In a March 21 interview with Arms Control Today, a Russian government nuclear expert estimated that the spent fuel will not go back to Russia until 2011 at the earliest. The returned fuel will then be stored at a facility in the Russian city of Zheleznogorsk (formerly Krasnoyarsk-26).

There is some question, however, as to how long the spent fuel will need to remain in cooling ponds located in Iran before being sent to Russia. The Russian official’s estimate assumes that the fuel needs two years to cool. However, other Russian officials have told their U.S. counterparts that the fuel must stay in Iran between three and five years, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 21.

Both Russian and Iranian officials said the governments remain engaged in discussions about the possibility that Moscow might build additional reactors for Tehran.

Light-water nuclear reactors are considered more proliferation-resistant than other types of reactors. But the United States had wanted Russia to abandon the Bushehr project altogether, arguing that Moscow’s assistance would allow Iran to acquire expertise and dual-use technology that could aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program.

Undersecretary of State for International Security and Arms Control John Bolton told the House International Relations Committee in June 2003 that Iran could build “over 80 nuclear weapons” if it had access to sufficient fuel, operated the reactor for five to six years, and chose to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). This estimate assumes that Iran possesses a reprocessing facility.

The project was a point of contention during a May 2002 meeting between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But U.S. officials said two months later that Washington would not publicly object to the reactor if Moscow took steps, such as requiring the spent fuel’s return, to mitigate the project’s proliferation risks, the State Department official said. Indeed, neither Bush nor Putin mentioned the issue during a joint press conference following a Feb. 24 bilateral meeting.

Russia contends that the reactor will not pose a proliferation risk because it will operate under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

IAEA safeguards agreements require states-parties to the NPT to allow the agency to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. Iran also signed an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement in 2003. That protocol augments the agency’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities. Tehran has agreed to abide by its provisions until Iran’s parliament ratifies the agreement.

Washington Reacts
Speaking to reporters Feb. 28, State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli would not say whether Washington approves of the deal. But he characterized it as representing a “convergence…of views between the United States and Russia about the problem posed by Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Bush administration has repeatedly asked Russia to help pressure Iran to end the latter’s uranium-enrichment program, which Washington says is a cover for a nuclear weapons program. Despite the recent fuel-supply deal, Tehran has said that it will continue to develop its own nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

The IAEA discovered in 2003 that Iran had an extensive, clandestine uranium-enrichment program. Tehran has suspended this program for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides are attempting to reach a long-term agreement that is to include “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope to produce either low-enriched uranium (LEU) for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium (HEU). If enriched to high enough levels, HEU can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons. The Bushehr reactor uses LEU.

A senior administration official told reporters in February that Russia has “made it clear” that it will not complete the reactor until “the Iranians have met all their international obligations.” Additionally, the State Department official suggested that Russia might use the fuel agreement as leverage to persuade Iran to cooperate with the Europeans.

Russia’s enthusiasm for such tactics is difficult to gauge. Putin displayed little alarm over Iran’s nuclear programs last month, stating that “Iran does not intend to produce nuclear arms.” Moreover, Moscow may not view Iran’s compliance with its European interlocutors’ demands as an “international obligation” because Iran is not legally obligated to suspend or dismantle its uranium-enrichment program.

Nevertheless, Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov explicitly stated March 1 that Iran should maintain its suspension, and Putin told reporters March 18 that Russia supports the Europeans’ negotiations.

The Bush administration previously said Moscow should condition the fuel supply agreement on Tehran’s conclusion of its additional protocol. Moscow hinted at such conditions, but the extent to which it linked the two issues is unclear.

After Iran: Back to the Basics on "Peaceful" Nuclear Energy

By Henry Sokolski

If states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) want to prevent countries such as Iran from using the treaty as a legal cover to acquire all they need to come within days of having nuclear weapons, they will have to return to what the NPT originally meant by “peaceful” nuclear energy.

Under Article IV of the treaty, NPT member states are assured access to the benefits of civilian nuclear energy. Read properly, Article IV recommends eschewing dangerous nuclear projects that cannot compete economically with less risky alternatives. It also means shunning, as much as possible, nuclear activities that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cannot yet truly safeguard, that is, provide timely warning of diversions of sufficient nuclear material to make a bomb. These activities include enric hing uranium, reprocessing plutonium, and fabricating fuels derived from highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium.

In the next few years, both at the upcoming NPT Review Conference and in other fora, states should consider a number of international moratoria to restrict these activities. It would be useful to hold off expanding states’ net capacity to separate plutonium, enrich uranium, or fabricate fuels that use nuclear weapons-usable materials as well as to re-examine what the IAEA requires to meet its own safeguards criteria. Given the economic and security interests at stake, securing agreement to any of these proposals will not be easy. Yet, the alternative to not trying is far worse: a world crowded with nuclear-ready states mutually suspicious of one another and primed for war.

Original Intent
Iran’s claim that it has a “peaceful” right to acquire all it needs to come within days of having a bomb should remind us of what the NPT was meant to prevent. As the diplomat who first proposed the treaty, Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken, explained in 1959, “a world of nuclear-ready states would resemble a town full of armed residents pointing guns at each other’s heads. At some point, mutual suspicion and the advantage of firing first would give way to mayhem.”[1]

The NPT was supposed to prevent this. In 1965, the UN General Assembly resolved that the NPT was to be “void of loop-holes which might permit nuclear or non-nuclear power to proliferate, directly or indirectly, nuclear weapons in any form.” As a result, the treaty’s negotiators rejected proposals by Mexico and Spain to make the nuclear-weapon states’ sharing of “the entire technology of reactors and fuels,” including the means to produce nuclear weapons usable materials, a “duty” under the NPT.[2]

The treaty’s negotiators understood that, although nations should be free to develop peaceful nuclear energy under the NPT, whether or not a particular activity met this criterion depended upon a number of factors.[3] First, could the activity in question be safeguarded, as the NPT required, to prevent it from being diverted “from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons”? Could the NPT’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, monitor it in a manner that could reliably detect the loss or theft of enough nuclear material to make a bomb before this material could actually be fabricated into an explosive?

Meeting this timely detection criteria, which the IAEA has adopted to define its safeguard procedures, is not a given and is not yet possible at nuclear facilities that handle or can quickly produce large amounts of nuclear weapons-usable fuel. Such industrial units include plutonium-separation plants, uranium-enrichment facilities, and factories that fabricate HEU- and plutonium-based fuels.

Still Beyond Safeguards
Why are inspections at such plants insufficient to safeguard against such diversions? Consider Japan’s recent experience: In January 2003, Japanese officials admitted that their pilot plutonium reprocessing plant at Tokai-mura “lost” 206 kilograms of weapons-usable plutonium (roughly 40 crude bombs worth) over the previous 15 years. The Japanese had not diverted the material; they simply were at loss as to where this material might have gone. One popular theory is that the material was “stuck in the pipes”; another theory is that it was dissolved in chemical solution. These reported losses were in addition to the 70 kilograms of plutonium Japan previously conceded remained unaccounted for at a plutonium-based fuel fabrication plant it was operating. The British, meanwhile, have experienced similar losses at their plutonium reprocessing plant at Sellafield. There, 19 kilograms of separated plutonium went missing in 2003, and another 30 kilograms of separated plutonium were unaccounted for in 2004.[4]

All of these plants operated under the watchful eye of the IAEA.[5] This highlights two major safeguards deficiencies. First, with the unaccounted amounts of weapons-usable plutonium each year being many times what is needed to make a bomb, there is no way to be sure this material might not have already been diverted. Second, any nation operating such plants could at any time take any of the nuclear material they had produced (both accounted for and unaccounted for) and convert it into bombs well before any inspector or outside authority could intercede to block the diversion.

With commercial uranium-enrichment facilities and HEU fuel fabrication plants, which process tons of enriched uranium annually, equally hair-raising material loss scenarios are possible.[6] For example, IAEA inspectors still cannot independently verify the production capacity of any given centrifuge-enrichment plant. As such, an enrichment plant operator could lowball his facility’s capacity to IAEA inspectors and, between IAEA inspection visits, covertly produce and divert enriched uranium for military purposes without being detected. Moreover, such diversions could take place without IAEA inspectors necessarily being tipped off.[7]

Then, as with plutonium bulk-handling facilities, there is the problem of how quickly a non-nuclear-weapon state could break out of its NPT obligations and make bombs with these plants. All of the facilities mentioned process materials that could be converted into bombs in weeks or less, well before any outside authority could intervene even if the diversion was detected.

With these activities, unless there is a compelling economic need to proceed, there are obvious security imperatives for holding back. Clearly falling into this category are the reprocessing of plutonium, the fabrication of plutonium- and HEU-based fuels, and HEU production. All of these nuclear activities generate or handle nuclear weapons-usable materials, are not essential to having civilian nuclear power, and in most cases are sure-fire money losers.

In contrast, lightly enriching natural uranium to contain 3 percent to 5 percent uranium-235 is required to fuel the world’s light-water reactors.[8] What is unnecessary, however, is to expand the current surplus of enrichment capacity, which is more than able to supply world demand for at least the next 10-15 years. Given that it takes no more than five years to build substantial, additional enrichment capacity, the time for any nation to build or invest in creating more net capacity is still at least five to 10 years away.[9] That is why both President George W. Bush and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei have proposed restricting the construction of new enrichment plants.[10]

Certainly, there is no economic justification for nuclear novices such as Iran to enrich uranium. Tehran has only one nuclear power station that requires lightly enriched uranium fuel, and Russia has promised to supply Iran with all the enriched uranium it needs for the entire lifetime of the reactor.[11] Separate from the matter of Iran’s trustworthiness—even after two years of intensive investigations, the IAEA has not yet been able to say whether Tehran is or is not in the bomb-making business—Tehran’s operation of an enrichment plant is neither safeguardable nor economically defensible. As such, this undertaking should be regarded as being neither peaceful nor protected under Article IV of the NPT.

Measures for the NPT Review Conference—and Beyond
Again, if Iran has a legal right to acquire such unnecessary, unsafeguardable nuclear facilities, what would keep Tehran’s neighbors from following suit and becoming nuclear weapons ready as well? Indeed, what would prevent the world against which ElBaradei has repeatedly warned from emerging, one with 20 or more states only weeks from a bomb, all primed to believe their nuclear capabilities might keep them safe? We know where the military build-up and mutual suspicions of 1914 led: World Wars I and II and more than 100 million dead. Do we want a world with nuclear weapons-ready contestants stretching not just from Russia to the United States, but from Algeria to Japan?

If we wish to avoid the worst, we should back the NPT’s original presumption in Article IV against the unnecessary spread of unsafeguardable nuclear activities and materials. During and after the NPT Review Conference, states should consider proposals to put the original view of Article IV into play for nuclear-supplier and nuclear-recipient states alike and, to the extent possible, for nonmembers of the NPT as well. This will be both new and difficult.[12] If we want an NPT that restrains rather than enables proliferators, however, one or more of the following minimal steps should be taken sooner rather than later.

An indefinite moratorium on expanding plutonium, HEU, and MOX production
A good first step would be to institute an indefinite moratorium on the expansion of states’ existing capacity to produce separated plutonium, HEU, or plutonium-based reactor fuels for civilian purposes. This moratorium should stand in place until methods can be devised to provide appropriate timely detection and warning of diversions from existing plants.

As Bush and ElBaradei noted in their proposals to restrict construction of new plutonium reprocessing facilities, making separated plutonium is unnecessary for the peaceful production of nuclear energy. This also applies to HEU use in civilian reactors. Bush proposed a freeze on any construction of reprocessing and enrichment facilities in countries that do not yet have “full-scale” operational plants already on line. ElBaradei proposed a universal freeze but one that would only last for five years.

There are several reasons, beyond fairness and credibility, for modifying their proposals to apply indefinitely against the expansion of plutonium, HEU, or mixed oxide (MOX) production anywhere. First, reactor fuels using recycled plutonium cannot begin to compete with less expensive, fresh low-enriched uranium fuel. Second, research reactors that once required nuclear weapons-useable HEU can be converted to use less dangerous low- enriched uranium. That is why the Department of Energy is trumpeting its Global Threat Reduction Initiative and its recent agreement with Russia to repatriate HEU used in U.S.- and Russian-origin research reactors and to convert these reactors to use low-enriched uranium. It is also why the United States and Germany no longer reprocess plutonium, why the United Kingdom has announced its decision to end its recycling efforts within the next five years, and why there is no immediate prospect of Russia expanding its recycling activities.

As for the planned expansions of commercial plutonium recycling activities, there are only two projects that would be affected by this freeze. The first is Japan’s controversial plans to open a large, commercial-scale reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura, which has been opposed on ecological, safety, and economic grounds by local residents and Japanese reactor utility officials. With existing IAEA safeguards methods, this facility will be difficult to monitor. Once this plant goes online, perhaps as much as 250 kilograms of weapons-useable plutonium might get “lost in the pipes” annually—enough for 50 crude bombs.

The second project is a U.S. government scheme to convert 34 tons of surplus weapons plutonium (now in the form of metal) into ceramic powder and mix it with uranium to make MOX fuel. The MOX fuel is to be burned in U.S. civilian reactors with the hopes of making it too radioactive to be easily stolen. To support this effort, the Energy Department is using billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars to have a French nuclear firm construct a MOX fuel-fabrication plant in South Carolina. Eventually, the plan is to have the Russians do the same.

Besides being clearly uneconomical, this program is a bomb-material-monitoring nightmare. First, it is relatively easy to convert fresh MOX fuel into bombs. Each 100 kilograms of MOX contains one crude bomb’s worth of plutonium. That is why the IAEA lists MOX as being “direct use” nuclear material (i.e., material able to bring its owners nearly as close to a bomb as if they had separated plutonium or HEU). The program plans to take about 20 years to dispose of 68 tons of the plutonium the United States and Russia have declared to be in surplus, and this is only a fraction of what Russia and the United States have on hand. Throughout this period, the challenges of detecting nuclear theft or loss will actually be higher than it would be if the plutonium remained safely stored. In contrast, freezing this project, which is already behind schedule, would spare further immediate spending, provide a better opportunity to address safeguards challenges, and allow more time to research and develop sounder alternatives such as immobilization.

A five-year, renewable moratorium on expanding net enrichment capacity
Another useful step would be for countries to agree on a five-year, renewable international moratorium on the expansion of any state’s net enrichment production capacity. This freeze should stay in place until the economic imperative to lift it can be demonstrated by the investment of private capital to provide full funding for any expansion without government guarantees, subsidies, or specific relaxation of existing safety regulations.

As ElBaradei has said, the world currently enjoys a surplus of enrichment capacity. Even by conservative estimates, existing international enrichment capacity will be able to supply demand for at least the next decade or more. This is why ElBaradei proposed a five-year moratorium on the construction of any additional enrichment plants and Bush recommended banning countries that currently lack such facilities from ever enriching. Given that some states want to upgrade their existing gaseous diffusion enrichment plants with more modern centrifuge facilities, however, neither of these proposals is gaining much support. A moratorium on expanding net enrichment capacity could help get around this issue. It would allow states to modernize the enrichment facilities they have but would keep them from expanding their overall capacity to enrich.

What enrichment expansion efforts would be affected? The first would be the Brazilian government’s controversial enrichment project at Resende. The IAEA is still weighing whether or not to approve the method Brazil proposes for the agency to safeguard the facility. In any case, expansion of Brazil’s uranium-enrichment production capacity is on a relatively slow track. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the Resende plant is not expected to be able to supply Brazil’s two working reactors fully anytime before 2014.[13] Given the future costs of completing the plant as compared to continuing to buy foreign fuel services, keeping this project frozen would actually save Brazil money.

The second effort that would be affected would be Japan’s planned expansion of its enrichment capacity by nearly 50 percent. This government-backed undertaking has already slipped several years, partly because of the ready availability of affordable foreign sources of enriched uranium. China, meanwhile, has built several new plants but also has shut down two less efficient gaseous diffusion plants. Finally, France and Canada are in various stages of planning to construct enrichment plants. None of these plans, however, threatens any immediate increase in these nations’ net enrichment capacity.

Finally, two U.S. projects would be affected. The United States Enrichment Corp. (USEC) wants to build a large, centrifuge enrichment plant in Ohio that could be operating by the end of the decade. The company took over what were previously U.S. government-owned gaseous diffusion enrichment plants. USEC seeks to upgrade its existing services, which already supply fresh low-enriched reactor fuel to 100-odd U.S. nuclear power reactors. Because the new centrifuge project is projected to cost the company more than $1 billion, however, stockholders want more information before making the dive. To get this, the company is pushing to build a pilot demonstration plant. The only serious competition to USEC is URENCO, a Dutch-based firm that is trying to muscle into the U.S. market with plans to build a centrifuge enrichment plant in New Mexico. Both the UNRENCO and the USEC projects require U.S. licenses, which have not yet been granted.[14]

Clearly, a renewable moratorium is feasible. Its successful implementation would require a majority of the key suppliers of enriched uranium to participate. Also, any such moratorium would have to allow for the possible expansion of uranium-enrichment capacity in five or more years if such growth could be funded with private investment without government subsidies or guarantees or a relaxation of safety regulations. A related issue would be the rate at which Russia and the United States agreed to blend down surplus HEU for use in civilian reactors, as well as the amount. The higher the rate and amount, the lower the demand would be for near-term, enrichment capacity expansion.[15]

An indefinite freeze on transfers of nuclear weapons-useable materials
One could also complement the proposed moratoriums with an indefinite freeze on international transfers of HEU or separated plutonium. Such transfers would be banned unless the transfer’s purpose was to dispose of the material or to make it less accessible for weapons. Implementing such a freeze would be particularly important given Iran’s publicly expressed interest in sharing the fruits of their “peaceful” nuclear energy programs with others. It also is relevant given Pakistan’s illicit commerce in such commodities and the need to strengthen the authority of states to interdict trade in strategic weapons-related goods generally. Again, the peaceful use of nuclear energy does not require these nuclear weapons-useable fuels.

Reassessment of IAEA safeguards
Almost all of the IAEA’s current criteria for how much material is required to make a bomb and how long it takes to convert key direct use and special nuclear materials (e.g., lightly enriched uranium, HEU, MOX, separated plutonium) into nuclear weapons were set more than 30 years ago. At the time, the IAEA said 8 kilograms of plutonium was required to make a bomb. Yet, with the release of previously classified information, we now know that even the United States’ first bomb required no more than 6 kilograms and that a Hiroshima-yield weapon could be made with as little as 2-4 kilograms, depending on the sophistication of the bomb design.[16]

Similarly, lightly enriched uranium and spent reactor fuel were not considered to be major proliferation concerns 30 years ago. It was assumed it would take at least a year to convert fresh fuels into bomb-usable fuel and up to three months for spent fuel. As a result, the IAEA decided to inspect fresh and spent reactor fuel only once every 90 days. The experience of Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan and of Libya, however, appears to show that a country can develop covert enrichment or reprocessing facilities without necessarily being detected. In addition, Iraq’s and Libya’s bomb programs demonstrate that states can develop or acquire a working nuclear weapons design well before they produce any nuclear fuel. Finally, only recently has the weapons utility of power reactor fuel been fully documented or credible scenarios for the diversion of safeguarded spent and fresh reactor fuel been spelled out.[17]

These developments make the risks previously associated with spent and fresh reactor fuel much greater. Consider: If a country had a working bomb design and was able to make nuclear fuel covertly, its operation of a safeguarded light-water power reactor would give it access to tons of fresh and spent reactor fuel that it could seize or covertly divert to make a large number of bombs in a matter of weeks.

The fixes for these worries include installing near real-time, secure, wide-area surveillance cameras and placing full-time inspectors at each reactor site. These measures, however, cost money that would require the IAEA to change how it funds its safeguards operations. To highlight the need for these and other needed reforms, a reassessment of the agency’s safeguards system should be instituted.

Encouraging non-nuclear alternatives
All of the previous steps assume that states must expand their use of nuclear energy. This might or might not be true. To help find out, it would be useful for the United States and other like-minded states to encourage countries to weigh the economic benefits of nuclear power and non-nuclear alternatives. Under this effort, all states would be encouraged openly to compete nuclear programs against alternatives that might produce similar benefits for less.

A good place to start for the United States would be to implement existing law. Under Title V of the U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978, the United States is “to cooperate with other nations, international institutions, and private organizations in establishing programs to assist in the development of non-nuclear energy resources…and shall seek to cooperate with and aid developing countries in meeting their energy needs through the development of such resources.” As a part of this effort, the United States, in cooperation with other organizations and states, is also supposed to evaluate the “energy alternatives of developing countries, facilitate international trade in energy commodities,” and complete “country-specific energy assessments.”

Although the president is required by law to report to Congress annually on the progress and funding of this Department of State-coordinated initiative of the Energy Department and the Agency of International Development, to date no report has been filed. Congress should find out why and demand that the law be upheld.[18]

Encouraging states that are planning large nuclear projects to compete them against less risky alternatives is most readily done in the energy field where the international practice of open bidding is already established. Even large research and desalinization reactors projects though can be competed against alternatives that might afford the same benefits (small research reactors, access to foreign research reactors, importation of research isotopes, non-nuclear desalinization systems, etc.). States may well object that they should not be subject to such requirements, citing their sovereign rights, but most nations have already ceded such ground on more significant economic matters to international organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.[19]

More proposals, of course, could be suggested. These, however, are indicative of what is required. In each case, the NPT Review Conference could evaluate the merits of instituting or, if they were adopted, of extending each of these undertakings every five years. This would give the conference useful operational issues with which to grapple. More important, adopting one or more of these proposals would go a long way to making Article IV and peaceful nuclear power meaningful (i.e., to achieving the NPT’s ultimate purpose). The alternative is to wait not only for more Irans, but the clear undoing of the NPT.


1. See “Statement by the Irish Foreign Minister, November 13, 1959,” Documents on Disarmament 1945-1959, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), 1960), pp. 1520-1526.

2. For a different view, see UN General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX) (Nov. 19, 1965), reprinted in U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), Documents on Disarmament 1965 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1966), pp. 532-534; “Statement of the Representative of Mexico to the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Conference,” ENDC/PV.331, September 17, 1967, reprinted in ACDA, Documents on Disarmament 1967 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1968), pp. 397-398; “Spanish Memorandum to the ENDC Co-Chairman,” ENDC/PV.361, February 8, 1968, in ACDA, Documents on Disarmament 1968, pp. 39-40.

3. See Eldon V. C. Greenberg, Plutonium and the NPT (Washington, DC: Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), 1993), which is based on a more detailed analysis on the NPT done for the ACDA. See Albert Wohlstetter et al., Towards a New Consensus on Nuclear Technology, ACDA Report no. PH-78-04-8323-13, July 6, 1979.

4. See Sudip Kar-Gupta, “Plutonium ‘Missing’ From Site,” Reuters, February 17, 2005; Angela Jameson, “Sellafield ‘Lost’ Plutonium,” Times Online, February 17, 2005.

5. See Bayan Rahman, “Japan ‘Loses’ 206 Kg of Plutonium,” Financial Times, January 28, 2003; NCI, “Enormous ‘Plutonium Gap’ at Japan’s Tokai Plant Highlights Proliferation Risks of Reprocessing,” January 28, 2003; NCI, “Astounding ‘Discrepancy’ of 70 Kilograms of Plutonium Warrants Shutdown of Troubled Nuclear Fuel Plant in Japan,” May 9, 1994 (press release).

6. In the case of at least one U.S. HEU fuel fabrication plant operating during the l960s in Apollo, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission reported that the amount of material unaccounted for was approximately 100 kilograms. Several former senior U.S. officials suspect this material was diverted to Israel’s nuclear weapons program. See Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option (New York: Vintage, 1993), pp. 241-257.

7. On these points, see Paul Leventhal, “Safeguards Shortcomings—A Critique,” (Washington, DC: NCI, September 12, 1994); Marvin Miller, “Are IAEA Safeguards in Plutonium Bulk-Handling Facilities Effective?” (Washington, DC: NCI, August 1990); Brian G. Chow and Kenneth A. Solomon, Limiting the Spread of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1993), pp. 1-4; and Marvin Miller, “The Gas Centrifuge and Nuclear Proliferation,” in A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors (Washington, DC: The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, October 22, 2004), p. 38.

8. Enrichment is the process of increasing the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope, which fissions far more readily than the more common uranium-238 isotope. Natural uranium is only 0.7 percent uranium-235.

9. On these points, see the supply/demand projections in International Atomic Energy Commission, Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, INFCIR/640, February 22, 2005, p. 51; and Jean-Jacques Gautrot, “The Harmonious Market for Uranium Enrichment Services,” Presentation at the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, London, September 4-6, 2002, London, available at http://www.world-nulcear.org.

10. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by the President on Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation,” Washington, DC, February 11, 2004; and Miles Pomper and Paul Kerr, “Tackling the Nuclear Dilemma: An Interview With IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei,” Arms Control Today, March 2005. In the interview, ElBaradei discusses the moratorium in the context of a plan to provide non-nuclear-weapons states with secure supplies of nuclear fuel.

11. In the end, Iran insisted that Russia only supply it with the first 10 years worth of reactor fuel for its reactor at Bushehr and that Iran would supply its own fuel after that. See Paul Kerr, “Iran, Russia Reach Nuclear Agreement,” Arms Control Today, April 2005.

12 . For a projection of the sort of support such measures are likely to encounter, see Louis Charbonneau, “Iran Finds Allies Against UN Plan: Diplomats,” Reuters, February 22, 2005.

13. See CNN, “Brazil’s Commitment to Nonproliferation Under Suspicion,” April 16, 2004; Ricardo Balthazar, “Navy Sees Full Nuclear Inspections Would Hurt Access to Foreign Suppliers,” Sao Paulo Valor, April 6, 2004; and Daniel Koik, “Brazil Prepares to Enrich Uranium for Reactors,” Arms Control Today, November 2003.

14. See Annys Shin, “USEC Looks for New Leadership,” The Washington Post, December 20, 2004, p. E3.

15. See Uranium Information Center, “Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel,” November 2004, available at http://www.uic.com.

16. See Thomas Cochran, “The Problem of Nuclear Energy Proliferation,” in Energy and National Security in the 21st Century ed. Patrick L. Clawson (Washington, DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, October 1995), pp. 96-99.

17. See Harmon W. Hubbard, “Plutonium from Light Water Reactors as Nuclear Weapons Material,” April 2003, available at http://www.npec-web.org; Andrew Leask, Russell Leslie, and John Carlson, “Safeguards as a Design Criteria: Guidance for Regulators,” September 10, 2004, pp. 4-7, available at http://www.asno.dfat.gov.au; Miller, “The Gas Centrifuge”; and Marvin Miller, “The Feasibility of Clandestine Reprocessing of LWR Spent Fuel,” in A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors (Washington, DC: The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, October 22, 2004).

18. See “United States Assistance to Developing Countries: Policy,” Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-242), Sections 501 and 503.

19. Given the 30-year lifetime of most reactors, nuclear power proponents will undoubtedly emphasize, along with proponents of other, more expensive clean energy alternatives, long-term concerns such as energy security and global warming to help justify investment. The persuasiveness of these arguments, like those of any long-term or distant concern, however, must be weighed against the availability of cheaper ways to address the immediate desire for relatively clean energy and whether or not one has a reasonable amount of time available to buy or develop more expensive alternatives if these cheaper, “dirtier” energy sources should dry up or become intolerably expensive through regulation. As with all investment, spending delayed is money saved. Any sound market energy analysis would clearly factor in such considerations.

Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit educational organization. He is also co-editor with Patrick Clawson of Getting Ready for a Nuclear Ready Iran (forthcoming).

IAEA Criticizes Iran Cooperation

Paul Kerr

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director-General Pierre Goldschmidt told the agency’s Board of Governors March 1 that Iran has failed to cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation of Tehran’s nuclear programs. Specifically, he said, Iran has failed to provide adequate information about its uranium-enrichment program to the agency and has also lagged in providing IAEA inspectors access to some facilities suspected of playing a role in nuclear weapons research. Iran has, however, continued to observe its November pledge to suspend its enrichment program.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters the next day that Iran should increase its “transparency” by providing the agency with all relevant information.

This board meeting marked the first time since March 2003 that ElBaradei did not present a written report about the IAEA’s investigation, which began in 2002. That probe has revealed that Tehran conducted a variety of clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. (See ACT, December 2004.) No new evidence of secret Iranian nuclear programs has emerged recently, although Goldschmidt did present new evidence regarding Iran’s already known uranium-enrichment program.

Safeguards agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to allow the agency to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. Although Iran has given IAEA inspectors access to its safeguarded facilities, as well as some others, the IAEA has limited authority to visit other sites without evidence that the government is conducting nuclear activities there.

Uranium Enrichment
Goldschmidt told the board that the IAEA has obtained new information regarding Iran’s P-1 gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program, including new details about Iran’s initial acquisition of centrifuge technology.

Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope, producing either low-enriched uranium for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium (HEU). If enriched to high enough levels, HEU can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds.

Goldschmidt stated that Iran provided the agency with a document Jan. 12 purportedly describing a 1987 offer from a “foreign intermediary” that apparently included a disassembled centrifuge, as well as drawings and specifications for centrifuges and an enrichment facility.

According to the document, the intermediary also offered to supply Iran with equipment to produce uranium metal. Although some nuclear power reactors use this material as fuel, Iran has no such reactors. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Iran intends to produce uranium metal for fissile material or other nuclear weapons purposes.

Iran currently possesses a uranium-conversion facility designed to convert lightly processed uranium ore into several different uranium compounds, including uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal. According to the IAEA, Iran initially entered into discussions in 1991 with a “foreign supplier” to construct such a facility but decided six years later to build the facility itself after the supplier pulled out. It is not clear if this supplier is the intermediary who participated in the 1987 meeting.

Iran has told the agency that it received only some of the material described in the offer, Goldschmidt said, but he did not specify further. The IAEA previously reported that Iran received centrifuge drawings and components in 1987 but did not mention an offer of uranium metal production equipment.

Goldschmidt also did not identify the “foreign intermediary” mentioned in the document, and a Department of State official familiar with the issue told Arms Control Today March 15 that the IAEA is not yet certain who participated in the meeting. The agency has previously indicated that Iran received its centrifuge materials through a “clandestine supply network” run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The State Department official said that the United States believes Iran has not yet “come clean” with all the details of the 1987 meeting, some of which Washington believes would constitute important new revelations. In a March 2 statement to the IAEA board, U.S. Ambassador Jackie Sanders cited press reports indicating that the 1987 offer may have been “explicitly intended as the first of many ‘phases’ in future cooperation between Iran and that intermediary.”

Goldschmidt also described another possible Iranian connection to the Khan network. According to Iranian officials, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization learned in 1994 that an “intermediary” had offered to deliver 500 sets of P-1 centrifuge components and related designs to an Iranian company unaffiliated with the organization. Goldschmidt did not identify this intermediary.

Iran has acknowledged receiving the components and designs in two shipments during the mid-1990s, although Iranian documents provided to the IAEA in January 2005 give slightly different dates for the shipments within the same time period.

The IAEA has also been investigating Iran’s work on a more advanced P-2 centrifuge, but Tehran has not provided the agency with any new information about that program, Goldschmidt stated.

The agency is also continuing to investigate the sources of enriched uranium particles found in Iranian facilities. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to very low proportions of uranium-235, but IAEA inspectors have found particles enriched to much higher levels. ElBaradei reported last November that the IAEA’s evidence so far “tends, on balance, to support” Iran’s claim that the particles came from imported centrifuge components. Other possible explanations include still-undisclosed Iranian nuclear experiments, as well as concealment of imported or domestically produced nuclear material.

IAEA inspectors have taken environmental samples at several locations in Pakistan in an effort to determine the uranium’s origin. Additionally, Goldschmidt told the board that the agency has reached an agreement with that country on the “modalities for sampling a number of old centrifuge components.” However, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Islamabad has not yet decided on the matter, Reuters reported March 25.

Goldschmidt also stated that the IAEA is to analyze environmental samples collected by inspectors in January 2005 from “locations” in a country where, according to Tehran, centrifuge components were stored en route to Iran. The State Department official confirmed a March 13 Agence France Presse report identifying the country in question as the United Arab Emirates, which was also a transit point for the Khan network’s shipments of centrifuge components to Libya. (See ACT, March 2004.) A 2004 British intelligence report stated that Dubai was the hub of Khan’s network since at least 2000.

Other Concerns
Goldschmidt further noted that Iran is continuing work on a heavy-water nuclear reactor, despite the IAEA board’s previous request that Tehran “reconsider” the project. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) The State Department official confirmed press reports that satellite imagery shows that Iran has begun pouring the reactor’s foundation.

Speaking to the board, Sanders dismissed Iran’s claim that the reactor is to produce radioisotopes for civilian purposes, implying that Iran actually wants the reactor to produce plutonium. The State Department official bolstered this argument by pointing out that Iran can produce the relevant radioisotopes in its Tehran research reactor, which is not even operating at full capacity.

Separating plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel is another method of obtaining fissile material. Goldschmidt said the IAEA is also continuing its efforts to determine the dates of Iran’s plutonium-separation experiments, which may have been conducted more recently than Tehran has claimed.

Additionally, Goldschmidt discussed IAEA inspectors’ visits to two sites in Iran where the country may have conducted clandestine nuclear-related activities.

He said Iran has 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. According to Goldschmidt, the agency wants more information concerning the center’s possible efforts “to acquire dual-use material and equipment that could be useful in uranium-enrichment and conversion activities.” Iran provided the agency with some relevant information in October but has apparently not cooperated further.

The site has previously attracted suspicion because of reports that Iran had razed buildings there in what may have been an attempt to conceal evidence of nuclear activities. ElBaradei reported last November that IAEA environmental samples taken at the site contained “no evidence of nuclear material.”

In addition, he said, following months of requests, IAEA inspectors visited the Parchin military complex in mid-January. Goldschmidt told the board that the inspectors “saw no relevant dual-use equipment or materials” but noted that their visit was limited in scope. The IAEA had identified four areas of interest but was only allowed to visit one, he said, adding that the IAEA is analyzing environmental samples taken during the visit. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Iran denied the IAEA's request for an additional visit in a Feb. 27 note to the agency.

Tehran has continued to abide by its November agreement to suspend its uranium-enrichment program for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides are attempting to reach a long-term agreement that is to include “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

Addressing Iranian actions apparently designed to test the suspension agreement’s boundaries, Goldschmidt told the board that IAEA inspectors observed during December and January visits that Iran was conducting “quality control” work on centrifuge components that are not under IAEA seal. Iran told the agency in February that it had temporarily stopped this work pending discussions with its European interlocutors.

Goldschmidt also reported that Iran has begun constructing underground tunnels for storing nuclear materials near its uranium-conversion facility. Tehran notified the IAEA about the project, which Iran says began in September 2004, two days before agency inspectors visited the site Dec. 15. According to its safeguards agreement, Iran should have notified the IAEA earlier about the project, Goldschmidt said.

The State Department official described this violation as “minor” and added that Washington is not concerned about Iran conducting clandestine nuclear activities in the tunnels because the site is subject to IAEA monitoring. The project does, however, call into question Iran’s commitment to its suspension agreement, the official said.

Addressing another issue that had caused concern, Goldschmidt said that Iran has finished cleaning valves that had been removed from its pilot centrifuge facility located at Natanz. The valves are now in storage and monitored by the IAEA, he added.

Europeans: Iran Honoring Agreement

Paul Kerr

In a Feb. 28 presentation to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei indicated that no new evidence of illicit Iranian nuclear activities has surfaced. Meanwhile, Iran is adhering to its November agreement to suspend its uranium-enrichment program during ongoing negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides are attempting to resolve concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program, but no agreement has yet been reached.

This diplomacy took place against a backdrop of public disagreement between Europe and the United States regarding the proper U.S. role in the ongoing talks. Press reports have fueled speculation that Washington is preparing for military action against Iran, but during meetings in Europe with his counterparts, President George W. Bush emphasized that his administration is seeking a diplomatic solution. Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Bush, Russia signed a long-delayed deal to provide Iran with nuclear fuel.

IAEA Meeting
ElBaradei’s presentation to the IAEA board differed from previous meetings. Since the agency launched an investigation of Iran’s clandestine nuclear programs in the fall of 2002, ElBaradei has regularly presented written reports that either revealed or confirmed significant components of Tehran’s efforts.

This time, ElBaradei was not asked to submit a written report and did not do so, offering only an oral briefing. His last written report in November contained no evidence of prohibited Iranian nuclear activities but listed several unresolved issues requiring further investigation. (See ACT, December 2004.)

ElBaradei told the board that the IAEA’s investigation has made “progress” but he provided no new details. Tehran has continued to provide agency inspectors access to its nuclear-related facilities, ElBaradei said, adding that agency inspectors also visited Iran’s Parchin military complex.

The agency’s mid-January visit was its first after months of requesting access. (See ACT, January/February 2005.) U.S. officials believe the complex might have facilities that could be used to test conventional high explosives for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon.

Reiterating a previous complaint, ElBaradei stated that Iran has been less cooperative in providing the agency with relevant information, adding that Tehran should do so “in full detail and in a prompt manner.”

U.S. officials continue to insist that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.

But ElBaradei complained in a Feb. 4 Arms Control Today interview that the IAEA has received little new information from national governments about Iran’s nuclear program, adding that such information is necessary for determining whether Iran has secret nuclear-related facilities. Tehran is “likely to have a bomb in two or three years” if it is operating such covert facilities, ElBaradei told Der Spiegel Feb. 21.

U.S. officials offered a longer time frame. According to Defense Intelligence Agency Director Admiral Lowell Jacoby’s Feb. 16 statement to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Iran will likely be able to produce nuclear weapons early next decade “unless constrained by a nuclear nonproliferation agreement.”

Suspension Holds
A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that Iran has continued to honor a November pledge to suspend its nuclear fuel efforts even though Tehran tested the Europeans by “picking at the edges” of the agreement.

Iran and the three European countries agreed in November to negotiate a long-term agreement, which is to include “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Iran agreed to an IAEA-monitored suspension of its gas centrifuge-based, uranium-enrichment program for the talks’ duration.

The European governments, as well as the United States, are concerned that Iran intends to produce highly enriched uranium, which can serve as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

According to the European diplomat, Iran raised eyebrows when it began cleaning pipes at its Natanz centrifuge facility, but the Europeans believe this activity was part of the process of shutting down the facility and within the bounds of the suspension agreement. Iran had also conducted “quality control” work on centrifuges but has since stopped, the diplomat said.

Tehran was also late in notifying the IAEA about a project to construct tunnels at Iran’s uranium-conversion facility, the same diplomat added. Such facilities convert uranium oxide into other uranium compounds, some of which can serve as feedstock for centrifuges. The tunnels are designed to hold nuclear material.

Although the United States still wants the board to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible action, Iran’s European interlocutors have said that they will not support a referral as long as the suspension holds. (See ACT, December 2004.) The United States has supported such a referral since the agency reported that Iran had failed to disclose its clandestine nuclear programs to the IAEA.

Talks Continue; Fuel Agreement Signed
European diplomats familiar with the negotiations told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that the talks have produced no diplomatic breakthroughs but they argued that Iran’s continuation of the suspension is “significant” and that the discussions are facilitating in-depth discussions.

Three working groups are tasked with developing proposals for mutual cooperation on nuclear and non-nuclear technical projects, as well as political and security issues. The groups have held a series of meetings since beginning work in December 2004. A steering committee set up to review the groups’ progress is to meet in March, but no date has yet been set, diplomatic sources said.

The parties’ negotiating positions appear unchanged. The European governments want a permanent end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel efforts, but Iran has repeatedly insisted that the suspension is “temporary.” Foreign Minster Kamal Kharrazi underscored this point Feb. 23, asserting that Tehran is “determined to continue enrichment,” Agence France Presse reported.

Hossein Moussavian, secretary of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Supreme National Security Council in Iran, was more cautious in a Feb. 2 interview with the Financial Times. Asked if Iran would ever dismantle its nuclear fuel facilities, he said only that Iran has the “right to thoroughly enjoy peaceful nuclear technology.”

Moussavian also provided some details about the “objective guarantees” Iran is willing to provide to prove its peaceful intentions. The measures he listed, however, such as Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation and adherence to an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, simply reflect current Iranian policy. Moussavian did not say if Iran’s position is negotiable.

IAEA safeguards agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to allow the agency to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. Additional protocols to these agreements augment the agency’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities. Tehran has signed an additional protocol and has agreed to abide by its provisions until Iran’s parliament ratifies the agreement.

Despite some earlier indications of Iranian dissatisfaction, the talks seem likely to continue. Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, appeared optimistic that Iran will continue to participate after the steering committee meeting, Reuters reported Feb. 25.

Meanwhile, Russia and Iran signed a long-delayed nuclear fuel supply agreement Feb. 27. According to the official Itar-Tass news agency, Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy Director Alexander Rumyantsev said Moscow is to supply fresh fuel for the light-water nuclear reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr, as well as take back the spent nuclear fuel. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Spent fuel is considered a proliferation risk because it contains plutonium, another form of fissile material. Bushehr is to begin operation in late 2006, Rumyantsev said.

U.S. Policy
European officials have called for greater U.S. involvement in the diplomatic process in order to make it more effective. Bush and other U.S. officials have lately emphasized support for the talks while refraining from public skepticism. However, the administration has so far refused to negotiate with Iran or make other conciliatory gestures.

French President Jacques Chirac told reporters Feb. 22 in Brussels that the United States should consider two incentives for Iran: dropping objections to Iran’s World Trade Organization accession negotiations, as well as Tehran’s wish to buy civil aircraft engines.

Iran’s position regarding greater U.S. involvement is unclear. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamidreza Asefi stated Feb. 24 that Tehran does not want Washington’s involvement in the talks. But another government spokesperson suggested Feb. 28 that Iran might welcome an unspecified U.S. role outside the talks, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Perhaps signaling a change in administration policy, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley suggested during a Feb. 23 press briefing that Bush may consider supporting incentives to Iran.

Nevertheless, U.S. officials have indicated that Washington would not accept a deal with Tehran that ignored other concerns, such as Iran’s poor human rights record and support for terrorism.

Press reports about the possibility of U.S. military action against Tehran have generated repeated questions about the administration’s commitment to diplomacy. Bush told an audience in Brussels Feb. 22 that talk of U.S. military action against Iran is “simply ridiculous” but added that “all options are still on the table.” However, Bush asserted the next day that “diplomacy is just beginning,” adding that “Iran is not Iraq.”

Still, Washington’s policy regarding the current Iranian regime is unclear. Although Department of State spokesperson Adam Ereli told reporters Feb. 3 that “we do not have a policy of regime change towards Iran,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been more ambiguous, refusing to answer direct questions about the matter on several occasions.

U.S. Imposes Iran-Related Sanctions

Wade Boese

On Dec. 1, the United States sanctioned four Chinese entities and one North Korean company for allegedly shipping exports to Iran that could contribute to Tehran’s suspected development of unconventional weapons.

Levied under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, the penalties will bar the sanctioned entities from receiving U.S. government contracts, aid, and arms sales until Nov. 24, 2006. Although entities sanctioned by Washington rarely do business with the U.S. government, U.S. policymakers hope their punishment brands the accused in the eyes of the world as entities to be shunned.

Three of the entities are repeat offenders. Most notoriously, North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corp. has been sanctioned nine times over the past four years. However, two of the Chinese companies, Liaoning Jiayi Metals and Minerals Company, Ltd. and Shanghai Triple International, Ltd., had not been previously penalized by the Bush administration, which has now lowered the sanctions boom more than 100 times. The Clinton administration imposed 70 proliferation sanctions over eight years.

As it normally does, Beijing objected to the U.S. sanctions. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue asserted Dec. 2 that China abides by its nonproliferation commitments and has its own laws to punish entities guilty of any wrongdoing. “We hope the U.S. can bear in mind our international cooperation on nonproliferation and other fields and not resort to arbitrary sanctions on Chinese companies,” Zhang said.

Although China is generally recognized as making progress over the past decade in tightening its export controls and reforming its proliferation behavior, many countries, including the United States, still see room for improvement. For instance, China’s spotty record on controlling missile proliferation sank its recent effort to join the Missile Technology Control Regime, whose 34 members pledge to restrict their missile exports. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Iran-EU Nuclear Negotiations Begin

Paul Kerr

Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom met Dec.13 with Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, to open negotiations toward a long-term resolution of concerns surrounding Tehran’s nuclear programs. The United States offered cautious public support for the talks.

In a Dec. 16 interview, a European diplomat described the initial high-level discussions, which also included Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative on foreign policy and security issues, as “more symbolic than substantive,” adding that no negotiations took place. The ministers left substantive issues to be hashed out by three working groups.

The working groups are tasked with developing proposals for cooperation on nuclear and non-nuclear technical projects as well as political and security issues. The groups will report to a steering committee, which will review the groups’ progress after three months. (See ACT, December 2004.) The groups have devised a rough schedule for monthly meetings, according to U.S. and European officials. Two working group meetings already took place in December.

The meeting was the result of a negotiating framework agreed to by Iran and the three European Union countries in November. At that time, Iran also agreed to suspend work on its uranium-enrichment program for the duration of the talks and to accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring of this suspension.

In the long-term negotiations, the European governments are seeking a permanent end to Tehran’s nuclear fuel efforts, particularly its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Iran originally agreed to suspend its enrichment activities in October 2003 but continued work on some elements of its centrifuge program.

European governments, as well as the United States, are concerned that Iran intends to produce its own nuclear materials not for peaceful purposes but to build nuclear weapons. While nuclear power plants usually employ low-enriched uranium, highly enriched uranium can provide the fuel for nuclear weapons, as can plutonium separated from irradiated nuclear fuel.

Iran also has begun construction of a heavy water research reactor, which could provide a source of weapons-grade plutonium. Western concerns have been heightened by a more than two-year old IAEA investigation which revealed that Iran conducted a variety of covert nuclear activities. (See ACT, December 2004.)

Persuading Iran to renounce permanently its ambitions to develop an independent nuclear fuel cycle will almost certainly be difficult. The November agreement states only that the final agreement will include “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” Tehran, however, has not articulated its version of objective guarantees and has repeatedly said the suspension must be temporary, although some Iranian officials have hinted at the possibility of compromise. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Rowhani stated Dec.12 that Tehran “will continue the talks if we feel that they are progressing,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported, but Iranian officials have indicated that they want the talks to be concluded quickly. Official statements concerning an exact timeline have been ambiguous but indicate that Iran will give the talks at least several months.

Future Diplomacy
Although several U.S. officials have expressed skepticism that Iran will adhere to its suspension agreement, Washington is publicly supporting the negotiating process. Apparently countering speculation that Washington will take a harder line on Tehran, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Dec.1 that talk of military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities is “irresponsible.” Armitage later downplayed the prospects for a successful regime change strategy, saying Dec. 20 that the Iranian opposition would not necessarily “eschew nuclear weapons.” Secretary of State Colin Powell was more direct in a Dec.10 speech in the Netherlands, reiterating that “U.S. policy is not to advocate regime change in Iran.”

However, tensions between the United States and the Europeans could increase as a February IAEA Board of Governors meeting approaches. The board adopted a resolution in late November that emphasizes the suspension’s importance but does not specify any consequences if Iran violates the agreement. The resolution, however, does request IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to notify board members if Tehran either fails to implement the suspension or impedes IAEA monitoring.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today that the timing of the next Euro-Iran steering committee meeting, which will probably occur in March, could complicate any U.S. proposals for the IAEA to take action if Iran violates the suspension. The Europeans might argue that such efforts will undercut ongoing diplomacy, the official said.

Washington has repeatedly pushed for resolutions that take a harder line on Iran at past board meetings but has failed to persuade the other board members to agree.

The United States also continues to express concern that Iran is pursuing covert nuclear activities. U.S. Ambassador Jackie Sanders told the IAEA board Nov. 29 that Washington wants Iran “immediately” to provide access to Iran’s Parchin military complex, which U.S. officials believe might have facilities that could be used to test conventional high explosives for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. The IAEA has not yet received permission to visit, the State Department official said Dec. 16. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Washington failed to persuade the board to adopt language giving the IAEA expanded authority to inspect Iranian facilities. Instead, the November resolution requests that Iran “provide any access deemed necessary by the Agency” in accordance with Iran’s additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

Safeguards agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to allow the IAEA to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. Additional protocols augment the agency’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities, but there are limits to the agency’s ability to inspect military facilities. Tehran has signed an additional protocol and has agreed to abide by its provisions until Iran’s parliament ratifies the agreement.

On the trade front, Washington’s lack of enthusiasm for engagement with Iran could also complicate the negotiations. The suspension agreement states that the Europeans “will actively support the opening of Iranian accession negotiations” at the World Trade Organization (WTO). A State Department official told Arms Control Today Dec. 20 that the Europeans wanted a WTO General Council meeting earlier in the month to call for negotiations to begin, but the U.S. delegation said that Washington is not ready to move forward on the matter. U.S. support is necessary because the WTO makes decisions by consensus.

The Iran Case: Addressing Why Countries Want Nuclear Weapons

Robert E. Hunter

Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons has now come front and center in U.S. foreign policy, as well as in consideration overall of preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It has assumed particular importance because of its potential to reshape the security and politics of an already turbulent and critical region. In the middle of the Middle East, such a capability would at the very least lead to a basic reassessment by countries near and far of a full range of security, political, and other issues.

As the saga of a widely presumed but not admitted Iranian nuclear weapons program unfolds, with its on-again, off-again character, something else is happening: the need for a reassessment of nonproliferation—both how to prevent proliferation and what to do if prevention fails. There is dwindling confidence that a country bent on developing nuclear weapons can forever be prevented from doing so by the now-traditional technological safeguards. In particular, it appears less possible to block the indigenous development of either plutonium or highly enriched uranium, the essential materials for nuclear weapons. Talent and knowledge are not a constraint, and access to fissionable materials may be an ever decreasing one to a country’s nuclear ambitions.

Of course, monitored agreements regarding the point, purpose, and conduct of an Iranian civil nuclear power development program, coupled with intrusive inspections, can have a significant impact. Can this approach be relied on? This is one of the questions now under review and the focus of intense political debate regarding negotiations between the Iranian government and a Western troika of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Perhaps the outcome of these negotiations will be sufficient, but perhaps not. For some observers, if Iran were truly determined to get nuclear weapons, it would find a means either to conduct a covert program or at some point to renounce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), expel inspectors, and work to break out of any restrictive regime.

If there is decreasing confidence that technical means can suffice to prevent a determined and scientifically advanced society from getting “the bomb” and if questions remain about the efficacy of agreements, limitations, and inspection regimes, then other considerations come into play, and other questions must be posed. Most importantly, we need to ask why Iran or any other country would want to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. Then we must see whether and, within appropriate limits, how the country in question can be dissuaded from developing those weapons. The recent Iranian pause in its enrichment activities allows the West, particularly the United States, the opportunity to explore this possibility before either resorting to military force or merely fretting that Iran is on the path to the destabilizing development of nuclear weapons.

Addressing the Demand
Addressing the demand side of proliferation is not a trivial or secondary approach. Indeed, it should be at the heart of nonproliferation analysis and strategy. Unfortunately, it is often downplayed, especially in the United States, where for many years the emphasis has been either on technical means of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons or, in cases where that appears likely to fail, considering military means to destroy a weapons capability or bringing about a change in regime. Yet, this technical/military approach, which has largely ignored the political and security context within which weapons decisions are taken, has often blinded both analysts and policymakers to other possibilities. After all, a wide range of countries capable of building nuclear weapons, including many living in actual or potential security “conflict zones,” have elected not to pursue this option, including Japan and South Korea. Countries such as South Africa and Ukraine have also dismantled existing arsenals.

A good case in point is Libya. It clearly had made steps in the basic groundwork and engineering needed to produce a nuclear weapon although some doubts remain about progress made toward obtaining fissionable materials. Yet, Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi has now abandoned his program. From his perspective, this makes good political and strategic sense. After all, a Libyan bomb would offer little deterrent benefit against countries that did not intend to attack Libya in the first place. A nuclear weapon would also have cemented rather than ended Libya’s status as a pariah state and would have done little to influence or intimidate its neighbors. By contrast, renouncing the program brought an end to all economic sanctions and readmission to the Western community of nations. Gaddafi made his move and has been richly rewarded at no palpable cost to Libyan security or prestige. He sold his white elephant at the right price at the right time.

Iran’s Security Motivations
Iran, of course, is in a different neighborhood. To be sure, the United States and its allies have reasons to be bothered about Iran’s behavior, such as its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. But Iran also has reason to be concerned about its security. Its principal antagonist, the United States, for many years not only practiced its dual containment policy against Iran (and Iraq) but also supported expatriate groups bent on overthrowing the regime in Tehran, including through violent means. Regime change in Tehran has been a recurrent theme in U.S. policy as it has been consistently in the policy of Israel, which also strongly supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iran was accorded a place in the U.S. “axis of evil” and is now even more vulnerable than only a few years ago to nearby U.S. military power. However legitimate these U.S. policies and actions may be, along with the animosity toward Iran of some key regional countries, they do provide an objective basis for Iranian security concerns.

This conclusion does not mean that these concerns should be indulged to the point of accepting Iranian threats to others’ security or even the heightened sense of regional and global insecurity that would result from its possession of nuclear weapons, even if these threats proved to be more psychological and political than strategic and military. It does mean that the United States and its allies need to take stock of the objective threats to Iranian security and consider mitigating them.

Since the end of the 1970s, when the complexion of Iranian politics and its position in the region changed radically, U.S. policy has called for denying Iran the right to defend itself. This was marked by what is now widely recognized as the folly of supporting Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. That stand likely led Saddam to conclude (accurately) that the United States would mount only a mild protest to his use of chemical weapons against Iran. It clearly emboldened the Iraqi dictator to invade Kuwait in the belief that his U.S. supporter would acquiesce in further aggression.

There is, of course, almost certainly more involved in Iranian thinking about a nuclear weapons program than its own palpable sense of insecurity. The perceived prestige of having nuclear weapons, another “Islamic bomb,” is no doubt one element. Such thinking is misguided because an Iran with nuclear weapons would become even more of a pariah state, especially to many of its Arab neighbors, given religious, political, economic, and other traditional rivalries. Likewise, Iranian policymakers certainly must believe that a nuclear weapon would provide them with enhanced deterrence against a U.S. attack, but the same goal could also be accomplished by the removal of U.S. and similar outside threats to Iran.

More important to Iran is the matter of power and presence in the Persian Gulf. With the defeat of Iraq—a country now many years away from being in a position to compete for power in the region—and with rising risks of turmoil in Saudi Arabia, Iran is in a better position to compete for pride of place in the Gulf. Arguably, Iranian nuclear weapons could be a card to play in a contest for influence. That assumes that such a competition might be limited to the region and that Iran or any other regional actor could aspire to the role of the most influential country in the Gulf. Such an assumption makes little sense given the almost certain deep engagement of the United States and its allies in the Middle East militarily, economically, and politically for the foreseeable future.

A New Approach to Iran
Taken together, these points argue for an approach by the West that includes two factors: reassurances to Iran that its own security will not be put at risk by Western actions, provided, of course, that Iran does not provoke such threats; and the development of a regional security and political structure that could include Iran and all other countries, as well as external powers including the United States.

Many commentators argue that Iran has been provided such assurances in the past, as well as clear road maps for rejoining the international community of nations, but has rejected them. Others, however, question whether such approaches to Tehran have been seriously or consistently pursued. Indeed, the case can be made that every time possibilities of breaking the diplomatic logjam have arisen, various U.S. administrations have raised the bar—making desired results of negotiations conditions for starting them and refusing all formal direct contacts with Iran. A notable missed chance came in May 2003 when a credible offer to negotiate by the Iranian leadership was conveyed to Washington by the Swiss representative of U.S. interests in Tehran. Perhaps it was real, perhaps bogus, but it was never tested. This Iranian offer was even largely ignored in the American media.

In normal diplomatic practice, the course should be obvious: to seek direct negotiations with the government in Tehran. The talks should be based on two propositions: U.S. and Western sensitivity to legitimate Iranian security concerns including an offer to readmit Iran to the outside world, full relations with the West, and an end to economic sanctions; and the need for Iran to take the necessary steps to give reassurance to others of its peaceful intentions and behavior, including on its nuclear programs, terrorism, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and its role in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Furthermore, as part of any comprehensive effort to deal with Iran, both in general and regarding nuclear weapons specifically, the West needs to work toward a wide-ranging security system for the region that would embrace Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf Emirates, Jordan, and post-settlement Israel and Palestine. The alternative is for the United States and other Western states to remain pinned to the region as sole providers of security for the indefinite future—an option that is likely to prove militarily costly and politically unpopular.

The twin process suggested here, simple in construction but complex in resolution, has now become an essential element not just in the effort to deal with an Iranian nuclear weapons program and to thwart its coming to completion, but also an essential element of worldwide nonproliferation strategy. In the case of Iran, a combination of reassurances on security, implied threats to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons, an offer of direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations, U.S. support for European diplomacy, and reasonable conditions for removing all economic sanctions on Iran and reengaging it in the international community possibly may not work. These steps should at least be pursued before either contemplating the use of military force or reluctantly accepting as inevitable an Iranian bomb.

More broadly, the Western nonproliferation strategy needs to incorporate on a comprehensive and systematic basis the range of considerations that relate to the motivations of countries to acquire nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction and the possibilities of dealing successfully with such motivations.

This is an area that to date has not been well explored, but this approach must be elevated to the front rank given the long-term weaknesses of purely technical approaches and because acquiring weapons of mass destruction is a political act designed to achieve political purposes. The case of Iran must be the first test case, and this parallel political approach must be pursued seriously, assiduously, and sincerely as an effort to deal with real security problems rather than to pursue other, less important agendas, open or hidden. Too much is at stake for it to be otherwise.

What Happens if Iran Gets the Bomb?

What will happen if Iran gets “the bomb”? In contemplating this possibility, some analysts throw up their hands in horror, others are relatively calm about the results, and still others deny the possibility of such an outcome. Nevertheless, any realistic U.S. policy must consider such a scenario.

One frequently expressed concern is that Iran would consider its nuclear weapons capability to be held in trust for the Islamic world or would give custody of a weapon to someone else, perhaps even a terrorist group. Such an outcome is theoretically possible, but not very probable. With one notable and quickly regretted exception—Soviet transfer of some U-235 to China in the 1950s—no country with bomb-making fissionable materials has knowingly transferred them to anyone else.

More useful to consider is the role that nuclear weapons would play in shaping post-nuclear Iran’s relationships with its neighbors—friends and foes. When all is said and done, such weapons would have little military utility except for deterrence. This would operate at four levels: to deter a conventional attack from a non-nuclear regional power; to deter an openly nuclear regional state—today only including Pakistan and India; to deter Israel; or to deter a major external power, notably the United States but, in theory at least, also including Russia.

The first case is obvious: no country with just conventional arms is likely to try the patience of a nuclear power. But in the other three cases, “proportional deterrence” would come into play. Originally developed by France, this doctrine holds that a relatively less-capable nuclear power such as Iran can deter a much stronger nuclear power (the United States, Russia, Pakistan, India, Israel) if it is viewed as able and willing to destroy “value targets” in the attacking nation even while it is being obliterated. This complex doctrine can be summarized as the “death throes” of a country under nuclear or even extreme conventional attack.

Such a doctrine depends on the potential attacker such as the United States or Israel calculating that the targets in its own country that would be destroyed in retaliation would be more “valuable” to it than the benefit (military or political) of annihilating Iran. Of course, proportional deterrence can only succeed if the potential retaliation is credible, hence the need for a survivable second-strike capability. The threat of retaliation must not be so precise that the original attacking nation can calculate with precision whether the game is worth the candle (uncertainty principle). There should also be a margin for the leadership of the attacked nation to over-respond (irrationality principle). All these ideas were worked out in detail during the Cold War.

By the same token, of course, Iran would also be subject to deterrence, as it is today by Israel, in particular. Indeed, recent commentary about Iranian advances in missile technology may not be related to a future nuclear arsenal. They are more likely to be an attempt to gain the ability to launch relatively accurate conventional warheads at Israel, counting on that capability to have some proportional deterrent effect on Israel if, for example, that country was inclined to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities like that on the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981.

These calculations can be elaborated further. What they add up to is an Iran with one or more nuclear weapons that would not, per se, have a destabilizing effect on security in the region. That would be very much “scenario dependent.” Nevertheless, as with all issues involving nuclear weapons, psychology and politics are critical elements. Indeed, if they were not—if the world had not witnessed Hiroshima and Nagasaki—we would likely have seen much more proliferation over the past 60 years, as many analysts long predicted, or even the further use of nuclear weapons in war.

As things now stand in the Middle East and are likely to stand for the foreseeable future, a nuclear-armed Iran would change the politics and the security of the region dramatically in terms of perceptions. The point need hardly be spelled out. Further, even if regional and outside countries could in time adjust to a nuclear-armed Iran, judged from today, it is highly unlikely that Iran would be permitted to gain such a capability. The United States, Israel, or perhaps some third-party would likely use whatever means necessary to prevent Iran from ever getting into that position.


Robert E. Hunter, a senior advisor at the Rand Corp., has held many senior government appointments, including serving as U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998 and Director of Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council from 1979 to 1981.

IAEA Cites Iran Progress, Raises Questions

Paul Kerr

In a Nov.15 report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei concluded that all of Iran’s known nuclear material “has been accounted for, and…is not diverted to prohibited activities,” but added that the IAEA is “not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”

A September IAEA resolution called for ElBaradei to report on the investigation’s status, as well as Iran’s implementation of IAEA board requests expressed in several past resolutions. (See ACT, October 2004.) The board had requested Iran to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation, fully account for previously undisclosed nuclear activities, and suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.

The Investigation

The report reiterates that Tehran had conducted a variety of clandestine nuclear activities that “resulted in many breaches of its obligation to comply” with its IAEA safeguards agreement. Such agreements require states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to allow the IAEA to monitor their declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military use. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA investigation has been uneven, particularly before Iran agreed to disclose all of its nuclear activities to the agency as part of an October 2003 agreement with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Iran had previously provided incomplete and misleading information to the agency, delayed inspectors’ access to certain facilities, and altered the interiors of some buildings to thwart IAEA detection methods.

In an effort to improve the investigation, the IAEA Board of Governors called on Iran to sign and ratify an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The protocol, which augments the agency’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities, requires Iran to declare a significantly greater number of nuclear-related activities than required by its original safeguards agreement. Iran signed the protocol as part of the October 2003 agreement. Although Iran’s parliament has not yet ratified the agreement, Tehran has agreed to abide by the protocol’s provisions in the meantime.

According to the report, Iran has increased its cooperation with the agency since October 2003, producing “good progress.” Iran has corrected several of its safeguards violations, and the IAEA has been able to “confirm certain aspects of Iran’s current declarations.” ElBaradei told the board in his September report that the agency had been able to conclude special investigations into Iran’s uranium-conversion and laser-based uranium-enrichment programs.

The report states, however, that Iran has restricted IAEA inspectors’ ability to photograph Iranian facilities. The IAEA also says that Tehran is not allowing agency officials to independently record meetings with Iranian officials and still has not provided the IAEA with some requested procurement information.

Uranium Enrichment

The IAEA has not yet resolved two major outstanding issues concerning Iran’s gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program: the source of enriched uranium particles found at several Iranian facilities and the scope of Iran’s advanced “P-2” centrifuge program. Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope to produce either low-enriched uranium (LEU) for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium, which, if enriched to high enough levels, can be used in nuclear weapons. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds.

Iran has acknowledged enriching uranium without notifying the IAEA—a violation of its safeguards agreement.

Iran says it has only enriched uranium to a level slightly higher than the less than 1 percent uranium-235 typically found in natural uranium, asserting that other particles, some of which contained as much as 70 percent uranium-235, came from imported centrifuge components. According to the report, “the environmental sampling data available to date tends, on balance, to support” Iran’s claims. The IAEA will continue to investigate “other possible explanations,” which include other undisclosed Iranian nuclear experiments or concealment of imported or domestically produced nuclear material.

Arms Control Today previously reported that particles enriched to 54 percent uranium-235 came from centrifuges imported from Pakistan and that particles enriched to 36 percent apparently came from equipment that originated in the former Soviet Union. The latter reached Iran via China and Pakistan. (See ACT, September 2004.) As part of this investigation, IAEA officials have taken environmental samples at several locations in Pakistan and have reached an agreement with the government “on the basic modalities” for taking additional samples, ElBaradei told the board Nov. 25.

In addition, the report introduced a new theory to explain the presence of some LEU particles with greater concentrations of uranium-235 than Iran has acknowledged producing. The report says that it is possible that the particles, found on domestically produced centrifuge components, came from “quality control equipment used on both imported and domestic components.”

Additionally, the IAEA has been unable to determine the source of uranium hexafluoride found in a Tehran storage facility. Although agency experts continue to regard “as not technically plausible” Iran’s claim that the material leaked from containers stored at the site, the IAEA will not be able to pursue this matter further unless “new information becomes available.”

As for the P-2 centrifuge project, the agency continues to investigate the scope of Iran’s research and development efforts. According to the report, the IAEA still does not have “sufficient assurance” that Iran did not begin work on the project before 2002, even though Tehran received the designs in 1995. Because of the project’s advanced state, IAEA experts believe that Iran started the program earlier than it has claimed.

Other Issues

The report discusses the results of environmental samples that IAEA inspectors took at the Lavizan-Shian site in June. The site had attracted suspicion because of reports that Iran had razed buildings there in what may have been an attempt to conceal evidence of nuclear activities. The report says the sample results “reveal no evidence of nuclear material” but adds that detecting nuclear material would be “very difficult” because the buildings were demolished.

Tehran allowed the agency to take environmental samples from two whole-body counters found at the site, as well as a trailer that Iranian officials said contained one of the counters. Such counters are used to measure radioactive material in humans. The report says Iran’s account of why the counters were at the site is “plausible.” Iran had told the IAEA that it had established a physics research center at the site in 1989, but the report notes that IAEA inspectors have not yet been able to take samples from the trailer that housed the other counter.

In October, agency officials reiterated their request for permission to visit the Parchin military complex. Iranian officials have said publicly that IAEA inspectors would be allowed to visit the site, which U.S. officials believe may have facilities that could be used to test conventional high explosives for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. (See ACT, October 2004.)

In addition to these issues, the IAEA is continuing its efforts to determine the dates of Iran’s plutonium-separation experiments, which may have been conducted more recently than Tehran has claimed. Separating plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel is another method for obtaining explosive material for nuclear weapons.

There are also unresolved questions about Iran’s attempts to obtain parts for hot cells, which are shielded rooms useful for separating plutonium. Iran no longer plans to construct these cells, the report says, but Tehran’s procurement attempts have caused concern because of Iran’s plans to construct a heavy-water nuclear research reactor, which will produce plutonium when complete. The IAEA board has asked Iran to “reconsider” constructing such a reactor, but Iran has yet to respond.


As part of its October 2003 agreement, Iran also agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. Although Tehran has maintained a freeze on its gas centrifuge facilities and refrained from introducing uranium hexafluoride into any of its centrifuges, implementation of the agreement has largely been characterized by disputes over the suspension’s scope and Iran’s reluctance to halt portions of its enrichment program.

For example, Iran resumed manufacturing centrifuge components and assembling entire centrifuges in June after promising to end these activities months earlier. Iran has produced more than 1,200 centrifuge rotors, the report states. ElBaradei told the board that all of Iran’s “essential” centrifuge components have been placed under IAEA seal, except for 20 sets of components, which will be monitored by agency surveillance cameras.

Iran’s uranium-conversion activities also have been controversial. Tehran sent the IAEA a letter in May stating that the suspension did not include the production of uranium hexafluoride, a characterization which, at the time, was inconsistent with the agency’s interpretation of Iran’s original pledge.

Iran has a uranium-conversion facility that can convert uranium oxide—lightly processed uranium ore—into several different uranium compounds, including uranium hexafluoride. After producing 40-45 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride last spring as part of a “test,” Tehran announced in September that it had begun to convert a quantity of uranium oxide sufficient eventually to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for several crude nuclear weapons.

The November IAEA report says that Iran had not produced any additional uranium hexafluoride as of Oct. 14. However, ElBaradei told the board Nov. 25 that Iran has since produced 3.5 tons of uranium hexafluoride.

The IAEA’s more recent suspension requests have been more specific. The September resolution said that suspending “all enrichment-related activities” included the “manufacture or import of centrifuge components, the assembly and testing of centrifuges,” and the production of uranium hexafluoride.

Iran finally notified ElBaradei Nov. 14 that it would extend its original suspension as part of a new agreement with the Europeans. The suspension now includes the above provisions, as well as a requirement that Iran refrain from testing or producing any nuclear materials “at any uranium conversion installation.”


Iran Agrees to Temporarily Suspend Uranium-Enrichment Program

Paul Kerr

Following a series of talks with British, French, and German officials, Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Nov. 14 that it would suspend all of its uranium-enrichment activities for the duration of upcoming negotiations concerning Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency Board of Governors Nov. 25 that Iran had implemented the suspension.

The action led the IAEA board at a meeting in late November to decide not to refer Iran's past violations of its safeguards agreement with the agency to the UN Security Council, despite the United States' repeated insistence that Iran's nuclear efforts and the IAEA statute require it to do so. Instead, the board adopted a resolution Nov. 29 that emphasizes the suspension’s importance but does not specify any clear consequences if Iran resumes its enrichment activities. Safeguards agreements empower the agency to monitor civilian nuclear facilities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. U.S. officials charge that Iran is building a secret nuclear weapons program, while Iranian officials say their program is only for peaceful purposes.

Most recently, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated Nov. 17 that Iran is “actively working” on methods to deliver a nuclear warhead. Washington has long expressed concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programs, but Powell indicated that his statement was based on new intelligence. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker warned in October that Iran intends “to deploy nuclear weapons” on its missiles. (See ACT, November 2004.)

The board’s decision came as it assessed Tehran’s compliance with a September resolution requiring Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities as well as cooperate with the agency’s investigation of its nuclear program. Tehran’s compliance with past resolutions has been uneven, but a Nov. 15 report from ElBaradei, coupled with the recent agreement, persuaded the board to refrain from taking action against Iran. ElBaradei’s report describing Iran’s cooperation is generally positive, although it lists several unresolved issues concerning Iran’s nuclear programs.

The Europeans’ efforts to persuade Iran to halt its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program have been ongoing for more than a year. Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment activities in October 2003 but has continued work on some elements of the program. Uranium-enrichment facilities are used in civilian energy programs but also can produce the explosive material for nuclear weapons.

Iran is permitted to enrich uranium under IAEA safeguards, but the European governments have demanded the IAEA-monitored suspension in order to provide confidence that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapons program.

The European officials met with Iran several times since September to devise a new agreement that incorporated the resolution’s demands. The Europeans warned Iran that, if it did not accept a new suspension agreement, they would support U.S. efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

As long as Iran adheres to the suspension, the Europeans have agreed to negotiate “a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements,” which includes “objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

The long-term agreement is also to include “firm guarantees on nuclear, technological, and economic cooperation,” as well as “firm commitments on security issues.” A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Nov. 19 that the Europeans hope that Iran will eventually agree to dismantle its nuclear facilities. However, “inducements” are necessary to persuade Iran to do so because dismantlement goes beyond Tehran’s IAEA requirements.

The Agreement


The new agreement entered into force Nov. 15. Using language similar to that contained in the September resolution, it specifies that Tehran is to suspend the manufacture and importation of gas centrifuges and related components, as well as the assembly, installation, testing, or operation of such centrifuges. Gas centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the relevant isotope.

In a move that seemingly imperiled the agreement, Iran told the IAEA shortly before the board meeting that it wanted to “use up to 20 sets of [centrifuge] components for [research and development] purposes.” However, ElBaradei told the board Nov. 29 that Iran subsequently agreed to place the centrifuges under agency camera surveillance and refrain from “any testing” of the components. The rest of Iran’s centrifuge components are under IAEA seal.

In addition, Tehran is to refrain from “all tests or production at any uranium-conversion installation.” Iran has caused concern by converting lightly processed uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for gas centrifuges. This provision is stricter than the September resolution’s corresponding demand, which only called for Iran to suspend production of uranium hexafluoride.

The agreement also states that Tehran is not to separate plutonium or construct a plutonium-separation facility. Iran conducted plutonium-separation experiments in the past and has announced plans to construct a heavy-water nuclear reactor, which can produce plutonium—another possible explosive material for nuclear weapons.


A steering committee will meet in the first half of December to launch the negotiations. It will also set up three working groups to develop proposals for mutual cooperation on nuclear issues, non-nuclear technical cooperation, and “political and security issues.” The steering committee is to meet again within three months to review the groups’ progress.

According to the European diplomat, possible forms of cooperation in the first two areas include a replacement for Iran’s heavy-water reactor, a guarantee that Iran can obtain nuclear reactor fuel from other countries, investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector, and assistance in upgrading transportation links. Cooperation on “political and security issues” could include improving Iran’s export controls, as well as providing Iran with security assurances.

Additionally, negotiations with the European Union on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement will resume as soon as the suspension is verified.

The Nov. 15 agreement also addressees Iran’s long-standing demand that any agreement should be a voluntary, political settlement that preserves Tehran’s “right” to produce nuclear fuel. To that end, the text of the agreement recognizes Iran’s “rights under the NPT” and states that the freeze is voluntary, rather than “a legal obligation.”

Negotiating “objective guarantees” that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful will likely prove contentious. According to two European diplomatic sources, the European governments believe that only Iran’s total cessation of its nuclear fuel production programs will provide a satisfactory guarantee. Iranian officials, however, have repeatedly described the suspension as “temporary” and argued that they do not want to rely on other countries for nuclear fuel.

Indeed, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters Nov. 20 that permanent suspension is “not negotiable and certainly not on the Iranian agenda,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

However, Hossein Mousavian, the head of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, told the Financial Times in October that Tehran is willing to negotiate a “mechanism” to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful, though he did not provide specifics.

He also acknowledged that a mere suspension will perpetuate concerns that Iran will use its enrichment capabilities to produce nuclear weapons.

Relationship With IAEA

The agreement affects Tehran’s status with the IAEA board in two ways. First, the European governments will not support referring Iran to the UN Security Council as long as the suspension holds, the diplomat said. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, however, warned that the Europeans reserve the right to support a referral, Agence France Presse reported Nov. 22.

Second, the agreement specifies that the three governments will support ElBaradei “reporting to the IAEA Board as he considers appropriate,” rather than in response to board requests for specific reports, as he has been doing.

According to the European diplomat, this provision partly addresses Iran’s wish that its nuclear program not be raised at every board meeting. The diplomat, however, said that the provision may make little practical difference because the Europeans expect ElBaradei to report regularly on the IAEA investigation’s progress.

Next Steps

For now, the United States will observe Iran’s compliance with the agreement. President George W. Bush told reporters Nov. 20 that “we appreciate the [Europeans’] efforts,” but a Department of State official told Arms Control Today that Washington is “deeply skeptical” as to whether Tehran will comply with the agreement.

A CIA report released Nov. 23 states that IAEA inspections and safeguards will most likely prevent Tehran from using inspected facilities for a weapons program, but adds that “Iran could use the same technology at other, covert locations for military applications.” It is a “safe bet” that Iran has such facilities, the State Department official added, citing Iran’s previous efforts to conceal many important nuclear sites.

The Nov. 29 resolution underlines that the suspension is essential to addressing Iran’s outstanding nuclear issues and requests ElBaradei to notify board members if Tehran either fails to implement the suspension or impedes IAEA monitoring.

The resolution also called for Iran to continue to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation. Additionally, it requests ElBaradei to update the board on the investigation “as appropriate,” rather than requesting a report for the next board meeting, as past resolutions have done.

The State Department official said that Washington wanted a resolution with a “hard trigger” spelling out clear consequences for Tehran if it violates its new agreement. The resolution does not contain such a provision, but implies that Iran could be referred to the UN Security Council if it breaks the suspension.

Another European diplomat told Arms Control Today Nov. 22 that a draft resolution was clear enough and that the other board members would not have agreed to all of the U.S. demands.


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