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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Iran

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.

Suspension

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

Suspension

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.

Negotiations

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.

U.S. Punishes 14 for Iran Arms Trade

Wade Boese

The United States has sanctioned 14 entities from seven different countries for allegedly providing Iran with exports that could be used to develop unconventional weapons and the means to deliver them. The move came amid ongoing worldwide uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear intentions and ballistic missile advances.

On Sept. 29, the Department of State announced penalties on seven Chinese companies; two individuals from India; and one company each from Belarus, North Korea, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine for running afoul of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. That law authorizes the president to penalize any foreign entity that transfers items to Iran that could aid its pursuit of dangerous weapons. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct. 12 that the offending transactions occurred more than a year ago.

However, the official said some of the entities, namely those sanctioned multiple times by Washington, might still have an ongoing relationship with Iran. The North Korean and Belarusian companies and four of the Chinese companies had already been hit with sanctions under the same law in April.

All the recently sanctioned entities will be barred from U.S. government contracts and aid, as well as all U.S. arms and dual-use exports, for two years.

Although U.S. proliferation sanctions are largely symbolic because the entities rarely do business with the U.S. government, Bush administration officials argue sanctions are valuable because they help stigmatize companies and individuals, applying indirect pressure to foreign governments to rein them in.

The Bush administration has leveled sanctions for proliferation transactions 98 times over four years, exceeding 70 imposed by the Clinton administration in its eight years. More than half of the sanctions imposed by the Bush administration explicity concerned transactions with Iran.

Nonetheless, foreign governments and companies continue to pursue ties, including in the nuclear sector, with Tehran, which also appears to be forging ahead with its ballistic missile program.

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Oct. 5 that Iran now had a missile capable of traveling 2,000 kilometers, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). U.S. intelligence previously estimated the range of Iran’s most advanced, flight-proven missile, the Shahab-3, at roughly 1,300 kilometers.

Rafsanjani’s claim, repeated by other Iranian officials, followed August and September missile tests, about which Tehran admits providing deliberately vague information, including whether the August test was on the ground or in flight. (See ACT, September 2004.) The only information available about the September test are Iranian media reports that quote Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani as saying the test involved a “strategic missile.” Iran announced Oct. 20 that it had conducted another Shahab-3 test.

Purported photos of the August test showed a missile shaped differently than that in previous pictures of Iran’s Shahab-3. Rather than having a conical tip, the missile’s re-entry vehicle was shaped more like a baby-bottle’s top. This new configuration has spurred speculation by Uzi Rubin, a former top Israeli missile defense official, that Iran has received foreign help, possibly from Russia, in upgrading the Shahab-3 to have greater range and accuracy.

U.S. officials refused to discuss Iran’s latest missile tests or apparent new re-entry vehicle design, except to reiterate Washington’s long-standing concerns about Iran’s missile programs.

During a two-day visit to Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker warned Oct. 6, “It is obvious to us that Iran’s intention is to deploy nuclear weapons on these missiles.” He added, “Fortunately for us, the United States is more than 2,000 kilometers from Iran, but obviously Iran intends to deploy longer-range missiles over time.”

Iranian officials, who assert Iran’s missiles are only for defensive purposes, have repeatedly denied working on a more powerful Shahab-4 ballistic missile. Instead, they claim Iran is pursuing space launch capabilities and in 2005 will attempt to lift a small satellite into space for the first time.

Time for Arms Talks? Iran, Israel, and Middle East Arms Control

Dalia Dassa Kaye

The Middle East has all it takes to frustrate international arms control regimes. Key regional actors do not recognize one actor’s right to exist, let alone share diplomatic relations. Countries in the region perceive their own security as requiring the insecurity of others, leading them to adopt offensive military postures. At the same time, there is virtually no regional arms control culture or constituency.

The ongoing showdown between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran is a case in point, underscoring the limitations of global nonproliferation norms in addressing regional proliferation. Despite Tehran’s stated commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), as well as the IAEA’s success in uncovering a pattern of Iranian violations, the violations themselves raise many questions about the adequacy of the NPT in blocking determined states from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. Even strengthened verification measures under the Additional Protocol do not address the broader political and security context of proliferation problems in unstable regions such as the Middle East.

Without such consideration, even the best orchestrated international diplomatic efforts will fall short. Because effective arms control follows political relationships and is dependent on the broader security environment, current diplomatic efforts focused on Iran must take place in conjunction with attempts to create a more favorable regional climate for arms control. This will require altering political relationships and establishing new regional processes that focus not just on international disarmament goals but also on regional confidence-building measures.

Although solving current proliferation challenges such as Iran is not dependent on the creation of new regional security structures, strong political support for such processes by the United States and its Western allies could create a more favorable regional climate and provide some cover for regional actors to make concessions in the proliferation area. That said, the creation of a regional security dialogue should be viewed primarily as a long-term process to address the underlying motivations and security vulnerabilities that lead to the type of crises we are facing today with countries such as Iran.

Consequently, the United States and Europe need to work together, preferably in conjunction with Russia and other Western allies such as Japan, on three levels: first, rein in the Iranian nuclear program; second, involve Israel, the one nuclear power in the region, and its Arab neighbors more actively in regional and global nonproliferation efforts; and third, revive multilateral regional security talks. On none of these points are there reasons to be sanguine about the prospects for success, but neither are such efforts futile, particularly if international coordination and willingness to exert political capital on the Middle East proliferation problem increases.

Dealing With Iran

Iran’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons must be addressed quickly and resolutely. No other proliferation challenge would more dramatically disrupt the regional balance of power and escalate the regional arms race, not to mention undermine the credibility of the NPT, than an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. The potential for nuclear breakout among other Middle Eastern states, in addition to the horrifying risks of such technologies reaching terrorists, would create a proliferation nightmare several times worse than previous threats to the NPT regime.

Indeed, the prospect of a nuclear Iran is one of the few issues currently generating transatlantic agreement, even if tactics differ. Compared to the Europeans, the United States considers sanctions against Iran more favorably and prefers a shorter timeline for imposing them if Iran does not comply with IAEA demands. Both sides are in agreement that Iran cannot be allowed to develop its own nuclear fuel cycle, which could enable Iran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a small arsenal within a short period of time.

The specter of Iranian acquisition of nuclear capabilities is so troubling that Israel predictably has not ruled out a preventive military strike. Such a military option would be much more difficult (militarily and politically) than the Israeli strike against Iraq’s Osirik facility in 1981. Worse still, it could prompt an Iranian military response, further destabilizing the region.[1] Still, the Israelis are leaving the option on the table, issuing statements and pursuing actions that are preparing the ground for such an attack, even if such preparations are solely for deterrent purposes.[2]

Although the IAEA has postponed a decision on whether to refer Iranian safeguards violations to the UN Security Council until its Board of Governors meeting on Nov. 25, Iran’s hard-line position since a September IAEA resolution called on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities raises the prospects for escalation. Iran’s refusal to fully abide by its previous commitment to the United Kingdom, France, and Germany to suspend all enrichment activity and hints that it might consider withdrawing from the NPT are raising the stakes.

Generating agreement in support of sanctions will be difficult given the importance of Iranian energy supplies to Western countries, particularly with oil prices at an all-time high.[3] Nevertheless, in the face of continuing Iranian defiance, such a course of action is possible, even though it may take place outside the UN Security Council context. Unfortunately, as the India and Pakistan cases demonstrated, international sanctions that are not pursued through a broad multilateral process over a sustained period of time (as was the case with Libya) are not always an effective instrument in persuading determined states to reverse course.

Time is running out, but the contours of a transatlantic approach are apparent, providing some hope for a nonmilitary solution. Such a strategy, most clearly and forcefully outlined by Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation in the Clinton administration, essentially calls for the United States and Europe to switch roles, with Europe becoming the “bad cop” and the United States becoming the “better cop.”[4] The idea is to change the cost-benefit analysis of the Iranian leadership to the extent that pursuing the nuclear path will be viewed as too costly.

In practice, this translates into tougher and more credible European threats to isolate Iran politically and economically if it does not reverse course (i.e., using sticks instead of simply the threat of deferred carrots). At the same time, the United States will need to indicate what Iranian nuclear capabilities would be acceptable even under the current regime (e.g., nuclear technology that did not allow for an indigenous fuel-cycle capability and would require the return of all spent fuel to approved third parties). Recent discussions between the United States and the Europeans on a package of incentives for Iran, including imported nuclear fuel, suggest the United States and its allies may be moving in this direction.

Even more significantly, the United States would need to drop its regime-change rhetoric and explore the improvement of bilateral relations, beginning perhaps with limited dialogues focused on issues of mutual concern such as Iraq and Afghanistan.[5] Improved relations with Iran will face tremendous domestic resistance in the United States, but an increasing number of voices are calling for such a shift. Indeed, an altered U.S.-Iranian political relationship is the linchpin for any other efforts to address regional proliferation; rethinking this relationship should be the top priority for whichever U.S. administration comes to office this January. The outlines of a Western strategy to resolve this crisis may be clear, but the political will to carry it out, both in Washington and European capitals, is still questionable.

Israel and Its Neighbors

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear challenge could gain momentum if other regional parties, particularly Israel, take steps to boost the nonproliferation agenda and improve the regional security environment. Accusations of double standards must be evaluated in the context of the existential threat Israel faces and its belief that nuclear weapons offer a valuable deterrent in warding off any attack. Iran’s recent parading of its Shahab-3 missiles, capable of reaching Israel and covered with banners calling for Israel’s destruction, only contributes to this security perception, even though Iran’s motivations for nuclear weapons capabilities are complex and extend beyond the Israeli factor.[6]

Still, the perception among Arab parties and others in the developing world that the West applies double standards when it comes to “acceptable” and “unacceptable” proliferators is real and needs to be addressed. The recent U.S. focus on the Iranian nuclear threat in the context of the Bush administration’s lack of commitment to global arms control treaties such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has only reinforced this perception of double standards.

Some specific steps by Israel could thus improve the climate in the Middle East. Expecting Israel to join the NPT or alter its policy of nuclear ambiguity is a nonstarter; efforts pressuring Israel in this direction will only backfire.[7] Still, Israel could move forward with other arms control measures, such as ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the CTBT (building on its recent signing of a facilities agreement with the CTBT Organization) and joining the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). At the 2005 NPT Review Conference, Israel could also reaffirm its commitment to join the NPT in the future if certain security conditions are met, such as peace treaties with all of its neighbors and the establishment of a verifiable weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone (WMDFZ)—to include long-range missile capabilities—throughout the region.[8] The United States should encourage Israel to take such steps by offering assurances that renewed political attention to regional arms control will extend beyond a focus on the weapons themselves to include the broader agenda of transforming the security environment and nature of political relations in the region.

Moreover, because one cannot divorce nuclear arms control from other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, a comprehensive approach is necessary if arms control is to be a serious endeavor in the region. In particular, Egypt and Syria should be encouraged to join the CWC. Even if Syria is unlikely to move forward on the CWC until Israel’s posture on the NPT changes, Syria could take other nonproliferation steps, such as ratifying the BWC and the CTBT and subscribing to the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.

Expectations in Europe that Syria may follow the Libyan model of completely ending its WMD programs may be unwarranted,[9] but the growing European attention to Syria in relation to weapons of mass destruction, especially its chemical weapons program, in conjunction with increasing U.S. pressure should continue. The European refusal to conclude its Trade and Cooperation Agreement with Syria until Damascus accepted the EU’s new standard nonproliferation clause is a welcome step.[10] Europe’s new Neighborhood Policy, which promises closer economic, political, and security relations with the EU’s neighbors in exchange for progress on a variety of “priority” areas including nonproliferation, may also prove a useful lever for European influence on these issues. The Neighborhood Policy, initiated after the EU’s enlargement in May 2004, applies to all non-EU participants in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or Barcelona process, including key actors in the regional proliferation context such as Israel, Syria, and Egypt.[11]

Renewed Regional Security Dialogue

Specific steps taken by individual Middle Eastern actors can improve regional security, but ultimately the region needs a multilateral regional security process to address the interrelated web of security perceptions and vulnerabilities and the underlying sources for proliferation in the region. Such a process should work toward the creation of a WMDFZ in the long run, along the lines of the nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America. Given the political and security realities in the Middle East at present, however, a more realistic short-term agenda could focus on practical confidence-building measures in areas such as conflict prevention, misperception, and limitation of damage should conflict occur.

The short-lived history of the only official multilateral security experiment to date in the Middle East—the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) working group of the Arab-Israeli multilateral peace process—demonstrates that such an agenda is possible.[12] Established with the Madrid peace conference in 1991, the ACRS process accomplished more than many thought was possible in this region, even if it ultimately collapsed in 1995. As the co-sponsor of the group, the United States sought to structure the ACRS group based on previous arms control experience in the European and U.S.-Soviet context, suggesting that incremental approaches to arms control tended to precede formal arms control measures, such as the banning of certain military activities or actual reductions in capabilities.

Consequently, the ACRS group focused on incremental confidence-building measures to encourage cooperative security norms rather than on a more advanced arms control agenda. After the Oslo breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations in 1993, the ACRS group engaged in a number of conceptual and operational confidence-building activities, such as the drafting of a declaration of principles for regional security and arms control; the creation of a regional security center; the establishment of a communications network; the production of a Pre-notification of Certain Military Activities agreement; an Exchange of Military Activities document; and a number of maritime confidence-building measures such as Search and Rescue (SAR) and Prevention of Incidents at Sea (INCSEA) agreements.

Despite this active agenda, the ACRS group’s demise was brought about largely by the dispute between Israel and Egypt over the Israeli nuclear issue. Egyptian pressure on Israel to sign the NPT increased tension in the group and essentially held all other activities in the process hostage to this issue. Its progress was also limited by setbacks on the bilateral peace process tracks as well as by the exclusion of key regional parties from the process, most notably Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

The ACRS experience underscores that regional security dialogue can be fruitful and confidence-building measures in a variety of areas are possible. Future efforts, however, will need to adequately address Egyptian and other Arab concerns over the Israeli nuclear arsenal while assuring the Israelis that this will not be the sole focus of such discussions. The ACRS process thus demonstrates the need to work both on longer-term disarmament goals as well as shorter-term regional security confidence-building and cooperative activity. Moreover, a renewed regional dialogue must include the actors who were absent from the ACRS group if the process is to be comprehensive and address the full range of regional security relationships and concerns.

After the demise of the ACRS process, the prospects for a renewed, regional arms control dialogue appeared dim, despite a variety of unofficial track-two dialogues.[13] Yet, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, which highlighted weapons of mass destruction and made clear that Iraq desired to maintain a nuclear deterrent even though it did not actually possess such an active weapons program after 1991,[14] attention is once again being focused on a regional arms control agenda. The ongoing crisis with Iran as well as the positive developments with Libya have only further fueled interest in re-establishing some sort of official regional process.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei underscored the critical need for a regional security dialogue during his visit to Israel in July 2004. As a result, ElBaradei secured the agreement of regional parties, including Israel, to participate in an IAEA conference this January, which will examine how negotiations established WMDFZs in other regions and what lessons these efforts might offer the Middle East. This meeting is a one-time event, however, and, although useful, cannot replace a more durable regional dialogue process with a broader agenda.

The recent Euro-Med agreement to start a dialogue on weapons of mass destruction is also a positive step. It will include both Israel and Syria, which participate in the Barcelona process. But it cannot replace a dialogue that includes key extra-regional actors such as the United States and critical regional parties in the Persian Gulf that are not part of the Barcelona process. In order to improve understandings of mutual threat perceptions and engage in confidence-building measures in such areas as surprise attack, transparency, conventional stockpiles, and the like, in addition to longer-term disarmament goals, a comprehensive regional security process is essential.

Many will argue that the creation of a multilateral regional security dialogue is impossible absent a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Few can doubt that progress on the Middle East peace process would create a more favorable climate for regional arms control, as occurred in the early 1990s with the ACRS process. A successful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, for example, could generate momentum and provide political cover for the resumption of a regional arms control process, as would serious Israeli commitment to dismantling settlements deep inside Palestinian territory. Yet, the absence of progress on the peace process also should not provide an excuse for doing nothing. The WMD revelations in Iraq, the recent Libyan decision to dismantle its WMD programs, the growing vulnerability felt by Syria, and the current focus on the Iranian nuclear issue provide an opening for moving a regional arms control agenda forward even in the current environment, as the emergence of recent initiatives suggests.

A new regional security process can work toward a WMDFZ in the long run while maintaining a more pragmatic agenda in the short term. The fact that even under the best political conditions a WMDFZ in the Middle East may never fully transpire should not lead the international community and the region itself to avoid confronting the proliferation crisis and taking steps now to avoid further destabilization. Ultimately, a transformation of political relationships and the creation of a broad, durable, and effective regional arms control process will be key to meeting the proliferation challenges from the Middle East that so threaten stability today.

ENDNOTES

1. For an assessment of the risks regarding a use of force option, see Michael Eisenstadt, “The Challenge of U.S. Preventive Military Action,” in Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions, eds. Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, January 2004).

2. On statements by Israeli leaders not ruling force out in response to the Iranian threat, see Aluf Ben, “Waiting to Bomb Iran,” Ha`aretz, September 29, 2004. On one relevant defense acquisition, a purchase of 500 bunker-busting bombs from the United States, see Maggie Farley, “Powell Denies U.S. Plans to Attack Iran,” Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2004.

3. See George Perkovich and Silvia Manzanero, “Plan B: Using Sanctions to End Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, May 2004.

4. See Robert J. Einhorn, “A Transatlantic Strategy on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” The Washington Quarterly 27, no. 4 (Autumn 2004): 21-32.

5. See “Iran: Time for a New Approach,” 2004 (report of the Council on Foreign Relations task force co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert M. Gates). Ray Takeyh and Nikolas K. Gvosdev similarly argue that, because regime change does not appear imminent, we have the opportunity to engage more pragmatic elements within the conservative camp who might find improved relations with Washington in their interest. See Ray Takeyh and Nikolas K. Gvosdev, “Pragmatism in the Midst of Iranian Turmoil,” The Washington Quarterly 27, no. 4 (Autumn 2004): 33-56.

6. See Ray Takeyh, “Iran’s Nuclear Calculations,” World Policy Journal 20, no. 2 (Summer 2003).

7. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s revelations regarding Iranian violations and growing capabilities have only reinforced the Israeli rationale for maintaining its current nuclear stance. See Emily B. Landau, “ElBaradei’s Message to Israel: Regional Security Dialogue,” Tel Aviv Notes, no. 106, July 15, 2004.

8. For a similar list of recommendations, see Universal Compliance: Strategy for Nuclear Security, George Perkovich et al (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2004).

9. See Dalia Dassa Kaye, “Europe, Syria, and Weapons of Mass Destruction,” PolicyWatch, no. 824, January 8, 2004, pp. 204-38.

10. In December 2003, the European Union adopted a nonproliferation strategy and has since agreed to include a nonproliferation clause in all agreements with third parties; the Syrians were the first to put this clause to the test. For the text of the nonproliferation clause, see http://ue.eu.int/uedocs/cmsUpload/st14997.en03.pdf.

11. For the European Neighborhood Policy, see http://europa.eu.int/comm/world/enp/policy_en.htm.

12. For information on the Arms Control and Regional Security working group, see Bruce W. Jentleson and Dalia Dassa Kaye, “Securing Status: Explaining Regional Security Cooperation and Its Limits in the Middle East,” Security Studies 8, no. 1 (Fall 1998).

13. See Dalia Dassa Kaye, “Track Two Diplomacy and Regional Security in the Middle East,” International Negotiation 6 (2001): 49-77.

14. For the conclusive report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, including assessments of Iraqi strategic intentions and perceptions, see “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” September 30, 2004, found at http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/.


Dalia Dassa Kaye is currently a visiting professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam. Kaye has published many articles on Middle East security issues and is author of Beyond the Handshake: Multilateral Cooperation in the Arab-Israeli Peace Process.

Iran Considers EU Compromise Proposal

Paul Kerr

Representatives from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom met with Iranian officials twice in October in an effort to head off a possible diplomatic showdown over its nuclear program. But Tehran sent mixed signals as to whether it will agree to a European compromise proposal or risk recriminations at a Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.

The European proposal would offer several benefits to Tehran in return for the latter’s suspension of nuclear fuel activities.
A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Oct. 18 that the idea is to present a clear choice to Iran: accept the proposal or risk that the IAEA board refer the matter to the UN Security Council at the November meeting. Taking what appears to be a “wait and see” approach, U.S. officials have publicly distanced themselves from the offer and expressed doubt that Tehran will comply.

At the November meeting, the board is scheduled to assess Iran’s compliance with a September resolution and formulate a response. That resolution called on Tehran to suspend all activities associated with its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Such centrifuges can produce low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors and highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the board is required to notify the Security Council if a state-party is found in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Safeguards agreements empower the agency to monitor civilian nuclear facilities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. The council may then take action against the offending state.

The United States has been unsuccessfully pushing for such a referral since November 2003, when the IAEA adopted a resolution stating that Iran had conducted several nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement.

This recent proposal is similar to a deal the three governments struck with Iran in October 2003. At the time, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, but the scope of the suspension has been contentious for some time. Tehran had agreed in February to cease building centrifuges and manufacturing related components but did not entirely stop component production. In June, Iran fully resumed both activities after the IAEA adopted a resolution criticizing Iran. Tehran has not, however, resumed testing centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride—the feedstock for gas centrifuges.

Iran’s conversion of uranium oxide—lightly processed uranium ore—to uranium hexafluoride has also been controversial. Iran 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. Hossein Moussavian, head of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, told Agence France Presse Oct. 6 that Iran had processed “a few tons” of uranium oxide under IAEA supervision.

Tehran’s compliance with the other two provisions of the October 2003 agreement has also been limited. First, the agreement called on Iran to sign and ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. Iran’s parliament has not yet ratified the protocol, but Tehran has been acting as if the agreement, which augments the IAEA’s ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities, is in force. Second, Iran agreed to cooperate with the IAEA’s ongoing investigation of its nuclear programs, but its cooperation has often been grudging and incomplete. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Proposal Details

Officials familiar with the issue confirmed details of the Europeans’ proposal, first presented Oct. 21 in Vienna. Matching the provisions set out in the September IAEA resolution, Iran would suspend the manufacture and import of centrifuges and related components, as well as the assembly, installation, testing, and operation of such centrifuges.

Iran would also freeze operation of its uranium-conversion facility and suspend any other efforts to produce feedstock for centrifuges. Any converted uranium would be placed under IAEA safeguards.

The suspension would be indefinite until the two sides reach an acceptable long-term agreement. Although the proposal promises to reaffirm Iran’s right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology, European diplomats have said they ultimately want Iran to dismantle its nuclear fuel facilities. States-parties to the NPT may produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards.

Once the suspension is verified, discussions will focus on specific plans for implementing several incentives for Tehran to stop enrichment altogether. Perhaps most importantly, the proposal holds out the promise that the Europeans will guarantee that Iran can obtain nuclear reactor fuel from other countries. The spent fuel would be removed from Iran.

Additionally, the Europeans will support Iran’s acquisition of a light-water research reactor to replace a heavy-water reactor Iran is planning to construct. The United States has labeled the latter a proliferation concern. The Europeans would also resume negotiations on a trade agreement between the European Union and Iran, as well as support ongoing Iranian nuclear cooperation with Russia.

The proposal includes additional promises to pursue cooperation on other issues, such as a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone and drug trafficking.

It is unclear when the other benefits would be provided.

If Tehran declines the offer, the three countries will support the referral of Iran to the Security Council. In that case, the council may consider making the suspension mandatory or increasing the inspection powers of the IAEA.

The council would also consider further measures if Iran still refuses to cooperate but the proposal does not elaborate.

Iran’s Reaction

Tehran has not ruled out reaching an agreement with the Europeans but has not yet accepted the offer. Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani suggested Oct. 25—two days before the second meeting—that Iran may agree to suspend its enrichment activities for the duration of the talks.

However, Moussavian expressed dissatisfaction with the Europeans’ proposal. He told the Financial Times Oct. 24 that the offer was not “balanced,” indicating that it should be more specific about the incentives and provide a “clear timetable.” He did not say whether Iran would comply with the IAEA resolution in the absence of an agreement with the Europeans.

Tehran has been ambiguous about dismantling its enrichment program. Iranian officials have repeatedly stressed that they want any settlement to recognize their “right” to enrich uranium, pointing out that any suspension agreement goes beyond Iran’s NPT commitments.

It is not clear, however, that Tehran will insist on exercising that right. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi would not say whether Iran would produce nuclear fuel when asked during an Oct. 17 press conference. Moussavian stated that Iran is “prepared for a mechanism” to provide “assurances” that Iranian enrichment activities will be peaceful but did not elaborate. He acknowledged that Iran’s enrichment capabilities will perpetuate concerns that it has a nuclear weapons program.

Perhaps providing a partial explanation for Tehran’s reluctance to go beyond the NPT, Moussavian expressed concern that there will be no limits to European demands if they go beyond Tehran’s current legal commitments. Iranian officials have also said they do not want to have to rely on other countries for nuclear fuel.

Moussavian also claimed that Iran did not fear a referral to the Security Council, saying Iran had made “preparations.” Iran may leave the NPT if Security Council demands “go beyond” the treaty, he added. Rowhani has previously warned that Iran may withdraw if the council imposes economic sanctions.

U.S. Pushes IAEA to Probe Suspected Iranian Nuclear Site

Paul Kerr

The United States wants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate a site where Iran may be conducting tests for a nuclear weapons program, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 21.

The official said the site, called the Parchin military complex, has facilities that could “lend themselves” to testing conventional high explosives for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. In such weapons, conventional charges compress a core of fissile material in order to start a nuclear chain reaction.

The official said the facilities have vents and duct work indicating that they may be suitable for such tests. Additionally, the “configuration” of some buildings on the site is similar to some found in a high-explosives testing facility Iraq built for its nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The United States has been aware of the Parchin site for some time, the official said, adding that work on the suspect facilities appears to have accelerated during the past 18 months.

Although anonymous administration officials have been quoted in press reports as saying that the Parchin site shows Iran’s intention to develop nuclear weapons, the State Department official said such statements went “too far” and that Washington has no compelling evidence Iran has been conducting nuclear weapons activities there.

Nevertheless, the official said Washington and the IAEA share “concerns” about the site. An IAEA official told Arms Control Today that the agency has asked Tehran for permission to visit Parchin, but according to the U.S. official, Iran ignored the request. The U.S. official also confirmed a Sept. 17 Washington Post report that the IAEA first requested to visit the site in June.

Iranian officials first denied that the IAEA had asked to visit Parchin, but in a Sept. 19 television broadcast, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani acknowledged that the agency had done so. Dismissing the reported U.S. characterization of Parchin as a possible nuclear site as a “lie,” Hossein Moussavian, head of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, said agency inspectors may visit the site if they wish, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Despite the IAEA’s request, the U.S. official argued that the agency should pursue the matter more aggressively, asserting that the IAEA “seems” to have been reluctant to press the issue with Tehran.

The United States wants IAEA inspectors to take environmental samples at the site in an effort to detect any secret nuclear activities. However, such samples may not produce conclusive results, the official acknowledged, arguing that Iran may have already been able to thwart inspectors by removing traces of nuclear materials and otherwise altering the site.

Concerns that Tehran has taken similar measures at other sites have surfaced throughout the IAEA’s two-year-old investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. For example, the IAEA found that Iran altered the interior of a building under agency investigation in an unsuccessful attempt to conceal secret past nuclear activities. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

In June, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher asserted that Iran was trying to conceal nuclear activities by demolishing buildings and removing topsoil at a suspected nuclear site in Tehran. However, Boucher declined to discuss the Parchin site during a Sept. 16 press briefing.

IAEA Puts Off Showdown With Iran

Paul Kerr

With three key European countries intent on giving Iran a final chance to resolve international concerns about its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors has again refused to meet U.S. demands that the matter be sent immediately to the UN Security Council.

Instead, the board adopted a resolution Sept. 18 calling on Iran to cooperate fully with the agency’s investigation of its nuclear programs and to suspend “all” activities related to its uranium-enrichment program. Tehran, however, has not yet complied with the latter request, setting the stage for a possible showdown at the board’s next meeting in November, after the U.S. presidential elections.

The latest in a series of similar measures, the resolution calls on IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to provide the board with three reports before its November meeting: a report on the “implementation” of the most recent resolution, an account of the IAEA’s investigation since its inception in September 2002, and a report on Tehran’s response to requests made in previous IAEA resolutions. It also states the board is to decide in November “whether or not further steps are appropriate.”

Furthermore, the resolution “strongly urges” Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into its nuclear programs, including providing agency inspectors with documentation of its nuclear activities, as well as access to nuclear-related sites.

ElBaradei submitted a report to the board Sept. 1 describing the investigation to date as a mixed picture. Additionally, in Sept. 20 remarks to the IAEA general conference, ElBaradei stated that IAEA inspectors have “gained access to requested locations” in Iran.

But a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 27 that Washington is concerned that Tehran may be complicating the agency’s investigation in other ways. For example, Iran is not allowing IAEA inspectors to take pictures in some facilities and is also insisting that all interviews be conducted in Farsi. Iran has previously delayed inspectors’ visits to the country and limited their access to certain facilities. (See ACT, May 2004.)

Frayed Suspension


In its most diplomatically charged provision, the resolution states that the board “considers it necessary…that Iran immediately suspend all enrichment-related activities.” It further specifies that the suspension should include the “manufacture or import of centrifuge components, the assembly and testing of centrifuges,” and the production of uranium hexafluoride.

Iran has a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program, which can produce low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use as the explosive material in nuclear weapons. Gas centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope, thus “enriching” the uranium.

Iran originally agreed to suspend its enrichment activities as part of an October 2003 agreement with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The scope of this suspension, however, has been contentious for some time. Tehran had agreed in February to cease building centrifuges and manufacturing components, but did not entirely stop component production. Then, irritated by a June IAEA resolution, Iran fully resumed both activities.

According to a European diplomat interviewed Sept. 27, the October agreement included an understanding that Iran would permanently suspend enrichment and eventually dismantle its enrichment facilities. Iran, however, has repeatedly stated that its suspension is “temporary.”

An IAEA official told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that, contrary to the agency’s previous understanding, Iran has now said its suspension agreement does not include uranium hexafluoride production. Iran has already produced uranium hexafluoride in its uranium-conversion facility, and Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh announced three days after the resolution’s adoption that Tehran had begun another test of the facility. That “test” is to use approximately 37 metric tons of uranium oxide, a quantity sufficient to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for several crude nuclear weapons.

The State Department official said that Iran seems anxious to test the conversion facility for possible weaknesses. U.S. officials judge that Iran cannot manufacture some necessary equipment for the facility and that Tehran lacks sufficient quantities of fluorine to process the quantity of nuclear material Iran has described. The United States is waiting on IAEA inspectors to present more details about the conversion facility so Washington can verify these judgments, the official added.

Since the October agreement, Iran has maintained a freeze on its gas centrifuge facilities, which consist of a pilot facility and an uncompleted commercial facility, both located at Natanz. Although Tehran had previously introduced uranium hexafluoride into some centrifuges at the pilot facility, it has refrained from doing so since the October agreement. (See ACT, September 2003.)

The September resolution also repeats past calls for Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. As a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has a safeguards agreement, which empowers the IAEA to monitor its nuclear facilities to ensure that they are used solely for civilian purposes. Iran signed an additional protocol as part of its agreement with the three European countries and has agreed to act as if it is in force. The protocol augments the IAEA’s existing authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities.

Pointed Diplomacy

The resolution was the product of intense diplomacy, mainly between the United States and the three European countries that have been dealing with Iran. According to the State Department official, the final resolution was “the bare minimum we could have lived with.”

The Bush administration initially wanted the board to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement. Such a finding requires the board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which may then take action against Tehran, including imposing economic sanctions. The Bush administration believes that European diplomatic efforts have run their course but was unable to persuade the board to go along. The United States first tried to get such a finding in November 2003. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

The United States also failed to win support for a draft resolution that would have included an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate with the agency and suspend its enrichment activities. Including the deadline would have increased Iran’s “defiance” of the agency, the European diplomat argued, adding that the Europeans felt that Washington’s wish for a “trigger” requiring a Security Council referral was “going too far.” Rather, the Europeans wanted the resolution to convey to Iran that it had a “last chance” to comply with the IAEA’s wishes.

Persuading the board to refer Iran to the Security Council will be nearly impossible unless other countries believe Iran has been given a “reasonable chance” to meet its IAEA obligations, the European diplomat added.
The diplomat also argued that the November date mentioned in the resolution is “clear enough” and Iran “knows what it has to do.” Iran will need to act in a timely fashion in order to enable ElBaradei to write his reports, the diplomat said, adding that the date also serves as a signal to Tehran that the process cannot last indefinitely.

Showdown Ahead?

Although Iran has criticized the resolution and somewhat accelerated its enrichment activities, it has also suggested that it is prepared to negotiate a settlement.

A critical element of the dispute concerns Iran’s legal obligations as an NPT member. Because parties to the NPT may enrich uranium under IAEA safeguards, Tehran’s suspension agreement is not legally required by the agency but is part of the political agreement Tehran concluded in October 2003. Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani told reporters Sept. 19 that Tehran will discuss the suspension in negotiations, but it will not decide the question based on IAEA resolutions.

Hossein Moussavian, head of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, told the Islamic Students News Agency Sept. 25 that Iran is willing to negotiate with its European interlocutors about its enrichment technologies. If the Europeans recognize Iran’s “right to benefit from the capabilities of the fuel cycle,” Iran will be “flexible” on measures to assure other countries that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons, he said. As an example, Moussavian said that Iran will guarantee that it will not enrich uranium “above the level determined by the agency’s regulations.” He also hinted that Iran may “one day” give up its enrichment technologies.

Despite this display of flexibility, Rowhani also warned that Iran may stop adhering to its additional protocol if its nuclear activities are referred to the Security Council. Iran may also withdraw from the NPT if the council imposes economic sanctions, he added.

The State Department official dismissed Iran’s apparent flexibility as a tactic to dissuade the IAEA board from taking stricter action. U.S. officials are now attempting to line up the European countries to support a finding of noncompliance at the November board meeting in the event that Iran does not comply with the resolution.
For their part, the three European governments are willing to talk with Iran about providing possible benefits if the latter fully suspends its enrichment activities, according to the diplomat. Outlined in the original October agreement, these benefits include potential technology transfers, a possible “informal security dialogue,” and a guaranteed “external supply of nuclear fuel,” the diplomat added.

 

 

 

ElBaradei Cites Progress by Iran, but Investigation Continues

Paul Kerr

In a Sept. 1 report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said he was closing the agency’s probe into two aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. But contrary to Iran’s wishes, he said that the more than two-year-old investigation would continue.

In his report, ElBaradei pointed to “steady progress” that has allowed him to conclude special investigations into Iran‘s laser-based uranium-enrichment program and its past uranium-conversion experiments, adding that “further follow-up [on these issues] will be carried out as a routine safeguards implementation matter.”

The agency is still investigating several other issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program, but the report contains little new information about them.

Most importantly, IAEA investigators continue to probe the source of uranium particles enriched by centrifuges and found at several locations in Iran. Uncertainty about the particles’ origin has caused concern because it suggests that Iran may have conducted nuclear experiments that it has not yet admitted or may be concealing nuclear material it either produced or imported. Such actions would also violate Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope to produce low-enriched uranium for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or, if enriched enough, highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons. Uranium conversion can produce uranium compounds from uranium oxide. These include uranium hexafluoride, which can be used as the feedstock for gas centrifuges. Such centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Iran has admitted to testing centrifuges with nuclear material, but maintains that it only produced uranium enriched to a very low level and asserts that other types of enriched uranium particles originated from centrifuge components obtained from a procurement network run by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Iran continues to say that it does not know the origin of the components.

According to the report, several unanswered questions about the particles remain. For example, the IAEA still does not know why Iran’s domestically manufactured centrifuge components have been contaminated with a different type of enriched uranium than their imported equivalents or why uranium enriched to 36 percent U-235 has been found at some facilities where imported components were located, but not at other sites.

Previous reports from ElBaradei have said that some HEU particles found in Iran likely did not come from imported components. The September report, however, states that it “appears plausible” that uranium particles found at the Kalaye Electric Company and Iran’s pilot uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz “may not have resulted from enrichment of uranium by Iran.” Tehran tested centrifuges at Kalaye Electric and has a pilot centrifuge facility at Natanz, where Iran also is constructing a much larger commercial centrifuge facility.

A diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA told Arms Control Today in August that imported components can probably account for all of the uranium particles in question, but cautioned that this will not be confirmed for some time. The source confirmed press reports that particles enriched to 54 percent came from centrifuges imported from Pakistan and that particles enriched to 36 percent apparently came from equipment originating in the former Soviet Union. That equipment reached Iran via China and Pakistan, the source said.

The IAEA also is still attempting to determine the source of uranium hexafluoride found in a storage facility located at the Tehran Research Reactor. According to the report, agency experts continue to regard “as not technically plausible” Iran’s claim that the material leaked from bottles stored at the site.

The agency also continues to examine the scope of Iran’s advanced P-2 centrifuge activities, which Iran initially omitted from an ostensibly complete October 2003 declaration of its nuclear activities. Tehran later claimed that the program was solely for research and development and that it had not obtained any components from foreign sources.

However, Iran later admitted to acquiring magnets for the centrifuges from foreign suppliers. Furthermore, Tehran has indicated interest in acquiring thousands of additional magnets, suggesting that it intends to mass-produce centrifuges. Iran has not yet provided the IAEA with enough information regarding these procurement efforts, the report says.

Additionally, the IAEA continues to doubt Iran’s claim that it obtained the designs for the P-2 centrifuge in 1995 from a foreign source, but did not test any components until 2002. In discussions with the IAEA, Iran attributed this lack of activity to its focus on the P-2’s predecessor, as well as to “organizational” changes in the relevant government agency. The report, however, says this explanation does not “provide sufficient assurance that there were no related activities carried out” during the period in question. IAEA experts believe that Iran’s program is too advanced for Tehran’s time frame to be accurate.

Suspension of Enrichment Activities


The IAEA continues to monitor Iran’s declared suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities. Iran agreed to the suspension as part of an October 2003 agreement with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Tehran then specifically agreed in February to stop assembling centrifuges and manufacturing related components. However, ElBaradei reported in June that Iran had not stopped manufacturing components.

In June, responding to European support for a toughly worded IAEA resolution adopted earlier that month, Iran notified the IAEA that it would resume both component manufacturing and centrifuge assembly under agency supervision. The resolution had specifically called on Iran to fully suspend these activities.

According to the September IAEA report, Iran has since removed from relevant facilities the IAEA seals used to monitor the suspension. As of mid-August, Iran had assembled about 70 centrifuge rotors. Iran has not accepted an IAEA proposal to place these rotors under seal after they have been tested, the report says, adding that the agency’s supervision of the suspension “cannot be considered effective” without such seals.

In addition to its centrifuge activities, Iran produced “about 30-35” kilograms of uranium hexafluoride in its uranium-conversion facility between May and June. Tehran also told the IAEA that it would soon begin another test involving a larger quantity of uranium oxide. Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh announced Sept. 21 that Tehran had begun the test, Reuters reported.

According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran intends to use 37 metric tons of uranium oxide for the test. This amount of uranium could yield a quantity of uranium hexafluoride sufficient to produce HEU for four or five crude nuclear weapons, an IAEA official told Arms Control Today Sept. 22.

Other Issues

The IAEA also is continuing to investigate Iran’s plutonium separation experiments. Separating plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel is another method for obtaining explosive material for a nuclear weapon. According to the report, Iran previously understated the amount of plutonium it separated from uranium irradiated in a research reactor in Tehran, but now agrees with the IAEA’s assessment that Iran produced “milligram quantities” of plutonium. Additionally, the agency continues to investigate the timing of Iran’s plutonium experiments, which may have been conducted more recently than Tehran stated.

The report also describes the agency’s investigation of the Lavizan Shian site, which agency inspectors visited in late June. The IAEA still needs to analyze environmental samples taken at the site, but the Vienna source told Arms Control Today in August that there is no evidence Iran undertook prohibited nuclear activities there. According to the report, Iran told the IAEA that it had established a physics research center at Lavizan Shian in 1989.

Additionally, the report states that the IAEA and Iran have “discussed…open source information relating to dual-use equipment and materials,” apparently a reference to press accounts describing Iranian attempts to purchase deuterium and high-speed electronic switches. Both of these materials can be used in more advanced nuclear weapons.

 

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