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– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative

Curbing Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East

Robert J. Einhorn

In terms of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats in the Middle East, 2003 ended up being a pretty good year. It did not start out that way. In fact, the situation was looking pretty ominous at the beginning of last year. Intelligence agencies in the United States and elsewhere were convinced that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. At the very minimum, Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East were uncertain about Saddam Hussein's WMD intentions and capabilities, and this uncertainty was a factor motivating some of them, especially Iran, to pursue WMD programs of their own.

In Iran, disclosures by dissidents about two sensitive fuel-cycle facilities and investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had revealed that Iran was making an alarming amount of progress in its uranium-enrichment program and, therefore, in its nuclear weapons program.

In Libya, the United States and other countries were growingly concerned that Moammar Gaddafi's long-standing nuclear and missile programs were finally getting some traction and could no longer be considered a joke. When added to Israel's already advanced but undeclared nuclear capability and Syria's relatively sophisticated chemical and missile capabilities, these situations in Iraq, Iran, and Libya suggested that the Middle East was destined to become a region saturated with weapons of mass destruction.

A year later, things have changed quite significantly. Both the fears and the uncertainties about Iraq's WMD capabilities and programs have largely been eliminated. Faced with the prospect of an IAEA Board of Governors finding of noncompliance and the possibility of UN Security Council sanctions, Iran has agreed to suspend enrichment and reprocessing activities, to adhere to the IAEA Additional Protocol, and to make a full disclosure of its nuclear program. In addition, Gaddafi has now decided to come clean about Libya's WMD programs and to permit their elimination under verification. Just as importantly, Libya is providing information to U.S., British, and IAEA officials about its sources of supply, and hopefully this is going to permit strong action to be taken against the black market networks that constitute one of the greatest threats to the nonproliferation regime today.

The Bush administration and its critics are debating why these positive developments are occurring. Bush supporters claim that the administration's tough national security strategy and the "demonstration effect" from the Iraq military operation are responsible and that this has caused Iran and Libya to have second thoughts about their WMD programs. Administration critics, however, argue that the Libyans and Iranians are motivated at least as much by positive inducements as they are by fear. They say that recent progress confirms that multilateral institutions and carrot-and-stick diplomacy can be successful.

I would say that both sides of this argument are right to some extent. Regardless, the outlook today for curbing WMD proliferation in the Middle East is much better than it was just a year ago.

What should we be doing to try to keep this progress pointed in the right direction? On Iraq, I think the priority should be preventing any residues from Hussein's WMD programs from becoming the seeds of WMD programs in Iraq or elsewhere. The Iraq Survey Group should keep pressing to try to find out what happened to the weapons, the precursors, the materials, the blueprints, and so on. Coalition authorities should do whatever they can to keep track of former Iraqi weapons scientists to provide them with professional opportunities in the civilian sector and to make sure that they are not peddling their know-how outside of Iraq-or even to insurgents inside Iraq.

In our dealings with future Iraqi authorities, U.S. officials will need to make clear the importance they attach to avoiding any WMD recidivism in Iraq, and they are also going to have to work closely with Iraqi defense institutions to make sure that the country develops the kind of army and conventional defense capabilities that reduce Iraq's incentives for developing weapons of mass destruction in the future.

On Iran, I think the challenge is much more difficult. Iran's agreement this past fall to adhere to the Additional Protocol and suspend enrichment activities was hardly an indication that Iranian leaders have made the fundamental decision to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons. Indeed, Iran has already begun to arouse suspicion by insisting that its suspension of enrichment be defined in a very narrow way.

Still, I think it may be possible over time to convince Iranian leaders that nuclear weapons are simply not in Iran's national interest. The United States, Europe, and Russia need to stick together and confront Iran with a stark choice: it can be a pariah with nuclear weapons, or it can abandon its ambitions to get nuclear weapons and become a well-integrated member of the international community-politically and economically. Iran needs to understand that giving up the nuclear option convincingly means giving up the capability to enrich uranium. The suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities must be replaced with a permanent prohibition on these capabilities, which means existing facilities eventually must be dismantled. In exchange for giving up the right to produce enriched uranium fuel, Iran should receive a multilateral guarantee that, as long as it lives up to its nonproliferation obligations, it will be able to buy reactor fuel for any civilian nuclear power reactors that it decides to build. The Europeans, Russians, and Americans should get together to offer such a guarantee.

Such a fuel assurance might well address possible Iranian concerns about arbitrary future cutoffs of fuel supply, but it will not address what I believe is Iran's principal motivation for seeking the nuclear option: security. With the Iraqi threat gone, as far as Iran is concerned, Iran's main security preoccupation today is the United States, specifically that the Bush administration may be interested in putting pressure on Iran and even toppling its regime. That is why I believe that a permanent solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will probably require a fundamental improvement in bilateral relations between the United States and Iran. The sooner these two countries begin to engage one another and explore the possibility of a modus vivendi that can address each side's concerns, the sooner it may be possible to reach a durable solution.

On Libya, things seem to be moving in the right direction. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the IAEA are working to document and dismantle Libya's WMD programs. I wish I could say that they were working collegially to do this, but that is clearly not the case. The United States and United Kingdom have a legitimate interest to be fully involved in this process. They have a great security stake in being involved in the process. The IAEA's role, however, is also legitimate and central. I think the Bush administration would be well advised to recognize that its longer-term nonproliferation objectives would be served by not trying to marginalize the IAEA on Libya.

Syria has come under strong pressure from the United States since the invasion of Iraq. In some areas, such as preventing the movement of foreign fighters through Syria to Iraq, Syria seems to be trying to accommodate U.S. demands. Nevertheless, on the question of abandoning its WMD capabilities, especially chemical and missile programs, Syria has so far given no indication that it is prepared to follow Gaddafi's lead.

Syria sees its nonconventional weapons capabilities as a counter to Israel. If it is prepared to put those capabilities on the negotiating table at all, it would probably do so only in the context of a peace settlement with Israel. Even then, Syria might argue that it needs to hold on to those capabilities as long as Israel retains nuclear weapons.

In the period ahead, Israel can expect to become the focus of increased attention. Already Libya, Syria, and Egypt have raised the question of a double standard in the Middle East, and they have urged Israel to relinquish its nuclear weapons capability. Israel is reportedly giving consideration internally to how it can respond.

In my view, it is unrealistic to expect Israel to do very much at the present time, especially on the nuclear issue. It is certainly true that the fall of Hussein, the apparent end of Libya's WMD programs, and positive steps in Iran have diminished the WMD threat faced by Israel. Yet, the Israelis correctly point out that the Iran issue has not been resolved, and more fundamentally, the Israelis believe that the Arab world today is less prepared to accept the existence of the state of Israel than it was during the 1990s when the peace process was moving forward in a very purposeful and promising way. As long as the Israelis face what they regard as an existential threat, they are going to be reluctant to surrender what they see as an ultimate guarantor of their security.

Still, in order to keep the positive momentum going within the region, Israel needs to consider what it can do now. George Perkovich and Avner Cohen have recently suggested that one step Israel could take is to ratify the Chemical Weapon Convention and adhere to the Biological Weapons Convention.[1] I think this would be a good idea.

On the nuclear issue, I would not expect much. One thing Israel should do is state that, in the context of a comprehensive and durable peace in the Middle East, it is prepared to give up its nuclear option as long as others in the region, including Iran, do the same. Israel adopted this position in the early 1990s. It apparently remains Israel's position, but we do not hear much about it today. It would be valuable for Israel publicly to emphasize that it is prepared to renounce its nuclear weapons capability under certain conditions.

Finally, an important way of addressing the Middle East WMD threat in the longer term is to try to re-establish a region-wide multilateral forum on arms control and regional security. Such a forum existed from 1992 to 1995 and made some impressive progress, including on confidence-building measures. It made some impressive progress during that period, but it had a number of flaws-namely that Syria, Iraq, and Iran were not involved. In the future, that should be corrected. The forum eventually broke down, in large part over disagreements between Egypt and Israel about how to deal with the nuclear issue. Given the raw nerves that exist in the region today over the Israeli-Palestinian problem, it is difficult to imagine resurrecting this forum in the immediate future, but we should look for opportunities to do so as soon as conditions permit.

My bottom line? The Middle East is not going to become a WMD-free zone any time soon. Indeed, you would have to be quite an optimist to think that the Middle East will ever be completely free of weapons of mass destruction. Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic. A year ago, security experts assumed that the Middle East would eventually be home to at least several nuclear powers. Today, that no longer seems inevitable.


1. George Perkovich and Avner Cohen, “Devaluing Arab WMDs,” Washington Times, January 19, 2004, p. A19.

Robert J. Einhorn is a senior adviser in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) International Security Program. Before coming to CSIS, he was assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. This article is adapted from a speech he delivered January 28, 2004, at the Paul C. Warnke Conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Arms Control, which was co-sponsored by the Arms Control Association.







Reality Check: Libya and Iran

Daryl G. Kimball

In the past month, two states long suspected of pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—Iran and Libya—have been persuaded to allow intrusive international inspections. Although some in the Bush administration believe the threat of pre-emptive war forced the issue, the reality is different and more complex. Rather, each case demonstrates the importance of preventive diplomacy, international nonproliferation treaties and inspections, and economic sanctions and incentives designed to compel compliance.

Last year, special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections revealed that Iran has conducted secret nuclear activities with bomb-making potential. The Bush administration and a tough IAEA report kept the matter on the front burner. Yet, it was French, German, and British diplomats who ultimately persuaded Iranian leaders to agree to an additional protocol allowing tougher IAEA inspections and temporarily stop uranium enrichment activities. In return, the Europeans are offering closer technical and economic ties.

Libya went even further. President Moammar Gaddafi announced December 19 that Libya would verifiably dismantle its biological and chemical weapons capabilities. Gaddafi also agreed to eliminate Libya’s aging Scud missile force, as well as halt suspected nuclear weapons-related activities.

Libya’s announcement is clearly part of a broader effort to end years of suffocating sanctions for its past support for terrorism and WMD ambitions. Early last year, Libya finally settled claims concerning its role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, prompting the United Nations to lift sanctions. British and U.S. officials deserve credit for closing the deal, but Gaddafi initially contacted officials in London with the hope that discarding his WMD programs might lead to better relations with the United States and Europe.

Both states must now follow through on their important nonproliferation commitments by fully and promptly cooperating with IAEA inspectors. Iran should be pressed further. Even with strict compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran might someday withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons. To remove doubts about the peaceful purposes of its nuclear program, Iran should permanently freeze uranium-enrichment activities, which could be used to make bomb material.

Verifying Libya’s pledge to end its biological and chemical weapons capabilities and ballistic missile work will require a more creative approach. There is no standing inspectorate for ballistic missile control and, due to U.S. opposition, there is no verification system for the 1972 Biological Weapon Convention. Libya has not yet signed the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which allows for on-site inspections. The UN Security Council should consider giving the job to the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission, which was created to deal with the same types of weapons in Iraq.

The United States should respond with positive measures, including the lifting of remaining WMD-related sanctions, if these states demonstrate that they have indeed chosen to forswear these dangerous, destabilizing, and expensive weapons. Such a course would make it clear to others that compliance with the nonproliferation regime is more beneficial to their security than the pursuit of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

At the same time, U.S. and European policymakers must address weaknesses in their nonproliferation strategies, highlighted by the Iranian and Libyan cases. The IAEA’s investigations will certainly show that the Iranian and Libyan nuclear programs received vital technical assistance from other states, including Pakistan.

Unfortunately, past and current U.S. administrations have chosen not to deal with all proliferators with the same vigor. As Undersecretary of State John Bolton boldly stated to Arms Control Today in a November 14 interview, “There are unquestionably states that are not within existing treaty regimes that possess weapons of mass destruction legitimately. We’re not trying to have a policy that attempts to cover each and every one of those circumstances.” The United States can no longer afford to focus on the WMD programs of its adversaries while ignoring the proliferation behavior of its friends and allies, especially the three nuclear-weapon states that are not NPT members: India, Israel, and Pakistan.

The international community should build on recent progress in Iran and Libya with energetic diplomatic efforts in other areas of tension around the globe. The United States and the international community must also work harder to achieve a more open, transparent, and secure world through tougher inspections everywhere. By promptly ratifying the IAEA Additional Protocol, reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its own security policy, and following through with its own NPT disarmament commitments, the United States can help encourage others to join the protocol and turn away from nuclear weapons.




Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) are members of the Senate Armed
Services Committee. Levin is the committee’s ranking Democrat.

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Iran Signs Additional Protocol With IAEA

Paul Kerr

Iran signed an additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement on Dec. 18, less than a month after the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution condemning Tehran for pursuing clandestine nuclear activities. States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) already have IAEA safeguards agreements to ensure that they do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes, but additional protocols grant the IAEA authority to conduct more rigorous, short-notice inspections at undeclared nuclear facilities to ferret out secret nuclear activities.

The IAEA board acted after Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei presented a report detailing numerous instances in which Iran concealed nuclear activities that it was obligated to report to the agency under its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, December 2003.)

In a press statement Dec. 18, the IAEA hailed Iran’s action as a “confidence-building measure.” The move did not come as a surprise. It was first promised as part of an October agreement with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, the Iranian government has said it would “act in accordance with the protocol’s provisions” even before it formally signed the agreement. Still, the Iranian parliament must ratify the protocol before it formally enters into force. (See ACT, November 2003.)

ElBaradei pointed out that the agency’s ongoing investigation into Iran’s nuclear program—including inspections—will require continued Iranian cooperation. In addition, the IAEA is trying to determine which foreign suppliers may have assisted Iran’s nuclear programs. (See ACT, December 2003.) ElBaradei is due to provide a progress report on the investigation to the Board of Governors in February.

The United States continues to express skepticism about Iran’s cooperation. Department of State spokesman Adam Ereli stated Dec. 18 that Tehran’s signature is a “useful step” but added that Tehran needs to demonstrate that it will live up to its commitments. One U.S. demand that is likely to prove controversial is the Bush administration’s insistence that Iran “abandon” its nuclear-fuel-cycle activities, including uranium enrichment and spent nuclear-fuel reprocessing.

ElBaradei’s November report described an active uranium-enrichment program as well as decade-old instances where Iran conducted prohibited, clandestine reprocessing experiments. Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program as part of the October agreement with the European governments but has not pledged to refrain from enrichment activities permanently.

Although neither spent fuel reprocessing nor uranium enrichment are prohibited under the NPT, they must be conducted under IAEA supervision. They are especially worrisome because they can produce the fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium—needed for nuclear weapons.

A November CIA report to Congress contended that “there is a serious risk that Iran could use its enrichment technology in covert activities,” even with intrusive IAEA inspections. ElBaradei acknowledged Dec. 4 that the agency will probably not be able to find small-scale “research and laboratory activities” in countries pursuing clandestine nuclear programs but added that it could detect “industrial scale” weapons programs, according to Reuters.






Iran signed an additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement on Dec. 18, less than a month after the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution...

Arms Control Experts Welcome Iran's Latest Move But Caution That Much More Needs to Be Done



For Immediate Release: December 18, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball: (202) 463-8270 x107; Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x 102

(Washington, D.C.): Iran's signature today of an additional nuclear inspections agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is "a significant step toward ensuring that Iran lives up to its commitment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to forswear nuclear weapons," according to the nonpartisan Arms Control Association (ACA). However, ACA experts point out that the additional inspections agreement, known as the Additional Protocol, is "vital but insufficient."

Over the last year, troubling revelations make it clear that Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapons-making capability than previously believed. An IAEA investigation and inspections earlier this year led the Agency to report Nov. 10 that Iran had for many years pursued nuclear activities in violation of its NPT obligations. Although the IAEA report did not say that Tehran had an illegal nuclear weapons program, it strongly condemned Iran's secret nuclear activities and the IAEA said its investigation would continue. In response, the international community demanded that Iran take steps to redress concerns about its nuclear intentions, which Tehran began to meet today by signing an Additional Protocol. This document provides the IAEA with more measures, such as expanded inspection rights, to make sure that Iran is not cheating on the NPT.

ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball said Iran's signature of the Additional Protocol is "vital but insufficient and Iran must now promptly ratify the agreement and fully cooperate with the IAEA in resolving questions about its past nuclear activities."

"Tehran should also maintain its suspension of uranium enrichment activities until international concerns about its nuclear program are resolved," added Paul Kerr, research analyst at the Arms Control Association. Iran is legally permitted to conduct uranium enrichment but this process can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Even with greater transparency under the Additional Protocol and strict compliance with the NPT, it is still possible that Iran might someday decide to withdraw from the treaty and pursue nuclear weapons.

"In the long run, turning Iran away from nuclear weapons will require a new and more sophisticated joint U.S.-European-Russian strategy to reduce Iran's incentives to acquire nuclear weapons and increase the benefits of openness and compliance," Kimball noted. "An important element of such a strategy would be for the United States and Israel to reassure Tehran that it does not have to fear an attack by either country if Iran drops its pursuit of nuclear weapons, ends its support of terrorism, and stops threatening the existence of Israel."

"The United States should also make clear that it does not support the possession of nuclear weapons by other countries, including Israel, India, and Pakistan, which are not party to the NPT. Leaders in Tehran cannot be allowed to justify their nuclear weapons ambitions by pointing to the nuclear bomb arsenals and activities of other countries," Kimball said.

Nevertheless, Kimball underscored that it is ultimately up to Iran to abide by its commitments not to develop nuclear weapons and that Tehran should not use the behavior of others as a pretext for activities that go against its own security interests and threaten its neighbors.

# # #

The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

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North Korea and Iran: Test Cases for an Improved Nonproliferation Regime?

Joseph Cirincione and Jon B. Wolfsthal

If Iran and North Korea acquire nuclear arsenals, their weapons will present obvious and direct dangers to the United States, its troops, its allies, and regional and global stability. Yet, the current standoffs with Tehran and Pyongyang also represent an opportunity—a chance to fill in important gaps in the nonproliferation regime. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require near-term fixes to deal with Tehran and Pyongyang and longer-term solutions to prevent other states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) from following similar paths. But by doing so, the Bush administration can chart a course that will lead to enhanced security in the 21st century.

The most promising way to keep North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons is the effective, forceful, and determined use of the full range of nonproliferation tools, ranging from diplomacy to the threat of international sanctions and use of force. The norm of nonproliferation remains strong if not absolute, and the use of traditional nonproliferation approaches that have stood the test of time remain viable for addressing these current crises. Moreover, several of the motivations both states have to pursue nuclear weapons can be affected by concerted action by the United States and its allies. Although Washington may not hold all the cards, the means to affect the security of both states for better or for worse exist and can be applied to moderate their interest in going nuclear.

Still, the type of nuclear challenge posed by these two states has not been nor is likely to be fully prevented over the long term using only existing nonproliferation-regime mechanisms. This requires initiatives that go beyond the regime as currently defined. The two cases, aside from their immediate impact, shed new light on long-standing gaps within the regime.

Article IV: A Gap in the Regime?

Chief among these is that the NPT permits non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire technology that can create both the ingredients for nuclear weapons, namely highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and the lower-grade fuels needed for civilian nuclear reactors. As a condition, the NPT requires that any produced or processed uranium or plutonium, regardless of quality, be accounted for and placed under “safeguards,” that is, subject to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This system is supposed to serve as an alarm system but cannot and was never intended to physically prevent misuse of material.

Indeed, the NPT explicitly seeks to make such technology available to non-nuclear-weapon states. The preamble to the NPT affirms that “the benefits of peaceful applications of nuclear technology…should be available for peaceful purposes to all Parties of the Treaty.” Article IV of the NPT describes this as an “inalienable right” to all nuclear fuel-cycle technologies including “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information.” Article IV was an essential provision in the “Grand Bargain” that convinced key non-nuclear-weapon states to accept the nuclear constraints of the NPT and has helped foster the near universal acceptance of the pact.

Yet, by allowing non-nuclear-weapon states to import nuclear technologies that can be used to build nuclear weapons, the NPT (and its predecessor, the “Atoms for Peace Program” [see page 26]), Article IV has also made it possible for states to use peaceful nuclear programs as a cover for weapons programs. North Korea’s and Iran’s misuse of these provisions, in particular, threatens to undercut the viability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the entire system of international nuclear commerce. Is this a permanent state of affairs? Can sovereign states possess or pursue facilities that by their nature inherently present a threat to the security interests of their neighbors? Under what conditions can such facilities be made benign or less threatening? As the United States and its allies move to reinforce the regime and adapt it to the new insecurities of this era, these are only a few of the fundamental questions that must be addressed.

Some States Are More Equal than Others

Clearly, all states are not equal when we examine the potential security risk they might pose in possessing such facilities. Nuclear-weapon states that operate commercial enrichment or reprocessing facilities represent the lowest category of concern, as long as they maintain facility and material security at high international standards. A country with a nuclear weapons infrastructure has little or no incentive to appropriate safeguarded materials.

On the other hand, non-nuclear-weapon states with uranium-enrichment or plutonium-production and extraction capabilities represent at least a potential concern. Yet, context matters. States with potential incentives to acquire nuclear weapons, due to their location, regional instability, or leadership, present a greater concern than states fully integrated into the international political, diplomatic, and economic systems. Iran and North Korea clearly fit into the highest category of concern, just as Japan, Belgium, and Germany are a lesser worry.

Still, even “safe” states present more concern than states without any means of nuclear material production. Japan’s pursuit of an independent nuclear energy supply in the 1970s, for example, began a long-running debate between advocates and opponents of plutonium reprocessing, focused on concerns that Japan was either secretly interested in building nuclear weapons or at least had the potential for doing so by creating a plutonium-based fuel economy. These fears lay dormant for many years but have been recently revived by concern that North Korea’s nuclear weapons drive could prompt a reciprocal move from Japan. East Asia also has the examples of previous attempts by Taiwan and South Korea to misuse research reactors for weapons purposes—efforts that the United States clamped down on bilaterally but that left the systemic gaps in the nonproliferation regime unaddressed.

Fixing the Problems in Article IV

Although the seeds of the conflict are built into the NPT itself, changes to that agreement are not the answer. Amending the NPT would be impractical and inadvisable, but other mechanisms can and should be developed to reduce national control over materials and facilities that can be used to advance nuclear weapons capabilities. At least two areas of promising efforts exist: internationalization of the fuel cycle and fuel supply, and management guarantees.

The basic proliferation problem is not the construction and operation of a nuclear power reactor. It is what goes in and what comes out of the reactors that pose the challenge. Countries that build facilities for enriching uranium to the point needed for reactor fuel can also use those same machines and techniques to continue enriching the uranium to the point where it can be used for nuclear weapons. The plutonium-bearing spent fuel can be chemically treated, or reprocessed, to separate plutonium from unwanted radioactive waste by-products. The resulting plutonium can be used in reactors or in nuclear weapons.

Obviously, the greatest barrier to the misuse of enrichment or reprocessing facilities is for them not to exist in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, the greatest risk of misuse comes when these capabilities are built by states that have a track record of noncompliance with IAEA safeguards or have strong incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. There are, however, some interesting possibilities for a middle ground. Facilities can be operated and controlled in a way that makes misuse impractical or politically unattractive.

Alternative Fuel-Cycle Arrangements

One potentially useful model could be private enrichment or reprocessing facilities under multilateral or international control. For example, the enrichment company Urenco has capabilities owned jointly by Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Although the company’s enrichment facilities are able to produce weapons-grade uranium, actually doing so would require the acquiescence of three countries or the seizure of existing plants by national authorities in one of the three countries. Such highly observable events would not only draw attention but provoke such sharp national and international reactions that they significantly raise the cost to taking such action. Such multilateral control does not constitute a guarantee; nonetheless, the deterrent effect of such institutional barriers may be useful if applied to facilities in some other places. Japan’s facilities present a potentially attractive candidate for such measures.

More generally, in an October interview with Arms Control Today, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei suggested the “multilateralization of the fuel cycle.” A possible new protocol to the NPT, he said, could continue to guarantee access to nuclear technology for health, agriculture, medicine, and reactors but “would restrict the parts of the fuel cycle that create the most concern, and these are, in my view, the reprocessing and enrichment and also, possibly, a final repository where you have spent fuel with plutonium in it.”

Another approach is market based. Increased attention is now being paid to the idea of trying to create viable commercial and political alternatives to national fuel-cycle facilities for states willing to abandon domestic enrichment and reprocessing programs. One such option is guaranteed access to fresh-fuel and spent-fuel management at prices cheaper than any one nation could match. Such arrangements could go beyond simple commercial contracts and provide a broader international promise of access to supplies of fresh fuel for reactors and of management of irradiated materials.

Arrangements that pooled potential suppliers would carry greater weight and be more attractive to customers concerned about reliability of supply. Joint Russian, European, and U.S. commitments to provide fuel services would require prior development of a political and commercial consensus, but these too would need to be placed in a form that gave the client confidence in their durability. No guarantees are absolute, and the challenge is to develop a formula that gives both sides confidence that the underlying bargain—access to nuclear fuel services for abandonment of the domestic capability to produce weapons-usable materials—can be sustained.

In one model, the IAEA could act as an intermediate supplier, with material sold to it by enriching states as provided under the IAEA statute. A less complex (but by no means simple) arrangement would see the IAEA act as an auctioneer of fuel services to states, helping to ensure competitive pricing for recipient states. The IAEA could even glean much needed resources by taking a commission on sales. At present, such schemes only exist on paper. Many questions remain unanswered. It is not clear how states giving up the Article IV rights to fuel-cycle facilities would codify these commitments. Would a supplemental treaty be required or desirable? Could any of the states pull out for unrelated reasons? How would such agreements be verified? If potential violations are uncovered or alleged, could the guarantees be rescinded?

These are important long-term questions that require careful study and serious debate. In the more immediate future, however, the nuclear-weapon states, especially the United States, need to deal with North Korea’s and Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. In doing so, a balance must be maintained between immediate resolution of nonproliferation challenges and preservation and strengthening of the regime for the future. In dealing with Iran, for now there appears to be some room to maneuver, thanks to U.S. pressure and an agreement negotiated between European foreign ministers and their Iranian counterparts in October (See ACT, November 2003). In North Korea, with a repeated record of violating treaties and promises, the only solutions may rest in complete nuclear abstinence, at least until the nature of the regime, if not the regime itself, changes. Below is a broad outline of how these new concepts and arrangements could be applied to the twin crises.

Dealing with Iran and North Korea

Resolving Iran

The goal in Iran is to prevent that country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. An Iranian nuclear program could soon be matched by similar programs in other Middle Eastern states, possibly including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya; and Israel would almost certainly accelerate the modernization of its nuclear deterrent. The misuse of the NPT and a new, even regional, nuclear arms race would cripple nuclear commerce globally and shatter the regime from within, forcing dozens of states to question the value and future of the agreement that has helped keep the number of nuclear-weapon states down to single digits.

Iran’s clear violations of its safeguards obligations also mean that in the future Tehran must not be permitted the means to produce weapons-usable uranium or plutonium. Otherwise, such assets would give Iran the ability at some point in the future to leave the NPT and deploy nuclear weapons. In order to obtain Iranian acquiescence to these restrictions, which go well beyond Tehran’s NPT commitments, the United States and its allies should be willing to offer Iran appropriate alternatives. In particular, offering Iran a commercially viable method of acquiring fresh fuel for its nuclear reactors and removing and disposing of the spent fuel would be a powerful lure. Russia’s plans to supply fresh fuel for Iran’s Bushehr reactor as long as Tehran guarantees that it will return any spent fuel is an appropriate example. In exchange, Iran should be required to verifiably and legally abandon its rights to develop and operate facilities to enrich uranium and produce and separate plutonium.

Developing such a plan would have several benefits. First, it would undercut the economic and energy security argument used by Iran to justify these destabilizing programs. A decision by Iran to pursue such a proposal, backed by effective verification, would begin building trust between Iran and the rest of the world, which in the end is the only way to head off long-term nuclear ambitions in Iran. Rejection of a viable plan along these lines would then lay bare Iran’s underlying ambitions to acquire advanced nuclear capabilities, allowing the international community to pursue alternatives means, which may include a mix of punitive and positive measures.

If Iran is going to remain a non-nuclear-weapon state or, at the very least, abandon the most critical facilities needed to acquire nuclear materials, it must make the decision to do so from within. There are signs that Iran is moving in this direction. Although trust remains justifiably low in Washington and European capitals, Iran’s initial steps to deepen cooperation with the IAEA and to disclose all past nuclear activities are promising.

Still, in order to enhance confidence that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, the United States, Europe, and Russia must press Tehran to abandon all uranium-enrichment activities, including operation and construction of pilot or commercial facilities; uranium conversion; and research, development, and construction of centrifuges and other enrichment methods. In addition, Iran must give up plans to build a proliferation-sensitive heavy-water reactor and other plutonium-production and extraction facilities. The initiative undertaken by the European foreign ministers is a promising step in this direction. In that accord, Iran pledged to sign agreements to make it easier for the agency to carry out wide-ranging inspections on its territory. Tehran also agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Still, it is clear that the nuclear question is only one part of the long-standing problems between the United States and Iran. Historical issues aside, Tehran’s human rights record, its continued support for terrorist groups, and its opposition to the Middle East peace process make improvements in direct ties difficult. Moreover, the process of political reform in Iran and the special role that policies toward the United States play in Iranian politics complicates any broad efforts to improve the relationship. Oddly, it appears that the nuclear issue—among the most sensitive imaginable—holds out the prospects for near-term progress that could allow the two sides to build something broader in the near future.

Dealing with North Korea

In many ways, the situation in North Korea is more dangerous, immediate, and complex. However, the range of possible solutions is easier to define and determine. That North Korea is capable of building nuclear weapons is no longer in doubt, even though claims (by either the United States or North Korea) regarding its nuclear capabilities should be viewed with some skepticism. What remains in doubt and what must be addressed if any efforts to end Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions are to be successful is the desire and willingness of North Korea to negotiate a verifiable end to its nuclear weapons program. Despite more than 10 years of direct and indirect negotiations, threats, confrontations, and analysis, the United States still does not know with any certainty the answer to the question: Will North Korea eliminate all of its nuclear facilities and give up all of its nuclear materials under effective international inspection if the terms are right?

There is clear and compelling evidence to support speculation on both sides, but neither case is conclusive. Yes, North Korea cheated on its 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear activities, but it is equally true that the United States had abandoned its efforts to normalize relations and improve ties with the North. The debate is not whether North Korea can be trusted; it clearly cannot. The questions that need to be answered are whether Pyongyang can be motivated truly to abandon its nuclear program and, if not, what outside states can do about it.

When North Korea’s nuclear program was still in its infancy, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and others could afford to wait to answer these questions. Now that the North’s program is coming of age, they cannot. In a worst-case scenario, North Korea could produce more than 100 nuclear weapons by the end of the decade. Such an arsenal not only threatens U.S. allies and troops in the region, but given North Korea’s economic strains, it is conceivable that it could be motivated to sell nuclear materials to other states or even terrorist groups if the price is right. Such a scenario is so grave that U.S. policymakers could soon face a truly appalling choice between accepting its realization or plunging into a full-fledged war on the Korean peninsula. By comparison, many negotiated settlements—no matter how distasteful—become attractive.

It is time for the United States to get serious about negotiations with the North. President George W. Bush’s October statement that he is willing to consider some form of security guarantees for North Korea was a positive step. There is enough collective experience in the United States after 10 years of efforts to know how the North negotiates and how to make progress. At a minimum, it takes time and a complex mixture of resolve and open respect for the negotiations themselves. Any mixed messages, public or otherwise, can quickly derail progress and undercut efforts at negotiations.

To test whether North Korea is prepared to eliminate its program under effective verification, the United States needs to:

· Establish a full-time and ongoing negotiating mechanism based on the six-party talks. They should be continuous, or close to it, and work to establish a fixed timeline for conclusion.
· Appoint higher-level representation for the talks, including a presidentially appointed envoy. This person must be fully committed to the negotiations and prepared and empowered to make serious progress.
· Ensure continued presidential engagement with the negotiating process and effectively impose a coordinated position in the administration (no loose statements or diatribes).
· Create a coordinated position among itself, Japan, and South Korea. The lack of a common position within the six-party talks is a major reason for its lack of progress.
· Continue to encourage Chinese engagement, with the awareness of the limits of Chinese influence over North Korea.

Lastly, the United States needs to determine what it is prepared to offer North Korea if that country is willing to terminate its nuclear program and eliminate, under effective verification, its nuclear capability. This can involve a broad mix of political, diplomatic, economic, and symbolic steps including establishment of diplomatic relations and the provision of considerable agricultural assistance. Moreover, as many have suggested, the United States should be prepared to offer more to North Korea than it did under the 1994 Agreed Framework as long as Pyongyang also agrees to do more. The nuclear issue is so pressing, however, that it should not become hostage to issues related to ballistic missiles, conventional force deployments, chemical and biological weapon programs, and human rights. The United States should work to resolve those issues but only once the nuclear question is answered.

To date, President Bush has moved from a wholesale rejection of negotiations with the North to the verge of a new set of real talks. To make progress, he must take the next step: test North Korea directly and conclusively. If a positive result materializes, the president must be willing to invest his personal prestige domestically and abroad to make and sell a deal with the North. If the result is negative, having tried the alternative, punitive options will remain viable, and broader support for confronting North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons may materialize.


In the 1960 presidential debates, Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) warned that, if the United States did not change its policy, there would soon be dozens of nuclear states instead of the four that then existed. Fortunately for America, Kennedy did change government policy and started the process that led to the negotiations for the NPT. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon finished the treaty and brought into being a system that, through the cooperative work of liberals and conservatives, large nations and small, has effectively proscribed, though not completely stopped, the spread of nuclear weapons ever since. It is under a greater strain than ever before, both internally and externally. Yet, 43 years later, we have eight known nuclear-weapon states, not 20. The criticisms, justified and not, should not be allowed to overshadow this seminal success. Even as we reach to build new nonproliferation frameworks, officials have to take great care not to burn the bridges on which we now stand.

Forceful diplomacy utilizing and expanding the treaty regime has put solutions to the Iranian and North Korean crises within reach. They have also pointed the way toward a broader nonproliferation regime that can help maintain global security well into the 21st century. Doing so will require political will and the courage to lead. It is still possible, as Kennedy said, to abolish the weapons of war before they abolish us.

Joseph Cirincione is director and Jon B. Wolfsthal is deputy director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. They are authors of Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Iran Slapped for Clandestine Nuclear Activities

Paul Kerr

Closing a chapter in its months-long investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution Nov. 26 condemning Iran’s pursuit of clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. The resolution follows a Nov. 10 report detailing Iran’s actions.

The resolution was finalized after a prolonged debate over the appropriate wording that would be used to condemn Tehran’s behavior. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the United States, along with such countries as Australia and Canada, judged a draft resolution composed by several European countries as too weak in its criticism of Iran. Washington initially wanted the resolution to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, which would have required the board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. But the U.S. official said that several countries, including Germany, had assured Iran that the issue would be handled solely by the IAEA.

As a result, the United States worked with other board members to craft alternate language to convey that Iran violated its safeguards agreement. The resolution notes with “concern” that Iran has demonstrated a “pattern of concealment resulting in breaches of safeguards obligations.” Furthermore, it includes a “trigger mechanism”—a key U.S. demand—that requires the board to meet immediately to consider all options at its disposal if “any further serious Iranian failures come to light.” Such actions could include referring the matter to the Security Council.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei presented a report that accuses Iran of repeatedly violating its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but stops short of concluding that these activities constitute evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Safeguards agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.

ElBaradei told the board Nov. 20 that the IAEA needs additional time before it can conclude that “Iran’s program has been fully declared and is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

U.S. officials contended that the agency’s report did not go far enough, arguing that its account of Iran’s nuclear activities confirmed Washington’s longheld suspicions that Tehran has a nuclear weapons program. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Kenneth Brill stated Nov. 21 in Vienna that the report “makes unequivocally clear that Iran chose…to violate its safeguards obligations in full knowledge that its actions and omissions were violations.”

The report also notes that Iran is currently implementing IAEA-requested measures designed to resolve concerns about its nuclear program, and thereby showing “active cooperation and openness.” Specifically, Iran has cooperated with the agency’s investigation and suspended its uranium enrichment activities discovered earlier this year. Those actions follow an October agreement reached between Iran and three European government. That, in turn, came on the heels of a September IAEA resolution that set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate with the agency. Although uranium enrichment is permitted as long as it is operating under IAEA safeguards, the resolution also called on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities as a confidence-building measure. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Additionally, Iran agreed in October to conclude an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The Board of Governors has now “accepted Iran’s proposal,” according to a Nov. 21 agency press statement. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The State Department official said that during the Nov. 20 meeting Iran implied it might not conclude the protocol if it disagreed with the resolution’s content, but later relented.

The Nov. 26 IAEA resolution “re-emphasises the importance of Iran…acting as if the Protocol were in force” until the Iranian parliament approves the protocol.

Still, a November CIA report to Congress expressed concern that more intrusive inspections will not contain Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, contending that “there is a serious risk that Iran could use its enrichment technology in covert activities” even with intrusive IAEA


The Report

The following excerpt is from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, released Nov. 10.

1. The recent disclosures by Iran about its nuclear programme clearly show that, in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, with resultant breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of the Safeguards Agreement. Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with co-operation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. While most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. And although the materials would require further processing before being suitable for weapons purposes, the number of failures by Iran to report in a timely manner the material, facilities and activities in question as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement has given rise to serious concerns.

2. Following the Board’s adoption of resolution GOV/2003/69, the Government of Iran informed the Director General that it had now adopted a policy of full disclosure and had decided to provide the Agency with a full picture of all of its nuclear activities. Since that time, Iran has shown active co-operation and openness. This is evidenced, in particular, by Iran’s granting to the Agency unrestricted access to all locations the Agency requested to visit; by the provision of information and clarifications in relation to the origin of imported equipment and components; and by making individuals available for interviews. This is a welcome development.

3. The Agency will now undertake all the steps necessary to confirm that the information provided by Iran on its past and present nuclear activities is correct and complete. To date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme. However, given Iran’s past pattern of concealment, it will take some time before the Agency is able to conclude that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. To that end, the Agency must have a particularly robust verification system in place. An Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, is indispensable for such a system.

4. In that context, Iran has been requested to continue its policy of active co-operation by answering all of the Agency’s questions, and by providing the Agency with access to all locations, information and individuals deemed necessary by the Agency. One issue requiring investigation as a matter of urgency is the source of [highly enriched uranium] and [low-enriched uranium] contamination. The Agency intends to pursue the matter with a number of countries, whose full co-operation is essential to the resolution of this issue.

5. The recent announcement of Iran’s intention to conclude an Additional Protocol, and to act in accordance with the provisions of the Protocol pending its entry into force, is a positive development. The draft Additional Protocol is now being submitted to the Board for its consideration.

6. Iran’s decision to suspend its uranium-enrichment-related and reprocessing activities is also welcome.1 The Agency intends to verify, in the context of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol, the implementation by Iran of this decision.

7. The Director General will inform the Board of additional developments for its further consideration at the March 2004 meeting of the Board, or earlier, as appropriate

1. It should be noted that Iran introduced UF6 into the first centrifuge at PFEP on 25 June 2003, and, on 19 August 2003, began testing a small ten-machine cascade. On 31 October 2003, Agency inspectors observed that no UF6 gas was being fed into the centrifuges, although construction and installation work at the site was continuing.

The Resolution
Below is an excerpt from the IAEA’s Nov. 26 resolution

The Board of Governors:

1. Welcomes Iran’s offer of active cooperation and openness and its positive response to the demands of the Board in the resolution adopted by Governors on 12 September 2003 (GOV/2003/69) and underlines that, in proceeding, the Board considers it essential that the declarations that have now been made by Iran amount to the correct, complete and final picture of Iran’s past and present nuclear programme, to be verified by the Agency;

2. Strongly deplores Iran’s past failures and breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of its Safeguards Agreement, as reported by the Director General; and urges Iran to adhere strictly to its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement in both letter and spirit;

3. Notes the statement by the Director General that Iran has taken the specific actions deemed essential and urgent and requested of it in paragraph 4 of the Resolution adopted by the Board on 12 September 2003 (GOV/2003/69);

4. Requests the Director General to take all steps necessary to confirm that the information provided by Iran on its past and present nuclear activities is correct and complete as well as to resolve such issues as remain outstanding;

5. Endorses the view of the Director General that, to achieve this, the Agency must have a particularly robust verification system in place: an Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, is indispensable;

6. Reiterates that the urgent, full and close co-operation with the Agency of all third countries is essential in the clarification of outstanding questions concerning Iran’s nuclear programme;

7. Calls on Iran to undertake and complete the taking of all necessary corrective measures on an urgent basis, to sustain full cooperation with the Agency in implementing Iran’s commitment to full disclosure and unrestricted access, and thus to provide the transparency and openness that are indispensable for the Agency to complete the considerable work necessary to provide and maintain the assurances required by Member States;

8. Decides that, should any further serious Iranian failures come to light, the Board of Governors would meet immediately to consider, in the light of the circumstances and of advice from the Director General, all options at its disposal, in accordance with the IAEA Statute and Iran’s Safeguards Agreement;

9. Notes with satisfaction the decision of Iran to conclude an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, and re-emphasises the importance of Iran moving swiftly to ratification and also of Iran acting as if the Protocol were in force in the interim, including by making all declarations required within the required timeframe;

10. Welcomes Iran’s decision voluntarily to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and requests Iran to adhere to it, in a complete and verifiable manner; and also endorses the Director General’s acceptance of Iran’s invitation to verify implementation of that decision and report thereon;

11. Requests the Director General to submit a comprehensive report on the implementation of this resolution by mid- February 2004, for consideration by the March Board of Governors, or to report earlier if appropriate; and

12. Decides to remain seized of the matter.




Closing a chapter in its months-long investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)...

The IAEA's Report on Iran: An Analysis

Paul Kerr

On Nov. 10, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report charging Iran with violating its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In particular, the IAEA said that Tehran had been conducting experiments with imported nuclear material without informing the agency. The report also revealed that Iran had carried out a variety of clandestine nuclear activities for more than two decades. In doing so, it had deceived the agency on numerous occasions by concealing facilities and providing the IAEA with incomplete and false information. A discussion of the IAEA’s revelations follows.

Uranium Enrichment

Gas-Centrifuge Enrichment

Iran’s gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment program dates back to 1985 and currently consists of a small pilot facility at Natanz and a larger commercial facility under construction at the same location. Uranium-enrichment facilities can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, as well as fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Iran had previously claimed its gas-centrifuge program was completely indigenous and had not been used to test nuclear material, but both of these claims were proven false by the IAEA.

The IAEA first visited the Natanz facility in February. Its advanced state of operation led the agency to suspect that Iran had tested the centrifuges with nuclear material without first notifying the agency—a violation of its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, November 2003.) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that IAEA environmental sampling showed that particles of both low-enriched and highly enriched uranium (LEU and HEU) had been present during that time at the Natanz facility, suggesting possible confirmation of the inspectors’ suspicions. Although LEU is used in civilian power plants, HEU can be used to build nuclear weapons. The presence of this material could be evidence that Iran produced weapons-grade uranium at Natanz and has nuclear material that it has not yet declared to the IAEA—each a violation of its safeguards agreement. At the time, however, Iran blamed the material’s presence on contaminated, imported components and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, Iran introduced nuclear material into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards in June, although the IAEA Board of Governors had issued a statement earlier that month encouraging Iran not to do so. Tehran accelerated its tests in August but, in an October deal with European foreign ministers, agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. At the time, Iran did not say when the suspension would take effect, but the new IAEA report says Iran told the IAEA that it would suspend its enrichment activities effective Nov. 10. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Iran also admitted Oct. 21 to using small amounts of uranium hexafluoride to test centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company in Tehran between 1999 and 2002, according to the report. Centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas in cylinders to increase the concentration of the relevant isotopes. Iran had previously acknowledged producing centrifuge components there but denied conducting any tests with nuclear material. Iran dismantled “the test facility at the end of 2002,” according to the report.

Activities at the Kalaye facility have been contentious because Iran had hindered IAEA investigations there and prevented agency inspectors from conducting environmental sampling until August. These samples also detected HEU and LEU particles, a finding Iran also attributes to contaminated components. Tehran maintains it only enriched uranium at Kalaye to a degree that is not suitable for weapons.

Iran continued to obstruct the IAEA’s investigation of the Kalaye facility until recently, according to the report. Tehran initially told agency inspectors that the centrifuges had been destroyed but later admitted to their existence and allowed the IAEA to inspect them Oct. 30-31. The components had been stored elsewhere in Iran, but it is unclear how the agency became aware of this fact.

In the Nov. 24 issue of Time magazine, ElBaradei said that five European and Asian countries supplied Iran with the components and that the agency will discuss the matter with those governments.

In a further misstep, Iran tested the centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride imported in 1991. A June agency report pointed out that Iran not only violated its safeguards agreement by failing to report the imported material but also could not account for some of the material, raising suspicions that Iran had conducted illicit enrichment experiments. At the time, Iran said the material had leaked from its containers.

Laser Enrichment

According to the report, Iran told the IAEA Oct. 21 that it had been pursuing a laser-based uranium-enrichment program since 1991. An August IAEA report stated that Iran had previously acknowledged a research and development program involving lasers, but not an enrichment program.

IAEA inspectors visited a site called Lashkar Ab’ad in August. Although they did not find any activities related to uranium enrichment being conducted there, the agency asked Iran to confirm that there had not been any past “activities related to uranium laser enrichment” at any location in the country and to allow environmental sampling at that location. Iran allowed inspectors to conduct sampling on Oct. 6 and told the IAEA Oct. 21 that it conducted laser-enrichment experiments with undeclared imported uranium metal at a site in Tehran until October 2002.

Iran later told the IAEA during an Oct. 27-Nov. 1 visit that it had established “a pilot plant for laser enrichment” at Lashkar Ab’ad in 2000 and conducted enrichment experiments there between October 2002 and January 2003. Iran dismantled the equipment in May and presented it to IAEA inspectors on Oct. 28, according to the report.

Other Concerns




The IAEA found that Iran separated a “small amount” of plutonium from spent fuel produced in a research reactor in Tehran—an action Iran was obligated to report to the IAEA. Reprocessing activities have caused concern because Iran has nearly completed a light-water reactor (LWR) at Bushehr and has announced plans to build a heavy-water reactor, each of which produce plutonium. LWRs are considered more proliferation resistant. Such reprocessing can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Uranium Conversion

Iran announced in March that it had completed a facility located near Isfahan for converting uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride. Iran first told the IAEA that it had completed the facility without having tested it with nuclear material but later admitted to conducting uranium-conversion experiments in the early 1990s. (See ACT, September 2003.) Iran was required to disclose these experiments to the IAEA.

According to the November report, Iran told the IAEA Oct. 9 that it conducted previously undisclosed uranium-conversion experiments with multiple phases of the conversion process between 1981 and 1993. Iran also admitted that it was planning to produce uranium metal for use in its laser-enrichment program. In June, a Department of State official noted that Iran would most likely use uranium metal in nuclear warheads.

The report also states that Iran failed to provide design information about the facilities where the concealed nuclear activities took place, as is required by its safeguards agreement.



On Nov. 10, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report charging Iran with violating its obligations under...

Iran's Shahab-4 Denial Fails to Impress U.S.

A reported Nov. 5 Iranian Defense Ministry statement disavowing a program to build a medium-range ballistic missile with an estimated range up to 2,000 kilometers elicited little reaction from the United States and Israel, the two most outspoken critics of Iranian missile projects.

Published originally by the Iranian Students’ News Agency, the Iranian Defense Ministry statement was quoted by Western press reports as reading, “As we have said on several occasions and contrary to certain statements, Iran has no programme to build a Shahab-4 missile.” Iran recently announced that it successfully completed testing an estimated 1,300-kilometer-range missile, the Shahab-3, and started deploying the missile with its armed forces. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Noting that Iran has previously issued similar denials of a Shahab-4 ballistic missile program, Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher responded skeptically Nov. 7 to the reported Iranian statement, saying, “It remains unclear what tangible effect this will have on Iranian missile development.” Another State Department official said Nov. 12 that Washington still suspects Tehran is in the “missile business” despite its protests to the contrary.

Because Iran’s newly fielded Shahab-3 is assessed as being able to target Israel, the Nov. 5 report had no discernible change on Israel’s threat assessment of Iran. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Nov. 14 that U.S.-Israeli discussions about Iran during a mid-November U.S. visit by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz were “not more relaxed” in light of the Iranian statement.

Mofaz met with senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in Washington before traveling to Fort Worth, Texas, for a Nov. 14 ceremonial handover of the first of 102 U.S. F-16I fighter jets that Israel is supposed to receive by 2008. The addition of these new fighters will raise the total number of F-16s purchased by Israel to 362. Only the U.S. Air Force possesses more F-16s than Israel.

With Deadline Looming, European Foreign Ministers Strike Deal to Restrict Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

In a joint statement with three European foreign ministers, Iran agreed Oct. 21 to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands that it cooperate with the agency’s efforts to allay fears that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. For now, the statement ends weeks of speculation over whether Tehran would cooperate by an Oct. 31 deadline set out in a September IAEA resolution. But Iran must still follow through on its commitments to the agency.

According to the joint statement with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Iran agreed to take three steps which, if followed, will meet the IAEA’s demands: cooperate with the IAEA “to address and resolve…all requirements and outstanding [IAEA] issues,” sign and ratify an Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and “suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.”

The IAEA Board of Governors adopted the resolution after months of agency investigations uncovered increasingly disturbing details about Iran’s uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear programs. (See ACT July/August 2003.) Although most of these activities were technically permitted under Iran’s IAEA safeguards agreement, public revelations about Iran’s extensive progress on these programs raised concerns that the country was pursuing nuclear weapons in violation of its commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Safeguards agreements are required under the NPT to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared, in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs. Iran continues to deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report in June summarizing the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear programs that concluded Iran had violated its safeguards agreements. An August report revealed inconsistencies in previous Iranian statements to the agency, raising more questions about Tehran’s nuclear intentions. Both reports also stated that Iran had delayed giving IAEA inspectors access to a suspect facility. (See ACT, September 2003 and October 2003.)

The Agreement

Before the Oct. 21 joint statement, Iran had been sending mixed signals as to whether it would comply with the deadline. ElBaradei said Oct. 13 that Iran had not yet provided “full and complete information” about its nuclear programs, although inspectors had been allowed to visit the requested sites, according to an IAEA statement. Additionally, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamdireza Assefi implied Oct. 19 that Iran might not meet the deadline. Iran has also been hesitant about concluding an Additional Protocol, although it has suggested for months that it would do so.

The IAEA has asked for Iran’s cooperation in several areas. The September resolution called on Iran to provide the necessary information about its programs and “unrestricted access” to IAEA inspectors. The agency has been particularly interested in Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which consists of a gas centrifuge pilot plant and a much larger facility that could hold centrifuges to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel civilian nuclear power reactors, as well as enough fissile material for 25 nuclear weapons per year.

The mere possession of the facility did not constitute a violation of Iran’s safeguards agreement, but the IAEA believes Iran tested the centrifuges with nuclear material without informing the agency—an action that would violate its agreement. Agency inspectors have found highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in at least two locations in Iran, possible evidence that Iran conducted prohibited tests of its centrifuges as a step towards covertly making nuclear devices. Yet, Iran has denied producing HEU, blaming its presence at the two sites on contaminated components it acquired through “foreign intermediaries.”
ElBaradei told reporters Oct. 23 that Iran had provided the IAEA with a new declaration regarding its nuclear programs. Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the declaration was complete, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Oct. 23. But in an Oct. 24 Associated Press report, Salehi said Iran has been unable to determine the imported components’ origins.

The September resolution also called on Iran to “suspend all further uranium enrichment related activities.” Iran introduced nuclear materials into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards in June, although the Board of Governors issued a June statement encouraging Iran not to do so. Tehran accelerated its tests in August.

The joint statement, however, does not specify a date for Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and Iran has not yet actually done so. A government spokesman stated Oct. 27 that Iran had not set a date for suspending enrichment, according to IRNA. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi said Iran was resolving “technical” issues associated with suspending enrichment, IRNA reported Oct. 28.
Moreover, Iran’s compliance will likely be insufficient to resolve fully concerns about its enrichment program. Iranian officials have said numerous times that Iran will not give up its “right” to enrich uranium—an activity which is allowed under the NPT—and Assefi told reporters Oct. 26 that suspension is only “temporary” and Iran will resume enrichment “whenever…it is necessary.”

The September resolution also reiterated the IAEA’s June request that Iran conclude an additional protocol. An IAEA spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 28 that Iran is expected to send the agency a required letter of intent regarding the protocol. ElBaradei will notify the Board of Governors for its Nov. 20 meeting. ElBaradei and Iran can sign the protocol after the Board’s authorization.
Once signed, the Iranian parliament will have to ratify the protocol, Assefi said Oct. 26. Whether to sign the protocol has been a controversial issue in Iran, with Iranian officials expressing concerns that it gives the IAEA too much inspection power and threatens Iranian sovereignty. Until it is ratified, Iran will comply with the IAEA “in accordance with the protocol,” according to the joint statement.

The joint statement said that Iran’s cooperation would “enable” the IAEA to resolve the “immediate situation” and addressed some of Iran’s stated concerns about the IAEA’s demands. According to the statement, the three governments “recognize” Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program, adding that Iran’s compliance can “open the way to a dialogue …for long term cooperation.” Furthermore, Iran “could expect easier access to modern technology…in a range of areas” when concerns about its nuclear programs “are fully resolved,” the statement says.

Iran had previously resisted signing the protocol unless it was assured of gaining access to peaceful nuclear technology, complaining that many nuclear supplier states have refused to do business with them. The NPT states that states-parties “have the right to participate in” technical exchanges “for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

Looking Ahead

ElBaradei told Arms Control Today Oct. 21 (See ElBaradei interview) that the IAEA needs to review and verify Iran’s declaration. He will report his findings to the agency’s Board of Governors prior to its November meeting, the IAEA spokesperson said. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated Oct. 22 that the joint statement is “welcome,” but Washington would wait to assess Iran’s “performance.”

The United States said in September that the Oct. 31 deadline represented a “last chance” for Iran to comply and the IAEA should refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council if Iran did not do so. The IAEA has an obligation to refer the issue to the Security Council if it finds a country in violation of its safeguards agreement. So far, the Board has said only that Iran has failed to meet some of its safeguards obligations.

The IAEA may still refer the issue to the Security Council even if Iran follows through on the Oct. 21 agreement, however. A State Department official interviewed Oct. 28 said a complete declaration from Iran will likely contain “incriminating information” proving it was in violation of its safeguards agreements. The IAEA would then have a “statutory obligation to find Iran in non-compliance” and refer the issue to the council, the official said. The official conceded that the United States would face an “uphill battle” in persuading the Board of Governors to do so.

The Security Council would not necessarily have to take “punitive” action against Iran in this case, but the State Department official said that it would be “important to draw a line under Iran’s noncompliance.”


The Declaration

The following is the text of the declaration on Iran’s nuclear program agreed upon by the Iranian government and visiting EU foreign ministers Oct. 21:

1. Upon the invitation of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany paid a visit to Tehran on October 21, 2003. The Iranian authorities and the Ministers, following extensive consultations, agreed on measures aimed at the settlement of all outstanding IAEA issues with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme and at enhancing confidence for peaceful cooperation in the nuclear field.

2. The Iranian authorities reaffirmed that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defence doctrine and that its nuclear programme and activities have been exclusively in the peaceful domain. They reiterated Iran’s commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and informed the Ministers that:

a) The Iranian government has decided to engage in full cooperation with the IAEA to address and resolve, through full transparency, all requirements and outstanding issues of the agency, and clarify and correct any possible failures and deficiencies within the IAEA.

b) To promote confidence with a view to removing existing barriers for cooperation in the nuclear field:

i) Having received the necessary clarifications, the Iranian government has decided to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, and commence ratification procedures. As a confirmation of its good intentions,the Iranian government will continue to cooperate with the agency in accordance with the protocol in advance of its ratification;

ii) While Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, it has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.

3. The Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany welcomed the decisions of the Iranian government and informed the Iranian authorities that:

a) Their Governments recognise the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful use of nuclear energy in accordance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;

b) In their view, the Additional Protocol is in no way intended to undermine the sovereignty, national dignity or national security of its State Parties;

c) In their view, full implementation of Iran’s decisions, confirmed by the IAEA’s director general, should enable the immediate situation to be resolved by the IAEA board;

d) The three Governments believe that this will open the way to a dialogue on a basis for longer term cooperation which will provide all parties with satisfactory assurances relating to Iran’s nuclear power generation programme. Once international concerns, including those of the three Governments, are fully resolved Iran could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas.

e) They will co-operate with Iran to promote security and stability in the region, including the
establishment of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in accordance with the objectives of the United Nations.




In a joint statement with three European foreign ministers, Iran agreed Oct. 21 to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands that it cooperate with the agency’s efforts to allay...

Iran at the Nuclear Threshold

Brenda Shaffer

For the past decade, Iran’s nuclear program has been a proliferation concern to the United States. Given that Iran is awash with oil and gas reserves and regularly flares off vast quantities of natural gas, Tehran’s decision to allocate a major portion of its infrastructure investment to develop nuclear power plants has been puzzling. In addition, proliferation warning flags have been raised by Iran’s clandestine attempts to acquire uranium-enrichment equipment and fissile material.1 Combined with its support for Middle Eastern terrorist groups and the regime’s efforts to undermine the Middle Eastern peace process, Washington has special concerns regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

However, up until the spring of this year, the United States was practically alone in pressing for limits on Iranian access to nuclear weapons-related technology and materials. Western European states and Russia have differed with the United States in their assessment of the extent of Iran’s nuclear program and its intentions to develop nuclear weapons. Europe, Russia, and Japan have also been reluctant to upset bilateral trade and political relations with Iran as a lever to prevent proliferation. In addition, the contradictory missions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—promoting civilian nuclear programs while preventing proliferation—have allowed states such as Iran to near the nuclear threshold without violating the treaty, complicating proliferation detection and prevention.

Until recently, this international and legal consolation had placed few impediments in the way of Tehran’s ability to produce a nuclear arsenal. This drift was slowed this spring, however, when a spate of revelations, from undeclared importation of nuclear materials and equipment to covert uranium-enrichment activity, convinced key states that Iran has not been forthcoming about the intents and extent of its nuclear program and that the program must be stopped. The resulting tide of international pressure crested with a September 12 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution demanding that Tehran come clean. The external threats resonated inside Iran, adding additional pressure on an unpopular government to weigh its next steps carefully and spurring a strong and unprecedented public debate about Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s announcement in the form of an October 21 agreement with a group of European ministers that it intends to open its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection and to suspend uranium enrichment has the potential to be constructive. And this initiative could provide the face-saving mechanism for Iran to shift away from the nuclear weapons path if it makes that strategic decision. Yet, the credibility of Tehran’s commitment must be viewed with caution. Throughout the last decade, Iran has not been forthcoming about a variety of aspects of its nuclear program and has used the cover of legal agreements to advance its weapons program. Making sure that this agreement is fully implemented and expanded to truly prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout will require that pressure be maintained in the months and years ahead, a task that has now grown harder amid Tehran’s success in driving a wedge between partners in this grand coalition. In particular, the United States must continue to work with Russia to ensure that Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons using spent fuel from plutonium reactors. Tehran has not yet made the political decision to cross the nuclear threshold, and both external and internal pressure must be harnessed to sway Iran’s future decision on its nuclear future.

The Iranian Nuclear Program

Iran became a signatory of the NPT in 1968 as a non-nuclear state, and Shah Reza Pahlavi initiated a civilian nuclear energy program in the early 1970s.2 In parallel, the shah’s regime reportedly began a nuclear weapons program, which continued until the regime’s demise in 1979. In 1984, Iran’s Islamic Republic government, spurred by the Iran-Iraq War, allegedly resuscitated the nuclear weapons program. Iran’s overall nuclear program took a leap forward in 1989 when the USSR signed a nuclear technology cooperation agreement with Iran.3 In 1992 this protocol was expanded when two intergovernmental agreements were signed with Russia: one for nuclear energy cooperation and another for the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Iranian representatives and sympathizers abroad point to the need to counter Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal as a justification for its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Despite the Iranian rhetoric, the main strategic rationale for the Iranian nuclear program has not been to counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal but to bolster its role as a regional power and to counter Iraq, Iran’s principal threat until this year. Iran is located in a nuclear neighborhood—next to Russia, Pakistan, and India—and seeks to remain an important regional power. The fact that the Iranian nuclear weapons program started under the shah’s regime, which at the time maintained excellent cooperation with the United States and Israel, is solid evidence that Israel has not been the main motivating factor for Iranian nuclear ambitions. In fact, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has made it a more likely target of Israel.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, much of the original strategic motivation for acquiring nuclear weapons for Tehran has been lost. The current strategic rationale, however, may have changed, and it seems that in 2003 Tehran even flaunted its progress in its nuclear program as a way to deter the United States from creating a fate for the Iranian government similar to that of Hussein’s regime. In addition, domestically, the regime seems to be using the nuclear program as a nationalistic rallying issue and way for the desperately weak regime to project power.

Beginning in mid-2002, a series of revelations shed light on the extent of the Iranian nuclear program. These discoveries began with information provided by a coalition of Iranian opposition groups based outside Iran—the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)—that disclosed a uranium-enrichment plant near Natanz, the Arak “heavy water” production plant , and laser-based uranium-enrichment facilities.4 Additional inquiries and visits by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBareidi and other officials only raised further doubts about the candor of Iran’s past reporting to the IAEA and member states.

Recent revelations indicate that Iran’s nuclear program is expansive and that it encompasses three different routes to obtain the fissile material needed to build nuclear weapons. Tehran could use the spent fuel from either the light-water reactor (LWR) at Bushehr or the heavy-water reactor (HWR) at Arak to obtain plutonium, or it could opt for a uranium-based program employing the enrichment facilities at Natanz and domestic mining and processing of uranium ore.

As part of its uranium route, uranium enrichment has been taking place at several sites within Iran, including the Natanz facility. The Iranians claim that the enrichment is solely for civilian purposes; uranium needs to be enriched to low-enriched uranium (LEU) before it used in civilian nuclear power plants. However, environmental samples taken by IAEA inspectors this year at the Natanz plant and the Kalaya Electric Company uncovered traces of weapons-grade uranium. The explanation that Tehran gave for this weapons-grade uranium, that the imported enrichment equipment must have arrived in Iran contaminated, created even more suspicions because Tehran had never reported the importation of enrichment facilities, claiming that their centrifuge program was indigenous.

The existence of the Arak heavy-water plant and admitted plans to construct a heavy-water reactor is also especially conspicuous. HWRs can produce weapons-grade plutonium more easily than LWRs, so proliferation alarms sound.

Having three distinct routes complicates certain strategies that the United States and other countries might employ, such as military strikes on facilities, to curb the Iranian drive to nuclear weapons. The three alternative routes, along with recent statements by regime leaders, also hint at Iran’s determination to construct such weapons. Most notably, President Mohammed Khatami in February broke with previous Iranian remarks by stating emphatically that Tehran should control the entire fuel cycle of the nearly finished Bushehr LWR, developing the indigenous ability to fuel that reactor and refusing to return the spent fuel to Russia, as Moscow has demanded.5

Khatami also declared that Iran is mining its indigenous uranium reserves as well as building uranium-concentration and -conversion facilities and fuel fabrication plants. Following Khatami’s speech, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, revealed that Iran also plans to open a uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. According to Aghazadeh, this plant will refine yellow cake into uranium oxide, uranium hexafluoride, and uranium metal. Aghazadeh did not explain the purpose of uranium metal, which raised further proliferation concerns because uranium metal has few civilian uses but is a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.6

Foreign Pressure

In recent months, the cooperation among the European Union (EU), Russia, Japan, and the United States has been unprecedented in efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program.

With Iran’s credibility with the major nuclear powers shaken, member states supported the unprecedented September 12 IAEA demand for full cooperation from Tehran and called on it to take such steps as opening its nuclear program to complete inspections by signing an additional protocol to the NPT and explaining previous infractions.7 Otherwise, the IAEA implicitly threatened that the matter would be referred to the UN Security Council. At the same time, Russia, the EU, and Japan suspended significant spheres of cooperation with Iran.

Along with the sticks came some carrots. Concurrently, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany launched a separate diplomatic initiative, eventually convincing Tehran on October 21 to address all “IAEA requirements and outstanding issues,” sign an IAEA additional protocol on inspections, and halt its uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities. In exchange, the European ministers offered further assistance to Iran’s civilian nuclear program when their concerns “are fully resolved” and support for turning the Middle East into a non-nuclear zone.

The separate European initiative vis-à-vis Iran, while potentially possessing positive elements, succeeded in breaking apart this united front.

Russia’s Relationship

Because of its direct nuclear cooperation with Iran, Russia holds the most direct influence over Iran’s nuclear future. Moreover, Moscow and Tehran also maintain close cooperation and possess mutual interests in a variety of spheres, especially as bordering states.8 Loss of Russia’s strategic backing in a variety of international fora would be a crucial loss to Tehran and a consideration not taken lightly by the regime. Thus, Russian pressure can be a crucial lever on Tehran to curtail its nuclear program. Until 2003, Moscow was a vocal defender of its nuclear cooperation with Iran and the peaceful intentions of Tehran’s nuclear program.

Beginning this year, however, Moscow began to shift position. President Vladimir Putin and senior representatives of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) began expressing concern over the Iranian program and, in response to the IAEA reports, began calling on Iran to sign an additional protocol. These concerns began to heat up in February after Khatami’s public statements. When facing critics of its nuclear cooperation with Tehran, Moscow has consistently pointed to its stipulation that the spent fuel from Bushehr be returned to Russia as justification to dismiss proliferation concerns.

Consequently, Khatami’s statement about retaining spent fuel led to new worries in Moscow about whether the Russian-built 1,000-megawatt reactor would be used to develop fissile material for weapons.

The dispute continues to hold up an agreement between Moscow and Tehran on supplying fuel for Bushehr. That dispute remains a matter of contention9 that is impinging on their overall cooperation, and creates an opportunity for use as an important policy tool. Russia does not seem willing to cancel construction of the Bushehr reactor voluntarily, yet in recent months, Russia has been steadfast in refusing to fuel the reactor until Iran reaffirms its agreement to return spent fuel to Russia. Nevertheless, the European initiative will challenge this stance and strengthen the hands of Putin’s critics in Moscow against his policy of Russian cooperation on this issue. However, for Moscow, the dispute is about more than nonproliferation: supply of fuel and storage of the spent fuel from the reactor had been one of the long-term prime financial incentives of this deal to Moscow.

U.S. Reaction

The seriousness of the information being revealed about Iran came at quite an inopportune time for Washington, on the verge of a presidential election year and already burdened with Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, North Korea, and potentially recurrent Middle Eastern crises. The administration’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program is less than clear, and there does not even seem to be a senior member of the administration that is either particularly active on the issue or has articulated a detailed U.S. policy. The Bush administration has not even formulated an overall policy toward Iran, nor has Washington succeeded in producing a policy review on Iran.

The recent overall U.S. policy toward Iran has been largely driven by its Iraq policy, its Afghanistan policy, and its attempts to have Iran turn over al Qaeda suspects currently in Tehran’s custody. With U.S. success in Iraq partly contingent on countering Iranian efforts to undermine U.S. policy there, Washington does not seem to have decided if the best way is to deter or to tempt Tehran from further destabilization operations in Iraq. At times, its concerns about Iran’s nuclear policy seem to play second fiddle.

To the extent that Washington does have a policy, it is one of denial and delay, attempting to prevent Iran from importing and developing nuclear capabilities and to delay Tehran’s progress in obtaining such weapons until the day when the current regime is tossed out of power. In the Bush administration’s view, a new regime may decide not to pursue a nuclear weapons program or may not use those weapons to threaten the United States and its allies. In addition, a new regime in Iran may be more stable, and concerns about control of the fissile materials in Iran’s domain may be reduced. Within the administration, some propose a wait-and-see attitude on regime change in Iran while others argue that the United States should actively promote and accelerate regime change.

In light of the October 21 agreement, the U.S. ability to mobilize support for action to contain Iran has been compromised despite Washington’s insistence that all of the conditions of the September 12 IAEA resolution remain in effect. The initial response from the White House was positive but cautious.10

It seems that, although the Bush administration is skeptical about the merits of the October 21 agreement and its ability to prevent Iranian proliferation, the administration has been keen to avoid a showdown with its European allies and with Iran at a time that its agenda is so overloaded. In any case, it would be difficult for the United States to muscle support for real action against Iran if its case were referred to the UN Security Council. Secretary of State Colin Powell later commented that the agreement was a “positive step” but that he did not trust the Iranian pledge in light of their past behavior.11

Europe and Japan

Over the past decade, Europe and Japan have been reluctant to take action against Tehran’s perceived proliferation. However, the recent revelations from the IAEA prompted a shift in their position. The EU implied that progress on a highly sought trade agreement with Iran was linked to its agreement to sign the additional protocol. Japan also conditioned discussions over extensive investments in the Iranian oil sector on the signing of an additional protocol. Europe’s next steps on implementation of the agreement and the anticipated degree of its cooperation with the United States are not clear.

Iran’s Domestic Politics

The debate in Iran has been strongly affected by the growing international concern over Tehran’s nuclear program. This has surprised the Iranian public, forcing Iranians to understand that this current crisis is a serious one that risks further isolation for their country and contributing to a wider debate over the nature of the Iranian regime and its politics.12

The Iranian political system is a relatively active one, and extensive debates both in the parliament and in the press are conducted on a variety of issues, especially domestic ones. Although national security issues have remained the domain of a small number of functionaries—even Khatami has had little influence over foreign policy issues, let alone national security issues—the potentially drastic foreign consequences of Iran’s nuclear program have opened a wider debate on the whole question of the secrecy surrounding Iran’s foreign and security policy decision-making.

This debate encompasses the entire Iranian political spectrum, from hard-line religious figures to reformists. One of the most ardent hard-liners in the Iranian regime, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who serves as secretary of the powerful Iranian Guardians Council, argued in response to the IAEA demands that Iran should follow the North Korean example and withdraw altogether from the NPT.13 On the other hand, a statement by the reformist Islamic Participation Front (IPF), which is the largest bloc in the Iranian parliament, referred to the government’s handling of the crises over the nuclear program by stating that “[t]his is a product of mismanagement, which in turn stems from restricting the decision-making authority to certain closed circles.”14

In addition, the IPF, led by Khatami’s brother, advocated the signing of an additional protocol by arguing that this move is not against the national interest of Iran and would be a step toward building international confidence.

Particularly worrisome to hard-liners in the government was that the nuclear issue is one of the first foreign policy issues that the reformist camp is seriously engaging. Until now, their agenda has focused on domestic issues that are much more critical to their constituency. In light of the reformist camp’s very limited achievements in the domestic sphere, they have been wary to confront the regime on foreign policy issues.

On this issue, however, they have attempted to play a role. On September 3, Iranian politicians called a special closed session of the parliament, or Majlis, to debate this issue and asked Khatami to appear and report on the state’s nuclear policy. It seems that a major factor impelling the reformists to address the nuclear issue was the fear that otherwise Washington might attempt to cut a deal with the current regime: the regime would agree to give up the nuclear weapons program, and Washington would agree to forgo undermining the ruling regime. In private conversations, reformists expressed fear that such a deal could impede political change in Iran.

Nevertheless, it should not be deduced from this exchange that the reformists oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons while the hard-liners support this move. Along a wide cross-section of the political spectrum in Iran, including many reformists, there is support for acquisition of nuclear weapons. The reformists, however, wanted to initiate debate to assess the merits of the action and seem mostly supportive of signing an additional protocol in order to prevent Iran’s isolation.

The domestic Iranian debate over the nuclear weapons program is not a particularly informed debate, and it seems that many government officials are not even aware of Iran’s NPT obligations or the dangers inherent in the possession of nuclear weapons and how Tehran’s actions can actually spur an arms race in its vicinity. Most participants in the debate and the general public confuse the right to develop nuclear energy with the right to develop nuclear weapons. The debate is very rhetorical and value-laden in speaking of “rights,” and many Iranians see possession of nuclear weapons as a symbol of prestige. Because much of the current regime’s opposition is very nationalistic, there is a patriotic appeal to acquisition of nuclear weapons. However, when faced with the question as to whether this current regime should acquire nuclear weapons, especially in light of the fact that security issues are controlled by a shadowy and dangerous inner-regime, many in Iran are opposed. It seems that the scientific-technical community that is developing the weapons program (many of them overlap with the energy sector) is predominantly secular, and many of its members are not enthusiastic supporters of the regime and are relatively open to engagement on the nuclear issue.

Iran’s Response to IAEA Challenge

To deal with the IAEA challenge, the regime pulled together an internal committee comprised of many of the leading national security seats of power in the Iranian regime: the minister of intelligence, Ali Younessi; Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi; Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani; the supreme leader’s adviser for international affairs, Ali Velayati; and Secretary of the High National Security Council Hassan Rowhani.

Rowhani, head of the Iranian High National Security Council, has played the leading role in the showdown with the IAEA and in articulating Iran’s policies recently on this issue, while elected officials such as Khatami have played only bit parts. Rowhani led the negotiations with the European foreign ministers and met with ElBaradei during his missions to Tehran. Rowhani’s role in this capacity is especially significant. He has served as the negotiator with a number of foreign governments, including Russia, for aid to Iran’s nuclear program and has helped to secure bilateral intelligence cooperation with a number of states that have been sources of material and technology for Iran.

It seems questionable that the man who has spent so much time in the past decade negotiating deals and frameworks that served the Iranian nuclear weapons program would now be the one to lead its demise. Moreover, on the same day that Rowhani concluded the agreement with the European foreign ministers, he said that “it could last for one day or one year; it depends on us.”15

There was little public response to the announcement of Tehran’s intention to sign an additional protocol, and it seems that the reformist blocs in the parliament support this move. Outside of the meeting with the European ministers, a handful of hard-line demonstrators protested the proposed signing of an additional protocol, and the Tehran conservative daily Jomhuri-ye Islami called it “an everlasting disgrace” that would “bring the curse of future generations on the country.”16 That fact that the demonstration, while extremely small, got extensive coverage by the official Iranian press may indicate that it was orchestrated as a tool to be used in the future, so Tehran can point to “domestic opposition” as the reason for dragging out conclusion of the agreements. 17

A Deal to Be Tested

The Iranian case is a crucial test for the nuclear nonproliferation regime. To be sure, holding Tehran to its commitments will clearly require constant vigilance and a tough-minded determination from the United States and its allies. Yet if Iran follows through, the recent developments are likely not only to prove crucial to Iran and the peace and security of the Middle East but also to offer valuable lessons on how the fragile nonproliferation regime can be strengthened around the globe. If the nonproliferation regimes fail this test, members of the international community will search for new tools to prevent nuclear-weapon proliferation, and the period of this search can be a dangerous stage for the international nonproliferation system.18 The measure of successful nonproliferation policies will not be if the international community succeeded in concluding agreements with potential proliferators or establishing inspections missions in these states, but rather whether these policies actually succeed in preventing proliferation.

Despite the significant strides that Iran has made toward acquiring nuclear weapons, there is room for optimism that the correct policies can deter Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. The European-led October 21 agreement succeeded in averting a crisis and the possibility in the short term of Iran taking drastic steps such as NPT withdrawal. Iran’s implementation of an NPT additional protocol can further complicate its ability to conduct further clandestine activities, although it will not serve as a serious obstacle to Iran’s nuclear weapons program if Tehran decides to continue pursuing it.

Agreeing to the inspections is a double-edged sword in terms of Iran’s potential proliferation drive. On the one hand, it buys time to continue a covert nuclear weapons program, but it also forces it to do so under heightened IAEA scrutiny. Iran may continue to conceal installations from the IAEA inspection even with the protocol signed, and a series of cat-and-mouse games may emerge between Tehran and the IAEA inspectors. A new crisis could later resurface if the results of the IAEA testing continue to testify to prohibited activity. However, if Iran decides to curtail its nuclear weapons program, this European led initiative could give it the proper face-saving framework to do it.

There is certainly reason for skepticism about Tehran’s motives and the agreement it brokered with the European foreign ministers.19 Throughout the last decade, Iran has not been forthcoming about a variety of aspects of its nuclear program, and therefore the credibility of Iran’s commitment should be viewed with caution. Moreover, the European arrangement, even if fully implemented, can help limit the uranium route to nuclear weapons but will have little impact on the plutonium-based aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, the European deal with Tehran will weaken Russia’s newfound will to suspend cooperation in the nuclear field with Iran, making the completion of the Bushehr reactor by Russia more feasible no matter Iran’s behavior and thus potentially increasing the chances of proliferation through the plutonium route.

Options and Levers

In order to ensure that Tehran’s pledge to the European foreign ministers is turned into an effective tool to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, a number of steps should be taken. One, intelligence efforts on Iran’s nuclear program must be increased and deepened. Intelligence proved essential to tipping off the IAEA in the last year to Iranian violations and will continue to serve this function. Funds should be allocated by IAEA member states to their intelligence services that will allow them to provide adequate intelligence on the Iranian program, and these should provide leads to the IAEA.

Second, a mechanism must be put in place to address the potential plutonium routes for an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The European-led agreement focuses on uranium enrichment and does not pose obstacles to Iran’s plutonium programs beyond additional inspections.

Third, serious efforts should be made to keep Russia on board in checking Iranian proliferation. The most effective way to decrease the importance of the Bushehr reactor as a proliferation source is to maintain pressure on Russia to hold to its stated policy of refusing to provide fuel for the reactor until an agreement on the return of the spent fuel is in place and is enforceable. To minimize proliferation dangers further, Moscow should ensure that the spent fuel is not allowed to accumulate in Iran and is frequently transferred to Russia. Moscow has concrete technical leverage over the program, the potential for excellent intelligence due to the presence of the hundreds of Russian technicians and engineers in Iran working on the program, and the ultimate option of withdrawing its strategic backing from Tehran, which would be a crucial consideration in the calculations of the regime’s leadership.

The Bush administration has been very successful in working with Russia on this issue and should continue to pursue this track, quietly rewarding Putin for this cooperation. For success to continue, the Russian shifts in policy must be presented as not a concession to Washington but as a choice of Moscow.

Care also needs to be taken to ensure that European companies do not take advantage of the new framework to supplant Russian companies in Iran. For years, one of Moscow’s main claims to justify its nuclear cooperation with Iran was that, if it ends this activity, a European or U.S. company would step in and take over the contracts. The fact that the European states offered Tehran cooperation in the civilian nuclear sphere as part of the deal will understandably raise Moscow’s suspicions that the European states are using the October 21 deal also as a way to gain a foothold in the Iranian nuclear market. Thus, Moscow will be reluctant to give up its own cooperation with Iran.

If expansion of civilian nuclear cooperation is to be offered to Iran as part of the October 21 package, Russian state companies should receive priority in receiving the new cooperation contracts, so that they will not feel undermined by the European-sponsored cooperation.

Export controls and especially sanctions on specific countries and individuals that engage in proliferation activities have been especially effective in curbing the illicit cooperation and transfers to Iran from states such as Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, and China.20 The U.S. Congress should continue to uphold its sanctions on companies and individuals in those states that engage in banned cooperation with Iran and should compel the governments in those states, especially ones such as Ukraine and Armenia, which are major recipients of U.S. aid, to cooperate in this sphere.

The military options for confronting the Iranian nuclear challenge are limited. A military strike such as that carried out by the Israel Defense Forces on the Iraqi Osiraq reactor in 1981 cannot have a similar crippling impact on the Iranian nuclear program, because it is much more advanced than the Iraqi program and is highly dispersed around Iran. A strike on the known facilities (assuming that intelligence information is good enough to identify most of them) could slow down the Iranian program but not eliminate it.

For any of these strategies to succeed, unity and cooperation are essential. The unprecedented cooperation this last year between Russia, the United States, Europe, and Japan is what brought Tehran to terms with the Europeans. Unfortunately, the fact that the European initiative was separate from the IAEA ultimatum and did not include Russia and the United States may have allowed Iran to divide the concerned states and to weaken the united front against it. A united front must be restored.21

The Iranian public must also be encouraged to be more active in preventing the current regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, and IAEA officials and members of the world scientific community should weigh in on that debate and help shape it. The debate in Iran needs to be more informed and should focus on the question, Would they like this regime to acquire nuclear weapons? The scientific community and greater professional energy community in Iran should be engaged and encouraged not to help this regime acquire nuclear weapons.

The Iranian public should be made aware that Iran is going into an unstable and potentially chaotic domestic period; the presence of fissile materials on which central control may diminish would pose not just a danger in terms of proliferation and world terror but also to the citizens of Iran themselves. Concerned scientists in Iran as well as the international community should have a contingency plan in place in the event of domestic turmoil in Iran to secure the fissile materials and facilities from diversion. In debating its nuclear options, the regime itself in Tehran should be aware that the largest threat to its power is internal—the large Soviet nuclear arsenal in no way saved Mikhail Gorbachev and friends from the collapse of the USSR.


1. For instance, in 1992 Iranian agents sought to purchase highly-enriched uranium from the Ust-Kamenogorsk nuclear facility in Kazakhstan and attempted to establish connections with additional nuclear facilities in the country. In addition, Iran and Russia concluded a contract for the sale of centrifuges for uranium enrichment. The deal was cancelled after U.S. President Bill Clinton directly confronted Russian President Boris Yeltsin with evidence on the contract in 1994.

2. Anthony H. Cordesman, Iran’s Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction: Warfighting Capabilities, Delivery Options and Weapons Effects (Washington, DC: CSIS, 2003).

3. Priroda, no. 8 (August 1995), pp. 3-11 (interview with Viktor Mikhailov).

4. An interesting aspect of this year’s revelations on Iran’s nuclear program is the fact that the information provided by the NCRI has been astonishingly accurate. In many political settings, oppositions abroad tend to exaggerate information in order to gain support for their causes against ruling regimes. The NCRI has shown restraint in its reporting on the nuclear program.

5. “Iran Mining Uranium for Fuel,” BBC News, February 9, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/middle_east/2743279.stm.

6. David Albright, Iran at a Nuclear Crossroads (Washington, DC: Institute for Science and International Security, February 20, 2003).

7. Arms Control Today (October 2003), p. 21.

8. Brenda Shaffer, Partners in Need: The Strategic Relationship of Russia and Iran (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001).

9. Iran’s nonsensical position that Russia should pay Iran for the spent fuel is making it easier for Moscow to hold fast on this topic.

10. Douglas Frantz, “Iran Accedes to Demands of Nuclear Agency,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2003.

11. Reuters, October 24, 2003 (quoting Secretary of State Colin Powell’s interview in Le Figaro)

12. Elaheh Koolaee, Tehran Times, October 20, 2003. Koolaee is a member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

13. Tehran Friday Prayer Sermon, September 19, 2003, quoted in http://www.rferl.org/newsline/2003/10/5-NOT/not-021003.asp

14. Jim Muir, “Iran Debates Nuclear Co-operation,” BBC News, September 17, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3116172.stm.

15. Hassan Rowhani, IRNA, October 21, 2003.

16. BBC, October 22, 2003.

17. IRNA, October 21, 2003.

18. Richard Lugar, “Slap Iran with Stiff Inspections,” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2003.

19. Ibid.

20. Arms Control Today (September 2003), p. 36.

21. IRNA, October 23, 2003 (English version).


Brenda Shaffer is research director of the Caspian Studies Program at Harvard University. She is the author of a number of articles and books on Iran, including Partners in Need: The Strategic Relationship of Russia and Iran (2001) and Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity (2002).




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