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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Iran

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.


NOTES

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).

 

 

Interview: IAEA Director-General Welcomes Iran's Reported Commitment to Cooperate with UN Nuclear Inspectors

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For Immediate Release: October 21, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107;
Paul Kerr, Research Director, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): In an October 21 interview with editors and analysts of Arms Control Today, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), welcomed news reports that Iran has agreed to cooperate with the agency to resolve concerns surrounding its nuclear program.

ElBaradei described the news as "encouraging," but emphasized that he would need to see the details of the Iranian commitment. He also expressed hope that Iran's statement of cooperation "will open the way for hopefully a comprehensive settlement of the Iranian issues through verification and through political dialogue." Securing Iran's cooperation "would be a leap forward in terms of the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program," ElBaradei said.

Press reports have indicated that, following a meeting with the British, French, and German foreign ministers, Iran agreed to comply with the IAEA's demands that Tehran provide agency inspectors with relevant information concerning its nuclear program, as well as allow inspectors access to any facilities they wish to inspect.

Additionally, Tehran has reportedly agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and sign an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The latter measure provides for more intrusive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities than currently allowed.

ElBaradei stressed that the IAEA "would like to have in Iran and everywhere else a continuous process of inspections" to provide confidence that states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are abiding by their treaty commitments.

The full text of ElBaradei's remarks about Iran, as well as other resources on Iran, are on the Association's Web site: <http://www.armscontrol.org.>

The November issue of Arms Control Today will feature excerpts from the full interview with ElBaradei.

# # #

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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Summit Leaves Iran, North Korea Questions Unanswered

Christina Kucia

Despite what they described as “open, very frank” discussions about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their Sept. 26-27 talks at Camp David without any concrete decisions on how to address the crises.

At a joint press conference Sept. 27, Bush said the United States and Russia “share a goal…to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapons program.” Putin maintained that “Russia has no desire and no plans to contribute in any way to the creation of weapons of mass destruction, either in Iran or in any other spot, region in the world.” He noted that Russia’s decision to help Iran build a nuclear reactor at Bushehr is in full compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and agreed with Bush that both countries will continue to urge Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency requirements.

The United States has criticized Russia’s assistance to Iran in constructing the $800 million reactor and providing nuclear fuel for the plant. Russia has maintained that it will require Iran to return any spent fuel, although the two countries have yet to sign an agreement enforcing this pledge. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Concern over Iran’s nuclear energy program escalated in September after international investigators detected traces of highly enriched uranium in two facilities. (See “Concern Heats Up Over Iran’s Alleged Nuclear Program,” p. 20.)

Both presidents agreed that North Korea must cease its nuclear weapons program. At the press briefing, Bush reiterated his call for North Korea “to completely, verifiably, and irreversibly end its nuclear programs.” Putin, however, also pressed the United States to offer Pyongyang “guarantees in this sphere of security,” drawing attention to U.S. reluctance to provide such explicit guarantees. (See “U.S. Shows More Flexibility in North Korea Talks”) On the Iraq front, Bush failed to secure military or financial support from Putin for Iraq’s reconstruction.

Also during the summit, both sides discussed implementation of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which entered into force in May 2003. (See ACT, June 2003.) The Bilateral Implementation Commission, which is scheduled to meet twice yearly, has yet to convene. The commission’s first meeting may be scheduled later this fall, in late October or early November.

 

 

 

Despite what they described as “open, very frank” discussions about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President...

Concern Heats Up Over Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution Sept. 12 that sets an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate fully with the agency’s efforts to resolve concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Tehran has sent mixed signals as to whether it will comply, possibly setting the stage for a showdown in the UN Security Council.

The resolution is the IAEA board’s strongest action to date regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In June the board issued a statement calling on Iran to resolve concerns created by its failure to report certain nuclear activities, as mandated by its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. Iran ratified the NPT in 1970 and has repeatedly denied that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The IAEA action follows months of pressure from Washington. The Bush administration expressed satisfaction with the resolution, with White House press secretary Scott McClellan describing it Sept. 25 as “one last chance for Iran to comply” and adding that the matter “should be reported to the Security Council” if Iran fails to do so. Although President George W. Bush said Sept. 25 that “there will be universal condemnation” if Iran does not cooperate, McClellan would not speculate on what course of action the administration would recommend if the matter is referred to the Security Council. The board is to evaluate Iran’s progress shortly after the deadline.

The United States has long had suspicions that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but international concern accelerated during the last year as more details about Iran’s uranium-and plutonium-based nuclear programs emerged. When operational, both programs could produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report in June summarizing the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear programs and concluding that Iran had violated its safeguards agreements. A second report in August provided more details on Iran’s programs and revealed inconsistencies in previous Iranian statements to the agency, raising more questions about Tehran’s nuclear intentions.

Tehran has suggested that it is willing to cooperate with the IAEA but has voiced concerns that such cooperation will not be sufficient to meet U.S. demands. The IAEA is sending a team to Iran Oct. 2 to begin inspections and get a more complete picture of Iran’s nuclear activities, an IAEA official said in a Sept. 29 interview.

The Resolution

The most important component of the resolution calls on Iran to take “all necessary actions…to resolve all outstanding issues involving nuclear materials and nuclear activities” by the deadline, expressing particular concern about Iran’s gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program. A pilot gas centrifuge plant near the town of Natanz contained more than 100 centrifuges as of February, when ElBaradei first visited the facility. Centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride gas in cylinders to increase the concentration of the relevant isotopes. Tehran is also building a commercial facility that could hold enough centrifuges to produce fissile material for 25 nuclear devices per year. (See ACT, June 2003.)

The February discovery of the Natanz facility’s advanced state produced suspicions that Iran had secretly tested its centrifuges with nuclear material—an action that would violate its safeguards agreement. Under the agreement, Tehran can only conduct such tests if IAEA inspectors are notified. Iran has said it tested the centrifuges without nuclear material, but IAEA experts dismiss its claim.

In June, Iran adhered to the letter if not the spirit of its agreement by introducing nuclear material into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards. That action came despite a board of governors’ request earlier that month that Tehran refrain from doing so. Iran accelerated its tests in August. The resolution “calls on Iran to suspend all further uranium-enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material into Natanz,” but there is no indication that Iran has stopped.

The resolution further calls on Iran to comply with the agency’s investigation into the matter by “providing a full declaration of all imported material and components relevant to the enrichment programme.” ElBaradei reported in August that environmental samples taken by IAEA inspectors revealed the presence of highly enriched uranium (HEU) at the pilot facility. Iran has explained the findings by claiming that it imported contaminated components, but the material’s presence may also indicate that Iran tested its centrifuges with nuclear material.

Iran’s acknowledgment that it had obtained some of the components through “foreign intermediaries” contradicted the country’s past contention that its enrichment program was entirely indigenous.
The centrifuge technology’s origin is unknown. Although a French report in May asserted that the technology is likely of Pakistani origin, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidreza Asefi told reporters Sept. 1 that Iran has not cooperated with Pakistan. The August IAEA report says that the machines are of “an early European design,” but that does not exclude the possibility that they originated in Pakistan. (See ACT, September 2003.)

The IAEA resolution also requires Iran to allow inspectors to conduct environmental sampling in “whatever locations the IAEA deems necessary” to complete its verification tasks. Conducting samples has been a particularly contentious issue. Iran delayed allowing inspectors to conduct samples at a location called the Kalaye Electric Company for months after inspectors first requested access. When inspectors conducted sampling in August, they found “considerable modification” of the facility which could adversely impact the samples’ accuracy.

The IAEA has been particularly interested in the Kalaye site because Tehran acknowledged it produced centrifuge components there and the agency believes that sampling could help verify the government’s claim that it has not tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The IAEA has not revealed the results of the sampling, but the Associated Press reported Sept. 29 that Ali Akbar Salehi, Tehran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, acknowledged that inspectors found HEU at the site. He again blamed contaminated components.

Will Iran Comply?

Whether Iran will comply with the IAEA’s demands is an open question. Asefi said Tehran’s response to the resolution “is still being examined and…Iran’s final stance will be declared in due time,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Sept. 21. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, however, said in a television interview that Iran is “determined to cooperate” with the agency, according to a Sept. 28 Associated Press report.

Earlier in the month, Tehran seemed to issue a veiled threat to pull out of the NPT. Iran’s representatives walked out of the IAEA meeting when the resolution was adopted, and Asefi told reporters Sept.14 that Iran would “review its cooperation” with the IAEA. However, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh told the IAEA General Conference Sept. 16 that, although Iran “objects” to the resolution, it is still “fully committed to its NPT responsibility.”

Salehi discussed his government’s thoughts in more detail with Der Spiegel on Sept. 15, saying Iran would take “appropriate measures” if the United States tries to force it to forgo all uranium-enrichment activities. These measures could include limiting its cooperation with the IAEA to the minimum level required by its original safeguards agreement, “completely” ending cooperation with the agency, or pulling out of the NPT, he said. During the course of the agency’s investigation, Iran has allowed the IAEA to conduct inspections beyond those required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.

Additional Protocol

The resolution reiterates the IAEA’s June request that Iran “promptly and unconditionally” implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared to the agency in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs.

The IAEA and Iran have had ongoing discussions about the agreement, and Salehi said Sept. 15 that Iran is ready to begin negotiations “leading to our signing it.” IAEA spokesperson Melissa Flemming said that concluding the protocol was unnecessary for the agency to conduct its current investigation, Agence France Presse reported Sept. 25.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in August that Iran signing the additional protocol would not be sufficient to satisfy Washington’s concerns about that country’s nuclear programs.

Moscow-Tehran Cooperation Continues

Russia continues to move forward on the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia has agreed to provide fuel for the reactor, with the condition that Iran sign an agreement to return the spent fuel, but Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev could not say when this agreement will be concluded, Agence France Presse reported Sept. 19.

Iran has also introduced a new variable. Russian Deputy Minister for Nuclear Energy Valery Govorukhin said that Iran now wants Russia to pay for the removal of the spent fuel, the Itar-Tass news agency reported Sept. 10. Rumyantsev added Sept. 19 that the two sides are negotiating this new demand—a process that could further delay conclusion of the agreement.

Although a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Iran Sept. 13 to conclude an additional protocol and cooperate with the IAEA, Govorukhin added that Russia’s provision of reactor fuel is not conditioned on Iran signing the protocol. Moscow has hinted at such linkage in the past.

Washington has long opposed the Bushehr project because of concerns that Iran will gain access to expertise and dual-use technology that can aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program. Russia contends that the reactors will not contribute to a nuclear weapons program and will operate under IAEA safeguards.

Russian officials have said they may build more reactors in Iran and IRNA reported Aug. 26 that Russia has delivered feasibility studies to Iran for a second reactor being planned for Bushehr. The two governments agreed to conduct the studies in December 2002. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Govorukhin said Sept. 10 that the Bushehr reactor will be completed in 2005, but the Aug. 26 IRNA report placed the date at 2004.

How Long Until a Weapon?


Major General Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, the head of Israeli military intelligence, told Jane’s Intelligence Review that Iran can develop a nuclear device “within two years” after gaining the ability to produce sufficient uranium, according to a Sept. 13 Agence France Presse report. Iran has said that it plans to start installing centrifuges into the commercial Natanz facility in 2005.

Ze’evi-Farkash, however, added that Israel believes 2004 is “the point of no return” because Iranian scientists will have by then acquired all the “necessary knowledge” for building a nuclear device.

Public U.S. estimates give a slightly longer time frame. A January 2003 Congressional Research Service report states that “the consensus among U.S. experts appears to be that Iran is still about eight to ten years away from a nuclear weapons capability, although foreign help or Iranian procurement abroad of fissionable materials could shorten that timetable.” A February Defense Intelligence Agency estimate says Iran will have a nuclear bomb by 2010 if it acquires the necessary technology and fissile material. Whether these estimates take into account the most recent Iranian nuclear developments is unknown.

Additionally, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton argued during a June congressional hearing that Iran could build “over 80 nuclear weapons” if it had access to sufficient fuel, operated the Bushehr reactor for 5-6 years, and chose to withdraw from the NPT.

The IAEA Resolution: An Excerpt

1. Calls on Iran to provide accelerated cooperation and full transparency to allow the Agency to provide at an early date the assurances required by Member States;
2. Calls on Iran to ensure there are no further failures to report material, facilities and activities that Iran is obliged to report pursuant to its safeguards agreement;
3. Reiterates the Board’s statement in June 2003 encouraging Iran not to introduce nuclear material into its pilot enrichment cascade in Natanz, and in this context calls on Iran to suspend all further uranium enrichment-related activities, including the further introduction of nuclear material into Natanz, and, as a confidence-building measure, any reprocessing activities, pending provision by the Director General of the assurances required by Member States, and pending satisfactory application of the provisions of the additional protocol;
4. Decides it is essential and urgent in order to ensure IAEA verification of non-diversion of nuclear material that Iran remedy all failures identified by the Agency and cooperate fully with the Agency to ensure verification of compliance with Iran’s safeguards agreement by taking all necessary actions by the end of October 2003, including:
(i) providing a full declaration of all imported material and components relevant to the enrichment programme, especially imported equipment and components stated to have been contaminated with high enriched uranium particles, and collaborating with the Agency in identifying the source and date of receipt of such imports and the locations where they have been stored and used in Iran;
(ii) granting unrestricted access, including environmental sampling, for the Agency to whatever locations the Agency deems necessary for the purposes of verification of the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations;
(iii) resolving questions regarding the conclusion of Agency experts that process testing on gas centrifuges must have been conducted in order for Iran to develop its enrichment technology to its current extent;
(iv) providing complete information regarding the conduct of uranium conversion experiments;
(v) providing such other information and explanations, and taking such other steps as are deemed necessary by the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues involving nuclear materials and nuclear activities, including environmental sampling results;
5. Requests all third countries to cooperate closely and fully with the Agency in the clarification of open questions on the Iranian nuclear programme;
6. Requests Iran to work with the Secretariat to promptly and unconditionally sign, ratify and fully implement the additional protocol, and, as a confidence-building measure, henceforth to act in accordance with the additional protocol;
7. Requests the Director General to continue his efforts to implement the Agency’s safeguards agreement with Iran, and to submit a report in November 2003, or earlier if appropriate, on the implementation of this resolution, enabling the Board to draw definitive conclusions....

 

 

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution Sept. 12 that sets an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate fully...

IAEA Report Highlights Inconsistencies in Iranian Statements About

Paul Kerr

On August 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues,” about Tehran’s nuclear programs that require “urgent resolution.” The report updates the agency’s Iran investigation, presents new information about Iran’s nuclear activities, and reveals some inconsistencies in information Iran had previously provided to the IAEA about these programs. The agency will continue to investigate the unresolved issues about Iran’s nuclear activities, the report says.

Uranium Enrichment

Gas Centrifuges

One of the most important portions of the report concerns Iran’s gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program. Washington publicly confirmed in December that Iran has a uranium-enrichment facility at the Iranian town of Natanz. Uranium enrichment can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons, but it also has civilian energy applications.

Iran has made substantial progress on the facility. By February, Iran had installed more than 100 centrifuges at the Natanz facility’s pilot plant, but Tehran says it plans to install more than 1,000 by the end of 2003. A commercial plant also located at the site is expected to contain enough centrifuges to produce the equivalent of 25-nuclear bombs worth of fissile material each year.

The centrifuge technology’s origin is unclear. A French report presented at the May meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group asserted that the technology is likely of Pakistani origin, but the August 26 IAEA report says the machines are of “an early European design.”

The advanced state of the pilot facility has raised questions about whether Iran has tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The existence of the facility does not in itself violate Iran’s safeguards agreement, but testing centrifuges with nuclear material without declaring such tests to the IAEA would do so.

Tehran clams it used simulations to test the centrifuges without nuclear material. The report, however, dismisses this explanation and states that environmental samples taken at Natanz by agency inspectors in March and June “revealed particles of high [sic] enriched uranium.” Agency inspectors use sampling to determine if nuclear materials are present in a given location—a possible indication of past nuclear activity.

Iran had not declared that it possesses highly enriched uranium. Tehran has cited its importation of contaminated centrifuge components to explain the material’s presence. The report comments that “it is possible to envisage a number of possible scenarios to explain the presence of high enriched uranium” in the samples, adding that the IAEA will evaluate these unspecified scenarios during the course of its investigation.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today in June that Iran might have used uranium hexafluoride—the material introduced into gas centrifuges for processing into reactor-grade fuel—imported from China in 1991 to test centrifuges. A June 6 IAEA report revealed Tehran’s failure to disclose that it imported this material, although its safeguards agreement required it to do so. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) The report added that some of this material was found to be missing and Iran had not accounted for its absence. Iran asserts that it either evaporated or leaked from its containers. The agency is continuing to investigate the issue.

The August report revealed some other inconsistencies regarding Iran’s explanation of the enrichment program. For example, Iran had claimed the program was entirely indigenous and began in 1997 but has now acknowledged importing centrifuge components and gives 1985 as the correct starting date. Additionally, Iran initially claimed to have tested its centrifuges with inert gases but now says this is not the case.

Kala Electric Company

Inspectors took environmental samples at the Kala Electric Company during an August 9-12 visit, something Iran had previously refused to allow. The IAEA has been particularly interested in conducting sampling at this site because Tehran acknowledged it produced centrifuge components there, and the agency believes that sampling could help verify the government’s claim that it has not tested centrifuges with nuclear material. The samples are still being analyzed, but the most recent report notes that “considerable modification” of the Kala Electric Company site since inspectors’ first visit in March could adversely impact the samples’ accuracy.

Iran Plunges Ahead

Although the IAEA Board of Governors asked Iran in June to refrain from introducing nuclear material into the centrifuges at the Natanz facility, Iran did so on June 25 to test a single centrifuge, according to the August report. Iran began testing a small cascade of 10 centrifuges on August 19. A cascade is a series of connected centrifuges used to ensure that the uranium is enriched sufficiently. Tehran is following the appropriate safeguards measures for the facility, the report adds.

Laser Enrichment

The recent report also discusses Iran’s laser-based uranium-enrichment program—an alternate method of enriching uranium mentioned as an issue of concern in the June report. The report states that “Iran has a substantial [research and development] program on lasers,” but Iran claims not to have an enrichment program. IAEA inspectors visited two sites, one at Ramandeh and the other at Lashkar Ab’ad. Only the latter was identified as having a laser testing facility, but inspectors did not find any activities related to uranium enrichment being conducted there. The IAEA has 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—a request the government is considering. Tehran had previously refused access to these sites.

Other Issues of Concern

The report also says Tehran has provided additional information about its heavy-water reactor program. The government has said it plans to construct a heavy-water research reactor at Arak, where it has also been constructing a heavy-water production plant, starting in 2004. A State Department official interviewed in June said the reactor might be part of a nuclear weapons program because it is too small to contribute significantly to a civilian energy program but could generate plutonium for reprocessing into fissile material.

According to the report, Iran claims the reactor is for producing isotopes for civilian purposes and that its size is appropriate for that purpose. The report, however, notes that Iran did not provide information about hot cells, which the IAEA says it would expect to find at a facility meant to produce isotopes. Hot cells are facilities used in isotope production, but they can also be used in reprocessing spent nuclear reactor fuel. The IAEA has asked Iran to look into the matter further, citing reports that Tehran is attempting to procure equipment used in hot cells.

The report also addresses Iran’s claim that it is building a facility that would convert uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride without having tested it with nuclear material. Iran first told the agency that it obtained design and testing information about the facility from another country but has now admitted that it conducted uranium conversion experiments in the early 1990s, according to the report. An Iranian official announced the facility’s completion in March.

In addition, the August report contains new information about Iran’s conversion of imported uranium tetrafluoride into uranium metal. Tehran has told the IAEA that it had undertaken these conversion experiments because it had once considered constructing a uranium metal-fueled reactor. The United States is especially concerned about this issue because the most likely use Iran would have for uranium metal would be in nuclear warheads, a State Department official said in June.

Excerpts From the IAEA August 26, 2003 Report

D. Findings, Assessments and Next Steps
47. In connection with the nuclear material imported by Iran in 1991, Iran has submitted ICRs, PILs and MBRs, as well as relevant DIQs. The Agency has verified nuclear material presented to it and is currently auditing relevant source data. The issue of depleted uranium in the UF4 remains to be resolved, and the environmental samples taken in connection with the UF6 cylinders need to be analysed. To confirm that the pellet irradiation experiments have been solely for radioisotope production, the Agency has taken samples from the hot cells and lead shielded cells at the laboratories of the Tehran Nuclear Research Centre. The analytical results are not yet available.
48. In its letter of 19 August 2003, Iran acknowledged that it had carried out uranium conversion experiments in the early 1990s, experiments that Iran should have reported in accordance with its obligations under the Safeguards Agreement. Iran has stated, however, that it is taking corrective action in that regard. The Agency will continue its evaluation of the uranium conversion programme.
49. As regards enrichment, and as mentioned earlier, during the meeting of 9–12 August 2003, the Agency team received new information about the chronology and details of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment programme. Agency evaluation of the new information will require, inter alia, an assessment of the various phases of the programme and analysis of environmental samples taken at the Kalaye Electric Company workshop.
50. Additional work is also required to enable the Agency to arrive at conclusions about Iran’s statements that there have been no uranium enrichment activities in Iran involving nuclear material. The Agency intends to continue its assessment of the Iranian statement that the high enriched uranium particles identified in samples taken at Natanz could be attributable to contamination from imported components. As agreed to by Iran, this process will involve discussions in Iran with Iranian officials and staff involved in the R&D efforts and visits by Agency inspectors and enrichment technology experts to facilities and other relevant locations. In that connection, Iran has agreed to provide the Agency with all information about the centrifuge components and other contaminated equipment it obtained from abroad, including their origin and the locations where they have been stored and used in Iran, as well as access to those locations so that the Agency may take environmental samples. It is also essential that the Agency receive information from Member States either from which nuclear related equipment or other assistance relevant to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme has been exported to Iran, or which have information on such assistance.
51. In connection with the Agency’s investigation of Iran’s heavy water reactor programme, the Agency is currently evaluating design information provided on the heavy water reactor.
52. Since the last report was issued, Iran has demonstrated an increased degree of co-operation in relation to the amount and detail of information provided to the Agency and in allowing access requested by the Agency to additional locations and the taking of associated environmental samples. The decision by Iran to start the negotiations with the Agency for the conclusion of an Additional Protocol is also a positive step. However, it should be noted that information and access were at times slow in coming and incremental, and that, as noted above, some of the information was in contrast to that previously provided by Iran. In addition, as also noted above, there remain a number of important outstanding issues, particularly with regard to Iran’s enrichment programme, that require urgent resolution. Continued and accelerated co-operation and full transparency on the part of Iran are essential for the Agency to be in a position to provide at an early date the assurances required by Member States.
53. The Director General will inform the Board of additional developments for its further consideration at the November meeting of the Board, or earlier, as appropriate.

 

 


 

On August 26, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues"...

IAEA to Discuss Advances in Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will hold a crucial meeting on Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities this month to address concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The meeting comes after the agency released an August 26 report saying that “there remain a number of important outstanding issues” about Tehran’s nuclear program that require “urgent resolution.”

That report was the latest in a series of warnings by the IAEA about Tehran’s nuclear activities. Prompted by the United States and other countries, a June IAEA Board of Governors statement called on Iran to resolve concerns created by the government’s failure to report nuclear activities “as required by its safeguards obligations.” The statement specifically called on Tehran to sign an additional protocol to its IAEA Safeguards Agreement and allow the agency to conduct environmental sampling at the Kala Electric Company—a site where Iran might have carried out illegal uranium-enrichment activities. Safeguards agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which Iran ratified in 1970, to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.

The Board’s statement came just after the IAEA issued a report June 6 about Iran’s undeclared nuclear activities. Agency experts have visited Iran several times during the past two months to verify information Iran subsequently provided about these activities.

The United States has long expressed concern that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program—a charge Iran has repeatedly denied. A State Department official interviewed August 28 said that the most recent report provides “further incriminating evidence” of Iran’s violations of its safeguards agreement, adding that the IAEA needs to continue to pursue these matters.

Iran Considers Additional Protocol

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei visited Iran July 9 to urge Tehran to conclude an additional protocol, and a group of IAEA experts followed up on his visit on August 5-6 for further discussions about the matter. Since 1997, the IAEA has encouraged NPT member states to sign an additional protocol, which allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared to the IAEA, in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs.

Although Iran has not yet agreed to sign it, Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said that “Iran views the additional…protocol positively” and will continue discussions with the IAEA, according to an August 13 Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. The discussions are for clarifying details about the protocol, he said. Iran told the agency that Iran is “prepared to begin negotiation with the [IAEA] on the Additional Protocol,” according to the August 26 report.

Iran might have softened its stance on the issue of an additional protocol. Although a June IRNA report stated that Iran was conditioning its signing of the protocol on Western countries lifting restrictions on supplying nuclear technology to Iran, Aghazadeh said August 13 that “conditions are not important.” He implied, however, that Iran still wants access to nuclear technology, suggesting that the policy has not changed substantially. Article IV of the NPT says that states-parties “have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” The United States has laws against exporting dual-use goods and technology to Iran, and Washington has urged Russia to end its assistance for a nuclear program in Iran that Tehran and Moscow claim is for civilian purposes. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

Secretary of State Colin Powell said August 1 that Iran signing the Additional Protocol wouldn’t be sufficient to satisfy Washington’s concerns about that country’s nuclear programs.

 

 




 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will hold a crucial meeting on Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities this month to address concerns that Iran is...

Iran Touts Missile Capability

Wade Boese

In a July military ceremony broadcast on state-run television, Iran announced that the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile is ready for service. If true, the missile, which has an estimated range of up to 1,300 kilometers, could target Israel.

Israel and the United States have long criticized and tried to stop Iran’s ballistic missile programs. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, described the latest development as an “extremely grave concern.”

Iran, which is also assessed by U.S. intelligence as pursuing nuclear weapons and exploring more powerful rockets than the Shahab-3, contends its ballistic missile programs are solely for defensive purposes.

The Shahab-3 is no surprise to Israel and the United States. In an April intelligence report on ballistic missile threats, the United States described the Shahab-3 as being in the “late stages” of development. Appearing July 11 on “John McLaughlin’s One on One,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon said the Iranians “have not perfected the system yet, but they are working very hard on it.”

Beginning in July 1998, the Shahab-3 has reportedly accrued a mixed record in several flight tests, the last of which took place just weeks before the July 20 ceremony. Tehran described the last test as a success.

Much ambiguity still shrouds the missile. The Shahab-3 is modeled in part on North Korea’s Nodong missile, but U.S. government officials refused to comment on whether Iran could indigenously produce the missile. It is also not public how many Shahab-3s might be available for potential use. The Central Intelligence Agency reported in 1999 that Iran probably had a “limited number” of prototype Shahab-3s that could be deployed in an operational mode.

Israel says it is prepared to defend itself against an Iranian ballistic missile attack. Tel Aviv has deployed two batteries of Arrow anti-missile interceptors and is preparing to field another. Built in cooperation with the United States and designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Arrow has yet to be used in battle.

 

 




 

In a July military ceremony broadcast on state-run television, Iran announced that the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile is ready for service...

Turning Iran Away From Nuclear Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

Situated in a rough, nuclear-armed neighborhood, Iran has for more than two decades been on the short list of states with the potential capability and motivation to get the bomb. Troubling revelations make it clear that Iran is now within closer reach of a nuclear weapons-making capacity than previously thought.

With Iran nearing the nuclear weapons crossroads, the international community must redouble its efforts to persuade Tehran’s leaders to accept greater transparency and forego the nuclear weapons route. In the long run, success hinges on whether the United States can fashion a new and more sophisticated strategy to reduce Iran’s incentives to acquire nuclear weapons and increase the benefits of openness and compliance.

Over the years, U.S. policymakers have successfully used the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to conduct special inspections in Iran and further limit Iran’s access to sensitive nuclear technologies. But recent site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prompted Iran to reveal that it is pursuing a very extensive array of nuclear projects, including uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz that could provide the ingredients for nuclear weapons.

The leaders of oil-rich Iran claim that the projects are strictly for “peaceful” uses and will remain under IAEA safeguards which guard against diversion for military purposes. But without Iranian acceptance of a more intrusive inspection protocol, the IAEA cannot determine whether additional, undeclared nuclear capabilities exist or whether Iran has already enriched uranium, a step that would violate its NPT obligations.

With increased attention focused on its intentions, Iran’s wisest course would be to promptly dispel doubts by signing up to the Additional Protocol and providing the IAEA with honest answers to its inquiries. Without such cooperation, the European Union should delay the establishment of closer economic ties and Russia should withhold further technical assistance on the current light-water reactor project at Bushehr.

U.S. efforts to gain Iran’s support for the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and for reducing Russia’s nuclear assistance are vital but insufficient. Even with greater transparency under the Additional Protocol and strict compliance with the NPT, Iran may still have the capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material within the decade, and it might withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons.

Ultimately, Iran’s leaders will decide whether to pursue the nuclear weapons path, but the United States can help affect that decision and avoid the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. To do so, Washington must finally address the factors that could encourage Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

To begin, the president and his aides must refrain from inflaming Iranian nationalism with bellicose threats and demands. Such statements, along with the inclusion of Iran in the administration’s “axis of evil,” only increase Iranian perceptions of insecurity. They reinforce arguments from hardline clerical leaders in Iran who wrongly believe that nuclear weapons enhance their national prestige, help counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal, and balance U.S. conventional forces deployed in the region.

The value of nuclear weapons for Iran is illusory. They would undermine rather than enhance Iran’s security by increasing the threat of pre-emptive attack from nuclear-armed Israel or the United States. Some Iranian leaders appear to recognize this reality. In 2002, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian defense minister, said, “The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.”

As long as U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy in the region is solely trained on denying Iran nuclear weapons while overlooking NPT outliers such as Israel, Iranian leaders are likely to ensure that they are in a position to produce nuclear weapons relatively quickly, despite the costs. Instead, the United States should convey assurances rather than threats.

One important step would be to clarify to Iran that neither the United States nor Israel will initiate a military attack as long as it does not acquire nuclear weapons, support terrorism, or threaten Israel’s existence. Washington should also reaffirm its longstanding commitment to support a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free-zone.

Iran’s nuclear activities create difficult challenges that defy quick military solutions and will require steadfast and multifaceted diplomacy. The NPT’s safeguards have their limitations, but they provide the fundamental legal and technical basis for preventing proliferation in Iran and elsewhere. Not only must Iran abide by its commitments, but the United States must also adopt a more consistent nonproliferation policy that reinforces the view within Iran that it does not need and will not benefit from nuclear weapons.

 

IAEA Presses Iran to Comply With Nuclear Safeguards

Paul Kerr

Increasing pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors issued a statement June 19 expressing “concern” that Tehran has failed to report nuclear “material, facilities, and activities as required by its safeguards obligations.”

The statement stops short of saying that Iran is in violation of its safeguards agreement. Such agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. But the board urged Iran to remedy its failures and “resolve” open questions about its nuclear activities.

The board also called on Iran to conclude and implement an Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement. The Additional Protocol would provide for more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities Iran has not declared to the IAEA, to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The foreign ministers of the European Union also called on Iran to conclude the agreement in a June 16 statement. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The United States, which welcomed the board’s statement, has long had concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and has objected to Russia’s construction of a light-water reactor at Bushehr. Those concerns were exacerbated last August, when an Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility at the Iranian town of Natanz and a heavy-water reactor program at Arak. Washington publicly confirmed the existence of those facilities in December, and Tehran has since declared that it is mining uranium and pursuing a complete nuclear-fuel cycle. (See ACT, March 2003.) Iran maintains that it is not developing nuclear weapons and that its nuclear program is for producing energy, but the United States has repeatedly dismissed this explanation.

The Board of Governors statement that Iran has engaged in clandestine nuclear activity has heightened concern about the situation. The statement was based on a June 6 IAEA report, produced as the result of a series of inspections in Iran, and a February visit by the agency’s director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei.

The report identified several areas in which Iran has not complied with its safeguards agreement: Tehran failed to disclose its importation of nuclear material; the use of that material in various nuclear activities; and the facilities where the material, as well as nuclear waste, was stored and processed. The report acknowledged that Iran has now declared much of this activity and provided some relevant information about the facilities in question but said, “The process of verifying the correctness and completeness of the Iranian declarations is still ongoing.”

The Specifics

Among the report’s chief findings was that Iran imported 1,800 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride, uranium tetrafluoride, and uranium dioxide in 1991, an action it never reported to the IAEA. Iran acknowledged the imports but says it did not believe it was obligated to report such a small quantity of material. The report stated that Iran was, in fact, obligated to do so. China supplied the material, a State Department official said last month. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Significantly, the report said that some of the uranium hexafluoride—the material introduced into gas centrifuges for processing into reactor-grade fuel—has not been accounted for, suggesting that Iran has been pursuing covert nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement. Although the matter is still under investigation, a State Department official interviewed June 19 said that Iran may have used some of the material to test centrifuges in its uranium enrichment program at Natanz. Uranium enrichment has civilian applications, but it can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

During his February visit, ElBaradei discovered that the Natanz facility, which consists of a pilot plant and a larger commercial plant, was more advanced than the agency had realized. Iran told the IAEA that the pilot enrichment plant is scheduled to start operating in June 2003 and that centrifuges are to be placed in the commercial plant starting in early 2005. The pilot plant, which had more than 100 centrifuges installed when ElBaradei visited the facility in February, is to contain 1,000 centrifuges by the end of 2003. The commercial plant will ultimately contain “over 50,000 centrifuges,” enough to produce fissile material for at least 25 nuclear weapons per year.

Constructing the centrifuges and facility buildings has not violated Iran’s safeguards agreement, but testing the centrifuges without declaring such tests to the IAEA would. According to the IAEA report, Iran has denied doing so, claiming that it tested the centrifuges via simulations. The State Department official called Iran’s explanation “extremely implausible,” adding that there is no precedent for testing centrifuges through simulations.

The question could be resolved through further examination of a site known as the Kala Electric company, where, according to the June report, Tehran acknowledged that it had produced “centrifuge components.” The IAEA asked to conduct inspections and environmental sampling to verify “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” which would help determine if Iran has tested centrifuges with nuclear material. After some hesitation, Iranian officials allowed the inspectors to visit the facility but have not yet allowed environmental sampling.

Additionally, the report provided details about Iran’s heavy-water reactor program. Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh publicly disclosed the program in a speech the day after Iran notified the IAEA in a May 5 letter that it plans to construct a heavy-water research reactor at Arak. Construction of the reactor is to start in 2004. Iran has also been constructing a heavy-water production plant at Arak. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The State Department official said the reactor may be part of a nuclear weapons program because its small size will not contribute significantly to a civilian energy program (it will produce only 40 megawatts) but could generate plutonium for reprocessing into fissile material. Another State Department official interviewed in May said heavy-water reactors pose a greater proliferation risk than the proliferation-resistant light-water reactor being built at Bushehr because their spent fuel is easier to reprocess into weapons-grade plutonium. Additionally the Iranian reactor’s design uses natural uranium for nuclear fuel, which will allow Iran to bypass the uranium-enrichment process and use indigenous uranium. It could also complicate efforts to monitor the diversion of nuclear fuel.

The report also provided a number of other pieces of information that Iran had not previously made public: In addition to the gas centrifuge program, Iran has acknowledged “a substantial” laser-based uranium enrichment program, which the IAEA is also investigating. The IAEA report also questioned Iran’s claim that it is building a facility that would convert uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride without having tested it with nuclear material. Finally, the report added that Iran told the agency it converted most of the imported uranium tetrafluoride into uranium metal in 2000, although neither of Iran’s nuclear reactor programs require the material for fuel. The State Department official said that, under these circumstances, the main use of uranium metal would be for nuclear warheads. The IAEA is continuing to investigate the matter, the report said.

Next Steps

The IAEA is continuing its investigation into Iran’s nuclear program. The June 19 Board of Governors statement said that the IAEA expects “Iran to grant…all access deemed necessary by the Agency” to alleviate concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and to allow inspectors to take environmental samples at the Kala company. The board also requested that Iran refrain from introducing nuclear material into the centrifuges at the pilot enrichment plant “pending the resolution” of other issues surrounding the nuclear program.

Although President George W. Bush stated June 18 that the United States “will not tolerate” an Iranian nuclear weapon, the United States appears willing to let the IAEA take the lead for now. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said June 19 that the United States “welcomes” the June 6 report, and a State Department official interviewed June 19 said that the United States is awaiting the results of further IAEA investigations, which will be discussed at an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in September.

Whether Iran will cooperate with the IAEA, however, is another matter. An Iranian government spokesman stated that Iran welcomes “any measure for confidence building among the international community for peaceful use” of nuclear energy, according to a June 23 Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. But Aghazadeh left doubts about the extent of this cooperation. Although saying that Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA would be “comprehensive” and “at a level acceptable to the agency,” Aghazadeh added that Iran would go ahead with its plans to enrich uranium, according to a June 22 Associated Press report. Additionally, he suggested during a June 20 Iranian television broadcast that Iran would not permit environmental sampling at the Kala company.

Tehran’s position on the Additional Protocol is also unclear. Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists during a June 20 press conference that Iran “plans to sign” the Additional Protocol, but a June 23 IRNA report stated that Iran continues to condition its signing of the protocol on Western countries lifting restrictions on supplying nuclear technology to Iran. U.S. economic sanctions on Iran are an example of such restrictions.

Moscow continues to work on the Bushehr reactor—now expected to be finished in 2004, according to IRNA—and Russian officials have said that they may build more reactors in Iran. Russia has agreed to provide fuel for the reactor, with the condition that Iran sign an agreement to return the spent fuel, but this agreement has not yet been concluded. Indeed, Russia appears to be increasingly concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities and may even condition the delivery of the Bushehr fuel on Tehran’s conclusion of an Additional Protocol, although Russian officials have issued conflicting statements on this matter.

Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev June 20 as saying that Russia will only deliver the reactor fuel if Iran “places under IAEA control all of its nuclear facilities and answers the [agency’s] questions.” A State Department official told Arms Control Today June 26 that Washington interprets this ambiguous statement to mean that the fuel delivery is conditioned on the conclusion of the Additional Protocol. The Bush administration intends to hold Moscow to that interpretation, he added.

But Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov indicated in a June 6 interview with Vremya Novostei that a Russian agreement to supply fuel to the Bushehr reactor is not related to whether Iran signs the Additional Protocol.

Although Iran and Russia say the Bushehr reactor will operate under IAEA safeguards when finished, Washington has long opposed the project out of concern that Iran will gain access to dual-use technology that can aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program. Undersecretary of State John Bolton articulated another objection to the Bushehr project during a June 4 hearing before the House International Relations Committee. He argued that Iran could build “over 80 nuclear weapons” if it had access to sufficient fuel, operated the reactor for 5-6 years, and chose to withdraw from the NPT.

Russia’s provision of fuel for Bushehr is related to U.S. concerns about Iran’s fuel cycle ambitions. The United States has argued that Iran has no need to develop a complete fuel cycle if it will receive fuel from Russia. Although Iran has countered by saying it cannot rely on foreign suppliers, the State Department official said June 19 that Iran’s known uranium reserves are insufficient to support a civilian nuclear program, but are enough to supply material for more than 100 nuclear weapons.

 

Increasing pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors issued a statement...

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