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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Peter Crail

IAEA to Detail Iran's Alleged Warhead Work

Peter Crail

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Sept. 12 that he would soon “set out in greater detail” the basis for IAEA concerns regarding suspected Iranian work to develop a nuclear warhead. The IAEA has expressed frustration over the past three years that its efforts to investigate such suspicions have been stonewalled by Iran, which maintains that charges of warhead development are “baseless and false.”

A Sept. 2 IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program said that the agency was “increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities…including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.” The report said that the agency continues to receive new information regarding such activities from “many member states” and from its own investigation and that such information is “broadly consistent and credible in terms of technical detail, the time frame in which these activities were conducted and the people and organisations involved.”

For the past several months, the United States has called on Amano to provide his “best assessment” of the evidence of Iran’s suspected warhead development work. (See ACT, July/August 2011.) In a Sept. 14 statement to the board, U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies said the only way for Iran to resolve the issues is through Tehran’s “complete, immediate, and expansive cooperation.”

In June, Amano provided such an assessment of suspicions that Syria was building an undeclared nuclear reactor in support of a nuclear weapons program, a judgment that resulted in the IAEA board’s referral of Syria to the UN Security Council for further action. (See ACT, July/August 2011.) Many countries serving on the board, however, questioned the legitimacy of the referral.

Former IAEA safeguards chief Olli Heinonen told an Atlantic Council audience Sept. 15 that it would be “groundbreaking” if Amano made such an assessment of Iran. Heinonen noted the challenges of piecing together many of the weapons-related activities Iran is believed to have pursued and drawing a clear conclusion. “We just see symptoms which are worrisome,” he said, rather than a Manhattan Project-style effort in which “the entire program is laid out in front of you in a project chart.”

He also said that, for Amano to make a judgment about Iran’s suspected weaponization efforts, he would also need to determine whether the work is part of a program dedicated to building a nuclear weapon or is an effort to slowly collect all of the expertise and technical base to build a nuclear weapon if the decision were made to do so.

According to Heinonen, the best way for the IAEA to get to the bottom of the nature of Iran’s suspected warhead work “would be to talk to the people who really know,” adding that “there may only be a handful of people who really know the goal of the program.”

The agency’s Sept. 2 report said that the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program were discussed by the agency and Iranian officials over the past several months, but it did not provide any further detail. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, said in a Sept. 6 interview that Iran hoped that those discussions would continue (see page 8).

Centrifuges Installed at Fordow

The IAEA report also said that, for the first time, Iran has begun installing centrifuges at its Fordow uranium-enrichment plant, a facility that was first publicly revealed by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States in 2009 and that Iran failed to declare to the IAEA until that year.

Last June, Iran announced that it would soon begin using the plant to produce uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 to produce fuel for research reactors and that it would triple such production through the use of more-advanced centrifuge designs it has been developing. The Sept. 2 IAEA report said that as of Aug. 20, Iran had installed one of two centrifuge cascades designated for the production of 20 percent-enriched uranium. A cascade is a series of interlinked centrifuges.

Although the report did not specify the type of machine being installed, diplomatic sources confirmed that the centrifuges are IR-1 machines, a crash-prone design Iran currently uses at its commercial-scale Natanz enrichment plant. The improved designs Iran has been developing, called the IR-2m and IR-4, are believed to enrich uranium three times faster than the IR-1.

The advanced designs Iran intended to install at the Fordow plant appear to be in the final stages of testing and development. Iran told the IAEA in January that it would install two 164-centrifuge cascades at its Natanz pilot plant, one for each of the new centrifuge designs. (See ACT, March 2011.) The recent IAEA report said that such installation remained ongoing as of late August, with roughly half of the machines installed. Iran has been testing smaller cascades of the newer designs for some time, but it is not known to have operated a full set of machines.

Centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning at high speeds to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 in a uranium-based gas. Most nuclear power reactors run on uranium enriched to about 4 percent U-235 while weapons-grade levels are generally around 90 percent. Davies said in his Sept. 14 statement that “it is important to keep in mind that production of near-20 percent [enriched uranium] completes 90 percent of the work necessary for production of highly enriched uranium,” used for weapons. He added that should Iran decide to use its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched material to produce weapons-grade uranium quickly, IAEA safeguards might provide “some warning...but that will come too late.”

Iran says that it is producing uranium enriched to 20 percent U-235 both for its Tehran Research Reactor, which is running short of fuel, and for additional research reactors it would like to build. In the Sept. 6 interview, Soltanieh said the medical isotopes produced in these reactors would not only be used for domestic demand, but also would be exported to other countries in the region. The IAEA has sought clarification of Iran’s plans to construct additional reactors, but Iran has not been forthcoming. Iran is also not believed to be capable of safely producing fuel for the Tehran reactor. The recent IAEA report said that as of Aug. 10, Iran had not yet installed equipment to fabricate the reactor fuel but had produced a fuel rod that would be shipped to the reactor for testing.

In 2009, Iran agreed “in principle” to a U.S.-initiated plan under which Iran would ship out most of its 4 percent-enriched uranium in return for fuel for the Tehran reactor, but rejected it shortly thereafter. The two sides have since been at odds over details of the proposal. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Fereydoun Abbasi Aug. 29 as saying that Iran would no longer negotiate over the so-called fuel-swap, stating, “The United States is not a safe country with which we can negotiate a fuel swap or any other issue.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, contradicted this stand in a Sept. 13 Washington Post interview, stating that Iran’s production of 20 percent-enriched uranium would be halted if it received fuel for the reactor.

Iran’s decision to produce 20 percent-enriched uranium at its Fordow plant is the second time that Tehran has formally revised its intentions for the facility, which Iran originally claimed was a pilot plant that would carry out research and development (R&D) and enrich uranium to up to 5 percent U-235.

Western governments have charged that the facility was constructed as part of a weapons program, declaring it “inconsistent with a peaceful program.” (See ACT, October 2009.) Since the facility was first revealed in 2009, the IAEA has asked Iran to provide information that would allow the agency to clarify details regarding its construction, including its original purpose, its timing, and the decision to build the facility on an existing military site. The Sept. 2 IAEA report said that Iran has provided some information since the agency’s last report in May but that additional information is still needed.

Iran also appears to have postponed a 2009 decision to construct 10 additional uranium-enrichment plants. In the Aug. 29 article, IRNA quoted Abbasi as saying that Iran would not need such facilities for the next two years. Iran announced last year that studies on the location of the 10 new sites had been completed and that construction of the first such site would begin early this year. Soltanieh said in the interview that this was an “updated decision” determined on the basis of “the political environment of the whole world and also the technical requirements.”

IAEA Visits Centrifuge Workshop

Prior to the week-long IAEA board meeting, Iran allowed agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts access to additional facilities that the IAEA has not been able to visit on a regular basis, including an R&D facility for its improved centrifuges and the site of a heavy-water plant and a heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak. IAEA officials welcomed this development, and Amano told the agency’s board Sept. 12, “Iran demonstrated greater transparency than on previous occasions.” It was the first time the agency has been able to inspect the heavy-water production facility since 2005.

Iranian officials have described such access as a significant level of transparency. In the Sept. 6 interview, Soltanieh said that, by allowing access to the centrifuge R&D workshops, Iran was doing something “unprecedented in the history of the IAEA.”

Heinonen, however, in his Atlantic Council comments said the additional access Iran provided did not qualify as a major improvement in transparency. Referring to the IAEA’s access to the centrifuge R&D site, he said, “This kind of workshop visit is a very limited addition to what you need to know,” stressing that visiting the facility is not enough and that measures such as discussions with technicians are needed to get a full accounting of the role such facilities play in Iran’s nuclear program.

Heinonen also noted that Iran is already legally obligated to allow inspections of the other sites Iran allowed Nackaerts to visit.

Western governments have expressed concern that the Arak heavy-water reactor is far better suited for plutonium production for nuclear weapons than for the production of medical isotopes Iran claims the plant is intended to make.

According to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Abbasi said Sept. 5 that Iran was prepared to allow the IAEA “full supervision” over its nuclear activities for a period of time if sanctions were removed. “We have proposed that the agency keep Iran’s activities and nuclear program under full supervision for five years, providing the sanctions are lifted,” ISNA quoted him as saying. Abbasi indicated, however, that such supervision would not include implementing an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which provides the agency with more extensive access to all nuclear-related facilities. Soltanieh said in the interview that Iran demonstrated such “full transparency” during the visit by Nackaerts. “If you say, which one first, which one next, we have already taken this step.” He added, “Now it is their turn” to take action by lifting sanctions.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Sept. 12 that he would soon “set out in greater detail” the basis for IAEA concerns regarding suspected Iranian work to develop a nuclear warhead. The IAEA has expressed frustration over the past three years that its efforts to investigate such suspicions have been stonewalled by Iran, which maintains that charges of warhead development are “baseless and false.”

Syria Pledges IAEA Cooperation Again

Peter Crail

Syria is ready to agree on a plan with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address concerns about a site the agency determined was “very likely” a nuclear reactor, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Sept. 12.

The IAEA Board of Governors referred Syria to the UN Security Council in June for noncompliance with its safeguards obligations following the agency’s assessment that Syria should have declared the alleged reactor to the IAEA. (See ACT, July/August 2011.) Israel destroyed the facility, located at a site called Dair al Zour, in 2007. (See ACT, October 2007.) Damascus has claimed the site was a non-nuclear military facility.

According to Amano, Syria said in an Aug. 24 letter that it was willing to meet with agency safeguards staff in October “to agree on an action plan to resolve the outstanding issues in regard to [the] Dair al Zour site.” He added that the IAEA responded with proposed meeting dates of Oct. 10-11. The agency’s latest report on Syria in May said that Damascus “has not engaged substantively” with the IAEA on the nature of the Dair al Zour facility since June 2008, when Syria allowed the only inspection of the site.

Syria similarly promised in May to cooperate fully with the agency’s investigation into its suspected illicit nuclear activities, prior to its referral to the council. Although Amano noted in his statement that the agency has held a number of meetings with Syria since that time, diplomatic sources said that Damascus had not provided the pledged cooperation.

In a Sept. 14 statement to the IAEA board, U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies said, “We deeply regret that Syria has made no substantive effort to remedy its noncompliance” since the board action in June.

Syria is ready to agree on a plan with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address concerns about a site the agency determined was “very likely” a nuclear reactor, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Sept. 12.

Representing Iran at the IAEA: Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh Speaks with Arms Control Today

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For Immediate Release: Sept. 27, 2011

Media Contacts: Peter Crail, Nonproliferation Analyst, Arms Control Association (202-463-8270 ext. 102);  

(Washington, D.C.) -- In the midst of proposals for renewing international talks with Iran over the nuclear issue and ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) quarterly board meeting in which Iran's cooperation with the agency would again come under fire, Arms Control Today (ACT) interviewed Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA, about the current impasse.

As Iran's IAEA envoy, Ambassador Soltanieh deals directly with the Iran nuclear controversy and with an agency whose relations with Tehran appear to be increasingly tense. During the IAEA's Sept. 12-16 board meeting, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said he planned to detail suspicions that Iran has been engaged in work to develop a nuclear warhead, potentially bringing the issue to a head at the next board meeting in November.

Ambassador Soltanieh defends his government's cooperation with the IAEA, stressing Iran's greater openness during a recent IAEA inspection, while objecting to the notion of increasing transparency under the threat of sanctions.

He also touches on recent diplomatic initiatives, including an Iranian offer of "full supervision" over its nuclear program by the IAEA for five years if sanctions were lifted, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's claim that Iran can continue to enrich uranium in the future after addressing international concerns.

Finally, the Ambassador provides some additional details on Iran's future nuclear plans, including the decision not to construct more enrichment facilities for the time being, and the rationale behind ramping up the production of 20%-enriched uranium at the new Fordow plant.

The full interview is available on the Arms Control Association website.

Select portions will also appear in the October issue of Arms Control Today.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to addressing the challenges posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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In the midst of proposals for renewing international talks with Iran over the nuclear issue and ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) quarterly board meeting in which Iran's cooperation with the agency would again come under fire, Arms Control Today (ACT) interviewed Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA, about the current impasse.

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Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Interview with Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh

Interviewed by Peter Crail

Ali Asghar Soltanieh has served since 2006 as Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A nuclear physicist by training, he has held numerous diplomatic positions dealing with nuclear and other nonconventional weapons.

Soltanieh spoke with Arms Control Today on September 6 by telephone from his office in Vienna. The interview touched on many of the controversies surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and IAEA access to facilities that are part of the program.

The interview was transcribed by Kelsey Davenport. It has been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: On the diplomatic front, all of the countries involved in the nuclear impasse have said that they are committed to a diplomatic resolution. But attempts have not been successful so far. Russia has recently discussed with your country a proposal to revive negotiations, and your ambassador in Moscow had said that Iran accepted the generalities of that proposal. What aspect of the proposal does Iran accept, and what aspects would need additional consideration?

Soltanieh: As my foreign minister said after the meeting with his Russian counterpart, we have welcomed the initiative, and we are studying this proposal. In my country, officials are studying it and will reflect appropriately. This is outside the domain of my responsibility being the permanent representative to all international organizations [in Vienna], including the IAEA. But at least I can repeat what the position is, that we have already welcomed this initiative and we are considering it carefully, the proposal. At the same time, I have to say what has happened recently in the context of the IAEA is the visit of the deputy director-general, Mr. [Herman] Nackaerts. I also accompanied him to Iran for a one-week visit to all nuclear installations and also talks with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization [of Iran (AEOI)] and the vice president of Iran, which in fact were the biggest step toward transparency and cooperation. Therefore, we have in fact started this process of taking a step in a proactive approach, and therefore we are waiting to see what the steps are from the other side. We expect that this biggest step of cooperation from our side would be welcomed, and we would be encouraged to take further steps.

ACT: You mentioned the recent visit by Mr. Nackaerts, and I understand that, during that visit, Iran provided access to some additional sites that previously the IAEA had not been allowed to visit with regularity. What was the rationale for allowing those visits?

Soltanieh: First of all, we had decided to make sure that the [IAEA] and the Department of Safeguards and Mr. Nackaerts, who was visiting in his capacity as deputy director-general for the first time, would have a sort of blank check. As I mentioned at the beginning of the visit, he can go wherever he wants, and in fact it happened. When we were visiting the sites that are declared and normally inspected by inspectors, he requested possibly that he could see the production of the heavy-water plant. Therefore I got the approval of my authorities. Therefore, he was able to, with his deputies accompanying him, visit that plant. This was for the first time after some years; the reason we didn’t see and we still don’t see an obligation [to provide such access routinely] is because the heavy-water plant, for example, is covered by the additional protocol, and we are not implementing the additional protocol any more, since the UN Security Council is involved in this matter. So that was one of the things.

Also, of course, during his visit, he requested that we grant access to see the R&D, research and development, on the advanced centrifuges. It was a very, very difficult decision. But I am proud and grateful to inform you that my authorities finally agreed, and he visited the R&D [facilities], and he was able to see all the advances in research and development on different generations of centrifuges. He also had the opportunity to see the workshop as well as the simulation activities. I declared that nobody in the whole world has shown these centrifuges and R&D to the inspectors of the IAEA. Even in EURATOM [European Atomic Energy Community], they are not showing [such facilities to] the inspectors of EURATOM in Europe. Therefore, we have done something unprecedented in the history of IAEA; and I hope that, with this biggest step, which is 100 percent transparency, we have given a strong message to all involved, particularly those who have been negotiating with us, the P5+1[the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany]. Also [I hope] that they receive this message, that if there is no language of threat, sanctions, or this sort of obsolete policy of carrot and stick, that if the approach is of a logical, civilized request in a very friendly, cooperative environment, then the answer is yes. I have said previously in one of these interviews, that if you tell Iranians that they must do something, then they will say no with a loud voice. But if you say please do so, the answer is yes, or we will try our best. That is what has happened during this visit.

ACT: You had said that the visits to the R&D facilities were unprecedented. My understanding is that the agency did have access to certain R&D facilities when Iran was implementing the additional protocol. Is that correct?

Soltanieh: The last time was when [IAEA Deputy Director-General] Mr. [Olli] Heinonen and [IAEA Director-General] Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei, in [ElBaradei’s] last visit in October 2009, had the chance to visit the R&D [facilities], yes. That was also a sign of maximum cooperation transparency. [We agreed to] the request of Mr. ElBaradei to visit the R&D facilities―though Iran is not implementing the additional protocol or 3.1 modified code[1]―as a sign of cooperation beyond its legal obligation. Unfortunately, soon after such a big step, when [ElBaradei] was back in Vienna, there was another resolution in the Security Council. Therefore, we found out that no matter how much we cooperate, those who have a hidden agenda, a political agenda, are not cooperating and are just following different tracks. That is what my strong and clear message this time is. Hopefully, all countries and the IAEA [will] show maximum vigilance to protect this new trend of cooperation transparency, and we will not be faced with disappointing words or actions that will disappoint us for continuing such cooperation and transparent measures even beyond our legal obligation as we did during his last visit.

ACT: On the issue of transparency, [AEOI director] Mr. [Fereydoun] Abbasi said recently that Iran would be ready to grant the agency full supervision over its nuclear activities for five years if UN sanctions were lifted. Can you provide any further details on this proposal, and what full supervision would mean?

Soltanieh: We always have had safeguards applied in Iran under the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] comprehensive safeguards, and everything has been under control by the IAEA. But at the same time, the nuance in the direction of what we have done during [Nackaerts’] visit means that we are ready to cooperate fully with the agency and help that they not have any ambiguity about the exclusively peaceful nature of our activity, provided that we are not facing punitive actions, including sanctions.

ACT: Just to be clear, so is Iran saying that sanctions would have to be lifted first, before that full supervision would be allowed?

Soltanieh: Well of course, as I said, this is the expectation. And we have already taken the step in fact—if you say, which one first, which one next, we have already taken this step. Now it is their turn.

ACT: On the critical issue of enrichment, Iran has often said that it would not give up enrichment. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said publicly that Iran would have the right to enrichment under IAEA inspections at some future date, but only after it had addressed international concerns about its nuclear program. Now if Iran’s primary concern is about what it calls its nuclear rights, why hasn’t Iran been willing to negotiate with the P5+1 with the understanding outlined by Secretary Clinton?

Soltanieh: You see there is a dilemma here. First of all, the inalienable right of the countries for the peaceful use of nuclear energy including fuel cycle and enrichment, that is already in the statute of the IAEA and NPT Article IV.[2] Therefore, the recognition is already there. The only thing that we always said and expect is not to create obstacles for us or any other country to benefit from these inalienable rights enshrined in the statute and the NPT. Calling for suspension is in fact a violation of that right and a violation of the spirit and letter of the statute.

I just want you and your distinguished readers to go to the NPT text and IAEA statute. You can never find in any of these documents the notion of suspension. Suspension was invented for Iran, and the verification of suspension was invented for Iran. Therefore, according to these legal documents, nobody could say to any country that you should suspend your nuclear activities. The only thing is that the IAEA should verify the declaration by member states and monitor and control those activities to make sure that there is no diversion toward military or prohibited purposes. That is exactly what we want. Therefore if the United States or other countries understand that they should not contradict themselves with these principles and international legal documents, then we are in the same boat and the same place. We should have the same understanding of what we are talking about.

The P5+1 negotiation also—in a statement, [Iranian chief nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Saeed] Jalili clearly mentions that this is a matter of principle. Why don’t you announce that both of us are respecting this principle? The second principle is that if we want to negotiate and talk to each other, toward confidence building or further cooperation and strengthening our understanding of cooperation, then there should not be the language of threats or sanctions or punitive action. These are contradicting each other. The same thing that I said, the language of carrot and stick is the language applied to the animals and is humiliation for all countries, including mine, with thousands of years of civilization.

ACT: Now you mentioned that the NPT does talk about the rights to peaceful uses. Doesn’t it also talk about responsibilities for states to adhere to IAEA safeguards? It seems that the IAEA has not been satisfied with Iranian cooperation to date.

Soltanieh: I am 100 percent in agreement with you that, in the NPT, rights and obligations go side by side. I agree with that. But according to the NPT, we do have a comprehensive safeguards agreement, which is documented in INFCIRC/153, the model [safeguards] agreement [for NPT non-nuclear-weapon states]. And of course for Iran, that is [INFCIRC/] 214. According to legal obligations, we are fully compl[ying with] and fully committed to it. But the situation now, which is very unfortunate and disappointing, is that the IAEA is in fact referring to the Security Council resolutions and asks [for] additional access or requests beyond the NPT comprehensive documents. And that is the problem. We do not consider it a legal basis for the UN Security Council resolution. On many occasions, I have mentioned, particularly in the board of governors of the IAEA, I have proved to the whole world that these are legal documents, that the UN Security Council has no legal basis. [There are f]ive clear reasons that I want you to record and reflect to your distinguished readers, so that they know exactly why we are not implementing the UN Security Council resolution.

The first reason is, according to Article XII.C of the [IAEA] statue, the noncompliance of a member state should be recognized by inspectors, because the inspector has the access to the places, the materials, confidential information, and individuals.[3] Then if they report noncompliance to the director-general, the director-general then should refer [the matter] to the board of governors. But in the case of Iran, after years of negotiation between the EU-3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, a group that later was expanded into the P5+1] and Iran and robust inspections, then in 2006, some diplomats, European and Americans, being on the board of governors, themselves judged that there was noncompliance before 2003. Therefore, this is in 100 percent contravention with the statute, [Article] XII.C. That is one reason.

The second reason is that, in Article XII.C, it says that the country that is referred to the Security Council is the recipient country. It means that when this article was written decades ago, for the country that is receiving nuclear materials and equipment from the IAEA and misuses it for nonpeaceful purposes, that is noncompliance. That is why this article says that the recipient country should be referred to the Security Council and that the country should return the equipment or materials to the IAEA. But in the case of Iran, this is not applied because we were not the recipient country of nuclear materials or equipment for Natanz enrichment or other activities.

The third reason that the Security Council has no legal basis is that the country’s issue should be referred to the Security Council if there is proof of diversion of nuclear material to military or prohibited purposes. In the old reports of the IAEA, under the former director-general ElBaradei and [Yukiya] Amano, the new director-general, you see this language that says that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear materials to prohibited purposes. Therefore, this does not apply to Iran.

The fourth reason is that if there are obstacles for inspectors to go to a country, for example North Korea, when the inspectors were not permitted to [go], then this matter should be sent to New York. But in the case of Iran, you can see in all the reports of the director-general over the last eight years that the director-general says that the IAEA is able to continue its verification in Iran. It means that there have been no obstacles whatsoever for inspectors to come to Iran. That is the fourth reason.

The fifth reason is very important and, in fact, pressing and very disappointing. In the resolutions of the EU-3 in the board of governors, before this matter was sent to New York or New York was involved, the Security Council in their own resolution, they confess, confirm that the suspension of enrichment was a non-legally binding, confidence-building, and volunteer measure. If this is non-legally binding, then how come that, after two and a half years, we stopped the suspension, then they turned to the board of governors and said that Iran has violated its obligation and is not legal, [that] Iran should continue its suspension? They admit themselves that it is not legally binding.

Because of these five reasons, the resolution of the board of governors sending this matter to New York and the UN Security Council resolution have no legal basis, and Iran has not implemented, has not applied, and will not implement this resolution because there is no legal basis.

There is another problem, a technical problem, which says that reprocessing should be in breach, but if you read Amano’s report this week, it says there are no reprocessing activities in Iran. How can we suspend what does not exist in Iran? These are the legal and technical problems of this resolution.

ACT: On the suspension issue, looking at it from another angle, Iran has an agreement with Russia for fuel for the Bushehr reactor for the next 10 years. Is it possible that Iran can simply decide for itself that it does not need further enriched uranium in the near term and address international concerns and then start enriching again once it has a need to?

Soltanieh: Please bear in mind that, for the Bushehr power plant, we have only received the first [fuel] load, which is roughly 80 [metric] tons, and after one year we [will] need another 28 tons or so. We do not have any guarantee or any agreement for another five years or the 30 years of its work. Having said so, we have also a lot of experiences of confidence deficits in the past. You know that, for the [Tehran] Research Reactor [TRR], we paid over $2 million to the Americans before the [1979 Iranian] Revolution for new fuel, but we received neither the fuel nor the money after the revolution. Then we got the fuel from Argentina. Now this fuel is going to be finished and burned up. It is over two years that we have had discussions with this so-called Vienna Group—the Americans, French, and Russians in the IAEA—when ElBaradei was chairing the meeting. After two years, we have not received the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Even if we made a historic concession following a recent initiative with our friends from Brazil and Turkey and we made an agreement [in] the Tehran Declaration that we give them not only the money [but also] 1,200 kilograms of uranium and send it to Turkey, [the Vienna Group countries] have not shown any flexibility, and they have not come to the negotiating table. So we do not have any other choice, because of all these confidence deficits, but to continue our enrichment, of course under the political safeguards of [the] IAEA.

ACT: You mentioned the Tehran Research Reactor. Iranian officials have recently said that Iran has produced essentially enough 20 percent enriched uranium for the TRR but that it would continue to produce 20 percent enriched uranium for reactors that Iran intends to build in the future. How much 20 percent material does Iran intend to produce?

Soltanieh: So far, according to this report of the IAEA, we have produced 70.8 kilograms. You know that if we had the negotiations [leading to a] successful agreement made by the Vienna Group, we were expecting to receive under that contract roughly 120 kilograms, the same amount that we received from Argentina over 10 years back. But during past years, the reactor was not working full days, full weeks, and [at] full power. Therefore, we were able to have that amount of material for about 10 years or so. But with these existing demands of the hospitals, one million patients almost, we need to produce almost weekly, this material is perhaps the maximum four or five years. Therefore, we have to make sure that we would not have any fuel shortage.

Apart from [the TRR], we have been intending to have other reactors in Iran because unfortunately we have had many problems in receiving the radioisotope from some countries that have the monopoly. I remind you that, in the last two or three years, the world has faced the molybdenum crisis because of the Canadian reactors having problems, and others. These humanitarian aspects cannot be ignored. Therefore, we want our reactors to be able to produce [amounts large enough to meet] the demand. If we would be successful producing radioisotopes in large amounts, we have officially announced publicly that we would produce and give the radioactive isotope needed in neighboring countries in the region also.

ACT: How much fuel does the TRR have left, or how much longer is the TRR able to run?

Soltanieh: It is not working six days a week or so because we have to be cautious; we do not want to run out. We try to at least have some sort of continuity of producing radioactive isotopes. I don’t know exactly, but the time is running out. We have to speed up the production of fuel. But as you noticed, it was also in the IAEA report, we have had some achievement in working toward making the fuel rods on our own. Before this fuel is running out and the reactor will be shut down, hopefully we will be able to have the first fuel made by Iran in the core of the reactor.

ACT: Regarding the production of 20 percent uranium, what was the reason for the decision to move production to the Fordow plant?

Soltanieh: The answer is very simple, the continuation of threat from Israel, against all international laws and resolutions of the IAEA. In fact Fordow’s very reason for existence is because of the augmentation of the Bush administration’s threat of attack and also Israeli [attack]. Otherwise, we did not want to have another investment. Now we have the 20 percent [enriched uranium]; we have to make sure it would be in a safer position, that is why we decided to put the 20 percent there. The rest of the activities will, of course, continue in Natanz because Natanz is designed for lower enrichment, up to 5 percent, to produce the fuel needed for power plants.

ACT: Now speaking of additional plants, Mr. Abbasi recently said that Iran did not have plans to build new enrichment facilities over the next two years, whereas Iran previously said that there are plans to build 10 new enrichment facilities and last year a site for the first of those 10 had been found. I was wondering if you could explain the shift.

Soltanieh: This is the updated decision because we had been exploring the possibilities; all the decisions will be a function of the political environment of the whole world and also the technical requirements. Therefore, based on these things, the decision is really clear: we have decided for 20 percent [enrichment] in Fordow and the rest of the activities up to 5 percent are going to be at Natanz. Of course, we are doing our R&D, and we did a new generation of centrifuges [that are] faster, [with] more production, more efficiency. That is what we are doing. We are continuing our R&D to have better machines with better qualities and efficiency to put in at Natanz.

ACT: Going back a bit to the issue of confidence-building measures and negotiations: During Iran’s previous negotiations with the EU-3 in 2005, your government proposed a number of possible confidence-building steps intended to be implemented while a long-term resolution was sought. This included shipping out Iran’s low-enriched uranium [LEU] or converting all of the LEU immediately to fuel rods. Is Iran still willing to carry out those kinds of steps as part of confidence-building arrangements with the P5+1?

Soltanieh: With due respect, these are obsolete now because we are facing very speedy developments in the international arena and also in Iran’s nuclear development. Now in this situation where we are, the only thing I can advise to those who have not been able to understand or have not been able to cope with the reality on the ground is, we are the master of enrichment technology; we are continuing enrichment; we have, as it is reported [by the IAEA], old enrichment activities, [which] are at the same time under the IAEA [safeguards]. We cannot go backward. All activities are there, and almost every week, inspectors are in Iran, 24-hour cameras working, and as you noticed in the reports of the [director-general], there is no question whatsoever about the enrichment activities. Everything is clear. In these [previous] years, there have been some questions about contamination and other matters, but all issues related to our nuclear activities are resolved. The only things that they are raising in the IAEA are some sort of allegations by a couple of countries, including the United States—allegations of some studies, these allegations that we are aiming at going to possible military dimensions, which are all fabricated. We do not have any problem whatsoever with the IAEA regarding our old activities, which are under safeguards. Therefore, those proposals have no utility any more. We expect the countries concerned and the IAEA to not only cope with these realities but also welcome Iran’s proactive measures and steps taken recently and all together try and prevent any further politicization of the IAEA and let the IAEA do its professional work with Iran and resolve any questions left.

ACT: That leads me to my next question about these alleged studies. Now if, as you say, the accusations are baseless, while you note that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues, the agency says that it has not received the cooperation that it would like to try and resolve the alleged-studies issue. Now if the accusations are in fact baseless, why not provide the IAEA with the access that it requests in order to demonstrate just that?

Soltanieh: Well, I want to remind you that, in fact in August 2007, Iran made a historic decision at the highest level of the country after the preliminary discussion between [Iranian nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Ali] Larijani and [EU foreign policy chief] Mr. [Javier] Solana and Mr. ElBaradei; then Iran decided to make a maximum concession. We negotiated with the IAEA, and we concluded a work plan, or so-called modality, of how to deal with these outstanding issues, which is INFCIRC/711. I request everybody to go to the Web site of the IAEA and read [the document]; the IAEA confirmed [it], and it was endorsed by the board of governors.

In that document, it says that the IAEA has no more questions than the questions listed in these documents in the modality, or work plan. There were six issues, and it said that if Iran and the IAEA will discuss and resolve these issues, then the safeguards in Iran will be implemented in a routine manner. Unfortunately, after the six issues were resolved—and in two reports, ElBaradei reported that these were resolved—still, this matter is pending. One of the other matters raised was the so-called alleged studies, or so-called American laptop. Although in this modality it was very clear, agreed upon by both sides, that the IAEA should deliver the documents and Iran merely give in its response its assessment of those documents. No more and no less. No more visits or interviews or sampling, no visits to places, nothing.

But unfortunately after that, first the Americans did not tell the IAEA to deliver the documents, and the director-general harshly criticized the Americans that they have jeopardized the documentation process, but he asked us to show flexibility. We agreed. Then the inspectors came with a PowerPoint presentation rather than delivering the documents to us. Apart from it, we had the meeting that we were not supposed to have; we had a 100-hour meeting, and during that meeting, we tried to go slide by slide and explain to them over a 100-hour meeting and 117 pages of written documents we gave confidentially to the IAEA. We explained one by one why these documents are false and fabricated. Therefore, we expected that this file will be closed after six months or a year. Now after three, four years, this matter still is not closed because the IAEA says it has received more allegations from some open sources. This cannot continue; this is an endless process. At some point, we have to put an end to this process. That was the issue that we raised.

However, in spite of that, in the last month, after the meeting of Dr. Abbasi and Dr. [Ali Akhbar] Salehi, our foreign minister with the director-general in Vienna, they tried to show the flexibility or cooperation to say that, first, the inspectors or the officials of the IAEA are invited to visit Iran and then, after that, we said that we are ready to see how we can deal with this. If you read Amano’s report, it gives not only positive reports about the inspections, [but] also he has mentioned in one of the paragraphs on the possible military dimension issue that there has been discussion in Iran, that we have had preliminary talks on how to deal with this issue. But of course, there are concerns, security concerns that we have—the release of confidential information, which many times has happened in the IAEA and many other matters. But we have proved in the past that these allegations are baseless, and we are ready to prove it again, to make sure that this is the case, because we are against nuclear weapons, we don’t have any nuclear weapons program, and all activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The problem is unfortunately that people have forgotten, and they are not reading the past reports of the director-general. I recall several allegations by Americans about the military sites like Parchin and Lavizan. In all these sites, one by one, it took sometimes a year or more, but if you spend the time, the inspectors and then the director-general reported that they have not found any evidence of nuclear material activities. We cannot continue this matter. If the allegations prove baseless, then that country [making the accusations] has lost its credibility, and the agency should not listen or take into consideration their accusation that they receive in a sort of open-source manner. That is the problem that we are facing. But I hope that soon we will see a new trend, we will put an end to those questions, and this matter after all these years will be removed from the agenda of the board of governors.

ACT: Just to follow up on that quickly, you mentioned the discussions that were held recently between Iran and the IAEA on those studies. Is there a possibility for follow-on talks on that issue? Was there some agreement that there would be some procedure to try and resolve some of the agency’s questions?

Soltanieh: Today we had the technical briefing by Mr. Nackaerts for member states on this report. He also informed [the members] about the visits, honestly expressed his appreciation, called this visit a transparency visit and a turning point, and [said] he appreciated it. We expect a positive response to these proactive measures by Iran so that we will be encouraged to continue the process started pursuant to talks in Iran between Mr. Nackaerts and Mr. Abbasi.

ACT: Moving away a bit from the inspections issue: The Bushehr reactor was recently hooked up to Iran’s energy grid and began generating electricity. According to the IAEA, Iran is the only country with an operating nuclear power reactor that is not member of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Now, particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, why isn’t Iran signed up to the international nuclear safety standards?

Soltanieh: I refer you to the statement of Mr. Abbasi, who participated in the ministerial meeting on nuclear safety after the Fukushima [accident], in Vienna in June. In his statement, he officially concluded by saying, “I have the honor to announce that we have started the process of ratification.” That answer is already given to the whole world.

We are attaching great importance to nuclear safety, and we have said many times that one of the reasons that we have spent more and more money for the Bushehr power plant and the operation and start-up was delayed was because the country was insisting that the requirements of high standards, safety standards, be implemented. We have had a very big project with the IAEA for almost the last decade. During this project, the top experts of the whole world through the IAEA have been advising Bushehr for nuclear safety, and they still are.

ACT: My final question has to do with the discussion about a WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-free zone in the Middle East. Iran of course was the first country to call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region. What is your government’s perspective regarding the planned conference on the WMD-free zone next year?[4]

Soltanieh: I have already written a letter to Mr. Amano reflecting our position. We have already said that while Iran has been the first country since 1974 asking for a Middle East [nuclear-weapon-free] zone, unfortunately, the main obstacles have been Israel’s nuclear capability and not joining the NPT. Therefore, we considered that the only measure toward a Middle East free zone that would be meaningful would be if the whole international community put pressure on Israel to join [the] NPT promptly without delay and put all nuclear activities under the IAEA and destroy all nuclear weapons capabilities and nuclear weapons facilities. And that is the only way to do it. In fact, this was the case in all other regions [with nuclear-weapon-free zones], I presume. We cannot accept that there is a nonparty to the NPT in the region and trying to ignore the demands of the countries in the region.

There is a serious security concern by all the countries in the region if Israel continues its nuclear weapons program; there is a serious question since [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert announced that they possessed nuclear weapons, and after avalanches of pressure and criticism in the IAEA, the representative of Israel denounced and rejected the position of his prime minister. This is a very ridiculous situation. In fact in that meeting, I asked the director-general to send a fact-finding mission to see if the prime minister is telling the truth or the representative [is]. Later on in the [IAEA] General Conference, I said that my country is willing to take the cost of all fact-finding missions in Israel by the IAEA. Up until now, these questions still exist; the Middle East free zone cannot be realized unless the Israelis promptly join the NPT and put all nuclear facilities and activities under the full-scope safeguards of the IAEA, and that is it. Any forum by the IAEA and by the United Nations on the Middle East, following the 2012 conference, following the 2010 NPT Review Conference, where we made a compromise to join the consensus, will not be successful unless this problem, the main problem in the Middle East, will be resolved. We are in a vicious cycle because of Israel, and the international community should understand it. We all should be united; every country of the whole world that really wants a Middle East free zone and is really genuinely looking for a world free from nuclear weapons should put pressure on Israel to abide by the international call.

ACT: Understanding your government’s perspective on Israel and the NPT, regarding the zone, as we know from the Middle East resolution, it addresses nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Beyond the issue of Israel joining the NPT, what steps is Iran prepared to take to help move the region in the direction of finally concluding a zone free of weapons of mass destruction?

Soltanieh: Of course, in the IAEA, the concentration is on the nuclear-weapon-free zone, but as a matter of principle since Iran is in fact the only country in the Middle East that is party to all disarmament treaties on weapons of mass destruction—the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention], CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], and NPT—and we are a signatory of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] so we would support of course a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. You know, there are other countries, at least, joining the CTBT and the NPT, but Israel is not party to any of them.[5] Therefore in principle, yes, Iran is supporting a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, and we will expend effort in that direction.

ACT: I think that is a good note to end on. I want to thank you again, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us.

Soltanieh: I wish you all the best. I hope this kind of interaction will help your distinguished readers to a better understanding of this whole issue. Let us hope that we will soon have this whole issue resolved and the IAEA will be depoliticized and depolarized because the polarization and politicization of the IAEA is dangerous for the future of the agency. Let’s hope for a better future and peace and prosperity all over the world, and thank you very much for your time.

ENDNOTES


[1] Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to IAEA safeguards agreements specifies when a state is required to declare facilities to the agency. The IAEA originally said that states must declare nuclear facilities six months prior to introducing nuclear material, but modified the code in 1992 to require countries to inform the agency of facilities “as soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier.” Iran agreed to the modified code in 2003, but reverted to the original version in 2007. The IAEA maintains that Iran is bound by the stricter, modified code.

[2] The first clause of Article IV of the NPT states: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Article I of the treaty only applies to the five nuclear-weapon states, while Article II requires that non-nuclear-weapon states not obtain or seek to obtain nuclear weapons.

[3] For the text of Article XII, see www.iaea.org/About/statute_text.html#A1.12.

[4] NPT members agreed in 1995 on a resolution to work toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, states-parties agreed to hold a conference in 2012 aimed at making progress toward establishing such a zone.

[5] Iran is a party to the CWC, BWC, and NPT and has signed the CTBT. Israel has signed the CWC and CTBT.

Interviewed by Peter Crail

Sept. 2011 IAEA Iran Report: Initial Analysis

Body: 

By Peter Crail (orignially posted on September 2, 2011 at Arms Control Now)

The Institute for Science and International Security has posted the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

The report provides some additional information about recent developments reported in the media regarding Iran’s installation of centrifuges at the Fordow plant near Qom and plans to increase enrichment to 20%, but leaves out a critical detail: the type of machines Iran is currently installing at Fordow.

Iran initially said that it would begin installing more advanced centrifuge designs at the Fordow plant it has been developing elsewhere. The newer machines can enrich uranium three times faster than the crash-prone IR-1 centrifuges Iran currently relies upon, allowing Iran to triple its 20%-uranium production rate.

However, Iran has not yet completed testing of a full cascade (an interlocked series of centrifuges) of the newer machines, and as the report notes, a full cascade has not even been installed yet at its pilot plant where that testing is to occur. Unless Iran has an undeclared site where that testing has been carried out, it is unlikely that Iran is also preparing to use them for 20% production at Fordow at the moment. Moreover, the cascades that Iran is installing at Fordow are in a newer 174-machine configuration, rather than the more standard 164-machine cascade Iran plans to use to test its newer designs.

Iran’s slipping timeframe for the introduction of its more advanced machines is not surprising since its nuclear program deadlines are often fluid. However, it does appear to back official and independent assessments that Iran still faces problems developing these new centrifuges, including getting sufficient materials to build them in large numbers.

Instead, Iran is more likely to continue relying on its IR-1 machines at Fordow for the time being. Although Iran could possibly use these machines to produce weapons-grade uranium to use in nuclear weapons, it would likely prefer to develop its advanced centrifuges first. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s point person on Iran sanctions, said at an ACA briefing in March that it would not make sense for Iran to produce material for nuclear weapons “with a machine that produces material so inefficiently.”

The report also notes that Iran allowed the agency to visit a facility where it has been engaged in R&D on these newer machines and “provided extensive information on its current and future R&D work on advanced centrifuges.” The IAEA has not had such access in three years, and has not had regular access to those facilities since Iran stopped following the IAEA’s Additional Protocol (which grants the agency expanded access to all sites) in 2006.

Independent experts have stressed that access to such R&D sites is essential to understanding the full scope of Iran’s enrichment program, and the IAEA has said consistently that it cannot provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear activities are entirely peaceful without the access provided under its Additional Protocol.

Single visits once every few years are not enough, and it is far from the full transparency Iranian officials claim they provide. Gaining such access is an important goal not only in understanding the extent of Iran’s nuclear program, but also in serving as a deterrent against the program’s misuse to develop nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, Iran’s decision to continue producing 20%-enriched uranium beyond the needs of the Tehran Research Reactor suggests that Iran is further configuring its nuclear program for weapons. Iran has no need to stockpile such material, which is much easier to convert to weapons-grade. Even if Iran has taken the proposed fuel-swap off the table, halting the dangerous and entirely unnecessary 20% enrichment should be a priority.

Description: 

The Institute for Science and International Security has posted the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

The report provides some additional information about recent developments reported in the media regarding Iran’s installation of centrifuges at the Fordow plant near Qom and plans to increase enrichment to 20%, but leaves out a critical detail: the type of machines Iran is currently installing at Fordow.

Author:

U.S., North Korea Hold Bilateral Talks

Peter Crail

The United States and North Korea held their first high-level meeting in nearly two years in July as part of efforts to restart multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth met with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan in New York July 28–29, telling reporters immediately following the talks that the United States “reiterated that the path is open to North Korea toward the resumption of talks” if the North showed it was willing to return to the negotiating table as a “committed and constructive partner.”

A North Korean Foreign Ministry statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Aug. 1 said, “Both sides recognized that the improvement of the bilateral relations and the peaceful negotiated settlement of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula conform with the interests of the two sides and agreed to further dialogue.” The statement also expressed Pyongyang’s interest in resuming multilateral talks “at an early date.”

Pyongyang also has said that it would be willing to observe a moratorium on the production and testing of nuclear weapons and missiles in the context of resumed talks, Russian presidential press attaché Natalya Timakova told reporters Aug. 24 after a meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Russia.

North Korea pulled out of six-way talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States in April 2009, declaring that it would never return. Pyongyang has since backed away from that position, but the United States and South Korea have insisted on certain conditions before such talks begin again. In particular, the two countries have demanded that North Korea demonstrate its commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons and related programs. Washington and Seoul also have maintained that Pyongyang must make amends for its apparent role in sinking a South Korean naval vessel in March 2010 and for shelling a South Korean island last November.

North-South talks on the two incidents made no headway in January, with North Korea denying that it sank the South Korean ship. (See ACT, March 2011.) Despite this setback, the two countries met in July, holding discussions that paved the way for the U.S.-North Korean meeting the following week. Wi Sung-lac, the South Korean envoy to the six-party talks, met with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Bali July 22, telling reporters following the meeting, “We are now moving to a new stage of dialogue.”

South Korean officials, however, have said they do not anticipate the resumption of six-way talks in the near future. Wi told reporters in Seoul Aug. 1 that it was “too ambitious” to expect the negotiations to begin this fall. “We cannot go to six-party talks when [North Korean] nuclear programs are up and running,” he said.

A joint statement by the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea, and the United States July 24 following the North-South meeting welcomed the opening of such dialogue and said that it “should be a ­sustained process going forward.”

“North Korea must make sincere efforts to improve relations with [South Korea] before the Six-Party Talks can be resumed,” the statement said.

The three countries also said that North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program, which Pyongyang first publicly revealed last November, “must also be addressed in order to allow for the resumption of” multilateral negotiations.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program traditionally has relied on plutonium produced at a five-megawatt nuclear reactor that has been shuttered since 2007. However, after years of suspicions, North Korea revealed a plant believed to contain about 2,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Uranium can be enriched to low levels to power nuclear reactors, which North Korea says is its aim, but the process can also produce highly enriched uranium usable in nuclear weapons.

The United States held a rare senior-level meeting with North ­Korean officials in July. The two sides agreed to additional meetings.

P5 to Take Up Fissile Material Cutoff

Peter Crail

As part of efforts to start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the world’s five recognized nuclear-weapon states have agreed to hold discussions on the matter outside the deadlocked Conference on Disarmament (CD). The move follows increasing frustration with the inability of the CD to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) because of Pakistan’s refusal to agree to a consensus work program. (See ACT, March 2011.)

The five nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—also known as the P5 for their status as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, said in a joint statement to a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on the UN disarmament bodies July 27, “[I]n order to sustain the potential of negotiations [on an FMCT] in the CD, the P5 will, prior to the next [UN General Assembly], renew their efforts with other relevant partners to promote such negotiations.” The next session of the General Assembly opens Sept. 13. The special meeting on July 27–28 was a follow-up to a high-level General Assembly meeting on disarmament held last September, where the stalled FMCT process was also addressed. (See ACT, October 2010.)

The P5 effort on an FMCT came out of a June 30–July 1 meeting in Paris on steps to implement the decisions of last year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

The countries that make up the P5 are the only NPT members allowed to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. All except China pledged during the 1990s to halt such production for weapons, and China is widely believed to have stopped around the same time. India, Israel, and Pakistan, the only countries never to have joined the NPT, are the only other countries that are not legally prohibited from producing fissile material for weapons, although only India and Pakistan are believed to continue to do so.

In 2006 the Bush administration proposed a draft FMCT text that would have entered into force once all P5 countries ratified the accord. The proposed treaty did not include verification measures, which all CD members had previously agreed needed to be part of such a treaty, and it failed to win support.

Diplomats from P5 countries said last month that the reference to “relevant partners” in their July 27 statement refers to other countries that possess uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing technology, which can be used to produce fissile material. White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore said in an April 7 interview with Arms Control Today that such countries “have something to bring to the negotiations” and would be directly affected by any additional verification requirements for fissile material production.

The P5 members all have expressed their preference for holding FMCT negotiations in the 65-member CD, the United Nations’ multilateral negotiating forum on arms control issues. That body, which operates on a consensus basis, has been unable to begin substantive work for more than a decade. The CD briefly agreed on a work program that would have initiated FMCT negotiations in 2009, but Pakistan broke the consensus before such work could begin.

Islamabad insists on a treaty that takes into account existing stocks of fissile material, a position supported by many countries in the developing world but opposed by the P5, which prefers prohibiting only future production. Wary that its preference would not be incorporated into any eventual treaty, Pakistan has used the CD’s consensus rule to prevent negotiations from starting.

Among the P5 countries, the United States in particular has insisted on the need to consider alternative venues for negotiating an FMCT if the CD remains unable to act. Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the CD Jan. 27 that if the body could not find a way to start negotiations, “then we will need to consider other options.”

A Department of State official said Aug. 17 that “the CD remains our preference” for negotiating an FMCT, “but we remain committed to a P5-led process outside the CD that, albeit not now, could open the door down the road to a negotiating process.”

Earlier this year, the United States supported an initiative by Australia and Japan to host expert-level side meetings at the CD to discuss technical issues in preparation for future negotiations. Gottemoeller told the General Assembly July 27 that the discussions “proved to be productive, substantive, and collegial,” but said, “[W]e are no closer to FMCT negotiations today than we were two years ago.” The State Department official said such side meetings could continue, but are insufficient to make progress because key countries such as China and Pakistan have not participated.

The official also noted that Beijing was particularly wary of joining any P5 initiative on the treaty. China has insisted on FMCT negotiations at the CD and called into question the utility of other negotiating forums. On July 28, Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Wang Min told the General Assembly, “Any idea or practice of resorting to another framework is obviously not conducive to the work of the CD, nor will it produce a satisfactory FMCT.”

In addition to the P5 effort, some countries, as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have suggested the possibility that the General Assembly take up the FMCT issue. In his July 27 remarks to the assembly, Ban said, “If the CD remains deadlocked, the General Assembly has a responsibility to step in.”

Similarly, in a statement on behalf of the 10-country Nonproliferation and Disarmament Initiative, Australian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gary Quinlan said that if the CD is unable to begin FMCT negotiations during its August-September session, the group would ask the next General Assembly to address the issue and consider ways to begin negotiations. The 10 states in the group include developed and developing countries from several different regions.

Washington, however, says it sees problems with the General Assembly taking up the treaty. The State Department official said that “basic principles like consensus might be endangered” in such a venue.

The official added that the CD is the more appropriate multilateral forum, and if the CD cannot work, it is better to consider a process centered on the P5 because of its members’ fissile material production capacities.

The five original nuclear-weapon states have agreed to discuss ways to begin negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for weapons, which is currently being blocked by Pakistan at the UN Conference on Disarmament.

Iran Welcomes Russian Nuclear Proposal

Peter Crail

Senior Iranian officials last month welcomed a Russian-proposed “step-by-step” process to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, a move that could potentially restart talks between six major world powers and Iran.

“The proposal of our Russian friends can be a base for the start of talks about regional and international cooperation, especially in the field of peaceful nuclear activities,” Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told Iran’s official Press TV following discussions with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Tehran Aug. 15–16.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—and Germany, known as the “P5+1,” have been engaged in off-and-on discussions with Iran over its nuclear program over the past several years. They failed to make headway during their latest meeting with Iran in Istanbul last January. (See ACT, March 2011.)

The text of the proposal has not been released, but Russian officials have publicly said that, under its terms, Iran would take steps to increase cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and those steps would be met with a gradual easing of sanctions. Informed sources characterized the steps as necessary confidence-building measures to build enough trust between the two sides to facilitate more ­comprehensive negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov first publicly revealed the basis of the Russian proposal in remarks July 12 at the Russian Embassy in Washington. Lavrov said the Russian plan is intended to serve as a “road map” to implement a package of incentives initially proposed by the P5+1 in 2006, and updated in 2008, as part of a negotiated settlement on Iran’s nuclear program.

“Iran makes a step towards implementing the requirements of IAEA and [the P5+1] do[es] something in return…to make the pressure of sanctions lower,” Lavrov said. He noted that Russia first suggested the plan to the other P5+1 parties last November.

Asked to provide further detail the following day during a press briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lavrov said that Iran would need to address “each requirement of the IAEA…starting from the easiest questions” to the most ­difficult ones requiring more time.

UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran state that penalties would be lifted if Iran took actions to comply with UN obligations, in particular the suspension of all activities related to uranium enrichment, which can be used to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. The informed sources said that the criteria for relieving sanctions would not be different from those identified in the resolutions.

The IAEA has asked Iran to undertake a number of steps to provide greater transparency into all of its nuclear activities and to answer questions about suspected nuclear warhead development work. Tehran claims that it has cooperated fully with its IAEA obligations; it has rebuffed the agency’s investigation into suspected nuclear weapons development, calling the allegations “baseless.”

Clinton said during the press briefing that the United States was committed to a “dual track approach” of negotiations and sanctions but, with Russia, would explore ways “to pursue more effective engagement strategies.”

A U.S. team of experts visited Moscow at the end of July to discuss the proposal further. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Aug. 15 that Washington would continue to work with Moscow to address Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the proposal “doesn’t change our desire…to continue to vigorously implement UN Security Council [Resolution] 1929.” She was referring to the latest UN sanctions against Iran, which were adopted in June 2010. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) On the possibility of relieving sanctions, Nuland said that “you can only ease sanctions when you have action” from Iran.

Senators Push for Bank Sanctions

U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, are pressing the Obama administration to adopt additional sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank, a move that could reduce Iran’s oil revenues but also affect world energy markets and raise oil prices.

Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a letter signed by 90 other senators to President Barack Obama Aug. 4 stating, “[W]e urge you to strongly consider imposing sanctions against the [Central Bank of Iran] and to encourage key allies to join us in this important action.” Sanctions legislation signed into law last year similarly urges the president to sanction Iran’s central bank under a “sense of Congress” provision.

In their letter, the senators said the central bank “lies at the center of Iran’s circumvention strategy” to skirt U.S. and international sanctions on Iran’s financial sector. The letter quotes May 5 testimony by Undersecretary of the Treasury David Cohen to the Senate Banking Committee stating, “[W]e remain concerned that the [Central Bank of Iran] may be facilitating transactions for sanctioned Iranian banks.”

The UN Security Council has sanctioned two Iranian banks for proliferation-related activities, and the United States and European Union have sanctioned additional banks for their roles in financing proliferation and terrorism.

Kirk was quoted Aug. 8 in The Wall Street Journal as stating that if the Obama administration does not sanction Iran’s central bank, “[T]he administration will face a choice of whether it wants to lead this effort or be forced to act,” saying that he would introduce legislation to impose such sanctions by the end of the year.

Former U.S. officials said in August that since the George W. Bush administration, the United States has believed that the central bank has been engaged in sanctionable activities but that Washington has been reluctant to impose sanctions unilaterally because it might create difficulties for U.S. allies trading with Iran.

Within the P5+1, the United States also discussed the possibility of adding the central bank to the list of Iranian entities blacklisted by the UN Security Council prior to the adoption of Resolution 1929 last year, but the six countries could not agree on taking such a step, informed sources said.

As a result of sanctions against Iran’s financial and energy sector, Tehran has been facing problems receiving payment for its energy exports. For example, it took seven months before India was able to secure a Turkish bank intermediary last month to make $5 billion in back payments for Iranian crude oil due to economic sanctions. Sanctions on the central bank are intended to ­increase such payment problems.

Iran responded favorably to a Russian proposal for six major world powers to resume negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress pressed for more sanctions on Iran.

U.S. Navy Turns Back North Korean Ship

Peter Crail

A North Korean cargo ship suspected of violating UN sanctions turned back to North Korea after a U.S. naval vessel confronted it in late May, U.S. officials said in June.

The New York Times reported June 12 that the United States suspected the ship was carrying short-range missiles to Myanmar (Burma), adding to long-standing concerns about military cooperation between the two Asian countries that may include North Korean aid to a possible illicit Myanmar nuclear program. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

Two sets of UN sanctions prohibit North Korea from exporting any nuclear- or missile-related goods or technology. Pyongyang has a long history of selling ballistic missiles and ballistic missile technology to earn hard currency, which the isolated Communist regime finds difficult to obtain.

U.S. officials said that they sought cooperation from countries in the region to prevent the cargo ship M/V Light from reaching its destination and that a U.S. warship intercepted it in late May in the South China Sea to request an inspection. After repeatedly refusing requests to board, the Light turned back toward North Korea just prior to entering the Strait of Malacca, a 500 mile-wide waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia that serves as one of the world’s major sea lanes.

“Since we had alerted the Singaporean and Malaysian authorities, there might have been concern [in Pyongyang] whether it could pass through the straits without action by either of those countries,” White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore told The Wall Street Journal June 14. Samore said North Korea claimed the shipment contained industrial chemicals bound for Bangladesh.

The United States was granted authorization to inspect the Light by Belize, where the ship is registered.

Belize allows its flag to be used as a “flag of convenience,” which means that a ship with a non-Belizean owner is registered in Belize and flies its flag. Such flags of convenience are often abused by smugglers seeking to obscure the ownership of a vessel, but the flag state maintains jurisdiction over the ship and can authorize boarding by a third party.

Belize signed a ship-boarding agreement with the United States under the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative in 2005. That agreement establishes a procedure for boarding ships suspected of trafficking in nonconventional weapons and related materials, including on the high seas.

UN Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted by the council in June 2009 in response to a second North Korean nuclear test, also calls on states to inspect vessels suspected of violating sanctions against North Korea on the high seas, with the consent of the flag state. After that resolution was adopted, diplomats told Arms Control Today that, in spite of the resolution’s language allowing high-seas interdiction, Washington was likely to rely primarily on cooperation from states in the region to carry out inspections rather than engage in forcible boarding. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

Choosing to board the Light may have carried some risks, given the uncertainty regarding the vessel’s actual cargo. U.S. officials said that although they did not know for certain the contents aboard the ship, the behavior of its crew substantiated U.S. suspicions about its intentions.

Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters June 13 that “the ship’s master refusing us permission to board it, as well as the fact that it turned and headed back to North Korea,” validated concerns that the ship was involved in illegal activity.

In several ways, the incident echoes a June 2009 interception of a North Korean vessel by a U.S. warship. Washington suspected that the cargo vessel Kang Nam was carrying conventional armaments bound for Myanmar in contravention of UN sanctions. At that time, the destroyer USS John McCain shadowed the North Korean-flagged ship, which eventually turned back to North Korea.

According to a recent unreleased report, obtained by Arms Control Today, by a UN panel overseeing sanctions against North Korea, Pyongyang rarely uses ships such as the Light and Kang Nam as part of its illicit trafficking operations.

In the report, the UN panel said that North Korea “relies only to a very limited extent on its own vessels to deliver illicit shipments to a recipient country,” generally doing so only when the route is short enough to avoid port calls where the shipment risks inspection and seizure.

The report also said that only a fraction of North Korean cargo vessels sailed under a foreign flag, which suggests that Pyongyang views the use of its own flag as “the best available protection against boarding on the high seas.” North Korea has relied instead on foreign-owned ships, as well as air transport, to smuggle goods, employing a range of masking techniques to circumvent UN sanctions, the report said.

Myanmar has pledged to honor its obligations under the UN sanctions against North Korea. Myanmar Vice President Thiha Thura U Tin Aung Myint Oo also told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the senator’s June 1-3 visit to the country that Myanmar “does not have the economic strength” to pursue nuclear weapons, the country’s state-run media reported June 3.

The vessel that trailed the Kang Nam was named after McCain’s father and grandfather.

 

A North Korean ship suspected of carrying missile technology to Myanmar turned back to North Korea after being confronted by a U.S. naval vessel, part of a U.S. effort that involved coordination with countries in the region.

Iran Launches Second Satellite

Peter Crail

Iran successfully placed a satellite in orbit June 15, demonstrating increasing proficiency with rocket technology that could also be used in its ballistic missile programs. The move, which marks Tehran’s second successful satellite launch, appears to violate UN sanctions prohibiting Iran from taking any actions related to ballistic missiles.

Iran launched the satellite aboard a two-stage rocket called the Safir-1B, a variant of the Safir-2 system Iran used in February 2009 for its first successful launch. Tehran failed in its first launch attempt, in August 2008. Before that, Iran relied on Russia to place its satellites in orbit. Moscow announced last July that it would no longer launch Iranian satellites.

Iran’s official Press TV announced June 16 that the Safir had placed in orbit an imaging satellite named Rasad (“Observation” in Farsi), which is intended to circle the earth 15 times a day for two months. The Rasad will be used for topography missions and high-resolution mapping, Iran’s official Tehran Times newspaper said June 18.

Technical experts said that although Iran did not demonstrate any significant advances in its rocket capabilities with the second successful launch of the Safir, the reuse of the system shows that Iran pursues its rocket and missile development in a methodical and sophisticated way. “I am impressed that they have launched a second satellite with the same vehicle,” former UN weapons inspector Geoffrey Forden said in a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “This is what a systematic missile development program would do,” he added.

Uzi Rubin, former head of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, also noted in a June 21 e-mail that the 29-month span between Iran’s first and second successful launches “is relatively brief, indicating that the Iranians are pouring money into the program.” Iran has announced that it intends to carry out additional satellite launches over the next year and is planning its first manned space flight in 2019.

Iran’s ambitious space program does appear to have met with delays. In March 2010, Iranian officials said the Rasad would be launched in August 2010, later moving the launch to Feb. 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, before finally carrying it out last month.

The Safir launch appears to be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted in June 2010, which bars Iran from carrying out “any activity” related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, “including launches using ballistic missile technology.” Many of the technologies used in space launch vehicles are also important for ballistic missiles. A 2009 U.S. Air Force intelligence assessment of ballistic and cruise missile threats said that the Safir could be used as a test bed for ballistic missile technologies.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today June 24 that the United States intends to bring the violation to the attention of the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee.

Still, the technical experts noted that the Safir is designed as a space launch vehicle rather than a military system, with a lightweight frame and a slow rate of acceleration, and would need to undergo extensive modifications to be used as a missile.

The Safir also is designed to carry only a small payload. The Rasad weighed just slightly more than 15 kilograms, while Iran’s first satellite weighed about twice as much. Nuclear-capable missiles are generally assumed to be able to carry a payload of at least 500 kilograms.

Michael Elleman, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain and a former UN weapons inspector, said in a June 19 interview that if the Safir were modified to be used as a ballistic missile, it could potentially carry a 700- to 800-kilogram warhead between 2,000 and 2,400 kilometers. Although such a system would be able to reach possible targets in the region, including Israel, Iran has already successfully tested more capable ballistic missiles that can achieve such ranges.

The 2009 Air Force intelligence assessment said that the Safir could potentially be converted to a missile with a range of more than 3,000 kilometers, but it is unclear what the payload of such a system might be.

Last February, Iran unveiled a larger and more capable space launch vehicle named the Simorgh (“Phoenix” in Farsi), which Iranian officials said was designed to launch heavier satellites and would see its first flight in February 2011.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Armed Services Committee March 10 that the Simorgh design “could be used for an ICBM-class vehicle,” referring to intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The technical experts pointed out that Iran unveiled only a mock-up of the system, which may not be ready to launch for some time. “It was very obvious to me at the time that its first flight was still years away,” Rubin said.

Elleman said a number of additional factors could have contributed to delays in the scheduled launch of the Simorgh, including preparations for satellites the Simorgh is designed to carry and the construction of a launch facility appropriate for the system. “It would be quite difficult to launch the Simorgh from existing pads,” he said.

The Simorgh is similar in design to a North Korean rocket launched in May 2009, called the Unha-2, and both systems use a cluster of four North Korean Nodong missiles in their first-stage boosters. (See ACT, June 2009.)

In addition to its satellite launch, Iran appears to be continuing to test its ballistic missiles, although in a far less public manner than it has previously. According to a UN report assessing sanctions against Iran, Tehran carried out two unannounced tests of one of its most advanced missiles, the two-stage, solid-fuel Sajjil-2, in October 2010 and last January. (See ACT, June 2011.) The report, which has yet to be released and was written by a panel of experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the panel was informed by another country of the unannounced Sajjil-2 tests.

Iran’s silence regarding the tests contrasts with its previous practice, when it actively publicized its missile tests, often including video footage and press briefings by senior officials.

The experts said the reasons behind such a shift were unclear. Rubin suggested that the UN prohibitions imposed last June were not likely a key consideration behind the change in behavior. “It would be more characteristic of them to flaunt the tests in the face of the [resolution] than hiding them,” he said.

He noted that one factor may be current disagreements between the United States and Russia regarding the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, aimed primarily at defending against Iranian missiles. Moscow has argued that the missile defense plans are unnecessary and that Iranian missiles do not pose a threat to Europe. Because the Sajjil-2 places parts of Europe within range, testing such systems “would throw a monkey wrench into the Russians’ logic and make them look a bit ridiculous,” he said.

Iran’s ambassador to Romania, Aminian Jazi, recently denied that his country’s missiles were a threat to Europe, claiming that they were purely defensive in nature. Agence France-Presse reported June 20 that Jazi told a Romanian news Web site, “We believe the anti-missile shield is not aimed at us” but rather at Russia.

A June 20 Romanian Foreign Ministry press release said that Jazi had been summoned to explain his remarks, which Bucharest said “are not constructive.”

 

Iran carried out its second successful satellite launch, demonstrating greater experience with rocket technologies that also could benefit its missile programs.

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