Closing a chapter in its months-long investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution Nov. 26 condemning Iran’s pursuit of clandestine nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. The resolution follows a Nov. 10 report detailing Iran’s actions.
The resolution was finalized after a prolonged debate over the appropriate wording that would be used to condemn Tehran’s behavior. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the United States, along with such countries as Australia and Canada, judged a draft resolution composed by several European countries as too weak in its criticism of Iran. Washington initially wanted the resolution to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, which would have required the board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. But the U.S. official said that several countries, including Germany, had assured Iran that the issue would be handled solely by the IAEA.
As a result, the United States worked with other board members to craft alternate language to convey that Iran violated its safeguards agreement. The resolution notes with “concern” that Iran has demonstrated a “pattern of concealment resulting in breaches of safeguards obligations.” Furthermore, it includes a “trigger mechanism”—a key U.S. demand—that requires the board to meet immediately to consider all options at its disposal if “any further serious Iranian failures come to light.” Such actions could include referring the matter to the Security Council.
IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei presented a report that accuses Iran of repeatedly violating its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, but stops short of concluding that these activities constitute evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Safeguards agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes.
ElBaradei told the board Nov. 20 that the IAEA needs additional time before it can conclude that “Iran’s program has been fully declared and is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
U.S. officials contended that the agency’s report did not go far enough, arguing that its account of Iran’s nuclear activities confirmed Washington’s longheld suspicions that Tehran has a nuclear weapons program. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Kenneth Brill stated Nov. 21 in Vienna that the report “makes unequivocally clear that Iran chose…to violate its safeguards obligations in full knowledge that its actions and omissions were violations.”
The report also notes that Iran is currently implementing IAEA-requested measures designed to resolve concerns about its nuclear program, and thereby showing “active cooperation and openness.” Specifically, Iran has cooperated with the agency’s investigation and suspended its uranium enrichment activities discovered earlier this year. Those actions follow an October agreement reached between Iran and three European government. That, in turn, came on the heels of a September IAEA resolution that set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to cooperate with the agency. Although uranium enrichment is permitted as long as it is operating under IAEA safeguards, the resolution also called on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities as a confidence-building measure. (See ACT, November 2003.)
Additionally, Iran agreed in October to conclude an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The Board of Governors has now “accepted Iran’s proposal,” according to a Nov. 21 agency press statement. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The State Department official said that during the Nov. 20 meeting Iran implied it might not conclude the protocol if it disagreed with the resolution’s content, but later relented.
The Nov. 26 IAEA resolution “re-emphasises the importance of Iran…acting as if the Protocol were in force” until the Iranian parliament approves the protocol.
Still, a November CIA report to Congress expressed concern that more intrusive inspections will not contain Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, contending that “there is a serious risk that Iran could use its enrichment technology in covert activities” even with intrusive IAEA
The following excerpt is from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report, Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, released Nov. 10.
1. The recent disclosures by Iran about its nuclear programme clearly show that, in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, with resultant breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of the Safeguards Agreement. Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with co-operation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. While most of the breaches identified to date have involved limited quantities of nuclear material, they have dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment and reprocessing. And although the materials would require further processing before being suitable for weapons purposes, the number of failures by Iran to report in a timely manner the material, facilities and activities in question as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement has given rise to serious concerns.
The Board of Governors:
1. Welcomes Iran’s offer of active cooperation and openness and its positive response to the demands of the Board in the resolution adopted by Governors on 12 September 2003 (GOV/2003/69) and underlines that, in proceeding, the Board considers it essential that the declarations that have now been made by Iran amount to the correct, complete and final picture of Iran’s past and present nuclear programme, to be verified by the Agency;