In a joint statement with three European foreign ministers, Iran agreed Oct. 21 to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands that it cooperate with the agency’s efforts to allay fears that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. For now, the statement ends weeks of speculation over whether Tehran would cooperate by an Oct. 31 deadline set out in a September IAEA resolution. But Iran must still follow through on its commitments to the agency.
According to the joint statement with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, Iran agreed to take three steps which, if followed, will meet the IAEA’s demands: cooperate with the IAEA “to address and resolve…all requirements and outstanding [IAEA] issues,” sign and ratify an Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, and “suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.”
The IAEA Board of Governors adopted the resolution after months of agency investigations uncovered increasingly disturbing details about Iran’s uranium- and plutonium-based nuclear programs. (See ACT July/August 2003.) Although most of these activities were technically permitted under Iran’s IAEA safeguards agreement, public revelations about Iran’s extensive progress on these programs raised concerns that the country was pursuing nuclear weapons in violation of its commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Safeguards agreements are required under the NPT to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. An additional protocol allows the IAEA to conduct more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities that countries have not declared, in order to check for clandestine nuclear programs. Iran continues to deny ever pursuing nuclear weapons.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei issued a report in June summarizing the agency’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear programs that concluded Iran had violated its safeguards agreements. An August report revealed inconsistencies in previous Iranian statements to the agency, raising more questions about Tehran’s nuclear intentions. Both reports also stated that Iran had delayed giving IAEA inspectors access to a suspect facility. (See ACT, September 2003 and October 2003.)
Before the Oct. 21 joint statement, Iran had been sending mixed signals as to whether it would comply with the deadline. ElBaradei said Oct. 13 that Iran had not yet provided “full and complete information” about its nuclear programs, although inspectors had been allowed to visit the requested sites, according to an IAEA statement. Additionally, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamdireza Assefi implied Oct. 19 that Iran might not meet the deadline. Iran has also been hesitant about concluding an Additional Protocol, although it has suggested for months that it would do so.
The IAEA has asked for Iran’s cooperation in several areas. The September resolution called on Iran to provide the necessary information about its programs and “unrestricted access” to IAEA inspectors. The agency has been particularly interested in Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which consists of a gas centrifuge pilot plant and a much larger facility that could hold centrifuges to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel civilian nuclear power reactors, as well as enough fissile material for 25 nuclear weapons per year.
The mere possession of the facility did not constitute a violation of Iran’s safeguards agreement, but the IAEA believes Iran tested the centrifuges with nuclear material without informing the agency—an action that would violate its agreement. Agency inspectors have found highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in at least two locations in Iran, possible evidence that Iran conducted prohibited tests of its centrifuges as a step towards covertly making nuclear devices. Yet, Iran has denied producing HEU, blaming its presence at the two sites on contaminated components it acquired through “foreign intermediaries.”
ElBaradei told reporters Oct. 23 that Iran had provided the IAEA with a new declaration regarding its nuclear programs. Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the declaration was complete, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported Oct. 23. But in an Oct. 24 Associated Press report, Salehi said Iran has been unable to determine the imported components’ origins.
The September resolution also called on Iran to “suspend all further uranium enrichment related activities.” Iran introduced nuclear materials into the Natanz facility’s centrifuges under IAEA safeguards in June, although the Board of Governors issued a June statement encouraging Iran not to do so. Tehran accelerated its tests in August.
The joint statement, however, does not specify a date for Iran to suspend its enrichment activities and Iran has not yet actually done so. A government spokesman stated Oct. 27 that Iran had not set a date for suspending enrichment, according to IRNA. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi said Iran was resolving “technical” issues associated with suspending enrichment, IRNA reported Oct. 28.
Moreover, Iran’s compliance will likely be insufficient to resolve fully concerns about its enrichment program. Iranian officials have said numerous times that Iran will not give up its “right” to enrich uranium—an activity which is allowed under the NPT—and Assefi told reporters Oct. 26 that suspension is only “temporary” and Iran will resume enrichment “whenever…it is necessary.”
The September resolution also reiterated the IAEA’s June request that Iran conclude an additional protocol. An IAEA spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 28 that Iran is expected to send the agency a required letter of intent regarding the protocol. ElBaradei will notify the Board of Governors for its Nov. 20 meeting. ElBaradei and Iran can sign the protocol after the Board’s authorization.
Once signed, the Iranian parliament will have to ratify the protocol, Assefi said Oct. 26. Whether to sign the protocol has been a controversial issue in Iran, with Iranian officials expressing concerns that it gives the IAEA too much inspection power and threatens Iranian sovereignty. Until it is ratified, Iran will comply with the IAEA “in accordance with the protocol,” according to the joint statement.
The joint statement said that Iran’s cooperation would “enable” the IAEA to resolve the “immediate situation” and addressed some of Iran’s stated concerns about the IAEA’s demands. According to the statement, the three governments “recognize” Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear program, adding that Iran’s compliance can “open the way to a dialogue …for long term cooperation.” Furthermore, Iran “could expect easier access to modern technology…in a range of areas” when concerns about its nuclear programs “are fully resolved,” the statement says.
Iran had previously resisted signing the protocol unless it was assured of gaining access to peaceful nuclear technology, complaining that many nuclear supplier states have refused to do business with them. The NPT states that states-parties “have the right to participate in” technical exchanges “for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”
ElBaradei told Arms Control Today Oct. 21 (See ElBaradei interview) that the IAEA needs to review and verify Iran’s declaration. He will report his findings to the agency’s Board of Governors prior to its November meeting, the IAEA spokesperson said. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated Oct. 22 that the joint statement is “welcome,” but Washington would wait to assess Iran’s “performance.”
The United States said in September that the Oct. 31 deadline represented a “last chance” for Iran to comply and the IAEA should refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council if Iran did not do so. The IAEA has an obligation to refer the issue to the Security Council if it finds a country in violation of its safeguards agreement. So far, the Board has said only that Iran has failed to meet some of its safeguards obligations.
The IAEA may still refer the issue to the Security Council even if Iran follows through on the Oct. 21 agreement, however. A State Department official interviewed Oct. 28 said a complete declaration from Iran will likely contain “incriminating information” proving it was in violation of its safeguards agreements. The IAEA would then have a “statutory obligation to find Iran in non-compliance” and refer the issue to the council, the official said. The official conceded that the United States would face an “uphill battle” in persuading the Board of Governors to do so.
The Security Council would not necessarily have to take “punitive” action against Iran in this case, but the State Department official said that it would be “important to draw a line under Iran’s noncompliance.”
The following is the text of the declaration on Iran’s nuclear program agreed upon by the Iranian government and visiting EU foreign ministers Oct. 21:
1. Upon the invitation of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany paid a visit to Tehran on October 21, 2003. The Iranian authorities and the Ministers, following extensive consultations, agreed on measures aimed at the settlement of all outstanding IAEA issues with regard to the Iranian nuclear programme and at enhancing confidence for peaceful cooperation in the nuclear field.
2. The Iranian authorities reaffirmed that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s defence doctrine and that its nuclear programme and activities have been exclusively in the peaceful domain. They reiterated Iran’s commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and informed the Ministers that:
3. The Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany welcomed the decisions of the Iranian government and informed the Iranian authorities that: