"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Iran Ignores Deadline; Security Council Split

Paul Kerr

Following a late and inconclusive round of diplomacy between officials from the European Union and their Iranian counterparts, new efforts to try to restrain Iran’s nuclear program are underway in the UN Security Council.

The Security Council’s five permanent members met Oct. 26 to discuss a draft resolution. The new resolution would impose punitive measures on Iran for its failure to comply with Resolution 1696, passed in July, which calls on Iran to take several steps, including suspending work on its uranium-enrichment program.

The Security Council decided to pursue a new resolution after Iran missed an early October deadline to halt the program. The permanent council members along with Germany also had required Iran to suspend enrichment as a precondition for beginning negotiations on a package of incentives they offered Tehran in June. Although designed to persuade Iran to give up its enrichment program, the package leaves open the possibility that Tehran could eventually have such a program. (See ACT, October 2006.)

Rather than halt its program, however, Iran took additional steps in October to improve its enrichment capability. Iran said it wants to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel in nuclear reactors. Others are concerned, however, that Tehran might use its enrichment-related facilities or the expertise gained from operating them to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Resolution 1696 gave Tehran until Aug. 31 to suspend its program. It also expressed the council’s intention to adopt “appropriate measures” under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, Article 41, if Iran did not comply with the Security Council’s demands. That article describes measures short of military force that can be employed “to give effect” to council decisions.

Resolution 1696 also requires Tehran to undertake other measures, such as fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation of its nuclear programs, in order to build confidence that the program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Iran did not meet the August deadline, but the council gave Iran additional time to comply. In the interim, Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, met several times with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, in an attempt to bridge differences between the two sides. But the discussions failed to yield results.

Consequently, Germany and the permanent council members, which are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, moved to draft a resolution, but the discussions appear to have been contentious. The six parties had previously agreed on a list of potential sanctions to be enacted against Iran, but not a specific resolution.

Three Department of State officials told Arms Control Today Oct. 30 that the United States “supports” the resolution, which was drafted by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Washington had been pushing for stronger action against Tehran, one of the officials said.

Russia and China are reviewing the draft, with Moscow taking the role as the most vocal public critic. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Kislyak, told reporters that the resolution contains many “problems” but did not elaborate, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Oct. 26.

Both countries have been hesitant about taking punitive measures against Iran. For its part, Moscow fears that such measures could result in Tehran halting its cooperation with the IAEA, a Russian diplomat told Arms Control Today Oct. 27.

Russia also is reportedly concerned about a provision in the draft resolution that could potentially affect Moscow’s ability to provide fuel for a nuclear power reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. The draft requires a committee to approve fuel shipments to the reactor “in advance and on a case by case basis.”

Moscow has agreed to supply fuel for the reactor, although the two countries have recently agreed on a revised schedule that pushed back the date of the first fuel shipments.

Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack acknowledged during an Oct. 26 press briefing that the Bushehr issue is a “concern” for Moscow but added, “We don’t think it would be an obstacle to getting a good strong resolution.”

The draft resolution includes a series of measures apparently designed to constrain Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. For example, it bans the sale or transfer of goods that “could contribute” to those programs, prohibits states from teaching or training Iranian nationals in relevant disciplines, and requires countries to freeze the financial assets of entities “engaged in” or providing support for those programs.

The resolution also expands the scope of the suspension to include all projects related to Iran’s construction of a heavy-water nuclear research reactor, a provision not contained either in Resolution 1696 or the June proposal. The July resolution had only reiterated a previous request from the IAEA Board of Governors for Tehran to “reconsider” its construction of the reactor. The agency is concerned that Iran may use the reactor to produce plutonium, which also can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

The new resolution would also establish a committee to monitor compliance with the resolution and determine which Iranian entities and people are subject to its restrictions. Security Council Resolution 1718, which concerns the North Korean nuclear situation, set up a committee with a similar function.

The negotiations appear likely to take at least a few weeks, according to high-ranking officials. For example, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during an Oct. 24 television appearance that the council would probably agree on a resolution “in the next few weeks.” Further, Kislyak said that reaching agreement on a final resolution will require a “long negotiating process.”

Expanded Enrichment Capacity

Despite the Security Council’s demands, Iran has continued work on its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope and produce LEU or HEU.

In an Oct. 29 interview with Arms Control Today, a diplomat in Vienna close to the IAEA confirmed press accounts that Iran has installed a second 164-centrifuge cascade and has begun spinning the centrifuges. An unnamed Iranian official said that Iran had installed the cascade earlier in the month, the semiofficial Islamic Students News Agency (ISNA) reported Oct. 25.

Iran began operating its first 164-centrifuge cascade last spring and announced shortly thereafter that it had successfully enriched uranium. Since then, according to an Aug. 31 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, Tehran has intermittently operated that cascade and periodically introduced uranium hexafluoride into it. Iran last did so in late August, according to ElBaradei.

ElBaradei also reported that Tehran had been working for months to install the second cascade and was still doing so in late August. He had previously said that Iran is working on a third similarly sized cascade.

Whether Iran has introduced uranium hexafluoride into the second cascade is unclear. The Iranian official said that Tehran had not yet done so. But ISNA reported Oct. 27 that, according to another unnamed Iranian official, Iran introduced the material into the cascade “just last week.”

All of these cascades are in Tehran’s pilot centrifuge facility, but the country is also constructing a larger commercial facility. Iran has said that it intends to install 3,000 centrifuges in the larger facility by March 2007.