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"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Security Council Deadlocks on Iran

Paul Kerr

The UN Security Council’s five permanent members remained deadlocked in November on a resolution that would address Iran’s continued refusal to suspend its uranium-enrichment program. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors sent an additional signal of concern about an Iranian nuclear reactor project that could potentially produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

A Nov. 14 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said that Iran has not yet complied with Security Council Resolution 1696, which called on Tehran to suspend its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program by Aug. 31. Rather, Iran has expanded its enrichment program, ElBaradei reported.

The permanent Security Council members, along with Germany, also had required Iran to suspend the program as a precondition for beginning negotiations on a package of incentives they offered Tehran in June. The package is designed to persuade Iran to give up enrichment but leaves open the possibility that Tehran could eventually have such a program. (See ACT, October 2006.)

Iran claims that it intends to produce low-enriched uranium to be used as fuel in nuclear reactors. But many suspect that Tehran will use its enrichment-related facilities or the expertise gained from operating them to produce highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Resolution 1696 requires Iran to take other steps to demonstrate that its enrichment program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, such as fully cooperating with the IAEA investigation of its nuclear programs. (See ACT, September 2006.) Tehran has also not complied with this provision, ElBaradei reported.

Security Council Discussions Continue

In Resolution 1696, the council had expressed its intention to adopt “appropriate measures” under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII, Article 41, if Iran did not comply with its demands. Article 41 describes measures short of military force that can be employed “to give effect” to council decisions.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom reacted to Iran’s continued noncompliance by drafting a resolution in late October that would impose sanctions on Tehran. That draft includes a series of measures apparently designed to constrain Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. (See ACT, November 2006.)

In early November, Russia submitted a number of changes to the draft. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said that his country’s changes make the European draft “quite a bit shorter,” Reuters reported Nov. 3. Moscow has been that draft’s most vocal public critic, but Beijing also has voiced objections.

Both a European diplomat and a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Nov. 27 that Russia and other council members subsequently have only made limited progress in resolving their differences regarding the scope of a resolution.

According to press reports and statements from U.S. and Russian officials, Moscow objects to such provisions as a near ban on travel for officials associated with Iran’s nuclear programs, as well as potential restrictions on Russian supplies of fuel for a nuclear power reactor that Moscow is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia has agreed to supply fuel for the reactor and take back the spent fuel. (See ACT, November 2006.)

Moscow also wants to narrow the resolution’s provisions that would restrict trade in goods potentially related to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian officials have argued that a resolution should seek to moderate Iran’s behavior rather than punish Tehran. Moscow also has expressed concern that punitive measures could induce Iran to cease its cooperation with the IAEA altogether.

Iran has already cut back on its cooperation by halting in February its implementation of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, March 2006.) Such agreements allow the agency to monitor the declared civilian nuclear activities of states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to ensure that they are not diverted to military purposes. Additional protocols augment the IAEA’s authority to investigate possible undeclared nuclear activities.

Although the United States supports the European draft, Washington has reportedly continued to push for stronger action against Tehran.

Speaking to reporters Nov. 15, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley characterized differences between Washington and Moscow as “largely tactical considerations.” But John Bolton, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, was more blunt in a FOX News interview the same day, claiming that Russia’s stance stems from its commercial ties with Iran.

By contrast, the European diplomat said that Russia’s motives are not yet known and that the United States and European council members are trying to “get to the bottom” of Moscow’s objections.

Russia may not agree to the sanctions at all, he said, adding that, in any case, Moscow “does not appear to be in any hurry.”

Reactor Aid Rejected

With action stalled in New York, the IAEA board took a modest action against Iran’s nuclear program during a Nov. 23-24 meeting in Vienna. The board declined to approve an Iranian request to provide technical assistance for a heavy-water reactor that Tehran is constructing at Arak. Weapons-grade plutonium can be obtained far more easily by reprocessing the spent reactor fuel from heavy-water reactors than from light-water reactors, such as the one being built near Bushehr.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Ambassador Gregory Schulte said in a Nov. 13 speech that the completed reactor would be capable of producing enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons per year.

In a Nov. 22 speech to the IAEA Technical Committee, Iranian Permanent Representative to the IAEA Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh reiterated that the reactor is intended to produce medical isotopes and argued that a decision to deny assistance would be motivated by politics. Iran is requesting “technical recommendations” regarding nuclear safety rather than reactor construction, he added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Nov. 23 that Iran will continue work on the reactor regardless of the IAEA’s decision, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Iran has said that it will not engage in reprocessing, and ElBaradei reported that there “are no indications” of such activities in the country.

A State Department official confirmed press reports that the board did not vote on the matter but agreed simply to remove the request from a list of other technical assistance requests that were granted that day. ElBaradei told reporters Nov. 23 that the board might reconsider its decision at some point in the future.