The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors voted Feb. 4 to report its concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, including Tehran’s failure to comply with its agency safeguards agreement, to the UN Security Council.
The decision raised the stakes in the IAEA’s ongoing dispute with Iran. Although Tehran has recently accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, Iranian and Russian officials claimed last month to have made progress on a compromise proposal designed to ease concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions.
The Feb. 4 resolution, adopted at a special board meeting, expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s nuclear program and noted that Tehran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA investigation. The resolution listed a series of measures deemed necessary for Iran to provide “confidence” in the “exclusively peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear program.
The resolution was adopted after IAEA Deputy Director Olli Hei nonen reported Jan. 31 that Iran has yet to resolve several outstanding questions about its nuclear program. The report also discussed specific evidence that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program may have a nuclear weapon dimension.
The resolution also requested that IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei report to the Security Council on all relevant IAEA reports and on Iran’s implementation of related IAEA resolutions. This would include any resolutions adopted at the board’s scheduled March 6 meeting. The board is expected to review a Feb. 27 report from ElBaradei on the investigation.
Tehran has increasingly defied the IAEA’s demands. Perhaps most significantly, over the last several months Iran has gradually terminated the suspension of its uranium-enrichment program and reduced considerably IAEA inspectors’ ability to investigate Iran ’s nuclear programs.
In September, the board formally found Iran in violation of its agency safeguards agreement more than two years after ElBaradei reported that Tehran conducted a variety of clandestine nuclear activities. But the board did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council. (See ACT, October 2005.)
Under the IAEA statute, the board is required to notify the Security Council if a member state is found in noncompliance with its agency safeguards agreement. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. The Security Council may then take action against the offending state.
Iranian, Russian Cooperation
Meanwhile, Iran and Russia were set March 1 to continue their discussions over a plan designed to allay fears that Iran will use its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a gas centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)
Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluo ride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Uranium enrichment can produce both low- enriched uranium, which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.
Iran is constructing its own pilot centrifuge facility, as well as a much larger commercial facility. Tehran has also built a uranium conversion facility for producing uranium hexafluoride gas from lightly processed uranium ore.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Orga nization, said during a Feb. 26 press conference that Russiaand Iran had reached “an agreement in principle.” And Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko asserted that “there are almost no problems…of an organizational, technical, or financial nature regarding” the planned joint venture.
But Kiriyenko also noted that “a whole series of serious measures and serious decisions” remain, pointing out that the joint venture proposal is only one element of a comprehensive approach to ensuring security. Russia also wants Iran to resume the moratorium on its enrichment activities until the IAEA resolves the open ques tions concerning Iran’s nuclear programs, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the next day.
In November 2004, Tehran had agreed to suspend “all enrich ment-related activities” for the duration of negotiations with France , Germany, and the United Kingdom. These included “manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges.”
The main sticking point in the Iranian-Russian discussions will likely be the question of whether Iran will be allowed to retain a centrifuge facility. Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that Iran will retain at least a pilot facility, but some have also indicated that Tehran may accept limits on its larger facility.
Aghazadeh would not answer when asked if Iran would be will ing to resume the suspension, but Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesper son Hamidreza Asefi stated the same day that Iran would not suspend its “research work.”
Lavrov also made it clear that Russia wants Iran to resume its negotiations with the Europeans. But Asefi said that such talks “are not on the agenda.”
The 35-member board adopted the resolution by a vote of 27-3, with five abstentions. Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela cast the negative votes.
Significantly, Russia and China, two of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, voted for the resolu tion after abstaining in September. Persuading Moscow and Beijing to support a Security Council report was one of the major reasons that the United States and Europeans supported Russia’s diplomatic efforts during the past several months. (See ACT, December 2005.)
Russia and China agreed to support the resolution during a Jan. 30 meeting after reaching a compromise with the United States and Iran ’s European interlocutors. According to a statement that day from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the six countries agreed that the board should request that ElBaradei report Iran’s case to the Security Council. But they said that the council should wait until after the March IAEA meeting “before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process.”
The resolution reiterates the necessity for Iran to implement confidence-building measures, which are also described in the September resolution. For example, it includes past board calls to resume the “full suspension of all enrichment-related activity” and “reconsider” its construction of a 40-megawatt heavy-water nuclear reactor.
Although Iran claims the reactor is for peaceful purposes, the board is concerned that Tehran intends to separate plutonium—another fissile material—from irradiated reactor fuel. The IAEA is still investigating past Iranian plutonium-separation experiments, but Iran has no known facilities for separating plutonium.
The resolution also exhorts Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The additional protocol would provide for more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities Iran has not declared to the IAEA, to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The government should continue to “act in accordance” with the protocol’s provisions in the meantime, the resolution says. Tehran has signed the protocol, but the Iranian Majlis, or parliament, has never ratified it.
Iran 1, Suspension 0
Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in January called for the February board meeting after Iran took a series of steps to resume what it called “research and development” on its centrifuge program.
Iran ’s move marked the last step in terminating the suspension of its uranium-enrichment program.
Tehran first violated the suspension in August by resuming opera tions at its uranium conversion facility. (See ACT, September 2005.) Although Iran’s European interlocutors were willing to discuss resuming negotiations, they insisted that Iran first halt conversion.
The day after the board adopted the Feb. 4 resolution, Iran made good on its previous threats to stop adhering to its additional protocol in the event of a Security Council report. For example, at Tehran’s insistence, the IAEA has removed its containment devices, such as surveillance cameras, except for those required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.
Tehran also said that it will no longer permit the agency to un dertake measures—such as visiting certain Iranian facilities—that are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement.
U.S. officials have said for months that they plan to pursue a strategy at the Security Council designed to reinforce the IAEA’s authority and steadily increase pressure on Iran to comply with the agency’s demands.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told reporters Feb. 5 that “the Iranians are going to face a fairly bright spotlight.” He added, “[W]e’re going to ratchet up the pressure, step by step and then focus on diplomacy as a way to isolate and hope fully change their behavior.”
A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that the first step would be to push for the adoption of a Security Council President’s Statement exhorting Iran to cooperate with the demands described in the IAEA board’s Feb. 4 resolution.
If Tehran refused, Washington would then pursue a Security Council resolution making the IAEA’s demands a legal obligation for Iran.
The next step, if necessary, would be for the council to imple ment sanctions, such as implementing travel bans and freezing bank accounts, targeted at the Iranian leadership. According to the official, this would occur around mid- to late summer.
If necessary, the council would later need to implement “tough er” economic and diplomatic measures, the official said, but did not specify further.
The official acknowledged that these plans could face increas ing resistance because Russia and China have repeatedly expressed their preference for handling the issue within the IAEA.
Asked about other diplomatic tracks, the official said that the United States would soon begin a “full-court press” to persuade certain countries to pressure Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA.
Iran has recently taken several steps to resume its uranium-enrichment activities, which Tehran had suspended since November 2004 as part of a broad series of negotiations with leading European countries. In response, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council even as the agency’s probe of Iran’s nuclear activities continues.
Iran notifies the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it has decided to resume research and development activities on gas centri fuges used in its uranium-enrichment program. These activities had been suspended as part of a November 2004 agreement that Iran concluded with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The two sides began negotiations shortly after.
The IAEA receives a letter from Iran asking the agency to remove seals from facilities at Pars Trash, Faryand Technique, and Natanz. Iran removes the seals, used to verify the suspension, several days later in the presence of agency inspectors.
Foreign ministers from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, along with EU Council Sec retariat Javier Solana, issue a statement calling Iran’s decision to restart enrichment activity “a clear rejection of the [negotiating] process.” The statement says that “discussions with Iran have reached an impasse,” adding that the three governments will call for an “extraordinary” meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors.
An IAEA team headed by Deputy Director-Gen eral Olli Heinonen meets with Iranian officials to discuss outstanding issues concerning Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. One meeting focused on the “Green Salt Project,” an alleged Iranian program for a small-scale uranium-con version facility, which Tehran had denied existed.
Heinonen issues a report to the board describing the agency’s ongoing investigation of Iran’s nuclear programs.
The board receives a letter from Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, warning that Tehran will “suspend all…voluntary measures and extra cooperation” with the IAEA. These “measures” include cooperating with the IAEA as if the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement were in force, as well as other “transparency measures” not required by the safeguards agreement.
The board adopts a resolution listing five steps that Iran must take in order to resolve “outstanding questions” regarding its nuclear program, as well as build “confidence” that Tehran ’s nuclear programs are used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
The resolution also requests IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the UN Security Council that “these steps are required” by the board.
The IAEA receives a letter from E. Khalilpour, vice president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organi zation, stating that Iran has “suspended” its cooperation concerning its additional protocol and other transparency measures.
The letter also requests that the IAEA re move by mid-February those “containment and surveillance measures,” such as seals and surveillance cameras, that are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement. The agency does so on Feb. 12.
Iran begins “enrichment tests” by feeding a single P-1 centrifuge with uranium hexafluoride gas.
Iran begins feeding a 10-centrifuge cascade with uranium hexafluoride. A week later, Iran tests a 20-centrifuge cascade, but without uranium hexafluoride.
Feb. 27ElBaradei issues a report to the board updating the IAEA’s investigation.