After several weeks of contentious debate, the UN Security Council March 29 adopted a presidential statement calling on Iran to resolve the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) concerns about its nuclear program and to re-suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.
The statement, which is not legally binding, instructs IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report the status of Iran’s compliance both to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council within 30 days. It does not suggest any specific council actions.
According to the Associated Press, Emyr Jones-Parry, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the Security Council, told reporters March 29 that the council “will continue its discussion of this issue and will assume its responsibilities” if Iran fails to comply. But despite this display of consensus, it appears likely that tactical differences among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council will persist for the near future. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States want the council to play a more prominent role in resolving concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear fuel program. Russia and China, however, want the IAEA to remain the main forum for resolving the matter.
Security Council President César Mayoral of Argentina read the statement the day before the foreign ministers of Germany and the five permanent council members met in Berlin to discuss medium- and long-term diplomacy toward Iran. The council statement “notes with serious concern” the conclusions of a Feb. 27 report from ElBaradei to the agency board.
That report said that Iran had failed to resolve a number of “out standing issues” and concerns concerning the country’s nuclear programs, especially its gas centrifuge-based enrichment program. Consequently, the IAEA was unable to “conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,” he added.
The statement calls on Iran to take the steps required by a Feb. 4 IAEA resolution. That resolution requested that ElBaradei report Iran’s case to the Security Council and update the IAEA board on Iran’s compliance before its March 6 meeting. The permanent council members and Germany agreed at the time that the council should wait until after that meeting before deciding on future action.
The resolution also requested that Iran “extend full and prompt cooperation” to the IAEA and reiterated the board’s past demands that Iran implement several confidence-building measures.
These measures included a resumption of Iran’s enrichment suspension, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. The board also urged Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which would provide the IAEA with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including inspecting facilities that have not been declared to the agency. Tehran has signed the protocol, but its parliament has never ratified it.
According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran has made virtually no progress in complying with these requests. Indeed, Iran accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program and stopped voluntarily adhering to its additional protocol. (See ACT, March 2006.)
Echoing the IAEA, the UN statement calls the transparency measures “essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose” of Iran’s nuclear program. It also “underlines” that Tehran should resume “full and sustained suspension” of its uranium-enrichment activities. (See ACT, March 2006.)
Iran had agreed in November 2004 to suspend “all enrichment- related activities” for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But the negotiations ended when, beginning in August 2005, Tehran resumed the enrichment process in several stages. Uranium enrichment can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.)
The permanent council members and Germany have all repeatedly called on Iran to resume the suspension and return to negotiations.
Security Council, IAEA Act
The permanent council members began discussions about the statement shortly after the IAEA board’s March meeting. But it represents the latest step in a months-long diplomatic effort to bring the Iranian nuclear issue before the Security Council.
The board adopted a resolution last September that formally found Iran in “noncompliance” with its agency safeguards agreement but did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council.
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 March 29 statement was the product of a compromise that reflected Moscow’s and Beijing’s persistent differences with Iran ’s European interlocutors and Washington. Russia and China abstained from the September IAEA vote because they preferred that the issue be resolved within the agency.
France , Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States all support Security Council action as part of a strategy of gradually ratcheting up pressure on Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained during a March 26 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that a unified position will alter Iran’s behavior because it “cannot stand…isolation from the international community.”
During the recent council debate, U.S. and European officials repeatedly said that the statement would not mention any punitive measures. Nevertheless, Russia and China were wary of language they believed could lead to such action against Tehran.
For example, Beijing and Moscow reportedly insisted that the statement not use the phrase “international peace and security” because that same language is in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That chapter allows the council to take punitive action, such as imposing sanctions or using military force, against offending countries “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
Additionally, the deadline for ElBaradei’s report was extended from 14 days to 30 days at Russia’s and China’s request.
Russian Diplomacy Falls Through
Russia ’s own diplomatic efforts with Iran have also failed to produce results. Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a gas centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride.
The proposal is an attempt to address Iran’s stated need for an assured nuclear fuel supply while minimizing Tehran’s ability to produce fissile material. Iran and its European interlocutors were unable to reach such an agreement before the talks ended in August 2005.
Russia currently has a fuel supply agreement with Iran for the nuclear power reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia is to supply LEU to the reactor and take the spent fuel back to Russia. (See ACT, April 2005.)
Iran ’s ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, said that the two sides were “agreed on the basics” of a deal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported March 29. But no final agreement has been reached. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told re porters two days earlier that Moscow’s offer “remains on the table.”
The two sides have disagreed about whether Iran should be al lowed to retain a centrifuge facility. Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that Tehran will retain at least a pilot facility, but some have also indicated that the country might be willing to accept limits on its larger facility.
Russian diplomats were reported to have floated a proposal in early March that would have allowed Iran to operate a pilot enrichment facility for research purposes. But Lavrov denied those claims during a March 7 press conference with Rice. France, the United Kingdom , and the United States have all said that Iran should not be allowed to retain even a small centrifuge plant as that could provide Iran with the necessary skills to operate a similar clandestine facility.
U.S. and European officials have said that, in the event that Tehran continues to defy the IAEA, they will pursue a Security Council resolution making the agency’s demands for confidence-building measures a legal obligation. Iran’s safeguards agreement does not mandate that it comply with such measures. (See ACT, October 2005.)
A British diplomat asserted in a March 16 letter to his French, German, and U.S. counterparts that such a resolution should invoke Chapter 7 in order to signal to Iran that “more serious measures are likely.”
The letter does not specify what these measures might be, but U.S. officials have said that the council’s next step, if necessary, would be to implement sanctions designed to target the Iranian leadership.
China and Russia, however, remain wary of such actions. The letter acknowledges that Beijing and Moscow will not “accept significant sanctions over the coming months.” Indeed, Lavrov indicated during a March 29 press conference that Moscow does not currently support increased council pressure on Iran.
The British letter also stated that the permanent council members and Germany should propose new incentives for Iran to mothball its centrifuge program, but does not elaborate. In August, the country turned down a proposed European package of incentives.
Tehran has continued to demonstrate little willingness to compromise on its enrichment program. Iran’s permanent representative to the UN Mohammad-Javad Zarif told reporters March 29 that Tehran is willing to “find a negotiated solution to the issue” but only if it is allowed to pursue its nuclear program.
Perhaps displaying some flexibility, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated March 25 that Iran may “reconsider implementing” the additional protocol if the Security Council returns Iran’s dossier to the IAEA, IRNA reported.During a March 30 press conference in Geneva, Mottaki also suggested a “regional consortium” for the production of nuclear fuel as a possible solution to the nuclear dispute, the agency reported. He provided no additional details.
The United Nations Security Council March 29 approved the following statement on Iran’s nuclear program:
The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of states party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
The Security Council notes with serious concern the many IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports and resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, reported to it by the IAEA director-general (Mohamed ElBaradei), including the February IAEA board resolution (GOV/2006/14);
The Security Council also notes with serious concern that the director general’s report of 27 February 2006 (GOV/2006/15) lists a number of outstanding issues and concerns, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension, and that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.
The Security Council notes with serious concern Iran’s decision to resume enrichment-related activities, including research and development, and to suspend co-operation with the IAEA under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty’s) Additional Protocol.
The Security Council calls upon Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors, notably in the first operative paragraph of its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear program and to resolve outstanding questions, and underlines, in this regard, the particular importance of reestablishing full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.
The Security Council expresses the conviction that such suspension and full, verified Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA Board of Governors would contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, and underlines the willingness of the international community to work positively for such a solution, which will also benefit nuclear nonproliferation elsewhere;
The Security Council strongly supports the role of the IAEA Board of Governors and commends and encourages the director-general of the IAEA and its secretariat for their ongoing professional and impartial efforts to resolve outstanding issues in Iran, and underlines the necessity of the IAEA continuing its work to clarify all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program;The Security Council requests in 30 days a report from the director- general of the IAEA on the process of Iranian compliance with the steps required by the IAEA Board, to the IAEA Board of Governors and in parallel to the Security Council for its consideration.