As U.S. permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other Vienna-based organizations, Ambassador Gregory L. Schulte has been deeply involved in U.S. efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear program, develop a series of multilateral nuclear fuel assurances, and other nonproliferation initiatives. Arms Control Today met with Schulte in his Vienna office June 7 to discuss the status of U.S. efforts.
ACT: The latest that I’ve heard about the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programs is that Javier Solana, secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, delivered an offer to the Iranians. Can you tell us a little more about what’s in the offer?
Schulte: We have chosen to not reveal the details of the offer. It was something agreed among the six foreign ministers [ China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States] because we want to give the leaders in Tehran every opportunity to consider the offer carefully and to give it a reasoned response. We don’t want to provoke them into a negative response because our goal, of course, is to convince them to suspend all enrichment-related activities, including research and development, and to start negotiations. The six foreign ministers laid out very clearly two paths. One is a positive path that will offer the Iranian people benefits, including access to civil nuclear power. The negative path is one that goes through the [UN] Security Council. We want to give them all opportunities to make the right choice, which is the positive path.
ACT: Have you defined what suspension means?
Schulte: Suspension has been defined again and again. It means all enrichment-related activities to include research and development. We’re not looking to parse that in some fashion. We’re looking for a full suspension.
ACT: Let me ask you about another area. I understand there is a pending U.S. proposal dealing with fuel assurances that is going to be announced at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting next week. Do you have any more details on that proposal?
Schulte: Well, for some time [IAEA] Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has been urging countries to start work on a multilateral set of fuel assurances that could be made available to countries who are interested in nuclear power but who do not have an interest in investing in the enrichment and ultimately reprocessing capabilities associated with nuclear power. So in response to his request and recognizing that more and more countries are interested in nuclear power, the United States and France have worked with other nuclear fuel-supplying countries to put together a basic set of assurances for reliable nuclear fuel supply that would be implemented by the IAEA and that would be available to countries who have chosen not to have enrichment capabilities. Our intention is to brief the Board of Governors on this basic concept at the meeting next week.
Then we hope that the IAEA Secretariat will be in a position to move forward to start developing the more detailed legal, technical, and other aspects of this proposal so we might have a very basic mechanism that could be considered and potentially adopted by the board in September. Now, one thing I should stress in all this is we actually think that the civilian fuel market is quite adequate. It’s very diverse. It does a good job. It gives people interested in fuel a variety of countries and companies that it can turn to. So, the last thing we want to do is somehow interfere in the market. But we are prepared to work with the IAEA and others to put in these basic backup assurances for countries who worry that for some reason the market might fail them.
ACT: One of the reasons the Iranians have cited for why they need to have enrichment is as a kind of backup guarantee. Would Iran—if it down the road agreed not to go forward with enrichment, would Tehran be eligible for such programs?
Schulte: This program is designed for countries that choose not to have enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, and any country that participates in it of course would need to be abiding by its safeguards obligations. So, Iran has some major violations that they have to deal with first. When we put these assurances together, it was not with Iran specifically in mind. We were learning the lessons of Iran and looking to the future, recognizing that more and more countries are interested in nuclear power.
One of the things that Iran has illustrated to us is that there is a major loophole in the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] NPT. The loophole is one whereby countries, under the guise of a civil program, can develop the wherewithal for nuclear weapons. They can, as Iran has done, develop an enrichment capability when it’s not actually for a civil program, when it’s actually for a military program. This is a loophole that’s been recognized by not just the United States but also by [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan and ElBaradei. Part of our goal to fill that loophole is in fact to put fuel assurances in place to give countries additional confidence that they don’t have to develop these type of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.
ACT: Would countries such as the United States, for instance, ultimately still have to give approval for deliveries of this fuel to go forward?
Schulte: The goal is to have the mechanism be sufficiently diverse so that if there were an issue with one supplier, the IAEA would be in a position to facilitate supply from another country and the arrangement might even be backed up with some standing reserves of fuel. For example, in September of last year, [Energy Secretary Samuel] Bodman announced that the United States was prepared to downblend 17.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium [HEU], which was surplus to our military requirements, and use that as part of a U.S. contribution to a backup reserve. Other countries have also been looking at whether they would be prepared to contribute in a similar fashion.
ACT: Have any other countries committed to contribute?
Schulte: We know that Russia, for example, has been looking at this as a possibility.
ACT: Switching topics to India, IAEA officials tell me that the Indians have yet to present any safeguards proposal to the agency. Do you know when they will, and do you know why they have not yet done so? As you know, members of Congress are looking to consider the IAEA safeguards proposals as part of their decision-making process. How would this work out in terms of staging?
Schulte: There are a number of moving parts here. There’s the congressional piece, where Congress needs to make changes to the Atomic Energy Act and would also need to approve a U.S.[-Indian] 123 agreement. The Nuclear Suppliers Group would need to, in our judgment, make an exemption to existing rules for India. There’s the safeguards agreement that needs to be negotiated between India and the IAEA, and finally there’s the 123 agreement, which needs to be worked out between the United States and India. Our goal is to try to move all of these moving parts together in tandem.
So, for example, we have been urging the Indian government to move forward with the negotiations with the IAEA on a safeguards agreement. There was an initial discussion that took place a number of months ago between the head of India’s Atomic Energy Commission [Anil Kakodkar] and ElBaradei where they talked about the nature of the agreement. We hope that those talks will continue soon. The Indians have committed to a permanent safeguards agreement. We know they have to be somewhat unique for India, given the nature of this agreement. On the other hand, we also know and the Indians know that these have to be permanent safeguards that are put in place and that the Board of Governors will need to be satisfied with the arrangements put in place.
ACT: You said that they were somewhat unique. I guess the phrase that was used in the March U.S.-Indian agreement was that there would be “India-specific safeguards.” But no one can really figure out what that means. Does the United States have an idea of what that means?
Schulte: Well, I think the director-general has an idea of what that means. He thinks that it will look pretty much like a standard safeguards agreement that a non-nuclear-weapons country would have, with some adjustments for India.
ACT: Can you give me a sense of what kind of adjustments you’re talking about? Obviously, they have nuclear weapons, so some elements would not be relevant to a non-nuclear-weapon state, but which ones?
Schulte: This agreement is going to apply to various facilities, and it’s up really to the IAEA and India to work out the details of that agreement.
ACT: Part of the U.S. agreement talks about a fuel-supply agreement. Would India be eligible for this kind of assured fuel supply that you are talking about?
Schulte: The arrangements that we have put in place are for countries that have chosen not to have enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. India has enrichment capabilities.
ACT: Okay. The agreement talks about what are essentially assured supplies of fuel for the facilities. Maybe we are reading this incorrectly, but it appears that safeguards would essentially be contingent on the assurance of fuel supply and whether that goes forward. Is that a correct reading, and isn’t that also a different way of dealing with safeguards than is traditional?
Schulte: It’s very clear. They’re permanent safeguards. They’re not contingent on anything. We think that this provides a net gain to the nonproliferation treaty. Obviously, for 30 years we have been encouraging India to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. It’s apparent after 30 years of effort that that’s not going to happen. The director-general, among others, was urging us to think differently about India. We have now thought differently about India. We’ve thought about how best we can help it meet its energy concerns and at the same time strengthen the nonproliferation regime. The judgment we’ve reached is that India has assumed enough additional commitments—safeguards commitments, commitments on not spreading enrichment and reprocessing [technology], commitments related to the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] guidelines—that this is a net benefit to the proliferation regime. I certainly can’t speak for the Congress, but I’ve been involved in recent discussions of the NSG taking place here in Vienna, and it’s clear that more and more countries are understanding that this is a net benefit to the nonproliferation regime. It’s important given India’s place in the world, given their relations with India, and given India’s own requirements for nuclear power.
ACT: Actually, I have a question regarding the safeguards committee that was established by the IAEA last year. According to folks at the IAEA, all that’s happened so far with the committee is that the IAEA Secretariat has submitted a couple of papers that have recommendations and people are considering them. Is there any more that you can tell me about what is going in this regard?
Schulte: The committee was established in June of last year. It had its first meeting in November. It’s gone through an organizational phase. I think it’s now starting to get down to work. As you say, the secretariat has submitted a number of recommendations, meant to strengthen the safeguards system. There was a good technical discussion of those recommendations. The committee is considering those recommendations. We have also provided a briefing on lessons learned from the A. Q. Khan network to the committee to encourage countries to think about how you deal with these future challenges. We anticipate next week that there will be a first progress report from the committee to the Board of Governors. We hope that, when it reconvenes in September, it will have transitioned fully out of the organizational phase and really started to get down to work.
ACT: One of those suggestions, as I understand it, was for certain satellite providers to give priority access to the IAEA for imagery. Is that something the United States will support?
Schulte: We have a support program that’s very active in terms of providing support for the IAEA. We have looked at ways of providing them enhanced access to satellite imagery. We’ve looked at ways of providing them enhanced access to open source information. We recognize increasingly that, for the IAEA to carry out its role, it doesn’t do it just with inspections and by taking swipe samples. But it also needs to take advantage of the wealth of information that’s out there, for example, just from open sources. So, we’re looking for ways to help them with that.
ACT: A couple more questions on Iran. I understand that there will probably be a written report from the director-general on where the investigation stands [the report was released June 12]. Do you expect anything else in terms of debate or substance on Iran at the Board of Governors meeting?
Schulte: We’re expecting a written report tomorrow. It will probably be a very short report because unfortunately we haven’t seen and the agency hasn’t seen really any cooperation from Iran. The last report we received said there essentially had been no cooperation over the last month. We suspect that the upcoming report will say something similar. Of course, we’ll look very carefully at the report to tell us if Iran is preparing to suspend its enrichment-related activities, which we called upon them to do, or if Iran seems poised to move forward quickly. But we don’t see next week’s board meeting as a diplomatic deadline or decision point. Right now, the decision does not lie in Vienna, the decision lies in Tehran. And we are looking for the leadership in Tehran to choose the constructive path. From here in Vienna, we will be watching to see, are they prepared to meet IAEA demands to suspend enrichment and reprocessing activities, are they prepared to start cooperating with the IAEA, are they prepared to start implementing the additional protocol? We, of course, will be doing our best to make clear that the Board of Governors and nations more broadly called upon them to do three things: suspend the activities that concern us so much, cooperate with the IAEA, and start to negotiate in good faith.
ACT: What do you think of their responses so far?
Schulte: I think it’s too early to judge. We want to give them the opportunity for a considered response. As the president [George W. Bush] said, the initial response after the package was presented to Iran sounded positive, but we’re giving them the opportunity to respond. We want them to make the positive decision, but they need to manifest this by a willingness to negotiate seriously, and they need to manifest this by verifiably and fully suspending their enrichment-related activities.
ACT: Does this suspension have to be permanent?
Schulte: We’re just asking for a suspension.
1. Wade Boese, “U.S. Proposes Nuclear Fuel Safety Net,” Arms Control Today, November 2005, p. 35.
2. The United States submitted a draft civil-nuclear agreement to India in March 2006. The Indian government countered with their own version in May. The two governments are now negotiating over these two drafts. See Wade Boese, “U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal Simmers,” Arms Control Today, June 2006, p. 44.
4. Wade Boese, “Bush, Singh Advance Nuclear Deal,” Arms Control Today, April 2006, p. 32.