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UN Security Council Sanctions Iran

Paul Kerr

The UN Security Council Dec. 23 responded to Iran’s continued failure to comply with its demands by raising the stakes, unanimously approving a new resolution limiting Tehran’s ability to obtain materials that could aid its nuclear and missile programs.

So far, Tehran has indicated that it will not bow to Security Council demands, although Iranian officials maintain they are willing to negotiate about their controversial gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Iran claims that it intends to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but the program has caused concern because uranium enrichment can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons as well as fuel for nuclear reactors.

Resolution 1737, which was adopted after a months-long debate, requests International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to submit a report within 60 days to the Security Council and to the IAEA Board of Governors regarding Iran’s compliance. A failure by Iran to comply could lay the groundwork for additional sanctions.

The new resolution notes “with serious concern” that Iran has not complied with Security Council Resolution 1696, adopted in July 2006, which made several demands of Tehran, including suspension of all activities related to its enrichment program. Resolution 1696 followed a June 2006 offer of incentives from permanent Security Council members China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as from Germany, to encourage Iran to end its uranium-enrichment program.

Resolution 1696 also called on Iran to ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which would provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, and pressed Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s investigation of its nuclear programs.

ElBaradei reported to the IAEA board last November that agency investigators had not been able to make progress in their probe for months. However, apparently following through on a promise made later that month, Iran has provided operating records of its pilot enrichment facility to the IAEA, according to two diplomatic sources close to the agency.

Resolution Details

The new resolution, which the council had been working on since October, was the product of a compromise brokered mainly to accommodate Russian and Chinese concerns. (See ACT, December 2006.) Speaking to reporters Dec. 22, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, argued that Russia had found previous drafts of the resolution too broad in scope. He said that the resolution should be designed to restrict Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons and persuade Iran to return to negotiations rather than to punish Tehran.

Requirements and Consequences

Resolution 1737 reiterates the requirements of Resolution 1696 but expands the scope of the suspension to include “work on all heavy water-related projects.” The Security Council is concerned that Iran may use a heavy-water research reactor that it is constructing at Arak to produce plutonium, which also can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

The new resolution describes three options for the council to take depending on Tehran’s response. If Iran suspends its enrichment-related activities, the council “shall suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as” the suspension holds. Similarly, the council “shall terminate” the sanctions if it has determined that “ Iran has fully complied with its obligations.”

On the other hand, the resolution states that the council will adopt “further appropriate” nonmilitary measures if Iran does not comply.

Additionally, the resolution encourages Iran “to engage with” the June proposal, which Resolution 1696 originally endorsed.


Resolution 1737 requires states to “take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale or transfer directly or indirectly” of a variety of items that could “contribute to” Iran’s enrichment or heavy-water programs as well as the development of nuclear-weapon delivery systems, such as ballistic missiles. The relevant items are contained in several lists referenced by the resolution, which also requires states to prevent related assistance to Iran.

The restrictions do not apply to equipment or fuel for light-water nuclear reactors. This exemption would permit Russia to complete and provide fuel for a light-water power reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr.

The resolution also targets Iranian officials and entities “who are engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for” Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. A list of these entities and officials is contained in an annex to the resolution.

For example, the resolution requires states to “freeze the funds, other financial assets and economic resources” of those people and entities. However, numerous activities, such as using funds to purchase food and medical treatment, are exempted from this provision.

Additionally, the resolution calls on governments “to exercise vigilance regarding the entry into or transit through their territories” of listed individuals and requires states to provide notice of such travel to a committee established by the resolution.

That committee, which comprises all the council members, is charged with monitoring compliance with the resolution. It also has several other functions, such as adding additional items, entities, and people to the list as well as deciding on “requests for exemptions” to the resolutions’ trade and financial restrictions. The committee is to report to the Security Council every 90 days.

The resolution also limits IAEA technical cooperation with Iran to “humanitarian purposes,” such as medical and agricultural projects, except when necessary for projects directly related to light-water reactors. During a November meeting, the agency’s board declined to approve an Iranian request for technical assistance for the Arak reactor. (See ACT, December 2006.)

The final version of Resolution 1737 contains several changes from earlier drafts. For example, a text circulated in October included a prohibition on “specialized teaching or training of Iranian nationals…which would contribute to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” It also prohibited travel by the individuals named in the annex, rather than simply requiring notification.

The draft also contained a provision that could have stopped Russia from providing fuel for the Bushehr reactor. (See ACT, November 2006.)

Reaction From Tehran

In an initial display of defiance, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated Dec. 24 that the government would not comply with the resolution.

Indeed, Iranian officials indicated that same day that Tehran would proceed with plans to install 3,000 centrifuges at its larger commercial-enrichment facility at Natanz. It was unclear, however, whether and how this announcement would be carried out.

Iran had previously announced its intention to install the centrifuges by March 2007 but has installed only two 164-centrifuge cascades in a pilot facility located at the same site. (See ACT, December 2006.) Mohammad Saeedi, deputy director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said Dec. 27 that the plan to install 3,000 centrifuges would “advance in line” with Iran’s already-announced plans, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.

Despite this move, Iranian officials have maintained that Tehran remains willing to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue.

Moreover, other Iranian officials indicated that Tehran could consider suspending its program. For example, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, indicated in a Dec. 28 interview with The National Interest that Iran might be willing to suspend its enrichment program “as a temporary measure in order to allow time to find a solution.”

Although Iranian officials had repeatedly indicated that Iran would consider scaling back its cooperation with the IAEA if the Security Council imposed sanctions, it has not yet done so. The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, adopted a measure Dec. 27 requiring the government to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program for peaceful purposes and “revise” its cooperation with the agency, but the measure appears to give the government a good deal of discretion.

Indeed, Saeedi said the Majlis has given the country’s nuclear officials a “free hand” to decide on appropriate cooperation with the IAEA. Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, announced that day that the Supreme National Security Council had “appointed a committee to conduct the necessary studies on making appropriate decisions in accordance with the current conditions.”

Zarif said that Iran does not “exclude” the possibility that the council may impose additional sanctions, but Iranian officials were generally dismissive of the sanctions’ potential effects on the country. For example, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Dec. 25 that the sanctions will not affect Tehran’s nuclear or missile programs because those programs rely on domestic expertise, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). It is widely believed, however, that both of those programs depend to some extent on outside assistance.

Although Iran has generally expressed confidence in its diplomatic leverage, other officials have raised notes of caution.

For example, Hassan Rowhani, a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran’s National Security Council and Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, argued in a Dec. 13 newspaper interview that, although the United States has “been weakened” by such factors as the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, “[c]aution demands that we see the enemy even a little stronger than it is in order to prepare ourselves better to deal with it.” Tehran should make use of its current leverage to negotiate a favorable settlement, he added.

Similarly, former presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently the head of Iran’s Expediency Council, indicated that Iranian officials should proceed with caution and “settle the ongoing problems with generosity,” IRNA reported Dec. 31.

UN Security Council Resolution 1737 on Iran

The United Nations Security Council Dec. 23 unanimously adopted Resolution 1737 after Iran failed to take several steps required by Resolution 1696, which the Security Council adopted in July (See ACT, September 2006). These steps included Iran suspending its uranium-enrichment program. The new resolution expresses the council’s concern over “the proliferation risks represented by Iran’s nuclear program” and Tehran’s “continuing failure” to comply with the earlier resolution, as well as previous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors resolutions.

Resolution 1737 was adopted under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the United Nations, which pertains to nonmilitary sanctions. Under this article, the Security Council “may decide what measures not invoking the use of armed force” are needed “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

The resolution requires Iran and other states to take a variety of steps to constrain Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. In particular, the resolution:

• Decides that Iran shall suspend all nuclear enrichment-related and nuclear reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.

• Decides that Iran shall suspend work on all heavy-water related projects, including construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water at Arak, also to be verified by the IAEA.

• Decides that Iran shall provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests to be able to verify the suspensions and to resolve all outstanding issues, as identified in IAEA reports. It also calls upon Iran to ratify promptly its version of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which substantially expands the agency’s ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities or activities.

• Decides that all states shall prevent the supply, sale or transfer of material and technology which could contribute to Iran’s enrichment-related, reprocessing or heavy water-related activities or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems such as ballistic missiles. The control lists are similar to those of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. Notably, this provision seems to exempt materials, equipment, and technology that would be used in the light-water reactor that Russia is constructing at Bushehr.

• Decides that all states shall prevent technical or financial assistance to Iran or which could assist such activities.

• Decides that all states shall freeze the financial assets of companies, organizations and individuals involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs who are on a UN list.

• Establishes a Security Council committee to monitor the resolution’s implementation.

• Calls upon all states to report the movements of individuals on the UN list to the sanctions committee and to “exercise vigilance” regarding their entry or transit.

• Limits IAEA technical operation with Iran to food, agricultural, medical, safety, or other humanitarian purposes, except in the case of light-water reactor projects.

• Decides that all states shall report to the sanctions committee within 60 days on the implementation of sanctions.

• Requests a report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei within 60 days on whether Iran has suspended uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

• Affirms that the council will suspend the enactment of further sanctions if the IAEA verifies that Iran has suspended the relevant nuclear activities to allow for negotiations.

• Affirms that it will lift sanctions if the IAEA Board of Governors confirms that Iran has fully complied with all Security Council and IAEA obligations.

• Affirms that if Iran does not comply with the resolution, the council will adopt further nonmilitary sanctions.

The full text of Security Council Resolution 1737 is available on the Arms Control Association website www.armscontrol.org.