"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Iran Offers to Resolve Issues With IAEA

Paul Kerr

Iran has invited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials to visit Tehran in order to “develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues” related to the country’s past nuclear activities, agency spokesperson Melissa Fleming announced June 25. “The IAEA intends to send a team as early as practicable,” she added. Iran’s invitation came as permanent members of the UN Security Council began work on a new resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Tehran’s lead nuclear negotiator, issued the invitation the previous evening during a meeting with IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. Larijani and ElBaradei also had discussed the plan during a June 22 meeting.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told reporters June 24 that Iran could reach an agreement with the IAEA within two months.

Iran has a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program and is constructing a heavy water-moderated nuclear reactor. Iran says these programs are for peaceful purposes, but both also could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Unresolved issues related to these programs have been a persistent source of controversy. Since its investigation began in 2002, the IAEA has discovered that Tehran engaged in secret nuclear activities, some of which violated its safeguards agreement with the agency. The government has provided explanations for some of these issues, but the agency says that several others remain unresolved. (See ACT, March 2006.)

IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities.

Partly in response to Iran’s failure to clarify the outstanding nuclear issues, the Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran in two previous resolutions, the most recent of which was adopted in March.

According to a May report from ElBaradei to the IAEA Board of Governors, the outstanding issues include “information relevant to the assembly of centrifuges, the manufacture of centrifuge components…and research and development of centrifuges or enrichment techniques.”

 Most recently, ElBaradei told the IAEA board June 11 that the agency is unable “to make any progress in its efforts to resolve [the] outstanding issues,” adding that “it is incumbent on Iran to work urgently” with the IAEA so that it can “provide assurance regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of all of Iran’s nuclear activities.”

Iran has previously promised to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation, but nothing has come of those pledges. For example, an April 2006 Iranian letter said that Tehran was “prepared to resolve the remaining outstanding issues” with the agency and pledged to provide a timetable for compliance within the next three weeks. (See ACT, June 2006.)

More recently, Iran reiterated in a February letter to the IAEA its willingness to cooperate with the investigation. But this offer appeared to retain a previous condition that the Security Council end its involvement with the Iranian nuclear issue. (See ACT, March 2007.)

Meanwhile, Larijani met June 23 with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, in Lisbon in an effort to restart negotiations with Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Those countries have said repeatedly that they are willing to negotiate with Tehran about a June 2006 offer of incentives intended to persuade the Iranian government to end its uranium-enrichment program. However, they continue to insist that Iran suspend work on those programs, a step it has refused to take.

Solana described the meeting as “very constructive.” Similarly, Larijani said that they had a “good discussion,” according to an official Iranian radio report. Solana told reporters that the two officials, who also met in April and May, are to meet again in about three weeks, according to Agence France-Presse.

Resolution Work Proceeds Slowly

The two previous Security Council resolutions included a demand that Iran suspend all activities related to its enrichment program, as well as construction of its heavy water reactor. (See ACT, April 2007.)

The resolutions also require Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s investigation, as well as to ratify an additional protocol to its comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreement. Iran has signed an additional protocol, which augments the IAEA’s authority to investigate possible undeclared nuclear activities, but has not ratified it.

ElBaradei’s May report, which he issued per the council’s request, showed that Iran has not complied with the most recent resolution, which the council adopted in March. Resolution 1747 requires Iran to comply “without further delay” with the council’s demands or face “further appropriate [nonmilitary] measures.” (See ACT, April 2007.)

Hosseni said that Iran would increase its cooperation with the IAEA in order to dissuade the UN Security Council from adopting another resolution. However, Department of State spokesperson Tom Casey told reporters the next day that the United States is “moving forward with a discussion” with other permanent council members about “what kind of sanctions” could be included in a new resolution. He did not specify further.

Iranian officials have reiterated that Tehran will react negatively to a new sanctions resolution. Larijani said that Iran would respond to such a measure by making “another, longer stride” in its nuclear program but did not elaborate, according to an interview in the June 21 edition of Newsweek. Likewise, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, warned in a June 15 interview with the semi-official Mehr News Agency that Tehran could further decrease its cooperation with the IAEA if the council were to adopt another sanctions resolution.

Iran has gradually scaled back its cooperation with the agency since early 2006. For example, Tehran had been behaving as if its additional protocol were in force since the fall of 2003, but stopped doing so in February 2006.

More recently, Iran has not allowed the IAEA to inspect its heavy water reactor facility since Tehran’s March decision to end its compliance with a portion of the subsidiary arrangements for its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, April 2007.)