In July and August, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held three rounds of talks aimed at resolving a number of outstanding verification issues regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. The talks concluded Aug. 21 with agreement on a work plan for Iran to answer long-standing questions regarding its nuclear activities and to formulate a “safeguards approach” for the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility. But the agreement failed to fully address the concerns of the United States and some European governments about Tehran’s program and they vowed to push for additional UN sanctions to curtail it.
The majority of the work plan outlines a phased process for Iran to provide clarifications on a set of outstanding issues previously identified by the IAEA. These outstanding questions relate to a number of clandestine nuclear activities which Iran failed to declare before the IAEA discovered them in 2003, as well as weapons-related projects the United States has accused Iran of carrying out. (See ACT, March 2006.)
According to the work plan, Iran has already provided clarifications to the IAEA regarding its undeclared experiments with plutonium separation during the 1990s which are consistent with the agency’s findings, thereby resolving the issue.
In addition to resolving outstanding issues, Iran has agreed to cooperate with the IAEA on preparing a safeguards approach and “facility attachment” for its Natanz uranium-enrichment facility with the aim of finalizing these arrangements by the end of September. The safeguards approach is intended to outline the types of inspection mechanisms that may be used at Natanz. The facility attachment specifies how these mechanisms are to be carried out.
Although the details of this approach will be subject to further discussions between Iran and the IAEA, the work plan makes clear that safeguards will be applied “in accordance with Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement,” suggesting that Iran will not re-implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. Such protocols provide the IAEA with greater authority to verify that a country does not have undeclared nuclear facilities or material. Implementing an additional protocol had been continuously cited by the IAEA as necessary for the agency to provide assurances that Iran’s nuclear activities are consistent with its international obligations, most recently reiterated in a May 23 report. Beginning in 2003, Tehran had allowed the IAEA to operate in Iran as if an additional protocol were in force but stopped doing so in February 2006. (See ACT, March 2006.)
The UN Security Council, under Resolutions 1737 and 1747, requires Iran to verifiably suspend all enrichment-related activities as a way of providing such confidence. Iranian officials have continually declared that Tehran has no intention of carrying out such a suspension, and Iran has continued to install centrifuges since the adoption of the resolutions. The May 23 IAEA report indicated that about 1,600 centrifuges were operating or being tested at the uranium-enrichment facility, and another 500 were under construction.
The Security Council resolutions also call on Tehran to suspend any spent fuel reprocessing activities and the construction of its 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor at Arak. The Arak reactor remains under construction and, according to Tehran, is expected to be completed by 2009. The reactor could produce spent fuel with enough plutonium for about two weapons each year.
During the first session of the talks held July 11-12 in Tehran, Iran agreed to allow the IAEA to conduct inspections of the Arak reactor, and inspectors visited the facility July 30. Since April, the agency’s monitoring of the Arak site had been limited to satellite imagery because Iran curtailed further cooperation at the site in response to the Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1747. (See ACT, April 2007.)
The IAEA Board of Governors has requested that Iran reconsider the construction of the reactor since June 2004. Moreover, last November, the IAEA Board of Governors rejected Iran’s request for technical assistance on the reactor. (See ACT, November 2006.) Iran declared that it would continue work on the reactor in spite of the decision.
Iranian Cooperation With the IAEA Will Not Avoid Push For Sanctions
As in the past, Iranian officials have suggested that its new cooperation with the IAEA is proof of good faith efforts toward resolving the international community’s concerns regarding their nuclear program, thereby making punitive measures unwarranted. Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani said Aug. 20, “This agreement is achieved based on a political consensus, and the United States too has to yield to it.”
The United States and other major powers have indicated that the Aug. 21 agreement is a positive move but insufficient to either address concerns over Iran’s nuclear programs or fulfill Tehran’s obligations to the Security Council.
A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Aug. 22 that although Iran’s offer to clarify certain outstanding issues with the agency was welcome, “Iran should have answered these questions years ago.” Similarly, a German diplomat told Arms Control Today Aug. 22 that the talks were welcomed “as an important, long-overdue step” and expressed hope that the agreement “was not just a tactical maneuver” aimed at avoiding additional sanctions.
The United States has criticized the action plan for not going far enough to provide transparency regarding Iran’s nuclear efforts. U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte told reporters Aug. 22, “We understand there are real limitations with the [timetable] plan.” He noted in particular Iran’s “continued refusal” to re-implement an additional protocol.
Moreover, because Iran has not suspended the nuclear projects outlined by the Security Council, the five permanent council members (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) and Germany continued their consultations on a third sanctions resolution on Iran. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Aug. 22, “The agreement does not constitute compliance with the Security Council resolutions,” adding that the council must therefore move forward with an additional resolution.
Similar sentiments were expressed by some European governments.
During a daily press briefing Aug. 21, French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Denis Simonneau stated, “We must therefore, in accordance with Resolution 1747, return to the Security Council and begin the necessary consultations for adopting a third resolution on sanctions, and we would like to see it be substantial.”
In regard to the content of a third resolution, a French diplomat told Arms Control Today Aug. 22 that a “long list of options” was being considered, including additional targeted sanctions as well as broader penalties, but that the Security Council members will have to see “what the market will bear” in terms of additional punitive measures.
The push for sanctions is likely to meet opposition by other members of the council. For example, Russia insists that the Security Council should allow time for Iran to finalize its arrangements with the IAEA in order to resolve the outstanding questions about its nuclear program. A Russian diplomat told Arms Control Today Aug. 23 that Russia does not support an additional round of sanctions at this point and believes that such a move would not be productive. The diplomat indicated that Russia might support a resolution that stresses the need for Iran to comply with all of its obligations but does not include sanctions.
Bushehr Construction Delays Persist
While Iran’s enrichment program and Arak reactor have been subject to scrutiny by the IAEA and UN Security Council, Iran also continues to face difficulties with the construction of its first nuclear power plant at Bushehr. (See ACT, May 2007.)
Ivan Istomin, head of the firm subcontracted by Atomstroiexport, the Russian state-owned company constructing the plant, indicated that a realistic time frame for the start-up of the reactor is autumn 2008, RIA Novosti reported July 25.
Iran has expressed hope that the plant, which has undergone numerous delays since Russia agreed to take over construction in the 1990s, will be completed this fall. Mahmoud Jafari, head of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant workshop, told the Islamic Republic News Agency July 24 that the plant was more than 90 percent complete and “should be launched on schedule in September-October of this year.”
Russia has cited payment arrears as the reason behind the delays. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak told Itar-Tass July 26, “The problem is that our Iranian colleagues had shouldered an obligation to pay for services of Russian specialists by definite portions in definite periods.” He added that, because of “hitches” in these payments, the Russian company had to conduct its work on credit, “which was not in its plans.”In order to resolve the dispute, Iran has been holding negotiations with representatives of Atomstroiexport. In regard to these talks, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters July 8 that “announcing the exact date of Bushehr power plant completion needs negotiations.”