"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Interview with Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh
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Interviewed by Peter Crail

Ali Asghar Soltanieh has served since 2006 as Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A nuclear physicist by training, he has held numerous diplomatic positions dealing with nuclear and other nonconventional weapons.

Soltanieh spoke with Arms Control Today on September 6 by telephone from his office in Vienna. The interview touched on many of the controversies surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and IAEA access to facilities that are part of the program.

The interview was transcribed by Kelsey Davenport. It has been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: On the diplomatic front, all of the countries involved in the nuclear impasse have said that they are committed to a diplomatic resolution. But attempts have not been successful so far. Russia has recently discussed with your country a proposal to revive negotiations, and your ambassador in Moscow had said that Iran accepted the generalities of that proposal. What aspect of the proposal does Iran accept, and what aspects would need additional consideration?

Soltanieh: As my foreign minister said after the meeting with his Russian counterpart, we have welcomed the initiative, and we are studying this proposal. In my country, officials are studying it and will reflect appropriately. This is outside the domain of my responsibility being the permanent representative to all international organizations [in Vienna], including the IAEA. But at least I can repeat what the position is, that we have already welcomed this initiative and we are considering it carefully, the proposal. At the same time, I have to say what has happened recently in the context of the IAEA is the visit of the deputy director-general, Mr. [Herman] Nackaerts. I also accompanied him to Iran for a one-week visit to all nuclear installations and also talks with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization [of Iran (AEOI)] and the vice president of Iran, which in fact were the biggest step toward transparency and cooperation. Therefore, we have in fact started this process of taking a step in a proactive approach, and therefore we are waiting to see what the steps are from the other side. We expect that this biggest step of cooperation from our side would be welcomed, and we would be encouraged to take further steps.

ACT: You mentioned the recent visit by Mr. Nackaerts, and I understand that, during that visit, Iran provided access to some additional sites that previously the IAEA had not been allowed to visit with regularity. What was the rationale for allowing those visits?

Soltanieh: First of all, we had decided to make sure that the [IAEA] and the Department of Safeguards and Mr. Nackaerts, who was visiting in his capacity as deputy director-general for the first time, would have a sort of blank check. As I mentioned at the beginning of the visit, he can go wherever he wants, and in fact it happened. When we were visiting the sites that are declared and normally inspected by inspectors, he requested possibly that he could see the production of the heavy-water plant. Therefore I got the approval of my authorities. Therefore, he was able to, with his deputies accompanying him, visit that plant. This was for the first time after some years; the reason we didn’t see and we still don’t see an obligation [to provide such access routinely] is because the heavy-water plant, for example, is covered by the additional protocol, and we are not implementing the additional protocol any more, since the UN Security Council is involved in this matter. So that was one of the things.

Also, of course, during his visit, he requested that we grant access to see the R&D, research and development, on the advanced centrifuges. It was a very, very difficult decision. But I am proud and grateful to inform you that my authorities finally agreed, and he visited the R&D [facilities], and he was able to see all the advances in research and development on different generations of centrifuges. He also had the opportunity to see the workshop as well as the simulation activities. I declared that nobody in the whole world has shown these centrifuges and R&D to the inspectors of the IAEA. Even in EURATOM [European Atomic Energy Community], they are not showing [such facilities to] the inspectors of EURATOM in Europe. Therefore, we have done something unprecedented in the history of IAEA; and I hope that, with this biggest step, which is 100 percent transparency, we have given a strong message to all involved, particularly those who have been negotiating with us, the P5+1[the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany]. Also [I hope] that they receive this message, that if there is no language of threat, sanctions, or this sort of obsolete policy of carrot and stick, that if the approach is of a logical, civilized request in a very friendly, cooperative environment, then the answer is yes. I have said previously in one of these interviews, that if you tell Iranians that they must do something, then they will say no with a loud voice. But if you say please do so, the answer is yes, or we will try our best. That is what has happened during this visit.

ACT: You had said that the visits to the R&D facilities were unprecedented. My understanding is that the agency did have access to certain R&D facilities when Iran was implementing the additional protocol. Is that correct?

Soltanieh: The last time was when [IAEA Deputy Director-General] Mr. [Olli] Heinonen and [IAEA Director-General] Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei, in [ElBaradei’s] last visit in October 2009, had the chance to visit the R&D [facilities], yes. That was also a sign of maximum cooperation transparency. [We agreed to] the request of Mr. ElBaradei to visit the R&D facilities―though Iran is not implementing the additional protocol or 3.1 modified code[1]―as a sign of cooperation beyond its legal obligation. Unfortunately, soon after such a big step, when [ElBaradei] was back in Vienna, there was another resolution in the Security Council. Therefore, we found out that no matter how much we cooperate, those who have a hidden agenda, a political agenda, are not cooperating and are just following different tracks. That is what my strong and clear message this time is. Hopefully, all countries and the IAEA [will] show maximum vigilance to protect this new trend of cooperation transparency, and we will not be faced with disappointing words or actions that will disappoint us for continuing such cooperation and transparent measures even beyond our legal obligation as we did during his last visit.

ACT: On the issue of transparency, [AEOI director] Mr. [Fereydoun] Abbasi said recently that Iran would be ready to grant the agency full supervision over its nuclear activities for five years if UN sanctions were lifted. Can you provide any further details on this proposal, and what full supervision would mean?

Soltanieh: We always have had safeguards applied in Iran under the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] comprehensive safeguards, and everything has been under control by the IAEA. But at the same time, the nuance in the direction of what we have done during [Nackaerts’] visit means that we are ready to cooperate fully with the agency and help that they not have any ambiguity about the exclusively peaceful nature of our activity, provided that we are not facing punitive actions, including sanctions.

ACT: Just to be clear, so is Iran saying that sanctions would have to be lifted first, before that full supervision would be allowed?

Soltanieh: Well of course, as I said, this is the expectation. And we have already taken the step in fact—if you say, which one first, which one next, we have already taken this step. Now it is their turn.

ACT: On the critical issue of enrichment, Iran has often said that it would not give up enrichment. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said publicly that Iran would have the right to enrichment under IAEA inspections at some future date, but only after it had addressed international concerns about its nuclear program. Now if Iran’s primary concern is about what it calls its nuclear rights, why hasn’t Iran been willing to negotiate with the P5+1 with the understanding outlined by Secretary Clinton?

Soltanieh: You see there is a dilemma here. First of all, the inalienable right of the countries for the peaceful use of nuclear energy including fuel cycle and enrichment, that is already in the statute of the IAEA and NPT Article IV.[2] Therefore, the recognition is already there. The only thing that we always said and expect is not to create obstacles for us or any other country to benefit from these inalienable rights enshrined in the statute and the NPT. Calling for suspension is in fact a violation of that right and a violation of the spirit and letter of the statute.

I just want you and your distinguished readers to go to the NPT text and IAEA statute. You can never find in any of these documents the notion of suspension. Suspension was invented for Iran, and the verification of suspension was invented for Iran. Therefore, according to these legal documents, nobody could say to any country that you should suspend your nuclear activities. The only thing is that the IAEA should verify the declaration by member states and monitor and control those activities to make sure that there is no diversion toward military or prohibited purposes. That is exactly what we want. Therefore if the United States or other countries understand that they should not contradict themselves with these principles and international legal documents, then we are in the same boat and the same place. We should have the same understanding of what we are talking about.

The P5+1 negotiation also—in a statement, [Iranian chief nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Saeed] Jalili clearly mentions that this is a matter of principle. Why don’t you announce that both of us are respecting this principle? The second principle is that if we want to negotiate and talk to each other, toward confidence building or further cooperation and strengthening our understanding of cooperation, then there should not be the language of threats or sanctions or punitive action. These are contradicting each other. The same thing that I said, the language of carrot and stick is the language applied to the animals and is humiliation for all countries, including mine, with thousands of years of civilization.

ACT: Now you mentioned that the NPT does talk about the rights to peaceful uses. Doesn’t it also talk about responsibilities for states to adhere to IAEA safeguards? It seems that the IAEA has not been satisfied with Iranian cooperation to date.

Soltanieh: I am 100 percent in agreement with you that, in the NPT, rights and obligations go side by side. I agree with that. But according to the NPT, we do have a comprehensive safeguards agreement, which is documented in INFCIRC/153, the model [safeguards] agreement [for NPT non-nuclear-weapon states]. And of course for Iran, that is [INFCIRC/] 214. According to legal obligations, we are fully compl[ying with] and fully committed to it. But the situation now, which is very unfortunate and disappointing, is that the IAEA is in fact referring to the Security Council resolutions and asks [for] additional access or requests beyond the NPT comprehensive documents. And that is the problem. We do not consider it a legal basis for the UN Security Council resolution. On many occasions, I have mentioned, particularly in the board of governors of the IAEA, I have proved to the whole world that these are legal documents, that the UN Security Council has no legal basis. [There are f]ive clear reasons that I want you to record and reflect to your distinguished readers, so that they know exactly why we are not implementing the UN Security Council resolution.

The first reason is, according to Article XII.C of the [IAEA] statue, the noncompliance of a member state should be recognized by inspectors, because the inspector has the access to the places, the materials, confidential information, and individuals.[3] Then if they report noncompliance to the director-general, the director-general then should refer [the matter] to the board of governors. But in the case of Iran, after years of negotiation between the EU-3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, a group that later was expanded into the P5+1] and Iran and robust inspections, then in 2006, some diplomats, European and Americans, being on the board of governors, themselves judged that there was noncompliance before 2003. Therefore, this is in 100 percent contravention with the statute, [Article] XII.C. That is one reason.

The second reason is that, in Article XII.C, it says that the country that is referred to the Security Council is the recipient country. It means that when this article was written decades ago, for the country that is receiving nuclear materials and equipment from the IAEA and misuses it for nonpeaceful purposes, that is noncompliance. That is why this article says that the recipient country should be referred to the Security Council and that the country should return the equipment or materials to the IAEA. But in the case of Iran, this is not applied because we were not the recipient country of nuclear materials or equipment for Natanz enrichment or other activities.

The third reason that the Security Council has no legal basis is that the country’s issue should be referred to the Security Council if there is proof of diversion of nuclear material to military or prohibited purposes. In the old reports of the IAEA, under the former director-general ElBaradei and [Yukiya] Amano, the new director-general, you see this language that says that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear materials to prohibited purposes. Therefore, this does not apply to Iran.

The fourth reason is that if there are obstacles for inspectors to go to a country, for example North Korea, when the inspectors were not permitted to [go], then this matter should be sent to New York. But in the case of Iran, you can see in all the reports of the director-general over the last eight years that the director-general says that the IAEA is able to continue its verification in Iran. It means that there have been no obstacles whatsoever for inspectors to come to Iran. That is the fourth reason.

The fifth reason is very important and, in fact, pressing and very disappointing. In the resolutions of the EU-3 in the board of governors, before this matter was sent to New York or New York was involved, the Security Council in their own resolution, they confess, confirm that the suspension of enrichment was a non-legally binding, confidence-building, and volunteer measure. If this is non-legally binding, then how come that, after two and a half years, we stopped the suspension, then they turned to the board of governors and said that Iran has violated its obligation and is not legal, [that] Iran should continue its suspension? They admit themselves that it is not legally binding.

Because of these five reasons, the resolution of the board of governors sending this matter to New York and the UN Security Council resolution have no legal basis, and Iran has not implemented, has not applied, and will not implement this resolution because there is no legal basis.

There is another problem, a technical problem, which says that reprocessing should be in breach, but if you read Amano’s report this week, it says there are no reprocessing activities in Iran. How can we suspend what does not exist in Iran? These are the legal and technical problems of this resolution.

ACT: On the suspension issue, looking at it from another angle, Iran has an agreement with Russia for fuel for the Bushehr reactor for the next 10 years. Is it possible that Iran can simply decide for itself that it does not need further enriched uranium in the near term and address international concerns and then start enriching again once it has a need to?

Soltanieh: Please bear in mind that, for the Bushehr power plant, we have only received the first [fuel] load, which is roughly 80 [metric] tons, and after one year we [will] need another 28 tons or so. We do not have any guarantee or any agreement for another five years or the 30 years of its work. Having said so, we have also a lot of experiences of confidence deficits in the past. You know that, for the [Tehran] Research Reactor [TRR], we paid over $2 million to the Americans before the [1979 Iranian] Revolution for new fuel, but we received neither the fuel nor the money after the revolution. Then we got the fuel from Argentina. Now this fuel is going to be finished and burned up. It is over two years that we have had discussions with this so-called Vienna Group—the Americans, French, and Russians in the IAEA—when ElBaradei was chairing the meeting. After two years, we have not received the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Even if we made a historic concession following a recent initiative with our friends from Brazil and Turkey and we made an agreement [in] the Tehran Declaration that we give them not only the money [but also] 1,200 kilograms of uranium and send it to Turkey, [the Vienna Group countries] have not shown any flexibility, and they have not come to the negotiating table. So we do not have any other choice, because of all these confidence deficits, but to continue our enrichment, of course under the political safeguards of [the] IAEA.

ACT: You mentioned the Tehran Research Reactor. Iranian officials have recently said that Iran has produced essentially enough 20 percent enriched uranium for the TRR but that it would continue to produce 20 percent enriched uranium for reactors that Iran intends to build in the future. How much 20 percent material does Iran intend to produce?

Soltanieh: So far, according to this report of the IAEA, we have produced 70.8 kilograms. You know that if we had the negotiations [leading to a] successful agreement made by the Vienna Group, we were expecting to receive under that contract roughly 120 kilograms, the same amount that we received from Argentina over 10 years back. But during past years, the reactor was not working full days, full weeks, and [at] full power. Therefore, we were able to have that amount of material for about 10 years or so. But with these existing demands of the hospitals, one million patients almost, we need to produce almost weekly, this material is perhaps the maximum four or five years. Therefore, we have to make sure that we would not have any fuel shortage.

Apart from [the TRR], we have been intending to have other reactors in Iran because unfortunately we have had many problems in receiving the radioisotope from some countries that have the monopoly. I remind you that, in the last two or three years, the world has faced the molybdenum crisis because of the Canadian reactors having problems, and others. These humanitarian aspects cannot be ignored. Therefore, we want our reactors to be able to produce [amounts large enough to meet] the demand. If we would be successful producing radioisotopes in large amounts, we have officially announced publicly that we would produce and give the radioactive isotope needed in neighboring countries in the region also.

ACT: How much fuel does the TRR have left, or how much longer is the TRR able to run?

Soltanieh: It is not working six days a week or so because we have to be cautious; we do not want to run out. We try to at least have some sort of continuity of producing radioactive isotopes. I don’t know exactly, but the time is running out. We have to speed up the production of fuel. But as you noticed, it was also in the IAEA report, we have had some achievement in working toward making the fuel rods on our own. Before this fuel is running out and the reactor will be shut down, hopefully we will be able to have the first fuel made by Iran in the core of the reactor.

ACT: Regarding the production of 20 percent uranium, what was the reason for the decision to move production to the Fordow plant?

Soltanieh: The answer is very simple, the continuation of threat from Israel, against all international laws and resolutions of the IAEA. In fact Fordow’s very reason for existence is because of the augmentation of the Bush administration’s threat of attack and also Israeli [attack]. Otherwise, we did not want to have another investment. Now we have the 20 percent [enriched uranium]; we have to make sure it would be in a safer position, that is why we decided to put the 20 percent there. The rest of the activities will, of course, continue in Natanz because Natanz is designed for lower enrichment, up to 5 percent, to produce the fuel needed for power plants.

ACT: Now speaking of additional plants, Mr. Abbasi recently said that Iran did not have plans to build new enrichment facilities over the next two years, whereas Iran previously said that there are plans to build 10 new enrichment facilities and last year a site for the first of those 10 had been found. I was wondering if you could explain the shift.

Soltanieh: This is the updated decision because we had been exploring the possibilities; all the decisions will be a function of the political environment of the whole world and also the technical requirements. Therefore, based on these things, the decision is really clear: we have decided for 20 percent [enrichment] in Fordow and the rest of the activities up to 5 percent are going to be at Natanz. Of course, we are doing our R&D, and we did a new generation of centrifuges [that are] faster, [with] more production, more efficiency. That is what we are doing. We are continuing our R&D to have better machines with better qualities and efficiency to put in at Natanz.

ACT: Going back a bit to the issue of confidence-building measures and negotiations: During Iran’s previous negotiations with the EU-3 in 2005, your government proposed a number of possible confidence-building steps intended to be implemented while a long-term resolution was sought. This included shipping out Iran’s low-enriched uranium [LEU] or converting all of the LEU immediately to fuel rods. Is Iran still willing to carry out those kinds of steps as part of confidence-building arrangements with the P5+1?

Soltanieh: With due respect, these are obsolete now because we are facing very speedy developments in the international arena and also in Iran’s nuclear development. Now in this situation where we are, the only thing I can advise to those who have not been able to understand or have not been able to cope with the reality on the ground is, we are the master of enrichment technology; we are continuing enrichment; we have, as it is reported [by the IAEA], old enrichment activities, [which] are at the same time under the IAEA [safeguards]. We cannot go backward. All activities are there, and almost every week, inspectors are in Iran, 24-hour cameras working, and as you noticed in the reports of the [director-general], there is no question whatsoever about the enrichment activities. Everything is clear. In these [previous] years, there have been some questions about contamination and other matters, but all issues related to our nuclear activities are resolved. The only things that they are raising in the IAEA are some sort of allegations by a couple of countries, including the United States—allegations of some studies, these allegations that we are aiming at going to possible military dimensions, which are all fabricated. We do not have any problem whatsoever with the IAEA regarding our old activities, which are under safeguards. Therefore, those proposals have no utility any more. We expect the countries concerned and the IAEA to not only cope with these realities but also welcome Iran’s proactive measures and steps taken recently and all together try and prevent any further politicization of the IAEA and let the IAEA do its professional work with Iran and resolve any questions left.

ACT: That leads me to my next question about these alleged studies. Now if, as you say, the accusations are baseless, while you note that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues, the agency says that it has not received the cooperation that it would like to try and resolve the alleged-studies issue. Now if the accusations are in fact baseless, why not provide the IAEA with the access that it requests in order to demonstrate just that?

Soltanieh: Well, I want to remind you that, in fact in August 2007, Iran made a historic decision at the highest level of the country after the preliminary discussion between [Iranian nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Ali] Larijani and [EU foreign policy chief] Mr. [Javier] Solana and Mr. ElBaradei; then Iran decided to make a maximum concession. We negotiated with the IAEA, and we concluded a work plan, or so-called modality, of how to deal with these outstanding issues, which is INFCIRC/711. I request everybody to go to the Web site of the IAEA and read [the document]; the IAEA confirmed [it], and it was endorsed by the board of governors.

In that document, it says that the IAEA has no more questions than the questions listed in these documents in the modality, or work plan. There were six issues, and it said that if Iran and the IAEA will discuss and resolve these issues, then the safeguards in Iran will be implemented in a routine manner. Unfortunately, after the six issues were resolved—and in two reports, ElBaradei reported that these were resolved—still, this matter is pending. One of the other matters raised was the so-called alleged studies, or so-called American laptop. Although in this modality it was very clear, agreed upon by both sides, that the IAEA should deliver the documents and Iran merely give in its response its assessment of those documents. No more and no less. No more visits or interviews or sampling, no visits to places, nothing.

But unfortunately after that, first the Americans did not tell the IAEA to deliver the documents, and the director-general harshly criticized the Americans that they have jeopardized the documentation process, but he asked us to show flexibility. We agreed. Then the inspectors came with a PowerPoint presentation rather than delivering the documents to us. Apart from it, we had the meeting that we were not supposed to have; we had a 100-hour meeting, and during that meeting, we tried to go slide by slide and explain to them over a 100-hour meeting and 117 pages of written documents we gave confidentially to the IAEA. We explained one by one why these documents are false and fabricated. Therefore, we expected that this file will be closed after six months or a year. Now after three, four years, this matter still is not closed because the IAEA says it has received more allegations from some open sources. This cannot continue; this is an endless process. At some point, we have to put an end to this process. That was the issue that we raised.

However, in spite of that, in the last month, after the meeting of Dr. Abbasi and Dr. [Ali Akhbar] Salehi, our foreign minister with the director-general in Vienna, they tried to show the flexibility or cooperation to say that, first, the inspectors or the officials of the IAEA are invited to visit Iran and then, after that, we said that we are ready to see how we can deal with this. If you read Amano’s report, it gives not only positive reports about the inspections, [but] also he has mentioned in one of the paragraphs on the possible military dimension issue that there has been discussion in Iran, that we have had preliminary talks on how to deal with this issue. But of course, there are concerns, security concerns that we have—the release of confidential information, which many times has happened in the IAEA and many other matters. But we have proved in the past that these allegations are baseless, and we are ready to prove it again, to make sure that this is the case, because we are against nuclear weapons, we don’t have any nuclear weapons program, and all activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The problem is unfortunately that people have forgotten, and they are not reading the past reports of the director-general. I recall several allegations by Americans about the military sites like Parchin and Lavizan. In all these sites, one by one, it took sometimes a year or more, but if you spend the time, the inspectors and then the director-general reported that they have not found any evidence of nuclear material activities. We cannot continue this matter. If the allegations prove baseless, then that country [making the accusations] has lost its credibility, and the agency should not listen or take into consideration their accusation that they receive in a sort of open-source manner. That is the problem that we are facing. But I hope that soon we will see a new trend, we will put an end to those questions, and this matter after all these years will be removed from the agenda of the board of governors.

ACT: Just to follow up on that quickly, you mentioned the discussions that were held recently between Iran and the IAEA on those studies. Is there a possibility for follow-on talks on that issue? Was there some agreement that there would be some procedure to try and resolve some of the agency’s questions?

Soltanieh: Today we had the technical briefing by Mr. Nackaerts for member states on this report. He also informed [the members] about the visits, honestly expressed his appreciation, called this visit a transparency visit and a turning point, and [said] he appreciated it. We expect a positive response to these proactive measures by Iran so that we will be encouraged to continue the process started pursuant to talks in Iran between Mr. Nackaerts and Mr. Abbasi.

ACT: Moving away a bit from the inspections issue: The Bushehr reactor was recently hooked up to Iran’s energy grid and began generating electricity. According to the IAEA, Iran is the only country with an operating nuclear power reactor that is not member of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Now, particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, why isn’t Iran signed up to the international nuclear safety standards?

Soltanieh: I refer you to the statement of Mr. Abbasi, who participated in the ministerial meeting on nuclear safety after the Fukushima [accident], in Vienna in June. In his statement, he officially concluded by saying, “I have the honor to announce that we have started the process of ratification.” That answer is already given to the whole world.

We are attaching great importance to nuclear safety, and we have said many times that one of the reasons that we have spent more and more money for the Bushehr power plant and the operation and start-up was delayed was because the country was insisting that the requirements of high standards, safety standards, be implemented. We have had a very big project with the IAEA for almost the last decade. During this project, the top experts of the whole world through the IAEA have been advising Bushehr for nuclear safety, and they still are.

ACT: My final question has to do with the discussion about a WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-free zone in the Middle East. Iran of course was the first country to call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region. What is your government’s perspective regarding the planned conference on the WMD-free zone next year?[4]

Soltanieh: I have already written a letter to Mr. Amano reflecting our position. We have already said that while Iran has been the first country since 1974 asking for a Middle East [nuclear-weapon-free] zone, unfortunately, the main obstacles have been Israel’s nuclear capability and not joining the NPT. Therefore, we considered that the only measure toward a Middle East free zone that would be meaningful would be if the whole international community put pressure on Israel to join [the] NPT promptly without delay and put all nuclear activities under the IAEA and destroy all nuclear weapons capabilities and nuclear weapons facilities. And that is the only way to do it. In fact, this was the case in all other regions [with nuclear-weapon-free zones], I presume. We cannot accept that there is a nonparty to the NPT in the region and trying to ignore the demands of the countries in the region.

There is a serious security concern by all the countries in the region if Israel continues its nuclear weapons program; there is a serious question since [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert announced that they possessed nuclear weapons, and after avalanches of pressure and criticism in the IAEA, the representative of Israel denounced and rejected the position of his prime minister. This is a very ridiculous situation. In fact in that meeting, I asked the director-general to send a fact-finding mission to see if the prime minister is telling the truth or the representative [is]. Later on in the [IAEA] General Conference, I said that my country is willing to take the cost of all fact-finding missions in Israel by the IAEA. Up until now, these questions still exist; the Middle East free zone cannot be realized unless the Israelis promptly join the NPT and put all nuclear facilities and activities under the full-scope safeguards of the IAEA, and that is it. Any forum by the IAEA and by the United Nations on the Middle East, following the 2012 conference, following the 2010 NPT Review Conference, where we made a compromise to join the consensus, will not be successful unless this problem, the main problem in the Middle East, will be resolved. We are in a vicious cycle because of Israel, and the international community should understand it. We all should be united; every country of the whole world that really wants a Middle East free zone and is really genuinely looking for a world free from nuclear weapons should put pressure on Israel to abide by the international call.

ACT: Understanding your government’s perspective on Israel and the NPT, regarding the zone, as we know from the Middle East resolution, it addresses nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Beyond the issue of Israel joining the NPT, what steps is Iran prepared to take to help move the region in the direction of finally concluding a zone free of weapons of mass destruction?

Soltanieh: Of course, in the IAEA, the concentration is on the nuclear-weapon-free zone, but as a matter of principle since Iran is in fact the only country in the Middle East that is party to all disarmament treaties on weapons of mass destruction—the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention], CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], and NPT—and we are a signatory of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] so we would support of course a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. You know, there are other countries, at least, joining the CTBT and the NPT, but Israel is not party to any of them.[5] Therefore in principle, yes, Iran is supporting a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, and we will expend effort in that direction.

ACT: I think that is a good note to end on. I want to thank you again, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us.

Soltanieh: I wish you all the best. I hope this kind of interaction will help your distinguished readers to a better understanding of this whole issue. Let us hope that we will soon have this whole issue resolved and the IAEA will be depoliticized and depolarized because the polarization and politicization of the IAEA is dangerous for the future of the agency. Let’s hope for a better future and peace and prosperity all over the world, and thank you very much for your time.


[1] Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to IAEA safeguards agreements specifies when a state is required to declare facilities to the agency. The IAEA originally said that states must declare nuclear facilities six months prior to introducing nuclear material, but modified the code in 1992 to require countries to inform the agency of facilities “as soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier.” Iran agreed to the modified code in 2003, but reverted to the original version in 2007. The IAEA maintains that Iran is bound by the stricter, modified code.

[2] The first clause of Article IV of the NPT states: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Article I of the treaty only applies to the five nuclear-weapon states, while Article II requires that non-nuclear-weapon states not obtain or seek to obtain nuclear weapons.

[3] For the text of Article XII, see www.iaea.org/About/statute_text.html#A1.12.

[4] NPT members agreed in 1995 on a resolution to work toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, states-parties agreed to hold a conference in 2012 aimed at making progress toward establishing such a zone.

[5] Iran is a party to the CWC, BWC, and NPT and has signed the CTBT. Israel has signed the CWC and CTBT.