Amano Reports No Progress on Iran

Kelsey Davenport

Clarification made online on June 4, 2013.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not made “any progress” in talks with Iran on clarifying Tehran’s responses to the agency’s concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iranian nuclear activities, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said last month.

The IAEA first laid out its suspicions about Iranian nuclear efforts allegedly relating to weapons development in a November 2011 report to its Board of Governors. (See ACT, December 2011.) Iran and the IAEA have met nine times since then to negotiate a framework for resolving the agency’s concerns, but have failed to come to an agreement about the scope and sequence of the investigation. At the most recent meeting, on Feb. 13, IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts said the two sides had not set a date for further talks. (See ACT, March 2013.)

In his March 4 remarks to the board’s quarterly meeting in Vienna, Amano discussed the findings of a Feb. 21 IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program and said that Tehran “is not providing the necessary cooperation” to enable the agency to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran.

In a Feb. 22 letter to Amano, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh disputed the findings of the Feb. 21 report, saying that “all declared nuclear material in Iran is accounted for” and remains under IAEA surveillance.

Iran, P5+1 Hold Technical Meeting

Iran and six world powers held a technical-level meeting in Istanbul on March 18 to discuss the details of proposals put forward by each side during negotiations in February to address international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran and the six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, known as the P5+1—had agreed on arrangements for the March meeting during Feb. 26-27 high-level political negotiations in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Almaty talks marked the resumption of negotiations between the parties after an eight-month hiatus. (See ACT, March 2013.)

The meeting allowed experts from the two sides to “explore each other’s positions on a number of technical subjects,” according to a statement issued after the March 18 meeting by a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 lead negotiator. Ashton did not attend the meeting; Stephan Klement, her personal representative on nonproliferation issues, led the P5+1 delegation on her behalf.

The statement confirmed the agreement from the February meeting that high-level political talks will resume in Almaty April 5-6. In his statement after the March 18 meeting, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the talks should progress toward a path that recognizes Iran’s “peaceful nuclear rights and obviates the concerns” of the international community.

Meanwhile, in a March 18 statement marking the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the United States and the international community are ready to reach a diplomatic resolution that would “give Iran access to peaceful nuclear energy” while resolving concerns about the “true nature of the Iranian nuclear program.” Iran must take “immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions,” Obama said.

The current P5+1 proposal is based on a package offered during talks last year. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) U.S. officials said it was updated to reflect developments in Iran’s nuclear programs over the last eight months. In a March 16 forum in Brussels, Ashton described the proposal as a “first confidence-building measure” rather than the “end package.”

In key changes, the revised proposal reportedly provides limited sanctions relief and allows Iran to keep a portion of its stockpiles of 20 percent-enriched uranium. The stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium is a key concern of the P5+1 because uranium enriched to that level can be further enriched to weapons grade with relatively little additional effort. Iran maintains that it needs the 20 percent-enriched material to produce medical isotopes.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    Last November, at the previous board meeting, Robert Wood, the U.S. representative to the IAEA, said the United States would urge the board to take “appropriate” action in March if Iran did not begin substantive cooperation with the IAEA. Despite Amano’s assertion that no progress was made, the board did not take any new action.

    In a March 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official said, “If Iran continues to refuse to cooperate with the IAEA and take steps to come into compliance with its international nuclear obligations, the United States will work with our friends and allies on the Board of Governors to agree on the most appropriate action to deal with Iran’s intransigence.”

    The official noted that the group of six countries, known as the P5+1, that is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program “made a joint statement, welcoming continuing but purposeful negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, and calling on Iran to stop stonewalling the IAEA and answer the outstanding questions about its possible nuclear military activities.”

    In his March 6 statement to the board, Joseph Macmanus, who succeeded Wood as U.S. representative to the IAEA, said the United States would “not accept further delay” by Iran in implementing its IAEA obligations and that “the separate P5+1 diplomatic process cannot be a substitute for such implementation.”

    Macmanus said that the board will need to “consider carefully, and soon,” what steps must be taken to “hold Iran accountable for a continued cycle of deception and delay.”

    IAEA Report

    Tehran is moving forward with the installation of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, according to the Feb. 21 report. That facility produces reactor-grade uranium enriched to 3.5 percent.

    The report confirmed that, on Feb. 6, Iran sent the IAEA a letter with information on the planned cascade configuration for the second-generation, or IR-2M, centrifuges, but did not include any details from the letter. As of Feb. 19, 180 centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings were installed at Natanz, according to the IAEA. The unit of the building in which the centrifuges are being installed can hold 3,000 machines, according to experts familiar with the facility. Although experts agree that these machines will be more efficient than the first-generation centrifuges, it is not clear how much more efficient they are going to be. (See ACT, March 2013.)

    Iran also is continuing to test advanced centrifuge designs other than the IR-2M. The report noted that Iran installed the IR-6 and IR-6S models in its research and development area at Natanz for the first time and began testing the machines.

    The IAEA also verified the production of Iran’s first fuel assembly for the heavy-water reactor being constructed at Arak. Iran has said the Arak reactor would not be operational until early 2014. The fuel assembly was transferred to a research reactor for irradiation testing.

    Iran maintains that the heavy-water reactor will produce medical isotopes, but experts argue that it is ill suited to that task and poses a proliferation risk because it will produce plutonium more suitable for weapons than a light-water reactor does. Iran does not have a known separation facility and has not declared its intention to build one.

    The report also noted an increase in Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to 167 kilograms from the 135 kilograms noted in last November’s report. If Iran decided to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, the task would be much easier if it were starting with material enriched to 20 percent rather than reactor-grade uranium.

    According to the IAEA, approximately 250 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched material, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb. Tehran maintains that it needs to produce uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel a currently operating research reactor that produces medical isotopes.

    U.S. Assessment

    The U.S. intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” issued on March 12, said that although Iran has made progress that “better positions it to produce weapons-grade uranium” using its declared uranium stockpile and facilities, Iran “could not divert” material from its current stockpile for further enrichment without discovery.

    In testimony the same day to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said it remains unknown if Iran will decide to build nuclear weapons and that the decision to do so rests with the country’s supreme leader.

    The April 2013 news story “Amano Reports No Progress in Iran” said that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), about 250 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough to make one nuclear weapon. That figure has appeared in published articles and was confirmed as accurate by an IAEA staff member, but the IAEA has not made such an estimate in an official document or statement.