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
What the UN Security Council Resolutions Say (and Don't Say) About Iran's Nuclear Program

Arms Control NOW

By Kelsey Davenport

Mohamed ElBaradei speaks at a press conference during his tenure as Director-General of the IAEA. Mohamed ElBaradei speaks at a press conference during his tenure as Director-General of the IAEA.

The United Nations Security Council has adopted six resolutions as part of the international community's efforts to address Iran's controversial nuclear program. Collectively, these resolutions require that Iran suspend its most-proliferation sensitive activities and encourage Tehran to work with the international community on a negotiated solution that ensures that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful. The Security Council took up consideration of Iran's nuclear program in March 2006, at the request of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors. Prior to submitting the first report to the Security Council in March 2006, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Security Council action could "serve as a forum to find ways and means to bring back all the parties to the negotiating table."

What do the UN Security Council resolutions say about enrichment?

Adopted on July 31, 2006, the first UN Security Council Resolution (1696) concerning Iran's nuclear program called for Tehran to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA," within one month's time.

During debate over the resolution in the UN Security Council, the Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said that the resolutions requirements should be seen as an "interim measure," for the period necessary for resolving the issue.

Churkin's statement is consistent with the language in the resolution, which says that suspension and Iranian compliance with the IAEA would "contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran's nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes."

When Iran did not suspend its enrichment, five subsequent resolutions in December 2006 (1737), March 2007 (1747), March 2008 (1803), September 2008 (1835) and June 2010 (1929), use the same language on suspension of enrichment activities.

None of the six resolutions call for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment. All six also contain the same language promoting a diplomatic resolution to the concerns over Iran's nuclear program that respects Tehran's right to a peaceful nuclear program.

In debate before the most recent resolution was adopted on June 9, 2010, British Ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep "the door open for continued engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program. He said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy.

And plutonium?

Resolution 1696 required Iran to suspend "reprocessing activities." At the time, in 2006, Iran did not have any known reprocessing capabilities (nor does it now) and had informed the IAEA in 2004 that it did not intend to build a facility that could be used for reprocessing the spent fuel that would be produced by the heavy water reactor under construction at the Arak site.

The second resolution, 1737, that the UN Security Council adopted in December 2006 expanded the suspension from Resolution 1696 to include "work on heavy water-related project, including the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water." The reactor referred to in Resolution 1737 is the Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor.

This language is repeated in the subsequent four resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

What does this mean for the Joint Plan of Action that Iran and the P5+1 signed?

The actions that Iran is required to take as part of the Joint Plan of Action that it signed with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany) on November 24 in Geneva partially fulfills the suspension requirements in the UN Security Council resolutions.

As part of the first-phase, Iran agreed to suspend enriching uranium to 20 percent and not to operate or install any additional centrifuges. Nor will Iran work on any new enrichment sites. Tehran will also allow the IAEA greater access to its enrichment facilities. Iran also agreed not to construct any reprocessing facilities, install new components at the Arak reactor, transfer fuel or heavy water to the reactor, or produce more fuel.

While these measures are not a total suspension of Iran's enrichment activities, the partial suspension follows the spirit of the UN Security Council resolutions. It also has the support of the five permanent members of the Security Council – all of whom are part of the P5+1.

More importantly, we should not confuse the means with the ends - UN Security Council resolutions requiring Tehran to suspend its most proliferation sensitive activities were intended to encourage negotiations to bring about a comprehensive solution that ensures that Iran's nuclear activities are entirely peaceful. The Nov. 24 agreement does just that – it lays out first-phase steps and the broad framework for negotiating a comprehensive agreement over the coming months.