ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Iran
Share this

Updated: October 2015

This profile details which major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that Iran subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of Iran, as well as its proliferation record. This profile is one of a series focused on the arms control record and status of key states, all of which are available on the Arms Control Association’s Website at http://www.armscontrol.org.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Biological Weapons Convention



Chemical Weapons Convention



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty


- - -

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)



Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

- - -

- - -

Outer Space Treaty


- - -

Ottawa Mine Ban Convention

- - -

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)*

- - -

- - -

CPPNM 2005 Amendment*

- - -

- - -

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

- - -

- - -

*Participated as observer

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Australia Group: Not a member.

Missile Technology Control Regime: Not a member.

Nuclear Suppliers Group: Not a member.

Wassenaar Arrangement: Not a member.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: Signed an additional protocol on Dec. 18, 2003. Iran submitted an initial declaration consistent with the protocol in 2004 and abided by the protocol for a brief period despite the fact that it has not entered into force. But in February 2006 Iran ended its voluntary implementation in response to adoption of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors resolution referring Tehran to the UN Security Council. As part of the July 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and the six countries known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), Iran will implement its Additional Protocol and ratify it within eight years. Implemention of the additional protocol will likely begin formally in early 2016. 

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Not a participant.

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Not a participant.

Proliferation Security Initiative: Not a participant.

UN Security Council Resolution 1540: Iran has filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfill the resolution.

Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

Biological Weapons:
The United States maintains that Iran’s biotechnology infrastructure gives it the ability to produce at least small quantities of biological weapons agents for offensive purposes. According to a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency report, Iran has previously conducted offensive biological weapons agent research and development and continues to seek dual-use biotechnology, which may support legitimate biotechnology activities, an offensive biological weapons program, or both. [1] U.S. officials have accused Iran of “probably” pursuing an offensive biological weapons capability in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention. [2] Iran denies that allegation.

Chemical Weapons:
Having suffered chemical weapon attacks during its eight-year war with Iraq, Iranian officials frequently speak about the dangers such arms pose. The United States, however, has sanctioned companies for providing dual-use chemicals to Iran.  An unclassified U.S. intelligence report says that “Iran maintains the capability to produce chemical warfare agents” as well as the ability “of weaponizing [chemical weapons] agents in a variety of delivery systems.” [3] Although an option exists for states-parties to request a challenge inspection of alleged weapons sites under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, no state-party, including the United States, has called for such an inspection in Iran.


  • Ballistic Missiles: Iran is the only country not in possession of nuclear weapons to have produced or flight-tested ballistic missiles with ranges exceeding 2,000 kilometers. The Iranian missile program is largely based on North Korean and Russian designs and has benefited from Chinese technical assistance. With around 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, Iran has one of the largest deployed ballistic missile forces in the Middle East.[4] Its most sophisticated deployed ballistic missile is the liquid-fueled Shahab-3. Based on the North Korean Nodong missile, the Shahab-3 has a range of about 1,300 kilometers. Variations of the Shahab-3, including the Ghadr-1, are reported to have a range of almost 2,000 kilometers. Iran also tested a more-precise version of the Shahab-3, the Emad, in September 2015. Iran has consistently said its emphasis the accuracy of its medium-range systems, rather than a focus on longer rangers. Iran has made progress in developing and testing solid-fueled missile technologies, which could significantly increase the mobility of Iran’s missile force. Iran first tested a two-stage solid fuel-propelled missile, the Sajjil-2, which has a reported range of roughly 2,000 kilometers, in 2007. It conducted several more tests through February 2011. If Iran attempts to develop a nuclear bomb, it will most likely use the Sejjil as a delivery vehicle.[5] Recent reports, however, indicate that sanctions are preventing Iran from developing the capacity to domestically produce solid-fueled motors.  This may also account for Iran's not having recently tested the Sejjil II.[6] In addition, a 2013 report by a UN panel of experts charged with overseeing the implementation of sanctions on Iran noted that the Sejjil II has not been sighted in over a year. Iran has also developed a two-stage, liquid-fueled, space launch vehicle (SLV), the Safir. Between February 2009 and February 2012 Iran successfully launched four satellites into space using the Safir SLV. It is believed that Iran is also developing a larger space launch vehicle, the Simorgh, which has yet to be tested.  A 2009 report by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) assessed that the Safir "can serve as a test bed for long-range ballistic missile technologies" and could serve as an IRBM if converted to a ballistic missile.
  • Cruise Missiles: Iran has acquired a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles, both through foreign sources and domestic production. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko confirmed in 2005 that Iran illegally procured six Kh-55 cruise missiles from Ukraine four years earlier. The Kh-55 is an air-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers. China has also provided Iran with cruise missiles and technology.  A 2011 report from the Director of National Intelligence stated that despite export control legislation, Chinese firms and individuals continued to supply Iran with missile technology.[7] Iranian made missiles include the Nasr-1, claimed to be capable of destroying warships and military targets up to 3,000 tons. Iranian officials have also announced the large scale production and deployment of short-range cruise missiles including Zafar and Qader missiles. With a range of about 300 kilometers and capable of carrying a 1,000 kg warhead, the Khalid Farzh is Iran's most advanced missile.

Nuclear Weapons:
During the latter half of 2002, the IAEA began investigating two secret Iranian nuclear facilities, a heavy-water production plant near Arak and a gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility near Natanz. Since that time, the agency has discovered a series of clandestine nuclear activities, some of which violated Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency. Much of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program is based on equipment and designs acquired through former Pakistani nuclear official A.Q. Khan’s secret supply network.

After the revelations of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom launched negotiations with Iran to address international concerns about the intent and scope of its nuclear program. These negotiations collapsed in 2005. Subsequently, the IAEA Board of Governors declared Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations and referred the matter to the UN Security Council. In 2006, China, Russia, and the United States joined the three European countries in diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program. The six-country bloc is generally known as the P5+1, comprising the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

Since 2006, the Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment-related activities and cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation. In response to Iran’s refusal to comply with these demands, the council has introduced four rounds of sanctions targeting Iranian entities and individuals believed to be involved in Iran’s proliferation-related activities.

It relies on a variant of Pakistan's P-1 centrifuge, which is known to be crash-prone and unreliable. Iran has been developing more advanced designs capable of enriching uranium three times faster, but its efforts have been hampered by sanctions that prevent Iran from importing the necessary materials that it cannot produce domestically, such as a high-quality carbon fiber. In February 2013, the IAEA reported that Iran had begun installing IR-2M centrifgues at its Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Experts assess that when operational, these machines will be 3-4 times more efficient that the IR-1 models. Other advanced centrifuges are undergoing testing. In September 2009, the revelation of Fordow, a secret nuclear facility under construction near Qom, deepened international suspicions about Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. Iran has also refused to provide the IAEA with timely design information and access to nuclear facilities and persons or discuss outstanding concerns regarding a potential military dimension to its nuclear program.

In an unclassified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released Dec. 3, 2007, the U.S. intelligence community concluded with “high confidence” that Iran had “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003” and expressed “moderate confidence” that the program had not been restarted.[8] The 2007 NIE defined “nuclear weapons program” as weapons design and weaponization activities, as well as covert uranium conversion and enrichment work. Since that time, Western intelligence agencies have reportedly assessed that Iran has resumed research related to weaponization, but has still not restarted all of the weapons-related activities shelved in 2003. An update of the 2007 NIE finished in 2011 appears to have maintained many of its core conclusions. Iran has consistently rejected allegations that it is pursuing nuclear weapons.

In October of 2009, Russia, France and the United States negotiated a draft agreement with Iran to transfer a portion of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country in exchange for fuel for a rector that produces medical isotopes. Widely referred to as the fuel swap deal, the agreement fell through when Iran tried to amend the terms of the LEU transfer. During 2010 Iran scaled-up a portion of its uranium enrichment from 4 percent to 20 percent, the level required for the medical reactor fuel. An effort by Brazil and Turkey to mediate a similar arrangement in May of 2010 was met with skepticism by the United States, Russia, and France who expressed doubts over the terms of the announcement as well as its timing. The P5+1 group has continued its diplomatic efforts, meeting with Iran on four separate occasions in 2012. These negotaitions did not produce any significant agreements. The proposals from 2012 served as the basis for the 2013 talks, which took place in February and April in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Talks were supsended for the Iranian elections after no progress was made during the April meetings.

On June 14, 2013 Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran. A former nuclear negotiator, he asserted that Iran will maintain its nuclear program, but Tehran is willing to be more transparent.

On September 26, 2013 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the P5+1 foreign ministers met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who presented the P5+1 with a new proposal that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described as “very different in the vision” of possibilities for the future. Zarif and Kerry then met for a bilateral exchange after the larger group meeting.

Zarif said he and Kerry agreed to move “first, on the parameters of the end game.” Zarif says Iran and the P5+1 will think about the order of steps that need to be implemented to “address the immediate concerns of [the] two sides” and move toward finalizing a deal within a year. The following day, President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979. While President Obama said that there will be significant obstacles to overcome, but he believes a comprehensive resolution can be reached.

The parties met again on October 15-16 in Geneva. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said that the Oct. 15-16 talks were more substantive and candid than any of the past rounds of negotiations with Iran. Iran presented its proposal during these talks. The proposal lays out a path forward based on a broad framework that outlines the end-state of a deal and a first phase that addresses some of the most urgent proliferation concerns of both sides.

Iran and P5+1 continued negotiations November 7-10, 2013 in Geneva. During this round, Secretary Kerry joined the talks on the second day in anticipation of a deal being reached. The other P5+1 foreign ministers also flew to Geneva. No agreement was announced when the negotiations ended, but Kerry said that significant progress was made and the sides narrowed the areas of differences.

Talks resumed in Geneva on November 20. Again, the Foreign Ministers flew in to join the negotiations, and on November 24, the parties announced that they reached an agreement. The agreement spelled out steps for each side to take in a first-phase six month deal, and laid out the parameters for a final agreement. The full text of the November 24, 2013 deal, the Joint Plan of Action, is available here.

Amongst other provisions, in the first-phase deal, Iran committed to halt uranium enrichment to 20 percent, blend down to 3.5 percent half of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and oxidize the remaining half, halt construction at the Arak Reactor, and committed not to install further centrifuges, or operate its advanced centrifuges. Iran's nuclear facilities would also be subject to more stringent monitoring by the IAEA.

In return, Iran would receive limited sanctions relief from petrochemical, precious metals, and automotive sanctions, and approximately $4.2 billion in oil money held up in other countries. The money would be paid out over the course of the six months.

After three rounds of technical meetings to discuss the details of implementation, the parties announced on Jan. 12 that the six month timeframe for the initial deal would begin on Jan. 20. The IAEA issued a report on Jan. 20 which found that Iran halted 20 percent enrichment and adhering to other provisions in the agreement. On the same day, the United States and the European Union issued statements confirming the suspension of sanctions outlined in the agreement.

For more information on the proposals, see ACA's factsheet "History of Official Proposals on the Iranian Nuclear Issue," available here.

Implementation of the interim deal continued through July 14, 2015, when the parties arrived at a comprehensive agreement. Under that deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran would recieve sanctions relief in return for limitin uranium enrichment to reactor grade levels, about 3.67 percent, for 15 years and operate only 5,060 centrifuges for 10 years. Iran also agreed to transform the Fordow facility to a research purpose and modify the Arak reactor so that its spent fuel contains less weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran also agreed to more stringent inspections, application of its additional protocol, and agreed to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation into the past military dimensions of its nuclear program.

For more details on the deal, click here.  

Nuclear Capabilities

Under the July 2015 nuclear deal, it would take Iran over 12 months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb for well over a decade. That timeframe is a combination of the limits on Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium, less than 300 kg of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent for 15 years, and its centrifuge restrictions, 5,060 IR-1s. Given that Iran's enrichment facility, Natanz, will be under continual surveillance, any move by Iran will be quickly detected. 

In May 2011, Iran’s first nuclear power reactor at its Bushehr plant began operations. This light-water reactor does not produce weapon-grade plutonium, but its operation does raise concerns regarding Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities. Russia provides fuel for the reactor and takes back the spent fuel. The safety and security of the reactor will also be upgrade under the July 2015 nuclear deal with the P5+1. 

Conventional Weapons Trade:
In a September 2011 arms trade report, the U.S. Congressional Research Service reported that Iranian weapons purchases have largely focused on air defense systems, presumably to protect their territory and nuclear sites from possible U.S. or Israeli air attack. In September of 2010, Russia announced that it was canceling the 2007 sale of the S-300 air defense missile systems. This decision followed the introduction of the UN arms embargo in Security Council Resolution 1929. Even though the S-300 system was not covered by UN Security Council sanctions in 1929, Russia was under pressure to cancel the sale as part of an effort by the international community to push Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program. In April 2016, after implementation of the July 2015 nuclear deal began, Moscow announced it would complete the sale and shipped initial components to Iran. Iranian news outlets reported that Russia completed the shipment in October 2016. 

Iran is still prohibited from importing heavy arms through 2020 without Security Council approval under Resolution 2231. However, the S-300 system is not covered by that resolution. That prohibition could be lifted earlier if the IAEA reaches a rigorous finding on peaceful nature Iran's nuclear activities known as the Broader Conclusion. 

Proliferation Record

In 2000, Iran exported rockets and several ballistic missile components to Libya. It also has been accused of violating a Security Council resolution barring arms transfers to the anti-Israel militia Hezbollah operating in Lebanon. A 2007 UN Security Council resolution bars Iran from selling conventional arms and prohibits any country from importing arms from Iran. Iran has been a major supplier of weapons to the Syrian government according to a 2012 report by a designated panel of experts to the UN Security Council. The report describes three illegal transfers that took place in the prior year, two of which were to Syria and the third to Taliban members in Afghanistan. Illegal transfers to Syria included "assault rifles, machineguns, explosives, detonators, 60mm and 120mm mortar shells and other items."

While a number of Secuirty Council sanctions were lifted under the nuclear deal, Resolution 2231 still prohibits Iran from transfering arms or related materials outside its terrority without prior approval. In a July 2015 report on implementation of resolution 2231, the UN Secretary General said it was reviewing information provided by the United States about an interdiction by the US Navy of a shipment of weaponry from Iran likely bound for Yemen. 

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Iran was one of the first states to formally call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, joining with Egypt to propose the goal to the UN General Assembly in 1974.

During the 1996 Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference, Iran proposed an amendment to the convention to expressly prohibit the use of biological weapons.

Beginning in 1999, Iran sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution establishing an intermittent panel of governmental experts to consider the issue of missiles “in all its aspects.” The panel, which held three sessions in 2001-2002, 2004, and 2007-2008, has explored several topics, including missile proliferation, missile defenses, and confidence-building measures. Meanwhile, Iran has elected not to participate in the voluntary Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, which calls upon states to provide pre-launch notifications of their missiles and to annually report on their missile holdings.

At the 2012 Conference on Disarmament, Iran said that it was not opposed to negotiations of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), but that it should not infringe on any state's right to use fissile material for peaceful purposes or naval propulsion.




1. Central Intelligence Agency, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January-31 December 2004, http://www.dni.gov/reports/2004_unclass_report_to_NIC_DO_16Nov04.pdf.

2. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John C. Rood’s presentation to the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference, November 20, 2006, http://geneva.usmission.gov/Press2006/2011Rood.html.

3. Central Intelligence Agency, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions http://www.dni.gov/reports/2009_721_Report.pdf.

4. Department of Defense, Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran April 2010, http://www.fas.org/man/eprint/dod_iran_2010.pdf.

5. Crail, Peter, "Progress Seen in Iranian Missile Test," Arms Control Today, June 2009, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_6/IranMissile

6. International Institute for Strategic Studies "Iran sanctions halt long-range ballistic-missile development," July 2012, http://www.iiss.org/publications/strategic-comments/past-issues/volume-18-2012/july/iran-sanctions-halt-long-range-ballistic-missile-development/.

7. Director of National Intelligence, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 31 December 2011, February 2012, http://www.fas.org/irp/threat/wmd-acq2011.pdf.

8. National Intelligence Estimate, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” November 2007, http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/iran120307.pdf.



Posted: January 21, 2014