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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Iran
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Updated: July 2017

This profile summarizes the 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 here.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

- - -

- - -

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

 

- - -

- - -

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1973

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

- - -

- - -

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

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 in Dec. 2003 and implemented it voluntarily until February 2006 after the IAEA Board of Governors resolution referring Tehran to the UN Security Council. As part of the July 2015 nuclear deal, Iran will implement its Additional Protocol and seek to ratify it within eight years.

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 Resolutions 1540

Iran has filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfil the resolution.

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

Iran does not possess nuclear weapons but it conducted activities in the past relevant to developing a nuclear warhead, including uranium enrichment and studies on ballistic missile mating and re-entry. In July 2015, after a decade of intermittent negotiations, Iran along with the “P5+1” (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) concluded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), frequently referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. The Iran nuclear deal restricts Iran’s nuclear activities and puts in place monitoring and verification measures in addition to Iran’s safeguards. For more on the deal see the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at a Glance.   

Delivery Systems

Ballistic Missiles

  • Iran’s missile program is largely based on North Korean and Russian designs and has benefitted from Chinese technical assistance.
  • With approximately 1,000 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the program is one of the largest deployed ballistic missile forces in the Middle East.
  • Iran’s current focus is on enhancing the accuracy of medium-range systems - not increasing range.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA in 2015, annulled a 2010 resolution that prohibited Iranian tests of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and “calls upon” Iran not to test any ballistic missiles that are “designed to be nuclear capable.” Resolution 2231 also kept in place sanctions preventing Iran from buying materials and technologies relevant to developing ballistic missiles.
  • Iran has continued ballistic missile testing in the wake of the nuclear deal. In response, the United States has designated additional entities for contributing to Iran’s ballistic missile program.
  • Iran’s short-range and medium-range missiles include:
    • Shahab-1: The Shahab-1 is an operational, short-range missile with an estimated range of 300km.
    • Qiam: The Qiam is a short-range missile with an estimated range of 500-1000km.
    • Dongfeng-15: The Dongfeng-15 is a short-range missile with an estimated range of 600-800km.
    • Shahab-2: The Shahab-2 is a short-range missile with an estimated range of 500km.
    • Shahab-3: The Shahab-3 is an operational missile with an estimated range of 800-1,000km. A liquid-fueled missile based on the North Korean No-Dong, it is Iran’s most sophisticated missile.
    • Emad-1: The Emad-1 is a single-stage medium-range ballistic missile with a range of up to 2,000 km. First tested in 2015, Iran claims the Emad-1 is a high-precision missile.
    • Ghadr-1: The Ghadr-1 is a medium-range missile under development with an estimated range of up to 2,000 km. The missile is a modified version of the Shahab-3.
    • Sejjil-2: The Sejiil is a intermediate-range missile under development with an estimated range of 1,500-2,500km. First tested in 2007, the Sejill is a two-stage solid fuel-propelled missile. The Sejjil-2 has not been tested since 2011 and reports indicate Iran has a hard time producing the solid-fueled motors because of sanctions. This technology could help improve the mobility of Iran’s missile force. 

Space-Launched Vehicles (SLV)

  • Safir: The Safir is a two-stage, liquid-fueled space launch vehicle (SLV) that Iran has used to successfully launch four satellites into space between February 2009 and February 2012. Two Safir launches subsequently failed, once in 2013 and again in 2014. In February 2015, Iran successfully launched a satellite for the fifth time. 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 ICBM if converted to a ballistic missile.
  • Simorgh: The Simorgh is a two-stage SLV that Iran has displayed, but not launched. It is larger than the Safir. The first Simorgh launch was announced for 2010.

Cruise Missiles

  • Iran possesses the following cruise missiles:
    • Kh-55: An air-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of up to 3,000 km which was illegally procured from the Ukraine in 2001.
    • Khalid Farzh: Iran’s most advanced missile with a range of about 300 km capable of carrying a 1,000 kg warhead.
    • Nasr-1: A domestically produced missile which is claimed to be capable of destroying warships and military targets up to 3,000 tons.

Fissile Material

  • 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.
  • In September of 2009, the discovery of Fordow, a secret nuclear facility under construction near Qom, deepened international suspicions about Iran’s uranium enrichment activities.
  • In 2010, Iran scaled up some of its uranium enrichment from less than 5 percent to 20 percent, the level required for Iran’s research reactor.
  • Under the Iran deal, Iran’s enriched uranium is capped at 3.67 percent.
  • Much of the uranium-enrichment program is based on equipment and designs acquired through former Pakistani nuclear official A.Q. Khan’s secret supply network.
  • Iran relies on its IR-1 centrifuge, a variant of Pakistan’s P-1 centrifuge, known to be crash-prone and unreliable. 
  • Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is permitted a strictly limited amount of R&D on advanced centrifuges.  

The Road to the JCPOA

  • In 2006, the Security Council adopted a number of resolutions calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities and cooperate fully with the IAEA.
  • When Iran refused to comply, the UNSC introduced four rounds of sanctions targeting Iranian entities and individuals believed to be involved in Iran’s proliferation-related activities.
  • In 2009, Russia, France, and the United States negotiated a fuel swap deal with Iran to transfer low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country in exchange for fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes. The deal fell through when Iran tried to change the terms.
  • In 2012, the P5+1 continued diplomatic efforts and met with Iran on four separate occasions. These talks were suspended for the 2013 Iranian elections though they did lay the groundwork for what would become the JCPOA.
  • After President Rouhani was elected in June of 2013, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for a bilateral exchange. A day later, President Obama called President Rouhani, marking the highest level contact between the U.S. and Iran since 1979.
  • Negotiations to curb the Iranian nuclear program took place in October and November 2013 and an interim agreement was reached November 24. Implementation of the interim agreement began on January 20, 2014. The interim agreement was extended twice before the comprehensive agreement was finalized. Along the way all parties implemented changes and did not violate the interim agreement. Learn more about the interim agreement here.
  • The final agreement is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and was finalized on July 14, 2015. The implementation schedules and enforcement options are governed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which was adopted on July 20, 2015. Learn more about the JCPOA.   
  • According to U.S. government estimates, under the JCPOA, for well over a decade, it will take Iran 12 months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb.
  • Since implementation day, six quarterly IAEA reports have verified Iran’s adherence to the JCPOA. Two reports noted slight excesses in heavy-water. Iran rectified this by selling or shipping abroad part of its stocks.

Proliferation Record

  • In 2000, Iran exported rockets and several ballistic missile components to Libya.
  • Iran has been accused of violating a Security Council resolution barring arms transfers to Hezbollah.
  • Since 2007, the Security Council has barred Iran from selling conventional arms and also prohibits any country from importing arms from Iran without prior UN Security Council approval. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 the embargo on Iran’s export of conventional arms will remain in place for five years from JCPOA Adoption Day (October 2015). This embargo may be lifted earlier if the IAEA reaches a “Broader Conclusion” that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.
  • According to a 2012 report by a designated panel of experts, Iran has been a major supplier of weapons to the Syrian government. The report describes three illegal transfers, two to Syria and one to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Unit 190, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is responsible for smuggling arms to Iranian proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere.

Biological Weapons

  • Iran has ratified the Biological Weapons Convention but the United States maintains Iran’s biotechnology infrastructure gives it the ability to produce small quantities of biological weapons agents for offensive purposes.
  • According to a 2004 CIA report, Iran has previously conducted offensive biological weapons agent research and development and continues to seek dual-use biotechnology.
  • U.S. officials have accused Iran of “probably” pursuing an offensive biological weapons capability in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention in 2011. Iran denies the allegation.

Chemical Weapons

  • Iran has signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • A 2009 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."
  • Having suffered chemical weapon attacks during the eight year Iran-Iraq war, Iranian officials frequently speak about the dangers of chemical weapons.
  • The United States has sanctioned companies for providing dual-use chemicals to Iran.

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

  • 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. Tehran consistently makes statements at disarmament fora expressing its support for the zone concept.  

Conference on Disarmament

  • At the 2012 Conference on Disarmament, Iran said 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.

Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

  • Iran played an active role in the negotiations for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons in March and June-July 2017, calling often for a comprehensive and verifiable treaty.

 

Posted: January 21, 2014