“[My time at ACA] prepared me very well for the position that I took following that with the State Department, where I then implemented and helped to implement many of the policies that we tried to promote.”
– Peter Crail
Business Executive for National Security
June 2, 2022
Proposals Offered on Iranian Nuclear Program
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Peter Crail

In mid-May, Iran delivered to Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council proposals for negotiations on a wide range of issues aimed at resolving concerns regarding its nuclear program. The Iranian proposals came shortly after the six countries indicated that they had completed "repackaging" a set of incentives they would discuss with Iran once it complied with demands by the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to suspend its enrichment-related activities and halt the construction of its heavy-water reactor. The council has adopted three sanctions resolutions in response to Iran's refusal to abide by these demands.

Meanwhile, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei declared in a May 26 report that Iran had not sufficiently addressed questions regarding studies that Iranian officials allegedly conducted related to the development of nuclear weapons. The report also indicates that Iran has not met the Security Council's demands, potentially opening the door for further UN sanctions.

Iran's Proposal Short on Details

Iran delivered its proposal to China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany and the United Nations in May and indicated in a May 13 letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the proposal is intended to serve "as a basis for comprehensive and thorough negotiations" with the six countries. Tehran also suggested the possibility of "other interested states" joining such discussions.

The proposal is divided into three areas-political and security, economic, and nuclear-and notes a number of broad issues for potential cooperation. With respect to the first two areas, Iran suggests holding a dialogue on challenges such as terrorism, "the provision of energy and its security," poverty reduction, democracy promotion, and "the Palestinian issue."

In regard to the nuclear issue, the proposal does not explicitly mention Iran's nuclear program or any related commitments that Iran might make. Rather, it discusses nuclear energy and nuclear nonproliferation in a broad sense. For example, it notes the need to consider efforts to obtain "further assurance about the non-diversion of nuclear activities" and to improve IAEA safeguards, but does so with respect to "different countries." It does not indicate that either would be done in Iran.

One of the proposals of most relevance to concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program is the establishment of uranium "enrichment and nuclear fuel consortiums in different parts of the world-including in Iran." Although it is unclear what such consortiums would entail and whether they would be privately or internationally operated, the proposal does suggest maintaining an industrial-scale enrichment capability in Iran, a prospect Western countries have rejected.

The proposals also point to cooperation to "control the export of nuclear material and equipment" even though Iran is currently one of the key targets for trade controls in such technology. UN Security Council sanctions resolutions require that all countries employ efforts to prevent the export of nuclear materials and equipment to Iran.

Iran's overture for cooperation on export controls is not new. A January 2005 proposal by Iran presented to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom included provisions for Iran and the European states to "cooperate actively in the area of export controls" to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other unconventional weapons. (See ACT, March 2005. )

Officials from the six countries have not provided any official reaction to the Iranian proposal and are likely waiting for their own proposal to be delivered to Tehran. Noting the Iranian proposal, however, U.S. officials have continued to demand that Iran fulfill international demands to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities. Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters May 13 that, "in terms of the Iranian proposal, they know what the requirements are," specifying that the requirements are contained in Security Council and IAEA resolutions on Iran.

The new Iranian proposal differs substantially from prior proposals for negotiations Tehran offered to the United States in 2003 and to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2005. (See ACT, June 2006. ) Those proposals, which were offered under the reformist administration of then-President Mohammad Khatami, were not as broad in scope as Iran's newest offer, but were more specific in identifying actions the parties would take and areas in which they would cooperate.

In particular, the previous proposals specified actions that Iran would take to address its nuclear program, including the adoption of an IAEA additional protocol and an agreement not to reprocess spent fuel to produce plutonium. Iran signed an additional protocol, which allows the agency to perform more intrusive inspections to detect any undeclared nuclear activities, in 2003 and acted as if the protocol were in force until 2005. Since that time, Tehran has refused to ratify it, and the IAEA and Security Council have highlighted the need for Iran to implement the protocol once again in order to increase transparency regarding its nuclear activities.

None of Iran's proposals to date have indicated its willingness to give up its enrichment program.

Repackaged Six-Country Proposal

While the six countries consider Iran's proposals, they are expected to deliver to Iran at the end of May their own repackaged proposal for negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. The six countries stated in March that they would "further develop" a package of incentives offered in 2006 as a basis for negotiations to resolve the Iranian nuclear issues. In 2006 the six countries offered to negotiate a wide range of opportunities for technical, economic, and political cooperation with Iran, including European-Iranian nuclear cooperation, once Iran suspends its nuclear fuel-cycle activities. (See ACT, July/August 2006. )

Officials from some of the six countries explained to Arms Control Today in March that the repackaging effort was primarily aimed at clarifying the terms of the 2006 proposal for the Iranian populace. (See ACT, April 2008.) British Foreign Secretary David Miliband similarly told reporters May 22 that the modified offer "will make clear that there are substantial benefits for the Iranian people" if Iran complies with its international obligations.

The repackaged proposal is to be delivered by Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union, and the political directors of five of the six countries, excluding the United States. McCormack indicated May 16 that Washington would not send a representative unless Iran complies with the UN Security Council demands.

Since the six-country announcement that the incentives proposal would be repackaged, Iranian officials have indicated that they would not consider a proposal that would maintain calls to suspend Iran's sensitive nuclear activities. (See ACT, April 2008. ) This rejection was repeated during a May 5 press conference in which Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini stated Iran would not review "those incentives that violate the Iranian nation's right in any form," referring to demands for Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities.

Iran Fails to Resolve "Alleged Studies" Questions

In its May 26 report, the IAEA indicated that Iran had yet to provide the agency with adequate explanations regarding a series of studies that Iran allegedly carried out that are relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. At the end of April, Iran agreed on a process with the IAEA to provide clarification on a number of questions regarding the studies. (See ACT, May 2008. ) Iran has characterized allegations that it carried out studies on the development of a nuclear weapon as "baseless and unfounded" and says that the activities that it did carry out had civil or conventional military applications.

These alleged studies primarily stem from a claim by Western intelligence agencies that they acquired a laptop computer and documentation that once belonged to an Iranian nuclear technician and that contained research relevant to a nuclear weapons program. This research included work on the conversion of uranium dioxide into uranium tetrafluoride, use of high explosives in a manner similar to that of a nuclear-weapon trigger, and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle that might be capable of accommodating a nuclear warhead. Uranium tetraflouride is the precursor to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock used in centrifuges to enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear power reactors or high levels for nuclear weapons.

The agency noted in its May 26 report that the documentation it received from states regarding these studies "appears to have been derived from multiple sources over different periods of time, is detailed in content, and appears to be generally consistent."

The IAEA provided Iran with a series of questions in February and May 2008 requesting information regarding the activities carried out in relation to the studies, as well as citing the need for Iran to provide more detailed responses regarding its prior explanations.

The report highlights that "substantive explanations are required from Iran to support its statements" that the allegations were either "fabricated" or were not related to the development of nuclear weapons, underlining that Iran should provide such explanations "without further delay." It notes, however, that the agency did not receive Iran's responses to inspectors' questions posed to Iran on May 9 until May 23 and it did not have sufficient time to assess any explanations contained in them.

In addition to addressing the alleged studies, the IAEA report indicates that Iran has not complied with demands by the UN Security Council to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities. The council adopted a resolution in March that stated that if Iran did not suspend these activities, the council would adopt further sanctions measures "to persuade Iran to comply with these resolutions."