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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 80, Cover design by Paul Aston and Calvert's Press

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 80, Autumn 2005

In the News

Iran's Nuclear Programme: EU-3 Snubbed as Iran begins Uranium Conversion at Isfahan

Following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President on June 24, 2005, Iran has toughened its stance on its right to pursue the full nuclear fuel cycle for peaceful purposes.

In late July, Iran announced its intention to remove IAEA seals on the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan in order to begin converting uranium ore as the preparatory phase before undertaking enrichment. This decision flew in the face of the November 2004 Paris Agreement with the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany, see below) and led to a flurry of diplomatic activity.

The EU-3 complained that Iran's announcement pre-empted their delivery of an incentives package, which was due at the beginning of August. Iran emphasised that the Paris Agreement was temporary and complained that the EU-3 had fallen down on its side of the agreement. At the request of the IAEA, Iran delayed starting work at Isfahan until the IAEA could install monitoring equipment, as required under the NPT.

On August 2, the Head of the Propagation and Information Committee of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Aghamohammadi made clear that "Iran's decision to resume nuclear activities at Isfahan Nuclear Complex is a national decision adopted by the system's top officials in the presence of the Supreme Leader". Denying that the decision was related to Iran's change in leadership, Aghamohammadi noted: "The heads of the system unanimously declared... that August 1st would be Iran's unchangeable deadline, deciding that the current trend of nuclear talks is against the country's national interests, and that a solid response was needed against the continuation of that sick trend."[1]

Within days of the EU-3 unveiling its package of economic, security and political incentives, Iran had rejected them, complaining that the EU-3 had failed to acknowledge Iran's right to develop fuel cycle capabilities for peaceful purposes.

On August 11, the EU-3 sponsored a resolution at the IAEA Board of Governors' meeting, which called on Iran to "re-establish full suspension of all enrichment related activities including the production of feed material, through tests or production at the UCF, on the same voluntary basis as requested in previous board resolutions and to permit the director-general to re-instate the seals that have been remove at the facility..." (full text below).

As US and EU concerns mount, Iran is displaying increasing confidence in its challenges to international efforts to curb its nuclear programme. As the chronology below indicates, while it continues to assert that its programme will not lead to nuclear weapon capabilities, Iran appears to have calculated that it can get on with significant parts of its nuclear programme under IAEA safeguards and avoid any penalties such as sanctions or military attack.

This heightened confidence appears to derive from four sources: the increasing incompetence and entanglement of the United States in Iraq, which reduces the risk of US military action to halt Iran's nuclear programme; the majority accorded to political 'hard-liner' Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential elections, indicating strong nationalistic backing; the abject failure of the 2005 NPT review conference; and the stated opposition to imposing sanctions or referring Iran to the UN Security Council by important IAEA members, including China, Russia and the non-aligned (NAM) states, including Indonesia and South Africa.


The crisis over Iran's nuclear fuel cycle programme formally dates back to August 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran publicised information about two undeclared nuclear facilities, as well as various front companies involved in purchasing nuclear materials and equipment. The facilities, which had not previously been declared to the IAEA as required in Iran's safeguards agreements under the NPT, comprised a plant for heavy water production near Arak, and an underground gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant near Natanz, still under construction. Also of concern is a uranium conversion plant at Isfahan. As the United States and Iran ratcheted up the rhetorical attacks on each other, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany stepped in and brokered a deal with Iran in October 2003. Accordingly, Iran submitted additional information to the IAEA on past nuclear activities, acknowledging for the first time that it had carried out undeclared enrichment and reprocessing experiments that dated back to the early 1990s. In return for Iranian promises of full cooperation with the IAEA, the EU-3 blocked US efforts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

The November 2003 IAEA Board of Governors meeting adopted a resolution that welcomed the October agreement and encouraged Iran to implement its commitments fully. On December 10, 2003, Iran signed the Additional Protocol, with the consequence that the December 2003 IAEA Board meeting again gave Iran more time to resolve past safeguards violations and implement the Additional Protocol. During 2004, as the US became increasingly bogged down in Iraq, the agreements with Iran began to unravel, and Iran once more asserted its rights under the NPT to develop the full fuel cycle for peaceful purposes. The US again pushed the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. To avoid this, Iran continued negotiations with the EU-3, resulting in the Paris Agreement of November 15, 2004, whereby Iran agreed to suspend its uranium conversion and enrichment plans.

While the US and EU insist that Iran must halt such plans permanently, Iran has emphasised that it sees the suspension solely as a temporary confidence-building measure. Claiming that it has as much a right as any other country to carry out programmes such as uranium conversion and enrichment, Iran evokes Article IV of the NPT, which refers to the development of nuclear energy as an "inalienable right", though it must be carried out in accordance with the nonproliferation obligations in Articles I and II, as well as the safeguards required under Article III.

Iran points to the full fuel cycle programme of Japan and expresses a desire and willingness to emulate Japan, including hosting permanently stationed IAEA monitors at its nuclear facilities in order to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions.

Indicative of this approach is Iran's statement to the NPT Review Conference. Dr Kamal Kharrazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that Iran "is determined to pursue all legal areas of nuclear technology, including enrichment, exclusively for peaceful purposes..." Stating that "arbitrary and self-serving criteria and thresholds regarding proliferation-proof and proliferation-prone technologies and countries can and will only undermine the Treaty", Kharrazi argued that Iran "has been eager to offer assurances and guarantees that [its programme] remain[s] permanently peaceful." Moreover, he warned, "Cessation of legal activity is no objective guarantee against so-called break-out; it is indeed a historically tested recipe for one."[2]

Though Iran continues to insist that its nuclear programme is solely and entirely for peaceful purposes, many other countries are concerned that if Iran pursues technologies such as the enrichment of uranium, it will be in a position to manufacture its own nuclear weapons in five to ten years. As a party to the NPT, Iran is prohibited from making or acquiring nuclear weapons, but the NPT does not ban the enrichment of uranium or separation of plutonium as such. Although a number of non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT (Japan and Brazil, for example, as well as former nuclear-weapon possessor, South Africa) have developed high enrichment and reprocessing programmes in the past, such technologies are neither necessary for nuclear energy purposes nor economically attractive, leading to suspicions that they are associated with establishing or maintaining nuclear weapons options. Iran's protestations of wholly peaceful intentions are somewhat undermined by the examples of Iraq (before 1991) and North Korea, both of whom pursued nuclear weapons capabilities under the guise of peaceful uses, in violation of their NPT obligations.

Chronology of Recent Developments

August 5 - The EU-3 package of proposals for enhanced security, economic and political cooperation delivered to Iran.

August 6 - EU-3 package rejected by Iran, on grounds that the proposals did not contain an acknowledgment of Iran's right to develop the nuclear fuel cycle.

August 6 - EU-3 push for an emergency session of the IAEA Board of Governors to put pressure on Iran not to go ahead with sensitive parts of its nuclear programme.

August 8 - Ali Larijani named to replace Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. Larijani is a former state broadcasting head and leading conservative, with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Larijani Secretary of the SNSC, with the task of leading Iran's nuclear talks with the European Union.

August 8 - Iran officially rejects EU-3 incentives package.

August 9 - Iran restarts uranium conversion programme at Isfahan, under IAEA safeguards. IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei confirms that some parts of the facility remain under IAEA seals.

August 10 - 35-member IAEA Board of Governors meets to discuss Iranian situation. Russia, China and the NAM states, including South Africa and Indonesia, oppose referral of Iran to the UN Security Council and urge resumption of talks with the EU-3. Tehran accuses the EU-3 of requiring Iran's permanent renunciation of permitted fuel cycle activities as a precondition for negotiations and expresses willingness to resume talks "without preconditions".

August 11 - EU-3 draft resolution submitted to IAEA Board of Governors. Text as follows:

"a) Recalling the resolutions adopted by the Board on November 29, 2004 (GOV/2004/90), September 18, 2004 (GOV/2004/79), June 18, 2004 (GOV/2004/49), March 13, 2004 (GOV/2004/21), November 26, 2003 (GOVOR.1072).

b) Recalling that in the resolution adopted on September 2004 (GOV/2004/79) the board considered it necessary to promote confidence that Iran immediately suspend all enrichment related activities, including the production of feed material through tests or production at the UCF.

c) Recalling that in its resolution adopted on November 29, 2004 (GOV/2004/90) the board noted with interest the agreement between Iran, France, Germany and Britain with the support of the high representative of EU, made public on November 15, 2004 (INFCIRC/673).

d) Reaffirming that, as underlined in the resolution adopted on November 29, 2004 (GOV/2004/90), the full and sustained implementation of the suspension notified by Iran to the director-general on November 14, as a further voluntary, non-legally binding confidence-building measure, to be verified by the agency is essential to addressing outstanding issues.

e) Noting that outstanding issues relating to Iran's nuclear program have yet to be resolved and that the agency is not yet in position to conclude that there are no undeclared unclear materials or activities in Iran.

f) Recognizing the right of states to the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, including the production of electric power, consistent with their treaty obligations with due consideration for the needs of developing countries.

g) Stressing the need for effective safeguards to prevent nuclear material being used for prohibited purposes, in contravention of agreements and underlining the vital importance of effective safeguards for facilitating cooperation in the field of nuclear energy.

1. Expresses serious concern at the August 1, 2005 notification to the IAEA of Iran's decision to resume activities at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at the director-general's report that on August 8 Iran started to feed uranium ore concentrate into the first part of the process line at this facility and at the director-general's report that on August 10 Iran removed seals on the process lines and the UF4 at this facility,

2. Underlines the importance of rectifying the situation resulting from the developments reported by the director-general and of allowing for the possibility of further discussions in relation to that situation, 3. Urges Iran to re-establish full suspension of all enrichment related activities including the production of feed material, through tests or production at the UCF, on the same voluntary basis as requested in previous board resolutions and to permit the director-general to re-instate the seals that have been remove at the facility,

4) Request the director-general to continue to monitor closely the situation and inform the board of any further developments as appropriate, 5) Requests the director-general to provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of Iran's NPT Safeguard Agreement and this resolution by September 3, 2005, and

6) Decides to remain seized of the matter."

August 12 - Sirous Nasseri gives Iran's response to the IAEA board meeting: "Iran has commenced operation at a safeguarded facility to produce feed for nuclear fuel under full scope monitoring of the IAEA... A NNWS party to the treaty and the member of the agency's safeguards has commenced operation at a safeguarded facility to produce feed for nuclear fuel under full scope monitoring of the IAEA. This is the core of the debate. Was anyone able to explain how this could be an issue in the first place? Was anyone able to suggest why and under which pretext the board had to convene urgently to deliberate on this matter? Was anyone able to describe what provoked an alarm that called for a quick-fix reaction?

I do not believe anyone here had a single convincing response to these questions. The reason is clear because there is none. How can this body be called to react to an act, which is in full conformity with the NPT and the safeguards and constitutes a limited manifestation of the exercise of an inalienable right? A right, which by its own simple meaning, cannot be alienated from anyone.

The states, who prompted this debate and were the proponents of this decision today imply that they do so under the precept of non-proliferation. At the same time, these states either possessors of nuclear weapons or rely on them for their security in one form or the other, or are the exclusive producers of nuclear fuel, or have stood firm on not foregoing this capability under any circumstances. The point is, how can a small amount of feed material for enrichment to produce nuclear fuel be a matter of concern whereas a number of these states, including non-nuclear weapon states amongst them, are sitting on many tons of separated plutonium, which can be directly diverted to nuclear weapons, at any time of their choosing? The conventional reply has been that these states have good standing with the safeguards. What they forget to say is that these states have never been forcefully denied access to nuclear material, equipment, and technology. Give us a fraction of that access and we will make an example of fullest possible transparency, and will be in exemplary standing.

It is evident that the motive is to apply pressure to the victim of the denials. And the purpose, it is obvious, is to move from denial to deprivation. A prescription, which is written for Iran but which will be rolled for all other developing states too if Iran bends.

Fortunately, Iran will not bend. Iran will be a nuclear fuel producer and supplier within a decade. Iran, like all other developing countries and members of the NPT, has rejected nuclear weapons decisively and firmly. All Iran wants to do is to enjoy its right under the NPT, the right, which has been denied to it for more than two decades, a denial that has been firm and decisive.

The agency is founded on the premises of: First: Providing and facilitating nuclear material and technology for peaceful purposes. Second: Safeguarding material and facilities. Third: Ensuring safety. The first obligation of the agency is severely undermined, at the behest of the second. No wonder the Americans call this agency the UN watchdog, the term that is demeaning and condescending to the integrity of this organization.

If you go by the book, the agency should be assisting Iran to operate and improve its fuel production capability, including the segment of UCF, just as it should for all other developing states. Well, we understand that it has been disabled and prohibited to perform this obligation. But what is absurd is that a decision is passed here, which betrays even the agency's second, more revered objective. If this body expresses concern over the operation of our facility, which is under safeguards and which is fully monitored, then what should this body say about so many unsafeguarded facilities spread around in other parts of the world, and particularly in our region?

The Americans have for long maintained, demonstrated, and acted upon the conviction that assurances of non-diversion of the agency are not credible. The same conviction led that country to ignite a war in no less than two years ago. But is this deja vu again? I am sorry, not this time -- Iran is not Iraq and the United States is not that self-appointed policeman of the world anymore. The decision today is, après tout, a vote of no-confidence to the agency and its safeguards system. It signals the beginning of the road to an unwanted and undue confrontation through which, in the words of the director general, all parties stand to lose.

We believe in the agency and the safeguards system. We will continue to work with the agency. We will maintain our activities fully under safeguards. The operation at the UCF is Isfahan will remain under full scope monitoring. The product will be sealed by agency. In one word, we will fully observe our obligations in our program of producing nuclear fuel. So, there is no point for concern whatsoever. We will not heed to questioning of the agency's credibility that this resolution stands for.

This resolution is, in essence, a vote of no-confidence to the credibility of the agency and its safeguards system. The appeal by the United Nations secretary general and the director general here to revert to negotiations, we will be prepared, despite this hoopla, for negotiations, free of preconditions and with manifest goodwill."[3]

August 14 - Iran warns against using military action against its nuclear programme after President Bush said in an interview that the US was keeping all options open to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons. President Bush also commended the EU-3 resolution and called for Iran to be referred to the Security Council.

August 19 - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that Iran had no interest in developing nuclear weapons but would not suspend its nuclear activities.

August 23 - Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, nominated to be new defence minister, outlined the main priorities of Iran's defence industries: development of air defences and ballistic missiles as well as modern ammunitions and equipment for electronic warfare.

August 27 - Talks between IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and Iran's newly-appointed chief negotiator, Ali Larijani: inconclusive, though described as "constructive".

August 28 - President Jacques Chirac of France urged Iran to reconsider the EU-3 package and warned of the possibility of sanctions being imposed by the UN Security Council if Iran "refused to cooperate".

September 1 - US lobbies and EU-3 threaten to take Iran to the UN Security Council, but Iran vows to continue uranium conversion programme, claiming a "right" to do so.

September 8 - China, Russia and NAM voice opposition to IAEA referring Iran to UN Security Council.

September 11 - Iran refuses to suspend its programme further and warns against imposing sanctions, while expressing interest in resuming talks with the EU-3.


[1] IRNA, Tehran, August 2, 2005.

[2] Dr Kamal Kharrazi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Debate statement to the 2005 Review Conference of States Parties to the NPT, New York, May 3, 2004, http://www.un.org/events/npt2005/statements/npt03iran.pdf

[3] Sirous Nasseri, statement to the IAEA Board of Governors on behalf of Iran, Vienna, August 12, 2005, courtesy of IRNA.

Rebecca Johnson

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