The nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran's nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.After the 1979 revolution, a clandestine nuclear weapons research program was disbanded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who considered such weapons forbidden under Muslim ethics and jurisprudence. Small scale research into nuclear weapons may have restarted during the Iran-Iraq War, and underwent significant expansion after the Ayatollah's death in 1989.
Iran's nuclear program has included several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants. Iran's first nuclear power plant, Bushehr I reactor was complete with major assistance of Russian government agency Rosatom and officially opened on 12 September 2011. Iran has announced that it is working on a new 360 MW nuclear power plant to be located in Darkhovin. The Russian engineering contractor Atomenergoprom said the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant would reach full capacity by the end of 2012. Iran has also indicated that it will seek more medium-sized nuclear power plants and uranium mines in the future.
In November 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors criticized Iran after an IAEA report concluded that before 2003 Iran likely had undertaken research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA report details allegations that Iran conducted studies related to nuclear weapons design, including detonator development, the multiple-point initiation of high explosives, and experiments involving nuclear payload integration into a missile delivery vehicle. A number of Western nuclear experts have stated there was very little new in the report, that it primarily concerned Iranian activities prior to 2003, and that media reports exaggerated its significance. Iran rejected the details of the report and accused the IAEA of pro-Western bias. and threatened to reduce its cooperation with the IAEA
In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first reported that Iran had not declared sensitive enrichment and reprocessing activities. Enrichment can be used to produce uranium for reactor fuel or (at higher enrichment levels) for weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, and has enriched uranium to less than 5%, consistent with fuel for a civilian nuclear power plant. Iran also claims that it was forced to resort to secrecy after US pressure caused several of its nuclear contracts with foreign governments to fall through. After the IAEA Board of Governors reported Iran's noncompliance with its safeguards agreement to the UN Security Council, the Council demanded that Iran suspend its nuclear enrichment activities while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has argued that the sanctions are "illegal," imposed by "arrogant powers," and that Iran has decided to pursue the monitoring of its self-described peaceful nuclear program through "its appropriate legal path," the International Atomic Energy Agency.
After public allegations about Iran's previously undeclared nuclear activities, the IAEA launched an investigation that concluded in November 2003 that Iran had systematically failed to meet its obligations under its NPT safeguards agreement to report those activities to the IAEA, although it also reported no evidence of links to a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA Board of Governors delayed a formal finding of non-compliance until September 2005, and reported that non-compliance to the UN Security Council in February 2006. After the IAEA Board of Governors reported Iran's noncompliance with its safeguards agreement to the United Nations Security Council, the Council demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment programs. The Council imposed sanctions after Iran refused to do so. A May 2009 U.S. Congressional Report suggested "the United States, and later the Europeans, argued that Iran's deception meant it should forfeit its right to enrich, a position likely to be up for negotiation in talks with Iran."
In exchange for suspending its enrichment program, Iran has been offered "a long-term comprehensive arrangement which would allow for the development of relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect and the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program." However, Iran has consistently refused to give up its enrichment program, arguing that the program is necessary for its energy security, that such "long term arrangements" are inherently unreliable, and would deprive it of its inalienable right to peaceful nuclear technology. In June 2009, in the immediate wake of the disputed Iranian presidential election, Iran initially agreed to a deal to relinquish its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a medical research reactor, but then backed out of the deal. Currently, thirteen states possess operational enrichment or reprocessing facilities, and several others have expressed an interest in developing indigenous enrichment programs. Iran's position was endorsed by the Non-Aligned Movement, which expressed concern about the potential monopolization of nuclear fuel production.
To address concerns that its enrichment program may be diverted to non-peaceful uses, Iran has offered to place additional restrictions on its enrichment program including, for example, ratifying the Additional Protocol to allow more stringent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, operating the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz as a multinational fuel center with the participation of foreign representatives, renouncing plutonium reprocessing and immediately fabricating all enriched uranium into reactor fuel rods. Iran's offer to open its uranium enrichment program to foreign private and public participation mirrors suggestions of an IAEA expert committee which was formed to investigate the methods to reduce the risk that sensitive fuel cycle activities could contribute to national nuclear weapons capabilities. Some non-governmental U.S. experts have endorsed this approach. The United States has insisted that Iran must meet the demands of the UN Security Council to suspend its enrichment program. In every other case in which the IAEA Board of Governors made a finding of safeguards non-compliance involving clandestine enrichment or reprocessing, the resolution has involved (in the cases of Iraq and Libya) or is expected to involve (in the case of North Korea) at a minimum ending sensitive fuel cycle activities.
According to Pierre Goldschmidt, former deputy director general and head of the department of safeguards at the IAEA, and Henry D. Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, some other instances of safeguards noncompliance reported by the IAEA Secretariat (South Korea, Egypt) were never reported to the Security Council because the IAEA Board of Governors never made a formal finding of non-compliance. Though South Korea's case involved enriching uranium to levels near weapons grade, the country itself voluntarily reported the isolated activity and Goldschmidt has argued "political considerations also played a dominant role in the board's decision" to not make a formal finding of non-compliance.
Estimating when Iran might possibly achieve nuclear "breakout" capability, defined as having produced a sufficient quantity of highly-enriched uranium to fuel a weapon – if a working design for one existed and the political decision to assemble it was made – is uncertain. A detailed analysis by physicists at the Federation of American Scientists concludes that such an estimate would depend on the total number and overall efficiency of the centrifuges Iran has in operation, and the amount of low-enriched uranium it has stockpiled to serve as "feedstock" for a possible high-enrichment program. A 23 March 2012 U.S. Congressional Research Service report quotes the 24 February 2012 IAEA report saying that Iran has stockpiled 240 pounds of 20-percent-enriched uranium – an enrichment level necessary for medical applications – as an indication of their capacity to enrich to higher levels. The authoritarian political culture of Iran may pose additional challenges to a scientific program requiring cooperation among many technical specialists. Some experts argue that the intense focus on Iran's nuclear program detracts from a need for broader diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic. U.S. intelligence agency officials interviewed by The New York Times in March 2012 said they continued to assess that Iran had not restarted its weaponization program, which the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Iran had discontinued in 2003, although they have found evidence that some weaponization-related activities have continued. The Israeli Mossad reportedly shared this belief
UN Security Council
- Resolution 1737 (23 December 2006) imposed sanctions after Iran refused to suspend its enrichment activities, cutting off nuclear cooperation, demanding that Iran cooperate with the IAEA, and freezing the assets of a number of persons and organizations linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It established a committee to monitor sanctions implementation.
- Resolution 1747 (24 March 2007) expanded the list of sanctioned Iranian entities and welcomed the proposal by the permanent five members of the Security Council plus Germany for resolving issues regarding Iran's nuclear program.
- Resolution 1835 (27 September 2008) reaffirmed the preceding four resolutions, the only one of the seven not to invoke Chapter VII.
- Resolution 1929 (9 June 2010) imposed a complete arms embargo on Iran, banned Iran from any activities related to ballistic missiles, authorized the inspection and seizure of shipments violating these restrictions, and extended the asset freeze to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The resolution passed by a vote of 12–2, with Turkey and Brazil voting against and Lebanon abstaining. A number of countries imposed measures to implement and extend these sanctions, including the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, South Korea, and Russia.
International Atomic Energy Agency
The IAEA has consistently stated it is unable to conclude that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Such a conclusion would normally be drawn only for countries that have an Additional Protocol in force. Iran ceased its implementation of the Additional Protocol in 2006, and also ceased all other cooperation with the IAEA beyond what Iran acknowledges it is required to provide under its safeguards agreement, after the IAEA Board of Governors decided, in February 2006, to report Iran's safeguards non-compliance to the UN Security Council. The UN Security Council, invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter, then passed Resolution 1737, which obligated Iran to implement the Additional Protocol. Iran responded that its nuclear activities were peaceful and that Security Council involvement was malicious and unlawful. In August 2007, Iran and the IAEA entered into an agreement on the modalities for resolving remaining outstanding issues, and made progress in outstanding issues except for the question of "alleged studies" of weaponization by Iran. Iran says it did not address the alleged studies in the IAEA work plan because they were not included in the plan. The IAEA has not detected the actual use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies and says it regrets it is unable to provide Iran with copies of the documentation concerning the alleged studies, but says the documentation is comprehensive and detailed so that it needs to be taken seriously. Iran says the allegations are based on "forged" documents and "fabricated" data, and that it has not received copies of the documentation to enable it to prove that they were forged and fabricated.
Since 2011, the IAEA has voiced growing concern over possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program, and has released a number of reports chastising Iran's nuclear program to that effect.
February 2007 Report
In February 2007, anonymous diplomats at the atomic energy agency reportedly complained that most U.S. intelligence shared with the IAEA had proved inaccurate, and none had led to significant discoveries inside Iran.
On 10 May 2007, Iran and the IAEA vehemently denied reports that Iran had blocked IAEA inspectors when they sought access to the Iran's enrichment facility. On 11 March 2007, Reuters quoted International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire, "We have not been denied access at any time, including in the past few weeks. Normally we do not comment on such reports but this time we felt we had to clarify the matter ... If we had a problem like that we would have to report to the [35-nation IAEA governing] board ... That has not happened because this alleged event did not take place."[dead link]
May 2007 Report[edit source | edit]
On 30 July 2007, inspectors from the IAEA spent five hours at the Arak complex, the first such visit since April. Visits to other plants in Iran were expected during the following days. It has been suggested that access may have been granted in an attempt to head off further sanctions.
August 2007 Report and Agreement between Iran and the IAEA
An IAEA report to the Board of Governors on 30 August 2007, stated that Iran's Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz is operating "well below the expected quantity for a facility of this design," and that 12 of the intended 18 centrifuge cascades at the plant were operating. The report stated that the IAEA had "been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran," and that longstanding issues regarding plutonium experiments and HEU contamination on spent fuel containers were considered "resolved." However, the report added that the Agency remained unable to verify certain aspects relevant to the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program.
The report also outlined a work plan agreed by Iran and the IAEA on 21 August 2007. The work plan reflected agreement on "modalities for resolving the remaining safeguards implementation issues, including the long outstanding issues." According to the plan, these modalities covered all remaining issues regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities. The IAEA report described the work plan as "a significant step forward," but added "the Agency considers it essential that Iran adheres to the time line defined therein and implements all the necessary safeguards and transparency measures, including the measures provided for in the Additional Protocol." Although the work plan did not include a commitment by Iran to implement the Additional Protocol, IAEA safeguards head Olli Heinonen observed that measures in the work plan "for resolving our outstanding issues go beyond the requirements of the Additional Protocol."
According to Reuters, the report was likely to blunt Washington's push for more severe sanctions against Iran. One senior UN official familiar said U.S. efforts to escalate sanctions against Iran would provoke a nationalistic backlash by Iran that would set back the IAEA investigation in Iran. In late October 2007, chief IAEA inspector Olli Heinonen described Iranian cooperation with the IAEA as "good," although much remained to be done.In late October 2007, according to the International Herald Tribune, the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, stated that he had seen "no evidence" of Iran developing nuclear weapons. The IHT quoted ElBaradei as saying "We have information that there has been maybe some studies about possible weaponization. That's why we have said that we cannot give Iran a pass right now, because there is still a lot of question marks ... . But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No." The IHT report went on to say that "ElBaradei said he was worried about the growing rhetoric from the U.S., which he noted focused on Iran's alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon rather than evidence the country was actively doing so. If there is actual evidence, ElBaradei said he would welcome seeing it."
November 2007 report
The 15 November 2007, IAEA report found that on nine outstanding issues listed in the August 2007 workplan, including experiments on the P-2 centrifuge and work with uranium metals, "Iran's statements are consistent with ... information available to the agency," but it warned that its knowledge of Tehran's present atomic work was shrinking due to Iran's refusal to continue voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol, as it had done in the past under the October 2003 Tehran agreement and the November 2004 Paris agreement. The only remaining issues were traces of HEU found at one location, and allegations by US intelligence agencies based on a laptop computer allegedly stolen from Iran which reportedly contained nuclear weapons-related designs. The IAEA report also stated that Tehran continues to produce LEU. Iran has declared it has a right to peaceful nuclear technology under the NPT, despite Security Council demands that it cease its nuclear enrichment.
On 18 November 2007, President Ahmadinejad announced that he intended to consult with other Arab nations on a plan, under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to enrich uranium in a neutral third country, such as Switzerland.
Israel criticised IAEA reports on Iran as well as the former IAEA-director ElBaradei. Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman dismissed reports by the UN nuclear watchdog agency as being "unacceptable" and accused IAEA head ElBaradei of being "pro-Iranian".
February 2008 report
On 11 February 2008, news reports stated that the IAEA report on Iran's compliance with the August 2007 work plan would be delayed over internal disagreements over the report's expected conclusions that the major issues had been resolved. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that he would meet with IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei to convince him to "listen to the West" and remind him that the IAEA is merely in charge of the "technical side" rather than the "political side" of the issue. A senior IAEA official denied the reports of internal disagreements and accused Western powers of using the same "hype" tactics employed against Iraq before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to justify imposing further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
The IAEA issued its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran on 22 February 2008. With respect to the report, IAEA Director Mohammad ElBaradei stated that "We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran´s enrichment programme" with the exception of a single issue, "and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past."
According to the report, the IAEA shared intelligence with Iran recently provided by the US regarding "alleged studies" on a nuclear weaponization program. The information was allegedly obtained from a laptop computer smuggled out of Iran and provided to the US in mid-2004. The laptop was reportedly received from a "longtime contact" in Iran who obtained it from someone else now believed to be dead. A senior European diplomat warned "I can fabricate that data," and argued that the documents look "beautiful, but is open to doubt". The United States has relied on the laptop to prove that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. In November 2007, the United States National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) believed that Iran halted an alleged active nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. Iran has dismissed the laptop information as a fabrication, and other diplomats have dismissed the information as relatively insignificant and coming too late.
The February 2008 IAEA report states that the Agency has "not detected the use of nuclear material in connection with the alleged studies, nor does it have credible information in this regard."
May 2008 report
On 26 May 2008, the IAEA issued another regular report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran.According to the report, the IAEA has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, and Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and accountancy reports, as required by its safeguards agreement. Iran had installed several new centrifuges, including more advanced models, and environmental samples showed the centrifuges "continued to operate as declared", making low-enriched uranium. The report also noted that other elements of Iran's nuclear program continued to be subject to IAEA monitoring and safeguards as well, including the construction of the heavy water facility in Arak, the construction and use of hot cells associated with the Tehran Research Reactor, the uranium conversion efforts, and the Russian nuclear fuel delivered for the Bushehr reactor.
The report stated that the IAEA had requested, as a voluntary "transparency measure", to be allowed access to centrifuge manufacturing sites, but that Iran had refused the request. The IAEA report stated that Iran had also submitted replies to questions regarding "possible military dimensions" to its nuclear program, which include "alleged studies" on a so-called Green Salt Project, high-explosive testing and missile re-entry vehicles. According to the report, Iran's answers were still under review by the IAEA at the time the report was published. However, as part of its earlier "overall assessment" of the allegations, Iran had responded that the documents making the allegations were forged, not authentic, or referred to conventional applications. The report stated that Iran may have more information on the alleged studies, which "remain a matter of serious concern", but that the IAEA itself had not detected evidence of actual design or manufacture by Iran of nuclear weapons or components. The IAEA also stated that it was not itself in possession of certain documents containing the allegations against Iran, and so was not able to share the documents with Iran...