Review of Latest Developments in Iran’s Nuclear Case

Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Phase

Mohammad Gharibabadi

Iran’s nuclear case has entered a new phase after a recent agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on how to settle remaining ambiguities about the case. Although the agreement is mostly a technical one, but political grounds that made it possible should not be ignored. Looking back to August 21, 2007, we would see three rounds of intense political negotiations between secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Dr. Ali Larijani, and European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana in Ankara, Madrid, and Lisbon, which were followed by negotiations with IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna, Austria. According to the agreement, which indicated Iran’s goodwill for finding a negotiated solution to the problem, IAEA and Iran vowed to work toward removing the remaining ambiguities within 60 days of the agreement. Naturally, such a major step called for negotiations between Iran and IAEA to be conducted away from inferences from political or security institutions.

It should be noted that cooperation between Iran and IAEA is nothing new and it has been a fixed policy adopted by the Islamic Republic of Iran to interact with IAEA for removal of ambiguities surrounding Iran’s nuclear dossier. Iran has been patient in building confidence with IAEA and the rest of the world and allowing more than 2,200 person-days of inspections from its nuclear installations and activities, voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment for 2.5 years, voluntary signing and implementation of the Additional Protocol which gave IAEA unlimited access to all nuclear materials and facilities of Iran, granting unlimited and supplementary access according to the Additional Protocol as well as the nuclear initiative offered by the Iranian president during a United Nations General Assembly meeting noting that foreign companies and governments may take part in Iran’s uranium enrichment activities were but examples of Iran’s cooperation with IAEA, which unfortunately were not answered appropriately by the other side. Some countries, based on political motivations, did their best to derail Iran’s nuclear dossier from its legal path and tried to take the case to the United Nations Security Council, so that they would be able to impose their illegal demands on International Atomic Energy Agency and the Islamic Republic of Iran. All those efforts were aimed at depriving Iran from acquiring nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Although politically motivated measures taken by few countries led to an impasse in nuclear negotiations, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to show its goodwill once again. According to agreements, delegations representing Iran and IAEA held three rounds of intensive talks in Tehran and Vienna and reached an understanding over a joint work plan on August 21, 2007. According to the new agreement, Iran’s nuclear case was broken up into present and past phases. As far as the “present” was concerned, Iran agreed to engage into technical negotiations with IAEA for the compilation of “safeguards approach and appendix on facilities” for Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz. Acceptance of designated inspectors, allowing inspections of a research heavy water reactor in Arak and issuing multiple entry visas to IAEA inspectors were other issues related to “present” developments, which were settled. A second group of issues pertained to research on plutonium, P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, contamination with highly enriched uranium, efforts made to reduce UF6 to uranium metal, polonium 210, as well as activities at Gachin mine, which were presented to Iran by IAEA. Unlike past agreements and in view of experiences gained through those agreements, it was decided that every remaining problem should be handled individually and according to a timetable and as long as one problem has remained unsolved a new problem would not be taken into consideration. Iran, as a sign of goodwill, also agreed to cooperate with IAEA on the first of remaining problems, that is, plutonium tests, before a work plan is finalized.

It should be noted that the United States insisted during all meetings of IAEA Board of Governors that Iran’s tests with plutonium indicated “the threat posed by Iran’s plan to produce a plutonium-based nuclear weapon.” Technical negotiations were carried out concurrent with negotiations in Tehran and, as a result, IAEA confirmed Iran’s past statement and noted that the issue has been settled. According to the work plan, IAEA has provided Iran with a list of its questions.

It was agreed that those questions should not be open-end ones so as to enable IAEA to posit new questions about anything anytime it wanted. The agreement was clear in this regard that no more questions would be posed or accepted. On the other hand, according to the agreement, the list of remaining ambiguities would not expand and nothing more would be added to it. It is noteworthy that before new agreement was reached with IAEA, the list of remaining ambiguities was open and this provided the world with a confused picture of Iran’s nuclear program.

After the new agreement, only six issues were identified and the first issue (plutonium tests) had been already settled. The work plan also noted that after resolution of remaining problems, Iran’s nuclear case will be taken up by International Atomic Energy Agency as an ordinary matter. IAEA always emphasized that Iran’s nuclear program was a special case, which called for requirements which would go beyond Iran’s international commitments. Referring Iran’s nuclear case to the United Nations Security Council further complicated the situation. It has been, however, agreed that after settlement of remaining problems, implementation of safeguards contract would return to normal course and, in fact, Iran’s nuclear case will be handled as an ordinary and non-urgent issue by IAEA.

When negotiations started between Iran and IAEA, few countries questioned usefulness of the talks and Iran’s intention to reach a timely result. Compilation of the text of the agreement was completed in 40 days. On the other hand, settlement of a past problem (plutonium tests) and both sides’ determination to settle four remaining problems indicated that their claims were unfounded.

Following agreement between Iran and IAEA, director general of IAEA, submitted his report on the “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran” simultaneously to members of the Security Council and Board of Governors on August 30, 2007. The report which was considered by Board of Governors during its meeting (September 10-14, 2007) has referred to an important agreement between Iran and IAEA according to which a work plan encompassing agreements reached by IAEA secretariat and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran on methods, procedures and schedule for settlement of remaining problems had been finalized.

The director general reiterated in his report that no evidence has been found in reprocessing uranium in Iran while previous resolutions issued by Board of Governors and the Security Council had called for suspension of uranium reprocessing by Iran. Reprocessing of spent fuel is still one of the main levers used by the West to put pressure on Iran and even resolutions issued by the United Nations Security Council have called on Iran to stop reprocessing. At the same time, IAEA has announced more than once that Iran has not reprocessed spent fuel. The report has also touched upon origin of highly enriched uranium contamination as well as plutonium tests and has confirmed Iran’s statements about those issues. Therefore, their case is considered closed. With regard to other issues, it has been announced that according to the work plan and based on a specified schedule, Iran and IAEA will work toward settlement of remaining problems. It has been noted that Iran has considered more facilities for the entry of IAEA inspectors.

The report has also noted, “The Agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has been providing the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and facilities. IAEA can verify non-diversion in Iran’s nuclear program and that Iran has given access to sites and materials required by IAEA and has submitted required reports.” ElBaradei, however, has added that the Agency remains unable to verify certain aspects relevant to the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program. He has described the work plan agreed with Iran as “a significant step forward.” The report added, “If Iran finally addresses the long outstanding verification issues, the Agency should be in a position to reconstruct the history of Iran’s nuclear program. Naturally, the key to successful implementation of the agreed work plan is Iran’s full and active cooperation with the Agency, and its provision to the Agency of all relevant information and access to all relevant documentation and individuals to enable the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues.” The last paragraph of the report reads, “Contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities.…”

ElBaradei’s report, which was a result of a recent agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency on how to settle remaining issues, created a positive atmosphere and new hopes for resolution of remaining ambiguities. Some observers, therefore, maintain that the agreement between Iran and IAEA has opened a new chapter in constructive cooperation between the two sides and has dealt a heavy blow to US plans to get the world impose further sanctions against Iran. Iran’s nuclear issue was the main pretext used to put tremendous pressures on the country and, finally, report it to the United Nations Security Council. The new report of director general about agreements reached with Iran made it more difficult for the United States and some Western countries to put new pressures on Iran and influenced the world public opinion in favor of Iran’s nuclear activities. The initiative to start a new round of talks with IAEA was a calculated measure and the sharp criticism of the new agreement by the American circles shows how hard it has become for them to convince international community to put more pressure on Iran. The agreement not only prevented IAEA from taking politically motivated steps, but made it more difficult for European countries and the United States to continue their efforts against Iran’s nuclear program at United Nations Security Council. Therefore, their stances toward the agreement have been negative. After ElBaradei’s report was issued along with a list of agreements reached with Iran and director general’s admittance that it was “a significant step forward,” ambassadors of the United States, Britain and France vehemently objected to ElBaradei’s report. During a recent meeting at Board of Governors, those countries were very wary about the agreement and did not welcome it. This shows that they are pursuing other goals.

The United States was meant to get another resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council when the deadline for Resolution 1747 expired (in late May). Due to Iran’s initiative for preparing a work plan and resolve the remaining issues with IAEA, the United States and some Western countries were facing more difficulties to achieve their goals through the Security Council. They though that the reason for reporting Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council was lack of transparency, but the measure taken by Iran aimed to remove all remaining ambiguities and to deny them any excuse to act against Iran. On the other hand, positive assessment of Iran’s nuclear program by IAEA prompted China, Russia and even Germany to announce that new conditions should not be ignored by further recourse to the Security Council mechanism.

The United States still insists that the case should be followed through the United Nations Security Council. During a meeting of political authorities of 5+1 countries in New York on September 21, the United States and Britain did their best to forge a consensus among participants about the next resolution against Iran, but were faced with opposition from China and Russia which believed that a new resolution will undermine the agreement between Iran and IAEA and will encourage Iran to stop cooperating with the Agency. Therefore, the two countries demanded that the new trend should be continued for, at least, another two months or more. The United States and its European allies will be probably forced to wait until the results of ongoing negotiations between IAEA and Iran come to light before taking new measures.

Iran’s initiative has left its opponents with no excuse to pursue the nuclear case through the Security Council and the way has been paved for return of Iran’s nuclear case to International Atomic Energy Agency. On the other hand, the time is ripe for Western countries to resume negotiations with Iran. Undoubtedly, any development outside IAEA may obstruct the new constructive trend and may even undermine it. Since adoption of the Security Council resolutions were done on the pretext of ambiguities in Iran’s nuclear program, it is natural for Iran to expect the other side to take confidence building measures in response to Iran’s goodwill. Iran is not calling for rights beyond those stipulated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty and only seeks to exercise its legal rights within the framework of NPT.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to build confidence with regard to its nuclear program and has taken strides in this regard. However, the country will not give in to any pressure or threat and will, by no means, forgo its legitimate right in this regard. Iran is a responsible government and part of the international system, but it will not remain indifferent to pressures and threats and will not allow its rights to be ignored. In the same way that it responds to logical initiatives, the Islamic Republic of Iran will withstand policies that are based on force and threat. Access to nuclear energy and enrichment technology for peaceful purposes is inalienable right of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian nation. Using the Security Council leverage to impose more economic sanctions on Iran will not dissuade the Iranian nation and government to change their mind about the important decision that they have already taken.

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