Iran Update: Number 143

  • The United States leads passage of additional U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.
  • Brazil and Turkey strike deal with Iran for fueling Tehran Research Reactor.
  • IAEA releases new report critical of Iran’s cooperation over its uranium enrichment program.
  • Dispute over Iran’s nuclear program mars the start of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
  • Iranian-Russian relations strained but Moscow says Bushehr should be operational by August.

United States leads passage of additional U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran

After the United States and its European allies worked closely with China and Russia to reach agreement on a resolution that they would support, the U.N. Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran for its ongoing refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program and for its record toward IAEA requests. The official record of the debate and text is available here.

This latest sanctions resolution (1929) expands an existing arms embargo, tightens restrictions on Iran’s shipping and financial industries (including Iran’s central bank), targets the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, calls for the creation of a cargo inspections regime similar to the one imposed on North Korea, and blacklists Javad Rahiqi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran’s Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center.

Some critics were saying that the resolution is not strong enough because it leaves out Iran’s energy sector. However, the resolution was seen as facilitating efforts by the United States and other countries to individually impose tighter controls against Iran, as noted a day earlier by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Nevertheless, Obama Administration officials were saying that the “door is still open” to Iran should it decide to comply with international demands. The three previous rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions were expressed in resolutions 1696, 1747, and 1803.

Brazil and Turkey, which recently reached agreement with Iran on the fuel swap proposal, were dismayed at the United States’ timing, and both voted against the resolution. Lebanon abstained. The new sanctions resolution does “note” Brazil and Turkey’s work with Iran on the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) agreement and its possible contribution as a “confidence building measure”.

A day before the vote, President Ahmadinejad had announced that Iran would decline any offer of talks on its nuclear program if new sanctions were adopted, and that the proposed fuel swap “opportunity will not be repeated.”

The drive for sanctions had been placed in some doubt a couple of weeks earlier after a fatal Israeli raid on a civilian flotilla bound for Gaza on 31 May. The Turkish government called for an international inquiry into Israel’s actions.

Brazil and Turkey strike deal with Iran for fueling Tehran Research Reactor

After an eight-month impasse, Brazil and Turkey won Iran’s acceptance of an arrangement that would enable the country to export its LEU in exchange for uranium fuel enriched to higher levels sufficient for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) – an IAEA-monitored facility that is used primarily for medical purposes. Under the Tehran Declaration that the three countries announced on 17 May, Iran would export 1,200 kg of its LEU to Turkey as a safe deposit (to be returned to Iran if the deal fell through), and then Russia, France, the United States, and the IAEA (also known as the “Vienna Group”) would facilitate the sending to Iran 120 kg of TRR-grade fuel. The original deal required Iran to send the 1,200 kg of LEU to Russia for enrichment and then France for fabrication before TRR-grade fuel would be returned to Iran.

Brazil and Turkey hailed the new arrangement as a confidence building measure, while critics pointed out that Iran’s continued production of enriched uranium since the deal was originally proposed last October meant that the deal now covered only a minority of Iran’s enriched uranium. In recent months, Iran has started the process of enriching fuel to near-20 percent levels that would be required to fuel the reactor without the swap, but Iran does not have the indigenous capability to fabricate the enriched fuel for use in the TRR.

The Vienna Group has not formally agreed to the fuel swap at this point in time. France, Russia and the United States presented the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, with a letter expressing their concerns about the new swap proposal on 9 June. The unpublished letter was to be passed to Tehran for examination and a response. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had recently criticized the timing of the deal, contending that Iran’s decision to accept the fuel swap with the pending threat of new sanctions was “a transparent ploy to avoid (U.N.) Security Council action.” However, Reuters reported that only two weeks earlier U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a letter to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signaling his support for such engagement, that could still help to build some confidence toward Iran. Despite the letter, U.S. officials have publicly and repeatedly voiced skepticism over the latest proposal, pointing to the principal problem of Iran’s continuing uranium enrichment, which violates U.N. Security Council resolutions.

IAEA releases new report critical of Iran’s cooperation over its uranium enrichment program

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on 31 May a new report on Iran’s compliance with its nuclear safeguards agreement and United Nations Security Council Resolutions. It was unable to report progress on outstanding questions over whether Iran’s nuclear-related work is “in peaceful activities.”

The report noted that since the IAEA’s last update in February, Iran has slightly increased its rate of production of enriched uranium at the Natanz plant, and refuses to provide the Agency with design information on its Fordow facility that is under construction near Qom. The IAEA further noted that equipment had been removed from the Jabr Ibn Jayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, under investigation by Agency inspectors because of Iran’s previous declaration that it was performing sensitive experiments there. Iranian officials are maintaining that the IAEA misinterpreted the purpose of the experiments and that equipment was not removed.

The report also covers the previously-known efforts by Iran to enrich some of its uranium from 3.5 up to 20 percent U-235 levels at the pilot fuel enrichment plant. Iran is now thought to have enough low enriched uranium (LEU) with 2,427 kilograms (over two tons) enriched to at least 3.5 percent that, if further enriched over time, could result in a quantity of military-grade fissile material (90%) sufficient for two nuclear warheads.

Dispute over Iran’s nuclear program mars the start of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

During the month-long conference, officials representing 189 member states agreed a final action plan that reaffirmed their countries’ commitments to the three pillars of the NPT: non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and access to the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Verbal sparring between Tehran and Washington marked the first day of the RevCon on 3 May. In Iran’s opening statement, President Ahmadinejad accused the U.S. government of making nuclear threats against non-nuclear weapon states that seek to develop peaceful nuclear technology. He labeled the possession of nuclear weapons as “disgusting and shameful” and declared that the nuclear bomb “is a fire against humanity, rather than a weapon for defense” and that “the possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride.” Presenting the United States’ opening remarks, Secretary of State Clinton responded, “Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked the Iranian President to “restore trust with the international community on the peaceful nature of its nuclear program and take action in this regard.” During his opening presentation at the RevCon, he called on “the President of Iran to engage constructively. Let us be clear: the onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns about its program.” Later in the conference he also intervened to urge the nuclear weapon states to agree commitments to fulfill their disarmament responsibilities.

President Ahmadinejad’s complaints about “nuclear hypocrisy” appealed to many members from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Some expressed frustration with the nuclear weapons states for focusing on non-proliferation issues while moving too slowly on nuclear disarmament, and these concerns were reflected in the NAM’s opening statement.

After the first few days, attention shifted to proposals for a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. In a resolution at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, member states agreed to work toward the creation of this zone that would include Iran and Israel. The Review Conference managed to produce a consensus Final Document, which states that a separate conference on the zone should be held by 2012. (Note: BASIC’s Program Director, Anne Penketh, covered the NPT Review Conference, including how the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program influenced the conference, and BASIC’s Executive Director, Paul Ingram, released a special report on the subject.)

Iranian-Russian relations strained but Moscow says Bushehr should be operational by August

After word came several weeks earlier that Russia would support another round of sanctions, Iranian President Ahmadinejad appeared stung, saying, “Today it has become very difficult to explain Mr. Medvedev’s behavior to our people. We hope Russian officials will pay attention, make amends, and not make Iranians put them in the line of their historic enemies.” The vociferous response led to a verbal dispute between Iranian and Russian officials.

Despite the recent war of words between officials, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin affirmed that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran will be operational in August after pre-launch tests are completed. In addition, Russia and Iran will establish a joint venture to operate the plant, which is Iran’s first. Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Rosatom, said of the arrangement: “This country is only embarking on the path to peaceful nuclear energy and does not yet have enough experience in maintaining such installations. We have agreed that our experts will work as part of this joint company and maintenance of the station will be implemented by the staff of our two countries for the next few years.”

On a related note, in mid-May, the United States lifted its own sanctions against several Russian organizations that had been previously involved in transfers of weapons to Iran, one of which would be responsible for the deal to provide Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The move was seen as a possible payment for securing Russia’s cooperation in the latest round of Security Council-imposed sanctions, although U.S. officials denied there was a direct linkage.

Contributions from Nima Khorrami Assl, Chris Lindborg, and Christopher Carr, BASIC

Stories and Links

  • Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran
    Report by the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency, GOV/2010/28, 31 May 2010 (Available via the website of the Institute for Science and International Security.)

Comments, Editorials, and Analysis

  • Iran Sanctions: Why Does the U.S. Government Do
    Business with Companies Doing Business in Iran?
    Danielle Pletka, Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, 12 May 2010
  • Nuclear Politics in Iran
    Judith S. Yaphe, ed., Institute for National Strategic Studies Middle East Security Perspectives Series, No. 1, Washington, DC: Center for Strategic Research Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, May 2010

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