Iran Update: Number 151

  • Iran pronounces strong commitment to nuclear program after IAEA releases latest critical report
  • Major diplomatic maneuvers remained stalled
  • Western countries continue to tighten sanctions
  • BASIC at Iran’s second international nuclear disarmament conference, June 12-13

Iran pronounces strong commitment to nuclear program after IAEA releases latest critical report

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors was convening June 6-10 in Vienna, and part of the meeting’s agenda included discussing the Agency’s latest assessment of Iran’s implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and compliance with related U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Board’s report of May 24 contained an increased emphasis on questions about possible “military dimensions” of the nuclear program, mentioned the receipt of possible new evidence, and as before, repeated its request for Iran to provide more information in order to assure the Agency of the peaceful nature of Iran’s program, a request which was echoed by IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano during his opening presentation at the Board meeting on June 6.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quickly responded by criticizing the Secretary General, and said that such requirements put forward by the Agency and Security Council have been unfairly created by the United States in an effort to undermine Iran’s rights. He said Iran would continue enriching uranium regardless of international penalties or any potential for deal-making. Vice President Fereydoun Abbasi, who is also the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, reinforced the President’s remarks and announced on June 8 that Iran intends to triple the amount of 19.75% enriched uranium this year and repeated intentions to develop advanced centrifuges that it will use in the Fordow plant “soon”. The Vice President said that Iran would seek to consolidate to the Fordow plant all of its efforts to enrich uranium up to the 19.75% (U235) level, under the IAEA’s surveillance.

Despite the long-standing U.N. Security Council instruction to cease enrichment activities, mounting sanctions and technical challenges, as of May 13 Iran has produced an additional 970 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) at 3.5% at its Fuel Enrichment Plant (Natanz) since October 2010.  This suggests a total stock of 4,105 kg of LEU enriched up to 3.5%. In addition, Iran has been adding to its stocks of 19.75% U235 at its Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and now has a total of 56.7 kg. Iran says that this will fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), a facility which is mainly for medical purposes. The enriched fuel must first be fabricated before it will work in the TRR. Iran has lacked this technology but has plans to install fuel fabrication equipment at its Fuel Manufacturing Plant at Esfahan. However, the Agency did not see any commencement of these activities during its inspection on May 11 at the plant.

The IAEA reports that Iran still refuses to provide details on the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant near Qom, a facility that Iran had kept secret until September 2009. The Agency maintains that Iran must provide this information in order to meet its Safeguards Agreement, but Iran disputes the legality of this requirement. Iran had not introduced centrifuges into the plant as of May 21, although it told the IAEA that it plans to start feeding nuclear material into the plant this summer.

The Agency has also asked for information on the planned ten new uranium enrichment facilities and does not know whether construction on any of them has begun. In a letter dated May 3, Iran said it would provide this information “in due time”. The Agency is also waiting for more information on Iran’s announcement about its possession of laser enrichment technology, and on the development of a third generation of centrifuges, including access to additional locations related to research and development of uranium enrichment and centrifuge manufacturing.

Iran has proceeded with its heavy water-related projects, but the IAEA has been unable to access these sites recently. The IAEA did perform “design information verification” on May 10 at the IR-40 Reactor (Arak) and confirmed that Iran was continuing construction. Iran plans to start the reactor up “by the end of 2013”.

The Agency’s assessment also elaborated on a number of outstanding concerns and information that it has received from other countries over the possible “military dimensions” of the nuclear program, and noted that the Board has received additional information on suspected military-related activities since the last report of February, is still reviewing that information, and expressed worries that there are still “indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004.”  Among the “areas of concern”, the Agency says it was presented with evidence of activities suggesting Iran’s interest in testing explosive devices underground and “missile re-entry vehicle redesign activities,” in particular “conducting design work and modelling studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replacing it with a spherical nuclear payload.”

Also, a separate U.N. panel report alleged that Iran and North Korea have been sharing ballistic missile technology, including allegations that sensitive items were transferred between the two countries on regularly scheduled flights of Iran Air and Air Koryo.

The Bushehr nuclear power plant has begun low-level operations, after the plant reached criticality on May 10.  Atomic Energy Organization head Abbasi said on May 24 that the plant remains in the testing phase but should “join the national grid soon.”


Major diplomatic maneuvers remained stalled

During a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 17, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that she was consulting with the United States and other countries on a response to a formal letter sent by Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in which he said that Iran would be willing to participate in more meetings over its nuclear program with the P5+1/E3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States). The group last met in January but there was no hint of progress. The letter sent by Secretary Jalili proposed that the dialogue be broadened to include other security issues, and requested that the world powers treat Iran as a partner with “legitimate requests” in an effort to escape the “current self-created stalemate,” according to text obtained by the Associated Press.

The G8’s Declaration from the summit held in Deauville, France on May 26-27, expressed “regret that while Iran finally met twice” with the E3+3 and EU High Representative “following their intensive diplomatic efforts and the adoption of measures in UNSCR 1929, it was not possible to reach any substantive result, Iran having not yet entered into a genuine dialogue without preconditions.” The Declaration’s section on Iran concluded that “Depending on Iran’s actions, we will determine the need for additional measures in line with the dual-track approach.”

Journalist Seymour Hersh argues in The New Yorker (June 6) that U.S. President Barack Obama and his aides have been acting on the presumption that Iran has already chosen to develop nuclear weapons. Hersh contends that this runs counter to assessments of the U.S. National Intelligence Community, which has concluded that there is no definitive evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and that Iranian leaders have not agreed on, or decided yet, whether they will pursue such a program. Hersh reviews some of the efforts of outside experts to encourage more engagement between Iran and the United States, pointing to them as a more promising way to deal with the crisis. Two unnamed senior U.S. officials criticized the article and told Politico’s Playbook that the Obama Administration has not exaggerated the threat from Iran, with one of them saying that “…Tehran is keeping its options open despite the fact that the community of nations demands otherwise.”

Former ambassadors to Iran: Sir Richard Dalton (United Kingdom), Steen Hohwü-Christensen (Sweden), Paul von Maltzahn (Germany), Guillaume Metten (Belgium), François Nicoullaud (France) and Roberto Toscano (Italy) wrote in The Los Angeles Times today, suggesting that the West should forego its unrealistic demand that Iran abandon enrichment, and that both sides request the IAEA to specify exactly what it would require to monitor the country’s program more closely as the basis of future negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress on May 24, arguing that Iran poses one of the gravest threats to world security and that: “The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation.”  His colleague, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, took a less hardline tone during an interview with Haaretz earlier in May, saying that even if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, it would probably not use them against Israel. Former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, warned an audience at Tel Aviv University on June 1 that a military strike against Iran would lead to a wider regional conflict and would “give the Iranians the best excuse to pursue the nuclear race.”


Western countries continue to tighten sanctions

A panel of U.N. investigators reported in May that international sanctions were hampering Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama is considering new sanctions after hearing Iran’s initial reactions to the IAEA’s latest assessment and its plans to ramp up uranium enrichment. The United States has recently imposed sanctions against more foreign entities for having conducted business with Iran’s energy sector. Venezuela’s Petroleos was among the companies hit by the sanctions, which include bans on obtaining U.S. export licenses and competing for U.S. government contracts, and obtaining financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The head of Petroleos, Rafael Ramirez, who is also the state’s energy and petroleum minister, slammed the United States and rebuffed the sanctions, but did not yet indicate whether Venezuela would level any retributive measures. Venezuela exports about one million barrels of oil per day to the United States. Acting Under Secretary of the U.S. Treasury David Cohen is in Japan and South Korea from June 7-10 in part to encourage those countries to tighten sanctions on Iran.

The EU initiated measures to freeze the assets of 100 additional companies for their connections to Iran’s nuclear program, earlier in May. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated Russia’s opposition to more penalties, and said that the United States and EU should agree not to impose any additional sanctions if Iran complies with the resumption of deeper IAEA inspections. He added that if Iran increases its cooperation, then they should eventually suspend sanctions all together.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said on June 8, the day of the completion of the Nabucco pipeline legal framework, that if international politics permits, he would like to see both Russia and Iran join the project, which will send gas from the Caspian region to Europe.

BASIC at Iran’s second international nuclear disarmament conference, June 12-13

Iran will host its second annual international conference on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, June 12-13. BASIC’s Executive Director, Paul Ingram, will be presenting a paper to the conference on why Iran should engage with the official 2012 conference on a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. This paper will be available on BASIC’s website next week.

With additions from Chris Lindborg and Paul Ingram, BASIC


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