Iran update: number 135


  • IAEA reports no change
  • Obama holds out a diplomatic hand to Iran
  • Iranian Presidential elections on June 12 – result in the balance
  • Sarkozy meets with Iran’s foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki
  • Gates confirms Iran launch of Sejil-2 missile
  • Israelis accuse Bolivia and Venezuela of supplying Iran with uranium
  • Ahmadinejad denies collaboration with North Korea
  • US House and Senate discuss deepening sanctions
  • New Israel-US working group on Iran’s nuclear program


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released their latest report on June 5th, again reflecting a continued stalemate between Agency inspectors and Iran over specific aspects of past programs that may have included a military dimension, and their appeal to Iran to implement the Additional Protocol to establish greater international confidence and transparency in the intentions of their current program. The IAEA report also confirmed to the best of the Agency’s knowledge the “non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.” As BASIC’s Executive Director, Paul Ingram, explained to Bloomberg news agency, there are no surprises in this report. “There will be no political consequence from minor technical progress of the enrichment program,” to be expected in an operation of this nature and trajectory. Current estimates suggest that Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb, but only if the country were to reconfigure their centrifuges, further enrich the uranium and take the other necessary technical steps to produce a weapon – a process that would take several months and be transparent to the Agency. Tehran also continued to block design verification by the Agency of the Arak (IR-40) heavy water reactor. Iranian officials responded to the report’s release by reiterating that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, and that they had cooperated with inspectors to the degree that is required of them.

US President Barack Obama completed his first Presidential tour of the Middle East in early June, and used the opportunity to address many regional issues including Iran’s nuclear program. During his heavily trailed speech in Cairo, he discussed the complicated and antagonistic history between the United States and Iran and expressed his continued desire to “move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.” Obama asserted in both his interview with the BBC before his trip, and in his Cairo speech that Iran “should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” While the US president reiterated that Iran has legitimate energy concerns that should be addressed, Obama warned that Iran’s failure to comply with international law could lead to an arms race in the Middle East, which could be a “hugely dangerous path.” Before President Obama delivered his speech in Cairo, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, issued a statement declaring how nations of the Middle East “hate America” and warned that, “Even if they give sweet and beautiful talks to the Muslim nation … that will not create a change.”

Campaigning has closed for Iranian Presidential elections which will take place on June 12th. Although reformist candidate former Iranian Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi appears to be ahead in a minority of polls, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still favored to win unless there is unusually high voter turnout. It is likely that neither will garner the majority of the first stage votes to avoid a straight two-way runoff on June 19th. An incumbent has never before been seriously challenged, let alone unseated, since the current system was set up. All the candidates are committed to continuing Iran’s nuclear program, but it is thought that Mousavi would be more open to diplomatic engagement with the West, and has suggested that he would provide guarantees that Iran’s nuclear program is strictly for energy. On June 3rd, during a live televised debate, Mousavi accused Ahmadinejad of a foreign policy that was characterized by, “adventurism, illusionism, exhibitionism, extremism and superficiality.” He has suggested that Iran has been greatly impacted by US economic sanctions, and that relations would improve if the sanctions were dropped. Mousavi also criticized Ahmadinejad for his repeated denials of the Holocaust, and suggested that these actions had alienated allies and had not been in the interest of Iran. A week of energetic rallies leading up to the election has led Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to warn Mousavi that a “revolution” of any kind will not be tolerated.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on June 3rd to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program. A briefing from the French President’s office highlighted Sarkozy’s censure of Ahmadinejad’s most recent denial of the Holocaust and the reassertion of France’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program. The meeting was a break in western strategy to put on hold a dialogue until after Iran’s elections – Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini had already cancelled his trip to Iran. President Obama met with President Sarkozy on June 6th; Sarkozy said afterwards, “we are entirely together on this question” of Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration has just authorized US embassies to invite Iranian diplomats and their families to July 4th parties across the world for the first time.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed the May launch of an Iranian medium-range ballistic missile, the Sajjil-2, able to reach Israel and some of southern Europe. The manner of the announcement of the test was seen as aggressive electoral posturing by Ahmadinejad in the build-up to the Iranian Presidential Elections. In response to the launch, official US statements focused on the development of Iran’s nuclear program. During congressional testimony (not in the prepared statement), US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “Our goal is to persuade the Iranian regime that they will actually be less secure if they proceed with their nuclear weapons program,” and reiterated the administration’s commitment to diplomatic efforts toward Iran.

In a report with uncomfortable similarity to the fabricated 2003 claims that Niger was supplying Iraq with uranium, the Israelis are claiming that Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying uranium to Iran, an attempt by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to further damage the United States through support of Iran. Diplomatic relations have been strained between the South Americans and Israel after mutual diplomatic expulsions after the war in Gaza in January. Bolivia denied supplying Iran, and contends that they do not produce uranium. President Chavez has on numerous occasions defended Iran’s right to produce peaceful nuclear energy and along with many non-aligned countries, has recently declared interest in starting a nuclear energy program in Venezuela.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad denied collaboration with North Korea after they conducted their second nuclear test, and subsequently challenged Obama to a debate at the United Nations. US officials hope that after the Iranian presidential elections they will receive an official response from Tehran to their invitation offered through Javier Solana to join the P-5+1 talks. President Sarkozy strongly urged Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to support Iran’s participation in the P-5+1 talks or risk increased international isolation.

The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (IRPSA) is currently in committee in both the US House of Representatives (bill H.R. 2194) and the Senate (bill S. 908). The bill would amend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 by expanding US economic sanctions on Iran and requiring the President to sanction firms involved in the importation of gasoline and diesel fuel into Iran. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called on the United Nations to expand economic sanctions on Iran.

The May meetings between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu led to the creation of a joint US-Israeli working group meeting once a month and comprised of top security aides to share intelligence and discuss diplomatic approaches on Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli officials suggested that the group would analyze contingency plans for a scenario in which diplomacy fails and Iran develops a nuclear weapons program. In their May 23 New York Times op-ed on Iran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett suggest that this working group was created to “identify more coercive options if Iran does not meet American conditions for limiting its nuclear activities.” Haaretz reports that the first meeting of the working group is expected to take place in early June, with Israeli National Security Adviser Uzi Arad most likely leading the Israeli team, and Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon probably leading the US team.


Stories and links

US Senator opens Iran nuclear debate
Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, June 10, 2009

Obama seeks global uranium fuel bank
Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 8, 2009

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, IAEA (available via the Institute for Science and International Security) June 5, 2009

Iran increases uranium enrichment pace; Defies UN inspectors
Jonathan Tirone, Bloomberg, June 5, 2009

Remarks by the President on a new beginning (Cairo Speech)
Barack Obama, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 4, 2009

Despite tensions, US, Israel still talking about Iran
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, June 3, 2009

FACTBOX: Economic issues may decide Iran election
Reuters, June 1, 2009

Disgruntled urbanites could sway Iran vote: Middle class may oust Ahmadinejad
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, May 30, 2009

Incumbent upon you: Iran’s presidential election campaign is under way. Expect the return of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Economist, May 30, 2009

Iran reformist candidate wants end of US sanctions
Nasser Karimi, Associated Press, May 29, 2009

Iran’s Election Turns on President’s ‘Truths’: Ahmadinejad’s Rivals Reject His Views on Nuclear Program, Israel, US Ties
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, May 23, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Testimony on the 2010 budget request
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 20, 2009


Comments, editorials and analysis

Results of a new nationwide public opinion survey of Iran before the June 12, 2009 presidential elections
Terror Free Tomorrow, The Center for Public Opinion, and the New America Foundation, poll conducted in May, released on June 8, 2009

Thirteen cascades in vacuum
Jeffrey Lewis, Arms Control Wonk, June 6, 2009

Centrifuge and LEU increases; access to Arak reactor denied; no progress on outstanding issues
David Albright and Jacqueline Shire, ISIS Report on Iran, June 5, 2009

US-Iranian engagement: The view from Tehran
International Crisis Group, Middle East Briefing No 28, June 2, 2009

Iran battle royale?
Laura Rozen, The Cable Blog, Foreign Policy Passport, June 2, 2009

The Axis of Evil, again: Every nuclear-weapons state had foreign help
Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2009

Iran Election: What is at stake
Stuart Whatley, Huffington Post, June 1, 2009

Iran tests missile
Voice of America, Editorials, June 1, 2009

A new red line for Iran
Graham Allison, The Washington Post, June 1, 2009

The foreign policy factor in Iran’s presidential race; and interview with Farideh Farhi
Bernard Gwertzman, Council on Foreign Relations, May 27, 2009

No magic bullet on Iran
David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 24, 2009

They may not want the bomb: And other unexpected truths
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, May 23, 2009

Have we already lost Iran?
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, New York Times, May 23, 2009

Bringing Iran in from the cold
Nader Mousavizadeh, Washington Post, May 21, 2009

Iran’s next leadership?
Bernd Kaussler, Foreign Policy in Focus (commentary), May 20, 2009

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