- IAEA suggests that Iran may have attempted to combine its missile and nuclear technologies; Iran refuses to fully cooperate with its inquiries
- UN Security Council passes resolution requesting that Iran honor previous demands to halt uranium enrichment; Russia and China obstruct a fourth round of sanctions
- While in New York for UN meetings, Iranian President Ahmadinejad announces plans to launch satellite on an all-Iranian rocket
- Speculation on Israeli policy toward Iran increases after Kadima’s Livni wins election to succeed Olmert
- Prospects for US legislation tightening sanctions on Iran
- US brings foreigners up on charges of dual-use technology sales to Iran
- Former US Secretaries of State urge the next administration to cautiously engage all Middle Eastern powers
- IAEA Director General ElBaradei will not seek another term
On September 15, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on evidence that had been passed to it that Iran may have tried to weaponize its nuclear program. According to documents provided by Herman Naeckerts, the head of IAEA inspections in the Middle East, Iran may have tried to redesign a Shahab-3 missile to carry “what would appear to be a nuclear weapon.” The Secretary-General’s report to the Board also suggested that Iran may have benefited from “foreign expertise” in nuclear weapon designs.
The IAEA has requested Iran clarify this, but Iran has refused to cooperate, citing national security concerns with respect to its conventional missile regimen. Some within the nuclear community have also questioned the IAEA’s right to pass judgment or request materials related to demonstrably non-nuclear materials. The IAEA annual assembly is this week.
Iran has continued to enrich uranium and appears to have overcome the technical problems that have plagued their centrifuge program. At current rates, Iran could be six months to two years away from acquiring sufficient stocks of low-enriched uranium to be in a position then to break-out and produce highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated on September 18 that his country would not halt its nuclear work to meet the demands of any world power. He asserted that future sanctions “are not important” to his country, and argued that Iran will continue on its nuclear path, regardless of international interference. Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, has indicated that no weapons programs exist for the IAEA to investigate – and that it is impossible to prove a negative without compromising national dignity or security.
In response to the IAEA’s latest report, the UN Security Council passed a resolution asking Iran to comply with prior demands that it halt its uranium enrichment program, while stopping short of imposing a fourth round of sanctions. Russia and China thwarted attempts by the other members of the UN Security Council to place Iran under new sanctions, and Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, said of the resolution that “it is channeling the minds of everybody in the direction of political rather than military enterprises.” Moscow’s objection to further sanctions is seen as being tied to Western objections to its brief military intervention in Georgia. In keeping with those objections, Russia cancelled a set of high-level P5+1 talks to be held in New York last Thursday on Iran’s nuclear program.
The Security Council has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran, but are unlikely to muster Russian or Chinese approval for any future sanctions without any further indication of a nuclear weapon program. Russia’s relations with other Security Council members have suffered because of its actions in Georgia, and could choose to veto any further resolutions on the issue. In a possible indication of her country’s stance on further sanctions, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Jiang Yu, said she did not believe sanctions would resolve the crisis. Despite this possible opposition to future sanctions, China has recently urged Iran to be more cooperative with the IAEA, noting that “tensions are not the way to solve these problems.”
While attending the annual UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders, Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced his country’s intention in the near future to launch a satellite into orbit on an Iran-made rocket.
On September 18, Tzipi Livni wrested control of Kadima, Israel’s ruling party. The outcome may affect international politics over Iran’s nuclear program. Livni, foreign minister under Olmert and a past Likud Party member, will look to form a cabinet to finish Ehud Olmert’s term, taking on responsibility for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and for any potential response to Iran’s nuclear position.
Livni’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear program will merit increasing scrutiny in upcoming weeks as rumors swirl of potential Israeli military action against Iran. Livni has, as recently as 2007, expressed doubts about the threat posed by potential Iranian nuclear weapons. According to Haaretz, in her capacity as foreign minister, Livni assailed the politicization of the Iranian nuclear program by the Olmert government as a means of shoring up his eroding support base. She has adopted a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program more recently, though still supports sanctions and diplomacy in lieu of military action, as long as the Iranians “know that there are other options.”
The Guardian reported that on May 14, then Prime Minister Olmert had explicitly asked US President George Bush for the “green light” to bomb nuclear facilities in Iran. According to unnamed European diplomatic sources, President Bush indicated that he would not support an Israeli attack because of security risks, including the likelihood of attacks on US interests and the possibility that the first strike would not successfully disable all of Iran’s nuclear program.
US Congress – further sanctions
US House of Representatives passed a bill to tighten sanctions on Friday, its last official day before the election. However, the bill was weaker than proponents had hoped, and affirmed the need for multilateral diplomacy as well as explicitly stating that nothing in the legislation authorizes the use of force and stripped any reference to a blockade of Iran. The bill now needs unanimity in the Senate to pass this year.
On September 17, the United States filed charges against sixteen foreign nationals and companies for illegally trading US military hardware to Iran in defiance of sanctions. Six of the firms in question are Iranian-controlled, and sold dual-use items like microchips that can be used to trigger roadside Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Officials at the Office of Foreign Assets Control qualify the companies being indicted as part of the Iranian military-industrial complex.
Recommendations from past Secretaries of State
Several former Secretaries of State, including McCain adviser Henry Kissinger, met in a forum on September 15 to discuss how the next American administration should react to current Middle Eastern crises, including Iran’s nuclear program. They agreed that more contacts between the United States and Iran, at the Secretary of State level, may prove useful in diffusing a host of regional crises. The Bush Administration has refused to open one-on-one diplomatic talks with Iran until its uranium enrichment program is suspended. In addition, the former secretaries agreed that withholding international incentives from Russia in the wake of the Georgian conflict may prove counterproductive; an isolated Russia is far less likely to support Western approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Iran’s nuclear program, or terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Change at the top at IAEA
Mohamed ElBaradei, the current Director General of the IAEA, will step down after the end of his current term in November of 2009. ElBaradei, who has held his post since 1997, has often been in conflict with Washington. He contradicted the Bush Administration’s claims regarding Iraq’s nuclear weapon program prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and called for talks with Iran and condemned threats of military strikes against its facilities. There are several prime candidates to replace ElBaradei upon his retirement from the IAEA, including the Japanese and South African IAEA ambassadors, and the IAEA’s own head of the global non-proliferation inspectorate, Ollie Heinonen.
Stories and links
Israel asked US for green light to bomb nuclear sites in Iran, Jonathan Steele, September 25, 2008
Ahmadinejad: ‘Who exactly is the Provocateur?’ , NPR Morning Edition, interview with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, September 23, 2008
Iran moves closer to nuke weapons capacity, The Associated Press, via CBS News, September 22, 2008
Iran pushed for nuclear answers, BBC News, September 22, 2008
UN agency: Unsure if Iran hiding nuclear program, Associated Press, via International Herald Tribune, September 22, 2008
Envoys can’t agree on new Iran sanctions, CBC News, The Associated Press, September 19, 2008
Ex-secretaries of state share advice for next president, CNN, September 16, 2008
Iran blocks UN nuclear investigators, Jonathan Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, September 15, 2008
Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007) and 1803 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General, September 15, 2008 (available via the website of the Institute for Science and International Security)
ElBaradei to step down as chief of UN nuclear watchdog body, Julian Borger, The Guardian, September 12, 2008
Comments, editorial and analysis
Meeting the challenge: US policy toward Iranian buclear development, Bipartisan Policy Center, September 18, 2008
IAEA report on Iran: centrifuge operation significantly improving; gridlock on alleged weaponization issues, David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan, September 15, 2008
Bush overstates threat posed by a nuclear Iran , Ward Wilson, Chicago Tribune, September 14, 2008
Iran and policy options for the next administration. Session II: The nuclear dimension and Iranian foreign policy, Council on Foreign Relations, September 8, 2008
New realities in the Strait of Hormuz, David Isenberg, Asia Times, September 23, 2008