Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Attack on Iran More Likely While Atomic Efforts Continue: France
The unwillingness of a number of nations to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran means the Middle Eastern nation's disputed atomic activities place it in greater danger of coming under armed attack, the French ambassador to the United Nations said on Tuesday (see GSN, Sept. 27).
Western powers including France and the United States have for years aired suspicions that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward weapons development, despite Tehran's consistent denial of the allegations.
Addressing the consequences of the Persian Gulf state potentially closing in on acquisition of a nuclear bomb, Ambassador Gerard Araud said, "Personally I am convinced that some countries won't accept this prospect."
The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany are seeking a diplomatic resolution to the dispute in an effort to avoid possible violence, Agence France-Presse quoted Araud as saying. The powers last held full talks with Tehran in January.
"If we don't succeed today to reach a negotiation with the Iranians, there is a strong risk of military action," the envoy said. He did not identify any nations that might conduct an armed strike.
"It would be a very complicated operation. It would have disastrous consequences in the region," said Araud, a past participant in talks with Tehran.
"All the Arab countries are extremely worried about what is happening" with regard to the Iranian atomic program, he said.
European diplomats now believe Iran is uninterested in seeking a deal with the other countries and is "moving forward" in pursuing its atomic ambitions, Araud said.
"We have tried everything. Not a stone has been left unturned," the official said.
Araud and other Security Council delegates have suggested any effort to adopt new economic penalties against Iran is unlikely for the half a year or more. The body has adopted four sanctions resolutions to date against the Middle Eastern country, but veto-wielding members China and Russia are against the enactment of further such steps, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, Sept. 28).
Iran is "carefully" reviewing a plan developed by Moscow in a bid to restart dialogue on the nuclear impasse, the nation's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency told Arms Control Today earlier this month. The proposal calls for Iran to gradually address U.S. and European concerns that its atomic activities could support weapons development, and for the Western countries to reciprocate by curbing economic penalties targeting the Middle Eastern nation (see GSN, July 14).
Iran's decision to open its major atomic facilities to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts over several days last month represents its "biggest step toward transparency and cooperation," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh added in a Sept. 6 interview published on Tuesday (see GSN, Aug. 23). "We expect that this biggest step of cooperation from our side would be welcomed, and we would be encouraged to take further steps," he said.
The U.N. agency conducts regular inspections in Iran and elsewhere in an effort to ensure civilian nuclear materials and technologies are not turned toward weapons operations.
Iran's move to grant the IAEA official access to areas housing experimental next-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges was the result of a "very, very difficult decision," Soltanieh said (see GSN, Aug. 4). The uranium enrichment process can produce fuel for civilian applications as well as weapon material.
"Nobody in the whole world has shown these centrifuges and R&D; [research and development] to the inspectors of the IAEA," he said, later acknowledging his country in 2009 had permitted then-IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and then-safeguards chief Olli Heinonen to tour the areas.
"Unfortunately, soon after such a big step, when (ElBaradei) was back in Vienna, there was another resolution in the Security Council. Therefore, we found out that no matter how much we cooperate, those who have a hidden agenda, a political agenda, are not cooperating and are just following different tracks," the diplomat said.
Asked about Iran's offer earlier this month to accept full IAEA oversight of its nuclear operations for five years once the nation is freed from economic penalties, Soltanieh said his government was already in complete compliance with its obligations to the U.N. nuclear watchdog (see GSN, Sept. 6).
"We have already taken this step. Now it is their turn," he said.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the U.N. agency's mandate permit countries to establish uranium enrichment and other atomic fuel cycle capabilities for civilian use, Soltanieh noted. The Security Council, though, has demanded that Iran halt its enrichment program.
"Calling for suspension is in fact a violation of that right," he said. "Suspension was invented for Iran, and the verification of suspension was invented for Iran."
"According to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], we do have a comprehensive safeguards agreement," he said. "But the situation now, which is very unfortunate and disappointing, is that the IAEA is in fact referring to the Security Council resolutions and asks (for) additional access or requests beyond the NPT comprehensive documents. And that is the problem. We do not consider it a legal basis for the U.N. Security Council resolution."
Iran has refused to recognize Security Council demands in part because they are based on suspicions that originated with Western powers, not IAEA inspectors, Soltanieh said. In Iran's case, he said, the United States and European countries on the U.N. nuclear watchdog's 35-nation governing board in 2006 "judged that there was noncompliance before 2003."
In addition, the agency's mandate specifies that a nation referred to the Security Council for noncompliance must be a "recipient" of atomic systems or substances, the official said. "We were not the recipient country of nuclear materials or equipment for [the Natanz uranium enrichment facility] or other activities."
"If there are obstacles for inspectors to go to a country, for example North Korea, when the inspectors were not permitted to (go), then this matter should be sent to New York," Soltanieh said, in reference to the Security Council. "But in the case of Iran, you can see in all the reports of the [IAEA] director general over the last eight years that ... the IAEA is able to continue its verification in Iran. It means that there have been no obstacles whatsoever for inspectors to come to Iran."
Iran also does not recognize Security Council demands because the body's members "in their own resolution ... confirm that the suspension of enrichment was a non-legally binding, confidence-building, and volunteer measure," the envoy continued.
"If this is non-legally binding, then how come that, after two and a half years, we stopped the suspension, then they turned to the board of governors and said that Iran has violated its obligation and is not legal, (that) Iran should continue its suspension? They admit themselves that it is not legally binding."
Though Iran has received a quantity of atomic fuel from Russia for its Bushehr nuclear power plant, "we do not have any guarantee or any agreement for another five years or the 30 years of its work," Soltanieh said. "We have also a lot of experiences of confidence deficits in the past."
Iran might need to refined to generate 20 percent-enriched uranium for a "maximum four or five years," he said. Tehran says the enriched uranium is needed for operation of a medical research reactor, while skeptics fear it could be a stepping stone toward Iran's production of weapon-grade material.
Tehran has shifted centrifuges for the higher-level enrichment to its hardened Qum facility as a safeguard against a potential Israeli strike, he said (see GSN, Aug. 22).
The "very reason for [the Qum site's] existence is because of the augmentation of the Bush administration’s threat of attack and also Israeli (attack). Otherwise, we did not want to have another investment," the official said.
Iran last year said it had designated a location for one of 10 planned enrichment facilities, but later said it had no intention of constructing any additional refinement sites within 24 months. "This is the updated decision because we had been exploring the possibilities; all the decisions will be a function of the political environment of the whole world and also the technical requirements," Soltanieh said.
Iran's floated in 2005 the potential confidence-building measures of sending its low-enriched uranium abroad or rapidly preparing it for use in nuclear power plants. "These [suggestions] are obsolete now because we are facing very speedy developments in the international arena and also in Iran’s nuclear development," the ambassador said.
Addressing IAEA assertions that Iran has not offered sufficient transparency to a probe into nuclear weapon-design activities it might have pursued in the past, Soltanieh said his country had satisfied the agency's demands as laid out in a 2007 agreement (see GSN, Aug. 22, 2007).
"In that document, it says that the IAEA has no more questions than the questions listed in these documents in the ... work plan," he said. "Unfortunately, after the six issues were resolved -- and in two reports, ElBaradei reported that these were resolved -- still, this matter is pending.
Iran was only asked to address in a limited manner related electronic documentation contained on a portable computer purportedly smuggled from the country, he said. "It was very clear, agreed upon by both sides, that the IAEA should deliver the documents and Iran merely give in its response its assessment of those documents. No more and no less. No more visits or interviews or sampling, no visits to places, nothing."
"The Americans did not tell the IAEA to deliver the documents, and the director-general harshly criticized the Americans that they have jeopardized the documentation process, but he asked us to show flexibility. We agreed.
"Then the inspectors came with a PowerPoint presentation rather than delivering the documents to us. Apart from it, we had the meeting that we were not supposed to have; we had a 100-hour meeting, and during that meeting, we tried to go slide by slide and explain to them over a 100-hour meeting and 117 pages of written documents we gave confidentially to the IAEA. We explained one by one why these documents are false and fabricated.
"Therefore, we expected that this file will be closed after six months or a year. Now after three, four years, this matter still is not closed because the IAEA says it has received more allegations from some open sources. This cannot continue; this is an endless process. At some point, we have to put an end to this process," he said.
Soltanieh recounted expressing support for the establishment of a Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone in a statement to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano (see GSN, Sept. 26).
"The main obstacles have been Israel’s nuclear capability and not joining the NPT. Therefore, we considered that the only measure toward a Middle East free zone that would be meaningful would be if the whole international community put pressure on Israel to join (the) NPT promptly without delay and put all nuclear activities under the IAEA and destroy all nuclear weapons capabilities and nuclear weapons facilities. And that is the only way to do it. In fact, this was the case in all other regions [with nuclear-weapon-free zones], I presume. We cannot accept that there is a nonparty to the NPT in the region and trying to ignore the demands of the countries in the region," he said (Peter Crail, Arms Control Today, Sept. 27).
Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen on Wednesday threatened sanctions against any of China's four major government-run banking institutions that are discovered carrying out transactions with an Iranian insurance firm now targeted by proliferation penalties, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse II/Khaleej Times, Sept. 28).
Feb. 14, 2013
A new brochure describes the origins and the work of the Nuclear Security Project.
Feb. 14, 2013
George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn laid out their vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the urgent, practical steps to get there in a groundbreaking series of co-authored Wall Street Journal op-eds.
This article provides an overview of Iran’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.