IAEA Board Deplores Iran’s Failure to Come into Full Compliance: Is Patience with Iran Running Out?

IAEA Board Deplores Iran’s Failure to Come into Full Compliance: Is Patience with Iran Running Out?

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Peter Crail

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Jean du Preez

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

On Friday, June 18, 2004, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unanimously adopted a resolution reprimanding Iran for failing to act in full compliance with its international safeguards obligations. Much of the resolution reiterates the findings and sentiments of the two previous resolutions adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors in November 2003 and in March 2004. In line with these resolutions, the Board welcomed Iran's cooperation in granting IAEA access to all requested facilities, and called on Iran to resolve a number of issues that have remained outstanding for some time.

However, in some of the harshest language issued thus far, the Board deplored the fact that Iran's cooperation with the Agency has not been "as full, timely, and proactive as it should have been," thereby stating that Tehran has not exhibited full compliance. In particular, the resolution notes the postponement of Agency inspections originally scheduled in March until mid-April, thereby delaying the process of environmental sampling and analysis. While the resolution does not find Iran in non-compliance, which would necessitate handing the matter over to the UN Security Council, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated at the Board meeting that, "it is essential for the integrity and credibility of the inspection process that we are able to bring these issues to a close within the next few months."

Unlike the September 2003 resolution, this resolution does not set a deadline for Iran to disprove that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. However, it does say that, "with the passage of time," it will become more important for Iran to cooperate by providing all "relevant information," and "prompt access" to all "relevant places, data, and persons" so as to enable the IAEA to gain a "full understanding" of Iran's enrichment program. This language, read together with the ElBaradei statement, and the fact that the resolution calls for a report on its implementation, and that of prior resolutions on Iran "well in advance of the September Board meeting," leaves the impression that time is running out for Iran. The question remains, however, what, if anything, will the UN Security Council do if the Board finds Iran in violation of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations and safeguards agreements? Perhaps even more important is the question of how the increasingly conservative, and even, radical elements in the Iranian parliament might react to such a step.

The IAEA Board of Governors resolution followed the June 1, 2004 report issued by IAEA Director-General ElBaradei that identified a number of key concerns requiring clarification by Iran. These questions, and Iran's unsatisfactory responses to them, have shed doubt on Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is meant purely for peaceful purposes. The first of these issues was the discovery of highly enriched uranium (HEU) particles at a number of Iranian nuclear facilities. This finding initially provoked concern last summer because of Iran's previous insistence that all of its centrifuge components had been produced domestically. After being confronted with this evidence, Iran admitted that the contaminated components were imported from third parties, and that the contamination occurred prior to importation. Although Iran claims that it does not know the origin of this equipment, it has identified some of the intermediaries involved. Although the IAEA has been engaged with these intermediaries, the Director-General's most recent report concludes that without additional information, "it is unlikely that the Agency will be able to conclude that the 36% uranium-235 contamination found at Kalaye and Farayand was due to components originating from the State in question." The November 2003 IAEA report referred to at least nine instances of undeclared foreign assistance involving entities from at least four countries that provided components, material, and information used in Iran's enrichment program. Although the Agency has received some information from other states that may answer some of the questions regarding contamination, it has not yet received full cooperation from all the states involved. Understanding the full extent of third country involvement in Iran's program would not only enable the IAEA to close the Iran file, it would also be essential in dealing with clandestine "nuclear smuggling" activities by non-state entities.

Another concern relates to Iran's previous omission of its P-2 centrifuge design and components from its declaration of the "full scope of Iranian nuclear activities," and the subsequent inconsistency between Iranian claims and IAEA findings. While Iran first declared that it was only using P-1 centrifuges, evidence from Libya regarding Pakistani-supplied P-2 centrifuge components suggested that Iran, too, used this equipment. Confronted with this evidence, Iran revealed that it had in fact acquired magnets relevant to the more advanced P-2 centrifuges from Asian suppliers. Iran also admitted to making inquiries with a European intermediary regarding the procurement of 4,000 magnets suitable for use in P-2 centrifuges, although no magnets have been delivered by the intermediary. As these procurement efforts seem inconsistent with the declared small scale of Iran's P-2 centrifuge research and development program, the IAEA has requested that Iran clarify the true nature and scope of its P-2 centrifuge activities. In a move that has now become typical of Iranian tactics, Tehran provided the IAEA with a thousand-plus-page document on the eve of the Board meeting in an attempt to address some of these questions. Iran's ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Piriz Hosseini, claimed that the report provides a full picture of all Iran's nuclear activities and facilities, and that Iran "gave all possible information to the agency." He also stated Iran's willingness to "provide explanations to any questions that may arise."[1] The fact that the IAEA needs time to study this report in greater detail clearly influenced the Board's request for yet another report by the Agency prior to its next meeting in September 2004.

A third issue relates to Iran's decision to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities in December of 2003. This suspension was negotiated as part of an agreement between Tehran and three European states—Britain, France, and Germany—who agreed to provide nuclear technology to Iran once suspicions regarding its nuclear program were clarified. In addition to suspending enrichment activities, Iran agreed to sign an Additional Protocol to its NPT safeguards agreement, allowing more extensive inspections by the IAEA. Although the Iranian parliament has yet to ratify the Protocol, the government undertook "to co-operate with the Agency in accordance with the protocol in advance of its ratification."[2] This agreement was one of the key factors that prevented the referral of the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council at the November 2003 IAEA Board meeting. In spite of this agreement, Iran intends to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the feedstock of the uranium conversion process, at its Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF). The IAEA has declared that this activity is at variance with its understanding of Iran's suspension of enrichment activities, and previously called on Iran to refrain from doing so. Iran, however, has asserted that the production of UF6 was not on its list of suspended activities, and that it reserved the right to commence production, much to the chagrin of the EU trio.

In response to the lack of progress in verifying Iran's various claims and admissions, Britain, France, and Germany introduced a draft resolution on June 7, 2004 that rebuked Iran for its failure to cooperate fully with the IAEA. While much of this draft remained in the final resolution adopted on June 18, members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)—obviously influenced by their allegiance to one of their own—insisted on adding a perambulatory clause recognizing "the inalienable right of states to the development and practical application of atomic energy for peaceful purposes…," giving credence to Iran's claim that its nuclear program is only for peaceful, non-military purposes. Prior to the adoption of the resolution, the Chairman of the NAM members on the IAEA Board issued a statement calling for the closure of the Iran case, citing the Director-General's finding in November that, "there had been no evidence of diversion of the Iranian nuclear program for military purposes." The NAM continues to insist that Iran has been cooperating with the Agency, in spite of contrary claims by the Director-General and other Board members.

Iran responded to this draft by accusing the EU trio of conspiring with the United States to apply undue pressure on Tehran. On June 16, 2004, reformist Iranian President Mohamed Khatami told reporters that if the draft resolution passed, "Iran will have no moral commitment to suspend uranium enrichment."[3] Hardliners in the Iranian Parliament, which came to be dominated by conservatives in the 2004 elections, suggested that the parliament will retaliate against any harsh decisions taken by the Board of Governors. In light of the IAEA's calls for Iran to ratify its Additional Protocol, conservative lawmaker Manouchehr Mottaki stated, "the board decision will definitely affect the parliament's debate whether or not to approve the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty."[4] Even harsher language was issued by another member of parliament, Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, stating, "If IAEA gives in to U.S. pressure, we will react strongly to defend Iran's national interests…as a lawmaker, I think Iran has to stop cooperation with IAEA and seriously consider withdrawing from NPT."[5] Adding teeth to this rhetoric, Iran recently announced that it will resume the production of centrifuges, effectively reversing its agreement with the EU trio. Iran alleged that the Tehran agreement had already been broken by the EU trio when they drafted the stern resolution in June. Previous IAEA resolutions and reports however, suggest that Iran continued to engage in uranium enrichment activities even after the Tehran agreement, and EU diplomats told the Associated Press that Iran, "appear[ed] to be using semantics—the meaning of the word 'suspend'—to keep some of its nuclear enrichment program operational."[6]

The United States believes that Iran has maintained a "large-scale nuclear weapons program" for the last 18 years. The United States has repeatedly called on the IAEA Board of Governors to refer the Iran issue to the UN Security Council so that "appropriate measures" could be taken. When asked during a recent interview what was understood by such measures, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf stated, "We believe that the IAEA Board of Governors has a responsibility [to report noncompliance to the Security Council]. In essence, they found noncompliance with safeguards obligations as long ago as last November. So, if the treaty architecture is to have any validity and have any strength when noncompliance takes place, [the noncompliance] needs to be reported."[7] Similarly, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton stated at the 2004 Preparatory Committee for the 2005 NPT Review Conference that the IAEA must, "fulfill its responsibility under the IAEA Statute to report the safeguards failures found in Iran to the Security Council, as it did in the case of Libya."[8]

It is worth noting that in spite of claims by the United States, clear evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program has not been found, and Iran asserts that its nuclear intentions are purely peaceful. While two years of IAEA inquiries have called Tehran's assertions into question, Iran's lack of compliance only circumstantially points to the existence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program. The fact that Iran has not been found "guilty" of pursuing nuclear weapons yet may only enhance the claim by many in the Iranian political leadership that the United States is merely seeking to isolate Tehran from the international community, thereby eliciting a strong Iranian backlash. The IAEA should therefore be given the time needed to continue to clarify the outstanding issues, and engage Iran within the framework of the NPT.

In light of the Iranian reaction thus far, however, it may not be in the best interests of the IAEA and the UN Security Council to resort to punitive measures at this point. The realization of any Security Council action, ranging from a statement condemning Iranian noncompliance, to a resolution under Chapter VII, may only strengthen the hand of the hardliners calling for disengagement with the IAEA and the NPT, thereby creating a situation very similar to that in North Korea. Although a strong condemnation by the Security Council "might help wavering countries, which have not yet accepted its noncompliance, to see that, in fact, there has been noncompliance,"[9] Iran is likely to ignore any non-Chapter VII related action by the Council, especially if judged by the reactions in Tehran to the June 2004 Board of Governors resolution. Such action may not only prove fruitless, it would also potentially pose serious consequences for the validity of the Council. Of related concern is the question of whether Chapter VII sanctions could be endorsed by the Security Council given Iran's extensive trade relations. Even if the Council were to agree to impose sanctions—which would likely succeed only by a narrow margin—the impact of such sanctions on both Iranian political reforms, and the current international energy crisis, should be carefully evaluated.

In addition to Iran's potential withdrawal from its international commitments, time has come to give serious consideration to Iran's security concerns as they relate to the security framework of the region in general. While Iran claims that it is not developing nuclear weapons, many in Tehran's leadership echelons would argue that it should have the right to do so in response to Israel's nuclear capabilities. Director-General ElBaradei acknowledged such motivations to obtain nuclear strategic balance in an interview with Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz. He suggested that until Israel engages in a dialogue to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and engage in WMD disarmament, "there will be continued incentive for the region's countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match the Israeli arsenal."[10] The desire to attain nuclear parity with Israel of course, does not validate Iranian pretensions of becoming a de facto nuclear weapon state, but it does indicate that any ultimate resolution to the concern over Iranian nuclear aspirations must be part of a concerted Middle East peace process, including efforts to establish a WMD-free zone in the region.


  • "In Focus: IAEA and Iran,
  • Iran Country Profile,
  • Special Weapons Guide, Federation of American Scientists,

[1] "Iran Submits Full report on Nuclear Program to UN Nuclear Agency", IranAtom.Ru.
[2] "Statement by the Iranian government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers," 21 October 2003,
[5] Ibid.
[7] Interview with Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf, Arms Control Today, May 13, 2004.
[8] Statement by United States Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security to the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, April 27, 2004.
[9] Interview with Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf, Arms Control Today, May 13, 2004.
[10] "'Scrap nuclear arms' Israel urged," BBC, December 12, 2003,

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