Iran and the IAEA: A Troubling Past with a Hopeful Future?

Iran and the IAEA: A Troubling Past with a Hopeful Future?

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

Maya Nakamura

Graduate Research Assistant, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Jean du Preez

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

Iran has been given one last chance to fully disclose the nature of its past nuclear weapons-related activities. In a stern and carefully worded resolution, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors strongly deplored Iran's past failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with the provisions of its safeguards agreement. The board decided that should any "further serious failures come to light," it would meet immediately to consider "in the light of the circumstances and of advice from the director-general, all options at its disposal, in accordance with the IAEA Statute and Iran's Safeguards Agreement." [1] The reference to the statute implies that the board's next step could be to refer the matter to the United Nations (UN) Security Council should Iran not undertake and complete "all necessary corrective measures on an urgent basis, to sustain full cooperation with the agency" [2] to complete its investigative process. The board requested that IAEA Director-General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei submit another report by mid-February 2004 for consideration by the March 2004 board meeting; it is conceivable that the board could at that stage decide to refer the matter to the Security Council for further action.

The resolution was adopted following a deadlock primarily between the United States and three of its closest European allies—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—on how to express condemnation of Iran's breaches of its safeguards agreement while also recognizing that Iran has already taken some corrective actions. Although the United States had insisted prior to the board meeting that it would hold out for at least a threat of Security Council action as punishment to Iran for its clandestine nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment and plutonium processing, the threat of Security Council involvement was opposed by the rest of the board. In particular Germany, France, and the United Kingdom argued that if pressed too hard, Iran could backtrack on its cooperation and its commitment to clear up questions about its nuclear past.

The board, however, also provided Iran incentive by welcoming its offer to actively cooperate with the IAEA following the board's last resolution on September 12, 2003 that set a deadline (October 31, 2003) for Iran to provide information on its past and present nuclear activities. The board also recognized Iran's decisions to conclude an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement, which would allow for more intrusive inspections and verification mechanisms, and to voluntarily suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities. At the same time, it emphasized the importance for Iran to move "swiftly to ratification" of the protocol and in the interim to act as if the protocol were in force. It also requested Iran to continue to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities in a "complete and verifiable manner." [3] The board's resolution welcomed the October 21, 2003 Agreed Statement between the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom and the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council. Iran agreed in the terms of this agreement to sign the Additional Protocol and to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Of further significance was the emphasis on the "urgent and close cooperation" by all third countries to clarify outstanding questions concerning Iran's nuclear program. [4] The need for "third countries" to cooperate relates to several references in the latest report by Director-General ElBaradei, which was distributed on November 10 in anticipation of the board meeting. The report described at least nine instances of undeclared foreign assistance, including those by entities from at least four countries that provided components, material, and information used in Iran's laser enrichment program.

IAEA Report: Iran in Breach of its Safeguards Agreement?

The rebukes, words of acknowledgement, and demands for further action included in the resolution are based upon the November 10 IAEA report. This report was the third issued since allegations surfaced in August 2002 that Iran was actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, and provided both troubling and reassuring details on Iran's nuclear program to date.

As was the case with the June and August 2003 reports by the IAEA (GOV/2003/40 and GOV/2003/63), the latest report does not provide conclusive evidence that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program. These reports, however, clearly identified a number of instances over an extended period of time in which Iran has failed in to meet its obligations under its safeguards agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material and its processing and use, as well as the declaration of facilities where such material has been processed and stored.

One of the more disturbing points included in the report detailed undeclared Iranian efforts over the past two decades to develop a uranium centrifuge enrichment program and a laser enrichment program, and Iranian success in producing small amounts of low-enriched uranium and plutonium. These efforts, particularly those related to laser enrichment, were assisted by nuclear and technical cooperation with at least four different countries. The report also included Iranian failures to report—and in fact, intentional efforts to conceal—"a large number of conversion, fabrication, and irradiation activities involving nuclear material," as well as facilities where those activities were conducted. These included failures to report testing of centrifuges at the Kalaye Electric Company in 1999 and 2002; the import of natural uranium in 1994 and its subsequent transfer for use in laser enrichment experiments (which included the production of enriched uranium); and the production and irradiation of uranium targets. The report also showed that Iran failed to provide design information for facilities such the centrifuge facility at the Kalaye Electric Company and the laser facilities at TNRC and Lashkar Ab'ad, and that through its efforts to deliberately conceal aspects of its nuclear program, Iran failed on many occasions to cooperate in the implementation of safeguards. [5]

The report stated, "Iran's nuclear program, as the agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front-end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor, and associated research and development facilities." When considered in full, the report's description of Iran's nuclear progress and its multiple reporting failures present a troubling picture of a country that has been long pursuing advanced nuclear capabilities inconsistent with its proclaimed interest in a peaceful nuclear program.

In introducing his report to the board on 20 November 2003, Dr. ElBaradei confirmed what has long been suspected by many—that Iran has deployed "a deliberate counter effort, that spanned many years, to conceal material, facilities, and activities that were required to have been declared under the safeguards agreement—material, facilities, and activities that covered the entire spectrum of the nuclear fuel cycle, including experiments in enrichment and reprocessing. This has inevitably resulted in many breaches and failures on the part of Iran to comply with its obligations under its safeguards agreement." [6] While acknowledging that Iran has increased cooperation and has already taken some corrective actions, Dr. ElBaradei emphasized the seriousness of these breaches and failures and that they run counter to both the letter and the spirit of the safeguards agreement.

The report reflected these findings, and further stated that Iran continued to conceal some of its activities until October, that its cooperation has been "limited and reactive," and that it was slow in providing information that was "changing and contradictory." [7] The report, however, was not entirely negative. It recognized recent demonstrations of increased Iranian cooperation, such as Iran's October 23 declaration providing details and clarification of its nuclear program to date—including details on imported technology and material, facilities used in the program, and current holdings and activities. It also noted Iran's agreement to submit to the IAEA relevant papers documenting inventory changes of nuclear material, design information on its uranium enrichment and laser enrichment programs, and presentation of some actual nuclear materials and equipment used in Iranian experiments for agency verification. The report further acknowledged the recent events that have come about since the October 21 agreement between the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom and the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council.

Thus, despite the additional failures by Iran to fully disclose its past and present nuclear activities, the latest report found that to date, "there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to [in the report] were related to a nuclear weapons program." However, the report concluded that given Iran's past patterns of concealment, it would take "some time before the agency is able to conclude" that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The report also concluded that the agency must have a "particularly robust verification system in place" and that an Additional Protocol, coupled with a policy of full transparency and openness on the part of Iran, would be "indispensable for such a system." [8] The resolution adopted by the board on November 26, endorsed this recommendation, thereby setting a new standard for Iran.

The latest IAEA report was itself a result of the strongly worded resolution that was adopted at the September 2003 board meeting, which established a October 31 deadline for Iran to clarify outstanding issues and to demonstrate full and transparent cooperation with the agency. That resolution requested that the director-general report on the status of implementation in November 2003, "enabling the board to draw definitive conclusions." Should Iran have failed to meet that deadline, referral of the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council might have been the likeliest outcome of the November board meeting. But several events, including increased Iranian cooperation, the Iran/European ministers joint statement, and the latest negative but ultimately non-conclusive agency report, intervened, thus buying Iran—and the international community—a bit more time.

The sand is now fast running out of Iran's hourglass. As was evident in the board's decision on November 26, Iran now only has one of two options: convince the IAEA and the international community that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons option, or face potential Security Council action.

A Hidden Program Revealed

Iran has been party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) since 1970 and has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 1974 (INFCIRC/214), but its nuclear program has long been viewed with suspicion by the United States. Iran's nuclear energy program was initiated by the Shah in the mid-1960s with support and encouragement from the United States and other Western countries. The 1979 Islamic revolution, however, halted all nuclear research and activities until after the 1980-87 Iran-Iraq War. Upon resumption of its nuclear program, Iran sought to forge nuclear cooperation ties with Germany, Argentina, Spain, and other countries, but its efforts were stymied by U.S. pressure until the 1990 agreement signed between Iran and the Soviet Union. Through mid-2002, the Iranian nuclear program was thought to consist primarily of several small research reactors and the nuclear light water reactor being constructed by Iran and Russia at Bushehr.

In August 2002, an Iranian dissident organization provided to the IAEA information on two secret and well-advanced nuclear facilities in the Iranian towns of Natanz and Arak. The two underground gas centrifuge enrichment facilities at Natanz (a pilot facility that began operating in August 2003 and was temporarily suspended on November 10, and a much larger enrichment facility still under construction) will allow Iran to domestically produce stocks of enriched uranium; depending on the level of enrichment, this material could be used either for peaceful nuclear energy purposes or a military nuclear weapons program. When the director-general visited these facilities for the first time in February 2003, he and other agency officials were reportedly surprised by the advanced state and sophistication of the Iranian enrichment facilities. The construction of a heavy water production plant in Arak also spurred concern, as heavy water is not required for the light water Bushehr reactor, but rather, is used in heavy water reactors capable of breeding plutonium from natural uranium. The heavy water is to be used for a 40 megawatt (MW) heavy water research reactor that is scheduled to commence construction in 2004. Possession of both an advanced uranium enrichment facility and a heavy water reactor could provide Iran with both types of fissile material required for nuclear weapons.

Iran has argued that its current electric power grid faces increasing pressure from the country's quickly growing population, and that its economy is highly dependent on the foreign revenue received through exports of its abundant oil and gas reserves. These reasons have led Iran to conclude that diversified energy sources are necessary to meet domestic consumption needs. In February 2003, President Mohammad Khatami announced Iran's plans to develop an entire domestic nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining, conversion, enrichment, and reprocessing of spent fuel. In addition to the 1,000 MW of electricity expected to be provided by the Bushehr reactor, the government is aiming to produce a total capacity of 6,000 MW via nuclear energy within the next two decades. [9] Several countries have expressed grave concern regarding these plans, particularly given the fact that Russia has expressed willingness to supply Iran with the amount of nuclear fuel necessary to power Bushehr and future reactors. Iran, however, has argued that continuity of supply is critical to Iran's national security. Given its historical experience with canceled supplier contracts due to U.S. pressure, and the increasingly warm ties between the United States and Russia, the Iranian government has reason to be wary of foreign dependence.

To counter international concerns, Iran has repeatedly emphasized its support for the NPT and that nuclear weapons do not have and will not be given a role in the country's defense policy. In May 2003, it stated, "we consider the acquiring, development, and use of nuclear weapons inhuman, immoral, and illegal and against our basic principles." [10] NPT Article IV allows all non-nuclear weapon States (NNWS), including Iran, to develop an entire indigenous nuclear fuel cycle as long as the state is in compliance with its safeguards agreement as required under Article III of the treaty. This trade-off was intended to be a key incentive for NNWS to join the treaty: by giving up the nuclear weapon option, they could gain access to and still benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology.

Over the past year, however, the United States has been pressuring the IAEA to fully investigate the nature of Iran's nuclear program and to provide the information necessary to sufficiently determine Iran's nuclear intentions. Following a series of visits and consultations with Iran in 2003, the director-general issued reports to the IAEA Board of Governors' June and September meetings that indicated a number of Iranian reporting failures and troubling evidence of undeclared nuclear activities. These included failure to declare the import, processing, and use of 3,960 pounds of natural uranium obtained from China, as well as the facilities where the material was stored and processed, and the production of uranium metal, which, because of its complex and advanced technology, is considered more likely to be used for a nuclear weapon program than for a nuclear energy program. Environmental samples taken at the Natanz pilot enrichment facility and at the Kalaye Electric Company in Tehran also revealed traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which Iran claimed came from contaminated parts that were bought on the black market and for which sources could not be identified. In response to these reports, the board at its September meeting adopted without a vote a resolution setting a October 31, 2003 deadline for Iran to demonstrate full and transparent cooperation with the agency and to rectify all failures identified by the IAEA. In particular, the resolution called on Iran to provide a full declaration of all uranium enrichment-related imported material and components, to grant full access to any site deemed necessary by the agency, and to resolve any and all outstanding questions. The resolution further urged Iran to sign the Additional Protocol and apply its provisions pending its ratification, and to suspend any uranium enrichment activities.

Following adoption of the September board resolution, the director-general and other agency officials continued to consult with Iran and to clarify and verify answers to outstanding questions regarding Iran's nuclear activities. The Iranian government assured Dr. ElBaradei during his October 18 visit to Iran of its willingness to cooperate with the agency and its readiness to sign the Additional Protocol, although it indicated that it was still considering certain aspects of the protocol. The government apparently needed only three days to conclude its consideration. Following one-day talks in Tehran with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany, on October 21, 2003, an Agreed Statement was approved by the foreign ministers, which began with a reiteration of Iran's rejection of a role for nuclear weapons in its defense policy, and declared the country's agreement to provide full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA in resolving all requirements and outstanding questions with regard to Iran's nuclear program. As a further demonstration of its peaceful intentions, Iran stated its decision to sign and commence ratification of an IAEA Additional Protocol, and "to cooperate with the agency in accordance with the protocol in advance of its ratification." [11] Iran also agreed to voluntarily suspend all uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA. The European foreign ministers, for their part, reaffirmed Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the NPT, and stated that implementation of the Iranian announcements would "open the way to a dialogue on a basis for longer-term cooperation [that] will provide all parties with satisfactory assurances relating to Iran's nuclear power generation program. Once international concerns, including those of the three governments, are fully resolved, Iran could expect easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas." [12] The European ministers also pledged to cooperate with Iran in promoting stability and security in the Middle East region, and in this regard, directly mentioned the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The joint Iranian-European ministerial statement was welcomed by the IAEA and was cautiously acknowledged by the United States.

Two days after the joint statement was issued, Iran provide the IAEA with "a large set of documents" [13] declaring the extent of its nuclear program since the mid-1980s. The declaration included a number of previously undisclosed pieces of information, such as Iran's production of small amounts of enriched uranium and of plutonium, but notably did not provide the original source of the imported technological components that may have left the traces of highly enriched uranium detected at Natanz and the Kalaye site. On November 10, Iran also informed the agency of its decision "to suspend all activities on the site of Natanz, not to produce feed material for enrichment processes and not to import enrichment-related items," [14] and delivered to the IAEA its official notification of its acceptance of the Additional Protocol.

These most recent developments, in particular, may be indicative of a recalculation by Iranian leaders as to the security value attached to being a responsible nation with advanced and thoroughly safeguarded nuclear capabilities, or an ambiguously nuclear-capable nation that is increasingly isolated and viewed as a threat to the international community. A differing view might be, however, that Iran is simply stalling for time while it hones the skills of its nuclear scientists and advances the readiness of its nuclear facilities for non-peaceful purposes. If judged by yet another defying statement by the Iranian representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Salehi, shortly before the board convened to consider the latest report, that "the decision [to dismantle its enrichment program entirely] lies in the hand of the Iranians to restart the project in the future, once they feel the time is appropriate," [15] it appears that Iran's decision to stop the process was temporary and that it is likely to restart enriching uranium in the future. The latter scenario would further fuel growing international consensus that Iran is indeed keeping its options open to further develop a nuclear weapons program.

Differing Perspectives and Incentives


Iran has much to gain through increasing cooperation and transparency with the IAEA and the international community. If it truly is pursuing only a peaceful nuclear program, as it has consistently and emphatically repeated, implementation of the Additional Protocol and the granting of complete access to its nuclear materials, equipment, facilities, and records will go a long way in assuaging the concerns of the international community that Iran is attempting to become the next de facto nuclear weapon State. As President Khatami recently stated, "We have repeated so many times, myself, the [Supreme] Leader and other officials, that we are not following the path of pursuing nuclear weapons. It's not important what machinery we have, it's important that we are not pursuing nuclear weapons." [16] These actions will also provide increased transparency and lead to easier access to nuclear technology for peaceful uses, a wish long held by Iran and promised in the recent agreement with the EU foreign ministers. Such access may allow Iran to improve the quality and safety of its nuclear energy and research reactors, at least one of which has already experienced technical mishaps. [17] And establishment of a robust nuclear energy program will indeed help Iran to diversify its energy sources and provide a sufficient energy supply for its growing population and increasingly industrialized society.

The delicate balance that has been achieved through the Iranian-European agreement between Iranian reformists and the influential hardliners who make the final decisions is an achievement that should not be taken lightly. Hardliners initially denounced early international criticism of the country's nuclear program and calls for conclusion of an Additional Protocol as an affront to the nation's dignity and sovereignty, and urged Iranian withdrawal from the NPT. Yet Hassan Rowhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and a conservative appointed by Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was the chief negotiator of the October 21 agreement with the European foreign ministers. Although daily conservative protests followed the announcement, a key influential Iranian hardliner, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who only one month before had been among those denouncing the Additional Protocol and calling for NPT withdrawal, also expressed his support for the decision, and told worshippers, "I suggest you do not express your views when you are not an expert and are not familiar with a sensitive issue." [18] On November 3, Ayatollah Khamenei publicly backed the deal and encouraged unity on the issue. However, he warned that both Iran and the European foreign ministers had agreed to obligations and that if demands increased and "we reach the point where our national interests and the regime's values are tarnished, we will have no doubts about cutting off this process." [19] The Iranian-European deal was possible because it offered something to both the reformists and the hardliners. Reformists, led by President Mohammad Khatami, had been pushing for increased transparency and cooperation with the IAEA and positive consideration of the Additional Protocol. Hardliners, meanwhile, needed a way to avoid being seen as vulnerable to U.S. pressure. This was evident in Khamenei's declaration that "what happened was right and well managed in order to foil the U.S. and Zionist conspiracy." [20] This fragile balance, as well as the lingering ambiguity as to the true nature of the Iranian nuclear program, will present a continuing challenge to the Board of Governors to maintain the proper amount of pressure to ensure continued cooperation.

As the IAEA's report indicates, the true nature of Iran's nuclear activities has yet to be determined. Few can argue that Iran has had little reason to at least consider the nuclear option. In this regard it is important to recall that the 1980-87 Iran-Iraq War, during which the nuclear program reportedly was revitalized, saw massive Iranian casualties and the use of chemical weapons upon its citizens. More recently, nine of its diplomats were killed by the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1998, and Shia Muslims are regularly murdered by Sunni groups in Pakistan. [21] Iran has also undoubtedly taken note of the markedly different approaches of the United States towards Iran's axis of evil cohorts and must now also contend with U.S. military forces on two of its borders—in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

If Iran indeed continues to be interested in nuclear weapons, it is hard to understand the logic for an offensive program. George Perkovich argues that the motivation could be to deter coercion by the United States, Israel, a new Iraq, or other actors, and to earn the respect that seems to come with nuclear weapons. A wide range of Iranians resent the perceived arrogance and hegemony of the U.S. government, detest the double standards regarding Israel's nuclear weapons program and treatment of the Palestinians, fear U.S. control and military presence in Iraq, and want the deference now accorded to neighboring nuclear Pakistan. [22] However, none of these reasons is plausible enough to justify an Iranian nuclear weapons deterrence capability that would further isolate Iran as a pariah state.

Although Iran has never recognized Israel's right to exist, and views Israel's nuclear arsenal as a threat and "loathe[s] the double standard surrounding Israel's possession of nuclear weapons and treatment of the Palestinians," [23] this position is more representative of Iran's ideological disposition vis-à-vis Israel rather than a military doctrine. Israel clearly does not present a military threat unless it feels threatened by Iran's nuclear ambitions, in which case it may launch a pre-emptive strike (most probably using conventional weaponry) against Iranian nuclear facilities as it did in 1981 against the Osirak nuclear facility near Baghdad. However, Iran's nuclear complex is far too expansive for Israeli military planners to seriously consider that a "surgical attack" against one or two facilities would eliminate the threat. Although Israel may respond to Iranian-sponsored terrorist activities against Israel, any argument that Israel would respond with a nuclear strike should be considered against the background that Israel has not considered nuclear retaliation, despite its involvement in two full-scale wars and years of being the victim of deadly terrorist attacks.

To argue that Pakistan's nuclear weapons present a threat goes beyond reason as well, since Islamabad has only one objective with its nuclear weapons program—to deter an attack from India. Given its limited military resources, any Pakistani aggression is likely to be directed only in that direction. In fact the only plausible confrontation that could erupt between Iran and Pakistan would result from Iran's very decision to acquire nuclear weapons. [24] This scenario does not make sense given that Iran supposedly acquired nuclear technology and equipment from Pakistan.

The history of "anti-Iranian" policies by several U.S. administrations, the inclusion of Iran in the "axis of evil" with the Iraq and North Korea, and recent U.S. emphasis on "regime change" as a matter of U.S. policy may be determining factors in the minds of those in Tehran who consider a nuclear weapons program an attractive option. Given the removal of the Hussein regime in neighboring Iraq and the unfolding nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, radical Iranian leaders may have concluded that maintaining a virtual nuclear weapons capacity could deter U.S. military action aimed at regime change in Iran. However, Iranian leadership should be fully aware that the U.S. government has in fact disputed that it has any intention of forcibly changing the Iranian regime. [25]

Unless the Iranian leadership intends to follow the same path as North Korea, which declared that it possesses nuclear weapons and continues to play a nuclear brinksmanship game in order to secure U.S. assurances that it will not be attacked, a nuclear weapons program does not make any sense.

European Union

The resolution adopted by the board was based on one developed by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—the three countries whose engagement efforts were most responsible for preventing the referral of the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council. While Iran is the immediate beneficiary of these efforts, there are political and economic gains to be made on the European side, as well.

The diplomatic efforts by the three European foreign ministers to engage Iran have borne fruit at an opportune time for the European powers. Their public inability to take a united stand in the run-up to the Iraq war instigated doubt as to whether European common policy could be expanded beyond the economic realm. The Basic Principles for an EU Strategy against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Action Plan, announced in June 2003, was one of the first tangible signs of efforts to regroup. Under the broader goal of preventing WMD proliferation, the EU principles declared, inter alia, that efforts would be made to "promote measures to ensure that any possible misuse of civilian nuclear programs for military purposes will be effectively excluded"; to define a policy to reinforce treaty compliance through "enhancing the detectability of significant violations and strengthening enforcement of the [treaty] norms"; and to "make best use of existing verification mechanisms and systems" in deterring and detecting cases of non-compliance. [26] These principles in particular are embodied in the three European foreign ministers' engagement efforts toward Iran. The culmination of those efforts—the joint Iran-EU statement—demonstrates the potential for EU diplomatic proficiency. But to further solidify that potential, the EU must also show the political will and the ability to enforce the agreement should Iran backtrack on its commitments. Fortunately for Britain, France, and Germany, Iran has thus far willingly taken the steps to which it agreed.

The European engagement efforts should, however, not be seen as ready acknowledgment of the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program or as implicit refutation of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Rather, it represents a different approach to the Bush administration's hawkish tendencies and willingness to use confrontation and force in order to achieve the mutual goal of an unprovoked and ultimately non-nuclearized Iran. Should the Iranian-European statement be successfully implemented in full, credit will most likely be given to the EU's "soft" policy of engagement and to the EU itself as a united diplomatic player. This could boost the European influence in regions of conflict—particularly in the Middle East—and counter the overwhelming authority of the United States.

The economic incentives for Britain, France, and Germany should not be discounted. The European Union is Iran's largest trading partner, and the possibility of providing further nuclear technical cooperation helps to ensure that this relationship will continue. When c these economic incentives are considered together, they create disincentives—for France and Germany particularly—to refer the Iranian issue to the Security Council before conclusions on the nature of the Iranian program have more definitively been drawn. Since the Security Council could ultimately decide on a number of punitive measures against Iran, including economic sanctions, such a move could seriously damage Europe's economic interests in Iran.

United States

As the initial instigator of the pressure on the IAEA and Iran to clarify the country's nuclear intentions, the United States has publicly maintained its concern and its belief that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon capability. It has repeatedly argued that the facilities and processes that Iran has sought for its supposedly peaceful nuclear program are not consistent with Iran's growing energy needs. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham expressed the United States' cautious welcoming of the Iran-EU joint statement when he stated, "If Iran carries out the obligations it has undertaken—especially if it abandons its enrichment and reprocessing activities—it will show what can be achieved when the international community sends the same firm message on the need to comply with nonproliferation requirements. We must be vigilant to see that this promise is fully kept." [27]

The United States was not, however, as welcoming of the latest IAEA report. Citing the numerous reporting failures, the 18-year secret pursuit of and experiments with advanced enrichment technologies, and the repeated pattern of falsehoods and reluctant confessions described in the report, U.S. Undersecretary John Bolton called the ambiguous conclusion of the report "simply impossible to believe" and declared that "the massive and covert Iranian effort to acquire sensitive nuclear capabilities makes sense only as part of a nuclear weapons program." [28] This led the United States to repudiate the initial draft resolution crafted by Britain, France, and Germany for its inadequate recognition of Iran's past breaches of its safeguards agreement. Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that no resolution was better than passage of a "totally inadequate" one [29] and called for a trigger mechanism to be included in the resolution in the case of further breaches by Iran. Despite his earlier misgivings, Powell now seems to be satisfied with the board's resolution because it "notes that Iran has been in breach of obligations." Referring to operative paragraph 8, he stated that "there is one particular paragraph in the resolution [that] makes it very, very clear that if Iran does not now comply with obligations and the other agreements it [has] entered into, this will be a matter that will be immediately referred to the IAEA Board of Governors for action, as appropriate under the various statutes." [30]


Russia has continued in both word and action to support the Iranian nuclear program. In addition to its joint construction of the 1,000 MW nuclear reactor at Bushehr, Russia has in the past expressed interest in helping Iran build several more reactors and related facilities, although no contracts have been signed. [31] The nuclear cooperation between the two countries continues to be a controversial issue in the otherwise friendly U.S.-Russian relations. Despite reassurances from both Iran and Russia that the Bushehr reactor would be placed under comprehensive IAEA safeguards, the United States argues that construction and operation of the reactor could provide Iran with opportunities to gain sensitive technology, nuclear know-how, and weapons-grade nuclear material—all of which could then be put to use in a nuclear weapons program. It has also stated that Iran's abundant oil and gas resources refute any economic benefits that might accrue from pursuing a nuclear energy program. Thus far, however, the United States has been unsuccessful in its repeated attempts to pressure Russia to halt its nuclear cooperation with Iran.

As one possible way of alleviating international concern over potential Iranian possession of plutonium, Russia and Iran have come close to an agreement on Russia's provision of nuclear fuel to power Bushehr, and the return shipment of the spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr to Russia. The signing of such an agreement, however, has been repeatedly postponed, reportedly due to disagreement over monetary compensation demanded by Iran in return for the spent nuclear fuel. Although Russia had initially planned to send the first shipment of nuclear fuel for the reactor in 2003, it announced in June that delivery would only occur after an agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel had been signed. [32] The Bushehr reactor is scheduled to open in 2005.

Russia thus has a vested interest in a peaceful Iranian nuclear energy program and has encouraged reciprocal cooperation between Iran and the IAEA. Russia's unease with regard to Iranian development of the entire front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle may include nonproliferation concerns, but may stem more from the threat to the commercial relationship between the two countries. [33] In an November 11 meeting in Moscow between Hassan Rowhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two parties reportedly drew closer to an agreement on the return of spent nuclear fuel, and Iran referred to its suspension of its uranium enrichment activities and reiterated its readiness to sign the Additional Protocol. Following the meeting, Putin stated, "I can see no obstacles to nuclear cooperation with Iran in this situation." [34] Given this continued close cooperation and Russian Deputy Atomic Minister Valery Govorukhin's response to the IAEA report that "there are no reasons to affirm that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and, by so doing, violating its commitments within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Russian support for future referral of the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council may be difficult—though not impossible—to obtain. Reacting to the board's decision not to refer the issue to the Security Council at this stage, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov supported the position of the France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, by stating, "it would have further complicated an uneasy situation." [35]

Non-Aligned Movement

Unlike their reservations about the board's September resolution, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) [36] board members seem not to have objected to the most recent resolution. Although the September resolution was also adopted without a vote, the resolution did not enjoy total consensus. Only 20 of the 35 members had indicated that they would vote in favor had the resolution been put to a vote. As there are 15 NAM members on the board (including Iran, which served on the board at that time), it is conceivable that the rest of the board members who did not indicate their support came from NAM countries. In addition, the NAM issued a statement [37] expressing its reservations with regard to the final resolution, in particular the setting of the October 31 deadline, which the NAM believed "were tying the agency's hands" and that would give "the wrong impression that Iran's cooperation is no longer required after this date." Given Iran's then presence on the board, the NAM positions reflected the position of Iran; for example, the statement included a comment about the legal interpretation of "unrestricted access," as this concept is not used in the Additional Protocol.

It is also interesting to note that at the September board meeting, South Africa submitted a counter-resolution to an earlier draft circulated by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, but failed to get the support from other NAM board members. Not wanting to alienate its newfound strategic partnership with the United States, India most probably blocked the NAM from promoting such a counter-resolution. Although the South African draft was intended to water down the final resolution, it did not achieve much success to that end. The resolution, ultimately adopted on September 12, was based on a later draft submitted by Australia, Canada, and Japan (GOV/2003/69) and set the October 31 deadline for Iran to provide information on its past and present nuclear activities.

Although the NAM board members at the November board meeting did not counter the resolution drafted by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, it is evident from the resolution that some paragraphs that are in line with the NAM's approach have been included. For instance, one of the preambular paragraphs gives clear recognition of "the inalienable right of States to the developments and practical applications of atomic energy for peaceful purpose, including the production of electric power, with due consideration for the needs of developing countries." [38] This paragraph, however, seems to move away from the provisions under the NPT. Although Article IV of the NPT states that "[n]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination," it clearly states that this right should be in conformity with the nonproliferation provisions provided for in Articles I and II of the treaty. Article IV is considered to be one of the weakest articles of the treaty precisely because the "inalienable right" could be misused by State parties to develop a nuclear weapons capacity (as proven by North Korea and Iran). It is, therefore, disappointing that the resolution does not emphasize the special responsibility that States with a nuclear capability have to build confidence with the international community that would remove any concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation. The resolution could also have stated that such States need to ensure that the IAEA is able to verify that these capabilities are being used for peaceful purposes only, including through the mechanisms available under the Additional Protocol for strengthened safeguards. This approach was taken by the chairman of the 2003 NPT PrepCom session earlier this year, when he reflected the PrepCom's deliberations in his factual summary. [39] An endorsement of this type of approach by the board could have laid the groundwork for the 2004 NPT PrepCom to make concrete recommendations in this regard to the 2005 NPT Review Conference. Given its strong criticisms of the NPT, India likely prevented the NAM from introducing such groundbreaking language.


The solution of the Iranian nuclear puzzle has a direct impact on the credibility and the work of the IAEA. The agency has been criticized in particular by the United States for being too lenient and forgiving (in the run-up to the Iraq War, and to some extent in the Iranian case) and as losing its political objectivity and being used as a tool for advancing certain political agendas (in the case of the DPRK and again, to some extent in the Iranian case). Thus, maintaining both firm pressure on Iran and its political objectivity will be key to ensuring its image as the capable and objective nuclear nonproliferation verification body.

There are other subtle implications for the IAEA that have resulted from the events over the past year. One is with regard to the Iranian-EU statement. This limited partner agreement required full Iranian cooperation with the agency in exchange for possible future peaceful nuclear technology cooperation. This aspect is positive in its tangible demonstration of support for the Additional Protocol and the agency's verification role, and was necessary to allow progress to be made on this issue. On the other hand, the agreement can also be seen as setting a dangerous precedent that incentives are needed to persuade States of concern to increase transparency by signing the Additional Protocol and complying with its provisions—despite the fact that to date, 78 countries have signed and 38 have implemented Additional Protocols without such incentives. This point was demonstrated by the Iranian declaration to the IAEA director-general that aspects of the Additional Protocol were still under consideration, and its public announcement three days later that it was ready to sign the protocol in exchange for promises of easier future access to nuclear technology.

As previously stated, certain complexities of the Iranian case—notably the need for Iranian hardliners to have tangible evidence that they had not simply capitulated to (Western) demands—made this agreement necessary. Yet the tit-for-tat agreement is uncomfortably reminiscent of the chosen negotiating style of North Korea, and if adopted by other states, particularly with the Additional Protocol or compliance with treaty obligations as the "tat," could undermine rather than strengthen the work of the agency and the credibility of the NPT. To lure non-compliant states back into compliance with a promise of security assurances or economic incentives would send a bad message—a message that could tell those states that have for 30 years been in compliance with their NPT nonproliferation obligations that they are not able to rely on the NPT to achieve binding security assurances, whereas the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, as in the case of North Korea, leads to this being granted. Surely security assurances and access to peaceful nuclear uses and technologies rightfully belong to those who have given up the nuclear weapon option—as opposed to those who are still keeping their options open.

The influence of the events leading up to the Iraq war might also be felt in the Iranian case with regard to the role of the Additional Protocol. Numerous calls have been made for Iran to sign and implement the Additional Protocol, which would provide the agency with a wider scope and more tools to monitor all material, technology, facilities, and sites associated with Iran's nuclear program at every stage—from mining to waste storage or disposition. The more intrusive inspections granted through the Additional Protocol will also help the agency continuously determine whether Iran is being upfront in its declarations and whether its program is being used exclusively for peaceful purposes. Yet when compared to the Iraq case, UN Security Council resolution 1441, which surpassed the provisions of the Additional Protocol and provided the most intrusive inspection regime to date, was still not enough to provide sufficient reassurance to the United States and its coalition allies that Iraq was not operating a covert nuclear weapons program. Will implementation of the Additional Protocol in Iran's case have a different ending? Although the Additional Protocol would substantially expand the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities by providing the agency inspectors with authority to visit any facility—declared or not—it does not guarantee a complete picture of a state's intentions to develop a nuclear weapons capacity, especially in secret societies such as Iran. Even with its full implementation, the Additional Protocol only provides the agency with more extensive abilities to verify capabilities, but not intentions; thus, a state can still legally develop the "break-out" capability under the supervision of the IAEA.

The Iranian case further highlights the complicated duality of allowing NPT member States under Article IV of the treaty to legitimately develop an entire nuclear fuel cycle without having a sufficient mechanism to objectively gauge nuclear intentions. Since North Korea was technically not in full compliance with the provisions of the NPT when it joined the treaty in 1985, Iran is the first case of a state that successfully used the loophole in Article IV to develop a nuclear weapons capacity while still bound by the treaty' provisions, including the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The potential consequences of these developments and the ultimate outcome of the Iranian nuclear issue hold uneasy and unpredictable possibilities for both the IAEA and the nuclear nonproliferation regime as a whole. Despite its stated assurances that it is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability and will fully cooperate with the IAEA, Iran and the IAEA are clearly still playing a cat and mouse game—a game that could, as in the North Korean case, lead to another breakout if left unchecked. This would leave the NPT very vulnerable, if not mortally wounded.

Outstanding Issues and Future Options

With its request that the director-general submit a report to the March Board of Governors' meeting, the board's November resolution set an implicit deadline for Iran to fully clarify and correct its past breaches and to implement its more recent obligations. The latter includes ratification of Iran's Additional Protocol, which was approved by the board on November 21, provisional application pending ratification, and maintenance of the suspension of its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. This allowance of one more stretch of time should be regarded more as a recognition that a number of outstanding issues are in the final stages of clarification, rather than as the start of a meaningless series of unenforced resolutions. Although this round saw the United States as the primary opponent to more time for the Iranians, other board members remain far from convinced of Iran's peaceful nuclear intentions.

This point was particularly reflected in paragraph 8 of the resolution, which is interesting in its decision that "should any further serious Iranian failures come to light, the board of Governors would meet immediately to consider, in the light of the circumstances and advice from the director-general, all options at its disposal, in accordance with the IAEA Statute and Iran's Safeguards Agreement" (emphasis added). This wording seems to indicate that further revelations by the agency of serious safeguards breaches by Iran could trigger an emergency early meeting of the board, with a possible referral of the Iranian case to the UN Security Council—hence the inclusion of the phrase "in accordance with the IAEA Statute." Given the exclusion of any mention in the paragraph of the word "report," such action could presumably take place even without issuance of the director-general's next official report.

Regardless of the timing, should the Iranian case finally be referred to the UN Security Council, a new round of decisions must then be taken, as the Security Council has its own set of options to address the Iranian non-compliance case. One option would be to issue a presidential statement, acknowledging Iran's past violations but invoking no penalization. A stronger message might be to adopt a resolution that condemns Iran's breaches of its safeguards (and NPT) obligations, acknowledges the corrective measures taken to date, and notifies Iran that its continued cooperation and transparent implementation of its treaty obligations will be closely monitored by the international community. The final and strongest option open to the council would be to adopt a Chapter VII resolution finding Iran in non-compliance of its safeguards and treaty obligations and determining the appropriate penalty. It is, however, unlikely that the Council would adopt a resolution that would include economic sanctions given the position of at least three of its permanent members: Russia, France, and China are likely to oppose such an approach given their political ties with and commercial interests in Iran. Even the United Kingdom, given its partnership in the European-Iran Agreement, may balk at an attempt by the United States to foster such a Chapter VII resolution.

In considering these options, the Security Council must take into account which path will lead to the desired goal of a non-nuclear Iran in full compliance with its NPT and IAEA safeguards undertakings, as well as a strengthened NPT and nonproliferation regime. In an ideal world, the strongest option—acknowledgment, punishment, and atonement—would be the most productive. But in the current world, there is a context of nuclear "haves" and "have-nots," of nuclear deterrence and nuclear prestige, and of complex regional security issues that focus less on nuclear acquisition and possession than on acceptable balances of power and international support. In this world, an option that might provoke Iran to withdraw from the NPT and unambiguously pursue a nuclear weapon capability would not enhance regional and international security, and would be a further blow to the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

There are a number of other issues concerning Iran's nuclear past that remain in need of clarification and verification. At the top of the list is identification of and discussions with the foreign suppliers who assisted Iran in secretly developing and obtaining its advanced nuclear capabilities—and specifically, the origin of the components that might have left traces of HEU at Natanz and the Kalaye factory. The November 2003 report by the director-general describes at least nine instances of undeclared foreign assistance, including entities from four countries that provided components, material, and information used in Iran's laser enrichment program. While the report does not identify any country, Russia, China, and Pakistan have reportedly been identified by the agency as possible suppliers. [40] There are, however, a number of other individuals, firms, and governments with which Iran has reportedly had official or covert nuclear ties over the past three decades. These include ties in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the 1970s, and Argentina, Belgium, India, North Korea, South Africa, and several States from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s-1990s. [41] Both the director-general and the Board of Governors have called for full cooperation by the relevant states in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.

The director-general recently stated that the agency had identified five countries in Europe and Asia from which the components had originated and would soon be approaching the countries for more information. [42] In this regard, Dr. ElBaradei stated at the November 2003 board meeting that "one of the urgent tasks ahead of us is to verify the origin of the high enriched uranium particles found at a number of locations in Iran. This will require, as stated in the report, full cooperation by a number of states from which certain equipment and components originated. I do hope this cooperation will be forthcoming." [43]

Although it is disturbing that a number of NPT States, including two NWS (Russia and China) have rendered assistance to the Iranian nuclear program—which in itself could be possible breaches of their NPT Article I obligations [44]—the report points to another weakness inherent in the treaty's structure. Other than the political will not to do so, nothing prevents non-NPT parties from cooperating with NPT non-nuclear weapons States (NNWS)—in this case, Iran. In addition to current NPT non-parties such as Pakistan, it is possible to assume that Iran received assistance from or cooperated with a number of countries that have since joined the NPT. If judged by reports that a number of countries cooperated with Iran over the years, and measured against the information provided by Iran on the specific timeframe during which such cooperation occurred, these countries could include Argentina (joined the NPT in 1995), France (joined as a NWS in 1992), and South Africa (which destroyed its nuclear weapons and joined as NNWS in 1991).

Given the seriousness of the matter, the Board of Governors emphasized that the "urgent, full, and close cooperation with the agency of all third countries is essential in the clarification of outstanding questions concerning Iran's nuclear program." Because the March 2004 board meeting could refer the Iranian case to the Security Council, pressure is also building on these countries to cooperate fully with the agency.

Both the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors must decide whether to look back or to look forward—to punish Iran and hope that the penalty is enough to deter both it and future proliferators from pursuing the nuclear option, or to acknowledge Iran's past failures but encourage it to seek its national and economic security using other means. The first option provides the NPT and the nonproliferation regime with teeth—the latter provides them with a future.

Lessons Learned from the Iran Experience

Defining the "inalienable right" to Use the Atom for Peaceful Purposes

The North Korean nuclear crisis and concerns over Iran's true nuclear aspirations have focused attention on one of the major weaknesses of the Treaty: "the inalienable right of all parties to the Treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II" (NPT Article IV). These cases have highlighted the potential misuse of this provision to allow states to acquire a "break-out" capability through legal development of an entire indigenous nuclear fuel cycle. As stated recently by U.S. Energy Secretary Abraham, a "very real concern, one that truly tests our sincere nonproliferation efforts, is that the way the NPT is structured provides a framework in which a state may acquire many of those assets needed to develop nuclear weapons capability, all the while proclaiming peaceful intentions and posturing as a member in good standing of the NPT, and then break away from the treaty, renounce its safeguards, and utilize these capabilities to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons." [45] Such misuse would contradict the spirit and the purpose—but not the letter—of the treaty, and is difficult to prevent given the inability to objectively judge the true intentions of every State Party.

A possible way to close this loophole in the treaty's structure would be for the States Parties to agree at the 2005 NPT Review Conference to affirm their interpretation of Article IV and its relationship with Article III (safeguards). While recognizing the inalienable right to use the atom for peaceful purposes, the States Parties should state clearly in the Final Document that ownership of the capability that could be utilized to develop nuclear weapons places a special responsibility on such States to instill confidence in the international community, thus removing concerns about nuclear proliferation. The States Parties could furthermore agree that withdrawal from the treaty would not free a NNWS party from the obligation not to use weapons fissile materials and production facilities (including those of indigenous origin) acquired prior to its withdrawal for weapons. Precedence for interpreting the treaty in light of changed circumstances already exists since the States Parties agreed at the 2000 Review Conference that the provisions of Article V (peaceful uses of nuclear explosions) no longer apply given the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Additional Protocol as Measurement of Compliance

When the treaty was negotiated, the NPT was considered sufficient for NNWS to conclude comprehensive safeguards agreements (INFCIRC/153) with the IAEA as a mechanism to verify compliance with the NPT. The agency's experiences during the early 1990s in Iraq and North Korea, however, proved INFCIRC/153 insufficient as a stand-alone system. These experiences led to the adoption of a new standard—the Model Additional Protocol (INFCIRC/540). Given the latest experiences with North Korea and Iran, the NPT States Parties could agree that the safeguards requirement under Article III of the treaty should be understood to include the Model Additional Protocol coupled with the INFCIRC/153 agreement. Currently, only 38 State Parties adhere to the Additional Protocol. In addition, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) could adopt more stringent guidelines for exports, including a demand that countries receiving assistance adopt the Additional Protocol as a condition of supply, assuming of course that the supplier states also adhere to the same principle. Disappointingly, the NSG members themselves could not agree to such a restriction at the recent NSG Plenary meeting.

Declaring Proliferation of WMD a Threat against International Peace and Security

The UN Security Council could adopt a non-country specific resolution that would declare proliferation of WMD a threat against international peace and security. Although the 1992 Security Council Presidential statement declared that the "proliferation of WMD is a threat to international peace and security" [46], it was of a non-binding nature. The Security Council should now accept this responsibility and codify that statement in a binding resolution. Several such proposals have been made in recent months. For instance, Germany suggested at the 2003 NPT PrepCom that a Heads-of-State level UN Security Council meeting be convened, modeled on the 1992 meeting at which the council declared the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction a threat to international peace and security. The German delegation argued that the overall goal of such a Security Council meeting should be "the establishment of a new strategic consensus on how to deal with serious cases of non-compliance effectively and by making use of the possibilities provided for in the UN Charter." [47] Given the specific challenges presented by North Korea and Iran, the Security Council could pronounce that countries that join the NPT as NNWS and acquire nuclear technology and materials for civilian purposes should not be allowed to treat those assets as the basis for a nuclear weapons option. If NPT non-weapon states understood that if they renounced their treaty commitments, the Security Council could coerce them into surrendering all of their nuclear equipment and materials that could be used to make nuclear weapons, the world would have far fewer problems with ambitious and often dangerous nuclear energy programs, such as Iran's, which have little obvious economic justification.

Internationalize Fuel Cycle Facilities

Another option that deserves careful consideration is the recent proposal by Director-General ElBaradei to internationalize fuel cycle facilities as an attempt to thwart the proliferation of nuclear material production technologies. In an October 2003 essay in The Economist, [48] ElBaradei stated that "[c]ontrolling access to nuclear weapons technology has grown increasingly difficult." The experience in Iran underlines his argument that "[u]nder the current regime, there is nothing illicit in a non-nuclear weapon state having enrichment or reprocessing technology, or possessing weapons-grade nuclear material. And certain types of bomb-making expertise, unfortunately, are readily available in the open literature. Should a state with a fully developed fuel cycle capability decide, for whatever reason, to break away from its nonproliferation commitments, most experts believe it could produce a nuclear weapon within a matter of months." To overcome these shortcomings, Dr. ElBaradei proposed a new security framework with thee main elements:

  • Limits on the processing of weapons-usable material (separated plutonium and HEU) in civilian nuclear programs, as well as the production of new material through reprocessing and enrichment, and by agreeing to restrict these operations exclusively to facilities under multinational control;
  • Deployment of nuclear energy systems that, by design, avoid the use of materials that may be applied directly to making nuclear weapons; and
  • Consideration of multinational approaches to the management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Although the ElBaradei proposal has considerable merit, especially in light of the experiences in Iraq, North Korea, and now Iran, it is not clear how such a new security framework would be institutionalized. Dr. ElBaradei suggests rightfully that "it should be inclusive: nuclear weapon states, non-nuclear weapon states, and those outside the current nonproliferation regime should all have a seat at the table"—implying a major international diplomatic conference of some sorts. He also suggested that the new framework should "turn off the tap," for all countries, on the production of new material for nuclear weapons and, in this context, noted the stalled negotiations on a Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty (FM(C)T). His sentiments that the security concerns of all parties should be "heard and weighed," that the aim of this new framework should be "to achieve full parity" among all states that do not depend on nuclear weapons or nuclear deterrence, and that the framework should "naturally include agreement on a concrete program for nuclear disarmament, complete with a timetable" are all to be commended. It is, however, not clear how such a framework would be developed, and whether it has any realistic chance of success. In this regard, it should be recalled that the United Nations Millennium Heads of States Assembly agreed to a proposal made by Secretary General Kofi Annan to hold a major international conference on "nuclear dangers."[49] So far, no progress has been made to this lofty goal, primarily as a result of opposition by the United States and other nuclear weapons states. Furthermore, progress on a FM(C)T seems to be elusive even though there are dim prospects on a deal to break the deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament.

All of these options could strengthen the regime and deserve careful consideration. The final determination of how to stop-gap the nuclear nonproliferation regime to prevent states from misusing "an inalienable right" to nuclear energy while at the same time pursuing an equally important right not to be threatened by nuclear weapons, including by their mere existence, would, however, be dependent on the political will of all states—those with nuclear weapons and those without, inside and outside of the NPT regime. Without strong collective political resolve by the international community, and specifically by the NPT States Parties to deal swiftly and firmly with would-be proliferators, the nuclear nonproliferation regime may be facing its own demise.


[1] Resolution GOV/2003/81 adopted by the IAEA Board of Governors on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran on 26 November 2003 (operative paragraphs 2 and 8).
[2] Ibid. (operative paragraph 7)
[3] Ibid. (operative paragraphs 1, 9, and 10)
[4] Ibid. (operative paragraph 6)
[5] "Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General," GOV/2003/75, 10 November 2003.
[6] Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, 20 November 2003, Vienna, Austria,
[7] "Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General," GOV/2003/75, 10 November 2003.
[8] Ibid.
[9] "Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General," GOV/2003/40, 6 June 2003,
[10] As quoted in Jean du Preez and Emily Schroeder, "2003 NPT Preparatory Committee: Business as Usual?," May 2003,
[11] "Statement by the Iranian government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers," 21 October 2003,
[12] Ibid.
[13] "Iran Provides Nuclear Declaration to the IAEA," IAEA Media Advisory 2003/2310, 23 October 2003,
[14] "Iran to Sign Additional Protocol and Suspend Uranium Enrichment and Reprocessing," IAEA Press Release 2003/13, 10 November 2003,
[15] "U.N. Agency Censures Iran for Nuclear Cover-Ups," Associated Press and published in The New York Times on 26 November 2003.
[16] "Iranian president optimistic after nuclear report," Reuters, 12 November 2003,
[17] "United Stated Decries IAEA Report on Iranian Nuclear Development," Global Security Newswire, 13 November 2003,
[18] "Iran: Report will vindicate us,", 31 October 2003,
[19] "Iran's supreme leader says nuclear deal no climb-down,", 3 November 2003,
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22]George Perkovich, "Iran's Security Dilemma," YaleGlobal Online, 27 October 2003,
[23] Ibid.
[24] Shahram Chubin and Robert S. Litwak, "Debating Iran's Nuclear Aspirations," The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2003.
[25] George Perkovich, "Iran's Security Dilemma," YaleGlobal Online, 27 October 2003,
[26] "Excerpts: The European Union's Non-Proliferation Strategy," 30 October 2003,
[27] "Secretary Abraham on the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Proliferation Brief, Volume 6, Number 18, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 November 2003,
[28] Paul Richter, "U.S. Questions U.N. Findings on Iran's Bid for Nuclear Arms," The Los Angeles Times, 13 November 2003,
[29] Peter Slevin, "U.S. Criticizes Europeans' Iran Plan," The Washington Post, 19 November 2003,
[30] "Powell Thanks Macedonia for Its Support Against Terrorism," 24 November 2003,
[31] Michael Jasinski, "Russia's Nuclear and Missile Technology Assistance to Iran," Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 26 June 2003,
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Seth Mydans, "Russia Ready to Help Iran with Nuclear Plant," The New York Times, 11 November 2003,
[35] "Atomic agency censures Iran," Associated Press, 26 November 2003.
[36] Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, and Vietnam.
[37] Statement by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting, 12 September 2003,
[38] Resolution GOV/2003/81, preambular paragraph (o).
[39] Chairman's Factual summary annexed to the report of the second session of the Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2005 Review Conference of the States party to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,
[40] George Jahn, "Nuclear agency names nations helping Iran," The Chicago Sun Times, 21 November 2003,
[41] See, for example, "Iran Profile: Nuclear Imports," Nuclear Threat Initiative,; Andrew Koch and Jeanette Wolf, "Iran's Nuclear Facilities: a Profile," 1998,; and James F. Keeley, A List of Bilateral Civilian Nuclear Co-operation Agreements, Volume II: Ghana-Ukraine, 2003, pp. 182-184.
[42] "The Jury is Still Out," Time Magazine Europe, Vol. 162, No. 20, 24 November 2003,
[43] Ibid., Introductory Statement by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.
[44] Article I of the NPT requires the nuclear-weapon State Party "not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices."
[45] Statement by U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to the United Nations on 5 November 2003.
[46] UN Security Council.
[47] Working paper by Germany at the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the States Party to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
[48] "Towards a Safer World," Op-Ed by IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, published in The Economist, 16 October 2003.
[49] United Nations Millenium Declaration,

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up

What Is Safeguards Effectiveness?


What Is Safeguards Effectiveness?

The term “safeguards effectiveness” means the effectiveness of IAEA verification—that is, the ability of the IAEA to detect non-compliance.

Ensuring Safeguards Sustainability


Ensuring Safeguards Sustainability

The ways sustainability of the IAEA safeguards system can be ensured by the agency, its Member States, and the international community


My Resources