Friday, June 02, 2006

Iran’s Nuclear Program Puzzle: Negotiate with Iran

By Vojin Joksimovich
Friday, June 2, 2006
nuclear iran-Seymour Hersh reported that Pentagon was making preparations for an attack on Iran that could be even larger disaster than the war in Iraq. According to Hersh one of the military proposals calls for the use of bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapons against Iranian underground sites. That would mean “mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years,” a former senior intelligence official told Hersh. As expected the Bush administration denied this and pledged commitment to diplomacy but was “not going to take any option off the table” to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weaponry. Many consider war option as “complete nuts.” For making this statement former British foreign minister, Jack Straw, was demoted and removed from his position.

The U.S. wanted the UN Security Council resolution to refer to the Chapter VII of the UN charter meaning that it would be based on a finding of a threat to the international peace and security, would be legally binding, and could be the basis for the later imposition of sanctions or authorization to use force. Since 2002, the U.S. has maintained consistently that Iran does not need nuclear electricity because of its abundant oil and natural gas reserves. This is not a convincing argument. Why would Iran burn oil when the price is now about $70/barrel? Why should Iran remain a petrolistan like Saudi Arabia and forfeit a chance to diversify its energy mix and even more importantly modernize its economy as well as to provide employment to nuclear scientists and engineers?

Having studied sufficiently the U.S. post-cold war record the first thought that entered my mind was if Iran crisis follows the Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq precedents, or is it Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq déjà vu, when the U.S. opted for use of force to assert its hegemony in the Balkans and the Middle East respectively. Is Iran’s nuclear program simply serving the purpose of casus belli like the Muslim-staged Markale-II massacre on August 30, 1995 in Bosnia, Kosovo Albanian-staged Racak massacre on January 15, 1999 or now discredited Weapons of Mass Destruction claim in Iraq? Is the Bush administration still heavily influenced by his neo-conservatives despite a fiasco in Iraq? A leading neo-conservative, Richard Perle, said in 2001: “We could deliver a short message, a two word message: You are next, you are next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.” In his book with David Frum, An End to Evil, Perle suggests that he favors a unilateral attack on North Korea even at the cost of sacrificing the 10 million plus Seoul residents.

The second thought was that the neo-conservative bellicosity surely must be history by now. Those days are gone. Bush is now almost as unpopular as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter were. Domestic support for any preemptive war against Iran would be lacking. With regard to the international support it is all but nonexistent. Hence, it seems highly unlikely that a military option is in the cards at least for now.

Is Iran drawing American ire not because it necessarily poses a general threat to global peace and stability but because Iran frustrates American hegemony in the Middle East as exemplified with present infiltration of Iraq, an opportunity provided by the U.S.’ removal of Saddam Hussein? The potential combination of nuclear weapons with a government that has supported terrorism for years constitutes unreasonably high risk to U.S. military installations throughout the Middle East as well as threat to oil supplies. Another concern is of course security of Israel. Yet another possibility is punishment of Iran for its intent to trade oil in euros rather than dollars? Wouldn’t Iran’s nuclear ambitions result in neighboring countries launching own nuclear programs, countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt? Lastly, is Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

The questions posed above cannot be answered without prior understanding of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Iran’s nuclear program including its almost 50-year history.


Following WWII, opinions in the U.S. were divided whether the basic nuclear physics of the atomic bomb should be kept secret or shared with the Soviet Union in exchange for mutual commitment not to develop more bombs. Events soon showed that the nuclear genie could not be kept in the bottle. The Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb on August 29, 1949. The U.S. launched a crash program to develop the hydrogen bomb with the first successful test in 1951. Within nine months, the Soviet Union had exploded its own version.

Atoms for Peace

Seeing no advantage in escalating arms race, President Eisenhower delivered his historical Atoms for Peace speech to the UN General Assembly in December 1953. He proposed that the nuclear powers share their knowledge with the rest of the world for peaceful purposes. This was well received and led to the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with headquarters in Vienna to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for military purposes. Strides were made in promotions of peaceful applications but the IAEA was unable to prevent continued race to use the nuclear science for military purposes. The development of inter-continental ballistic missiles led to unanimity that effects of nuclear weapons cannot be contained. Both the U.S. and Soviet governments saw a need for some kind of an agreement.

Essence of NPT

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT or NPT) was opened for signature on July 1, 1968 restricting possession of nuclear weapons. The Treaty was proposed by Ireland while Finland was the first to sign. It entered into force March 5, 1970. On May 11, 1995, 169 countries decided to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions. The NPT has three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful applications.

Under the NPT five states are permitted to own nuclear weapons: France (signed 1992), China (1992), Soviet Union (1968, obligations and rights assumed by Russia), UK (1968) and the U.S. (1968). These five states, also permanent members of the UN Security Council, were the only states possessing nuclear weapons at the time the treaty was opened for signature. These five Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) agree not to transfer the nuclear weapons technology to the non-nuclear weapons states (non-NWS) that in turn agreed not to seek to develop nuclear weapons. The non-NWS that sign the treaty are obligated to open their nuclear facilities to inspection by the IAEA and agree to safeguards guaranteeing that nuclear technology and materials are not diverted to military uses. In the 1990s, with increase of nuclear proliferation, IAEA tasks began to include inspections and investigations of suspected violations of the NPT under the mandate of the UN. However, the IAEA can only refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which has a monopoly on UN coercive measures.

Article VI and the preamble indicate that the NWS pursue and liquidate their stockpiles. It also calls for a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. Article X states that any state can withdraw from the treaty if they feel that “extraordinary events,” for example a perceived threat, force them to do so.

Inalienable Right

The treaty gives every state the inalienable right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Since the most popular nuclear power plants are based on Light Water Reactors (LWRs), which run on low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, it follows that states are allowed to enrich uranium or purchase the nuclear fuel on the international market. The uranium ore or natural uranium contains .71% of fissionable U-235; the remaining 99.29% is U-238. In the enrichment plant, the natural uranium is converted into LEU; 3-5% U-235 content. For nuclear weapons purposes the U-235 content must be greater than 90% (HEU), so called weapons grade material. It can be argued that LEU is only a step away from the HEU once the enrichment technology is mastered. No country has successfully developed a nuclear weapon while subjected to the NPT inspections.

Renouncing Nuclear Programs

Several NPT signatories have given up nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs. South Africa undertook a nuclear weapons program, allegedly with assistance from Israel, and might have even conducted a test over the Atlantic, but has since renounced its nuclear program and signed the treaty in 1991 after destroying its small nuclear arsenal. In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union several former Soviet Republics destroyed or transferred to Russia the nuclear weapons inherited, i.e. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Libya renounced a nuclear weapons program in December 2003.

Declining to Sign Treaty

Three countries—India, Pakistan, and Israel—have declined to sign the treaty. India and Pakistan are confirmed NWS as they detonated nuclear devices in tests, 1974 and 1998 respectively, while Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, although it is not known to have conducted tests. The IAEA has no authority to inspect facilities in countries that are not signatories to the NPT. These three countries have argued that the NPT creates a club of “nuclear haves” and “nuclear have-nots” by restricting possession of nuclear weapons that tested them prior to 1967, but the treaty does not explain on what ethical grounds such a distinction was valid. The Indian stockpiles of fissile material are estimated for 100-150 warheads, Pakistan’s for 60-100 and Israel’s for 100-200.

North Korea

North Korea ratified the treaty, but withdrew on January 10, 2003 following the U.S. accusation that it started the HEU program. The U.S. stopped oil shipments under the Agreed Framework that had resolved plutonium weapons issues in 1994. On February 10, 2005, North Korea publicly declared that it now possessed nuclear weapons and pulled out of the six-party talks hosted by China to find a diplomatic solution to the issue. Six-party talks resumed in July 2005, recessed on August 7 but resumed August 29. On September 19, North Korea agreed to a preliminary accord. Under this accord, North Korea would abandon all of its existing nuclear weapons and production facilities, rejoin the NPT, and readmit IAEA inspectors. The complex issue of the supply of two LWR plants per 1994 Agreed Framework was left to be resolved subsequently.


U.S.-NATO nuclear weapons sharing agreements, whereby the U.S. provided nuclear weapons to be deployed by, and stored in other NATO countries, would appear to be a violation of the treaty. The NATO countries argue that the U.S. controlled the weapons in storage and that no transfer was intended “unless and until a decision were made to go to war, at which the treaty would no longer be controlling.” Hence, no NPT breach. As of 2005, the U.S. still provides about 180 tactical B61 nuclear weapons for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey under these NATO agreements.

Iran’s Nuclear Program Under Shah

The foundations for Iran’s nuclear program were laid in the late 1950s within the framework of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Iran. A civil nuclear cooperation program was signed in 1957 under the Atoms for Peace program. In 1959 the Tehran Nuclear Research Center (TNRC) was established and run by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). The TNRC was equipped with a U.S.-supplied 5MW nuclear research reactor, which became operational in 1967 and fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU). Iran signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it in 1974. Plans were drawn by the Shah Mohammad Pahlavi to build up to 23 nuclear power plants in cooperation with the U.S. by the year 2000.

In August 1974 the Shah declared, “Petroleum is a noble material, much too valuable to burn…we envision producing, as soon as possible, 23,000 megawatts of electricity using nuclear plants.” Bushehr is the first Iranian nuclear power plant. In 1974, a contract worth $4-6 billion was placed with German Kraftwerk Union (KWU) to build two 1196 MW PWRs. The plant was supposed to come on line in 1981. Germans were paid for in full, but after three decades refused to export plant materials and components stored outside Iran or refund the money. Iran filed a $5.4 billion lawsuit in 1996. In 1974, Iran also signed a contract with the French company Framatome for two 950 MW pressurized water reactors (PWRs) to be built at Karun. Although the site preparations had begun construction was later canceled by Iran.

In order to secure nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant Iran made an investment in Eurodif, a joint company formed in 1973 by France, Belgium, Spain and Sweden. Eurodif is a rival consortium to Urenco—Dutch, British and German consortium founded in 1971 to jointly develop a capacity for producing low-enriched uranium (LEU), 3-5%, for nuclear power plants. Urenco uses centrifuge technology to enrich uranium while Eurodif uses diffusion technology developed during WWII. In 1975 Sweden’s 10% share went to Iran as a result of a deal between France and Iran. The Shah lent $1 billion, and another $180 million in 1977, for the construction of the Eurodif uranium enrichment plant in order to obtain the right of buying 10% of its production. France kept the Iranian investment in Eurodif for over 30 years.

The U.S. was also paid to deliver nuclear fuel in a contract signed before the 1979 Iranian revolution. The U.S. neither delivered the fuel nor returned billions of dollars payment it had received. By 1975, the U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, had signed National Security Decision Memorandum 292, titled “U.S.-Iran Nuclear Cooperation. The Memorandum laid out details of the sale on nuclear equipment to Iran projected to bring U.S. corporations more than $6 billion in revenue. Both Westinghouse and General Electric were involved.

President Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a U.S.-built reprocessing plant for extraction of uranium and plutonium from the spent fuel. The deal was to deliver a “complete fuel cycle” to Iran. The nuclear fuel cycle consists of mining and milling of natural uranium to produce uranium oxide concentrate, conversion plant to convert uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride gas or ”hex”, uranium enrichment plant to produce LEU, fuel fabrication facility, nuclear power station, storage of spent fuel, reprocessing of spent fuel to separate wastes from reusable uranium-235 and plutonium-239, and final disposal of nuclear waste.

The U.S. had no problem of giving Iran control of large quantities of plutonium-239 and enriched uranium-235—the two avenues to a nuclear weapon. Kissinger stated, “ I do not think the issue of proliferation came up.” The Iranian revolution in 1979 was a turning point regarding foreign involvement in Iran’s nuclear program.

Impact of 1979 Iranian Revolution

KWU completely withdrew from the Bushehr project in July 1979, after work stopped in January, with Unit 1 85% complete with 60% equipment installed and Unit 2 50% complete. KWU asserted that they based their action on Iran’s non-payment of $450 million in overdue payments. The company received $2.5 billion of the total contracts. In 1984 KWU did a preliminary evaluation as to what it would take to complete the project but declined to proceed while the Iran-Iraq war continued. The Bushehr plant was damaged by six Iraqi air strikes between March 24, 1984 and November 1987. The attacks destroyed the entire core area of both reactors. The Germans estimated that it would cost an estimated $2.9-4.6 billion to repair the damage.

Iran approached several western nuclear suppliers about completing Bushehr Unit 1. A consortium of West German, Spanish and Argentinean companies bid to complete Unit 1 in late 1980s but the deal was never completed due to U.S. pressure. Unable to find a Western supplier, Iran turned to the Soviet Union and China for nuclear technology. In 1990, the Soviet Union and Iran signed their first protocol stipulating completion of the Bushehr units and building two new 440 MW plants. The contract never entered into force.

Prior to signing an $800 million contract with Russia in 1995 to resume the Bushehr plant construction by virtue of conversion to a Russian VVER-1000, a Russian PWR design, Tehran made unsuccessful attempts to procure components from the Italian, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian companies again due to U.S. pressure. At this writing, Bushehr is 92% complete after construction delays but the Russians have not delivered the fuel to the site as yet. In 1993 Iran signed an agreement with China for construction of two 300 MW Quinshan PWRs at Darkhovin site in Western Iran. China conducted seismic surveys at the site and received initial payments. However, subsequently the U.S. convinced China to cancel the deal.

France refused to deliver any enriched uranium after 1979. Iran’s government suspended its payments and attempted to refund the project by putting pressure on France via terrorist actions of Hezbollah who took French citizens as hostages in 1980s. In 1986 Eurodif manager was assassinated. Some pointed out to Iran’s intelligence services’ responsibility. Finally an agreement was reached in 1991, France refunded more than $1.6 billion. Iran remained shareholder pf Eurodif but abstained from seeking the enriched uranium.

In 1984 an Iranian radio announced that negotiations with Niger on the purchase of natural uranium were nearing completion. In 1985 an Iranian radio program discussed the significance of uranium deposits discovery in Iran. The IAEA inspectors visited Iran’s uranium mines in 1992. In 1996, the U.S. tried, without success, to block China from selling to Iran a uranium conversion plant. China also provided Iran with the hex necessary for the enrichment process. The same year China and Iran informed the IAEA about the plans to build uranium enrichment facility in Iran. However, China withdrew under U.S. pressure. Iran advised the IAEA that it planned to pursue construction anyway.

It appears that at every step of the way, the U.S. obstructed Iran from obtaining any nuclear technology including those items needed for purely academic civilian nuclear research activities. Any Iranian action was considered to be a step in acquiring nuclear weapons technology and therefore should be denied. Iran was not supposed to complete construction of the Bushehr plant despite their inalienable right under the NPT. This is in contrast to the Shah era when Iran had access to any nuclear fuel cycle technology item, which could have easily led to the nuclear weapons capability. Needless to say Iran feels that the U.S. is obstructing modernization of the country. It cannot be expected from Iran to remain Petrolistan like Saudi Arabia for much longer.

Khan Connection

In February 1986, Dr. Abdel Qader Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist and a father of Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb who confessed to running the world’s first international black market network for nuclear components, visited Iran. Khan signed a nuclear consulting agreement with Iran in 1987—a fact discovered by the IAEA and Western Intelligence services in 2003. This network, known as the “Khan” network, supplied Iran with the centrifuge uranium enrichment technology including procurement of components and designs. It is known that the Khan network provided Libya with information to build a workable nuclear weapon. From this one could conclude that the Khan network might have done the same with Iran but no “smoking gun” has been discovered as yet.

The network sold what the Pakistanis have called the P1 and P2 centrifuges, the two designs deployed in large numbers by Pakistan’s gas centrifuge program. The P1 centrifuge uses an aluminum rotor, and the P2 uses a maraging steel rotor, which is stronger, spins faster, and therefore enriches more uranium per machine but is more complex to make. P1 and P2 are equivalent to G1 and G2 German Urenco designs. The components for roughly 500 P1 centrifuges that went to Iran in the mid-1990s were centrifuges that Pakistan had retired from its main centrifuge program. In 1995 Iran acquired for the first time the P2 technology. However, the P2 centrifuges left Pakistan in much smaller numbers. The two that went to Libya were demonstration models only. The network focused on manufacturing P2 components outside Pakistan. Each centrifuge has roughly 100 different components that illustrate complexity of this technology.

Khan and Urenco

According to a declassified 1983 State Department memorandum, gas centrifuge designs “were stolen by a Pakistani national” from Urenco. Most reports identify the agent as A.Q. Khan. From 1972 through 1975 Khan worked at FDO, a Dutch engineering firm collaborating with Ultra-Centrifuge Nederland (UCN), the Dutch company in the Urenco consortium. UCN asked him to translate classified design documents for the German centrifuges G1 and G2. Khan left FDO and returned home to take charge of the Pakistan’s Engineering Research Laboratories (ERL) renamed in 1981 to A.Q. Khan Laboratories.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Program

Pakistan launched its nuclear weapons program in 1976 in response to the 1974 Indian test. The centerpiece of Pakistan’s program is the Kahuta gas centrifuge plant near Islamabad. In 1984, Khan announced that Kahuta was producing LEU, but would not enrich uranium beyond 5%. However, the U.S. intelligence concluded by mid-1986 that Kahuta was producing weapons-grade uranium with some 1,000 centrifuges operating. In 1989, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto reportedly stopped the HEU production. However, after clash between India and Pakistan over Kashmir in 1990, Pakistan resumed production operating some 3,000 centrifuges. By the end of 1991, Kahuta had annual production of 60-100 kgs of weapons-grade uranium. Given that a nuclear device requires about 15 kgs of HEU, Kahuta had capability of producing 4-6 devices per year. Pakistan eventually tested its nuclear weapon in 1998.

Iran’s “Secret” Nuclear Sites or Myth of Concealment

On August 14, 2002, a prominent Iranian dissident, Alireza Jafarzadeh, revealed existence of two “unknown” nuclear sites, a pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz (part of which is underground) and a heavy water plant in Arak. In December, the U.S. accused Iran of attempting to make nuclear weapons.

Iran’s Expediency Council Chairman, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has stated: “The Natanz complex has been constructed beside a main road and during its construction around 250 loaded trucks arrived at the site daily; if we wanted to hide anything there were other places to use as a construction site.” Indeed, the Los Angeles Times published a satellite photo taken in September 2002 as well as a photo taken in February 2003.

David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, with the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), who first provided the media with satellite imagery with an analysis of Natanz and Arak on December 12, 2002, noted that under the safeguards agreement at the time Iran was not required to allow IAEA inspections of a facility until six months before nuclear material is introduced into it. The EU in Vienna conceded this point in 2003.

The “six months” clause was a standard in all IAEA safeguards agreements signed in 1970s and 1980s. It was only in the 1990s, following the Iraq crisis, that the IAEA sought to strengthen the agreements by virtue of asking countries to sign “subsidiary arrangements” requiring handling over design documentation about any new facility six months prior to the construction startup. Many signed. Some did not. In 2004-2005 time frame the IAEA found discrepancies in the utilization of nuclear material in 15 countries. Among those are South Korea, Taiwan and Egypt. South Korea refused to let the IAEA visit facilities connected to its laser enrichment program. Seoul confessed to having secretly enriched uranium to 77%. No sanctions were even considered. Iran accepted the additional arrangement in February 2003. Later that year Iran signed highly intrusive Additional Protocol. Tehran has allowed the IAEA to exercise its prerogatives under this protocol including more 20 “complementary accesses,” some with a period of two hours.

Arak is a site of a heavy water production plant nearing completion. A 40 MW (th) heavy water moderated research reactor is supposed to be built at that site, IR-40. This reactor could produce weapons grade plutonium after reprocessing of spent fuel would be done. However, there is no indication that a reprocessing plant is in existence and the reactor is not scheduled for completion until 2014.

Iran is claiming that it was not pursuing any work on the P-2 design between 1995 and 2002 when it made modifications necessary for composite rotors. Iran’s P2 research is not fully explained. Did Iran set up a secret facility, other than Natanz, to test P2 centrifuges? Under the Additional Protocol, the IAEA has broad license to inspect any facility it wishes. The IAEA has used this license and discovered traces of HEU on equipment from a former nuclear research center at Lavizan-Shian, which was razed to the ground by Iran in 2004. While this discovery does not constitute a “smoking gun,” it suggests possibility of existence of a second enrichment facility. Hence, the enforcement of Iran’s inspection obligations seems by far the best way to proceed rather than the threat of sanctions or even war.

IAEA, Western Powers and Iran

After the revolution, Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to restart its nuclear program using indigenously made nuclear fuel. In 1983 the IAEA planned to provide assistance under its Technical Assistance Program. However, the IAEA was forced to terminate the program due to U.S. pressure.

In February 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General and last year’s Nobel Prize winner for peace, traveled to Iran with a team of inspectors to investigate Iran’s nuclear program. In June IAEA declared “Iran failed to report certain nuclear materials and activities” and requests “cooperative actions from the country. However, at no point did the IAEA declare Iran in breach of the NPT. In November, the IAEA declared that there was no evidence that Iran is attempting to build an atomic bomb. Washington claimed that the IAEA report was “impossible to believe.” The IAEA stood behind the facts in the report. On December 18, Iran signed the Additional Protocol and acted in accord with its provisions.

On June 14, 2004, ElBaradei accuses Iran of “less that satisfactory” cooperation during the IAEA investigation. On June 27, Iran breaks the seals placed by the IAEA at Natanz and resumes construction of centrifuges. On August 10, several long-standing charges and charges regarding weapons-grade uranium samples are clarified by the IAEA. On September 6, the IAEA report finds that “unresolved issues surrounding Iran’s atomic program are being clarified or resolved outright.”

On September 18, 2004, the IAEA Board of Governors adopts a resolution calling on Iran to suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment. Iran announces that it will continue its nuclear program by converting 37 tons of yellowcake uranium for processing in centrifuges. In October, Iran expresses willingness to negotiate with E-3 (UK, France and Germany) but it will never renounce its right to enrich uranium. E-3 makes a proposal to provide civilian nuclear technology in exchange for Iran terminating uranium enrichment permanently. Iran declines outright. In November the talks between Iran and E-3 result in a compromise: Iran agrees to temporarily suspend enrichment for the duration of second round of talks. On November 15, a confidential IAEA report is leaked. It says that all nuclear materials have been accounted for and there is no evidence of any military program.

In June 2005, the U.S. secretary of state Condoleeza Rice stated ElBaradei should either toughen his stance on Iran or fail to be chosen for a third term. Following a one-on-one meeting between Rice and ElBaradei the U.S. withdrew its opposition and ElBaradei was re-elected on June 13, 2005. In August Iran resumed the conversion of uranium at Isfahan under the IAEA safeguards. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. The full text was released in Vienna as an official statement.

On August 11, 2005, the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to suspend uranium conversion. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concluded in a report that Iran was still many years way from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. On September 15, Iran’s newly elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN summit, reiterated that Iran has the right to develop a civil nuclear program within the NPT terms. He offered a compromise solution in which foreign companies will be permitted to invest and participate in Iran’s nuclear program. In November, the Iranian government approved a plan that allows foreign investors to participate in the Natanz plant.

On November 19, the IAEA issues a report saying that Iran was still blocking inspectors from visiting for a second time a site known as Parchin military complex, where Iran was not legally required to allow inspections at all. ElBaradei said: “Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue.” In January 2006, Iran provides the E-3 a six-point proposal, which includes an offer to again suspend uranium enrichment for two years pending outcome. The offer is dismissed and even not reported in the press. On January 31, the IAEA reports “Iran has continued to facilitate access under the Safeguards Agreement by the Agency.”

On February 4, the IAEA Board votes 27-3 and five abstained to report Iran to the UN Security Council. Iran announced its intention to end voluntary cooperation with the IAEA beyond NPT requirements, and to resume enrichment. In March, the U.S. National Security Strategy decried Iran stating that Iran has violated the NPT. The assertion is that Iran forfeited the right to enrich uranium by a “clandestine” nuclear program that came to light in 2002. On April 11, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has enriched uranium to reactor-grade, 3.5%, from a cascade of 164 P1 centrifuges, and converted 110 tons of natural uranium into hex.

Robert Joseph, U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, stated: “This is enough material for more than 10 weapons.” Apparently, this guesstimate was based on the assumption that if one can produce LEU one is on the way to produce HEU. “It’s fair to say, I believe, that the Iranians have put both feet on the accelerator.” Joseph went on to suggest that if Iran can install 3000 centrifuges by the year end at Natanz, as the Iranian government announced, enough HEU could be produced one nuclear weapon annually.

On April 28, the IAEA hands a report titled Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN Security Council. It says that Iran has stepped up its enrichment program during the 30-day period covered by the report.
In response, the U.S., Britain and France introduced a draft Security Council resolution that would legally compel Iran to halt its enrichment activities. The resolution did not call for specific sanctions, but made it clear that sanctions would be the next step. Sponsors of the resolution hoped to persuade Russia and China to at least abstain and let the resolution pass to ratchet up pressure on Iran. Russia instead proposed a package of incentives for Iran to suspend enrichment. The Security Council decided to hold off on sanctions while European powers formulate a new incentives package.

Is Iran in violation of NPT?

A simple answer is no unless there is a secret enrichment facility in which uranium was enriched to weapons-grade level. Nothing in the NPT shall be interpreted as affecting the “inalienable” right of the 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 of the Treaty. Ardeshir Zahedi, who signed Iran into the NPT during the Pahlavi dynasty, voiced his support for the Iranian nuclear program as “inalienable” right.

Brazil became the 10th country to build a uranium enrichment plant: U.S., UK, France, Germany, Holland, Russia, China, Japan and Pakistan. Brazilian Resende plant is initially to produce 60% fuel for the two operating nuclear power plants plus the third one under construction. Later on Brazil plans to be self-sufficient in nuclear fuel. Iran might have similar ambitions given the above-summarized history of its nuclear program. Iran cannot rely on the Western countries to supply nuclear fuel and even the Russians have been delaying shipment of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant. Recently, Brazil obtained the IAEA’s inspection approval after many bumps associated with the use of a proprietary technology. Despite own bumps, Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA inspectors and the IAEA has not found Iran in violation of the NPT. Trust, however, differentiates Brazil’s from Iran’s program. Part of this trust is that Brazil has reached an agreement with the IAEA prior to commissioning the Resende plant. Secondly Brazil has not been a premier sponsor of terrorism in the world. Pakistan, however, has been and nonetheless enjoys undeserved trust.

The U.S. and the EU-3, or E-3, in 2005 began to assert that Iran had forfeited its “inalienable” right by a “clandestine” nuclear program that supposedly came to light in 2002. Iranian leaders compare its treatment as a NPT signatory with three nations which have not signed the NPT (Israel, India and Pakistan) and which have developed indigenous nuclear weapons arsenal. The leaders point out that Iran is using its capabilities in context of the NPT and has not pursued nuclear weapons. After 2000 man-hrs of inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites and 26 visits, the IAEA has not ruled that Iran was in violation of the treaty. ElBaradei has stated that development of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out because of Iran’s connection to Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan and his statement is right on the mark.

Bruno Pellaud Statement and Proposal

Bruno Pellaud, former IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards, in 2005 expressed an opinion to the Swissinfo that Iran did not have intent to develop nuclear weapons. “My view is based on the fact that Iran took a gamble in December 2003 by allowing a much more intrusive capability to the IAEA. If Iran had had a military program they would not have allowed the IAEA to come under this Additional Protocol. They did not have to.”

Pellaud headed a group of an IAEA expert group on “multilateral approaches” to the nuclear fuel cycle. The group was tasked to recommend measures that could bridge the gap between inalienable right to the nuclear fuel cycle under the NPT and the proliferation concerns. Of the five proposals made, three concerned different types of international fuel supply guarantees, while the two focused on shared ownership or control. The latter involved “promoting voluntary conversion of existing facilities to multilateral nuclear approaches (MNA), and pursuing them as confidence-building measures with the participation of non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon states, and non-NPT states.” It appears that the Pellaud group recommendations might have served as an inspiration to the Iranian president to make his offer. In releasing the report, Pellaud was optimistic that the MNA would provide to the international community necessary assurances. “A joint nuclear facility with multinational staff puts all participants under a greater scrutiny from peers and partners, a fact that strengthens non-proliferation and security…It’s difficult to play games if you have multinationals at a site.”

Brzezinski Argument

“Iran is a serious country with a serious role and it does not have a record of irrational aggression,” stated Zbigniew Brzezinski in October 2004. Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 rather than vice-versa. It is difficult to imagine that Iran would launch a nuclear attack on Israel or the American Middle East assets and risk nuclear self-annihilation. It is not plausible that they would either supply a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda. If Iran indeed develops nuclear weapons the risk is a regional proliferation of nuclear technology to countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. Brzezinski has urged President Bush to negotiate.

Buchanan’s “Comrade Wolf” and the Mullahs

Pat Buchanan in his May 12 ANTIWAR (USA) piece “Comrade Wolf” and the Mullah made also an argument to talk. Russian president Putin calls Bush’s America “Comrade Wolf.” To test the waters, President Bush might take up Ahmadinejad’s missive, manifest the same respect for Islam that he showed for Jesus of Nazareth, rebut his attacks on America, and lay down what Bush would like to see in a future relationship with Iran. We have much to talk about: terror, nuclear power, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, oil, what we owe to Iran, and what Iran owes us.”

Buchanan made the point that since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the U.S. has launched air strikes on Libya, invaded Grenada, put Marines in Lebanon, run air strikes in the Bekaa Valley and Chouf Mountains in retaliation for Beirut bombings, invaded Panama, launched Desert Storm, put troops into Somalia, occupied Haiti, fired cruise missiles into Sudan and Afghanistan, intervened in Bosnia, conducted bombing strikes in Iraq, a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia, a nation that never attacked us and then put troops in Kosovo, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. In this time span, Iran has invaded no one and was the victim of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Iran’s Misdeeds

Buchanan has, however, failed to mention Iran’s misdeeds since 1979. Iran took 52 U.S. diplomats as hostages and kept them for 444 days. The U.S. was humiliated. Iran did not see its revolution as confined to Iran. Khomeini stated: “The governments of the world should know that Islam cannot be defeated. Islam will be victorious in all countries of the world, and Islam and the teachings of Koran will prevail all over the world…” The Khomeini revolution opened the floodgates for expansion of contemporary Islamism and militancy.

Throughout the 1980s Iran was the command center of international terrorism, inciting all Muslims to fight the Western countries as “greater and lesser Satans.” On every continent Iran supported and financed many movements and armed factions from Palestine to Northern Island, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, and the suburbs of European capitals. Iran has done its own share of killing especially via its support for the premier terrorist organization: Hizballah. Even after Khomeini’s death Iran did not abandon terrorism and spread of Islam as exemplified with the Iran-led Bosnian jihad that was regretfully condoned by the U.S. which included arming the Bosnian Muslims, creating an Islamist intelligence infrastructure in the Balkans for purposes of intimidating Europe, pushed for militant resolutions of conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo within the Organization of Islamic Conference.

Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb

The Western world must simultaneously focus its attention also on Pakistan and its Islamic Bomb arsenal. Henry Kissinger has expressed a grave concern and believes that the Islamic bomb presents a grave threat to the western civilization. Pakistan, a fragile state beset by identity crisis, and ethnic and sectarian divisions, remains an unstable Islamic country and spawning ground for terrorism. Two attempts on President Musharraf’s life within 11 days in December 2003 are indicators of potential instability in Pakistan. At this writing, Osama bin Laden has called for Musharraf’s assassination. Proclaiming that Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the War on Terror, Musharraf has been let off the hook with regard to vital issues of nuclear disarmament and nuclear proliferation.

U.S. Must Negotiate with Iran

This author joins Brzezinski, Buchanan, Senator Hagel and others. It is mind-boggling why the U.S. would not negotiate with Iran. With North Korea the U.S. is engaged in direct multilateral negotiations, so why not with Iran? Is the U.S. trying to prevent a compromise? The time might be on Iranian side. Does the U.S. not wish to prevent fusion of Iranian nationalism with Islamism?

Rafsanjani advocated in late April that Iran should negotiate on post-enrichment stages, as Iran now possesses the enrichment technology. Supreme National Security Council Secretary General, Ali Larijani, pledged that Iran would implement the additional protocol to the NPT it signed and urges that the IAEA should be responsible for dealing with Iran’s nuclear dossier. He threatened to suspend relations with the IAEA if sanctions were imposed. He went on to say: “If the West sticks to negotiations, Iran will follow suit, but if the West takes extreme action, Iran will reciprocate.” It should also be noted that Ahmadinejad was receptive to ideas of the Bruno Pellaud IAEA group briefly summarized above.

There is ample time for negotiations if indeed Iran is on the trajectory of developing nuclear weapons. How much time? Downstream, nuclear free Middle East idea should receive due consideration.

Years Away from Nuclear Capability

There appears to be unanimity amongst the nuclear scientists that Iran would be years away from having nuclear weapons capability. Numbers from 3 to 10 years have been frequently quoted. Let us use the example of Libya to illustrate.

The Kahn network intended to provide Libya a turn-key gas centrifuge facility consisting of 10,000 centrifuges, piping to connect them together, detailed project designs for the centrifuge plant, electrical and electronic equipment, uranium feed and withdrawal equipment, the initial 20 tons of hexafluoride and ongoing technical assistance to help Libya any obstacles in assembling and operating the centrifuges in the plant.

If Libya had continued with its program and the Khan network had not been exposed, Libya could have succeeded in 4-5 years in assembling the centrifuge plant and producing significant amounts of HEU to make 10 nuclear weapons/yr according to a paper written by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein in 2004. Armed with the HEU Libya would have known how to turn HEU into nuclear weapons as the network provided necessary information to Libya.

On April 11, 2006 Iran announced that 164 centrifuges were connected and produced a small quantity of reactor-grade enriched uranium (LEU). In order to achieve the goals of the Libyan program they would have to connect 10,000 centrifuges (assuming they have them) and operate them for 1-2 years. From 164 to 10,000 is a leap forward. There were some reports from Tehran that Iran was talking about connecting 3000 centrifuges. Presumably that is how many they might have them, so from 164 to 3000. If a crash program to develop nuclear weapons is under way, Iran is a few years away, probably more than 2-3 yrs. It should be noted that Iran is on their own, as they cannot count on the continued Khan network support.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, while visiting Washington, said that Iran was “very close” to gaining the ability to enrich uranium to weapons grade level. “The technological threshold is very close. It can be measured in months rather than years.” However, his assertions were unsupported and probably motivated by Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric that Israel should be wiped from the map of the world.

E-3 Proposal

At this writing the E-3 was attempting to put together a package that could include a LWR and security assurances for Tehran if Iran halts its uranium enrichment program. However, Condoleeza Rice rejected the notion of offering security guarantees to Tehran. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman suggested that there were no incentives that would encourage Tehran to halt its program. Hence, no diplomatic breakthrough seems to be on the horizon.

It should be noted that Iran already has an access to the Russian VVER technology and therefore does not need desperately a Western LWR. Secondly, North Koreans were offered a twin LWR plant but the plant has not progressed much beyond the site excavation state. This type of a proposal is unlikely to fly. Why not try the Bruno Pellaud group type of an approach plus security guarantees?
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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