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CNS Research Story
Compiled by the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program (IONP) at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Updated: 16 June 2006
In August 2002, an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed serious questions about Iran's nuclear program. Since the IAEA discovery of an undeclared uranium enrichment program, the international organization has struggled to avert a crisis. Iran's government, however, has been intransigent, arguing that it has a right to peaceful nuclear technology under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). At the same time, Tehran has refused to fully cooperate with IAEA inspectors, thereby making it impossible for the Agency to verify Iran's claim that its nuclear program is of a purely peaceful nature. According to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in a January 12, 2006, interview with Newsweek: "For the last three years we have been doing intensive verification in Iran, and even after three years I am not yet in a position to make a judgment on the peaceful nature of the [nuclear] program."
In a move that has brought this issue to a head, on January 10, 2006, Iran removed IAEA seals on its enrichment-related equipment at its research facility in Natanz. The removal of the seals threw into disarray the negotiations between the European Three (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, also known as the EU-3) and the Iranian government aimed at averting a crisis on Tehran's nuclear program. Tehran's January 10 actions led the Europeans to join the United States in a call to have the IAEA refer Iran to the Security Council when the nuclear agency met during a special session in February 2006.
The Board of Governors on February 4, 2006 passed a resolution requesting the Director General to "report" to the UN Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions related to the implementation of safeguards in Iran, "immediately" following its March 2006 meeting. As a result of a January compromise to get China and Russia on board, the resolution did not cite two important articles in the IAEA Statute that would trigger a "report (on) the non-compliance to all (IAEA) members, the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations." Instead, the Board requested the Director General to report to the Security Council only on the need for Iran to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its program by meeting a number of requirements set forth in the resolution.
The March Board meeting, at which the Director General presented his latest report, did not adopt another resolution. Instead, after a number of statements by several Board members, the Board agreed to a carefully worded summary prepared by its chairman, Ambassador Amano from Japan. While there continue to be deep differences among Board members about the role of the Security Council in addressing the Iran issue, the Director General conveyed his latest report, together with all other reports and resolutions adopted by the Board, to the Security Council. The Security Council is expected to start debating the issue during the week of March 13, 2006.
The following is a timeline of key events in the IAEA examination of the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program from June 2003 to the present.
6 June: Iran is offered a new proposal on its controversial nuclear program. Although the specifics of the proposal have not been unveiled, the offer is known to include economic, technological and political incentives. The offer is believed to include commitment from the P-5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) to: help Iran build light-water power plants through joint projects; support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO); and a U.S. pledge to lift certain economic sanctions against Iran to allow the purchase of agricultural appliances and the sale of Boeing aircraft parts. On the issue of uranium enrichment, which is expected to be the major sticking point, the proposal requires Iran to suspend all enrichment related activities; however, this requirement does not preclude the future possibility that Iran could eventually develop indigenous enrichment capabilities once all outstanding questions have been resolved and international confidence has been restored in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. Iran's response has been cautious and measures thus far. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator stated that "the proposals contain positive steps and also some ambiguities which should be removed."
31 May: In an apparent policy shift, the United States announced its intention to directly participate in negotiations provided that Tehran suspends all enrichment and reprocessing activities. "To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects of success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said.
9 May: In an effort to forge UN Security Council (UNSC) unity, the P5+1 have agreed to delay UNSC action and postpone voting on a resolution drafted by France and the United Kingdom. Instead, the representatives of the EU-3 will work on devising a comprehensive package of incentives and disincentives to lure Iran to the negotiating table.
8 May: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to President Bush in which he criticized and blamed U.S. foreign policy for the chaos he feels it has created around the world. The letter made only a brief reference to the nuclear issue. Nevertheless, this letter holds significance in that it was the first direct communication between the heads of state of Iran and the United States since 1979. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, expressed his hope that "it could lead to a new diplomatic opening" between the two countries. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the letter saying that it does not address "the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."
3 May: Britain and France presented their draft Security Council resolution which calls on Iran to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development...and suspend the construction of a reactor moderated by heavy water." The resolution also urges states to restrict nuclear trade with Iran by "preventing the transfer of items, materials, goods and technology that could contribute to Iran's enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and missile programmes." While the resolution does not specify punitive actions in the case of Iran's noncompliance, by citing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it leaves the door open for possible sanctions and other enforcement measures.
29 April: The Iranians indicated their willingness to allow greater access to IAEA inspectors as envisioned in the Additional Protocol, under the condition that the Security Council returns the case to the IAEA Board of Governors. The deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammed Saeedi, stated that "if the case returns to the agency again, we will begin the section that concerns the Additional Protocol."
28 April: The Director General of the IAEA submitted his report on Iran to the IAEA Board and the Security Council as requested by the March 29 Security Council presidential statement. As in the case of previous reports, the Director General could not provide evidence to verify that Iran's nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes. The report confirmed Iran's claims to have enriched uranium to the level of 3.6 percent. With respect to Iran's statements that it is conducting R&D and testing on P-2 centrifuges, the Director General's report did not offer any insights. Furthermore, the report stated that Iran's lack of cooperation in providing additional transparency measures, including access to certain military sites, in addition to its decision to cease implementation of the Additional Protocol, has severely crippled the agency's ability to proceed with its verification work and provide assurance as to the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities.
23 April: Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi declared that the Iran's nuclear activities are "irreversible." He also stated that the Iranians are "determined not to give up our rights to nuclear energy, and suspension of relevant activities are not on our agenda."
11 April: Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium. As such, he stated that Iran had officially "joined the group of those countries which have nuclear technology." Iran claimed to have enriched small amounts of uranium to a level of 3.6 percent. Such announcement came on the eve of the Director General's visit to Iran. In a separate announcement, Ahmadinejad, also announced that Iran is testing a P-2 centrifuge for enriching uranium.
29 March: The Security Council issued a Presidential Statement calling on Iran to re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development. The statement also requests the Director General of the IAEA to report back within 30 days on Iranian compliance with the steps required by the Board.
20 March: The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany met in Berlin to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue. The EU-3 and United States pushed for a Security Council statement that would call on Iran to reinstate full suspension of all enrichment related activities. While the EU-3, backed by the US, wanted the statement to specify a deadline by which the Director General of the IAEA would be required to report back to the Security Council on Iran's compliance, China and Russia expressed their reservations about imposing an immediate deadline.
8 March: In his remarks at the conclusion of the IAEA Board meeting, Director General ElBaradei emphasized the importance of finding a comprehensive political settlement. He stated that it is entirely up to the Security Council to decide on when to take up the issue of Iran's nuclear program, and if it decides to at all, what action it deems necessary. ElBaradei stressed that this is "simply a new phase of diplomacy" and meanwhile that the IAEA will continue with its verification work and urge Iran's cooperation on implementing full transparency.
6 March: The Board of Governors at its regular March 2006 meeting reviewed the Director General's 27 February report and discussed Iran's nuclear program. No resolution was adopted. Instead, the Board agreed to a carefully worded summary prepared by its chairman, Ambassador Amano from Japan.
27 February: Director General ElBaradei issued a report for consideration at the Board of Governors' meeting on 6 March 2006. The report provided an update on the developments that had taken place since November 2005. It stated that although the IAEA has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran's nuclear program. It also emphasized that two outstanding issues concerning the origin of LEU and HEU particle contamination found at various locations in Iran, and the extent of Iran's efforts to import, manufacture and use centrifuges of both the P-1 and P-2 designs, require further clarification.
7 February: Iran requested the IAEA to remove the seals and surveillance systems from safeguarded Iranian facilities.
4 February: The IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution requesting the Agency's Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to report all IAEA reports and resolutions relating to the Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council.
31 January: The IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards submitted an update brief about the latest developments in the implementation of the safeguard agreements. According to the brief, Iran handed over a document dealing with uranium metal which is related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components.
18 January: The representatives of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to the IAEA sent a letter to the Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors requesting that a special meeting be held to discuss the implementation of IAEA Safeguards in Iran and resolutions related to Iran. The Special Meeting has been scheduled for 2 February.
10 January: According to a report by the IAEA Director General, Iran began to remove, in the presence of Agency inspectors, the IAEA seals on its enrichment-related equipment at Natanz. The cascade hall, as well as the UF6 feed and withdrawal stations continued to be covered by Agency containment and surveillance measures.
8 January: The Secretariat received a Note Verbale from the Permanent Mission of Iran stating that the "intended scale of R&D is small" and that "all reprocessing in relation to this small scale R&D will be carried out."
7 January: Iran requests that the IAEA remove 52 Agency seals installed at the facilities of Natanz, Pars Trash, and Farayand Technique before January 9, 2006.
3 January: Mohamed ElBaradei informed the Board of Governors that Iran has decided to resume "R&D activities on the peaceful nuclear energy programme which has been suspended as part of its expanded voluntary and non-legally binding suspension".
27 November: The United Kingdom, France, and Germany (the EU-3) agreed to hold talks with Iran on resuming negotiations on the country's disputed nuclear program, which broke down in August 2005. As a precondition, Iran must be ready to discuss a Russian proposal allowing Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program but without uranium enrichment capabilities. Uranium enrichment, the most sensitive stage of the nuclear fuel cycle that can be used to make fuel for bombs, would be transferred to Russia under a joint venture.
24-25 November: The Director General reported to the Board of Governors that Iran had provided additional documentation, permitted interviews with relevant individuals, and allowed further access. While the Agency intends to continue its efforts to clarify the extent and nature of Iran's nuclear program, Iran was urged to further cooperate on the scope and chronology of its centrifuge enrichment program. However, the Agency observed no deviations from Iran's voluntary suspension of enrichment activities, and the Board adopted no resolution on the issue.
21 November: Iranian lawmakers voted to oblige their government to stop allowing snap U.N. checks of its atomic sites and to resume uranium enrichment if Tehran is referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
24 September: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution that found Iran's failures and breaches to constitute non-compliance with its IAEA safeguards agreements and called on Iran to return to the negotiating process.
11 August: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution that urged Iran to re-establish full suspension of all enrichment related activities and to re-instate the IAEA seals that were removed at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Esfahan.
10 August: Iran begins to remove the seals on the process lines and the UF4 at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Esfahan. IAEA Director General ElBaradei called for maximum restraint, no unilateral actions, and continued negotiations by all parties.
8 August: Iran begins to feed uranium ore concentrate into the first part of the process line at its Uranium Conversion Facility.
8 March: In briefings to the Board and the press, Director General ElBaradei emphasized that IAEA inspectors are making "good progress" in verifying Iran's nuclear program while underlining the need for Iran to be "more transparent"
29 November: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution that welcomed Iran's voluntary decision to "continue and extend its suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities." The Board also expressed "its strong concern that Iran's policy of concealment up to October 2003 has resulted in many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement."
25 November: Director General ElBaradei reported to the Board of Governors that two important issues remained: the origin of the low enriched and highly enriched uranium particle contamination found at various locations in Iran and the extent of Iran's efforts to import, manufacture and use centrifuges of both the P-1 and P-2 designs.
18 September: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution stating it "deeply regrets" that Iran's suspension of enrichment and reprocessing activities "fell significantly short of the Agency's understandings of those commitments."
1 June: Director General ElBaradei, in his report to the Board of Governors, identified three outstanding concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program: the origin of highly enriched uranium at several nuclear sites, previously undeclared centrifuge technology, and Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
21 May: Iran submitted its initial declaration under the Additional Protocol to its NPT safeguards agreement.
7 April: During a visit to Iran, Director General ElBaradei announced that Iran had agreed to accelerate its cooperation with the IAEA in addition to a joint action plan with a timetable to deal with outstanding issues.
15 March: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution on the IAEA's verification of Iran's nuclear program, noting "outstanding issues" and questions, and requesting Director General ElBaradei to report back to the Board on these matters before the end of May.
8 March: Director General ElBaradei expressed his concern to the Board of Governors that Iran's declaration of 21 October 2003 did not include any reference to its possession of P-2 centrifuge designs and related R&D, which he viewed as a setback to Iran's stated policy of transparency.
18 December: Iran signed the Additional Protocol to its NPT safeguards agreement, granting IAEA inspectors greater authority in verifying the country's nuclear program.
10 November: In a letter to the IAEA, Iran's representative conveyed his government's acceptance of the text of the Additional Protocol and officially announced that Iran had agreed to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
31 October: Director General ElBaradei remarked that the active and intense period of talks and inspections, started on October 2, is making good progress.
21 October: Iran and the EU-3 agreed on measures aimed at the settlement of all outstanding issues. Iran agreed to engage in full co-operation and transparency with the IAEA in order to address and resolve all requirements and outstanding issues while clarifying and correcting any possible failures and deficiencies raised by the IAEA. Furthermore, Iran has decided to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, commence ratification procedures for the Protocol, and to voluntarily suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.
12 September: The Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to accelerate cooperation with the IAEA and provide full transparency.
8-9 September: Director General ElBaradei urged greater cooperation from Iran in order for the IAEA to complete the verification job. In his remarks, he comments that, "it is obviously not sufficient to rely just on the rights granted in the safeguards agreement," emphasizing the need for "full transparency and proactive co-operation by Iran."
9 July: Director General ElBaradei met with President Khatami; they agreed that a team of senior IAEA experts would remain in Iran to hold technical discussions with Iranian experts on outstanding issues.
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