G-8 meets to discuss Iran strategy
By Valerie Lincy
Updated October 15, 2004
In an apparent policy reversal, the Bush administration sat down with senior officials from all G-8 countries in Washington on October 15 to discuss how to get Iran to renounce its nuclear ambitions. The discussions focused on convincing Iran to suspend its effort to enrich uranium.
Britain, France and Germany have reportedly fashioned a new set of inducements, including the promise to resume talks on trade, to allow Iran to import nuclear fuel, and to lift certain economic penalties on Iran that would allow it to import much-needed civilian airline parts. The willingness of the Bush administration to even consider incentives for Iran appears to mark a shift in policy, as U.S. officials had previously demanded that Iran should first renounce its nuclear ambitions before being rewarded. To avoid giving the impression that policy had changed, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher was careful to label all incentives as part of a package proposed by the Europeans, and he reiterated the U.S. position that Iran should still be referred to the U.N. Security Council based on past violations of its international obligations.
Alongside these diplomatic developments, Iran appears to have moved forward with plans to convert 37 metric tons of uranium into uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a gas that can then be passed through centrifuge machines to make nuclear weapon fuel. On Octobert 6, Iran announced that it had processed a few tons of yellowcake into UF6, with the IAEA looking on. If all 37 tons of yellowcake are processed, the resulting material could produce enough fuel for several nuclear weapons. This move flies in the face of demands made by a unanimous IAEA in a strongly worded resolution on Irans nuclear activities passed on September 18.
After contentious back-room negotiation, the governing board of the IAEA called on Iran to suspend all enrichment related activities, to renounce its plans to build a heavy water research reactor, and to provide the IAEA with access to and information on nuclear equipment and sites. Given Irans incomplete adherence to past pledges to freeze uranium enrichment activities, the resolution has specifically defined such activities as including the manufacture or import of centrifuge components, the assembly and testing of centrifuges, and the production of feed material, including through tests or production at the UCF. The UCF is Irans commercial-scale uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, where Iran produced some 35 kg of UF6 earlier this year. UF6 can be enriched in centrifuges to a form suitable for either reactor fuel or nuclear weapons.
Should Iran fail to fulfill the requirements of the resolution by the governing boards next meeting on November 25, the IAEA will decide whether further steps are appropriate, which could mean sending Irans nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council. The resolution also calls on IAEA Director-General Mohamed Elbardei to report on both the implementation of the most recent resolution and on the IAEAs findings in Iran since September 2002, including Irans adherence to past resolutions, its cooperation with the Agency, and the timeliness and accuracy of its declarations to the Agency. Both reports will be prepared in advance of the November board meeting.
The United States, Europe and the non-aligned movement agreed on the wording of the resolution after struggling to find common ground on how best to contain Irans nuclear program. Still hoping for a negotiated solution, Britain, France and Germany supported censuring Iran but hoped to avoid involving the U.N. Security Council. The United States pushed for more immediate action, calling for the inclusion of a clear trigger mechanism that would automatically send Irans file to the U.N. Security Council should Iran fail to suspend work on nuclear technology that would enable it to produce fuel for nuclear weapons. Members of the non-aligned movement insisted on including language that supported Irans right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use.
Despite the compromise forged over the resolution, the United States firmly believes that Irans civilian nuclear program masks a bomb effort. On September 2, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States still believes that the Iranians are not fessing up to everything. They still have a program that, in our judgment, is a nuclear program designed to develop, ultimately, a nuclear weapon. Europe has been hesitant to embrace the U.S. strategyfearful that this might convince Iran to stop all cooperation with the IAEA. However, Irans actions in recent months have failed to provide much assurance of peaceful intentions. In a letter to the IAEA in late June, Iran announced that it would resume manufacturing, assembling and testing centrifuges as of June 29. This move came after Irans October 2003 agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend uranium enrichment activities, and its further promise to suspend most manufacturing and assembling of centrifuges as of April 2004. Also in June, Iran informed the IAEA that it had already produced some 35 kg of UF6 at its conversion facility and that it would convert a further 37 metric tons of uranium concentrate into UF6 at the facility in August or September, a threat Iran now appears to be carrying out. As a result of these actions, and the damning evidence amassed by the IAEA since it began its investigation in Iran in February 2003, the Europeans appear to have edged closer to the U.S. position.
Nevertheless, the most recent IAEA report on Iran, circulated on September 1, fails to provide the smoking gun that would automatically send Irans nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council. Instead, the report reiterates a number of unanswered questions that the Agency continues to investigatefrom the timeframe of plutonium separation experiments, to the history of Irans centrifuge programs, to the origin of enriched uranium contamination found at several sites in Iran. And the report concludes that on a number of other key issues, including Irans laser enrichment effort and its past uranium conversion experiments, Irans stories have largely checked out.
European carrots and American sticks
Much of the diplomatic maneuvering at the IAEA over the past year and a half has been guided by hard-line pressure from the United States on the one hand, and by a commitment to constructive engagement with Iran by Britain, France and Germany on the other. Following the first disclosures by the IAEA that Iran had concealed nuclear work, U.S. President George W. Bush announced, in June 2003, that the international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon in Iran. And the international community did come together in October 2003, when foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany traveled to Tehran and successfully extracted a series of concessions. Under the deal, Iran agreed to sign the IAEAs Additional Protocol and to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities in exchange for future access to technology. Despite some skepticism, the Bush administration endorsed the agreement.
Iran, however, did not entirely keep its word. Though it allowed the IAEA to seal centrifuges and material at Natanz, its main enrichment site, it continued to manufacture and assemble centrifuges at a series of workshops. When this activity was criticized, Iran waited until February 2004, just before the release of the IAEAs latest quarterly report, to concede a halt to these activities. But the manufacturing and assembling of centrifuges was only partially suspended in April, and in the same month Iran announced its intention to begin testing the UF6 production line at its conversion plant. This move came despite the IAEAs request that Iran reconsider its decision to test UF6 production, which the Agency said would technically amount to the production of feed material for enrichment processes.
In addition, Irans recent attitude towards its negotiating partners has not been encouraging. During a meeting with officials from Britain, France and Germany in early August, Iran reportedly issued a series of demands as a condition for continuing to cooperate. The demands apparently included access to nuclear technology, the removal of sales restrictions on Iran imposed by the nuclear supplier nations, assurances that the Europeans would support Iran in the U.N. Security Council, sales of conventional weapons, a commitment to push for a non-nuclear Middle East and a commitment to provide Iran with security assurances against a nuclear attack. The breadth of Irans requests, along with its apparent unwillingness to continue confidence-building measures like the enrichment freeze, have made the Europeans more skeptical of Irans intentions.
Grounds for suspicion
Iran has long been suspected of maintaining a covert nuclear weapon effort. Doubts about the peaceful nature of its program became more widespread in August 2002, when an exiled Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of two nuclear sites in Iran: a centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water production plant at Arak. And suspicions about Irans intentions came to a head in November 2003, when the IAEA reported that Iran had successfully produced both enriched uranium and plutoniumfissile materials that can be used to fuel a nuclear weapon. An accumulation of circumstantial evidence that Iran could be trying to make a nuclear device has only added to concerns about Irans intentions.
The Director-General of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei traveled to Iran in February 2003 to investigate allegations that Iran had a bomb program. The IAEA has since published six reports that document the history of Irans secret nuclear work. The revelations in these reports have fueled arguments made by the United States and others that Iran is using its nuclear energy program as a smokescreen behind which to make a bomb.
One of the IAEAs most worrisome findings has been the traces of enriched uranium discovered at several locations in Iran. In its August 2003 report, the agency first revealed that it had found highly enriched uranium particles on chemical traps at the pilot enrichment plant at Natanz. According to later reports, these particles were enriched to about 54% U-235. Iran claimed that the contamination came from centrifuge components purchased from foreign intermediaries. Then, results from testing in August 2003 at the Kalaye Electric Company, a centrifuge workshop in Tehran, revealed traces of uranium enriched to 36% U-235. According to the IAEAs February 2004 report, environmental samples showing uranium enriched to 36% U-235 have come almost entirely from one room in the Kalaye Electric Company workshop, which seems to be predominantly contaminated with that material. The concentration of the contamination in one location, and in more than trace amounts has led the IAEA to question Irans story that the high enriched uranium particles came in on imported equipment. Nevertheless, Iran has stuck by its story and has insisted that it only enriched uranium up to 1.2% U-235 using centrifuges. And in its September 2004 report, the IAEA termed Irans claim plausible, though the agency has promised to continue looking into the matter. According to a report in Janes Defense Weekly quoting sources close to the IAEA, the 54% enriched uranium probably came from equipment Iran imported through the nuclear smuggling network run by A.Q. Khan and the 36% enriched uranium was from Russian equipment that had been supplied to China, then passed on to Pakistan, after which Khan sold the equipment to Iran.
Beyond deducing the origin of the enriched uranium contamination, the IAEA has had a difficult time understanding Irans past laser and centrifuge enrichment activities. In its November 2003 report, the most comprehensive and damning exposition of Irans secret nuclear work, the IAEA revealed that Iran had run a centrifuge enrichment program for 18 years and a laser enrichment program for 12 yearsall without telling the agency. The November report also revealed that Iran received 50kg of uranium metal from a foreign supplier, along with relevant equipment, and had enriched some 30kg of the material in secret laser experiments. Though Iran initially claimed not to have enriched uranium using lasers at all, and then not to have done so much beyond 3%, inspectors eventually discovered that, in fact, the average level of enrichment achieved in these laser experiments was between 8-9% and as high as 15%.
Yet another concern for the IAEA has been unraveling Irans uranium conversion experiments and the nuclear material it secretly imported in order to conduct them. In 1991, Iran illicitly imported from China nearly 2,000kg of uranium compounds, including 1,000kg of UF6. The agencys November 2003 report catalogued the history of Irans extensive conversion experiments, in which Iran used uranium that had been either exempted from IAEA safeguards, illicitly imported, or previously declared as process loss. Beginning in 1981, Iran successfully produced a variety of uranium compounds in these laboratory-scale experiments, including UF6, uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), uranium dioxide (UO2) and uranium metal. These experiments allowed Iran to refine its expertise, and to apply what it learned towards work in larger facilities, especially the uranium conversion plant it has begun operating at Isfahan.
So like Iraq before it, Iran has used evasion and deception techniques in order to delay or inhibit inspectors work. For instance, when IAEA inspectors were allowed to take environmental samples from the workshop at Kalaye in August 2003after asking to do so for several monthsthey reported that there had been considerable modification of the premises since their visit earlier that year. And after receiving what was considered by the IAEA to be a full accounting of Irans nuclear program in October 2003, the agency discovered that Iran had failed to include any information about its work with the more advanced P-2 centrifuge. In early 2004, Iran admitted to a small-scale P-2 program. However, in its June 2004 report the IAEA concluded that based on Irans procurement attempts, its P-2 program was far more extensive than Iran admitted. In addition, Iran postponed a visit by the IAEA aimed at verifying Irans pledge not manufacture or assemble centrifuges. The visitinitially planned for mid-Marchdid not take place until mid-April, and even then inspectors were either delayed or prevented from visiting several centrifuge workshops.
Suspicion of Irans intentions has been further fueled by speculation that it has a secret weaponization program aimed at developing a workable nuclear device. The IAEA has documented Irans past production of Polonium-210, which could be used as a neutron initiator in a bomb. Then there are the reports that Iran has been shopping for deuterium gas (which can boost the power of a nuclear explosion), for equipment used in nuclear testing, for dual-use machine tools, and for high voltage switches that can be used to trigger a nuclear explosion. More recently, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), Iran may be using the Parchin military complex, about 30 km southeast of Tehran, for nuclear weapon testing. The site is officially dedicated to research, development and production of ammunition, rockets and high explosives. Iraq too had used high explosive testing sites, at both Al Atheer and Al Qaqaa, to work on nuclear weaponization.
Every IAEA report has also criticized Irans cooperation with the Agency. The August 2003 report concluded that while Iran had shown an increased degree of cooperation information and access were at times slow in coming and incremental. And in its November 2003 report, the IAEA said that Iran had failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement. Despite the critical conclusions of every report, the IAEAs resolutions have merely criticized Irans bad behavior. Each of the four resolutions on Iran so far has been the subject of much diplomatic wrangling, which has resulted in watered down language and a clear reluctance to censure Iran for violating its international obligations.
Imports of nuclear-, chemical- and missile-related equipment have been indispensable to Irans suspected weapon programs. China, Russia, North Korea and Pakistan have been Irans main suppliers recently, but help has come from other countries as well. Although the United States has adopted an embargo on high-technology exports to Iran, other major exporting countries have not. Iran is still seeking, and in many cases finding, what it needs from foreign suppliers.
The nuclear smuggling network run by Pakistani scientists A. Q. Khan is believed to be the main supplier to Irans centrifuge enrichment program. Speculation as to exactly what equipment and material Iran received has been the subject of numerous media reports since Libya renounced mass destruction weapons and the Khan network was revealed as Libyas primary supplier. The IAEA has already confirmed that the enrichment and conversion programs in Iran and Libya relied on the same technology obtained from the same foreign sources. And Irans P-2 centrifuge design is the same as the one found by the Agency in Libya. The P-1 centrifuges Iran has installed at Natanz are of an early European design, similar to the machines that have been under the control of the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in Pakistan. Finally, if Iran indeed received the same package of nuclear goods as did Libya, then it is possible that Iran might have the same Chinese-origin bomb design.
China has also provided key assistance to Irans nuclear program. Chinese entities have helped Iran prospect for uranium, have sold UF6 ready for enrichment and have provided Iran with blueprints, equipment test reports and equipment design information for its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan.
For at least the last decade, Chinese organizations have also sold Iran the ingredients and equipment needed to make poison gas. According to a CIA report covering the first half of 2003, Iran has continued to seek production technology, training, and expertise from Chinese entities. In 1996, the press reported that China was sending entire factories for making poison gas to Iran, including special glass-lined vessels for mixing precursor chemicals and hundreds of tons of chemicals useful for making nerve agents. In 1997, a Chinese company was caught sending Iran special alloy piping useful for chemical weapon manufacture through Hong Kong. During approximately the same period, Iran was also getting dual-use chemical imports from firms in India.
These transfers have made China the greatest contributor to Irans chemical weapon capability. In response to Chinas sales, the U.S. government has levied sanctions against at least 19 Chinese firms during the past decade some of the firms being sanctioned more than once.
Russias main contribution to Irans nuclear program is the 1,000 MW light-water power reactor it has been building at Bushehr. The reactor, which was originally scheduled to come on stream in 2003, has experienced repeated delays. Russian and Iranian officials have recently projected that the reactor will now begin full operation in October 2006. In addition to the reactor, Russian entities have provided training in reactor operation and are alleged to have supplied laser equipment for uranium enrichment, know-how for heavy water reactors, and help with heavy water and nuclear-grade graphite production. According to the CIA, Russian entities have also sold Iran dual-use biological and chemical items.
China, Russia and North Korea have also supplied Irans missile program. Irans 1,300 kilometer Shahab-3 missile is essentially an imported North Korean Nodong missile enhanced by Russian technology. And it is widely assumed that if Iran fields the Shahab-4 missile, it will be a copy of Russias SS-4 missile. Both the Nodong and the SS-4 can carry a nuclear warhead.
North Korea, in addition to selling the Nodong missile, has furnished Iran a fleet of SCUD-B and SCUD-C short-range missiles, plus the factories to make them. Both the SCUD-B and SCUD-C have a diameter sufficient to accommodate a compact nuclear warhead.
From China, Iran has imported the 150 kilometer CSS-8 ballistic missile and a series of land-, sea-, and air-launched short-range cruise missiles. Many of these latter are anti-ship weapons. In May 2003, the United States imposed sanctions on the North China Industries Corporation for helping Irans Shahid Hemmat Industrial group acquire missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.
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