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Iran Nuke Program 2: ABCs of Sites

      The following is a rundown of Iran’s key nuclear sites. Each will be a subject at diplomatic talks between the Islamic Republic and the world's six major powers.

 

 

 

 

  

Bushehr Nuclear Facility
        The Bushehr facility contains Iran’s first nuclear power plant. Its light-water reactor was loaded with nuclear fuel in August 2010. It has an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Bushehr was originally launched in 1976 under contract with a German company, but after the 1979 revolution, Washington opposed it on the grounds that weapons grade plutonium could be extracted from the reactor’s waste, allowing Iran to construct nuclear weapons. Iran says the plant is for power-generation purposes only and will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
 
      The theocracy halted construction of the Bushehr reactor after the 1979 revolution, and it was badly damaged during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. But Tehran decided to revive the project in 1990 to provide energy. The contract was awarded to Russia’s Rosatom Corp. To address international concerns, Moscow agreed to supply the enriched uranium fuel for the power plant and take back its plutonium-bearing spent fuel. In February 2005, Tehran and Moscow signed an agreement designed to ensure Iran could not divert enriched uranium for a weapons program.  In September 2013, Russia transferred operational control of some key facilities to Iran.
 
Natanz Fuel Enrichment Facility
         This fuel enrichment facility is at the heart of Iran’s dispute with the United Nations. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, revealed the existence of the facility in 2002. It is located just outside the city of Natanz, approximately 130 miles south of Tehran.
         The site consists of two facilities:
 
  • An above-ground pilot fuel enrichment plant (PFEP)
  • A larger, underground fuel enrichment plant with the capacity to hold up to 50,000 centrifuges (FEP). 
 
      Activities at Natanz were suspended in 2004 following an agreement negotiated by Britain, France and Germany. But Iran restarted its uranium enrichment at the FEP after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. The international community is concerned that Iran may use the enrichment technology at Natanz for nuclear weapons. These activities were proscribed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696 in 2006. Iran rejects the legality of these resolutions.
 
            Iran has not installed new centrifuges at either of the Natanz sites since the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action. And enrichment of uranium above five percent is no longer taking place at Natanz, according to a February 2014 U.N. report. About 160 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent still remains at the site but some of the stockpile is being downblended or converted to uranium oxide, which could not easily be used to fuel a nuclear weapon. 
        
Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility
          The historic city of Isfahan is home to several nuclear-related sites, but the most significant facility is the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Plant. Isfahan also has a fuel fabrication laboratory, a uranium chemistry laboratory and a zirconium production plant. The conversion plant has been operational since 2006, and converts uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for Iran's enrichment facilities. The facility can also produce uranium metal and oxides for fuel and other purposes.
 
Tehran Nuclear Research Center
      The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is a complex of several laboratories, including the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR produces radioisotopes for medical and research purposes. The United States supplied Iran with the 5-megawatt light-water reactor in 1967; it was fueled with highly enriched uranium (around 90 percent). In 1987, Argentina concluded a deal with Iran to change the core of the reactor so it could operate on low-enriched uranium (20 percent).
 
Arak Heavy Water Plant and Reactor
           The Arak nuclear facility includes a heavy water production plant, which has been operational since 2006, and a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor still under construction. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, also revealed the existence of this facility in 2002.
      Heavy water production plants are not subject to traditional safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, Tehran would be subject to declarations and complementary access for IAEA inspectors. Since Iran has signed but not yet ratified the Additional Protocol, the IAEA uses satellite imagery to monitor the facility. Iran's heavy-water-related activities are also proscribed by U.N. Resolution 1696, which Tehran rejects.
 
            In December 2013, Iran provided the IAEA with information and access to the plant. Approximately 100 tons of reactor-grade heavy water have been produced at Arak since 2006. 
 
Qom Uranium Enrichment Facility (Fordo)
      This secret uranium enrichment facility was made public in 2009 after the United States shared intelligence about it with allies, and Iran confirmed its existence. Construction of the uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom began around 2006, but Tehran maintained that it was not required to report its existence under the safeguard obligations until six months before it became operational. The plant has a few installed centrifuges, but Iran stopped all work once the site was publicized. The facility is located on a mountain on what was reportedly a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ missile site.
           The facility’s revelation prompted concern that Iran intended to construct a potential breakout facility where it could make weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. Iran told the IAEA that the plant was intended to enrich uranium only to 5 percent, which is not enough for a nuclear weapon. The plant is believed to have room for 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
 
Parchin
            Parchin is a military complex about 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The IAEA suspects Iran may have conducted experiments related to nuclear weapons production. U.N. inspectors visited the site twice in 2005 but did not find anything suspicious. But the IAEA later received additional evidence about alleged experiments. “We didn’t have enough information [back then],” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in 2012. “Extensive activities have taken place” at Parchin that have “seriously undermined” the IAEA’s ability to investigate possible military dimensions of Iran’s program, according to a February 2014 report.
 
            Iran apparently undertook cleanup activities, according to satellite imagery analyzed by the Institute for Science and International Security. The IAEA noted that satellite imagery revealed “possible building material and debris” at Parchin in 2014.
           
Gchine Mine and Mill
            The Gchine mine is located in southern Iran in Bandar Abbas. The associated mill is located at the same site. According to the IAEA, it began production in 2004 and has an estimated production capacity of 21 tons of uranium per year. The IAEA has questioned the mine’s ownership and relationship to Iran’s military. In January 2014, Iran provided the IAEA with managed access to the mine.
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.

 

Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Natanz via Iranian President's Office and The New York Times

 

 

Iran Nuke Program 3: ABCs from Khamenei

            Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has voiced his opposition to nuclear weapons on several occasions during the last decade. The following are excerpted remarks in reverse chronological order.

 
      “Even now that reason - including religious and political reason - has made it clear that the Islamic Republic is not after nuclear weapons, American officials bring up the issue of nuclear weapons whenever they address the nuclear issue. This is while they themselves know that not having nuclear weapons is the definite policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
      April 9, 2014 in a speech to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
 
            “We are against nuclear weapons not because of the U.S. or others, but because of our beliefs. And when we say no one should have nuclear weapons, we definitely do not pursue it ourselves either.”
            Sept. 17, 2013 in a meeting with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
 
            “Nuclear weapons are neither a #security provider, nor a cause of consolidation of political power but rather a threat to both. The events of the 1990s proved that possessing such weapons would not save any regimes including the Soviet Union. Today as well, we know countries who are faced with fatal torrents of insecurity, despite having nuclear bombs.
           “The bitter irony of our time is that the U.S. government has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and is the only government that has used them, while it bears the flag of anti-nukes struggle!”
            Aug. 30, 2012
 
            “We do not possess a nuclear weapon and we will not build one, but
we will defend ourselves against any aggression, whether by the U.S. or the Zionist regime, with the same level [of force].”
            March 20, 2012 in a speech marking Nowruz, Persian New Year
 
            “Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi (juridical) perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
            Feb. 22, 2012 in a speech to nuclear scientists
 
            “Islam is opposed to nuclear weapons and that Tehran is not working to build them.”
            February 2010 at a ship-christening ceremony
 
      “The Iranian people and their officials have declared times and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
      June 4, 2009 in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death
 
      “Even though the Iranian nation does not have an atomic bomb and keeps no intention to possess the deadly weapon, the world acknowledges that it is a dignified nation because the dignity of the nation has emerged from its resolve, faith, good deed and bright goals.”
      Sept. 9, 2007 in a speech to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
 
            Iran “is not, and the westerners know it well, after a nuclear weapon, because it stands contrary to the country's political and economic interests as well as Islam's statute.”
            Jan. 18, 2006 to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov’s visiting delegation
 
            “No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons… [to] manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”
            Nov. 5, 2004 in a Friday sermon
 
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction," Khamenei said recently. "In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form.”
            October 2003, according to the San Francisco Chronicle
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
 
Photo credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook
 

Iran Nuke Program 4: ABCs of Talks So Far

           The following is a rundown of key events in diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013.

2013
 
Sept. 26 – Foreign ministers from P5+1 countries (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) and Iran met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and agreed to hold a new round of talks in Geneva.
 
Sept. 27 – President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing.
 
Oct. 15-16 – Diplomats from P5+1 countries and Iran met in Geneva to solve the nuclear dispute. They committed to meeting in November to continue talks that were “substantive and forward looking.”
 
Nov. 7-10 – Iran and the P5+1 made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement. Foreign ministers rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal.
 
Nov. 11 – IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited Tehran. He and Iran’s chief of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement committing Tehran to take practical steps towards transparency within three months.
 
Nov. 24 – Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement that would significantly constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. Iran pledged to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium, halt enrichment above five percent and stop installing centrifuges. Tehran also committed to halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor.
 
Dec. 11 – Iran and the IAEA met in Vienna to review the status of the six actions Iran committed to in November as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement.  
 
 2014
Jan. 9-12 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Geneva and reach an agreement on implementation. The delegations returned to their capitals for approval. On January 12, the parties announced that the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented starting on January 20.
 
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action entered into force. The IAEA also issued a report stating that Iran is complying with the deal after reducing their 20% enrichment stockpile and halting work on the Arak heavy water reactor. The United States and European Union announced they have taken steps to waive certain sanctions and release a schedule for releasing Iran’s oil money frozen in other countries.
 
Feb.18-20 – The P5+1 and Iran agreed on a framework for final negotiations on February 20 after three days of discussion in Geneva.  
 
March 3 – IAEA chief Yukiya Amano announced that Iran has implemented the six measures contained in the Framework for Cooperation Agreement but also notes that “much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.”
 
March 19 – The P5+1 and Iran held another round of closed-door talks on a final nuclear agreement. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions on the Arak heavy water reactor and Western sanctions as “substantive and useful.”
 
March 20 – The IAEA released a report detailing Iran’s implementation of the interim nuclear deal brokered in November 2013. The report noted that Tehran has not enriched any more uranium to 20 percent. But it had not yet completed a facility to convert low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide, which would need to be reprocessed to fuel a weapon.
 
April 7-9 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna to continue negotiations on a final nuclear agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reported that they had “substantive and detailed discussions” on all relevant issues.
 
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced that Washington had taken steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds after the IAEA verified Tehran is complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
 
May 13-16 – The P5+1 and Iran meet in Vienna to begin drafting a final agreement. The talks end without any tangible progress. But both sides commit to another round of talks in June. 

June 9-10 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns lead a team of officials to Geneva for bilateral talks with Iran to prepare for the next round of P5+1 talks.
 
June 16-20 The P5+1 met in Geneva and produced an outline of a draft agreement but did not make much progress on the core issue of uranium enrichment. They agreed to meet on July 2 and hold continuous talks until the July 20 expiration date.
 
July 3-19 The P5+1 began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks form the due date for a deal. After about a week and half of discussions, some foreign ministers, including Kerry, Zarif and Hague, went to Vienna to check on progress of the talks. On June 19, the two sides announced that the will extend the talks through November 24, eactly one year since the interim agreement was brokered. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. In return, the P5+1 nations agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds back to Iran.
 
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
 

Photo Credits: EU External Action Service and  U.S. State Department via Flickr

 

Hardliners “Worried” About Nuclear Talks

            Iran’s hardliners have been mobilizing against a nuclear deal in the run-up to the mid-May negotiations between Iran and six major powers in Vienna. A conference entitled “We’re Worried” – advertised as “the great gathering of critics of a weak deal”—was held at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran on May 3-4. Speakers vowed to retain Iran’s “nuclear rights” and warned the government of President Hassan Rouhani against giving too many concessions. They claimed that Iran’s negotiating team may sacrifice national interests to secure a final deal.

      More than 100 lawmakers, students, academics and activists attended the event, which was reportedly organized by Basij paramilitary. Officials of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration attended. Attendees carried placards which vowed "Nuclear energy is our absolute right" and "Economic reform does not mean political capitulation." One sign pointed out that Rouhani is angry due to "mild criticism" of his foreign policy. Participants signed a petition demanding that the Islamic Republic’s right to uranium enrichment be “explicitly” recognized in a final deal and that all sanctions be lifted.
 
            Fatemeh Alia, a conservative lawmaker, told state media that Iran is being duped. “The whole nation believes the main intention of the United States is to fully halt the Iranian nuclear program,” she claimed. Alia criticized Rouhani’s administration for not getting more sanctions lifted.
 
            Farshi Jaafari, one of the organizers and a member of “The Justice-Seeking Student Movement,” told Fars News that the group wants to preserve Iran’s rights and “say that we won’t back down.”
 
            Former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani chided Iran’s own negotiation team, led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for their willingness to compromise. “The Arak heavy water reactor must continue to operate as usual, and there is no need for any changes there . . . The negotiators should not have given concessions on this issue, because our team gave too many concessions to the other side,” Abbasi-Davani said. He praised Saeed Jalili, the previous negotiator and national security adviser under Ahmadinejad, for playing a “heroic role” in defending Iranian interests. During Jalili’s tenure, several rounds of talks from 2011 to 2013 failed to produce an agreement.
 
            Abbasi-Davani also rebuked President Rouhani’s approach to solving the nuclear dispute. During his presidential campaign and after his inauguration, Rouhani argued that centrifuges should spin while citizens’ lives and the economy also spin. “It is a strategic mistake to tie the spinning of the centrifuges to people's lives,” Abbasi-Davani told the conference. “If you're after making people's lives work, don't act hastily.”
 
The conference communique included several demands:
 
•Clear recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium
•Continued development of peaceful nuclear activities
•Refusal of additional measures requested by the United Nations beyond the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
•Imminent removal of financial and banking sanctions
•Release of Iran’s frozen properties
•Transparency on the negotiations and timelines
•Advance approval by parliament and the Supreme National Security Council of any deal with the U.N. nuclear watchdog
 
           Several reformist newspapers dismissed the conference’s importance or described it as primarily a gathering of Ahmadinejad supporters. Conservative website Khabar Online published a list of the conference speakers, complete with their university degrees. Fatemeh Alia told journalists that government critics are “precious assets” and should not be labeled as “illiterates,” which may have been a reference Rouhani’s comment labeling his critics “semi-literate” in February. The conference speakers included two members of parliament—Ruhollah Hosseinian and Hamid Resaei—and a mid-ranking cleric in the supreme leader’s office — Alireza Panahina. Senior lawmaker Esmail Kowsari also attended.
 

Four Dimensions of Nuclear Chess Game

Gary Sick

      A government negotiating with another government is almost inevitably required to conduct a second negotiation with its own domestic constituents whose own interests will be affected by the outcome. The classic image is the negotiator facing his foreign adversary over one table, then swiveling around to confront his domestic adversaries at a second table.
 
 
            In the current negotiations with Iran over the future of its nuclear program, the United States is facing something even more daunting. It is engaged in at least four separate negotiations at the same time:
 
1) Direct talks with Iran
 
2) Consultations with its negotiating partners in the so-called P5+1 – the five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – who must develop a unified bargaining position
 
3) Congress of the United States
 
4) Allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose interests will be impacted by the outcome.
 
            Success in one dimension of this chess match does not necessarily guarantee success in any of the others, although in the end a successful final outcome will require at least a measure of success in all four dimensions. Ironically, crafting an agreement with Iran could prove to be the easiest part of the diplomatic game. The most difficult challenge may be in the domestic political arena, particularly in the United States. Iran’s hardliners are also poised to challenge potential concessions.
 
            The following is a brief snapshot of the board so far:
 

Engagement with Iran

      By almost any measure, direct contact between U.S. negotiators and their counterparts in Iran has exceeded expectations. American official contact with Iranian officials has been rare, sporadic, and often almost illicit for most of the past 35 years, since the Iranian revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis. U.S. diplomats were often instructed to avoid even casual contact with Iranian dignitaries at routine diplomatic functions. The United States and Iran occasionally worked together openly, such as at the Bonn conference in December 2001, when Hamid Karzai was selected as the president of a new Afghan government. But the relationship had never been able to transcend longstanding political animosity.
 
             That has now changed. A senior U.S. official, who regularly briefs the media on the progress of the negotiations, said the United States and Iran no longer need to hold secret meetings. “When we need to solve problems, [we] email with the Iranians,” the official said. That kind of routine contact suggests that a return to the tensions of the past is progressively less likely – whether or not the current negotiations succeed.
 

Coordination with Allies

       The progress of negotiations so far has been achieved by coordination and discipline among the six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—who sit on the same side of the table opposite Iran. The cohesion appears to be genuine. The talks have also not been contaminated by policy clashes—especially between Washington and Moscow—over Syria, the Crimea, and East Asia, which could have intruded on the Iran negotiations.
 
 
            The senior U.S. administration official, speaking on background, addressed those issues after the meetings in Vienna on March 19, at a time when the Crimean crisis was dominating the media: “The P5+1… is very united.  We may have some different ideas, we may even have national positions which aren’t identical, but when we are in the room together, we are completely united. . . Everybody is very professional, very serious, very focused. If there is any humor, it’s of the good-natured variety. There are no histrionics. There’s no walking out. There’s no yelling and screaming. It is very professional, very workmanlike.”
 
            The parties have also not digressed from the main topic into other important but tangential issues, such as human rights abuses, ties to extremist forces such as Hezbollah, and Tehran’s support for the Syrian government. The major powers appear to have decided to defer such discussions until the nuclear issue has been resolved one way or another.
 

The U.S. Congress

      Many senators, both Republicans and Democrats, are intensely skeptical of the talks. Even before negotiations had begun in earnest, 59 senators from both parties supported a new round of sanctions, including a commitment to support Israel in the event it should attack Iran, a clear signal about potential future opposition. The Obama administration strongly opposed the bill, which did not get sufficient Democratic support to bring it to a vote.
 
      The administration has been careful to brief members of Congress throughout the negotiations, and the executive branch has diligently enforced existing sanctions during talks. Yet Congress may still intervene once terms of a deal are known. In the past, legislators have called for Iran’s program--including all centrifuges and enrichment sites—to be completely dismantled. Opposition has invoked “the four no’s: no enrichment, no centrifuges, no stockpile of enriched uranium, and no heavy water reactor.” 
 
            The administration has signaled that those terms exceed the requirements of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. It is expected to present any agreement with Iran as an executive agreement not requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate for ratification. Nevertheless, cooperation with the Congress will be required in order to remove the many layers of sanctions imposed on Iran over the past 35 years. Most observers expect this domestic negotiation to be even more rancorous than the actual negotiations with Iran.

Regional Allies

      The concerns of regional states – notably Israel and Saudi Arabia– constitute the fourth dimension of this complex negotiation that a senior U.S. official has described as a Rubik’s Cube. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been outspoken in questioning the prospective nuclear deal, especially if Tehran is allowed to retain any ability to enrich uranium. In a CNN interview on April 27, he denounced it as “a terrible deal,” since it would leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state. He told an American audience: “Don’t let it happen.” That perspective could influence Congressional opposition.

 

 

 

  

Gary Sick, principal White House aide for Iran and the Persian Gulf on the Carter administration’s National Security Council, is now executive director of Gulf/2000, an international online research project on the Persian Gulf at Columbia University.

Click here to read his chapter on the Carter administration and Iran.

 

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Photo credits: Chess board by Prayitno/ more than 1.5 millions views: thank you! (Flickr: Chess) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, UNGA Ashton Security Council by European External Action Service via Flickr

 

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