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Hardliners Grill Zarif on Holocaust Stance

            On May 6, some 75 hardliner lawmakers grilled Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on his Holocaust stance. He had called the Holocaust a “horrifying tragedy” that “should never occur again” in an interview with a German television station in February. Iran’s 290-member parliament voted against censuring the foreign minister after intense exchanges with critics. Zarif had previously been summoned to explain his stances on the United States and Israel. The latest parliament session came just two days after hardliners held a conference to warn Iran's nuclear negotiators, led by Zarif, against giving too many concessions in talks with the world's six major powers.

            Zarif earned applause from some lawmakers for accusing Israel of spreading propaganda against Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “shamelessly claims Iran denies the Holocaust, that we are after a nuclear bomb to create another Holocaust. As long as I am foreign minister, I will not allow the Holocaust to be exploited to ruin our national image and dignity,” pledged Zarif. Lawmakers said they were “satisfied” with Zarif’s explanation after the parliament session, which was broadcast live on state radio.
            Zarif was first questioned about his position in September 2013, shortly after he joined Twitter and wished a happy new year to the world’s Jews. His Rosh Hashanah message sparked a revealing exchange with Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She tweeted that the new year would be “even sweeter” if Zarif would “end Iran’s Holocaust denial.” Zarif, known for a dry sense of humor, tweeted back, “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Zarif later confirmed to The Iran Primer that he knew that he was communicating with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s daughter. President Rouhani’s account retweeted Zarif’s reply to Pelosi.
 
           
            Iran’s Tasnim News Agency then asked the foreign minister about his statements on the Holocaust. Iranians condemn the “killing of Jews by Nazis, as we condemn the killing of Palestinians by the Zionists,” Zarif said. “Judaism is a divine religion that we respect in accordance with the teachings of our religion and our country’s constitution.” He added that Iran’s “Jewish compatriots are a recognized minority” and that they have a representative in parliament. “Jews aren’t our enemies,” Zarif clarified. He also claimed that “Zionists are a minority” among them. “The Zionists for 60 years used the Holocaust as a pretext for all the crimes against the Palestinians,” Zarif told Tasnim. Zarif posted the interview text on his Facebook account.
            Zarif’s stance contrasts sharply with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad repeatedly called the extermination of 6 million Jews a “myth” during his tenure from 2005 to 2013. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei most recently questioned the Holocaust in March 2014. The “Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it's uncertain how it has happened,” he said in a speech marking Persian New Year.

 

Report: Iran’s Missiles and a Final Deal

            Iran’s existing ballistic missiles, if fitted with a nuclear warhead, could pose a credible threat to the region. But the current negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers is not the ideal venue for discussing limits on Tehran’s missile program, according to a new brief by The Arms Control Association. Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann warns that demanding limits on weapons Tehran “regards as vital to its self-defense would jeopardize” the current negotiations’ key objective — constraining Iran’s nuclear program in a verifiable manner. A comprehensive nuclear deal, however, would “dramatically reduce the potential dangers posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles,” according to the brief. The following are excerpts.

•A comprehensive deal between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that verifiably limits Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity, effectively blocks plutonium-production pathways, and enhances verification to assure detection of prohibited nuclear-weapons-related activities would dramatically reduce the potential dangers posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles.
 
•In 2010, the UN Security Council broadened previous sanctions by adopting Resolution 1929, an effort to increase pressure on Tehran to negotiate seriously to resolve international concerns about its nuclear program by limiting sensitive nuclear-weapons-related activities.
 
• Resolution 1929 was adopted at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency’s questions about weapons-related experiments were not being answered, Iran’s capacity to produce fissile material was increasing, and Iran’s nuclear weapons development potential was growing.
 
•The resolution’s prohibition on “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology” was never intended by the Security Council to be permanent.
 
• Today, Iran is assessed to have deployed several dozen Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1 medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 1,000 to 1,600 kilometers, as well as dozens more short-range ballistic missiles with ranges of 150 to 500 kilometers.
 
• All ballistic missiles with the capability of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more are commonly considered “nuclear capable.”
 
• To prevent Iran from having any such capability would require severe restrictions, such as the 150-kilometer missile flight-testing limit imposed on vanquished Iraq in 1991.
 
• Iran has been adamant that it will not accept removal of the only weapons systems it can reliably employ beyond the battlefield.
 
• Limits on Iranian ballistic missiles could be more effectively pursued outside the nuclear talks in a multilateral, regional context.
 
• The initial objective could be reciprocal confidence building measures among neighboring countries.
 
• Multilateral limits, such as a regional ban on intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles – could also be pursued.
 
How Invested Is Iran in Its Missiles?
 
             As noted in a recent analysis by Shahram Chubin of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “by orthodox standards Iran is militarily weak” and “its military expenditure is slight compared to that of its smaller Gulf neighbours.” With an aging and ineffective air force and an army unsuited for operating far afield, Iran relies heavily on conventionally armed missile systems for national defense.
 
             Iran has already developed and deployed several dozen Shahab-3 and Ghadar-1 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), able to strike regional area targets as far away as Israel. “[These missiles] represent one of Iran’s few capabilities to deter attack, intimidate regional rivals, and boost military morale and national pride,” according to Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Iran has devoted considerable energy and resources to acquiring and then improving these systems (see figure 1). They are now considered more advanced and reliable than North Korea’s Nodong MRBM, from which they were originally derived.
 
Alternative Approaches for Addressing Missiles
 
             The best way to address Iran’s potential to exploit nuclearcapable missiles is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is sufficiently limited and transparent that missile limits become unnecessary. The primary means of doing so would be to strictly limit Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium. This would entail ensuring that production is significantly reduced in the short term and is commensurate with Iran’s “practical needs” for its civilian power program, as foreseen in the Joint Plan of Action. The IAEA would thereby have confidence that Iran did not have sufficient fissile material to assemble the several warheads necessary to pose a credible nuclear threat to other countries, and the international community would have many months to mount an effective response if Iran sought to break out of the NPT to build nuclear weapons.
 
             The IAEA will also need to gain sufficient understanding of the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s past nuclear program to be confident that the program remains peaceful in the future. This includes Tehran adequately addressing allegations that Iran adapted a Shahab-3 MRBM front section to accommodate installation of a nuclear warhead. The final deal between Iran and the P5+1 should provide direction to the IAEA and Tehran on resolving outstanding issues. It might also be possible to persuade Iran to make a voluntary commitment to greater transparency with regard to its missile activities, such as notifications of flight tests, exercises, and field deployments. This appears unlikely as part of a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, but it might be possible to negotiate a side agreement in which Iran pledged to join the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, a confidence-building regime to which 137 states subscribe.
 
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Iran Nuke Program 1: ABCs of Issues

      There’s no one single formula for a nuclear deal with Iran. The United States compares negotiations to solving a Rubik’s Cube™, because so many pieces are involved—and moving one moves all the others. (The world’s most popular puzzle has 43 quintillion permutations to solve it so all the colors match on the six faces.) These are some of the key issues in the Rubik’s Cube of a nuclear deal.

 

  

         CENTRIFUGES: Since 2002, Iran has built centrifuges to enrich uranium, which can fuel both peaceful energy and deadly bombs. Tehran claims it is only for medical research and energy. But Iran’s abilities far exceed its current needs; Russia provides fuel for Iran’s single nuclear reactor.
            Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges—up from less than 200 a decade ago. The vast majority of these are first-generation “IR-1” centrifuges, but Iran has begun installing much more sophisticated “IR-2” models. About 10,000 are enriching uranium at Iran’s two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow; the rest are installed but not operating. The more centrifuges or the more advanced centrifuges Iran has, the faster it can enrich uranium.

            A deal will try to reduce the number of Iran’s centrifuges. Outside experts suggest the goal could be to limit Iran to between 2,000 and 6,000 operating IR-1 centrifuges, and place constraints on research and development into more advanced machines.

          ENRICHMENT: Uranium enriched to 90 percent is the purest form to fuel a weapon. Prior to the November 24 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) interim nuclear deal, Iran was enriching up to 20 percent level; under the JPOA, enrichment has been temporarily capped at five percent or less.
            A final deal could seek to limit enrichment to five percent or less.
           
          STOCKPILE: The larger the stockpile of uranium gas, the faster Iran could produce fuel for a bomb. Iran had 447 kg of uranium enriched at 20 percent before the interim deal went into effect in January. It has since begun “neutralizing” its 20 percent stockpile by diluting 104 kg to 3.5 percent enriched uranium and converting another 287 kg into uranium oxide powder. As of May, Iran had an estimated 56 kg of uranium gas enriched at 20 percent. It is due to dilute or oxidize all its 20 percent uranium gas by July 20.

            A deal could seek to limit the stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium and require Iran to further reduce its stockpile of 20 percent uranium in oxide form. Iran may be allowed to keep some for research, but not enough to quickly build a bomb.

         NATANZ: Iran’s primary enrichment facility includes three underground buildings, two of which are designed to hold 50,000 centrifuges, and six buildings built above ground.
            A deal will try to limit the program at Natanz.
 
          FORDO: The smaller, underground enrichment facility near Qom includes two halls; each could hold 1,500 centrifuges. Iran claims Fordow is to enrich uranium up to 20 percent— only for research. But skeptics contend the deeply-buried site, designed to survive aerial bombardment, is intended to take 20 percent enriched material from Natanz and enrich it to higher levels for use in a nuclear weapon.
            A deal will try to end enrichment activities at Fordow, perhaps converting it to a research-only facility.
 
            ARAK: The small heavy-water reactor, begun in the 1990s, is unfinished. Iran claims it is to produce medical isotopes and thermal power for civilian use. But the design would also produce plutonium that, if chemically reprocessed, could provide an alternative fuel to uranium for an atomic bomb. Nine kilograms of plutonium is enough material to fuel one or two nuclear weapons. After completion, Arak would need to run for 12 to 18 months to generate that much plutonium.
            A deal will try to close Arak or redesign it in a way to substantially reduce plutonium output. A deal will also try prohibit Iran from building a reprocessing facility.
 
          INSPECTIONS and VERIFICATION: Any deal will require considerable transparency into the nature and extent of Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure, as well as possible past military dimensions of its program. A deal will also involve extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Natanz, Fordow, Arak, centrifuge assembly facilities, uranium mines, research facilities—and possibly other sites—aimed at ensuring that Iran’s program remains solely for peaceful purposes.

             It may also cover access to sites suspected of past work on bomb components, such as Parchin military base. And it is likely to require Tehran’s acceptance of the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol,” allowing inspections at both declared and undeclared sites—and maybe other intrusive measures.

 
          IRAN’S RED LINES:
            Iran has its own configurations for the Rubik’s Cube of a deal. They include:
  • Preserving key elements of its nuclear program, including some uranium enrichment and research and development
  • Protecting Iran's "right" under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to a peaceful nuclear energy program to alleviate the drain on its oil sources and fuel modern development
  • Removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations

 

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.

 

For more information, see:

David Albright and Andrea Stricker “Centrifuges: Key to Final Nuclear Deal
Robert Einhorn “Preventing a Nuclear Armed Iran
 

Photo credits: Rubik's Cube by by Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [edited by Iran Primer], President.ir

 

 

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
 

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