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The Iran Primer

Iran Nuke Program 2: ABCs of Sites

The following is a rundown of Iran’s key nuclear sites. Each was 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. 
Iran and the world’s six major powers reached a final nuclear deal on July 14, 2015, which stipulated that Natanz will be Iran's only enrichment facility for 15 years. During that time, enrichment will be capped at 3.67 percent, and Iran’s uranium stockpile will be limited to 300kg. The deal also limited the number of centrifuges at Natanz to 6,100  (with 5,060 operational) for 10 years.
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. 
The final nuclear deal requires Iran to redesign the Arak reactor so it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. Iran also agreed to refrain from building any new heavy water reactors for 15 years.
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.
The final nuclear deal prohibits Iran from conducting enrichment or research and development at Fordo for 15 years.
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.
On July 14, 2015, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi agreed on a roadmap to resolve outstanding issues, including the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The roadmap includes a “separate arrangement regarding the issue of Parchin.” The IAEA plans to complete a report by December 2015, which will precede the sanctions relief specified in the final nuclear deal.
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.

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.  
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action, the interim nuclear deal, entered into force. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran reduced stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent and halted construction on the heavy water reactor in Arak. The United States and the European Union announced steps to suspend a limited number of sanctions and allow the release of Iran’s oil revenues frozen in other countries.
March 19 –Iran and the six major powers held nuclear negotiations. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions as “substantive and useful.”
April 7-9 –Iran and the major powers met in Vienna for talks on a final nuclear agreement.
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds, after the IAEA verified Tehran was complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
May 13-16 – Iran and the major powers met in Vienna, but the talks ended without tangible progress. 

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.
July 3-19 – Iran and the world’s six major powers began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks from the deadline. On July 19, the two sides announced an extension through November 24, the one-year anniversary of the interim agreement. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. The major powers agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds 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.
Sept. 18-26 – Iran and six major world powers resumed talks in New York. Kerry and Zarif also discussed the threat posed by ISIS.

Oct. 14-16 – Iran and the six major powers and made a “little progress” at talks in Vienna.

Nov. 9-11  Kerry, Zarif, and Ashton met for two days of trilateral talks in Oman, followed by a day of meetings between Iran and all six major powers.

Nov. 19-24 – Iran and six major powers held talks in Vienna. On November 19, the U.S. and Iranian teams held bilateral talks. Kerry, Ashton, and Zarif held another round of discussions on Nov. 21. The two sides missed the November 24 deadline for a deal and announced that talks would be extended until June 30, with the goal of a political agreement by March.

Dec. 17 Iran and the P5+1 held talks at the deputy level in Geneva. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters that the “intense negotiations” were “very useful and helpful.” No E.U. statement was released after the talks and the U.S. delegation did not provide comments to the press.
Jan. 14, 16 – Kerry and Zarif met in Geneva to find ways to speed up negotiations. They meet again in Paris later in the week.
Jan. 15-17 – Iran and the U.S. hold bilateral talks in Geneva.
Jan. 18 – Iran and the P5+1 powers made limited progress in talks in Geneva. They agreed to meet again in early February.
Feb. 23Iran and the P5+1 concluded another round of talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program in Geneva. Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz joined the talks for the first time to provide technical expertise, but Secretary of State John Kerry noted that their presence was "no indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided."
March 2-5 – Iran and the P5+1 met in Montreux, Switzerland for another round of talks.

March 16-18 – Kerry and Zarif met in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Moniz and Salehi joined the talks to negotiate technical details. Zarif then flew to Brussels to meet with E.U. officials. The Iranian team returned to Switzerland for more talks with U.S. officials on March 17-18.

March 26-April 2 – Iran and the P5+1 met in Lausanne, Switzerland in the final days before the deadline for a political framework.

April 2 – Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini issued a joint statement announcing that Iran and the P5+1 had reached an understanding on key parameters for a comprehensive nuclear deal, with the final agreement to be drafted by June 30.


April 22-24 – Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and E.U. political director Helga Schmid met in Vienna on April 22. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and deputy foreign minister from the P5+1 joined them later in the week to begin drafting a final agreement.
April 27 – Kerry and Zarif met on the sidelines of the 2015 Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty Conference.
May 12-15 – Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 met in Vienna to continue drafting a final nuclear deal.
May 27-30 – Deputy foreign ministers met in Vienna. Kerry and Zarif held talks in Geneva on May 30, their first meeting since the April 2 announcement.
June 3-4 - Deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 met in Vienna, following a day of expert-level meetings.
June 10-14 – Deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 held talks in Vienna.
June 17 – Deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 held talks in Vienna.
June 22-26 – Deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 held talks in Vienna.
June 28-29 – Kerry held meetings with Zarif, Mogherini, and the British, German, and French foreign ministers in Vienna. Zarif traveled to Tehran on June 28.

June 30 – Negotiators announced talks would be extended until July 7. Zarif returned to Vienna, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Kerry in Vienna.

July 1 – Kerry and Zarif met one-on-one, joined later by U.S., E.U., and Iranian negotiators at the deputy foreign minister level.

July 2 – Foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 held a series of bilateral meetings. Talks also continued at the deputy foreign minister level. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Yukiya Amano visited Rouhani and other officials in Tehran.

July 3-6 – Talks were held at the foreign minister, deputy foreign minister, and expert level. Kerry and Zarif held several bilateral meetings.
July 7-9 – Negotiators announced talks would be extended to July 10. Meetings were held at the foreign minister, deputy foreign minister, and expert level.
July 10-13 – On July 10, negotiators announced talks would be extended to July 13. Talks continued at the foreign minister, deputy foreign minister, and expert level.
July 14 – Foreign ministers from Iran and the P5+1 announced they had reached a final nuclear agreement.


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



Kerry on Iran’s Role in Iraq

On March 14, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the United States was aware of Iran’s involvement in Iraq. “We know that Iran has been engaged,” Kerry said during his remarks to the press in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt. He also emphasized that the United States has not been directly coordinating with Iran to combat ISIS in Iraq. The following are excerpts of Kerry’s remarks.

With respect to Iraq, we absolutely have known of Iran’s engagement in the northeastern parts of Iraq and, indeed, we’ve had conversations with Prime Minister Abadi about it.  He doesn’t hide it, and we’re not blind to it.  We know that Iran has been engaged.  We know that General Soleimani has been on the ground.  We know that they have an interest.  We understand that.  And we fully understand some of their engagement with some of the militia.  At the same time, they are deeply opposed to Daesh [ISIS].  And while we are not coordinating with Iran – we do not have conversations with Iran about this – we work through the Iraqi Government.  We do so with the knowledge that they are also opposed to Daesh and are working for Daesh’s defeat.  
Now going forward, I would also note that part of this operation in Tikrit also involves significant participation by Sunni tribes and Sunni participants from the region.  And the governor in Salah al-Din province was well aware of what is happening and of this whole-of-government initiative, whole-of-coalition effort, to continue to press the fight against Daesh.  And even while the fighting in Tikrit is taking place, there are several other fights taking place nearby which involve significant Sunni participation, U.S. support, and others.
So what we made clear some months ago when we first announced the coalition, lots of countries will make lots of different kinds of contributions, and every country can make some kind of contribution, and all of us are committed to the defeat of Daesh.  And the sooner that can happen, the better.  
Now the real measure of the Tikrit operation will not be just in the clearing; it will be in how people are treated afterwards.  It will be in whether or not there is a inclusivity or whether there is, in fact, a breakdown into a kind of sectarian division.  So we’ll watch that carefully.  We will work with the Government of Iraq very carefully to do our best to minimize or avoid that.  But we are not surprised at all by the participation such as it has been with respect to the Tikrit operation itself.
Click here for the full transcript

Iran Parliament on Nuke Deal

On March 16, some 260 members of Iran’s parliament released a statement outlining their conditions for a nuclear deal with the world’s six major powers —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The top demand was the “removal of all sanctions at once.” During a press conference, Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani (left) declared support for Iran's negotiating team on behalf of the legislature. He also said a deal could be brokered if the other side “avoids excessive demands.” The following is an excerpted translation of the statement read in parliament as reported by the Iranian Students News Agency with Larijani’s remarks.

While emphasizing the previous statements and decisions of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, especially the one that requires the government to stick to the nuclear achievements of the nation, we, members of this assembly, urge the nuclear negotiators to bravely and wholeheartedly shield the dignity of the Iranian nation – which has a very important position in regional and global equations – against American tricks and acquisitiveness.
The nuclear negotiators are expected to take account of the following as the absolute rights of the nation:
1. Removal of sanctions all at once and termination of Iran’s nuclear case at the UN Security Council should be a precondition for the implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
2. Holding on to the nuclear achievements and fully restoring the nuclear rights of the nation under Article 4 of the NPT is what the Iranians unanimously want.
3. In case the other party fails to live up to any of its commitments, the deal should be scrapped and enrichment should be resumed at any level the country needs.
In light of the expression of concern by the Supreme Leader, confronting the US tricks which come in different shapes and forms undoubtedly requires more vigilance on the part of Iranian negotiators.
*Translation via Iran Front Page
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
“I’m not pessimistic [about the outcome of the talks] and said earlier that an agreement is certainly possible.”

A deal can be brokered if “the other side avoids excessive demands.”
“I’m not pessimistic [about the outcome of the talks] and said earlier that an agreement is certainly possible.”

A deal can be brokered if “the other side avoids excessive demands.”
“Our nuclear issue is different from our relations with the regional states which have their basis in another logic.” 
Iran’s capability will always be “at the service of the regional countries to support them.”
“We are now living without such a comprehensive agreement and if an agreement is not reached, we will go after other solutions.”
"We will supervise the negotiations' dynamism with a supportive approach.”
“[W]e hope that the negotiations will make progress within the same frameworks [as outlined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei].”
“Parliament and the government are following the same path.”
“We are together and there is coordination and consultation between government and the parliament... and all are under the supervision of the leader.”
“What the U.S. Congress did was really amateurish. Even their political experts denounced them because they undermined their own integrity. We are not going to copy their mistake.”
“The possible nuclear agreement would not face any problem in Iran in this regard [referring to the open letter by 47 U.S. lawmakers saying a deal might not last beyond President Obama’s tenure], Tehran does not have problems like those of the U.S.”
—March 16, 2015 in a press conference

Photo credit: Harald Dettenborn [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


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