Iran and the IAEA
- Iran is a charter member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the guide for the global fight against the spread of atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for energy, not a bomb.
- Iran cites the NPT to justify its nuclear work, including uranium enrichment, which can be used to generate electricity or to make a bomb. Article IV guarantees “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”
- Iran claims to honor the NPT obligations for monitoring its atomic program. It has been careful not to break the safeguards agreement that allows U.N. inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify compliance with the NPT.
- But Iran has cut back on voluntary measures—such as inspecting its manufacture of centrifuges, the machines used for enriching uranium—that gave the IAEA more access to Tehran’s nuclear work.
- The IAEA cited Iran for breach of safeguards, saying the Islamic Republic hid parts of its nuclear program and failed to answer questions on possible military work. This led the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to get Iran to provide data and to suspend enrichment to allay fears it seeks nuclear weapons.
- The IAEA is empowered to monitor all sites where there is nuclear material. But it is clashing with Iran over access to sites where nuclear material has not yet been introduced, such as at a reactor being built in Arak that could eventually make plutonium.
- The IAEA is particularly frustrated about Iran blocking access to key Iranian scientists, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who has allegedly led Iran’s atomic weapons work.
- The IAEA monitors Tehran’s compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
- It is also overseeing attempts to supply fuel to a research reactor in Tehran.
- In an attempt to better carry out an increasingly demanding verification agenda, the IAEA may seek to have its mandate expanded from its traditional focus on nuclear material to have the explicit authority to look into weaponization activities.
- February 24, 2004: The IAEA reports that Iran is working to develop a more powerful centrifuge and on separating Polonium-210, which can be used in weapons.
- March 13, 2004: The IAEA board reprimands Iran for hiding possible weapons-related activities.
- March 17, 2004: Testifying before the U.S. Congress, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei says the “jury is still out” on Iran’s nuclear program.
- November 2004: In the Paris Agreement, European negotiators, the IAEA and Iran agree on the terms to suspend uranium enrichment.
- August 8, 2005: The IAEA reportsthat Iran had ended suspension and begun work to convert uranium into fuel for enrichment.
- September 2, 2005: The IAEA reportsthat there are still unresolved issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program and says that full Iranian cooperation is “overdue.”
- September 24, 2005: The IAEA board votes 22-1, with 12 abstentions, to find Iran in “non-compliance” with the NPT’s Safeguards Agreement. This clears the way to report Iran to the Security Council for action.
- February 4, 2006: After failing to win Iran’s cooperation, the IAEA board votes 27-3, with five abstentions, to refer Iran to the Security Council, pending one more report from ElBaradei
February 27, 2006: ElBaradei reportsthat the IAEA is still uncertain about both the scope and nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The report is sent to the Security Council.
- The IAEA was founded in 1957 as a direct result of the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” initiative to spread peaceful nuclear technology and stop the proliferation of atomic weapons. It has 151 member states.
- Iran had no centrifuges turning in 2003, when the IAEA investigation began. As of August 2010, it had 3,772 centrifuges enriching uranium and 5,084 more installed but not yet enriching, according to an IAEA report.
- Iran has cut down on cooperation with the IAEA. Since March 2007, Tehran has not implemented a Safeguards Subsidiary Agreement to give the IAEA notice as soon as it starts building a new nuclear facility.
- Since August 2008, Iran has “declined to discuss outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions of its nuclear program,” according to an IAEA Safeguards Review.
- Iran is likely to continue expanding its enrichment capabilities, even as it seeks diplomatic initiatives on its own terms, such as the Turkey and Brazil proposal on a fuel exchange deal.
- Tehran wants to maintain at least minimal cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, since kicking out all inspectors could lead to a harsher international response, including more severe sanctions and even military strikes.
- But the Islamic Republic is also likely to continue to insist its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful nuclear energy, even if other secret sites or work are uncovered.
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