December 22, 2003 | Memo

Iran’s Nuclear Program

David Silverstein                              
December 22, 2003

Iran’s Nuclear Program


·         In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a resolution and report on Iran’s nuclear program, confirming suspicions of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

·         These documents take Iran to task for systematically lying to the IAEA, but they also give the clerical regime cover – that is, they praise Iran for saying it will comply with IAEA demands before verifying that Iran is actually complying.

·         The European Union (EU) has told Iran that if it will give up its nuclear secrecy, talks will restart on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

·         President Bush has said he will not tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons. That, coupled with the US action in Iraq, may be concentrating some minds in Tehran and the EU.

·         On December 18, 2003 Iran signed the Additional Protocol [1] to the NPT. The Protocol mandates intrusive inspections, full compliance with the IAEA and surrender of nuclear weapons related know-how, materials and facilities.

·         Given Iran’s long history of nuclear deception, it remains to be seen whether Iran will abide by this agreement, or whether the regime will continue to development nuclear weapons secretly.

What the Report and Resolution Say

The language used by the IAEA to describe Iran’s failure to observe the NPT is stark:

Ø       “Iran’s nuclear programme…consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Ø       “The recent disclosures by Iran about its nuclear programme clearly show that…Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities…. Iran’s policy of concealment continued until last month, with co-operation being limited and reactive, and information being slow in coming, changing and contradictory. [The] number of failures by Iran to report in a timely manner the material, facilities and activities in question as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement has given rise to serious concerns.”[2]

Unwilling to remain dependent on a few outside sources (especially China, Russia and Pakistan) for technology and materials, Iran invested in a complete “A-Z” effort intended to secure independence of research and a measure of secrecy. As a 1970 signatory of the NPT, Iran is permitted the peaceful use of nuclear technology but is prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons-related technology, and is required to report all nuclear related activities to the IAEA. For Iran’s failures, the IAEA resolution states:

Ø       “[The Agency] strongly deplores Iran’s past failures and breaches of its obligation to comply with the provisions of its Safeguards Agreement, as reported by the Director General; and urges Iran to adhere strictly to its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement in both letter and spirit.”[3]

Although widely reported as a “censure,” this statement has no teeth – it is not supported by any threat of referral to the UN Security Council and potential sanctions. The IAEA’s criticism is also undercut by language in both documents that praises Iran for saying that it is willing to cooperate with the IAEA, submit to full inspections and halt the critical uranium enrichment and plutonium separation experiments that would serve as the basis for nuclear weapons production – in fact, Iran has yet to verifiably do any of that.

What do the U.S. and the EU say?

Ø       The US regards Iran with suspicion due to the mullahs’ longstanding support for terrorism and their nuclear weapons ambitions. President Bush included Iran in the “axis of evil,” alleging, accurately as it turned out, that Iran was failing to comply with its international obligations. The US remains resolute in its opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Undersecretary of State John Bolton remains skeptical of Iran’s willingness to comply with IAEA inspections, has said the possibility that Iran has no nuclear weapons program is “impossible to believe” and hopes to prevent Iran from obtaining sensitive nuclear technology. [4]

Ø      The EU, Iran’s largest trading partner, has been holding out the possibility of economic cooperation, much needed by Iran, if it complies with the IAEA. The EU appears to be willing to allow Iran to complete construction of a 1000 Megawatt nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, provided that the spent fuel rods are reprocessed in France or Germany and not Russia.

Where are we now?

Ø       Iran first pledged to sign the Additional Protocol to the NPT allowing for full inspections and transparency of its program during a visit by three European foreign ministers on October 21, 2003. On December 18, 2003 Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi, did sign the agreement. It still must be approved by the Iranian parliament and the mullah-dominated Council of Guardians. Despite that, and despite a temporary, voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment, Iran has said that it fully intends to restart the enrichment program to produce nuclear fuel. [5]

Ø      The EU carrot and American stick have forced Iran to the point where it has agreed to comply with the IAEA and reveal its violations of its nuclear obligations. Iran has yet to back up these words with actions. Until and unless Iran permanently — and verifiably — halts the enrichment of uranium and allows the resumption of intrusive inspections, the problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions remains unresolved.


[1] Also known as “93+2“.

[2] “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” IAEA, November 10, 2003

[3] “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” IAEA, November 26, 2003

[4] Barry Schweid, “Bolton says U.S. intends to prevent nuclear technology from reaching Iran,” Associated Press, December 2, 2003, also: Barry Schweid, “Bolton Discredits Iran Weapons Report,” Associated Press, November 12, 2003, and Jed Babbin, “A Fuse Burning Short,” The American Spectator, November 17, 2003.

[5] Ali Akbar Dareini, “Iran Says It Will Sign Nuclear Protocol,” Associated Press, December 7, 2003.