July 7, 2004 | Memo

Update: Iran’s Nuclear Program

David Silverstein                                                                                                                                                                                              July 7, 2004

Essential Facts

  • Iran has failed to abide by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its Additional Protocol – intended to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation by mandating full cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and regulations.
  • Iran is a 1970 signatory of the NPT. It signed the Additional Protocol more than six months ago but refuses to provide the parliamentary ratification necessary to put it in force.
  • On June 18, 2004, the IAEA harshly criticized Iran for failing to fully cooperate with the inspectors tasked to ensure it maintains only peaceful nuclear power and research programs.
  • Iran sent England, France and Germany a diplomatic note on June 24, 2004 declaring it would continue making centrifuges designed to enrich uranium, the key component in nuclear bombs.
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recently declared that Iran should be considered a member of the “nuclear club.”



  • Iran‘s nuclear weapons ambitions began to take concrete form following the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is known to have received assistance from China, Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine. Russia is leading the construction of Iran’s 1,000 Megawatt, light water, nuclear power plant at Bushehr scheduled to go on line in 2005.
  • Since the 1990s, Iran has bought, stolen or manufactured uranium enrichment chemicals and technologies like centrifuges to support its nuclear programs. It built a uranium mine to ensure a source of raw materials. Most of these programs came to light only in 2002.
  • A series of IAEA reports beginning in 2003 have condemned Iran for its violations of the NPT and apparent quest for nuclear bombs.


The Current Situation

  • The IAEA released a report on February 24, 2004, stating that Iran had produced polonium, an element used to ensure proper detonation of a bomb. Iranian officials claimed the polonium was for civilian power generation.
  • In March 2004, it was reported that IAEA inspectors had detected the type of highly enriched Uranium-235 used in bombs. Uranium-235 used for fuel is typically enriched to a 5 per cent concentration. The IAEA found samples of U-235 at a 90 per cent concentration level.
  • The IAEA also states that Iran failed to declare ownership of designs for an advanced “P2” centrifuge, did not properly account for missing nuclear materials, and could not explain why both low-enriched and highly-enriched uranium were discovered by inspectors when it had declared that it has not enriched uranium to more than 1.2%.
  • The Iranian nuclear program has a clear military component. It was reported on February 19, 2004, that U.N. inspectors had discovered high-tech uranium enrichment equipment on an Iranian air force base outside Tehran. They also found a gas centrifuge system of the kind used to process uranium for nuclear fuel or warheads.  It was later disclosed that most of the workshops involved in the domestic production of centrifuge components are owned by Iranian military industrial organizations.
  • The IAEA issued a resolution on June 18th deploring the fact that “Iran’s cooperation has not been as full, timely and proactive as it should have been.” The resolution also mentions that Iran postponed “visits of Agency centrifuge experts to a number of locations involved in Iran’s P-2 centrifuge enrichment program” which effectively prevented the IAEA from doing its job.


Analysis – Is Iran close to obtaining nuclear weapons?

  • Iran has been forced to engage in cooperation after a fashion with the IAEA since undeclared nuclear facilities were first exposed in 2002. That cooperation, however, has been marked by persistent obfuscation, delay, lies and attempts at diplomatic blackmail.
  • Iran delayed signing the Additional Protocol for several months. Although signed, it may never be ratified; the chairman of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, said on June 19, 2004 that the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, may not ratify the Additional Protocol owing to the IAEA’s “continuation of its negative stance in ongoing inspections into Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
  • The revelation of a military link to the Iranian nuclear program all but confirms the suspicion that Iran sseks a nuclear weapons option.
  • The clerical regime has been emboldened by the growing problems facing the U.S. in Iraq – and is believed to be contributing to those problems, for example by dispatching agents to Iraq and through an anti-American disinformation campaign. Initially threatened by the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the clerics now seem to believe that the U.S. is too bogged down to take action against them or to aggressively support Iraqi pro-democracy activists. As a result, they undermined the legitimacy of the February 2004 Majlis elections by disqualifying some 2,400 candidates who offered genuine alternative to the hardliners.  The new Majlis is packed with supporters of the theocratic regime. Similar electoral manipulation is likely in the 2005 presidential elections.
  • Iran has exploited the British, French and German diplomatic initiative of 2003 that sought to give the ruling mullahs a way of complying with its IAEA obligations without being seen to back down in the face of U.S. pressure. Instead, Iran has used the initiative to buy time in which to push ahead with its nuclear program.
  • Iranian non-compliance is becoming increasingly obvious. The IAEA, which is trying to avoid publicly accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, will lose credibility if it does not refer Iran to the UN Security Council. Even if it does, it is less than certain that the Security Council will take any meaningful action.
  • Iran is believed to be within a couple of years of having viable nuclear weapons. If the IAEA does not declare Iran to be on the path to producing nuclear weapons, Tehran may do so on its own. Like North Korea, Iran may choose to go public, withdraw from the NPT, and then continue with its programs free from further inspections.


Analysis – Would Iran use nuclear weapons?

  • For many years, the mullahs and their fellow travelers have condemned the U.S. and Israel in harsh terms and hinted broadly that they might use nuclear weapons. In December 2001, former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani addressed thousands of people at a Tehran mosque and stated: “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while (the same) against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”[1]
  • Two years ago, following President Bush’s statement that Iran was part of the “axis of evil,” Rafsanjani stated: “The Islamic Republic must get ready for confrontation against the enemy’s attack by answering its offensive right in its heartland.” He also led chants of “Death to America! Death to George Bush!” as thousands of followers burned effigies of the U.S. President and Uncle Sam.[2]
  • Last December, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned Tehran would use all means at its disposal including medium-range Shahab-3 missiles if Israel struck its nuclear facilities. “We will use all strike weapons at our disposal and the Shahab-3 missile is one of those,” Shamkhani told reporters.[3]

[1] “Former Iran president says Mideast nuclear conflict possible,” AFP, December 14, 2001

[2] Jan Cienski, “Iran denounces U.S. for siding with reformists: ‘Arrogant America’: Tens of thousands take to streets after Bush statement,” National Post (Canada), July 20, 2002