Iran feels the heat

14 October 2005

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution adopted 24 September effectively set up Iran for referral to the UN Security Council and possible sanctions. The resolution, sponsored by the USA and Europe, technically accused Iran of non-compliance with its safeguards agreements.

However, the resolution was not adopted by consensus as is usual. Of the 35 board members, 22 voted in favour, one against (Venezuela) and 12 abstained. The surprise vote in favour from India, observers said, reflected its new relationship with the USA. The key part of the resolution said the board found that “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement … constitute non-compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the agency’s statute.”

However, it was not entirely clear how a case for non-compliance could be properly made, as none of the IAEA director general’s detailed reports to the board since 2003 have ever suggested it. In fact, the latest report, issued in early September, noted that a number of key issues had been resolved. These included the issue of HEU contamination found on some of Iran’s imported centrifuges, which had played a major part in earlier discussions, with accusations that it suggested attempts to produce weapons grade material. But the latest report said the results of sampling tend to support Iran’s insistence that the equipment was already contaminated with HEU when it was imported.

The prime factor that had angered the Europeans most was Iran’s decision to restart the uranium conversion facility (UCF) in Isfahan (see NEI September 2005, p2). Nevertheless, this is not non-compliance, since suspension was voluntary and not legally binding.


Damage limitation

Subsequently, IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei tried to file down the teeth of the resolution. “I think the overall focus of the resolution, that calls on Iran to accelerate its cooperation in resolving the outstanding issues, accelerate the measures they can take to build confidence,” he told a press conference. “I look forward, very much, to continue to cooperate with Iran in resolving the issues,” he said, adding: “I hope that everybody will make every effort go back to the negotiating table. I’ve always said that this is the only way to proceed further, to build confidence.”

ElBaradei was also concerned at the lack of consensus. “I ask every member of the agency to make every effort, again, to go to work as a united board, as a united international community. I think in facing the increasing challenges in the area of non-proliferation we can simply ill afford to be divided.”

The response of Iran’s Majlis (parliament) on 28 September was to approve a motion with single urgency laying out a plan for the government to suspend implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Additional Protocol. The motion, passed with 162 MPs in favour, 42 against and 15 abstentions, binds the government to suspend its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol until Tehran succeeds in obtaining recognition of its right to complete the nuclear fuel cycle. It also stresses Iran’s efforts “over the past two years to ensure transparency and build confidence in the international community on the peaceful objectives of its nuclear activities.”

Following this, many parties embarked upon intense damage limitation exercises. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani tried to play down Iranian threats to drop all international nuclear commitments, saying that all depended on “future developments.” Larijani continued: “Our stance is very clear: We want our own nuclear cycle, respect the IAEA framework and acknowledge the NPT.”

Russia, which had abstained in the voting, supported the demands of the IAEA board of governors but did not agree with the ambiguous interpretation contained in the resolution of what is going on in Iran, or with the approach taken towards dealing with the conflict. “That is why we said neither yes nor no,” said Rosatom head Alexander Rumyantsev. He said he hoped that the time until the next meeting of the board of governors in November would be used to get closer to what Moscow considers the solution of the problem – credible guarantees that the Iranian nuclear programme will develop peacefully and guarantees for Iran that it will be able to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme.

Rumyantsev stressed that Iran has the right to enrich uranium and that therefore it is only possible to “advise and recommend” that it should adhere to the moratorium which also includes the uranium conversion restarted in August. “We will recommend to Iran that it should continue the dialogue with the EU3 and the IAEA,” he said.


Restarting talks

On 11 October, the Iranian Foreign Ministry confirmed Tehran’s readiness to continue talks with the EU3. Foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki put in a phone call to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who the next day called for “speedy resumption of the negotiation process between Iran and the EU3 on Iran’s nuclear programme.”

On 13 October, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution acknowledging Iran’s “right to develop a nuclear programme according to Article IV of the NPT.” It urged Iran to use the time before the IAEA board of governors meeting in November to restart talks with the EU3 “in good faith free of duress and devoid of threats, and reaffirmed that “no military options should be taken into consideration in order to reach a solution to the present crisis.” It stressed the importance of Iran’s cooperation with the USA, Russia, China and the non-aligned countries to achieve a comprehensive agreement on its nuclear facilities and their use.

The EP also supports the IAEA resolution, and urged Iran to re-establish full and sustained suspension of all aspects of its uranium enrichment activities including tests or production at the UCF and to permit the IAEA director general to reinstate the seals that have been removed at that facility.

The IAEA board that meets at the end of November to consider Iran’s case yet again will not be the same as the board that passed the latest resolution. Its 35 members are elected from the 137 IAEA member states every year at the IAEA General Conference. The new board elected during the September conference has 10 new members (Belarus, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Libya, Norway, Slovenia and Syria). Iran believes that, overall, these countries will be more sympathetic towards its case than those who were dropped (Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Tunisia and Vietnam). It remains to be seen whether this newly constituted body will be able to decide on Iran by consensus or will once again be forced to a vote.


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