Iranian crisis on horizon

20 September 2004

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed ElBaradei told his board of governors on 13 September that Iran has continued to act as though its additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty were in force, granting satisfactory access to facilities and information. But despite a certain level of cooperation, a resolution was adopted by the board on 18 September calling yet again for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

ElBaradei said that Iran’s laser enrichment and uranium conversion activities were now well enough understood by the agency for any further follow-up to be carried out as part of routine safeguards operations.

ElBaradei officially revealed in his statement that an explanation has now come to light for the presence of high enriched uranium (HEU) on centrifuge components found at the Kalaye Electric Company in Natanz. He said: “It appears plausible that this HEU contamination may not have resulted from enrichment of uranium by Iran at these locations.” Some of the contaminated equipment had come from Pakistan, other components had travelled through Pakistan, China and Russia before entering Iran. The agency continues to investigate statements made by Iran and Libya on the ‘black market’ that enabled the countries to obtain centrifuge parts and designs.

Many IAEA requirements, however, remain unmet and these were summarised in a resolution the IAEA board of governors adopted on 18 September. The most pressing is the call for all enrichment activity to cease as a confidence-building measure. Iran previously halted enrichment following an agreement with the governments of France, Germany and the UK but that agreement ultimately failed. The resolution describes Iran’s implementation of the suspension as falling “significantly short of the agency’s understanding of the scope of those commitments” and again stresses the ‘necessity’ of such agreements to promote confidence.

In addition, the resolution conveys that Iranian plans to convert 37t of yellowcake would be a clear defiance of requests made in previous resolutions.

ElBaradei is set to report on the agency’s total findings since September 2002 as well as the Iranian response to this resolution in time for the next board of governors meeting on 25 November this year.

The date is viewed by many as a deadline for Iran to fall into line with the international community or face a potentially dramatic escalation of pressure. Jackie Sanders, chief US delegate, said that the resolution “sends an unmistakeable signal to Iran that continuing its nuclear weapons programme will bring it inevitably before the Security Council.”

Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s chief delegate, has reportedly welcomed the IAEA decision to make a final conclusion at the November meeting. But Hassan Rohani, the Iranian chief negotiator, has said: “Iran will not accept any obligation regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment” and Iran’s president Mohammad Khatami declared: “We have made our choice. Yes to peaceful nuclear technology, no to atomic weapons.”

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