Time for a timeout

14 March 2007

During the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors’ meeting in March, Iran’s envoy Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh said Iran was “ready to negotiate with interested parties on mechanisms that could guarantee the non-diversion of Iran’s peaceful activities in the future. The Iranian nuclear issue should be dealt with outside the UN Security Council, he said, warning that “any further steps taken by the Security Council, would only complicate situation, is counterproductive for settlement of the issue and put at stake the current efforts and initiatives for resuming the negotiations.”

The same day, senior foreign ministry diplomats from the five permanent Security Council nations (USA, Russia, China, Britain and France) and Germany were trying to resolve the differences over a tightening of sanctions. As before, Russia and China sought to moderate the text while the USA pressed for heavier penalties. US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns, who was involved in previous discussions, said Washington wanted to see export credits in the new resolution.

At the IAEA, which has been effectively emasculated in its ability to deal with Iran by referral of the issue to the UN, director general Mohamed ElBaradei said the agency continued to face “stalemate” over verification of Iran’s nuclear programme and was not in a position to resolve “outstanding issues of concerns.”

He called on Iran “to cooperate fully” with the agency as this “would help a lot in diffusing the emerging crisis about Iran’s programme” He added that to date the IAEA had “not seen any diversion of nuclear materials...nor the capacity to produce weapons usable materials” and stressed that these were “important elements in assessing the situation, assessing the risk, and understanding how to address the Iranian question.” He repeated an earlier call for a ‘timeout’ regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, saying he hoped talks could resume. “That’s the only way in my view to achieve a durable solution to the issue.”

Under pressure from the USA, the IAEA placed some limitations on some of the technical cooperation projects which were proposed by Iran in order to conform to UN sanctions. From a total of over 50, 22 were rejected or listed as requiring consideration on an individual basis. This move was strongly resisted by developing countries but the board adopted it by consensus.

In his speech to the board, Soltaniyeh insisted that the main objective of Iran’s nuclear technology was to produce electricity. The programme envisaged construction of 20,000MWe of nuclear power plants by 2025 and provision of fuel for them “from internal and external resources.” But experience had shown the need for an indigenous fuel cycle policy.

Security of fuel supply is a key issue, sources close to the Iranian negotiators said. “If we were certain of a fuel supply we would consider compromise on enrichment but we have no assurances or guarantees – just bad experiences with France, Germany the USA and the UK,” one source said, adding: “We have no confidence they would supply fuel so we have to have our own facilities.”

The source said Iran was ready to provide whatever assurances were required to convince the international community of the peaceful nature of its fuel production activities. “Anyone can use our facilities at Natanz. We can organise concessions or joint ventures and provide assurances – legally and technically – which would establish confidence in our facilities.”

Iran would welcome cooperation with the West in developing its nuclear power programme, the source added, but instead the country is facing sanctions once again which will only push it further towards indigenous technology.


Report on Iran's fuel cycle activities

The IAEA report on Iran discussed at the board of governors’ meeting detailed Iran’s continued enrichment activity. It says that since November, Iran has continued to operate single machines, as well as the 10-, 24- and 164-machine cascades, at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP), and to feed UF6 intermittently into these machines.

Between November and mid-February, approximately 66kg of UF6 was declared by Iran as having been fed into the process and enriched to levels below 5% U-235. “The environmental sample results thus far indicate a maximum enrichment of 4.2% U-235 in the first 164-machine cascade,” the report says.

It notes that following an evaluation of the physical inventory verification (PIV) of nuclear material at PFEP the IAEA has “concluded that the inventory of nuclear material, as declared by Iran, was consistent with the results of the PIV.”

In January, Iran informed the IAEA of plan to start feeding UF6 into the cascades installed at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) by the end of February 2007, to continue progressively with the installation of the 18 cascades of the 3000-machine hall and to bring them gradually into operation by May.

Iran has refused to allow remote monitoring to be installed at FEP and the IAEA agreed to interim verification arrangements, involving frequent inspector access provided that these arrangements were in place before Iran started feeding UF6 into the cascades.

Iran was informed that these arrangements (which are now in place) would be valid only for as long as the number of machines did not exceed 500, and that, once that number was exceeded, all required safeguards measures would need to be implemented.

The IAEA said it has no information to report regarding the assembly of centrifuges, or the manufacture of centrifuge components or associated equipment but noted that Iran is pre-treating rotors for FEP at PFEP.

On reprocessing activities, the IAEA is monitoring the use of hot cells at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and at the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility, and the construction of hot cells at the Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40) at Arak, through inspections, and analysis of satellite imagery. It said: “There are no indications of ongoing reprocessing activities at those facilities, or at any other declared facilities in Iran.”

Iran has been providing the IAEA with access to declared nuclear material and facilities, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports, the report says. It notes: “The agency is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran” but remains “unable to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.”

As well as enrichment activities, Iran has continued with its heavy water related projects, construction of the IR-40 reactor, and operation of the heavy water production plant.

The report concludes that “given the existence in Iran of activities undeclared to the Agency for 20 years” it is necessary for Iran to fully reconstruct the history of the nuclear programme. Without such cooperation and transparency, “it will not be able to provide assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of that programme.”

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