(October 1, 2004) The continuing debate over Iran's alleged ambitions to produce nuclear weapons is threatening to extend well beyond the IAEA's recently imposed deadline of 25 November when the board of governors will again meet to review the Iranian nuclear program, and by which time Iran is meant to have ceased all its uranium enrichment activities and ratified the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
(616.5641) WISE Amsterdam - In February 2003, Iran announced to the world that it had discovered uranium reserves within the country and was exploiting them. By October 2003, Iran was forced to admit that it had carried out some clandestine experiments, enriching uranium and separating plutonium, without informing IAEA, which as a party to the NPT it is required to do before carrying out such experiments. Instead of being reported to the UN Security Council as the U.S. had hoped, Iran was instead issued a stern warning by IAEA and put under probation. (See also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 602.5573: "Proliferation: focus on enrichment issues")
The IAEA resolution issued on 18 September appears to have already been breached by a defiant Iran which declared that it had recently began to convert large amounts of uranium oxide (or yellowcake) into uranium hexaflouride gas (or UF6), the feedstock for uranium enrichment. (1) (2)
This latest news has caused frustration and annoyance amongst diplomats that have been working to find a solution to this standoff over the past year. Iranian President Khatami's insistence that nuclear weapons are against Islamic religion and culture and is opposed to nuclear weapons has done little to ease concerns.
Iran has made no secret of its wish to have 7000 MW of nuclear power online by 2020 and, in order to achieve those aims, will need to build at least six more nuclear power plants, in addition to the Bushehr plant currently being completed by Russia. The contract was initially estimated to be worth around US$800 million to Russia but escalating costs mean the project is now expected to reach US$1 billion.
In yet another twist, Tehran re-issued an open invitation, first issued in May 2003, to the world to invest and participate in nuclear power plant construction in Iran. Mohammad Hossein Mousavian, secretary of the political department of Iran's Supreme Council on National Security (SCNS) declared on 23 September that the invitation was particularly open to France and Germany but that the UK and U.S. would also be welcome if they were interested in investing in Iran. It would also include a "golden package" that would include full cooperation with the fight against international terrorism, the restoration of peace and security to the Middle East region as well as trade and investment. (3)
An unnamed Iranian analyst reportedly told Asia Times Online that Iran was unhappy with Russian nuclear technology, considering it aged and dangerous, which explains the recent overtures to Western countries. If, however, the West fails to respond, it is expected that Russia will further consolidate its position since Tehran has no intention of scaling back its ambitious plans.
That all of Washington's dreams would come true if Iran were to be referred to the UN Security Council is already well known and illustrated. Current large-scale global military actions by the U.S. suggest that its armed forces are well stretched and it is not expected to undertake any sustained military action against Iran in the near future, therefore the U.S. has been pushing hard and lobbying to have Iran brought before the UN Security Council and for financial sanctions to be imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Key to the attempts of the U.S. is the European Union's so-called Big Three, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Although the U.S. has spent the past year strongly condemning Iran for its alleged illicit nuclear weapons program, it had been unable to garner support from three European countries, which have favored a more diplomatic solution. The EU-3 strongly advocated constructive engagement and had, in October 2003, entered into an agreement with Tehran that should have seen it suspend enrichment activities in return for the promise of technological assistance for its civilian nuclear power programs. (See also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 602.5573: "Proliferation: focus on enrichment issues") The terms of the agreement were not publicized but it was assumed to be a similar deal to that which the U.S. made with North Korea to assist it with a civilian nuclear power program and in return for Pyongyang remaining within the NPT and allowing international inspectors access to nuclear facilities amongst other things. Unfortunately Iran did not adhere to its part of the bargain and having 'voluntarily' suspended the activities for a short while, resumed them again, much to the despair of the Europeans. Iran accused the European trio of reneging on the deal when the much-desired technology was not as forthcoming as it had envisaged.
Despite continued efforts, no further agreement has yet been reached between the countries, commercial considerations and attempts at reaching an amicable resolution, the UK is reportedly losing patience with Tehran and is said to be on the verge of siding with Washington. (AFP, 28 September 2004) And although German nuclear supply companies would benefit greatly from renewed acquaintance with Iran, the German government is said to be wary of involvement because it believes such a deal could lose it power. (4)
Iran is currently the EU's third largest trading partner in the Middle East with annual exports to Iran from the EU at some 12 billion Euro (US$ 14.7 billion). (5)
France and Germany share some history with Iran's nuclear program. Although it was the U.S. that first introduced Iran to nuclear power when it supplied Tehran with a 5 MW research reactor in 1967, it was West German Kraftwerk Union AG (KWU), a Siemens subsidiary, that won the first contract to build two 1200 MW reactors in 1974. At the same time, France was also to supply reactors but the deal turned sour only to be later revived in 1977 when Framatome was contracted to build two 900 MW reactors. (See also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 602, "25 years ago") In 1975, the Shah even extended a loan of US$1 billion to France in order to secure a supply of enriched uranium for the planned nuclear program. Iran in return received a 10% share in French EURODIF and the Triscastin enrichment plant in France. Despite decades of disputes and legal wrangling (because Iran never received the promised reactors), Iran still retains these shares. (6)
The revolution in 1979 put and end to the West German at Bushehr, leaving one unit 80% compete and the other 50%. Iran's attempts to persuade the Germans to resume work on the reactors after the Bushehr site had been devastated by Iraqi air strikes during the Iran-Iraq war was thwarted by U.S. pressure and ended in another legal dispute.
Both Siemens and Framatome have unresolved business with Iran. The two companies have been promoting their joint project, the European Pressurized water Reactor (EPR), around the world and one could speculate that Iran might be interested in buying…
Regional power struggles
The suspicion and open hatred that Iran and Israel have shown towards each other over the years is again gaining impetus as this current crisis ensues. Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that Israel is to buy 500 bunker buster bombs from the U.S., at the cost of some US$139 million, speculating that they could be used in a preemptive attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. (Ha'aretz source) Israel has long expressed concerns about Iran's supposed nuclear weapons program and has claimed that Iran could have a nuclear warhead by 2007.
Iran on the other hand has never been shy about expressing its feelings towards Tel Aviv. During a recent military parade, ballistic missiles were draped in banners vowing to "crush America" and "wipe Israel off the map". Several government officials have also been quoted as saying that should Israel choose to attach Bushehr then Dimona, Israel's own nuclear facility, would be destroyed in response.
To further stoke the flames, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani told state television that the army had taken delivery of new "strategic missiles" which had been successfully tested but declined to name them. Some observers have suggested that he could have been referring to the Shahab-3 medium-range missiles said to be based on a North Korean design and thought capable of carrying a one-ton warhead at least 1,300 kilometers, well within range of Israel and US bases in the region. (7)
That Israel should wish to destroy Bushehr is not surprising but many doubt whether it would actually act on this. Given that Israel is the only country in the region known to possess nuclear weapons, it has assumed the position of most powerful state. Should U.S. suspicions (that Iran is developing nuclear weapons) prove correct, Israel would find itself having to share this role or perhaps even being overtaken in the power stakes. (8)
During a weeklong general IAEA conference in Vienna last week, Egypt presented a second draft resolution calling for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. Arab countries are known to traditionally favor the annual event as a vehicle to vent frustrations the double standards in the treatment of Iran and Israel. The resolution clearly refers to Israel as it "affirms the urgent need for all states in the Middle East to forthwith accept the application of full scope agency safeguards to all their nuclear activities". (9)
Although no one can be certain of Tehran's true plans, some of its leading politicians have made statements regarding a possible withdrawal from the NPT, although Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied this was an option being considered when questioned recently. Iran's official news agency IRNA reported, on 29 September, that hard-line lawmakers could force the Khatami government to withdraw from the treaty. Conservative parliamentarian Hassan Kamran, a member of the Iranian Parliament's Foreign Affairs and National Security Commission, has reportedly prepared a bill for submission to parliament that would force the government to set a tit-for-tat November deadline for the IAEA to remove Iran from its agenda. Although this smells of political posturing, the bill could be submitted with the backing of just 15 out of 290 lawmakers. (10)
- AFP, 28 September 2004
- www.atimes.com, 23 September 2004
- www.atimes.com, 23 September 2004
- Nucleonics Week, 23 September 2004
- Minnesota Public Radio, 20 September 2004
- The Nuclear Fix; a guide to nuclear activities in the Third World, WISE 1982
- AFP, 27 September 2004
- www.atimes.com, 29 September 2004
- AFP, 23 September 2004
- Reuters, 29 September 2004
Contact: WISE Amsterdam
IRANIAN SOIL SAMPLES CLEAN
UN inspectors have given soil samples taken from Lavizan, a Tehran site that U.S. officials claimed was linked to Iran's supposed atomic weapons program, a clean bill of health following analysis. No traces of nuclear material were found and Western diplomats say this indicates an absence of nuclear activity.
Satellite photographs of Lavizan taken between August 2003 and May 2004 showed that the site had been completely razed. The U.S. accused Iran of removing substantial amounts of topsoil and rubble and replacing it with a new layer of soil to avoid detection. Diplomatic sources close to IAEA however told Reuters that on-site inspections yielded no evidence that any soil had been removed at all.
Reuters, 28 September 2004
COALITION CRITICIZES NUCLEAR WEAPONS STATES
Foreign ministers from Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden have, in a commentary published in the International Herald Tribune, condemned the world's nuclear powers for failing to honor international disarmament and nonproliferation agreements.
The coalition urged all parties to the NPT to comply with their commitments, called for the treaty to be made "universal" and for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to come into force with restraints imposed on India, Pakistan and Israel. The group also criticized the U.S. and Russia for storing nuclear warheads instead of destroying them, the U.S. for withdrawing support for the CTBT and China for failing to ratify it. They also expressed concern that some countries "entertain the notion that nuclear weapons may be used preemptively against non-nuclear weapons states".
AFP, 22 September 2004
IAEA AND BRAZIL
Last December, Brazil declared that it was to start enriching uranium with the aim of exporting it in the future. (See also WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 601, "In brief") It also voiced its reluctance to allow international inspectors access to the nuclear facility that would produce the enriched uranium claiming that it feared that technological secrets could be revealed. Since then, Brazil has been in negotiations with the IAEA over how to resolve the dispute. AFP has reported that both parties are close to securing an agreement that would allow inspectors access to some parts of the uranium enrichment facility while safeguarding the country's technological and commercial secrets.
Brazil is not thought to be seeking to nuclear weapons, it is a signatory of the NPT, and the U.S. government has been quick to express its confidence in this.
AFP and AP, 29 September 2004