Iran's Dilemma

Iranian officials now seem to know, but refuse to accept, that they now have to deal with the demands of the UN Security Council over and above — and separately from — any other consideration. Like it or not, this is their obligation as a UN member state.

This new situation was discussed at a public meeting in Geneva last week, which featured one of Iran’s nuclear intellectuals, and Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian.

In the photo below, Mousavian is second from left, participating in an panel discussion on 21 March at the Geneva Center for Security Policy:

Mousavian - second from left -- participating in panel discussion in Geneva on 21 March 2007

The world’s problem with Iran’s nuclear program, said Dr. Patricia Lewis of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) at a discussion in a Geneva think tank this week, “could be likened to a wife discovering that her husband had been less than honest with her about his time and activities, and that he has perhaps indeed been out with a number of different women. “It could all be perfectly innocent” Dr. Lewis said, But, believe me, Ambassador, it would take more than chocolates and flowers to make up to a wife who is feeling that way”.

Dr. Lewis was addressing Dr. Mousavian, who was also Iran’s former Ambassador to Germany and to the IAEA. He was in Geneva on 21 March, the first day of spring, which marks the beginning of Iran’s long Now Rooz (New Year) holidays, apparently specially only to address the audience assembled at the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP).

In his public statement, Dr. Mousavian said that “Iran’s nuclear issue is unduly blown out of proportion and falsely presented as a proliferation challenge. The United States has tried hard to portray Iran’s case as an international security crisis, and because of the power it wields at the international level, Chapter VII label, that is: threat to international peace and security, was placed on Iran’s case in the Security Council”.

Instead, he said, “Iran’s nuclear issue is one that needs to be resolved through persuasion, cooperation and engagement”.

Mousavian, Deputy President for International Studies at Tehran’s Center for Strategic Research, was Iran’s chief nuclear spokesman, and worked closely with Hassan Rowhani, during the administration of the “reformist” President Mohammad Khatami, who preceeded the present President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Dr. Mousavian may not be officially affiliated with Iran’s nuclear dossier at the moment, but he maintains contacts with international think tanks and foreign policy and strategic experts from U.S., Europe, and Iran –and is reportedly still actively involved in nuclear discussions within Iran.

He said in the GCSP discussion that “When and if 5+1 gain Iran’ confidence, and negotiation would proceed in a mutually agreed direction, Iran should technically be able to demonstrate that it is under no time pressure to begin its commercial-scale enrichment for fabrication of nuclear fuel”.

In a later interview, he explained that “This for example can be an idea: If the negotiation can start with good faith in recognizing Iranian rights, and assuring Iran, then Iran can also show the signal of tolerance for time in order to reach commercial production, because Iran has enough time, and we can discuss with the partners, 5+1, to reach industrial scale in a phased approach”.

In March 2005, Iran apparently suggested to European negotiators that it might be willing to limit its number of cascaded centrifuges to 3000. But, in Geneva last week, Dr. Mousavian signalled, however, that Iran now intends to go ahead to reach industrial-scale production of (lightly) enriched uranium used to operate civilian nuclear power plants.

Once mastered, the same process could simply be extended to produce the highly-enriched uranium used in the production of nuclear weapons, which is apparently the cause of much international concern.

Iran’s uranium enrichment program is operating now only at a pilot scale, Dr. Mousavian said.

Asked about the doubts many have concerning the possibility of a future weapons program, Mousavian replied that “Iranians are only concerned about their rights, discrimination against Iran, and attempts to deprive Iran from their legitimate right. This is the basis for Iranian behavior”.

Iran’s right, as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to the full nuclear fuel cycle must be recognized, Dr. Mousavian said. It should not be a question of who takes the first step, he added. “Iran should take one step, 5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) at the same time simultaneously should take one step: 5+1 should recognize the right of Iran for fuel cycle in the framework of NPT, the exercise of the right with no discrimination, compared to any other NPT member — this is the step from 5+1. And Iranian side I believe should be cooperative with the IAEA, for transparency, for confidence-building measures, in the framework of international rules and regulations — (but) not beyond. Therefore the two parties should take two steps simultaneously and together”.

So far, he acknowledged, this proposal is not yet on the table.

During the meeting at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, Dr. Mousavian got an earful of reproaches about Iran’s position, along with some suggestions intended to be helpful.

Dr. Lewis said that Iran’s case highlighted some of the most difficult issues that must now be dealt with under the NPT: “the issue of intent, and the issue of peaceful purposes, and how do we ascertain purpose, and intent, in the international system”, she said.

“This has really been the crux of the matter vis-à-vis Iran. It was indeed the crux of the matter vis-a-vis Iraq. And, indeed, because of the lack of faith in the intent and purposes that were discovered as a result of what happened in ’91 — the discovery of a very near-nuclear-weapons fulfillment in that time — that led us up to war in 2003. And, make no mistake, we’re not at that stage now, perhaps, but we’re certainly at a very dangerous stage in this negotiation, and this discussion”, Dr. Lewis told the audience.

“One of the big problems is that, over a long period of time, Iran wasn’t completely honest with the IAEA”, Dr. Lewis added. “I’ll give you some examples:
According to the IAEA, Iran failed to declare, for example, that it had purchased natural uranium — 1,000 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (UFX6), 400 kilograms of UF4, and 400 kilograms of uranium oxide (UO2), from China in 1991, and also that it was subsequently transferred for further processing. Iran didn’t declare those until February 2003. Iran also did not inform the IAEA of the use of the imported uranium in tests of its uranium conversion processes and associated production loss of nuclear material — again, acknowledged in February 2003. Again Iran failed to report that it had used some of that imported uranium fluoride to test centrifuges in the late 90s and early 2000s. And, in October 2003, Iran first admitted to introducing uranium hexafluroride into a centrifuge in 1999, and also into 19 such centrifuges in 2002, and failed to disclose the associated production of enriched and depleted uranium. Iran also did not declare to the Agency the existence of a pilot enrichment facility, and laser enrichment plants. Experiments at these sites included the use of sensitive nuclear material, and therefore Iran was obligated to report them to the IAEA, and did not do so. It also failed to report that it imported 50 kilograms of natural uranium metal, and it actually used some of this for use in laser isotope separation. These activities were acknowledged later in 2003. And, in terms of plutonium, Iran did not report to the IAEA that it had produced uranium dioxide targets, and irradiated them, and then separated the plutonium from the irradiated targets. It failed to report the production and transfer of waste associated with these activities, and that it had stored and processed irradiated targets. It however did admit this in later meetings with the IAEA, and that it had conducted the separation experiments”.

Dr. Lewis said that “None of these things, in their own right, mean that Iran is developing nuclear weapons — let’s be clear about that. There is no smoking gun. There is no absolute evidence that Iran is on a path to have nuclear weapons. The problem with this is that Iran is now in a trust-deficit, if you like”.

Dr. Mousavian replied that Iran had only signed an Additional Protocol, allowing more and more intrusive NPT inspections, in December 2003 – and was therefore not obliged to report these activities prior to that date.

In his prepared remarks, he had said that “Iran’s previous decision as to when and what nuclear activities to report have some political and legal dimensions, which can usefully be explored in due course, and in the context of both political history of Iran after the Islamic revolution, and its legal obligation under the IAEA status and Iran’s safeguards agreement”.

It is particularly galling to Iran that revelations about its nuclear program were revealed by the Mujahedeen-e Khalq in 2002.

In his statement to the UN Security Council in New York on Saturday after the unanimous vote to tighten sanctions first imposed on Iran last December, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reproached the Council for its position during the Iran-Iraq war: “When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the Iranian FM said, this Security Council waited seven days to intervene, allowing Iraq to occupy 30,000 square kilometers of Iranian territories — and then asked only for a cessation of hostilities, but not for a withdrawal”. During that war, the Iranian Foreign Minister told the Security Council Saturday, the US, Germany, France and others on the Security Council supplied Saddam Hussein with military assistance, including materials that helped the development of chemical and biological weapons.

The Iranian Foreign Minister also told the Security Council on Saturday that “Iran has been saying time and time again, Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful”.

Another participant in last week’s conference in Geneva was Dr. Bruno Pellaud, former Deputy Director of the IAEA and now head of the Swiss Nuclear Forum. He said that the acquisition of the materials listed in Dr. Lewis’ remarks should indeed have been disclosed under Iran’s basic safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Dr. Pellaud said that in the IAEA only he and Hans Blix knew, in 1993, about Iran’s acquisition of the Chinese materials that Dr. Lewis described; Dr. Pellaud said that he had tried at the time to find out where and exactly what the materials were, and had several times asked the Chinese Ambassador. But China only became a member of the NPT in 1992, Dr. Pellaud said, and at the time China’s Ambassador denied these deliveries. Dr. Pellaud said that although Iran did not comply with its reporting obligation, he believed that this nevertheless did not signal the existence of a weapons program.

According to Dr. Pellaud, it was the Additional Protocol that Iran later concluded with the IAEA that obliged Iran to declare its uranium processing and the centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment before going on-line – and Dr. Pellaud said, Iran had complied. (Iran later suspended implementation of the Additional Protocol after the IAEA referred Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council, but Iranian officials have been offering to reconsider this position if the UN Security Council sends Iran’s file back to the IAEA.)

Dr. Lewis pointed out that referral to the Security Council “means that this has gone beyond just the NPT. This has gone beyond the IAEA and safeguards… It meant that it got the agreement of China and Russia. Now, remember, we have not been able to get agreement in the Security Council on Darfur, which most people would say is a given, but we have been able to get it on the issue of Iran’s suspending its activities – and I think that is very significant. We have to be prepared to understand that although this is indeed under Chapter VII, and indeed under article 41 – which doesn’t mean military action, it means economic sanctions – nonetheless it’s extremely serious that it has been adopted at this level”.

She said that she agreed, however, with Dr. Mousavian that “we do have a hypocritical situation within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And I do think this is part of the root of the problem”.

Dr. Lewis said she was referring both to the five officially-recognized nuclear powers (who also just happen to be the UN Security Council’s Permanent or P-5 – the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France and China), when she said that some of the legitimacy and the authority of these States within the NPT has been removed because they have committed themselves — in the 1995 extension conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in the year 2000 for the review of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty — to complete elimination of nuclear weapons, in a step-by-step 13-step process, yet so little progress is made since that time by those nuclear weapons states”.

The case of North Korea also shows an inconsistent treatment, when “one of those states that was in the treaty in 1995 but has since withdrawn, or declares itself to have been withdrawn, then recently conducted a nuclear-weapon test” – and gets the bilaterial talks with the U.S. that it has said it wanted.

Negotiations must start, Dr. Pellaud agreed, and he said there is a basis for negotiations — it’s just a matter of who makes the first step, now. There is time, he agreed, because “we are not on the verge of Iran having nuclear weapons”.

Dr. Pellaud said it was regrettable that a dramatic proposal made by Iran in March 2005, to curtail its own civilian program, both enrichment and separation of plutonium, and to limit the number of its centrifuges to 3000, was ignored by the European negotiators at that time. “In private talks, the European negotiators told us very clearly that they were all waiting for the Iranian Presidential election in June 2005 and hoping that there would be a more accommodating president ”, Dr. Pellaud noted.

Then, he said, in August 2005, the EU 3 (Britain, France, and Germany) made a very attractive proposal, but at that time Iran refused to enter into negotiations. (This apparently was the offer to supply Iran with nuclear fuel – a proposal that Iran now insists it cannot accept because, from its experience of being under sanctions for nearly 30 years, it cannot have confidence that materials it has bought, and been promised, will ever be delivered. Therefore, Iran says, it must have its own fuel production on its own soil.)

Another participant, from the Pugwash Conferences organization, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for its work opposing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, brought up a suggestion presented in Tehran last year that Iran consider signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), as confirmation of its declared intent never to develop nuclear weapons.

Just a few hours after the public discussion in Geneva, U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told a U.S. Senate Committee in Washington the U.S. will again (presumably at the UNSC meeting) repeat its offer for “direct discussions” – but only if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment program, which Iran still says it will not do. ”In the P5+1 context, the United States will reiterate the historic offer Secretary Rice first extended in June 2006 to engage in direct discussions with Iran ‘at any place and at any time’ – (but only) provided Iran completely, verifiably suspends its enrichment activities”.

Burns told the Senators — not once, but twice — that the U.S. — and indeed all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — do recognize Iran’s right to peaceful, civil nuclear technology under the NPT, but that Iran must cooperate with the IAEA. He he did not say that the U.S. accepts Iran’s right to its own nuclear fuel cycle production inside Iranian territory, which is Iran’s present bottom line.

However, Burns said that: (1) “Iran directly threatens vital U.S. interests in multiple arenas and through a variety of instruments”; (2) “Tehran has long-been the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and the regime was responsible for the deaths of scores of Americans in the 1980s and 1990s”; (3) “Recognizing Iran’s role as the central banker of global terrorism, the Departments of State and Treasury have enlisted foreign support in efforts to deny suspect Iranian individuals and entities access to funds”, and (4) “Finally, we have stationed two carrier battle groups in the Gulf to reassure our friends in the Arab world that it remains an area of vital importance to us and we have taken steps to counter the destructive activities of Iran in Iraq”.

After the Security Council vote on Saturday, Burns was elated. The Washington Post quoted him as saying: “We got more than we thought we were going to get’ in the resolution…”If Iran has Qatar, a Gulf Arab state; and Indonesia, a Muslim state; and South Africa, a leading member of the nonaligned movement, voting for these sanctions, Iran is in trouble internationally”.

The New York Times reported that Burns said: “We are trying to force a change in the actions and behavior of the Iranian government…And so the sanctions are immediately focused on the nuclear weapons research program, but we also are trying to limit the ability of Iran to be a disruptive and violent factor in Middle East politics”.

Reuters has reported that the Swiss have been working on an (informal) proposal, which is being “coordinated” with the IAEA, to defuse the present crisis. Reuters says that the idea is that the Iranians could run their centrifuge cascades “dry”, without injecting uranium gas. It reported that Iranian officials were “relatively positive”, but “wavering”, because they did not want to be seen to be caving in to American pressure.

The story also said that Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Ambuel had visited Tehran sometime in the past month, and that the Swiss had been “pushing” the idea, and had “discussed it repeatedly” with Iranian officials.

One reason that Iran does not want to stop the spinning of its centrifuge cascades is that some parts will inevitably break when the motion is stopped, and it will take a long time to replace and repair the parts, and re-calibrate the machines before they could be started up again. The advantage of a proposal to run the centrifuges dry would avoid this serious technical problem.

Melissa Fleming, an IAEA spokesperson, reached Friday on the phone in Vienna, said that it was a little bit too much to say that the Swiss and the IAEA were developing this proposal in coordination, but she said that the IAEA was aware that Switzerland was working with IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei’s proposal for a “Time-Out” as a possible way out of the current impasse, that would enable both sides to save face. But, she said, Dr. ElBaradei had left it up to countries to hammer out the details: “What does it mean for Iran to suspend? What does simultaneous mean?”

But, Fleming said, she was told it was “so top secret, and so sensitive,” that she couldn’t say much more.

South Africa, which presides over the UN Security Council for the month of March, tried to present an amendment to the draft resolution tabled this past week by the P5+1, which would incorporate Dr. Elbaradei’s “Time-Out” suggestion, but this was rejected out of hand. Iran’s Foreign Minister was in South Africa this week for consultations. U.S. Secretary of State called South African President Thabo Mbeki later in the week to urge him to vote in favor of the draft resolution. She succeeded — the vote was unanimous.

One thought on “Iran's Dilemma”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *