Even before the publication next week of the awaited International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s compliance with international demands for full disclosure of its nuclear program, Britain and France on Thursday evening tabled a draft resolution that would impose a third level of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, told journalists in New York on Friday that the six countries that have been working on the Iran nuclear program — the five permanent members of the UNSC (US, Russia, China, Britain and France) + Germany — want to have a vote in the Council to adopt the resolution by next Friday.
Representatives of these six countries will meet in Washington on Monday to discuss strategy.
Iran has not waivered from its insistence that it will produce its own (lightly) enriched uranium as fuel for its future power plants. It has even begun to work with more advanced centrifuge machines that can produce greater quantities of enriched uranium, faster.
Iran argues that, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has the right to develop and acquire advanced nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The U.S., on the other hand, says that the NPT confers no “right” to enrich.
Iran has apparently hoped that moves towards fully answering all outstanding questions about its previous nuclear programs — these questions have been mostly articulated by the U.S. — could lead to abandonment of the effort to pursue sanctions through the UN Security Council.
Highly enriched uranium used to make nuclear weapons is produced by extending exactly the same process used to make the lightly enriched uranium that Iran is determined to produce, but Iran has insisted it is not pursuing a weapons program.
Suspicions remain, however, and have even intensified.
Israel, in particular, believes that it is not only directly threatened by the current Iranian regime, but that the Iranian leadership is rushing headlong after arms that can be used against the Jewish State, which is widely believed to be an undeclared nuclear weapons power.
It may be that the rush to table and adopt a third layer of UN SC sanctions against Iran is, in part, an attempt to head of Israeli unilateral action against Iran.
The pursuit of an indigenous enriched uranium production capacity, combined with Iran’s feverish development of missile technologies that could deliver a nuclear payload to ever-more-distant targets, have convinced some critics that Iran is covertly pursuing an offensive nuclear weapons program.
The IAEA report has not been made public yet, but it has been leaked to the major news agencies.
The Associated Press reported that “IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who drew up the report, said his team had ‘made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran‘s past nuclear activities, with the exception of one issue, and that is the alleged weaponization studies that supposedly Iran has conducted in the past’ … When confronted with some of the documentation from the U.S. and other on its alleged weapons experiments, Tehran ‘stated that the allegations were baseless and that the information … was fabricated’, the report said. Iran explained some of its activities linked by the Americans to a weapons program as work on ‘air bags and for the design of safety belts’, according to the report”. This AP report is posted here.
The IAEA report says that Iran continues its work on a heavy-water nuclear facilities.
An earlier AP story stated that the IAEA document said “Teheran had rejected as irrelevant some material forwarded by the agency that purportedly shows it working on tests of missile trajectories and high explosives, and research on a missile re-entry vehicle — activities that would most likely be part of weapons development. Questions also remained on how and why Iran came to possess diagrams showing how to mold uranium metal into warhead shape”.
In mid-February, the U.S. finally turned over to the IAEA evidence that the U.S. has cited but held in reserve since 2005, saying that its release could jeopardize intelligence sources. This evidence was reportedly contained on a laptop computer found in Iran.
This material apparently features prominently in the forthcoming IAEA report. Reuters reported that in the leaked copies, the IAEA said that “Iran had not so far explained documentation pointing to undeclared efforts to ‘weaponise’ nuclear materials by linking uranium processing with explosives and designing of a missile warhead. Publishing details of the intelligence, the IAEA described tests on a 400-metre (1,300 ft) firing shaft seen as ‘relevant’ to atomic arms research and a schematic layout of a missile cone ‘quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device’. ‘The (intelligence) studies are a matter of serious concern and critical to an assessment of a possible military dimension to Iran‘s nuclear program’, said the report issued by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei. ‘The agency will not be in a position to make progress towards providing credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran before reaching some clarity on the nature of the alleged studies’.” This Reuters report is here.
What is particularly galling to Iran is that most of the major damning evidence has been provided by the Iranian exile group, Mujahediin -e-Khalk (MEK), which has fought against the Islamic Republic from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and whose fighters are still cantoned in a base area in Iraq. Its leadership is in Paris, and it has been classified by the U.S. as a terrorist group, though relations are maintained, and the U.S. military has protected the MEK fighters inside Iraq.
The NYTimes reported in mid-February that a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published two months earlier “concluded, with what it terms ‘high confidence’, that Iran was designing a weapon through 2003. But the assessment indicated that Iranian officials ordered the work halted later that year, perhaps because they feared it would ultimately be discovered”. The NYTimes story noted that U.S. President George W. Bush said, in an interview with Fox News, “that he disagreed with the idea that the intelligence estimate lowered the threat from Iran. ‘Iran is a threat, and that’s what the N.I.E. said, if you read it carefully’, he said. ‘It showed they had a weapons — secret military weapons program, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have another secret weapons military program’. According to American and foreign officials interviewed about the contents of the laptop, the information found there included descriptions of the so-called Green Salt Project. That project, which involved uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design, demonstrated what the agency suspected were links between Iran’s military and its ostensibly peaceful nuclear program. If that evidence were substantiated, it would undercut Iran’s claims that its program is aimed solely at producing electrical power. The documents on the laptop described two programs, termed L-101 and L-102 by the Iranians, describing designs and computer simulations that appeared to be related to weapons work. Iran, while dismissing as baseless the assertions that such a program existed, agreed to examine documents that the United States said pertained to Green Salt”. This NYTimes story is posted here.
Apparently after examining this U.S.-provided evidence on the laptop computer, Iranian officials still maintain it is “baseless”, and they say they are scandalized that further UN SC sanctions are being proposed.