Iran's Intransigence

January 30, 2006

Publication: 

American Israel Public Affairs Committee: Near East Report

While the United States fights to convince the international community of the need to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, the Islamic republic is pushing ahead with its quest for atomic arms

With the international community split by indecision about whether to take punitive action against Iran's nuclear programs, Tehran has spent recent months accelerating its pursuit of atomic arms.

In January, the Islamic Republic broke seals that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) placed on key Iranian nuclear installations in 2004. It then resumed uranium enrichment activities, a key step toward assembling atomic arms.

While these activities were progressing, Iran's diplomats were attempting to stonewall a push by the United States and its allies to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Tehran in an attempt to stop its atomic work.

Iran is Moving Forward with Nuclear Work Iran's recent nuclear advances have frustrated the IAEA, which decided in November to put off referring Iran to the Security Council in favor of continuing diplomatic efforts to persuade Tehran to end its atomic programs.

The decision to break the IAEA seals-put in place following a 2004 agreement with Britain, France and Germany (the EU-3) in which Tehran agreed to voluntarily suspend all enrichment-related activities-is significant because once Iran attains the expertise necessary for enriching uranium, it will be able to produce nuclear weapons.

In addition to uranium, atomic bombs can also be developed using plutonium, and Iran has recently made progress down that route, as well.

Near the city of Arak, Iran has nearly finished building nuclear facilities that could produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon. Additionally, Tehran recently announced that it has acquired equipment ideally suited for plutonium separation, an important step in the development of atomic bombs.

Iran Has Used Negotiations to Delay Possible Sanctions Iran has so far been able to shield its atomic work from U.N. sanctions by exploiting the international community's desire to find a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran's quest for nuclear weapons.

Currently, it is holding out the possibility of agreeing to a months-old Russian plan under which Moscow would control Iran's uranium enrichment work.

In November, Iran had resumed efforts to convert uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, defying a previous IAEA resolution demanding Iranian compliance with its international non-proliferation obligations.

However, that month's IAEA board meeting failed to refer Iran to the Security Council after the United States and the EU-3 backed the Russian proposal.

The Western powers' endorsement of the plan-which would give Iran all elements of a nuclear arms program aside from enrichment-represented a step back from their previous insistence that Iran give up all atomic activities.

In an effort to further delay referral to the Security Council, Iran is now seeking to persuade Russia to oppose such referral by holding out the prospect of negotiating a deal on the basis of the Russian proposal.

The United States is Pressing for Iran to Face the U.N. Security Council While the United States pulled back from pushing for Iran's referral to the Security Council at the IAEA's November meeting, it is now pushing for such a move despite Russian objections.

The Security Council has the legal authority to impose diplomatic, political and economic sanctions on Iran.

While the council may be hesitant to implement an oil embargo on Iran because of surging oil prices, a non-oil trade embargo would intensify Iran's isolation.

Whatever course the council takes, the United States has made clear that it views the Security Council as the appropriate forum in which to deal with Iran's atomic programs.

"We have been very clear," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recently, "that the time has come for a referral to the Security Council."