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Iran Defies U.N. Deadline on Uranium Enrichment

February 22, 2007 at 5:43 PM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: For the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, it was a return to a familiar topic: Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Yesterday, another deadline passed for Iran to stop its nuclear activities at facilities such as Natanz, south of the capital, Tehran.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, stated flatly in its newest report that the Islamic republic had instead continued operating its programs.

Iran insists they are for peaceful civilian energy. Other nations are worried they will lead to nuclear weapons.

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Tom Casey warned Iran’s continued defiance of UN Security Council resolutions could lead to tougher sanctions.

TOM CASEY, State Department Spokesman: We think that it would be far better for the Iranian people, as well as for the international community, to be able to have Iran engage with the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany in negotiations. But, of course, to do that, it requires them to heed the requirements of the resolution, suspend their uranium enrichment activities.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA said the agency’s report documented Iranian compliance with international demands. He also urged negotiations.

ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA: The best course of action is coming to the negotiating table. Iran is fully prepared that any country has a question about our activities, we are prepared to remove ambiguities. Hopefully, if others are also convinced as we are that the best course of action, other than confrontation, sanctions, resolutions, is coming to negotiating table, then I hope we are on right track.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s IAEA report was an assessment of Iranian compliance with a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted unanimously in December. That resolution set a 60-day deadline for compliance and banned the transfer of certain technologies to Iran, as long as it continued enrichment and other activities.

But today, the IAEA also cautioned again about Iran’s nuclear intentions. The agency concluded it still was unable to assess fully or accurately the development of Iran’s nuclear program, its scope, or its nature, and that Iran still may have undeclared nuclear material and activities.

The report also said Iran had, in fact, expanded its centrifuge operations at Natanz. Centrifuges purify uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, but they also can make weapons-grade uranium.

This morning, in Berlin, before the report’s release, Secretary of State Rice said the U.S. and other countries should continue putting diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop its program. But later today, Russia’s U.N. ambassador questioned the need for new sanctions against Iran.

Iran violates U.N. resolution

Ray Takeyh
The Council on Foreign Relations
Iranians have always said that they have a right to have a peaceful nuclear research program, that their activities are transparent, they take place within the framework of the IAEA.

JIM LEHRER: For more on this, Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the author of "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic." He was born in Iran and is now a U.S. citizen.

Henry Sokolski was deputy for nonproliferation policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense under President George H.W. Bush. He's now executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, which is a Washington research organization.

Mr. Sokolski, what's the bottom line meaning of today's report for you?

HENRY SOKOLSKI, The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center: They're in violation of a UN security resolution. It's now up to the members of the U.N. Security Council to up the ante and increase the level of sanctioning.

The whole world is kind of watching to see whether this will take weeks or months to do. You can see the Russians -- and I would add the Chinese -- are not eager to move very quickly.

So it then will devolve upon the United States, the key members of the European Union, and any other friendly countries to see what they can do in lieu of U.N. action if, indeed, the U.N. is slow off the mark.

JIM LEHRER: We'll go through some of this. But, first, Mr. Takeyh, do you agree that the U.N. is -- I mean, that Iran is in violation of what the U.N. wants?

RAY TAKEYH, Council on Foreign Relations: Oh, yes, indisputably the case. The U.N. had asked the Iranians to -- the last U.N. resolution asked Iran to suspend its enrichment activities. And Iran obviously has not done so.

And in a letter, Iranians notified the United Nations inspection agency that they have no intention of doing so. So Henry's quite right: They're in violation of the Security Council resolution that was imposed in December.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any way to determine or guess in an educated way as to why Iran is doing what it's doing, why it ignored this?

RAY TAKEYH: Well, Iranians have always said that they have a right to have a peaceful nuclear research program, that their activities are transparent, they take place within the framework of the IAEA. They're a member of the NPT, and they have obligations, but they also have rights.

And they tend to condemn the U.N. resolution as politicized and impositions of the United States so they don't feel a necessary legal obligation to adhere to them. But they nevertheless suggest that they're willing to cooperate, be flexible, adhere to the inspection regimes, and are open to negotiations with the five members and Germany.

JIM LEHRER: Now, the U.S. and its compatriots in the U.N. Security Council do not accept the fact that Iran has the right to do what it's doing, correct?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: They violated some rules, which includes declaring what you're doing. They decided for 20 years kind of not to do that. And then it became a cat-and-mouse game to try to catch up to find out what they did in the past.

In the latest report, the IAEA says, for God's sakes, they're still not cooperating. And the U.N. resolution, which was passed in December, said all of the issues with regard to the past had to be resolved. They haven't gotten off the dime at all on that.

Various views of the treaty

Ray Takeyh
The Council on Foreign Relations
At this particular state, frankly, the Europeans, the Russian, and the Chinese would concede to an enrichment program within Iran that has limitations. And the one party that is pressing hard against that is the United States.

JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, is there any proof one way or another, outside of Iran, on whether what they are doing is trying to get nuclear power so they can develop a nuclear weapon or do what they say they're doing, which is just to have peaceful nuclear power?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: If you do addition and subtraction with regard to money-making, this makes no sense. If you have code word, and you see who they've tried to contact, and what kinds of technology they've tried to get, you pretty much say, in your own mind, they're up to trying to get a bomb. In fact...

JIM LEHRER: That's what you believe? You believe that?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I believe that, but I think our government and the European three believe that and have said it. More important, I think the IAEA is very, very concerned. I mean, if they thought that there was no issue here, they would not be laying down these reports.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read this, Mr. Takeyh?

RAY TAKEYH: Well, here we get into the ambiguity of the NPT, the ambiguity of nuclear technology, because the level of -- the nature of technology that a country needs for a weapons program and the type of technology that it needs for production of nuclear energy tend to be similar, up to a certain point. Iran does, under the NPT, have...

JIM LEHRER: NPT, that's...

RAY TAKEYH: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, at least have the assumed right to have an indigenous enrichment capability. I know Henry disagrees with that, but his interpretation is a bit more stringent. There are other countries that do produce enrichment capabilities...

JIM LEHRER: Russia, for instance, agrees with Iran on this.

RAY TAKEYH: I think, at this particular state, frankly, the Europeans, the Russian, and the Chinese would concede to an enrichment program within Iran that has limitations. And the one party that is pressing hard against that is the United States.

So far, the United States has succeeded. But as Iran's program develops, I think you'll see other countries willing to defuse the crisis by granting Iran some sort of an enrichment capability.

Negotiating an inspection regime

Henry Sokolski
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
Once these machines get to the point where they can make enough fuel to fuel a reactor, you can switch that machine overnight to make a bomb.

JIM LEHRER: A capability, but also with some kind of regular inspection and accessibility?

RAY TAKEYH: Right.

JIM LEHRER: So you could tell one way or another?

-RAY TAKEYH: Yes, the inspection regime can be negotiated. It could be much more intrusive than the existing IAEA mandates. It could have 24-hour inspections, remote siting and so forth.

I think Iranians have been willing to concede to that, at least at this point. But, really, we're going to the direction where Iranians are creating facts on the ground. And, in essence, at some point, I think and I fear the international community will concede it to them.

JIM LEHRER: And do what? They would...

RAY TAKEYH: To have Iran having a limited enrichment program, with the stipulations that you made, namely, an intrusive inspection regime.

JIM LEHRER: I see. All right, now -- yes?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: The reason to agree here. Fear is what's warranted, for a couple of reasons. Once you get to the point of enriching, there is no limited enrichment capacity. You either are able to enrich or you're not.

When you do, you pass a Rubicon, where you come within weeks of being able to make what you need for a bomb. That's the reason...

JIM LEHRER: Or to do peaceful energy, whichever you want to do, no?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: No, no. Look, even the president of the United States, who's a big booster of nuclear power, has said you do not need to enrich to have peaceful nuclear energy.

JIM LEHRER: I'm just saying, from the Iranian point of view.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Ray is right. There are many people besides myself who disagree with this interpretation. The word "enrichment and reprocessing" is nowhere to be found in the treaty on nuclear nonproliferation, so this right is an interpreted matter, not something very clear. And a country that violates the rules pretty much cedes this kind of generous view anyway.

In any case, once you get to this point, the idea that you can inspect your way out of the problem set is something which even my French compatriots privately say, of course, that's nonsense.

JIM LEHRER: Why is that nonsense?

RAY TAKEYH: I'm not quite sure why it's nonsense. You can impose limits on Iran's enrichment program, at least the program that we're aware of. Now, I think the concern that Henry and a lot of other people have, if Iran masters the technology to enrich uranium in its declared sites, then it can use those skills and those technologies in undeclared sites and basically violate its inspections obligations and produce nuclear weapons. That's the concern.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Well, it goes further. It goes further. Once these machines get to the point where they can make enough fuel to fuel a reactor, you can switch that machine overnight to make a bomb. And the problem is, the amount of time you have from warning to the point where they make a bomb is too short.

JIM LEHRER: Do you challenge that, that once they get to this particular point, Mr. Takeyh, they could make a bomb?

RAY TAKEYH: If the facilities in Natanz are producing enriched uranium up to 90 percent, which is weapons-grade uranium -- Iranians have said they're willing to stop at 4 percent -- then IAEA inspectors would notice something untoward is taking place, and they can report Iran, and therefore Iran would be in violation of its obligation, and they'll be definitively declared as a country that is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, because that would constitute transference of such technologies for purposes that they were not intended to be.

So we can actually detect Iran being in violation of this agreement. Then, we have a country that is essentially producing nuclear weapons, without and any ifs, buts and whens.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I think that's optimistic, that the bank will have been robbed, we will have a bell that goes off, but the car will have left the scene.

The next step

Henry Sokolski
Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
I don't think it will be negotiated out. I do think that we are entering potentially a Cold War of sorts, where a number of things besides what I've listed will be done to try to put pressure on that regime to back off.

JIM LEHRER: I think we have some disagreement on this, but let's see if we can agree on the sanctions. You say that this report today means they have to up the ante, or actually that's what the U.S. representative at the U.N. said, "The ante must be upped." How do we do that?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Well, there are a number of ways. People have different favorite routes.

One is to put pressure on the revolutionary government officials, who are engaged generally in shady activities, such as smuggling and such, and they need to have access to banks to get their money moved. Many of the things that we've done with regard to North Korea could be applied, if, of course, the Russians and the Chinese agree.

You could still do this without the Chinese and Russians, if you had control of...

JIM LEHRER: In other words, there are certain actions that could be taken, sanctions could be taken.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that there's still some room there if...

RAY TAKEYH: I'm not quite sure if those sanctions are going to be enacted through the U.N. I think the U.N. process has basically exhausted itself.

It is possible you're going to get another resolution after six months of wrangling with the Chinese and Russian representatives, and you get some sort of a watered-down resolution.

But the type of sanctions that Henry is talking about are likely to come outside the framework of U.N., in negotiations between United States and its European counterparts, as sort of a coalition-of-willing approach to sanctions.

If Iran has made a national determination to have a nuclear program of certain sophistication, then I'm not quite sure freezing some Revolutionary Guard's bank accounts is going to do it.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Yes, I would agree that you need to do much, much more. And I agree with Ray that you cannot expect the U.N. to come up with the sanctions resolutions that will be sufficient to put pressure on this regime to think twice about pressing in a very bold way towards weapons.

JIM LEHRER: So there's very little that could be done to stop Iran from doing what it's doing?

RAY TAKEYH: In terms of coercive measures, yes. Another approach you can take is actually negotiating with Iranians and seeing whether you can arrive at some sort of an arrangement between United States, Iran and the Europeans, sort of a comprehensive arrangement where both sides can trade off and so forth and so on. So there's a potential negotiating route, as well, in addition to coercive measures or in lieu of them.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I would say that you've got the cart before the horse here. The U.N. resolution, after all, that just was passed said that they have to do certain things before there's negotiation. And the key people...

JIM LEHRER: You don't think this can be negotiated out? OK.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I don't think it will be negotiated out. I do think that we are entering potentially a Cold War of sorts, where a number of things besides what I've listed will be done to try to put pressure on that regime to back off.

JIM LEHRER: All right. We'll see what happens.

HENRY SOKOLSKI: We'll see what happens.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.