The Journal Editorial Report | March 18, 2005 | PBS
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briefing and opinion
March 18, 2005

French President Jacques Chirac, right, meets Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, left, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 24, 2005. The French president said Iran still needed to give guarantees it would not pursue weaponry. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
French President Jacques Chirac, right, meets Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, left, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 24, 2005. The French president said Iran still needed to give guarantees it would not pursue weaponry. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Iran, The Bomb, and the Future of Nuclear Energy Controls
By Henry Sokolski

Henry D. Sokolski is the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization founded in l994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues.
1. Overview
2. Inalienable Right?
3. Iran's Latest Offer
4. Worldwide Implications
5. The Restrictions
6. Photo Essay



International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed El Baradei answers question for members of the press following the conclusion of his meetings at the White House, March 17, 2004 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed El Baradei answers question for members of the press following the conclusion of his meetings at the White House, March 17, 2004 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Late in December of 2002, an Iranian dissident group revealed that Iran was covertly building a centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Because centrifuge enrichment plants can bring a nation within days of having a nuclear bomb and because Tehran failed to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it was building one, alarm bells went off. The big worry was that Iran might break its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) pledge not to make nuclear weapons by operating the plant at Natanz to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

Over the next two years, these fears increased as the IAEA discovered that Iran had experimented with polonium and beryllium (materials critical to initiating a nuclear weapons device); covertly enriched uranium and separated plutonium (the two key materials needed to fuel a bomb); and lied to IAEA inspectors about the importation of uranium enrichment-related commodities (misleading the agency to believe that Iran's program was entirely indigenous when it clearly was not). Finally, Iran had kept IAEA inspectors from visiting a variety of sites until after Iran had entirely dismantled what the inspectors wanted to see.

The IAEA Board of Governors, which is comprised of 35 member states, has not yet chosen formally to find Iran to be in violation of its IAEA nuclear safeguards obligations or to report this noncompliance to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as required by the IAEA's charter statute. Instead the IAEA has held back in hopes of getting Iran to freeze it enrichment program, to detail all of its nuclear activities, and to open them all up to nuclear inspections.

The United Kingdom, France, and Germany (known as the EU-3), meanwhile, have been in negotiations with Iran since late 2003 trying to get Tehran to give "objective guarantees" that it is not trying to get a bomb in exchange for improved trade and diplomatic relations with the European Union. Most recently, leaders of the EU-3 persuaded President Bush to remove objections to having Iran apply for membership in the World Trade Organization and allowing Iran to buy U.S. parts for Iran's aging Boeing jet liner fleet as a part of an effort to get Iran to terminate its enrichment program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi speaks during a press conference in Tehran, March 15, 2005, saying economic incentives may help improve foreign relations but won't permanently stop Tehran from pursuing a nuclear program it says is for generating electricity.  (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi speaks during a press conference in Tehran, March 15, 2005, saying economic incentives may help improve foreign relations but won't permanently stop Tehran from pursuing a nuclear program it says is for generating electricity. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
So far, Iran has refused to forswear either enriching uranium or reprocessing (i.e., chemically separating weapons usable plutonium from spent reactor fuel.) Iranian officials claim that Iran has a right to develop the entire nuclear fuel cycle under the NPT, which gives member states, like Iran, an "inalienable right" to develop "peaceful" nuclear energy so long as it does not make nuclear weapons. They also claim that they need the entire fuel cycle to assure lightly enriched uranium for the large light water reactor they and the Russians are building at Bushehr and plan to bring on line early in 2006.

U.S., IAEA and EU-3 desires to have Iran foreswear and terminate enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing of plutonium are likely to collide with Tehran's demand that it be allowed to continue these programs in the next round of EU-3 - Iran talks slated for March 23 in Paris. In anticipation of this meeting, Iranian officials have offered to open up Iran's enrichment program to much more intrusive inspections or, alternatively, to operate an enrichment pilot plant they claim will be too small to make a bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium (HEU). Most recently, they have also offered the United States an option to invest and become half owners of Iran's nuclear program. On the other hand, if Iran does not get what it wants in its talks with the EU-3, it has threatened to withdraw from the NPT.