Iran Considers EU Compromise Proposal

Article excerpt

Representatives from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom met with Iranian officials twice in October in an effort to head off a possible diplomatic showdown over its nuclear program. But Tehran sent mixed signals as to whether it will agree to a European compromise proposal or risk recriminations at a Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.

The European proposal would offer several benefits to Tehran in return for the latter's suspension of nuclear fuel activities.

A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Oct. 18 that the idea is to present a clear choice to Iran: accept the proposal or risk that the IAEA board refer the matter to the UN security Council at the November meeting. Taking what appears to be a "wait and see" approach, U.S. officials have publicly distanced themselves from the offer and expressed doubt that Tehran will comply.

At the November meeting, the board is scheduled to assess Iran's compliance with a September resolution and formulate a response. That resolution called on Tehran to suspend all activities associated with its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Such centrifuges can produce low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear reactors and highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons. (see ACT, October 2004.)

Under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the board is required to notify the security Council if a state-party is found in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Safeguards agreements empower the agency to monitor civilian nuclear facilities to ensure they are not diverted to military purposes. The council may then take action against the offending state.

The United States has been unsuccessfully pushing for such a referral since November 2003, when the IAEA adopted a resolution stating that Iran had conducted several nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement.

This recent proposal is similar to a deal the three governments struck with Iran in October 2003. At the time, Iran agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, but the scope of the suspension has been contentious for some time. Tehran had agreed in February to cease building centrifuges and manufacturing related components but did not entirely stop component production. In June, Iran fully resumed both activities after the IAEA adopted a resolution criticizing Iran. Tehran has not, however, resumed testing centrifuges with uranium hexafluoride-the feedstock for gas centrifuges.

Iran's conversion of uranium oxide-lightly processed uranium ore-to uranium hexafluoride has also been controversial. Iran announced in September that it had begun to convert a quantity of uranium oxide sufficient eventually to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for several crude nuclear weapons. Hossein Moussavian, head of Iran's delegation to the IAEA, told Agence France Presse Oct. 6 thai Iran had processed "a few tons" of uranium oxide under IAKA supervision.

Tehran's compliance with the other two provisions of the October 2003 agreement has also been limited. First, the agreement called on Iran to sign and ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. Iran's parliament has not yet ratified the protocol, but Tehran has been acting as if the agreement, which augments the IAEA's ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities, is in force. second, Iran agreed to cooperate with the IAEA's ongoing investigation of its nuclear programs, but its cooperation has often been grudging and incomplete. (see ACV) October 2004.)

Proposal Details

Officials familiar with the issue confirmed details of the Europeans' proposal, first presented Oct. 21 in Vienna. Matching the provisions set out in the September IAEA resolution, Iran would suspend the manufacture and import of centrifuges and related components, as well as the assembly, installation, testing, and operation of such centrifuges. …