Magazine article Arms Control Today

Iran and IAEA Agree on Action Plan; U.S., Europeans Not Satisfied

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Iran and IAEA Agree on Action Plan; U.S., Europeans Not Satisfied

Article excerpt

IRAN AND THE International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached agreement in early April on an action plan to complete the agency's investigation of Iran's nuclear program. As a critical IAEA meeting approaches, however, Tehran's simultaneous decision to move forward with two nuclear projects seems likely to perpetuate international suspicions that Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

After meeting with senior Iranian officials in Tehran April 6, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reached an "agreement on a joint action plan with a timetable to deal with outstanding issues regarding the verification of Iran's nuclear program," according to an IAEA press release. ElBaradei suggested April 6 that the plan "will hopefully pave the way for progress." Among other steps, the plan calls for Iran to provide the IAEA with information about its centrifuge program by the end of April.

In May, ElBaradei is to present a report on Iran's progress. The IAEA Board of Governors will consider the results in june during what is widely seen as a crucial meeting.

The agreement marked the latest attempt to put a satisfactory end to a nearly two-year-old investigation into Iran's effort to acquire a nuclear fuel cycle. Last October, after months of hesitant cooperation, Iran struck a deal with Germany, France, and the United Kingdom in which it promised to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation, sign an additional protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and suspend uranium-enrichment work. That same month, Iran provided the agency with what was supposed to be a complete declaration of all its nuclear activities.

Both Iran's declaration and the agency's investigation provided enough information for the board to adopt a resolution the following month condemning Iran's pursuit of undeclared nuclear activities in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement. Such agreements commit states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to provide sufficient transparency in their nuclear activities to assure other member states that they are not diverting civilian nuclear activities to military purposes.

Moreover, a February report from ElBaradei said Iran omitted several nuclear activities from its October declaration. Prodded by this report, the board's March resolution called on Iran "to resolve all outstanding [nuclear] issues."

In particular, the resolution called on Iran to answer questions regarding traces of uranium found at two facilities associated with Iran's gas centrifuge-based uraniumenrichment program; Iran's experiments with a possible nuclear-weapon trigger; and the scope of Iran's uranium-enrichment programs. (see ACT, March 2004.)

As part of the April action plan, Iran has agreed to provide the agency with "detailed information regarding aspects of its centrifuge program" by the end of April. Gas centrifuges can be used to produce highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons, as well as low-enriched uranium for use in civilian nuclear reactors. NPT states-parties are permitted to own uranium-enrichment facilities without restraint, but they are only supposed to operate these facilities under a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which monitors the use of the equipment. The board already condemned Iran in November 2003 for secretly testing centrifuges with nuclear material-a violation of its safeguards agreement.

In a step designed to ease these concerns, Iran agreed in April to further comply with a key provision in its October pledge to the Europeans: suspending its uranium-enrichment activities. Mohammad Saeedi, an official from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told Reuters April 12 that Iran had stopped making centrifuge components 30 days before, thereby fulfilling a February pledge to the IAEA. ElBaradei's February report stated that Iran had suspended work on its centrifuge facilities but had continued to assemble some individual centrifuges and manufacture related components. …

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