Iran is becoming more isolated because of its refusal to take steps to build international confidence that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Last Saturday, for the third time in less than nine months, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its concern about the proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear program and emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to find a negotiated solution guaranteeing that Iran 's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Much of Iran 's isolation stems from its refusal to act on the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the legally binding requests of the UN Security Council. Recent statements by Iranian officials may confuse the Iranian people and even leaders of the state, and can only reduce international confidence that Iran is acting in good faith. Therefore, it may help to clarify what is incorrect and misleading in these statements.

Most Iranians don't have the time or access to the most balanced and objective information that would allow them to get a full picture of Iran 's nuclear program as reported by the IAEA over the last 4 years. They deserve to be well informed on this important issue, since it could affect significantly their future economic development and well being.

On March 8, 2007, Ambassador Soltanieh issued a statement to the IAEA Board of Governors which is so misleading that it is unjust to the Iranian people. They have a right to understand the reality of why their nation has become so isolated. The statement has been published by Fars News Agency and other prominent Iranian newspapers. Unfortunately, as we shall demonstrate, his statement is a masterpiece of disinformation. It shows disrespect to the Iranian people and can only reinforce the distrust of the international community in Iran 's claim that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.  

It should be a matter of utmost concern that even Iran 's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appears to be misinformed. In his national address marking the first day of Nowruz, the Persian New-Year, he was quoted as saying that “ Until today what we have done has been in accordance with international regulations ” and “ Western governments don't agree with Iran possessing nuclear power…

Both statements are clear indications that Ayatollah Khamenei is misinformed by his entourage. 

Until today what we have done has been in accordance with international regulations.” 

Quite the contrary. 

Iranian officials are trying to portray Iran as a victim of Western neo-colonialist attitude, arguing that the West wants to deprive Iran of its inalienable right to reap the benefits of nuclear energy.

The reality is that Iran is a victim of its own specific behavior. 

In his report of November 2003 to the IAEA Board of Governors, Mohamed ElBaradei stated that “ it is clear that Iran has failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement ” and “ in the past, Iran had concealed many aspects of its nuclear activities, with resultant breaches of its obligation to comply with the provision of its Safeguards Agreement ”.

How can Ambassador Soltanieh deny the evidence by saying that “Iran has complied with its obligation under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement ”?

Trying to make his point he states that “ Iran had no legal obligation to notify the IAEA about the enrichment facility at Natanz earlier ” than ElBaradei's visit to Natanz on 21 st February 2003.

This is both incorrect and misleading.

It is incorrect because Iran had introduced nuclear material (UF 6 ) in the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz on June 25, 2003 (GOV/2003/40-§27). It should have informed the IAEA of the existence of this facility at the latest 180 days in advance, that is, in December 2002, before ElBaradei's visit.

It is misleading because, while focusing on what may appear to be a small reporting failure, Ambassador Soltanieh forgets to remind the reader that Iran had tested centrifuges for enriching uranium between 1999 and 2002 at the undeclared Kalaye Electric Company facility using undeclared nuclear material imported in 1991.

He also forgets to recall the undeclared “import of natural uranium metal in 1994 and its subsequent transfer for use in laser enrichment experiments, including the production of enriched uranium, ” and a long list of other undeclared nuclear material and activities described in the IAEA reports. The failure to declare each of these activities and materials was a violation of Iran 's obligations.

Does anyone in Iran believe that when their official representative to the IAEA distorts the facts as he does, it will reassure the international community about the exclusively peaceful objective of Iran 's nuclear program? 

Ambassador Soltanieh is arguing that the “Iranian nuclear issue has been reported to the Security Council in clear contradiction with the provision of the IAEA Statute” and that “ referring the Iranian dossier to the Security Council has been done only because of the resumption of the voluntarily suspended R&D enrichment activities.

This is incorrect. Indeed, Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute states that “the inspectors shall report any non-compliance to the Director General who shall thereupon transmit the report to the Board of Governors” and that “ the Board shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nation.”

The November 2003 report of the IAEA Director General to the Board of Governors is clearly a report on Iran 's non-compliance with its Safeguards Agreement. The failures and breaches reported by the Director General preceded - and have therefore nothing to do with - Iran 's decision to end its suspension of enrichment related activities. This is directly contrary to Ambassador Soltanieh's claim that Iran was referred to the Security Council “only because of the resumption...”

It is therefore quite astonishing to hear Ambassador Soltanieh saying, against all evidence, that “there is no legal, logical or even political justification for involvement of the Security Council of the United Nation on this issue. ” This mocks the IAEA Board of Governors' decisions and the UN Security Council resolutions, and cannot be regarded as a constructive way to resolve the outstanding issues. It is to Iran 's credit that it places great emphasis on international law and, by implication, follows the dictates of these laws. Yet, Iran is practically alone in its interpretation of the legal issues here. The IAEA Board of Governors and all 15 Members of the UN Security Council recognize Iran 's legal violations and the valid, legally binding demands the Security Council has made on Iran to restore international confidence. Iran has isolated itself by not heeding these demands and obstructing IAEA's verification activities.

“Western governments don't agree with Iran possessing nuclear power…

Quite the contrary.  Iran 's international counterparts, led by the European Union and Russia , are offering to assist Iran in expanding its use of nuclear energy. Even the United States has agreed to this position once Iran has resolved the IAEA's outstanding questions and restored confidence that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

In the Tehran declaration of 21 October 2003 agreed upon by Iran and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany (the E3) it is stated that the latter three “governments recognize the right of Iran to enjoy peaceful us of nuclear energy in accordance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

In the Paris agreement of 15 November 2004 (IAEA-INFCIRC/637), it is stated again that “The E3/EU recognize Iran 's rights under the NPT exercised in conformity with its obligations under the Treaty, without discrimination.

This principle is reaffirmed in the offer made by the E3/EU on 8 August 2005 as a framework for a long-term agreement with Iran (IAEA-INFCIRC/651).

And finally, in a letter to the President of the UN Security Council dated 13 July 2006 (S/2006/521), China , France , Germany , the Russian Federation , the UK and the USA , with the support of the High Representative of the EU, made a proposal for developing “ relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect ”.

The offers of cooperation “reaffirm Iran 's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its obligations under the [NPT] and in this context reaffirm our support for the development by Iran of a civil nuclear energy programme.”

This right has been reaffirmed in all three UN Security Council resolutions concerning Iran , making it quite clear that no one disputes Iran 's right to develop nuclear energy.

But, considering the fact that Iran has been over an extensive period of time in breach of its safeguards undertakings, the international community is asking Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities and in particular all uranium enrichment-related activities, in line with what Dr ElBaradei has called a “probation period to build confidence again, before you can exercise your full rights” (Newsweek, 23 January 2006).

This request is all the more justified by Article IV of the NPT, which states that it is “the inalienable right of all the Parties to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty ”.

Under Article II, each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes “not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons [… ] and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices

This undertaking has not been fulfilled by Iran , since the IAEA reported the following: 

  • Iran was in possession of a document, provided by intermediaries, describing the procedures for the casting of enriched and depleted uranium metal into hemispheres related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components ” (GOV/2006/15-§20, emphasis added).
  • Since 2004, the Agency has been awaiting additional information and clarifications related to efforts made by the Physics Research Center (PHRC), which had been established at Lavisan-Shian, to acquire dual use material and equipment that could be used in uranium enrichment and conversion activities ”. The PHRC was established, inter alia, to “support and provide scientific advice and services to the Ministry of Defence ”. (GOV/2006/15-§33)

As indicated by the Agency (GOV/2004/60§46) “dual use equipment and materials have applications in the conventional military area and in the civilian sphere as well as in the nuclear military area ”.

  • The Agency discussed in February 2006 alleged studies related to “high explosive testing and to the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension…” (GOV/2006/27-§27).
  • The Agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran ” […] “ because of the inadequacy of information available on its centrifuge enrichment programme, the existence of a generic document related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components, and the lack of clarification about the role of the military in Iran's nuclear programme, including, as mentioned above, about recent information available to the Agency concerning alleged weapon studies that could involve nuclear material.” (GOV/2006/15-§53) 

These findings are clear indications that Iran has not complied with its NPT obligations. Iran's noncompliance justifies the request by the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council, that Iran suspends, inter alia, its enrichment-related activities, at least as long as the IAEA is not able to conclude that there is no undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran. 

Ambassador Soltalieh also claims that “Iran has demonstrated its goodwill and a lot of patience for removing ambiguities and by taking confidence building measures beyond its legal obligations, has cooperated with the Agency and other parties.

How does Ambassador Soltanieh reconcile this opinion with Dr. ElBaradei's report of February 2006 (GOV/2006/15-§54) stating that “it is regrettable, and a matter of concern, that the above uncertainties related to the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear programme have not been clarified after three years of intensive Agency verification ”?

And what about the fact, reported in April 2006, that because of the “gaps in the Agency's knowledge, including the role of the military in Iran's nuclear programme, the Agency is unable to make progress in its effort to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” (GOV/2006/27-§33), a statement reiterated in the IAEA report of February 2007? 

On the basis of the IAEA report of November 2003, the Board could have reported Iran to the UN Security Council at the time. It decided not to do so in order to provide Iran sufficient time to clarify all outstanding issues and to privilege a diplomatic course of action. It is only in February 2006, when Iran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA made impossible the necessary progress to resolve outstanding issues that the Board of Governors decided to report the case to the Security Council. 

Iran's uncompromising behavior has left no choice but for the Security Council to progressively resort to sanctions, after a Presidential Statement and a first non-sanctioning resolution were ignored by Iran. 

However, the last Security Council resolution contains a clause stating that the implementation of sanctions shall be suspended if and for so long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related activities (as verified by the IAEA) “to allow for negotiation in good faith in order to reach an early and mutually acceptable outcome.

Therefore, Iran knows exactly what to do to transform the present crisis into a great opportunity to improve the Iranian people's living conditions, while confirming Iran 's major role in the region. 

The main problem is that Iran 's leadership has turned the issue of uranium enrichment into a matter of pride and strength, pretending that even suspending these activities would be tantamount to a defeat of the Islamic revolution.

Such slogans are counterproductive and make it more difficult for the Iranian leadership to change course. But with a little imagination and flexibility on both sides, solutions can be found that would lead to major security and economic advantages for the Iranian people. 


* Pierre Goldschmidt, formerly deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where George Perkovich is director of the nonproliferation program.