The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly been accused by the United States and members of the European Union for violating the safeguards agreements concluded by the IAEA. In February 2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) referred Iran to the UN Security Council for violation of its nuclear safeguards agreement. In response, Iran ended all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA, though it still continued with negotiations with Russia on a uranium enrichment proposal.
Russia has assisted Iran for the better part of a decade in the construction of a nuclear reactor at Bushehr. The US argues that the power plant was a front for Iran to acquire weapons-related technology, which Russia denied. Astonishingly, Iran appears to have used Pakistan and other third parties to develop centrifuge uranium enrichment technologies. Thus, contrary to US expectations, Russia was not the primary source of Iran's enrichment capabilities.
Iran has pursued plans to construct a heavy water reactor at Arak (see picture to the left). Heavy water reactors produce byproducts that can be used in nuclear weapons. In a speech dated April 11, 2006, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, proclaimed that the Arak reactor is expected to be finished in 2009. Once fully operational, the Arak heavy water reactor will be capable of producing 9 kg of weapons-grade plutonium per year, roughly equivalent to two nuclear weapons per year.
"...Heavy water is essentially when you have water as H20. If you take the hydrogen out and you replace the hydrogen with a deuterium..that is the beginning of what you need to create bomb-like materials" - listen
Dr. Rajesh Maingi, Senior Research Scientist, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
On February 4, 2006, the IAEA Board of Governors voted to call upon Iran to halt construction of the Arak reactor. Looking at satellite imagery (see below), it appears that Iran has continued construction of the Arak reactor between February and March.
Russia is working with Iran to ensure that any fuel used in the Bushehr reactor, which could produce enough plutonium to power hundreds of nuclear weapons, is returned to Russia. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (to which Iran is a party), states are permitted to engage in peaceful nuclear energy research and development as long as they accept IAEA controls. However, many critics find this to be a fundamental flaw in the NPT. A state could acquire the "peaceful" technology to potentially produce a large nuclear arsenal, then withdraw from the NPT and use the technology for the production of nuclear weapons.
"I think that was actually a fallacy in the 'atoms for peace' program... I think in the long-run we should be shooing nuclear weapons as well...I think [Article 4 of the NPT] was a fatal flaw... Nuclear energy is not a solution to our energy needs..." - listen
Reverend Robert Moore, Executive Director, Coalition for Peace Action
If Iran were able to acquire tactical nuclear weapons, the consequences as perceived by the US would be devastating. It would serve to increase the desire of neighboring nations, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and future Iraq, to acquire their own weapons. There is no limit to what nuclear-armed Isreal, Iran's archenemy, would do to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran used poison gas in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. The highly religious Iranians were willing to utilize anything available in what they considered a holy war under Shi'a Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Iraqies, lead by Saddam Hussein, retaliated with their own gas in spite of both countries' signatures on the 1925 Geneva Protocol. By 1988, many analysts believed that Iran could produce hydrogen cyanide, phosgene gas, or chlorine gas and was attempting to produce nerve gas.
Many nations believe Iran to be a state-sponsor of terrorism. Iranian officials dispute any link between the government and terrorist organizations, saying that all terrorist organizations operate outside the authority of the government.
Most prominent among the accusers is the United States. The US CIA Director in 1994, James Woosley, declared that Iranian terrorist attacks are "not acts of rogue elements," but rather are "authorized at the highest levels of the Iranian government." US District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth noted that "the Islamic Republic of Iran is so brazen in its sponsorship of terrorist activities that it caries a line item in its national budget." Patrick Clawson, a former World Bank economist, estimated that Iran allocates approximately $75 million annually for terrorist activities.
The following is a defense of the Iranian position and a view of the issue from an Iranian perspective.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is an original signatory nation to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). We have participated actively in the CTBT Preparatory Commission (PrepCom). Iran has also completed installation of the monitoring stations through which we can ensure compliance with the Treaty.
It is a pity the CTBT it has fallen by the wayside. As stated by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Zarif, “The culmination of this chain of setbacks was the rejection of the CTBT itself by the US Senate, which has enormously affected the overall CTBT ratification process.” The United States, originally a critical pioneer and signatory of the CTBT, has failed to ratify it, which expresses a lack of confidence in a comprehensive nuclear testing ban. Pakistan, India, China, and Iran will not ratify the treaty until the United States sets the example.
The holy nation of Iran has no desire to pursue nuclear weaponry, contrary to claims made by Western states. Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei said in October 2005 that, “As far as the question of nuclear energy is concerned, we never aim to make nuclear weapons or deviate our scientific move to development of atomic bombs.” Under the NPT and international law, every nation has the right to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran has pursued uranium enrichment for scientific knowledge, which is not a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Even miniature villages take advantage of nuclear energy. Production of radioisotopes for medical purposes, such as Molybdenum-99, can use highly enriched uranium metal fuel plates.
Ambassador Akhoundzadeh said in October 2005: “Iran is prepared to continue multifaceted nuclear negotiations to reach a mutual accord and restore the inalienable right of the Iranian nation to peaceful use of nuclear technology.”
Nuclear states are obligated to pursue eventual total disarmament under Article 6 of the NPT, which requires “each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue… nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Affirming this goal, Resolution 58/59 of the UN General Assembly called for “An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States… to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States Parties to the Treaty are committed under article VI of the Treaty”
Although efforts such as SALT and START have cut arsenal size by as much as 40%, nations such as the United States still have programs aiming to develop more advanced nuclear weaponry. Strategic documents of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff contemplate nuclear retaliation against the use of chemical and biological arms, a direct violation of the NPT, which prohibits nuclear powers from deploying nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Former American President Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 60 affirms that the US will continue to rely on its nuclear arsenal for the “indefinite future.”
Presidential Decision Directive 60 is one of the more recent moves towards the use of nuclear weapons by the US and Russia. Since the end of the Cold War, both the US and Russia have actually increased the circumstances under which they would be willing to use or threaten the use of nuclear weapons. Given the perceived threats from the US, Israel, and Iraq, Iran has an understandable reason to defend itself.
The UN General Assembly has found the actions of states such as the U.S. to be contrary to the spirit and principle of the NPT and CTBT. Resolution 59/77 “urges the nuclear-weapons States to stop immediately the qualitative improvement, development, production and stockpiling of nuclear warheads and their delivery systems.” The Permanent 5 (P5) nuclear states need to take the initiative on nuclear disarmament. Other nations will follow only when they see that the superpowers have done so.
Chapter 34, p161.