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Iran: U.S. Official Outlines Concerns About Nuclear Program

Matthew Boland at RFE/RL's Prague broadcasting center (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Matthew Boland, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna, today addressed the Energy Forum conference at RFE/RL's Prague broadcast center. Boland laid out the U.S. position on Iran's nuclear program and called for UN sanctions to be imposed against Tehran for its failure to meet international demands and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Below is a transcript of Boland's entire presentation.

Matthew Boland: I am pleased to be invited today to reflect on the challenge presented to the international community by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Today I would like to highlight two things: (1) why the international community is concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and (2) why the time has come for the UN Security Council to back international diplomacy with international sanctions.

When Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it promised to put any nuclear program under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards -- safeguards that ensure the world that no nuclear material is being diverted for nuclear weapons. Iran broke that promise by pursuing a secret nuclear program for 18 years. When this secret nuclear program was first revealed three years ago, countries around the world were shocked. Iran had violated its international obligation to comply with IAEA safeguards.

This is not a peaceful program. It is, in our judgment, a deliberate, step-by-step process to acquire the technology, material, and know-how to build nuclear weapons.

This prompted the international community -- represented by the IAEA Board of Governors -- to ask Iran to provide assurances that no nuclear material has been diverted to a nuclear-weapons program. Specifically, over the course of the last three years, the IAEA has repeatedly asked Iran for access to nuclear facilities, nuclear documents, and individuals in order to verify Iran’s claim that it is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

Outstanding Questions

Unfortunately, three years after its noncompliance was discovered, Iran is still holding back information and full cooperation. In fact, the IAEA has issued report after report stating that Iran refuses to answer questions, refuses to give access to individuals, and refuses to turn over key documents.

For example, according to the IAEA:

  1. Iran has repeatedly refused to provide additional information on its enrichment program, including shipments of P-1 centrifuge technology from the A. Q. Kahn network -- a black market of nuclear-weapons technology;
  2. Iran has failed to explain its president’s claims that the regime is working on advanced P-2 centrifuges, after years of denying such work;
  3. Iran refuses to turn over a 15-page document related to the fabrication of nuclear-weapons components; and
  4. Iran has failed to explain the apparent relationship of its uranium program to high-explosives testing and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle.

Clearly, Iran’s leaders have not taken steps to give the international community confidence that they are pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. As a result, IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has reported that, after three years of intensive efforts, the IAEA is still unable to provide assurance that Iran’s program is peaceful.

Countries around the world are asking basic questions:

  1. If Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, why did they hide it for 18 years?
  2. If Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, why won’t Iran’s leaders cooperate with the IAEA to clear up the many remaining uncertainties about what they have been doing and why?
  3. If Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, why does it have unexplained ties to the A. Q. Kahn network and unexplained ties to Iran’s military program?
  4. If Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, why does Iran possess a document on fabricating nuclear-weapons components?

When you ask these basic questions, it's easy to see why countries have lost confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. This was evident when countries from all regions of the world voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council in February, including: countries with ties to Iran like Russia, China and India; Arab countries Egypt and Yemen and developing countries like Ghana and Sri Lanka; Asian countries Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore; Latin American countries Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and Argentina; and all the European countries on the IAEA Board, Canada, and the United States.

This is not a peaceful program. It is, in our judgment, a deliberate, step-by-step process to acquire the technology, material, and know-how to build nuclear weapons.

Diplomatic Efforts

Today, the international community has affirmed in a strong voice that Iran cannot be permitted to achieve its nuclear ambitions and that a suspension of activities related to enrichment and reprocessing is required in order to rebuild the lost confidence in Iran’s intentions. The goal is clear: Iran must abandon its quest for nuclear weapons and fully meet its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We have communicated this choice clearly over two years of efforts in the IAEA Board of Governors. In the past year, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously on March 29 a Presidential Statement calling on Iran to fully suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s ongoing inspections. Iran essentially ignored this UN statement.

On June 6, the governments of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States [the so-called P5+1] presented Iran a generous package of incentives that would provide for economic, political, and technological benefits for the Iranian people following a successful conclusion of negotiations with Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the United States would be willing to join negotiations with our European partners and Iran if Iran established a verifiable suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. This was the first significant U.S. offer to negotiate a major issue with Iran in 27 years.

Two Choices For Tehran

The United States and its partners presented Iran with two clear paths to choose from. The first was to abandon its enrichment-related work and receive the far-reaching incentives included in the P5+1 incentive package. To take advantage of these incentives, the Iranian regime has to verifiably suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad visiting the Natanz nuclear facility in February (Fars)

As U.S. President George W. Bush has emphasized, the United States supports the right of the Iranian people to enjoy the benefits of peaceful, civil nuclear energy. But we and other leading countries do not support Iran mastering the enrichment and reprocessing and other sensitive aspects of the fuel cycle that would allow it to produce fissile material and a nuclear weapon. Russia and other European countries have proposed an initiative to supply nuclear fuel for civil power reactors, without allowing Iran to conduct these more sensitive operations.

We are currently engaged in discussions with our P5+1 partners on a sanctions resolution in the Security Council.

Alternatively, the P5+1 emphasized that the negative choice is for the Iranian regime to maintain its present course of defiance -- violating the conditions laid out by the international community. If Iran continues down this path, President Bush and the other P5 leaders have made it clear that there would be consequences. In Paris, on July 12, the P5 and German foreign ministers, including Secretary Rice, affirmed their intentions to take Iran to the Security Council should Iran not suspend its enrichment programs.

Unfortunately, Iran failed to take the steps needed to allow negotiations to begin. After two months without a positive, concrete response from Iranian leaders to the incentives package, we and our international partners in the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1696 on July 31, 2006.

Construction work at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is scheduled to begin operation in 2007 (Fars)

This resolution explicitly demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development. Resolution 1696 also made clear that if Iran did not comply by August 31, the Security Council would adopt appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which provides for sanctions.

Iran finally responded on August 22 with a 21-page document that was rambling and vague. Iran’s response did not even clarify its stance toward our central demand posed three months earlier -- Iran’s willingness to suspend its enrichment.

On August 31, IAEA Director-General el-Baradei reported that Iran had not suspended its enrichment-related activities, was continuing construction of a heavy-water research reactor at Arak, and that it continues to deny numerous IAEA requests for information necessary to resolve uncertainties surrounding its nuclear activities.

Moving Toward A Sanctions Resolution

Iran’s refusal to suspend is disappointing and, in our view, a major missed opportunity. The international community warned Iran’s leaders that this course would result in further isolation and sanctions. We are currently engaged in discussions with our P5+1 partners on a sanctions resolution in the Security Council.

Iran’s continued defiance is a clear challenge to the authority of the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors, and presents a serious threat to the nonproliferation regime. It is imperative that the international community sends Iran a strong message that this defiance will not be tolerated by imposing UN sanctions that target the regime and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, not the Iranian people.

Going forward, our message to Tehran remains clear: Iran has a clear choice: a positive path that brings real benefits including the peaceful use of nuclear power or a negative path that would impose real costs such as sanctions.

We hope that Iran’s leaders will think about what is best for the economic prosperity and long-term security of the Iranian people. And we hope that other countries, including all represented here today, will encourage Iran’s leaders to make the right choice: a choice for cooperation and negotiation over confrontation.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.