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Iran in IAEA's Nuclear Sights

Prepared by: CFR.org Staff
Updated: March 6, 2006

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Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors meet in Vienna to consider Iran's nuclear activity (Reuters). The agency's Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei hopes an agreement can be reached this week (BBC) on Tehran's uranium enrichment work, though no signs are emerging yet of a deal that would avert Iran's referral to the UN Security Council, where the country could face punitive action.

A flurry of eleventh-hour diplomacy to defuse the crisis over Iran's nuclear program proved inconclusive last week. Foreign ministers from the so-called EU-3—Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—failed to persuade (Reuters) Iranian negotiators to agree to "full and complete suspension" of uranium enrichment activities. "Time is running out," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after Friday's Vienna talks with Iran's nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani (Deutsche Welle).

Separately, talks ended between Iran and Russia (ChiTrib) over a deal the Kremlin proposed—explained in this CFR Background Q&A—that allows Moscow to supply Iran with enriched uranium for civilian-energy purposes without the enrichment process taking place inside Iran. All five members of the UN Security Council have backed the plan, but widespread reservations remain because of Iran's insistence on retaining the right to enrich uranium domestically. Nikolai Sokov of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies calls the deal "the last hope for a peaceful resolution of a multi-year crisis over the Iranian nuclear program." Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group, in a recent report, proposed a plan for "delayed limited enrichment," which would allow Iran to enrich uranium on its own soil, but only after a several-year delay and under "highly intrusive" inspections.

Earlier this week, the IAEA's professional staff released a report (PDF) detailing Iranian stonewalling of arms inspectors (NYT) and alleging newly found links between the country's civilian nuclear activities and its military forces. The links in question, the IAEA says, are contained in a secret Iranian program called the Green Salt Project (WashPost). But the agency also notes that Iran's lack of cooperation has left its inspectors unable to determine with certainty whether Tehran is engaged in activities (CNN) that violate its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In February, Iran announced it was resuming uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant, effectively ending a two-year moratorium.

With pessimism building over the prospects of a negotiated solution, the United States has launched an $85 million "soft diplomacy" effort—explained in this CFR Background Q&A—to support moderates and democratic forces in Iran. The program is modeled after Cold War information campaigns that undermined Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. However, CFR Senior Fellows Charles Kupchan and Ray Takeyh argue in the Los Angeles Times that this approach will "backfire and only strengthen Tehran's hard-liners." Among those counseling a more forceful approach is Charles Krauthammer, a noted neo-conservative columnist who derides the "charade" of nuclear talks (WashPost).

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