Iran’s nuclear programme

The nuclear program of Iran was launched in the 1950s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace programme. The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran’s nuclear programme continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran. After the 1979 revolution, a clandestine nuclear weapons research programme was disbanded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902–1989), who considered such weapons forbidden under Muslim ethics and jurisprudence. Iran has signed treaties repudiating the possession of weapons of mass destruction including the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iran’s nuclear programme has included several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants. Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Bushehr I reactor was complete with major assistance of Russian government agency Rosatom and was officially opened on 12 September 2011. Iran has announced that it is working on a new 360 MW nuclear power plant to be located in Darkhovin. The Russian engineering contractor Atomenergoprom said the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant would reach full capacity by the end of 2012. Iran has also indicated that it will seek more medium-sized nuclear power plants and uranium mines in the future.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, who is reported to have issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, declared in 2009: “We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the use and production of nuclear weapons.”But the IAEA published a report in 2011 claiming “credible” information that Iran had carried out activities “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”.The report drew attention to a military complex at Parchin, south of Tehran, which the IAEA has been unable to visit since 2005. Reports surfaced in 2000 that a large containment vessel had been built there to conduct hydrodynamic experiments. The IAEA said such experiments, which involve using explosives in conjunction with nuclear material or surrogates, were “strong indicators of possible weapon development”.The US has alleged that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme in 2003, but that senior Iranian leaders stopped it when it was discovered.

Iran’s nuclear programme became public in 2002, when an opposition group revealed secret activity including a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy-water reactor at Arak.The Iranian government subsequently agreed to inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).But the IAEA was unable to confirm Iran’s assertions that its nuclear programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes and that it had not sought to develop nuclear weapons.This led the US and its European allies to press Iran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used for civilian nuclear purposes but also – if enriched to 90% purity – to build nuclear bombs.

However, the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 halted any progress in talks, and the IAEA referred Iran to the UN Security Council for failing to comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement. Since then, the Security Council has adopted six resolutions requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium, some imposing sanctions.The US and EU have imposed additional sanctions on Iranian oil exports and banks since 2012, crippling Iran’s economy.Despite this, Iran continues to enrich uranium. In 2009, it disclosed the existence of a new underground facility at Fordo.

US President Barack Obama told Israeli television in March 2013 that his administration believed it would take “over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon” if it decided to do so.That would mean producing enough weapons-grade uranium; fashioning it into a warhead; and being able to deliver it by airplane, ship or missile.

Experts at the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said in a report that Iran could generate weapons-grade uranium in a matter of months. But the institute cautioned that the bomb-making process is separate and would be done in secret, so estimating timelines was extremely difficult.In fact, experts have been predicting for decades that Iran was on the verge of building a nuclear bomb. While the UN can monitor the amount of uranium, the relative skills of its scientists involved in nuclear and weapons research are harder to assess. There have been multiple rounds of negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 – the five UN Security Council permanent members US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. For years the two sides failed to make headway. But the mood changed after the election of Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013. On 24 November 2013, negotiators reached an interim deal after intensive talks in Geneva. It marked the biggest breakthrough in about a decade of on-off meetings. Iran agreed to curb its enrichment activities in return for an easing of some sanctions. This “first step” agreement will apply for six months, giving time for a “comprehensive solution” to the crisis to be found.

The two sides in the negotiations have hailed the agreement. President Barack Obama said it would “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a [nuclear] bomb”, while his Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would make the region safer for its allies, including Israel. President Rouhani also welcomed the deal, saying “No matter what interpretations are given, Iran’s right to enrichment has been recognised”. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final say in nuclear matters, called it an “achievement” and a “success”.The deal however has been sharply criticised by Israel, which sees Iran’s nuclear programme as a potential threat to its existence.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “not a historic agreement. It was a historic mistake”.He said Israel was “not bound by this agreement”. Let us see what comes out of it.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the writer and are not reflective of IPRI policy.

{Published in Pakistan Observer on January 14, 2014}.

Tags:

About the Author

Post a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top