It is difficult to
understate overstate the severity of the present crisis. President Obama had it exactly right on Friday morning when he said,
Iran’s decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime.
Simply put, there is no credible explanation for the existence of the Qom facility—as described by Western officials yesterday—that doesn’t involve the option to produce
future production of HEU-based nuclear weapons.
Obama walked a careful line in his remarks, reaffirming Iran’s “right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people” and holding the door open to a diplomatic resolution, stating, “We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5-plus-1 negotiations.” It fell to French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Brown to threaten consequences. Sarkozy said, “If by December there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.”
All three leaders refrained from even the least hint of a threat to resort to force. This choice seems aimed at providing a basis for action in concert with Russia and China, whose cooperation will be necessary for another round of UN sanctions in any case. But if there is no turnabout by Iran and no united front on the Security Council, then there’s also no guessing where this crisis could lead.
So here’s hoping the talks go better than Iranian rhetoric now suggests. If the Iranian side simply cannot be persuaded to accept an alternative to a national enrichment program, such as a national fuel stockpile, then the Forden-Thomson proposal really ought to take center stage.
Modified Code 3.1
At the risk of redundancy, let me spell out a few points in Andreas’s post a little more fully.
Iran-watchers have been concerned about the possibility of another, undiscovered clandestine enrichment site for years, basically ever since the exposure of the hidden facilities at Kalaye Electric (where Iran’s first known centrifuge enrichment work secretly took place) and the big underground halls at Natanz. An unnamed senior White House official put it this way:
Now, it was evident to everybody, both the United States and our allies, that if the Iranians wanted to pursue a nuclear weapons option the use of the Natanz facility was a very unattractive approach; because the IAEA inspectors were there, it would be noticed if Iran tried to produce weapons-grade uranium at that facility, or if they expelled the IAEA inspectors, everybody would assume that they were converting the facility to produce weapons-grade uranium.
So the obvious option for Iran would be to build another secret underground enrichment facility, and our intelligence services, working in very close cooperation with our allies, for the past several years have been looking for such a facility. And not surprisingly, we found one. So we have known for some time now that Iran was building a second underground enrichment facility. And as the President mentioned this morning, it’s located near the city of Qom, a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility.
The safeguards agreement between Iran and the IAEA requires Iran to declare nuclear facilities as soon as they begin construction. Now, in March of 2007, Iran unilaterally said it did not feel bound by that element of its safeguards agreement. And we know construction of the facility began even before the Iranians unilaterally said that they did not feel bound by that obligation.
The official is referring to Iran’s abrogation of an agreement with the IAEA known as “modified Code 3.1.” Iran’s insistence that they no longer needed to provide early notification of the construction of nuclear facilities appears to have been a risk-reduction measure: if they were caught building a secret enrichment plant (or, let’s say, a secret reprocessing facility), then they could point to this legal maneuver back in March 2007, claiming that they had done nothing wrong. That’s the scenario that’s playing out now.
The IAEA emphatically rejected the move at the time, and has continued to do so. Here’s how the Director-General’s report of May 2007 (GOV/2007/22) addressed the matter:
12. On 29 March 2007, Iran informed the Agency that it had “suspended” the implementation of the modified Code 3.1, which had been “accepted in 2003, but not yet ratified by the parliament”, and that it would “revert” to the implementation of the 1976 version of Code 3.1, which only requires the submission of design information for new facilities “normally not later than 180 days before the facility is scheduled to receive nuclear material for the first time.” In a letter dated 30 March 2007, the Agency requested Iran to reconsider its decision.
13. Iran has taken issue with the Agency’s right to verify design information which had been provided by Iran pursuant to the modified Code 3.1 concerning the IR-40 reactor at Arak. The basis for Iran’s contention is that, under the 1976 version of Code 3.1, to which it had “reverted”, the verification of such information is not justified, given the preliminary construction stage of the facility (described as “far beyond receiving nuclear material”) and the Agency’s previous activities at Arak.
14. In accordance with Article 39 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, agreed Subsidiary Arrangements cannot be modified unilaterally; nor is there a mechanism in the Safeguards Agreement for the suspension of provisions agreed to in Subsidiary Arrangements. Moreover, Code 3.1 is related to the provision of design information, not to the frequency or timing of verification by the Agency of such information. The Agency’s right to verify design information provided to it is a continuing right, which is not dependent on the stage of construction of, or the presence of nuclear material at, a facility.
Ironically, the attempt to rewrite modified Code 3.1 mainly served to alert Iran-watchers to look a little harder for new clandestine facilities — little did we know that the Intelligence Community had already found one. Today, we see our worst suspicions confirmed.