Mark HibbsIran’s Quest for the F6 in its UF6

In the old days before the first Gulf War, most nuclear export controls were pretty cut-and-dried: Exporters checked for items on a short “trigger list” that could be used for making nuclear bomb fuel. But after they learned what Iraq had secretly been up to for about a decade before 1991, the Nuclear Suppliers Group came up with a second list, Infcirc/254/Part 2, and it got into the tricky business of policing a panoply of dual-use goods sought by proliferators.

The stream of dual-use goods is virtually endless, and so has been the internal debate at the NSG about whether items should be listed or not. That’s even more so right now, because as I explained in this report published by Carnegie last month, the NSG has launched a comprehensive review of both its lists, and the decisions it makes about what to control and how to do it will profoundly impact how we attack procurement threats in years to come.

One of the items which is not on the NSG dual-use list is a chemical substance which Iran has been keenly and furtively trying to import since the mid-1990s. This is anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, or AHF. (The term “anhydrous” is just a fancy way of saying that hydrogen fluoride [HF], otherwise known as hydrofluoric acid, is more or less pure, having less than 400 ppm of water.)

Iran needs AHF to process UO2 into UF4 for two programs that the UN Security Council says should be suspended: uranium enrichment and the Arak heavy water reactor.

The open literature on Iran’s nuclear program contains a few misleading references asserting that back in 1985, when the U.S. and China were negotiating a bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, the U.S. believed that efforts by Iran to import AHF were a tell-tale signature of Iranian interest in reprocessing, and that China therefore agreed not to supply AHF to Iran because the NSG controlled exports of AHF.

In fact, some papers in my files, authored in 2003 by scientists from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, spelled out for anyone who cared to know that AEOI wanted AHF for two reasons: First, to produce F2 gas by an electrolysis process, and then use the F2 to fluorinate UF4 and generate UF6; and second, to use HF to hydrofluorinate UO2 to produce UF4 (also known as green salt), which would be subsequently reduced to uranium metal in a reduction vessel. These disclosures match findings in John Garver’s recent and comprehensive tome on Sino-Iran relations, namely, that China before that had “supplied Iran with blueprints, test reports, and design information” for a UF6 production plant and a second plant to produce uranium metal. In 2005, the AEOI reported in fact that the uranium conversion plant it built at Esfahan using Chinese technology features both chemical processes. UF4 can be processed into UF6 in Building 101C, or instead into uranium metal in Building 104.

Garver points out that when the U.S. in 1997 objected to China about its plans to sell AHF to Iran, the Chinese riposted that the transaction was perfectly legal because AHF wasn’t on the NSG dual-use list. That might have been just a tad disingenuous since China at that time was not a member of the NSG anyway. But the Chinese statement was correct.

It’s also correct today. AHF is still is not on the NSG list, regardless of its critical role in UF6 production in some enrichment programs, including Iran’s. If Iran wants to use its Chinese technology to provide the F4 in UF4 or the F6 in UF6 for enrichment feedstock or uranium metal fuel, it needs the AHF.

China-Korea-Thailand-UAE-Iran

Iranian procurement agents were not deterred by assurances which China provided to the U.S. in 1998 that planned sales of AHF to Iran would be indefinitely “suspended.” Customs intelligence files of at least three Western governments testify to repeated efforts by Iran–some successful, some not–to import Chinese-origin AHF for a period of nearly 15 years. In the beginning, Iran tried to import the AHF directly from Chinese producers. As time went on, Iran added transit destinations to hoodwink export controllers.

In December 2004, while Iran was negotiating with the EU-3 over a deal to suspend its enrichment program, Iran announced that it had approved construction of its own AHF production plant, also at Esfahan–a point that stuck in the craw of EU negotiators who saw that step as a demonstration of bad faith by Iran. Until that plant was up and running, however, Iran would need to import AHF and throughout the last decade they kept trying to get their fingers on it.

Iran’s AHF production plant, with a capacity of 5,000 tons of AHF/yr, far more than what is needed to produce UF6 at current rates in Esfahan, was scheduled to be finished and working in just two years. Some intelligence information however suggested that Iran encountered delays. For whatever reason, Iran has continued to try to snag large amounts of AHF, and to disguise its efforts by organizing complex transactions involving multiple transit points. In 2008, for example, in Thailand, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines loaded a large consignment of Chinese AHF onto a Liberian-flagged vessel bound for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, with an intermediate stopover in the UAE where it would again change hands.  Before that, Iranian procurement agents had arranged for the AHF to be purchased from a Chinese producer by a Korean firm, and then forwarded to Thailand. Western customs intelligence agencies got wind of the transaction, and the AHF was intercepted in the nick of time at the Port of Dubai before it headed to Iran.

NSG List vs Catch-All Approach

So why, if AHF is a potential bottleneck in Iran’s designs to produce UF6 for its centrifuges, and Iran is going to great lengths to deceive us about its efforts to import the stuff, isn’t AHF on the NSG dual-use list?

AHF is just one of many items which could be considered nuclear dual-use and which are not routinely controlled. The way the NSG works, all 46 members must agree to put an item on a control list. In some cases, business pressure groups in key NSG states object to their governments and an item may be left off the list. (That’s why my report last month urged that the NSG closely monitor efforts by these lobbies to interfere with consensus-formation during the control list review).

There are a lot of companies making AHF, in a lot of countries worldwide. Producing it doesn’t require much if any proprietary know-how. And its nuclear use accounts for just a fraction of demand. These data from NNSA suggest that any efforts to put AHF on the NSG list would kick up a fuss, because uranium fuel processing accounts for just 3% of global use of HF. A major consumer is the petroleum industry–which would not be amused by a new requirement that AHF be subject to nuclear-use controls whenever it was sought for use in a gasoline refinery anywhere in the Middle East.

Furthermore, there’s the China factor to consider. By its own admission, the biggest producer of HF in the world is a U.S. firm, Honeywell. But according to industry market intelligence for this sector, there is now a shift underway in HF production away from advanced industrial countries. One reason for this globalization may be that making this stuff is a nasty health hazard. AHF is highly toxic and corrosive. If you breathe it in, deep in your lungs the gas precipitates to hydrofluoric acid. China presently makes HF cheaply and with comparatively little oversight and has half of the world’s fluorite reserves used to make HF. According to one market survey, “the growing tight supply of fluorite resources forced the tycoons in [the] fluorine chemical industry… to transfer the production of HF to China, and establish their plants there successfully.” (In one case, this process may have been just a little too successful: a German AHF producer last year sued its Chinese partners for secretly building 12 unauthorized AHF plants in China using the German firm’s technology.) Would China consent to tightening controls on AHF?

AHF is on the control list of the Australia Group because it is also identified as a precursor for nerve agents containing fluorine. My NSG report recommended that the NSG intensify contacts with the Australia Group and other multilateral export control arrangements in the interest of efficiency. Perhaps the CWC people have a best practice or two that would help the NSG keep AHF out of the wrong hands.

Just because AHF is not on the NSG control list, that doesn’t mean no one at the NSG is paying attention to it. Given repeated attempts by Iran to import it, AHF is on a so-called “watch list” of unlisted items which the U.S. government has provided NSG members to trigger catch-all controls for shipments to Iran.

The “watch list” is there to flag NSG members to halt exports of non-listed goods to suspicious end-users. But if Chinese-origin AHF is headed for Iran via non-NSG intermediate destinations like Thailand, it won’t be stopped if the intermediary entrepots have no catch-all controls on their books. What’s more, catch-all controls won’t be effective unless they are applied by all NSG states themselves when they are needed. South Korea is a member of the NSG; that 2008 transaction involved a South Korean AHF vendor.

In years ahead, the NSG will be challenged by a massive global trade increase in unlisted goods. That means that effective application of catch-all controls will be absolutely critical to halt proliferators–something for the NSG to think hard about as it reviews its control lists over the next three years.

Comments

  1. Matt (History)

    “Iran’s AHF production plant, with a capacity of 5,000 tons of AHF/yr, far more than what is needed to produce UF6 at current rates in Esfahan, was scheduled to be finished and working in just two years. Some intelligence information however suggested that Iran encountered delays. For whatever reason Iran has continued to try to snag large amounts of AHF, and to disguise its efforts by organizing complex transactions involving multiple transit points.

    This data from NNSA suggests that any efforts to put AHF on the NSG list would kick up a fuss, because uranium fuel processing accounts for just 3% of global use of HF. A major consumer is the petroleum industry–which would not be amused by a new requirement that AHF be subject to nuclear-use controls whenever it was sought for use in a gasoline refinery anywhere in the Middle East.”

    According to NIORC Esfahan also has an oil refinery currently running at 370000 barrels/day, and Iran has long tried to expand its domestic oil processing. Is it not plausible that in Iran too AHF, though used in the nuclear program, will be used more for petroleum refining and other industrial activities?

    It seems that with enough broadening trade controls to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction devolve into farcical and counterproductive efforts to limit the spread of modernity. I am reminded of reports from 2007 that cholera was spreading in Baghdad after chlorine needed for water treatment was kept out of the country. Because chlorine could be used to make weapons too.

    • mark (History)

      Matt,
      That’s very interesting about the Esfahan oil industry so thanks for that insight. This in fact shows how delicate the balance in dual-use export controls can be. The NSG watch list notifications which are distributed to NSG member states, such as the one that underlies my account of that 2008 transaction, do not as a rule distinguish between nuclear uses and non-nuclear uses of AHF. To see how much suspicion infects both sides in this conflict, it should be pointed out that Iran’s announcement about its 2004 plan to produce AHF in a facility at Esfahan was made with reference to Iran’s nuclear program. A few weeks ago there were reports of an explosion near the Esfahan conversion plant complex. It did occur to me then that perhaps an attempt had been made to short circuit Iran’s effort to produce UF6 at Esfahan by taking out Iran’s ability to produce this critical precursor.

    • Stephen (History)

      It seems that with enough broadening trade controls to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction devolve into farcical and counterproductive efforts to limit the spread of modernity

      That’s what I was thinking while reading the story. More to the point, original good intentions are being perverted into just another method of engaging in economic warfare / destabilisation.

  2. mark (History)

    Stephen and Matt: I appreciate your narratives. At the operative level, however, with all due respect it should be recalled that Iran’s enrichment and heavy water reactor programs are subject to UNSC resolutions under Chapter VII. Failure to comply with those resolutions, calling for a suspension of those programs and cooperation with the IAEA to assure the international community that its nuclear program is dedicated to peaceful use, means that Iran’s economy will suffer from UNSC-imposed sanctions. Iran has to know that those penalties include deprivation of AHF to its gasoline production industry and any other economic sectors using it in the production process, as a consequence of the dual-use nature of AHF. At the operative level this isn’t about preventing Iran’s modernization.

    • kme (History)

      Don’t these efforts to prevent Iran aquiring AHF predate those UNSC resolutions by a number of years?

  3. Hairs (History)

    My friend Google says that Iran has its own deposits of fluorite at the Komshejeh mine near Esfahan. So presuming that its AHF production plant comes on line within another year or two, any restrictions on Iran importing AHF can only be a delaying action. (Of course, the imported AHF might have a quality that Iran can’t achieve domestically – but then I don’t suppose Iran would be building a production facility if it didn’t think it was going to get a usable product.)

    The figures Mark gives indicate that vastly more AHF is used worldwide in the petroleum industry than in nuclear fuel processing, so that leaves two points in my mind:

    1) What does the international community hope to achieve by hindering / delaying UF6 conversion for another year or two that is ADDITIONAL to the hindrance / delay caused to Iran’s nuclear programmes by existing sanctions and restrictions?

    2) If there is no good answer to question 1, could it be denied that restricting the import of AHF is more of a general economic restriction / sanction / attack than a response specific to Iran’s nuclear programmes?

    • mark (History)

      Hairs,

      It is pretty clear that the NSG has not put AHF on its dual-use list because of the background I provided, i.e., that 97% of the AHF produced in the world is used for non-nuclear uses. It would be very unlikely that in such as case governments and their industries worldwide would support additional controls.

      The NSG has, as I document, intervened in Iran’s efforts to import this precursor chemical because it has deemed it worthwhile to try to inhibit Iran’s production of UF4, UF6, and uranium metal.

      Because the UF4 production program is specifically for two projects which the UNSCR has ordered suspended, it would appear that the NSG takes the view that so long as Iran has not complied with UNSCR, suppliers should not abet Iran in producing feedstocks for these programs.

      I agree with you that this effort cannot in the long term succeed should Iran bring into operation its own AHF production facility. Iran certainly would have sufficient fluorites (they are abundantly available in the country to produce enough AHF for Iran’s nuclear uses) to produce the precursor for the enrichment and Arak reactor programs.

      But it should be understood that the AHF interdiction by the suppliers is prompted by its nuclear use. There’s no rationale to indulge in conspiracy theories about nasty hegemons trying to deny Iran’s right to economic development by inhibiting Iran’s access to a fluorine chemical.

      The question you are asking goes beyond the scope of the NSG’s sanctioning of Iranian efforts to produce enrichment feedstock and concerns instead the rationale for economic sanctions against Iran. The restrictions in this case follow as I said from the specific applications of AHF in Iran’s nuclear fuel processiong program. That isn’t the case for the sanctions now under consideration in the U.S. and elsewhere on Iran’s petroleum industry and financial sector.

      As I pointed out in the blog, it isn’t even clear that the efforts by NSG members to invoke the catch-all rule in the case of AHF exports to Iran are successful. In some cases Iran has succeeded in importing AHF from sources in Asia (including China) and Europe.

  4. Dan Joyner (History)

    Great post, Mark, as usual. I know alot of lawyers who follow these export control rule developments extremely closely, and whose practice is entirely devoted to advising clients on them. And youre right that there is alot of politics and special interest involvement in how these rules are constructed. There is often a balance that has to be achieved between nonproliferation benefit on one hand, and disruption of business cost on the other. The question becomes on each discrete item, which way the scales tilt.

    • mark (History)

      Dan, it would be fair to say that if a precursor chemical has zillions of uses worldwide, that some of the industries using it are politically powerful, that it is cheap to produce and requires no proprietary knowhow, that major producers are countries which are not keen on adding to the burden of controlling exports, and that the use you are trying to control for is a tiny fraction of the total, chances of it getting onto the NSG list are not very good.

  5. Nick (History)

    Since May 2011 IAEA report, the total amount of UF6 produced at UCF was estimated at 370 tons. Also, this facility has not produced any new UF6 since that report. Assuming, roughly 10 tons per 1 ton of LEU, 320 tons of UF6 must be available. At the current rate of enrichment, and the fact that FEP enrichment level has stayed about 140 Kg per month, and FFEP as yet to operate, IRI is burning through 15-20 tons of its UF6. So I would not worry about HF for another 10 years. Of course, if the number of centrifuges in FEP increase (which it hasn’t since 2009) and FFEP goes online (yet to happen), UF6 consumption will accelerate.

  6. mark (History)

    Nick,

    Thanks for that data,very helpful. I think it could probably be assumed based on these numbers you show that because of Iran’s success in importing some HF over the last 15 years, and the fact that HF would find applications in numerous industrial activities in IRI, we must assume they have sufficient quantities–especially if they are about to or are already operating an AHF plant in Esfahan with a throughput of 5000 MT/y–far more than they need for nuclear applications. We don’t know of course if they are right now making unsafeguarded UF4 feedstock somewhere and also hex or uranium metal. But it’s hard to imagine that if they have a clandestine investment, given the above, that HF would be a bottleneck, especially since it isn’t under safeguards in the country.

    The internal communications on some of these transfers among NSG parties point out specifically also that AHF is also controlled under the CWC/Australia arrangement as a precursor for nerve gas. There is a wealth of information in the open literature documenting assertions by Western governments that Iran has been making these agents regardless of its participation in the CWC, and that during the 1990s and perhaps since then it has been importing precursors from a variety of countries including China.

    No doubt HF inventories are to a certain extent fungible inside Iran. Given that IRI has a substantial petrochemical industry, it would be logical that if the AEOI or the IRGC or another organization involved in strategic programs needed HF, couldn’t they obtain it from an Iranian plastics factory somewhere? I have seen some NSG-related information on transactions of HF to Iran since the mid-1990s. What I have not seen, however, is anything identifying the end users in IRI. Perhaps that information might explain the vigilence of NSG governments to track down and intercept HF shipments to Iran despite the fact that Iran was piling up a large inventory of UF6.

  7. Ian (History)

    Great post Mark. The difficult balancing act undertaken in all the export control regimes are complicated by the universal nature of their control lists: regimes are deliberately intended to be non-discriminatory, but one of the results of this is that they cant adjust the dual-use threshold for specific countries. I can only imagine what the NAM would say to a country-specific control list controlled under the NSG.

    Instead, as the nonpro regime is currently structured, it would be for UN sanctions to mandate a different dualuse risk threshold for Iran, and it currently does this by maintaining technology sanctions that tend to be drawn from the regime control-lists, even though sanctions have to be applied by all countries, even those which are not regime members. There is no reason that the UN sanctions committee couldn’t sanction additional dual use items of nuclear or missile relevance, and in the case of AHF it could do this without having a significant impact on the worldwide market for HF, but any move to add items would probably be viewed as imposing ‘additional’ sanctions rather than amending current sanctions.

    • mark (History)

      Ian,

      One of the beauties of ACW is that the format encourages readers to add useful information expanding our knowledge, and some of the comments I’ve seen coming in to this post clearly have done this. Thanks to you and to others for their contributions.

      We seem to have a situation where there are reasons to question whether the specific application of catch-all in this case would be effective in deterring a country from pursuing nuclear activities which are under UNSC sanctions.

      As I said before, we don’t have all the appropriate information on efforts to deter Iran from importing HF, since we have no data on Iranian end users or, for that matter, end uses, for specific transactions such as the complex 2008 one I outlined in the post. There is in fact a discussion among some experts about imposing sanctions on Iran concerning specific dual-use items in the context of UNSCR. Beyond that, at issue is the interface between the NSG lists and list makers (both for the DUL and the watch lists), on the one hand, and the decision makers in individual NSG PGs, on the other hand, about when in specific cases to invoke the catch-all rule. In the Carnegie NSG report I on behalf of experts participating in the discussion made recommendations promoting transparency concerning application of some of these rules by suppliers, for example, concerning definitions and red lines.

    • ian (History)

      Interesting point on the catchall, Mark; I did not have that in mind when I wrote my earlier post. I know that I am somewhat unusual in the community in thinking that implementation of catchalls does not have to be sporadic. The narrative on catchalls tends to fall back on the argument that more information sharing (intelligence) is needed for catchall controls be effective, but when you take the conversation out of the abstract you often find that the proliferation risk is identified not from shared information, as such, but from the category of good being exported and the utility of those goods to a program. (case in point; I think it’s generally accepted that anything exported to Iran that had a specific utility to the nuclear program could simply be diverted, regardless of declared end use / end user – it is for this reason that DU goods listed by the NSG are prohibited for export to Iran regardless of end use unless an exemption is agreed at the UNSC sanctions committee)
      There is a lot of work underway to break non-controlled goods down into risk categories so that national authorities without really in-depth technical specialists can weigh the proliferation risks. The challenge is that even when the proliferation risk of non-listed goods are known, some key national authorities will be loathed to block the exports.
      I think in some key countries the view is that no measures to restrict technologies to Iran should be taken beyond those that are explicitly detailed in the UN sanctions (which prohibit the export of goods controlled by the NSG, among others). If so, increasing awareness of the proliferation risk posed by certain exports with a view to catchall’s being used more wouldn’t actually solve the problem. Only a common risk assessment of the internal diversion risk posed by each country of interest could solve the problem, but there are obvious barriers to such a list being generated within the NSG because of the non-discrimination issue.
      You are right that expanding the NSG DU list would sort the AHF issue, but it could be seen as a broad-brush approach. The other issue is that from memory I believe that expanding the NSG DU list would not automatically be incorporated into UN sanctions without action by the sanctions committee.
      I guess when it comes down to it, the question is this; is it more realistic to get AHF added to the NSG DU list or to get the UN sanctions list broadened?

  8. Anon (History)

    I don’t get it: you say Iran has a huge plant for making AHF….so why do they need to import it?

  9. Stephen (History)

    There might be another reason that Iran needs to import quantities of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride. Iran has three aluminium smelters (one at Arak and two at Bandar Abbas, yes, that Bandar Abbas) each producing 120,000 tons.yr according to Wikipedia. The Hall-Heroult process requires the addition of aluminium fluoride to reduce the melting point of the cryolite/alumina mixture and aluminium fluoride is manufactured by reacting aluminium hydroxide with anhydrous hydrogen fluoride.

    Since it is very likely that Iran can produce all the anhydrous hydrogen fluoride it needs for its nuclear program domestically (the plant to manufacture it was started in 2005 and slated to take two years so it is most likely in production by now), then the US’ obstruction of Iran’s importation of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride is more to do with economic warfare (shutting down Iran’s oil refining and aluminium smelting activities) rather than non-proliferation. But then US pressure on Iran is all about regime change rather than non-proliferation.

    BTW, the production of UF6 from UF4 no longer requires the use of fluorine gas. Instead, it can be converted with dried oxygen according to this US patent:

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5723837.pdf

    • Anon (History)

      Stephen,
      you are correct when you say “But then US pressure on Iran is all about regime change rather than non-proliferation.”

      This is clear if one reads the text of the sanctions legislation.

      Also it is the main reason that Iran does not cooperate on nuclear issues.

      Lastly, as Eric Brill has written the UNSC sanctions are extra-judicial.

    • iskandar (History)

      For the Halt-Herault process, less than 400 ppm water is not required. On the contrary, the process just generates water! No need for AHF.

      This is rubbish.

  10. John Schilling (History)

    The most likely result of a successful effort to prevent Iran from importing AHF is not that Iran, lacking AHF, will be unable to produce nuclear fuel/weapons or even that Iran will be substantially delayed in producing such. The most likely result is that, after a brief delay and substantial expense, Iran will produce its own AHF – in quantities greater than required by its nuclear program.

    Iran will then seek to sell the excess AHF in order to recover some of those costs. The Iranian oil industry will be one possible customer. So will any other proliferator nation without a domestic AHF production capacity, e.g. Syria or Burma. Care to guess whether the oil producers will outbid the proliferators on a per-kilogram basis? Care to guess whether the Iranians will feel any scruples about selling dual-use materials to other proliferators?

  11. Amy (History)

    Interesting read in Foreign Affairs about how the sanctions actually encourage proliferation by Suzanne at Brookings:

    http://www.foreignaffairs.com/ARTICLES/137011/suzanne-maloney/obamas-counterproductive-new-iran-sanctions?page=show#

    Also, it is not at all clear that enrichment is related to nuclear weapons work.

  12. john (History)

    Just to throw something in – I don’t believe pursuing the AHF issue has much potential for various reasons:

    – Not a very effective measure: AHF is not an obvious bottleneck (as was mentioned before), and Iran would probably be able to circumvent export controls or achieve an indigenous capability to produce it.
    – Been there, done that (partially): – As wikileaks shows, the AG already decided on 2005 to enhance export controls to Iran, Syria and DPRK. It wasn’t very successful, so the U.S wanted on 2009, to “Agree to exercise, on a national basis, a ‘strong presumption to deny’ export license applications for some or all AG-controlled goods and technology bound for Syria, Iran and North Korea..” Similar to the MTCR, and urge China, India and others to follow.
    – High cost: knowing that “uranium fuel processing accounts for just 3% of global use of HF”, it would be understandably frustrating to include it in the NSG DU list. It would also be very hard to convince china to agree.
    – Still need a new UNSCR: even if the AHF is included in the NSG list, we would still need new UNSCR to incorporate it to the current UN regime. If we could get china and Russia to do that, we might as well skip the NSG step and establish a new special list for Iran in the UN.
    To conclude, AHF path is not cost-effective, and would be like sticking our finger in the leaking dyke, with high political and diplomatic costs. A better approach to influence Iran (in my opinion) lays in the measures which are being considered by the EU and that have been adopted by the US congress.

    Any comments?

    • mark (History)

      John,

      Thanks for your input. I think it would be fair to say that no one is seriously thinking about putting AHF or HF on the NSG DUL right now. There are some people thinking about how to move forward by, as you propose, coming up with a UNSC-driven dual-use list for Iran. That might include AHF/HF. The fact that Iran has produced 300+ MT of UF6 does raise the issue about the ultimate utility of controlling AHF exports to Iran. But, again, we don’t know the particulars about 1.) the end-users of AHF supplies that were subject to interdiction by NSG PGs, 2.) any intelligence about clandestine production of uranium metal or hex in Iran, and 3.) the purity of that Iranian hex. I prompted a debate back around 2007 on the basis of information I had which suggested that Iran was making hex that would potentially demage their centrifuges. I know, that was then and this is now, and most people assume Iran has fixed that impurities problem, if indeed that was a serious issue (I was told by people who would know this, including specifically on Iran, that it was a problem; others, including Scott Kemp, have suggested since that it may not have been.) But, yes, getting the NSG PGs to control AHF/HF by the means of putting it on the DUL would seem to be a losing proposition, agreed.

  13. Anon (History)

    It would seem that the most sensible thing for developing nations to do, in light of the dogged pursuit of Iraq, Iran (and not of Pakistan, India and Israel) — is not to enter into any arms control/reduction treaties. It seems that developing nations that did not sign the NPT are now much better of than those that did.

    • John Schilling (History)

      The developing nations that did not sign the NPT have more formidable nuclear arsenals than those that did. It is not clear that this makes them better off. Nuclear arsenals are prestigious, but of limited practical utility and rather expensive even without a sanctions regime attached.

      If a nation does not believe that a nuclear arsenal is or may become necessary to e.g. deter an existential threat, it may be better off entering appropriate arms control treaties, particularly regional ones. It saves them the cost of a nuclear arsenal, and if their regional adversaries don’t conform, the weight of sanctions falls on them. Honest NPT signatories thus obtain a real comparative advantage over cheaters and refusers in all forms of non-nuclear competition.

      They are, of course, at substantial disadvantage if there is an actual nuclear competition in the works, so there is that argument on the other side.

    • Anon (History)

      In the sense of preserving a nations’ options to future existential threats and in view of emerging nations with novel nuclear opacity postures (and helped by NWSs), it makes sense for developing nations not to enter into future arms control regimes with the NWSs such as the NPT.

  14. mark (History)

    Kme,

    Sure. But if the US got a specific commitment from China in 1997 not to export AHF to Iran, I think you can assume that implies AHF was in the crosshairs, and that the US and the NSG would have zeroed in on Iran’s AHF imports from then on, based on what information they had about Iran’s enrichment program. It would be fair to say that before Iran confirmed the existence of the Natanz plant in 2002 to the IAEA, the US and other Western governments had intelligence making clear that Iran was preparing to enrich uranium. Only in 2003 did the IAEA confirm that Iran had not declared to the IAEA for 18 about nuclear activities, many related to imports of uranium and chemical processing related to enrichment. So I can assume that the US’ fascination with Iran’s efforts to import AHF were not arbitrary. I have no idea when exactly HF would have been put on the NSG watch list for Iran.

  15. yousaf (History)

    The current set of [ostensibly nuclear-related] sanctions on Iran are, in reality, a Fatwa against the Iranian regime — see my post at the NI:

    http://nationalinterest.org/print/commentary/are-sanctions-fatwa-iran-6363

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