Joshua PollackA Dead End in Damascus

After a few years of activity, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe of Syria’s nuclear activities is sputtering to a halt. To their credit, even after the being denied access to sites apparently linked to the concealed reactor destroyed by the Israeli Air Force – and having had very little access to the former reactor site itself – safeguards inspectors have still managed to unearth undeclared nuclear imports and experiments. But that run of success now appears to have ended.

The international investigation has suffered from two burdens: first, a late start, and second, the limits of the IAEA’s authority in Syria. Despite extensive news reports of the destruction of a hidden reactor in September 2007, the IAEA failed to act until April 2008, on the dubious grounds that no member state had shared its suspicions until then. In the intervening time, Syria was able to remove or bury the rubble. The inspectors also sought access to three allegedly related locations, but were denied on the irrelevant grounds that these were military facilities. In the meantime, Syria had the opportunity to sanitize these sites as well.

Phosphate, Irradiate, Obfuscate

Only where the inspectors have had regular access have they managed to unravel Syria’s cover stories. Environmental samples taken in August 2008 at a safeguarded nuclear research site in Damascus, the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR), revealed traces of uranium in hot cells. After the IAEA rejected Syria’s initial explanations, the Syrians admitted to having imported small amounts of previously undeclared uranyl nitrate, as well as having introduced domestically produced yellowcake into the facility. When the IAEA conducted an inventory at MNSR in March 2010, the Syrians also acknowledged having converted yellowcake to uranyl nitrate and undertaken irradiation experiments, all without informing the IAEA as required by Syria’s nuclear safeguards agreement. According to the Syrian side, the yellowcake came from a phosphate purification facility near the city of Homs, built by a Swedish engineering firm as an IAEA-sponsored Technical Cooperation project.

At last report, the IAEA believes that other undeclared uranium conversion experiments have taken place in Syria, and that Syria has yet to declare its entire uranium stockpile. Syria has refused the IAEA’s request to visit the Homs facility.

Once Bitten

The IAEA is unlikely to make additional headway under its present authorities in Syria. These do not include an Additional Protocol, which would afford inspectors wide-ranging access. Although Director-General Amano has declined to rule it out, the IAEA looks reluctant to use even its existing special-inspection authority. Invoking a special inspection backfired with the North Koreans almost two decades ago, so it’s perhaps understandable if the IAEA has become gun-shy.

Instead of taking a confrontational approach, the IAEA concluded a “plan of action” with Damascus on September 3, 2010 to resolve certain “inconsistencies” between Syrian statements and IAEA findings – an approach reminiscent of the ill-fated Iranian work plan of 2007. So far, it’s been more plan than action. On November 18, Amano sent a letter directly to the Syrian Foreign Minister urging full cooperation. (Previous correspondence, as best as I can tell, went to the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria.) The only reply seems to have been the remarks of President Bashar al-Asad, who told an interviewer that Syria will never sign an Additional Protocol.

Start Spreading the News

The Syrian case now lumbers on to its destination. David Crawford of Wall Street Journal has reported what many of us had suspected would soon be coming: the IAEA is preparing to draw conclusions about Syria’s noncompliance with its safeguards agreement. Subject to a vote of the Board of Governors, which could take place as soon as next month, Syria’s nuclear program is poised to land on the docket of the UN Security Council.

Recent and related: Syria’s Tibnah Salt Mine Revisited, and Did Syria Admit to Bio-Weapons?

Update | March 7, 2011. The IAEA’s latest Syria report conveys no sense whatsoever that the Director-General is pushing for a decision on noncompliance, so I’d have to say that Crawford’s story was… premature. Andreas Persbo has posted an analysis of the special inspection power and how its invocation might lead to a noncompliance finding. Mark Hibbs reports that the lack of urgency surrounding Syria’s case is owed to other priorities, particularly a hope that Syria might soon commence peace talks with Israel.

Stay tuned.


  1. joshua (History)

    Readers will notice that I’ve been away for awhile. Unfortunately, I have less time and freedom to contribute of late, a condition that is likely to persist. Nor do I expect to participate in the comments as much as I used to. That’s just how it goes.

  2. Anon (History)

    Josh, you state: “Subject to a vote of the Board of Governors, which could take place as soon as next month, Syria’s nuclear program is poised to land on the docket of the UN Security Council.”

    I agree, but unfortunately it is highly debatable whether the precedent set with the Iranian issue is legally correct and can or should be duplicated in Syria.

    The UNSC can only take up the issue if there is a finding of a “threat to peace”.

    Eric Brill has written on this — I paste the abstract below:

    “In early 2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency referred Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council, which has since ordered Iran to comply with numerous IAEA requests. Though nearly all commentators overlook this, the Security Council has no authority to enforce Iran’s Safeguards Agreement. Although the Security Council has also imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, the UN Charter authorizes punishment only if the Security Council determines that a threat to the peace exists, which it has never done. Authorized or not, the Security Council’s actions appear to most observers as firmly grounded in international law, from which Iran appears to drift farther and farther away – indignantly demanding broad rights while suspiciously refusing to make required disclosures. Iran insists it is not seeking nuclear weapons and that its position is the well-grounded one, from which the IAEA and the Security Council are drifting farther and farther away in a relentless moving of goalposts. Under its Safeguards Agreement, Iran may demand that independent arbitrators identify the true drifter, and neither the IAEA nor the Security Council can prevent this. Iran’s predictable arbitration victory would replace its ineffective protests with an authoritative confirmation that Iran is being asked to perform obligations that do not exist, to accept restrictions that no one has a right to impose. Handled well, it could lead to a broad resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute.”


    I don’t know if the Syrian CSA has an arbitration clause, but if it does then that is the proper way forward — not the UNSC route, which is a legal gray-area at best.

    I would be pleased to hear your views on what Eric Brill has to say.

    • joshua (History)

      Brill makes two arguments (more, actually). The first is that the Security Council has no standing in matters related to IAEA safeguards. I think that’s a tough argument to make, so points for boldness; it’s contradicted on its face by Art. III.B.4 of the IAEA Statute, among other things. The second is that the Security Council (not the IAEA BoG) must make a certain finding before it can invoke certain of its own powers.

      I leave it to others to judge the merits of his argument about proper sequencing of actions in the Security Council. In any case, I’m unsure who he’s addressing with his argument: The Security Council itself? Iranian diplomats? The court of public opinion? As far as I can tell from my non-legal-expert stance, votes in the Security Council are the way that legal questions about resolutions are addressed.

    • Anon (History)

      thank you. I do not think Brill says that the UNSC has no standing in matters of IAEA concern, but rather that the hurdle to pass to impose punitive UNSC sanctions is that a “threat to peace” exists. e.g. If it can be shown that elements of the Iranian or (putative) Syrian nuclear programmes are a threat to peace, then indeed UNSC should take up the issue which had a genesis in the IAEA.

      I think what he is saying is that it makes little sense for Iran (or Syria in the possible future) to cooperate with the IAEA if they will still be subject to UNSC demands that include (for Iran) the suspension of enrichment. i.e. even if Iran satisfies the IAEA they are still subject to extra demands from the UNSC.

      I think he is directing his comments at the community at large and at the UNSC.

      Do others have a view on whether Brill’s arguments are valid? Unfortunately, my own legal expertise is limited but I cannot fault what Brill appears to suggest is the correct way forward.

    • Spruce (History)

      Important thing to understand about UNSC’s powers and Brill’s arguments is that there is no need to “show” a threat to peace. All UNSC has to do is to find the issue at hand being a threat to peace and it has the full authority to base this findings to as flimsy basis as it might desire – or refuse finding something to be threat to peace regardless of wieght of evidence.

      The important point Brill makes is that without this finding, USNC cannot impose sanctions or take other actions based on IAEA’s reports. But if it does find something to be a threat to peace, then it has full power to do so. The reason why UNSC never declared the Iranian program being threat to peace had nothing to do with Iran itself, but internal UNSC politics. And that’s quite convoluted and long story in of itself.

      The second point to take out from the text is that Director General of IAEA has right to report to UNSC pretty much whatever it wants regardless of whether some country is found to be in compliance of its safeguards agreements or not. Finding of noncompliance forces the DG to report this to UNSC, but he is not limited to reporting things to just findings on noncompliance.

      Together this means that only thing that has been missing from UNSC’s handling on Iranian case is the finding of threat to peace by UNSC. And even that is somewhat debatable (I take an opposite view from Brill whether the ‘implied finding’ is acceptable interpretation). And important thing to remember is that there was no need to show how a nuclear program would be threat to peace, UNSC would just have think it to be the case.

      This is, of course, quite academic discussion as the organization that interprets the legality of UNSC’s actions is UNSC itself.

  3. Dan Joyner (History)

    Thanks for this very useful piece, Joshua. I sincerely hope that the IAEA doesnt send Syria’s case to the UNSC. That would be following in the footsteps of the disasterously handled Iran case. Ratcheting up the profile of the case will only lead to entrenched political positions on both sides, and a resulting stalemate, like with Iran. UNSC sanctions will follow. They will be useless. But at that point, neither side can back down without losing face. Then we’ll be right where we are now with Iran. The UNSC needs to understand that it has a much more limited hand of political cards to play than it thinks it does. And the cards it does have to play, it usually shouldnt. It has very frequently played those cards badly, resulting in a cure far worse than was the original disease.
    Dan Joyner

    • MWG (History)

      I do not agree that reporting Iran to the Security Council made things worse, or that reporting Syria would do so. Both claims depend on what would happen (in Syria’s case) or would have happened (in Iran’s) without the report to the Council. It is hard to see how the outcome would be worse in either case.

      For Iran, it was clear that the soft approach of seeking a negotiated settlement with the EU-3 had failed. In my view the cause of the failure was Iran’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith. Iran was unwilling to take serious steps to resolve the concerns raised by its longstanding safeguards violations – which at a minimum call into question whether Iran was seeking nuclear weapons – and seemed instead to be buying time. It was only after the negotiations broke down in 2005 that the IAEA Board of Governors made a formal finding of non-compliance (but the facts were well established in 2003) and reported it to the Council.

      Similarly, it is hard to imagine how finding Syria in non-compliance and reporting that to the Security Council would make anything worse. The case is already in stalemate due to Syria’s stonewalling. It’s pretty clear that Syria cheated on its safeguards agreement, and in such cases the IAEA Statute requires that the Board report that non-compliance to the Security Council. Failure to do so would mean that the NPT and IAEA safeguards are essentially toothless, and states can get away with cheating simply by stiffing the IAEA and waiting for the furor to die down.

      I’m not claiming that reporting Syria to the Security Council will necessarily solve the problem, only that failure to do so would likely be worse and certainly no better.

  4. MWG (History)

    Eric Brill’s legal argument is weak. He starts from the correct statement that the UNSC may only impose mandatory sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if it finds a threat to international peace and security. Since none of the UNSC resolutions say “Iran’s violation of its NPT safeguards agreement constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” the imposition of sanctions was illegal.

    But the other way to read the UNSC action is that it must have found a threat to international peace and security or else it would not have acted under Chapter VII. Implicitly, the Council must have found such a threat. There’s no requirement in the UN Charter that such a finding be spelled out explicitly.

    So I think it’s a nothing burger of an argument.

    • Anon (History)

      MWG, thank you for your response. Unfortunately, I believe Brill’s argument holds more water than your counterargument since, in your view of the legal case, the UNSC can impose sanctions at will with the implicit understanding that any nation it dislikes constitutes a threat to international peace. To be legally strong such a finding needs to be made and indeed was made for sanctions, eg., on Iraq. So there is legal precedent for Brill’s view.

      If your view is correct, the membership of the UN would be considerably reduced since it is merely a voluntary organization, and states would not appreciate their loss of sovereignty. In fact, it is the very reason that 118 non aligned nations denounce the IAEA’s handling of Iran, as led by Amano.

      Basically, legal case for UNSC sanctions against Iran (and Syria) appears to be weak or non-existent, and possibly illegal or extra-legal.

      And, as spelled out before on this blog, if there are two sets of standards (IAEA and UNSC, where the UNSC is tougher than the IAEA) that Iran has to match then it has no incentive to adhere to the IAEA one since it will still be subject to the higher hurdle and requirements of the UNSC one.

      But thank you for your view, it crystallizes the crux of the dispute: that the UNSC (prodded mainly by the US and UK) can punish any nation it feels like.

    • MWG (History)

      Anon misconstrues my comment. My claim is that the Security Council in fact did find that Iran’s nuclear program – in particularly its previously undeclared enrichment program, pursued in violation of its NPT safeguards agreement – constituted a threat to international peace and security. It did not say so explicitly, in part because the report from the IAEA had already raised the issue. Rather, it said so implicitly when it invoked Chapter VII. I don’t see a great risk that the Council will abuse this authority. It is very difficult to get the necessary votes. And risk that the Council will abuse its authority does not seem to depend on whether or not it explicitly finds a threat to peace and security.

      I do recognize some risk that states will see less incentive to cooperate with the IAEA if their case is before the UNSC. But let’s not forget the converse risk: that a state will cooperate with the IAEA and assert that it has done enough to meet international concerns. That would be the outcome if we adopted the “no fault safeguards” approach that Iran prefers. The mechanisms for handling non-compliance are far from ideal. But having the IAEA shirk its legal obligation to report non-compliance just so we can keep the case out of the Security Council does not seem like a good approach.

  5. John Carlson (History)

    MWG is on the right track. The objective of IAEA safeguards agreements pursuant to the NPT is to verify that non-nuclear-weapon states are complying with their commitment not to divert nuclear energy to nuclear weapons. Refusal to cooperate with the IAEA means the IAEA is unable to verify there has been no diversion. Implicitly this is a threat to international peace and security, and the Security Council acts accordingly. As for the argument, why should a state cooperate with the IAEA because the Security Council will punish it anyway, the case of Libya shows this is not true, the Council will recognise that if a state is fully cooperating with the IAEA it no longer presents a threat. The point of Security Council action is not punishment, but to address an ongoing threat.

    • FSB (History)

      The IAEA has verified every year that there is no diversion of Iranian declared nuclear material to any weapons program.

      Our DNI has said that there is no evidence of a current Iranian weapons program.

      You may make the case that the IAEA also have jurisdiction over putative undeclared material, but alas since Iran has not ratified the additional protocol, the IAEA does not have the legal means to verify this.

      In any case, insisting that there may be putative undeclared materials amounts to Iran having to prove a negative.

      Where will it end? Will you have to upend Ahmed’s grand-ma’s bed since there may be undeclared nuclear materials there?

      Such arguments have been discussed before on this blog. In your view, there can be no end to the intrusiveness of IAEA inspections, whereas Iran has not ratified the AP so in fact there is a limit.

    • joshua (History)

      Three people have offered roughly the same comment. I’ve gone with just FSB’s, since we are drifting off-topic, and FSB’s is the briefest and most to the point.

      (If your comment did not appear, don’t take it personally. Think of it as being somewhat like a letter to the editor. There’s no presumption that a submission will be published. This policy exists in no small part to contend with duplications and repetitiveness.)

      On to the substance. A version of this line of argument was answered in a paragraph and corresponding footnote in GOV/2010/28, the IAEA’s May 2010 report on safeguards in Iran:

      37. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. (26)

      (26) The Board has confirmed on numerous occasions, since as early as 1992, that paragraph 2 of INFCIRC/153 (Corr.), which corresponds to Article 2 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, authorizes and requires the Agency to seek to verify both the nondiversion of nuclear material from declared activities (i.e. correctness) and the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in the State (i.e. completeness) (see, for example, GOV/OR.864, para. 49). Paragraph 37 above reflects the past and current implementation by Iran of its Safeguards Agreement and other obligations.


      “Where does it end” is a good question. My understanding is that a multi-year process is involved in creating confidence in the completeness of state declarations. It’s intensive, but finite. I would submit that it’s entirely in Iran’s interests to provide the IAEA with the access and cooperation necessary to undertake that process. The Iranian government has another perspective.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “Implicitly this is a threat to international peace and security, and the Security Council acts accordingly.”

      But that isn’t the stipulation in Article 39 of the UN Charter i.e. the UNSC has to “determine” that there is a threat to the peace, not “imply” that there is a threat to the peace.

      You and MWG are reversing the order of Art 39 i.e. you are saying that if the UNSC invokes its CH VII powers then it is “implying” that there is a threat to the peace, and we can accept that this “implication” is proof-positive that the UNSC members have, indeed, made that “determination”.

      Why should we do that?

      After all, adding “Determining that there is a threat to the peace” to a UNSC resolution involves no more extra effort on their part, so the only reason NOT to add it in is because the UNSC members HAVEN’T been able to reach agreement that there is a threat to the peace, and so they have simply decided to put that requirement to one side and to press on regardless.

  6. Alan (History)

    Anon – the UNSC demand that Iran suspend enrichment is based on the original IAEA BOG resolution that Iran suspend, or re-suspend, enrichment. It was not plucked out of the air by the UNSC. I think Eric Brill argues that because the UNSC has no authority over Safeguards Agreements, it doesn’t have the authority to enforce them in this way.

    I think that’s a narrow interpretation of UNSC powers, however there is little doubt the UNSC does seek to ground, if not necessarily legitimise, its demands of Iran in IAEA BOG resolutions.

  7. rwendland (History)

    What puzzles me is how small amounts, if not traces, of nuclear materials can justify UNSC action on a threat to peace basis, when Article 36 of the standard CSA permits any state, upon its request, to hold one effective kg of fissionable material and ten tonnes of natural uranium outside of safeguards?

    If 1 kg of Pu or HEU outside safeguards is compatible with the NPT, what is the argument that the UNSC should get involved with small amounts? Shouldn’t amounts well under the definition in Article 36 be treated as procedural irregularities in not making the correct and proper request to the IAEA, rather than matters for the UNSC?

    Do any of the trace findings in Syria suggest any risk that Syria might have a stock in the tonne range of natural uranium, so could feasibly be over the Article 36 limit? My understanding is that no enriched uranium was found.

    Does anyone know how many states have used Article 36 to hold materials outside safeguards, or the exact way a state has to request application of this Article?

    • joshua (History)

      First, let’s not conflate steps that the IAEA BoG might take with steps that the USNC might take.

      Second, I don’t think it is in fact just trace amounts, although the IAEA reports are not specific about the amounts of uranyl nitrate imported, the amounts of yellowcake introduced into nuclear facilities, or the amounts of either material used in conversion or irradiation experiments. Sorry if my post was misleading on this point. It was the discovery of traces that led to the acknowledgment of the previously undeclared materials and activities, whose scale is not specified, but is presumably not microscopic.

      Third, and regardless of the above, whatever exact form of notification is required by para. 37 (not 36) of the model CSA, no notification was offered.

      (The document appears here:

      Concerning natural uranium, one of the reports observes that the IAEA has in the past observed the presence of a substantial amount of unsafeguarded yellowcake at the Homs facility. (No time to hunt down the reference at the moment.) This is the source of the yellowcake introduced into MNSR, according to the Syrians.

    • MWG (History)

      As Josh points out, analysis of trace amount of nuclear material can point to problems of unknown scale. The question is whether a state has violated its obligation to place all its nuclear material under safeguards. The analysis of trace materials swipe samples can reveal the presence of undeclared forms of nuclear material or undeclared processes, such as enrichment and reprocessing.

      I’d also like to clarify the nature of the exemption for small quantities of nuclear material. Up to one effective kilogram may be exempted from safeguards if the state so requests, but the material must first be declared and verified. If the IAEA finds undeclared material, the state generally cannot excuse itself by saying that the material was exempted. But there are some opportunities for states to abuse this exemption, and that is why one of the measures of the Additional Protocol requires states to provide “information regarding the quantities, uses and locations of nuclear material exempted from safeguards.” By the way, one effective kilogram of natural uranium is 10 metric tons.

      Finally, there is a common numbering confusion between paragraphs of the model safeguards agreement (INFCIRC/153, which Josh provides a link to) and actual safeguards agreement. The confusion comes from paragraph 24 of the model:

      “24. Where applicable and where the State desires such a provision to appear, the Agreement should provide that the application of Agency safeguards in the State under other safeguards agreements with the Agency shall be suspended while the Agreement is in force. If the State has received assistance from the Agency for a project, the State’s undertaking in the Project Agreement not to use items subject thereto in such a way as to further any military purpose shall continue to apply.”

      This article does not appear in safeguards agreements of states that have no other safeguards agreement in force. Thus, Article 36 of Syria’s safeguards agreement ( corresponds to paragraph 37 of the model.

    • joshua (History)

      Just to follow up on my earlier comment, for whatever it may be worth, fn. 8 of GOV/2010/11 reads, “During a July 2004 visit to the Homs phosphoric acid purification pilot plant, Agency inspectors observed some hundreds of kilograms of yellowcake.”


    • rwendland (History)

      MWG, thanks for those comments. Can you offer a ref for an IAEA doc or other paper discussing CSA para 37 (as in Syria Article 36) in depth? I’ve been keeping my eyes open for something for a while, and have not spotted anything.

      Just reading the CSA text, although logical for control, it is not apparent the material must first be declared and verified. It would be interesting to know which states have made requests to use this article (for one, I believe Iraq did).

    • rwendland (History)

      Josh, I take it from your comments above you think converting domestically produced yellowcake to uranyl nitrate is an activity that needs to be notified to the IAEA?

      I have to say, that is not clear from my reading of the Syrian CSA. Article 33(c) says the starting point for safeguards is “when any nuclear material of a composition and purity suitable for fuel fabrication or for isotopic enrichment” is produced (eg from yellowcake). Is uranyl nitrate yet at that stage? I would have thought in general not, excluding the failed 1950s aqueous reactor experiments. However if you actually stick a sample of it inside a MNSR I guess it could be regarded as a “fuel” of sorts.

      The old CSA was written with a view to controlling of large scale activities and facilities (thus eg optionally excluding up to 1 kg of Pu for safeguards). It really creaks when used to try to prevent small scale experimenting.

      Of course imported uranyl nitrate is a different matter, and should be declared at the following inventory report.

    • joshua (History)

      Good question about Article 34(c), to use the INFCIRC/153 numbering. This issue is taken up in IAEA Policy Paper 18, dated Oct. 1, 2003, whose subject is the safeguarding of conversion plants.

      Among many other things, it says that “To date, in most cases, the practice has been to interpret these requirements such that only the final products of the natural uranium conversion process… were considered to meet the the conditions of paragraph 34(c) and therefore subject to full safeguards procedures…. [H]owever… feed material, material in process and intermediate products are nevertheless considered to be nuclear material.”

      My understanding is that the Isfahan UCF in Iran has been safeguarded in keeping with that last statement, i.e., everything but the yellowcake is under containment and surveillance.

      On the specific subject of uranyl nitrate, which is described as being normally the first purified material in a natural uranium conversion process, the policy paper goes further still. It notes that chemical enrichment processes, “although not yet commercially viable, have been demonstrated to be technically feasible.” One such system involves the use of uranyl ions. “Purified uranyl nitrate solution, or any other purified aqueous solution of uranium produced in a conversion plant, could therefore form the basic feedstock for the enrichment process.”

    • joshua (History)

      It occurs to me to add that Syria actually might have excluded some materials from safeguards along the lines we’ve been discussing. Their initial explanation of the presence of uranium traces in the hot cells was mainly based on the use of samples and reference materials at MNSR.

    • MWG (History)

      I don’t know the full historical practice in exempting of small quantities of nuclear material from safeguards, but there are several examples in the IAEA’s early reports on Iran. Just looking at the text, the key phrase seems to be “at the request of the State.” Material is exempted automatically, but only if the State makes that request of the IAEA. That mechanism can only work is if the request specifies the material being exempted.

    • rwendland (History)

      For some light relief on this thread, here’s a youtube video of someone producing some uranyl nitrate crystals in a beaker. And rather pretty the crystals are:

      This appears to be a home/unofficial demonstration on some pitchblende by someone who appears to be a medical researcher primarily.

      The serious side is that I doubt that the scandinadian(?) country that this person is in reported this conversion experiment to the IAEA in an inventory report. If people in the west are sticking up youtube videos of this kind of fun experiment, is it realistic to try to uses CSA’s to criticise states like Syria for low-quantity uranyl nitrate experiments and the like? (Prior to sticking it into a MNSR, of course.)

      Back to the light side – a distinctly weird video of pitchblende as the center of an art installation!

  8. rwendland (History)

    Not trying to conflate the two. But *if* it is the case that the standard CSA could have permitted whatever Syria did, so other states could do similar activities, that seems an important consideration in evaluating if this activity is a special threat to peace. Not sending a one sentence notification letter to the IAEA in advance (which seems to be all that is required to activate the Article) would seem rather a flimsy reason to raise this activity at the UNSC; admonishment by the BoG would seem more appropriate.

    As you say, we don’t know the details to figure out if that Article could have permitted what Syria did.

    NB you’re right, it is para 37 in the standard CSA, but it is Article 36 in the Syrian CSA (INFCIRC 407) I was looking at. I assumed they were identical, but para 24 about previous agreements is dropped in the Syrian one!

    NB2 I am surprised to read that import/export only need to be immediately reported if they exceed one effective kg/10 tonnes NatU (para 92 & 95). I guess lesser amounts should become apparent to the IAEA at the following inventory report, but seemingly only if para 37 has not been invoked. It would be interesting to know if any states have invoked para 37.

  9. joshua (History)

    A note on comments policy, repeated from above in case anyone missed it:

    If your comment did not appear, don’t take it personally. Think of it as being somewhat like a letter to the editor. There’s no presumption that a submission will be published. This policy exists in no small part to contend with duplications and repetitiveness.

    (So much for the part about duplication…)

  10. Amy (History)

    With respect, my comment was not represented by what FSB said. What I am saying is stronger than what FSB is saying: FSB says that the end point of the chase for undeclared materials is uncertain.

    What I am saying is that Iran is not under any legal obligation to permit free access to the IAEA to begin with.

    Further, the point of a blog, in my view, is not to emulate a letters to the editor of print media but to foster a richer exchange of debate with a larger number of participants. You do ACW a disservice by not allowing this.

    So, as I said: Iran has committed to put fissile material related to all peaceful nuclear activities under safeguards, and the IAEA has the authority to find Iran in non-compliance if it ever diverts material away from those safeguards, or if the IAEA can’t verify that it hasn’t.

    The IAEA has no obligation or authority to find Iran in non-compliance based on the disappointing result of a wild goose chase for undeclared material, or speculation about how it doesn’t know that such material doesn’t exist. Once again, the watch phrase is “verification of non-diversion”.

    If the IAEA has problems with Iran, but can still account for every scrap of Uranium that it has put under safeguards(which at present it can), it is free to establish an arbitration panel under Article 22 of Iran’s SA to settle the matter.

    As Eric Brill points out the UNSC route is illegal and counterproductive.

    The IAEA can insist upon what it wants to insist upon.

    Iran and Syria have never committed to disclosure beyond those spelled out in its CSA. Thus, Iran and Syria have no obligation to make disclosure beyond that spelled out in their CSA.

    If the conditions necessary for special inspections are met, then the IAEA should feel free to call for one or more special inspections, as described (and limited) by the CSA.

    After any number of special inspections, the IAEA will still be able to make the statement that Iran/Syria has not implemented the AP (as is fully, and we’ve seen unarguably, its right). It will also, because Iran has not implemented the AP, be able to make the statement: –-Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities–.

    And that’s OK. Iran does not have an obligation to provide the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities, as Amano defines the terms.

    • joshua (History)

      And with respect in return, I find it pretty clear that the IAEA is legitimately concerned with the completeness of declarations, not just whether declared materials have been diverted. In those terms, the purpose of an Additional Protocol is to provide some of the means necessary to have confidence in the completeness of declarations, after the reassessment of safeguards necessitated by the discovery of Iraq’s undeclared program in the 1980s. It doesn’t give the IAEA the charge to verify completeness; that already existed.

      In the case of Iran, the finding of non-compliance did not have to do with any failure to find undeclared material; it had to do with success in uncovering previously undeclared materials and activities. Among other things. You can read it here:

    • MWG (History)

      Amy closes with the assertion that “Iran does not have an obligation to provide the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities.” It is difficult to reconcile that opinion with the text of Iran’s safeguards agreement:


      Article 1

      The Government of Iran undertakes, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article III of the Treaty, to accept safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within its territory, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.


      Article 2

      The Agency shall have the right and the obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of Iran, under its jurisdiction or carried out under its control anywhere, for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.


      Article 3

      The Government of Iran and the Agency shall co-operate to facilitate the implementation of the safeguards provided for in this Agreement.

    • joshua (History)

      With the cooperation of commenters, I would like to close out the discussion of Iran on this thread — it’s an evergreen — and turn the subject back to Syria, if anything remains to be said about it.

  11. joshua (History)

    A word about comments.

    This is a moderated comments board. I put a fair bit of effort — maybe more than it’s worth — into trying to assure that the comments section of any given post is an engaging and worthwhile place for readers and blogger alike. If your comments are duplicative, excessively lengthy, tendentious, argumentative, and/or just plain ill-informed, I’m not going to post them.

    (Please note the “excessively lengthy” part, which is new. Note also that this is NOT a warrant that I’ve fact-checked the comments that do get posted.)

    This policy may not be to everyone’s liking. These standards are inescapably subjective, and while I strive to do my best within the time available, there’s no guarantee that these judgments will be as fair and consistent as humanly possible. It’s an unpaid activity, after all. Such is life. Don’t take it personally.

    • joshua (History)

      However some readers may feel about my comments policy or how I implement it, that is the deal. This isn’t a free-for-all, unmoderated space.

      Let me add that abusive remarks won’t be tolerated.

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