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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons

John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, wrote on April 30, 2015 "Tehran and Pyongyang have cooperated on ballistic missiles since at least 1998 ... numerous reports have emerged of Iranian and North Korean scientists exchanging visits and potentially valuable information. What if Pyongyang is already hosting an extensive Iranian-enrichment program, deeply buried somewhere in its half of the peninsula? What if some of the estimated 20 warheads are actually Iran’s property, having been manufactured and now stored far from Tehran to avoid detection? East Asian experts have long looked through a stovepipe at North Korea, and Middle East experts gaze through their own stovepipe at Iran."

Iran's nuclear program began in the Shah's era, including a plan to build 20 nuclear power reactors. Two power reactors in Bushehr, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, were started but remained unfinished when they were bombed and damaged by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war. Following the revolution in 1979, all nuclear activity was suspended, though subsequently work was resumed on a somewhat more modest scale. Current plans extend to the construction of 15 power reactors and two research reactors.

Research and development efforts also were conducted by the Shah's regime on fissile material production, although these efforts were halted during the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

The current nuclear program is headed by the President, the commander of the Iranian Revulutionary Gaurd Corps (IRGC), the head of the Defense Industries Organization, and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO). These leaders continue the pursuit of WMD's and support Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear programs against all pressures from the United States and its allies.

Iran ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, and since February 1992 has allowed the IAEA to inspect any of its nuclear facilities. Prior to 2003 no IAEA inspections had revealed Tehran's violations of the NPT.

Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Tehran redoubled its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles. In addition to Iran's legitimate efforts to develop its nuclear power-generation industry, it is believed to be operating a parallel clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be following a policy of complying with the NPT and building its nuclear power program in such a way that if the appropriate political decision is made, know-how gained in the peaceful sphere (specialists and equipment) could be used to create nuclear weapons (dual-use technologies have been sold to Iran by at least nine western companies during the early 1990's). Also, in this atmosphere of deception, unconfirmed reports have been made that Tehran purchased several nuclear warheads in the early 1990's

It is evident that Iran's efforts are focused both on uranium enrichment and a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.

Iran does not currently have nuclear weapons, and would appear to be about two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. By some time in 2006, however, Iran could be producting fissile material for atomic bombs using both uranium enriched at Natanz and plutonium produced at Arak. The Natanz facility might produce enough uranium for about five bombs every year, and the Arak facility might produced enough plutonium for as many as three bombs every year.

If Iran did acquire atomic bombs, it would put pressure on other countries in the region do the same. Many Arab countries believe it is unfair that Israel has nuclear weapons. If Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia but also Egypt and possibly Syria, found themselves caught between a nuclear-armed Israel and a nuclear-armed Iran, it would greatly increase pressures to pursue their own nuclear options. This could result in a regional arms race in the Middle East which is likely to be quite destabilizing, given the number and intensity of conflicts and instabilities in the region.

In December 2003 Presidential hopeful John Kerry said that he would explore "areas of mutual interest" with Iran. And in June 2004 Kerry proposed providing nuclear fuel to Iran in exchange for Iran's abandoning the fissile material production complex at Esfahan, Arak, Natanz and other locations. In an interview on 29 August 2004, reported in the Washington Post on 30 August, Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards proposed a "Grand Bargain" with Iran, under which the US would drop objections to the nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, in exchange for Iran abandoning the material production complex. According to Edwards, if Iran rejected this offer, it would confirm that it was building atomic bombs. Edwards also said that Kerry would ensure that European allies would join the US in imposing sanctions on Iran. "If we are engaging with Iranians in an effort to reach this great bargain and if in fact this is a bluff that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us," Edwards said. "Iran is further along in developing a nuclear weapon than they were when George Bush came into office... A nuclear Iran is unacceptable for so many reasons, including the possibility that it creates a gateway and the need for other countries in the region to develop nuclear capability -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, potentially others," Edwards said.

A new assessment of the costs and benefits of attacking Iran released September 13, 2012 said U.S. military strikes probably carry the risk of igniting an all-out war in the Middle East. The report, by more than 30 former U.S. government officials, national security experts, and retired military officers, says attacks would shake the Iranian regime's political control. But it goes on to say that Tehran would likely retaliate, directly and through surrogates.

The report says an attack could delay Tehran's development of an atomic bomb for a few years. If the United States alone, or with Israel, carried out “extended military strikes,” Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb could be delayed by two to four years, it says. The report estimated that a military strike by Israel alone could delay Iran’s nuclear program by up to two years. "You can't kill intellectual power," said retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Frank Kearney, who endorsed the report. He is a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center and former deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

Iran will be capable to create nuclear weapons in six to seven months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with the NBC channel on 16 September 2012. "They're in the last 20 yards. And you can't let them cross that goal line," Netanyahu said. "Because that would have unbelievable consequences." “Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism, "It's the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today,” Netanyahu said referring to a string of riots across the globe sparked by the U.S.-made short film titled "Innocence of Muslims." The Israeli prime minister also said he disagrees with the statements that Iran’s nuclear weapons would stabilize the situation in the Middle East calling this approach “a new standard for human stupidity.”

In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency dated 23 January 2013, Tehran said it would introduce new centrifuges to its main enrichment plant near the central town of Natanz. The letter from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) informed the Agency that 'centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used in Unit A-22' at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz. It was not clear how many of the upgraded centrifuges Iran aimed to put in place at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands of machines, but the wording of the IAEA's note implied it could be up to roughly 3,000. A unit can house more than 3,000 centrifuges. About 10,400 IR-1 centrifuges were installed at Natanz as of late 2012, an IAEA report said in November 2012. Using the IR-2m in large numbers would enable Iran to enrich uranium much faster.

Previously, Iran's supreme leader rejected a proposal for direct talks about its nuclear program with the United States, saying negotiations will not solve anything. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on his website 07 February 2013 that the US wanted to talk while threatening to punish Iran, and that his country will not be intimidated. On 06 February 2013 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in reaction to US proposal for holding direct talks with Iran, said Iran evaluates the new proposal 'positive', adding if US changes its behavior, Iran will consider the proposal. US Vice President Joe Biden said during a security conference on Saturday 02 February 2013 in Munich that the United States is open to directly engaging Iran if it is serious about negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a blistering condemnation of the Iranian nuclear deal in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on October 01, 2015 in New York. "If you think sanctions relief, and billions of dollars worth of contracts, will turn a rapacious tiger into a kitten, think again," Netanyahu said. He acknowledged the deal places "several constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and rightly so." But the catch, he said, is the most important of those will be lifted no matter how Iran behaves 10 to 15 years down the road. "Israel will not allow Iran to break in, walk in or sneak in to the nuclear weapons club," he said.

Iran stopped dismantling centrifuges in two uranium enrichment plants, state media reported on 10 November 2015. The announcement came days after conservative lawmakers complained to President Hassan Rouhani that the process was too rushed, Reuters said. Iran began shutting down inactive centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow plants under the terms of a deal struck with world powers in July. The dismantling process “stopped with a warning,” Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the National Security Council, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. The dismantling process stopped in Fordow because of the lawmakers’ letter.

By November 2015 Iran was keeping on standby thousands of centrifuge machines that could easily be returned to service for use in a prohibited weapons program. Iran's main nuclear-enrichment center had 11,308 centrifuges installed, as of mid-November 2015 — some 3,000 fewer than were in service before October 18, when the nuclear agreement went into effect. The IAEA said some centrifuges also have been removed from a smaller Iranian facility.

Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium had increased in the past three months, instead of being significantly reduced, as was required.

Iran said 30 November 2015 that would be no final implementation of a nuclear deal with world powers unless the probe into allegations of past weapons research was closed. The declaration, by top security official Admiral Ali Shamkhani, came after the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said a report into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s activities would not be “black and white.” Shamkhani is secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), the country’s highest security body, which was tasked with supervising the nuclear deal.

On December 15, 2015 the IAEA officially closed its more than decade-old investigation into allegations that Iran once worked to develop nuclear weapons. The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to close the investigation. The approval came after IAEA chief Yukiya Amano presented his final report on the matter to the IAEA board, saying it gave clear answers on whether Iran worked toward nuclear arms.

The conclusion was that Iran carried out "a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," mostly before 2003. He said those activities did not get beyond scientific studies and acquiring "certain relevant technical competencies and capabilities." The IAEA recently released a report indicating there are no credible signs that Iran's efforts to build a nuclear weapon lasted past 2009.

Iran shipped its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia as a key step in fulfilling its commitments under a landmark nuclear agreement clinched between Tehran and the P5+1 group of countries. The export on 28 December 2015 of uranium took place within the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The shipment included the removal of all of Iran's nuclear material enriched to 20 percent that was not already in the form of fabricated fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor.... This removal of all this enriched material out of Iran is a significant step toward Iran meeting its commitment to have no more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium." Iran sent over 25,000 pounds (over 11 metric tons) of low-enriched uranium materials to Russia.

Wendy Sherman was undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Obama administration. She was the lead U.S. negotiator to the Iran nuclear talks, and is now an adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign. On 22 December 2015 on the PBS Newshour, she said "... we are hopeful the deal will ensure that Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon, not for 10 years, not for 15 years, but forever."

International Atomic Energy Agency reported 16 January 2016 that the Middle Eastern country had successfully complied with all nuclear requirements agreed to in July 2015. The United States and the European Union lifted many sanctions against Iran after a report by the international nuclear watchdog saying Iran had complied with all requirements allowing them to enter the global economy. "As Iran has fulfilled its commitments, today, multilateral and national economic and financial sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program are lifted in accordance," European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a joint statement.

The United States purchased 32 tons of a key component in the development of atomic weapons from Iran, in a bid to help Tehran implement provisions in the landmark nuclear deal. The US Energy and State departments confirmed 22 april 2016 the purchase of heavy water, which can be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. The plan was announced as US, Iranian and other officials met in Vienna to discuss implementation of the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Earlier, Iran sold low-enriched uranium to Russia to help implement the deal.

Charles Bybelezer reported 11 June 2019 that Olli Heinonen, former director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned at a conference in Tel Aviv that Iran could be hiding the existence of at least five secret nuclear sites. His comments came a week after he told Israeli media that Tehran could reach “breakout” capacity by producing sufficient enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon within six to eight months. He qualified, however, that it could take Tehran longer to develop the necessary technology to detonate a bomb and deliver it via a ballistic missile, although it would be possible to do this in tandem with manufacturing fissile material.

President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of state nominee said 19 January 2021 the incoming administration was a “long way” from reaching a new accord with Tehran. “We would have to see, once the president is in office, what steps Iran actually takes” and evaluate whether “they're coming back into compliance with their obligations,” Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on January 19. Biden has said he would like the United States to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that limits Iran’s nuclear program, if Tehran returns to compliance with the deal. Iran has gradually breached its nuclear commitments in response to President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrawing Washington from the agreement in 2018. Blinken said the 2015 agreement would be “a platform” for a “longer and stronger agreement” that would include other issues such as Iran’s missile program and malign activities.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2021 11:06:46 ZULU