UN Imposed on Iran, Additional Sanctions by the US and EU and Chances of an Attack on Iran

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What sanctions has the UN imposed on Iran?

  • The UN has imposed four sets of sanctions, in Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929.

  • These seek to make it more difficult for Iran to acquire equipment, technology and finance to support its nuclear activities. They ban the sale to Iran of materiel and technology related to nuclear enrichment and heavy-water activities and ballistic missile development, restrict dealings with certain Iranian banks and individuals, stop the sale of major arms systems to Iran (Russia has cancelled the sale of an anti-aircraft missile system) and allow some inspections of air and sea cargoes.

  • However, they do not stop the trade in oil and gas, the major source of Iran’s income.

What about additional sanctions by the US and EU?

  • The US brought in restrictions on trade with Iran after the taking of American hostages in 1979, which it tightened in 1995, and in 2010 has additionally targeted Iranian finances, shipping and the Revolutionary Guard.

  • The US Congress has also passed legislation which would prevent those companies that do significant business in Iran’s energy sector from trading in the US. This is aimed at squeezing Iran’s oil and gas industry and especially the import of finished petroleum products.

  • In July 2010, the EU approved its own further measures which includes a ban on investment in Iran’s petroleum and gas sector.

What does the IAEA say about Iran?

  • It confirms from its inspections that Iran is enriching uranium to the levels stated and says that Iran has not diverted any declared nuclear material to military use. Iran’s nuclear facilities remain under IAEA monitoring and the IAEA produces regular reports. However, it has reported that Iran is refusing to answers questions about allegations that it has in the past studied how to make a nuclear warhead. Iran says that the evidence on which these claims are based was forged.

  • In 2009, a secret IAEA document was reported to state that IAEA experts believe that Iran has “sufficient information” to make a nuclear device and had worked on a warhead that could be carried on a missile. In a statement, the agency said it had “no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapons programme in Iran.”

  • In September 2009, the then IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview: “I do not think based on what we see that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons programme.” He has said that the threat of Iran developing a bomb has been “hyped”.

What are the chances of an attack on Iran?

  • Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen has stressed the instability that would result from an attack on Iran, while acknowledging at the same time that the US has plans for all options. The US seems to be holding off in the hope that even if Iran continues to develop its nuclear expertise, it will not try to build a bomb.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constantly stresses what he sees as a potential existential threat from Iran. So, the possibility of an attack, by Israel at least, remains.

  • Wikileaks revelations have shown that Gulf Arab states have urged the US to attack Iran.

What happened to President Obama’s offer of an “extended hand” to Iran?

  • Western governments have offered a deal with Iran - it would have to suspend enrichment and in return would get many sanctions lifted and would be given help with a civil nuclear power system, including a guarantee of fuel. Talks on this stalled but President Obama tried to revive it in 2009 and said: “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”

  • In September 2009, Iran replied with a five-page letter called “Co-operation for Peace, Justice and Progress”. The letter offered talks on a range of international issues, including global nuclear disarmament, but does not mention Iran’s own nuclear work. President Ahmadinejad had said earlier that discussion of the Iranian nuclear issue was “finished.”

  • Further talks were held in Geneva on 6-7 December 2010 but were inconclusive.

A US intelligence assessment was issued on Iran. What did it say?

  • The National Intelligence Estimate in 2007 played down any early threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. It assesses “with high confidence” that Iran did have a nuclear weapons programme until 2003, but this was discovered, and Iran stopped it. The NIE added: “We do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

  • However, Israel does not accept the conclusions and there is also doubt elsewhere. In March 2008, a senior British diplomat said: “Many of us were surprised by how emphatic the writers [of the NIE] were... “ Even Director of US National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, appeared to backtrack and on 28 February 2008 said: “We remain concerned about Iran’s intentions... Tehran at a minimum is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons.”

How does the nuclear plant at Bushehr fit in?

  • This reactor was started in the 1970s under the Shah but then put on hold until recently when the Russians finished it. The Russians will provide the raw fuel and will take away the spent fuel which could potentially be used to make a plutonium-based nuclear bomb.

  • Bushehr is technically separate from the issue of enrichment. However, the US says that because Russia is providing the fuel, Iran does not need its own enrichment programme. Iran says that the reactor shows that it does have a civil nuclear power plan and that it needs to develop enrichment to serve this in the longer term.

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