Accusations from Iran at the IAEA General Conference

Sep 20 2012
VERTIC Blog >> Arms Control and Disarmament
David Cliff, Vienna
The 56th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is taking place this week in Vienna, and VERTIC – which holds observer status at the Agency – has a number of staff present to follow proceedings as the IAEA’s 155-strong membership comes together to discuss the organisation’s activities and budget for the coming year.
The main business of the week got underway following the election of Uruguay’s Ambassador Barros Orerio as president of the conference, and the delivery of a UN goodwill message (by the UN's top disarmament official, Angela Kane, on behalf of the UN secretary-general), in its opening session on Monday morning. Statements from the IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, the United States, Iran and others followed.
In his statement, Mr Amano stressed that the full implementation of all safeguards agreements between the Agency and its member states was the ‘guiding principle’ of the IAEA in the field of nuclear verification. The Agency, of course, does far more than just verification – including ‘technical cooperation’ with developing countries looking to make use of the peaceful applications of nuclear technology, and the promotion of nuclear safety and security around the world. Nuclear verification, to ensure that countries’ nuclear energy programmes are purely peaceful in nature is, however, one of the Agency’s key roles – and undoubtedly its most visible.
Mr Amano argued that although the three current cases of particular proliferation concern – namely Iran, North Korea and Syria – are different, they are united by the common thread that each is failing to fulfil their obligations to the Agency. On Iran, he noted that the Agency remains able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material there but that the country is failing to provide ‘the necessary cooperation to enable [the IAEA] to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.’ Furthermore, Amano noted that the Agency has not been able to make any concrete progress in dialogue with Iran since last November, when the IAEA published an extensive compilation of information relating to possible Iranian nuclear weapons research.
Iran’s statement – delivered by its vice-president and nuclear chief, Fereyoun Abbasi – was uncompromising and provocative in equal measure. Addressing a packed plenary hall, Dr Abbasi accused the IAEA Secretariat of having its impartiality corrupted by the ‘mismanagement and influence of certain states’ and suggested that the organisation might be infiltrated by ‘terrorists and saboteurs’, citing an incident last month in which explosives were used to cut power lines to Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility – an act, Abbasi said (hinting at IAEA complicity), that took place just hours before the Agency asked to conduct an unannounced inspection at the site. Power lines to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz had been cut in a similar fashion earlier this year, Dr Abbasi also noted.
In his statement, Dr Abbasi (who survived an assassination attempt in Tehran in 2010, one of a string of attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years) was at pains to stress that Iran ‘has always opposed and will always denounce the manufacture and use of weapons of mass destruction’ – an opposition he noted as being rooted in the country’s Islamic character – and that the country does ‘not regard nuclear weapons as instruments that can create might and power’.
The fact remains, though, that the Iranian nuclear programme operates under a cloud of suspicion. What’s more, the country refuses to implement the IAEA’s Additional Protocol – which, by requiring more information from Iran and enhancing verification rights, would go a long way toward enabling Agency inspectors to reach assurance that, as stated time and again by Iranian officials, the country’s nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes and nothing more.
Elsewhere around the IAEA this week, resolutions on nuclear security, technical cooperation, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the safeguards system, and the application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East – among others – are being debated by the member states of the Agency. Last year, after lengthy discussions, no safeguards resolution was adopted after it proved impossible to bridge divisions among the Agency’s membership, so the conference is watching closely to see whether this year will see the same result or, as in 2010, member states will be able to reach agreement. IAEA General Conferences tend to go on long into the night of the fifth day (i.e. tomorrow) so it will be some time yet before a clearer picture is likely to emerge.
Postscript (Tuesday 25 September 2012). The 2012 IAEA General Conference finished at 0200hrs in the morning of Saturday 22 September. In its final hours, a resolution on IAEA safeguards was adopted by a vote of 89 for and none against. Sixteen abstained. Prior to the whole resolution being put to the vote, countries voted against an Iranian-proposed insertion of language on nuclear disarmament in the resolution's preambular section and for a paragraph calling on all countries to conclude Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements with the Agency (which some interpret as a call for all states to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty). On the previous evening, a resolution on IAEA safeguards in the Middle East was approved by a vote of 111 for and none against (eight countries abstained). This resolution included a separately-approved paragraph calling for all states in the region to join the NPT – language opposed by Israel, which remains the one Middle Eastern state not currently a member of that treaty.


Last changed: Sep 25 2012 at 11:31 AM