May 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 April 2006
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Expected Council Action
Security Council members are expected to take up the Iranian issue in May after the report by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is submitted to the Council and the IAEA Board of Governors. Following a meeting of the P5 and Germany, planned in Paris on 2 May, France and the UK are likely to introduce a draft resolution. The March scenario of prolonged negotiations seems likely.

The Council has several options, including:

  • adopting a resolution identifying the Iranian behaviour as a threat to international peace and security but calling for further steps to find a diplomatic solution;
  • adopting a resolution creating binding obligations on Iran to comply with the suspension of enrichment measures requested by the IAEA;
  • adopting a presidential statement calling on Iran to undertake defined confidence-building measures as part of a search for a diplomatic solution leading to suspension of enrichment and negotiations with the EU3 (France, UK and Germany); and
  • requesting an urgent session of the IAEA to exert parallel pressure on Iran towards a diplomatic solution.

Council Dynamics
There seems to be agreement among Council members, as there was in March, that Iran’s unwillingness to comply with IAEA Board resolutions is unreasonable and constitutes a serious problem for the international community. However, disagreement remains on the method for dealing with the problem. Russia and China seem to agree with a policy of incremental pressure but see a need to move in smaller and more cautious increments if the goal of a diplomatic solution is to be achieved.

France, the US and the UK (P3) would like to move ahead and adopt a resolution, defining Iran’s nuclear activities as a threat to international peace and security under Chapter VII. There is also an interest in translating the current request for suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment into a formal obligation legally binding on Iran under international law.

For the P3, time is an important factor, as they believe that substantial delay could lead to a point of no return regarding nuclear weapons (as may be the case with North Korea). Therefore, in their view, preventive measures are necessary sooner rather than later.

The P3 also seem ready to explore other alternatives if the Council fails to act, such as coordinated economic and diplomatic pressure and coordinated non-UN sanctions.

Russia and China have made it clear that, in their view, if a diplomatic solution is the goal, the threat of sanctions at this point is counterproductive. Russia, more specifically, argues that in the absence of better proof of Iran’s non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) sanctions should be avoided. In addition, Russia and China seem to believe that the IAEA is still an important piece in the “diplomatic solution” jigsaw puzzle and therefore Vienna should remain a key institution in dealing with this issue.

Elected members of the Council (E10) have only been very loosely involved in the discussions in March. At various points their frustration at what they saw as being taken for granted by the P5 shone through. The UK and France, recognising the risks in this, made special efforts in March to keep the E10 briefed. It remains to be seen how this aspect will play itself out in May.

Recent Developments
For a full description of the background to this issue, please see our February and March 2006 Forecast Reports.

Talks between Iran and Russia on a proposal to create a joint venture for all Iranian uranium enrichment to take place in Russia did not reach a positive outcome. However, this option is still on the table and could be revived.

In the last IAEA report on the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in Iran, presented to the IAEA Board of Governors on 6 March, the Director General Mohammed ElBaradei noted that “the Agency was not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.” Because of uncertainties with regard to both the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear programme, he pointed out, full transparency was indispensable.

As requested by the Board in its last resolution adopted on 4 February (GOV/2006/14), the report was conveyed to the Security Council. A series of formal and informal consultations were held in New York, mainly among the P5, sometimes with the participation of Germany and on rare occasions the Council’s non-permanent members. Three weeks of negotiations at the expert, ambassadorial and ministerial levels led to the adoption on 29 March of a presidential statement under the agenda item “non-proliferation”. The statement urged Iran to suspend all activities related to nuclear enrichment and reprocessing, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA in a report due in thirty days (by 28 April). In the end compromise was reached on the following points:

  • the enumeration of all measures required from Iran by the IAEA (resolved by a generic reference to the IAEA resolution);
  • a determination that Iran’s nuclear programme was a threat to international peace and security (resolved by words containing an inference in that regard); and
  • A request to the IAEA Director General to report to the Council within 14 days on the progress made by Iran to comply with the IAEA previous resolutions (resolved by language requiring a report to both the Council and the IAEA within 30 days).

Subsequent articles in the American press alleging that the US was planning military actions against Iran contributed to an escalation of tensions and rhetoric. In response the US has reaffirmed its commitment to a diplomatic solution but emphasised that military options also remain on the table.

On 11 April, Iran announced that it had managed to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent, the level needed to make reactor fuel. Iran also asserted that it is now pursuing a more sophisticated and speedy method of enrichment, using a “P2” centrifuge.

On 13 April, during a trip to Iran and following several meetings with Iranian senior officials, ElBaradei failed to secure agreement from the Iranian government on compliance with the 29 March Council statement.

During April, the US publicly canvassed a series of initiatives aimed both at advancing a diplomatic solution to the crisis and also at isolating Iran.

  • Bilateral talks with Iran on ways to halt sectarian violence in Iraq (a possible bilateral track) were contemplated. After an initial agreement, Iran backed out arguing that the recent formation of a permanent Iraqi government meant external involvement was inappropriate.
  • The US raised the idea of an economic and political coalition involving members of the P5 and the G8 putting diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran. (Russia declined on the basis that unilateral economic sanctions were not appropriate in the absence of UN measures.)
  • The US asked Russia to cancel a sale of air-defence missile systems and to end cooperation in the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. (Russia declined this also on the basis that existing commercial contracts could not be cancelled in the absence of UN sanctions.)

Senior diplomats from the P5 and Germany met in Moscow from 18 to 20 April. However, the results of the talks were inconclusive.

More recently, Iran explicitly rejected the 29 March Council statement, reaffirmed its right to enrichment technology for civilian purposes, confirmed its intention not to suspend any nuclear activities, and hinted at the possibility of withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and even transferring nuclear technology to other countries (such as Sudan).

Key Issues
The role of the Council will be an issue. The argument has been raised that the IAEA intergovernmental machinery should also be involved in the next phase. The IAEA Board could consider ElBaradei’s report, but it doesn’t meet until June. This option is likely to be rejected by the P3 if it is seen just as a delaying tactic. However, perhaps as a parallel track it might be a possible option. Compromise positions, including an early IAEA meeting, may emerge as possible options.

On the issue of reference to Chapter VII, Russia says it is concerned to avoid language which, of itself, might be said to give a legal basis for the use of force. Careful drafting could resolve that concern while at the same time shifting the status of the demand on Iran from a non-binding to a binding character.

If the positions within the P5 harden and a further compromise to incrementally increase pressure cannot be agreed upon, the key issue for the P3 will be to decide whether a draft resolution should be put to the vote. Russia and China will then have to evaluate the political costs of using their veto. Both sides will have to weigh their chances to gather support among the non-permanent members.

Time is also an issue for the Council. While Russia and China appear to have a preference for creating time and space for a negotiated solution, the P3 consider that there is urgency. Any eventual diplomatic solution is likely to take time to negotiate, even through secret negotiations. If such a track were actually under way, some delay at the Council might in any event be needed. Balancing these differing perspectives is perhaps the hardest issue at present.

Underlying Problems
Tensions over Iran have pushed oil prices to record highs. Various trade and economic commentators have questioned the effectiveness of economic sanctions on Iran, especially if imposed by a limited number of countries without Security Council backing.

Most Recent Documents

 Last IAEA Board Resolution
 Last IAEA Report
 Security Council Presidential Statement
 Other UN Documents
  • S/2006/178 (22 March 2006) Letter from Iran to the Secretary-General deploring US threats to resort to force against Iran
  • S/2006/80 (7 February 2006) Letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Council including the list of IAEA documents on the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in Iran, communicated by the IAEA

For historical background and a list of IAEA documents, please refer to our February 2006 Forecast Report
Full forecast


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