March 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 26 February 2009
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action
The prospects of change in US policy on Iran and the possibility of a new diplomatic track on the Iranian nuclear issue suggests that Council involvement in March will be of a technical nature only.

A report and briefing from the chairman of the 1737 Sanctions Committee, Japanese Ambassador Yukio Takasu, are due in March. Discussion of additional sanctions against Iran is not being contemplated at the moment.

Key Recent Developments
Representatives from the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia and the US) met in Wiesbaden, Germany on 4 February to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue. They reaffirmed their commitment to the dual-track approach and emphasised the need to pursue diplomacy. The new US administration’s instinct to engage in direct talks with Iran was encouraged.

Just prior to her confirmation as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said that the US administration would conduct a review of its approach to Iran’s nuclear issue. However, no option was taken off the table. She also emphasised that there would be consequences if Iran did not comply with Council resolutions. The new US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said on 26 January that President Barack Obama would engage in direct diplomacy with Iran but reminded Tehran to comply with Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment.

On 10 February, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to engage in dialogue with the US in an atmosphere of equality and mutual respect.

In recent months, diplomatic efforts have been at a standstill. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, have remained in indirect contact. But they have not met formally since 19 July when they met in Geneva with representatives of the E3+3. The E3+3 “freeze for freeze” proposal made in June 2008, therefore, remains on the table. According to this, Iran would agree not to enrich more uranium, and the Council would not adopt new sanctions against Iran for a transition period, which would allow for pre-negotiations. Formal negotiations would then begin with Iran’s suspension of its sensitive nuclear activities and the Council’s suspension of sanctions.

On 16 December, on the margins of a Council meeting on the Middle East, the E3+3 and seven Arab countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) held a meeting to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue. Solana briefed on recent developments in his contacts with Jalili. The E3+3 and the Arab countries agreed to consult regularly on Iran’s nuclear programme.

In September 2008, the E3+3 introduced resolution 1835 which reaffirmed Iran’s obligation to implement Council and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolutions and the Council’s commitment within the dual-track framework to a negotiated solution to the issue.

Recent IAEA reports on Iran’s compliance with Council resolutions noted that Iran was making significant advances in developing and operating its nuclear centrifuges enriching uranium. The latest report, issued on 19 February, revealed that Iran had produced an additional 209 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) since the previous report was issued in November, bringing the total amount of LEU produced by Iran to approximately 700 kilograms. Some experts such as the Institute for Science and International Security estimate that this is sufficient for the production of enough weapon grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon (other scientists estimate that 900 kilograms or 1,000 kilograms is more realistic). However, Iran would still have to further enrich its LEU stockpile, which could occur quickly. Another finding was that Iran has dramatically increased its installation of centrifuges (now numbering more than 5,400) although the number of centrifuges actually enriching uranium is holding steady at just under 4,000. The reports also said Iran continued to resist efforts to substantively address its alleged nuclear weapons related work and refused to allow the IAEA to visit the Arak heavy-water reactor under construction. Finally, the IAEA reported that it had obtained information about the possibility of Iran drawing on foreign expertise in conducting experiments connected with the initiation of a highly explosive charge suitable for a nuclear weapon.

On 3 February, Iran launched its first satellite, underlining progress towards technology that could be employed for ballistic missiles.

In his briefing to the Council in September, the chairman of the 1737 Sanctions Committee pointed out that there had been reports that two unnamed states may have contravened the export ban on arms and related materiel from Iran. One state later provided assurances that it would continue to fully implement the resolutions on Iran. Another regular briefing was held on 10 December.

A major development was a recent confidential communication by Cyprus to the 1737 Sanctions Committee that a ship coming from Iran and bound for Syria had been detained in Cyprus since 29 January and was inspected following suspicions that it was transporting arms in contravention of resolution 1747. The result of the search was transmitted to the Sanctions Committee but has not been made public. It appears that the ship was not allowed to go back to Iran.

On 3 January Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over reports that Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had been threatened. Ban called on the Iranian authorities to take immediate measures to ensure her safety.

The Iran nuclear issue is unlikely to be taken up in March. However, one option might be for the Council to signal in a presidential statement its support for a renewed diplomatic process.

If the Sanctions Committee reports that Iran and Syria have violated resolution 1747, an option for the Council would be to invite both countries to a closed Council meeting to respond to the report and thereafter hold a public debate.

Key Issues
The principal issue is whether and when the US administration will engage with Iran and the extent to which it seeks to involve the Security Council in a more positive way with the Iran issue as opposed to the harsher instrumental role employed in recent years. It seems that the US is aiming to complete its policy review by the second half of March. A key question is whether suspension of uranium enrichment will be an absolute precondition for making progress or whether flexibility will be part of the new approach.

Other key issues are whether the Sanctions Committee will report in March that Iran and Syria have contravened to resolution 1747—revealing that the intercepted Iranian cargo contained weapons or weapons-related material, as some press reports suggest—and whether the Council will want to take action given that the diplomatic track with Iran is considered a priority. There seems to be a lack of appetite for using possible violation of resolution 1747 a basis for new sanctions at this stage, but the issue is what other responses can be developed so that the UN does not seem to be ignoring the issue.

Council and Wider Dynamics
The Council, and in particular the P5, have been in a wait-and-see mode in recent months, because of uncertainty regarding the policy of the new US administration, but also because of internal divisions on the way forward. France, the UK, Germany and the US remain concerned over the findings of the IAEA suggesting that Iran is progressing on the nuclear path. Meanwhile, Russia and China have continued to emphasise that a peaceful solution to the Iran nuclear issue lies in diplomatic negotiations.

Dynamics on this issue in the Council are likely to be influenced by the new Council members. Turkey seems reluctant to contemplate additional sanctions and Japan believes that transparency in nuclear activities is crucial. Mexico and Austria seem to prioritise the diplomatic track over sanctions.

France and the UK have in the past pushed for additional EU sanctions against Iran as a way to counter the stalled UN process. It seems that both have tried to pass new EU regulations that would prevent Iran from obtaining equipment and technology for its oil industry, ban the operation of two Iranian banks on EU territory and add names to the list of Iranian organisations subject to UN sanctions. Italy and to a lesser extent, Germany, supported such measures, but Austria, Sweden, Cyprus, Greece and Spain have been hesitant, emphasising the need for more dialogue with Iran.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1835 (27 September 2008) reaffirmed its commitment to an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and called upon Iran to comply with its obligations under previous Council and IAEA resolutions.
  • S/RES/1803 (3 March 2008) established a travel ban on some individuals already subject to sanctions, added new names to the list of individuals and entities subject to assets freeze, expanded the scope of the embargo on proliferation sensitive items by adding dual-use items and authorised states to inspect Iranian cargoes to and from Iran if there are suspicions that they may transport prohibited items.
  • S/RES/1747 (24 March 2007) established a ban on Iran’s arms exports and added names to the list of people and entities subject to assets freeze.
  • S/RES/1737 (23 December 2006) banned trade with Iran of certain nuclear proliferation-sensitive items, imposed an asset freeze on a list of persons and entities involved in proliferation-sensitive activities and established a Sanctions Committee.
  • S/RES/1696 (31 July 2006) demanded that Iran implement steps required by the IAEA to reestablish confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme and, in this context, suspend uranium enrichment activities.

Latest IAEA Board Resolution

  • GOV/2006/14 (4 February 2006) underlined necessary steps that Iran should take to reestablish international confidence in its nuclear programme and reported the issue to the Council.

Latest IAEA Reports

Latest 1737 Sanctions Committee’s Briefings to the Council

1737 Sanctions Committee’s 2008 Report

Selected Letters

  • S/2008/776 (10 December 2008) was a letter from Iran protesting France, UK, and US allegations against Iran’s nuclear programme and reemphasising that the programme is peaceful and that all outstanding issues have been cleared.
  • S/2008/643 (10 October 2008) was a letter from Iran enclosing a 6 October letter from Iranian negotiator Jalili to Solana and to the E3+3 on the failure to proceed with the diplomatic track.
  • S/2008/599 (9 September 2008) was a letter from Iran complaining about Israel’s threats against Iran.

Useful Additional Sources

Full forecast


Sign up for SCR emails