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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Q&A: Iran's nuclear programme
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami watches a missile parade in Tehran
There are fears Iran may develop nuclear technology for weapons
The United Nations nuclear supervisory organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets on 13 September 2004 to discuss Iran's nuclear activities. News Online examines the issues.

Why will the IAEA be discussing Iran?

The IAEA has been trying to find out the extent of Iran's nuclear programme and, in particular, whether it is secretly trying to build a nuclear weapon.

In the past it has criticised Iran for not declaring all its activities, and it has been checking to see if Iran is complying with the inspection rules. A report from the head of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei will be presented to the meeting.

What are the main issues?

These partly relate to Iran's development of a facility to enrich uranium which it had not declared, as it should have. The IAEA wants to know exactly what is going on.

It has asked where Iran acquired some advanced centrifuges, known as P2. Centrifuges are used to separate enriched uranium so that it can be used to fuel a nuclear reactor.

It is suspected that Iran got these from the network operated by the Pakistani scientist, Dr AQ Khan, whose activities were recently uncovered.

The IAEA also wants to know the source of traces of both low and highly enriched uranium on other centrifuges. Iran says they must have come in with equipment from abroad. Media reports say that Mr ElBaradei might accept the Iranian explantion.

Why is the enrichment of uranium such an issue?

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a country can enrich uranium to provide reactor fuel but the problem is that the same technology can then be used to enrich uranium further to weapons grade standard.

A country could then simply withdraw from the treaty and build a bomb. Or it could use its knowhow to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels secretly.

Therefore the IAEA insists that any enrichment programme is fully declared and safeguarded.

What is Iran's case?

Iran says it needs to enrich fuel itself, because getting it from another country would be unreliable, and that it has no intention of building a bomb. It has started to mine the uranium ore which will be used in the enrichment process.

It says it has answered questions as best it can, and will fully co-operate under a more strict regime of inspections known as an Additional Protocol.

It also says it wants to develop a civil nuclear energy programme because its oil reserves are not unlimited, and points out that the West once supplied the deposed Shah with nuclear reactors.

Did Iran not agree with European governments to freeze its enrichment programme?

It did. Three European governments, Britain, France and Germany (the E3), had offered to get fuel for Iran if it gave up on enrichment. Iran is now saying that the agreement is at an end. It is resuming its enrichment programme and President Mohammed Khatami says that Iran "will have" an enrichment programme to produce fuel.

What is the American view?

The United States claims that Iran is trying to build a bomb. It wants Iran reported to the Security Council. John Bolton, the Under Secretary for Arms Control, told a congressional committee in June: "The United States strongly believes that Iran has a clandestine program to produce nuclear weapons."

Israel believes the same. It has begun a diplomatic campaign urging the IAEA to take Iran to the Security Council.

Both the US and Israel point to other Iranian activities in the nuclear field, such as the construction of a heavy water reactor, as evidence that it wants to develop nuclear weapons.

Will there be sanctions against Iran?

That is possible, but they can be imposed only by the Security Council. The US wants Iran to be reported to the Council but others feel that more time is needed.

The IAEA Board meeting in September will be followed by one in November. Some analysts feel that Iran will be given a warning in September and that the crunch might come in November depending on Mr ElBaradei's report.

What would be the strategic implications if Iran built a nuclear bomb?

Some argue that it is in Iran's interest to build a bomb because it might think that this would deter an American or other attack one day.

However, if the US thought Iran was about to acquire such a weapon, it might attack its facilities anyway.

The Israelis are already concerned, with the head of Mossad, its intelligence service, saying not long ago that the Iranian nuclear programme represented the greatest ever threat to Israel.

So a pre-emptive Israeli strike, of the kind it carried out on an Iraqi reactor in 1981, is possible at some stage.

What is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

The NPT was an agreement opened for signature in 1968 under which those countries with nuclear weapons (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France) were allowed to keep them but agreed not to give them to anyone else.

However, other countries are allowed to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes under the inspection of the IAEA.

The nuclear weapons countries also promised to work towards nuclear disarmament, but this has not really happened.

And several nuclear-weapons capable states - Israel, India and Pakistan - have not signed up to the treaty so they can develop weapons. Another, North Korea, has withdrawn from it.




SEE ALSO:
UN raps Iran over nuclear stance
18 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Nuclear row worries Iran press
17 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Iran feels heat of IAEA criticism
15 Jun 04  |  Middle East
US accuses Iran of 'bullying' UN
16 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Iran rejects more nuclear curbs
12 Jun 04  |  Middle East
Profile: IAEA
02 Jun 04  |  Country profiles


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