Ambassador Davies at the George Washington University

“Addressing Iran’s Nuclear Program at the IAEA”

Ambassador Glyn Davies

George Washington University
Elliott School of International Affairs
Nuclear Policy Talk Series

Tuesday, February 1, 3:00 p.m.

Thank you for that introduction, and thank you all very much for hosting me today.  I’m in town from Vienna for the State Department’s first global chiefs of mission conference, which Secretary of State Clinton convened to discuss with American ambassadors the Obama Administration’s foreign policy agenda during a time of significant challenges both at home and abroad.  Since Doug Shaw invited me to speak at the Elliott School several months ago I’ve been hoping to find a time that coincided with a trip to Washington, and I’m glad that the chiefs of mission conference has given me the chance to finally accept the invitation.

Iran and the IAEA

Today I’d like to talk with you about how the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna works to reduce global nuclear threats at the IAEA.  In particular, I’ll be talking about Iran and the IAEA, and the work my staff and I do in Vienna to counter the nuclear threat posed by Iran.  Before I focus on the Vienna angle, though, I do want to spend a few minutes talking about why the U.S. considers Iran’s nuclear program to be problematic, and how the work I do at the IAEA is part of the bigger picture of how the United States government as a whole and the international community are addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

President Obama has galvanized U.S. and international efforts to counter the global nuclear threat.  As he laid out in his landmark April 2009 Prague speech, the endgame is to create a world without nuclear weapons.  We’re not naïve, this is a profoundly challenging goal that will be hard to achieve.  To do so, the U.S. has taken unilateral measures, such as for the first time revealing the numbers of our nuclear stockpile.  We’ve engaged in bilateral diplomacy to limit nuclear arsenals, such as with New START.  And we’ve worked multilaterally to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA.

At a time when the U.S. is working hard to improve the nuclear non-proliferation regime and reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons, Iran is heading in the opposite direction.  Iran is a threat because it is not upholding its commitments under the NPT and refuses to show that its nuclear program is peaceful.  It continues to expand its nuclear program and strengthen its ability to develop nuclear weapons.  Iran refuses to answer the IAEA’s questions or allow the IAEA to access the people they need to talk to.  Iran’s refusal to provide clear responses to the IAEA’s questions about military nuclear research and undeclared nuclear sites has left the Agency unable to confirm that all aspects of Iran’s nuclear program are peaceful.

The IAEA Board of Governors has affirmed this noncompliance, and the U.N. Security Council has sought by imposing sanctions to persuade Tehran to work with the international community to end its threat to global security.  Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities pose a significant threat to the security and stability of the Middle East.  We want to prevent a scenario in which Iran acquires nuclear weapons and upsets the very tenuous security situation of the region.  We must do everything diplomatically possible to prevent Iran from developing such weapons.

So, why has the IAEA not been able to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program?  Why has the IAEA Board of Governors determined that Iran is not complying with its obligations?

Iran has been playing what I call a game of diplomatic cat-and-mouse with the IAEA for over 8 years.  The IAEA has been working hard to clarify the nature of Iran’s nuclear program since an Iranian opposition group revealed in Iran the presence of a covert uranium enrichment program in 2002. Shortly thereafter, the IAEA confirmed several safeguards violations in Iran and continues today an investigation into the “Possible Military Dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, an investigation with which Iran steadfastly refuses to cooperate.  For example, two successive Directors General have reported that Iran has failed to report on many issues, including importing nuclear material, testing centrifuges, and enrichment activities.  Iran has failed to provide timely design information multiple times for facilities in which nuclear material processing and storage have taken place or will take place.  In September of last year, Iran only belatedly, and likely only because it feared others had already gained knowledge of the facility, declared to the IAEA a previously covert second enrichment plant under construction near Qom.  Iran says this facility is to help make fuel for peaceful nuclear power reactors, but its small size suggests it could have been designed instead to make highly-enriched uranium for which Iran has no peaceful need.  And just two weeks ago, Director General Amano again said that “Cooperation is not sufficient.  We cannot provide … assurance on the absence of (undeclared) nuclear activities or the exclusively peaceful nature of all the nuclear activities of Iran.”

As a result of the Director General’s report, the IAEA Board of Governors found Iran to be non-compliant with its IAEA Safeguards Agreement in September 2005.  In 2006, the Board of Governors reported Iran’s noncompliance to the UN Security Council.  Since then, the Security Council has adopted a Presidential Statement and six resolutions on Iran, four of which impose legally-binding sanctions on Iran (if asked: UNSCRS 1737, 1747, 1803, and 1929).

The Two-Track Approach: The P5+1, the UN Security Council, and the IAEA

From the outset, we have had a two-track approach: diplomacy and pressure to try to get Iran to comply with its international obligations.  At the same time that the IAEA determined that Iran has failed to comply with its international obligations and the Security Council took measures to try to induce Iran’s cooperation, the international community reached out to engage Iran diplomatically.  In 2006, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and United Kingdom – the P5+1 – offered Iran a substantial incentives package of economic cooperation and assistance in return for Tehran’s full cooperation with the IAEA and suspension of its uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. The P5+1 presented Iran with a refreshed package of incentives in June 2008.  Iran did not accept these offers, and refused to comply with its Security Council and IAEA obligations.

In 2009, senior representatives of the P5+1 again sought to engage Iran.  Iran had approached the IAEA asking for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor – called the TRR – a facility used, among other things, for the production of medical isotopes.  The last supply of fuel for this reactor was forecast by Tehran to run out at the end of 2010.  We at the U.S. Mission in Vienna recommended to Washington that the U.S. support meeting this request to test Iran’s commitment to a civilian-only nuclear program.  If we successfully developed a cooperative plan to fuel the TRR, such a step could put Iran on the path to compliance with its international obligations and help tackle the more fundamental question of Iran’s broader nuclear program.

In Geneva in October 2009, the P5+1 informed Iran of our willingness to discuss items of concern to Tehran as well as our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.  The Iranian delegation agreed to sit down later that month in Vienna to discuss the TRR proposal.  Three weeks later, officials from the United States, France Russia, and Iran met with IAEA officials and experts to negotiate the terms of a TRR proposal.  In dramatic talks over three days in Vienna, chaired by then-IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, the parties involved agreed on a project and supply agreement to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor.

The upshot was an agreement Iran could not refuse without putting the lie to its stated commitment to an exclusively civilian nuclear program.  The Russian and French ambassadors and I joined together in a proposal, which IAEA Director General ElBaradei submitted to Iran, to send Iran’s own available low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment and then to France for fabrication into fuel, which would be returned to Iran for use in the safeguarded TRR reactor.   At the time, this plan would have significantly reduced Iran’s available stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which is itself a source of anxiety in the international community.  It would also have addressed a humanitarian need of the Iranian people, and served as a confidence-building measure to create an opportunity for further dialogue.

But in the end, Iran backed out of the provisional agreement its representatives made in Vienna.  For almost eight months after the Vienna talks, Tehran twisted and turned, fulminated and raged, and threw up one specious reason after another why the TRR deal was unacceptable.   Instead, it continued to develop a nuclear enrichment facility near Qom, and announced plans for ten new enrichment facilities.  It refused to continue discussions with the P5+1 about its nuclear program.  It expanded its uranium enrichment to the 20% level.  While Iran claims to be producing this material for use as fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, it has no demonstrated capability to produce, test, and license the fuel so that it can be safely used in a reactor.  Enrichment to 20%, however, would cut in half the time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium.

So, Iran failed to respond to repeated offers of engagement, including a significant proposal to meet a request that Iran itself had made.  That was the context in which we turned again to the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1929, the most comprehensive set of international sanctions the government of Iran has ever faced.

In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009, President Obama explained our logic: “I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to actually change behavior — for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something.  Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable.  Sanctions must exact a real price.  Intransigence must be met with increased pressure — and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.”

Current State of Play

It’s been a little over a year since Resolution 1929 imposed sanctions on Iran, and the United States believes that those sanctions have had an impact.  Sanctions are making it more difficult for Iran to acquire the material and equipment it needs for its nuclear program, and are working to slow Iran’s nuclear program, which is experiencing technical difficulties.  Iran is not making the progress it had hoped for.

After a long absence from any discussion of its nuclear program, Iran has recently returned to discussions with the P5+1 and to the possibility of a negotiated, diplomatic solution. In December, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and her P5+1 counterparts sat down with Iranians for talks in Geneva.  A second round of those talks took place just two weeks ago in Istanbul.

But, Iran continues to try to manipulate its way out of sanctions and condemnation without addressing the core concerns of the P5+1, IAEA, the UN Security Council, and the broader international community.  Right before the Istanbul talks, Iran invited some ambassadors to the IAEA on an all-expenses paid “Magical Mystery Tour” of a few of its nuclear facilities.  But to their credit, most Vienna-based ambassadors recognized the invitation for the ploy it was.  A pre-arranged guided tour for a few ambassadors is hardly the same thing as full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA, and Iran’s publicity stunt fizzled.  Only a handful of ambassadors attended.  The vast majority of ambassadors in Vienna declined the invitation, and told Iran that it needed to cooperate with the IAEA, not invite ambassadors on a tour.

And little progress was made in Istanbul.  The P5+1 went to Istanbul unified in purpose, clear-eyed about the serious differences between us and Iran, and with specific practical proposals to build trust, including ideas on an updated version of the TRR fuel exchange arrangement.  We were under no illusions that this would be an easy process, and our experience in Istanbul reinforced that.  Iran presented preconditions for moving ahead, including the recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium and the lifting of sanctions.  These preconditions are unacceptable, and each of the P5+1 members made it clear that we cannot proceed on that basis.

The P5+1 remains united.  The burden is on Iran to take concrete and convincing steps to meet its international obligations and convince the world of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.  We continue to acknowledge Iran’s right to pursue civilian nuclear power; however, with that right comes the responsibility to reassure the international community about the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.  So far, Iran has failed to demonstrate that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.


So, I have given you a rundown of the U.S. government point of view on Iran’s nuclear program, with a heavy emphasis on the work I do in Vienna to address Iran through the IAEA.  In concluding I’d like to state what I hope has been obvious in my remarks: our efforts to reduce the global nuclear threats posed by Iran are multilateral – in the IAEA, in the UN Security Council, and through the P5+1.  These multilateral venues and efforts are integral to reducing global threats.  In Iran we face a nation which is less transparent than it should be, whose nuclear ambitions are under deep international suspicion, and which threatens the world with its provocative rhetoric and behavior.  The U.S. has been able to successfully bring about consensus in the international community about the danger of Iran’s nuclear program, and that consensus is key to exerting pressure on Iran.

The P5+1 remains committed to both engagement and pressure.  It is Iran’s choice to take a path that will enable it to join the community of nations that abide by their obligations or remain defiant and bear the brunt of rising costs.  Pressure on Iran will only mount over time.  Sanctions and pressure are a means to an end, and not a substitute for a diplomatic solution.  The choice is Iran’s.  The door is still open.  It can cooperate with the IAEA, meet the obligations of the NPT and UN Security Council resolutions, and prove that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions and comments.