|Colin Lawrence 26-01-2008
Model UN Brief: Iran
The United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran have not had official diplomatic relations since the Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. The act has been viewed as a violation of international law, with respect to the principle of diplomatic immunity. The Iranian Revolution, under the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ousted the Shah, and effectively established a new government in 1979. War with Iraq plunged Iran into a bloody conflict that would span almost a decade from 1980-1988. In 2002, U.S. Pres. George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of an “axis of evil”. Tensions began to increase not only between the U.S. and Iran, but Iran and the rest of the world. In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President of Iran, and began speaking out vehemently against the United States and the West. On 11 January 2006, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran would soon possess peaceful nuclear technology. In November of 2007, the U.S. Department of State released a report stating that there was no imminent threat posed by Iran regarding its nuclear program.
The history of Iran’s nuclear program stretches back to 1957 when the country was under the rule of the Shah. Beginning with the U.S. Atoms for Peace program in 1957, Iran began its nuclear research. This carried on until 1979, when after completing 90% of the Bushehr-1 nuclear reactor, the new Iranian government decided against the need for a nuclear energy program, and discontinued on it. Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan cancelled contracts with French and German associates and all work on nuclear development came screeching to a halt. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq bombed Iran’s main nuclear facilities six times, effectively destroying the entire core area of both reactors. Iran and North Korea began working together on a clandestine nuclear weapons research cooperation program in the mid 1980’s but news of this didn’t surface until the following decade. China began selling uranium material to Iran, despite U.S. opposition. Russia made a deal with Iran and began rebuilding a reactor on the foundations of the former Bushehr-1 facilities. Construction began in 2002, the first work done since the Germans and the French ceased their work in 1979. Around this time, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began to engage Iran’s nuclear program.
In 2002, Iran issued a statement to the IAEA declaring the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and its lack of interest in pursuing nuclear weapons1. After talks with Britain, France, and Germany, Iran decided to suspend uranium enrichment and allow for tougher UN inspections of its facilities. Not long after, in November of 2003, the IAEA declared that there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. The IAEA issued a variety of resolutions regarding nuclear non-proliferation which Iran failed to follow through with to completion. In 2005, Iran re-engaged in enriching uranium and removed IAEA seals from a variety of its nuclear facilities around the country that had been put in place during prior IAEA inspections. The IAEA responded by issuing resolutions recognizing Iran’s non-compliance. In January of 2006, Iran issued a statement to the IAEA to openly declare its renewed pursuit of nuclear research and development2. John D. Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., claimed that Iran did not have a nuclear weapon nor the capability to build one in the near future, but found its pursuit of such means to be an “immediate concern.”3
In March of 2006, the UN Security Council issued a statement to pressure Iran to “re-establish full, sustained suspension of uranium-enrichment activities,” within 30 days.4 In May of the same year, Iranian President Ahmadinejad sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush concerning “undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena.”5 6 July 2006, the permanent members of the Security Council (P5) and Germany (P5+1) offered Iran a new proposal of terms, with incentives for terminating its enrichment of uranium. Iran retorted it would respond to by 22 August 2006. The UNSC nonetheless adopted Resolution 1696 on 31 July.6 Iran issued its counter-offer to Britain, China, Germany, France, Russia, and Switzerland (the intermediary for US affairs regarding Iran since the severing of diplomatic ties between the US and Iran in 1979). On 29 August, Iran announced the opening of a heavy water production plant in Arak and three days later, Iranian nuclear scientists begin enriching a new batch of uranium.
Nuclear production continued to accelerate in Iran, despite warnings and pleas from the IAEA, the U.S., and other prominent members of the international community. On 23 December 2006, the UNSC unanimously approved sanctions against Iran with Resolution 1737 in response to Iran’s failure to comply with the IAEA.7 The following March, Resolution 1747 was issued y the UNSC that toughened sanctions already imposed on Iran, also including an arms embargo.8 Iranian officials responded stating that pressure and intimidation would not influence change in their policy.
Surprisingly, perhaps counter-intuitively, a report released by the U.S. Department of State in November of 2007 stated there was no imminent threat from Iran’s nuclear program9. Politics within in Iran have stymied some of Ahdminejad’s influence in the country, elevating the status and clout of his main rival Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate. Hostilities between Iran and the U.S. have also increased with regard to alleged Iranian support for terrorist networks in Iraq, and confrontations within the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman. While a unilateral military response has been ruled out of likelihood, concern still exists over a possible U.S. and/or Israeli “pre-emptive” strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Such an action would most likely provoke a very active response from Iran. These factors could have a very significant impact on the U.N.’s ability to seek an effectively peaceful resolution to the current situation regarding nuclear proliferation.
Sources not cited within the text:
Afkhami, Gholam R. The Iranian Revolution: Thanatos on a National Scale. Washington, D.C.: The Middle East Institute, 1985. ix-276.
Egendorf, Laura K. Opposing Viewpoints Series: Iran. Detroit: Greenhaven P, 2006. 11-208.
Moin, Baqer. Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah. New York: St. Martin's P, 2000. vii-355.
Sciolino, Elaine. Persian Mirrors: the Elusive Face of Iran. New York: The Free P, 2000. 2-402.
International Atomic Energy Agency website’s focus on Iran; good resource.
A useful timeline on Iranian nuclear progress.
Declaration by the Iranian government about its nuclear policy, 2002.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei briefs the IAEA’s Board of Governors on nuclear safeguards in Iran. 8 Sept. 2003
US National Intelligence Estimate: Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, Nov. 2007