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Throughout the international discussion of Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians have maintained that they are interested only in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, such as power generation and medical research. As a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is permitted to engage in the peaceful pursuit of nuclear technology, including uranium mining and enrichment, under oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

After discovering that Iran was engaged in research related to nuclear weapons, the IAEA wanted Iran to agree to more stringent monitoring, which, in theory, would make it more difficult for Iran to divert fissile material to a weapons program. Iran, however, only allowed IAEA inspectors sporadic and limited access to its facilities. Iran was suspected of concealing its weapons research, moving work to secret locations and taking whatever steps necessary to prevent the IAEA from finding definitive evidence of a program to develop a nuclear bomb. The IAEA has admitted that it cannot monitor Iranian activities outside the areas where the organization has containment and surveillance.

Why the Suspicion?

Few people believe Iran’s denials that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. This is why the UN Security Council has passed multiple resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran and individual nations have adopted additional measures to encourage the Iranians to abandon this effort.

As the history of Iran’s nuclear program can attest, the international community has been closely following Iran’s activities since discovering a clandestine research program in 2002. Iran’s admission that it is enriching uranium to 20%, a level of purity unnecessary for peaceful applications of nuclear energy, is perhaps the most compelling evidence that Iran has other motives. The IAEA has also obtained documents indicating Iran has run computer simulations for nuclear weapons.

A number of questions also arise that call into question Iran’s denials about its intentions:

  • Why does one of the world’s largest oil producers need nuclear energy?
  • If the research is for peaceful purposes, why the years of deception?
  • Why does Iran object to inspections of all its nuclear facilities and verification of the use of its fissile materials?
  • Why would Iran’s leaders tolerate increasingly severe sanctions and international isolation to work on a peaceful program that would be non-controversial?
  • What is the necessity for secrecy?
  • Why are there nuclear facilities built deep underground?

During negotiations between Iran and Western nations, offers have been made to allow Iran to pursue nuclear power generation and to assist in making that possible in exchange for Iran ceasing its enrichment of uranium. Iranian officials have declined these offers; lending further credence to the widespread belief the Iranian nuclear program is not restricted to peaceful purposes.