Though Iran’s nuclear energy program has been in the spotlight for years, the legal aspects of this endeavor have seldom been discussed. Understanding of the legal facets of the challenge at hand is crucial for a balanced assessment of Iran’s compliance with international law. This understanding is also useful for evaluation of the legitimacy of the demands and pressure Iran is facing. This section outlines many of the legal aspects related to the Iranian nuclear energy program, including the general law of nuclear non-proliferation, the legal structure established by the NPT, and the safeguards system operated by the IAEA.

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, better known as the NPT, is an international treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promoting cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and furthering the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

Status of the Treaty

  • Signed in Washington, London, and Moscow on July 1st 1968
  • Ratification advised by US Senate on March 13th 1969
  • Ratified by US President on November 24th 1969
  • US ratification deposited in Washington, London, and Moscow on March 5th 1970
  • Proclaimed by US President on March 5th 1970
  • Entered into force on March 5th 1970
  • Extended indefinitely on May 11th 1995

A total of 190 parties have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States.
More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the Treaty’s significance. However, Israel, India, and Pakistan have never been signatories of the Treaty. North Korea, which acceded to the Treaty in 1985, withdrew from it in 2003.

Articles of the Treaty

The NPT, consisting of a preamble and eleven articles, is mainly considered a three-pillar system: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.

In the first and second articles, nuclear-weapon States Parties are urged not to transfer nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, and not to receive nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices from any transferor whatsoever.

According to Article III, all States Parties must accept safeguards “as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agency’s safeguards system, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Article IV states clearly that all States Parties have the right to develop a civilian nuclear program.
“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”

According to Article IV, “all the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also cooperate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”

In Article V, States Parties are urged to take appropriate measures to ensure that “potential benefits from any peaceful applications of nuclear explosions will be made available to non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty on a non-discriminatory basis.”

Articles VI and VII focus on the need for continued negotiations and measures that could lead to a complete disarmament.

Article VIII is about any amendments States Parties may propose, and Article IX and X are about how states can join or withdraw from the Treaty.

The last article says that “certified copies” of the Treaty shall be transmitted by the Depositary Governments to the Governments of the signatory and acceding States.

  • A nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to January 1st 1967.
  • Depositary Governments included those in the United Kingdom, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (now Russia) and the US.

Safeguards System of the Treaty

As a confidence-building measure between States Parties, and as a means to further the goal of non-proliferation, the Treaty establishes a safeguards system under the responsibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the IAEA.

The Treaty promotes cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology and equal access to this technology for all States Parties, while safeguards prevent the diversion of fissile material for weapons use.

Traditional Measures

The IAEA has one set of measures relating to nuclear material verification activities performed at facilities or other locations where States have declared the presence of nuclear material subject to safeguards. These measures are referred to as “traditional safeguards.”

Strengthening Measures

Another set of measures relates to the measures endorsed or encouraged by the IAEA Board of Governors since 1992 for strengthening the safeguards system.
They fall within two categories:

  1. The measures to be implemented under the legal authority conferred by existing safeguards agreements.
  2. The measures to be implemented under the complementary legal authority conferred by the Additional Protocols, and concluded on the basis of the Model Additional Protocol.

The Additional Protocol requires States to provide an expanded declaration of their nuclear activities and grants the Agency broader rights of access to sites in the country.

Subsidiary Arrangements give effect to a certain article of the Agreement between a state and the IAEA for the application of safeguards in connection with the NPT.
As of December 31st 2012, the IAEA has had safeguard agreements in place within 179 States and Taiwan, China. In addition, 119 States have adopted an Additional Protocol. More than 1,200 facilities around the world are under IAEA safeguards.

Criticism of the Treaty

Critics argue that:

  1. The five authorized nuclear-weapon States, which currently have 22,000 warheads, have not fully complied with their obligations to disarm under Article VI of the NPT. The States have failed to make disarmament the driving force in national planning and policy with respect to nuclear weapons, even while they request that other states reject nuclear weapons in their own security agendas.
  2. To date, those states which possess nuclear weapons, but are not authorized to do so under the NPT, have not been penalized in any significant manner for having pursued and gained weapons capabilities.
  3. The NPT has been severely weakened by a number of bilateral deals made by NPT signatories, including the United States.

Iran and the NPT

06 IAEA Cameras Iran
  • Iran signed the NPT on July 1st 1968 and ratified it in February 1970. Under former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran launched a series of ambitious nuclear projects that relied on assistance from the US and Europe. In the 1970s, Pahlavi set the goal of producing roughly 23,000 megawatts of electrical power from a series of nuclear power plants within twenty years. Thus, Iran began working on the nuclear fuel cycle and initiated planning for a new nuclear research center at Isfahan. Iran also began mining uranium and processing ore. Iran’s launch of an extensive nuclear energy program by the mid-1970s had never faced any opposition or objection from Western countries.
  • In February 2003, Iran agreed to modify its Subsidiary Arrangements (Code 3.1) with the IAEA, with the modified arrangement requiring Iran to report planned nuclear facilities when a decision on construction is made, rather than 180 days before the facility is scheduled to receive nuclear material.

  • Iran joined the Additional Protocol to the Treaty’s Safeguards Agreement on December 18th 2003. In doing so, Iran granted IAEA inspectors greater authority in verifying the country’s nuclear energy program. The country also agreed voluntarily to temporarily suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
  • In February 2006, Tehran ended its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol in response to the adoption of an IAEA Board of Governors resolution referring Iran to the UN Security Council. In March 2007, Iran stated that it had ceased implementing the Subsidiary Arrangement in protest against UN sanctions, and after the Iranian parliament refused to ratify Modified Code 3.1.

Iran Primary Argument

Iran argues that, as a signatory to the NPT, it has the right to not only enrich uranium but to possess a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment.

It also argues that, as set forth by Article IV of the Treaty, this is “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty [including Iran] to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

Indeed, Article IV underlines that all Parties to the Treaty “have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

Iran further argues that it not only has the right to enrich uranium as part of its nuclear fuel cycle but other Parties to the Treaty additionally have an obligation to help it resolve technical issues. Parties to the Treaty “shall also cooperate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world,” according to Article IV.

Iran argues that, as set forth in the Preamble of the NPT, the Parties to the Treaty are only banned from “nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water,” and not the possession of a complete uranium enrichment fuel cycle.

Iran and the IAEA

Iran became an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member state on September 16th 1959. It has been represented on the IAEA Board of Governors six times– 1962-1964, 1968-1970, 1974-1976, 1977-1979, 1990-1992– and 2001-2003.

Between 1973 and 1990, Iran and the IAEA signed five key agreements.
In June 1973, Iran signed the application of safeguards in connection with the NPT. The country reached an agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the IAEA in May 1974. In September 1986, Iran signed the Agency’s convention on early notification of a nuclear accident and convention on assistance in the case of a nuclear accident on radiological emergency. Iran also signed Revised Supplementary Agreement (RSA) concerning the provision of technical assistance by the IAEA in February 1990.


IAEA Reports and Resolutions

The IAEA annually sends its reports to the United Nations General Assembly and has a duty to report non-compliance with its safeguards to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
The Agency has installed a surveillance system which monitors conduct in Iran’s declared nuclear facilities and seeks to ensure that no nuclear material is diverted for non-peaceful purposes.

The Agency has not observed any diversion of currently declared nuclear material, but it nevertheless claims that it cannot verify that all nuclear materials and activities in Iran are subject to IAEA safeguards.

On June 6th 2003, the IAEA released the first series of regular reports on Iran’s nuclear energy program, and specifically the status of its safeguards implementation. As of August 2013, the Agency had issued more than 40 reports on Iran. It also adopted 12 resolutions on the Iranian nuclear energy program between September 2003 and September 2013.

IAEA Commitments

On August 31st 1967, the IAEA agreed to help Iran establish a project consisting of a 5-megawatt pool-type research reactor for peaceful purposes. Therefore, Iran was allowed to make arrangements with a manufacturer in the United States for the fabrication of enriched uranium into fuel elements, for the provision of two fission counters containing enriched uranium, and for the fabrication of plutonium into a neutron source for the reactor.

On July 1st 1968, Iran signed the NPT, which places nuclear facilities under the supervision of the IAEA. According to Article IV of the Treaty, the IAEA should facilitate and provide a channel for endeavors aimed at “the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.”

The IAEA, Iran and the United States agreed on April 9th 1968 to cooperate to promote and develop the peaceful uses of atomic energy in Iran. Based on the agreement, the US had to provide Iran with the equipment, devices and materials required for nuclear activities.

The IAEA, Iran and the United States signed a protocol on December 13th 1974 to suspend the Safeguards Transfer Agreement of March 4th 1969 signed by the three parties.

On December 9th 1988, the Agency, Iran and Argentina agreed on the transfer of enriched uranium from Argentina to Iran for a research reactor at the Tehran Nuclear Research Center of the University of Tehran. Based on the agreement, the Agency requested that Argentina permit the transfer and export to Iran of 115.80 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent in the isotope uranium-235 contained in 65 standard fuel elements, 12 control fuel elements and 3 instrumented fuel assemblies.

Iran Cooperation

In the October 2003 negotiations with the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany), Iran agreed to cooperate with the IAEA as well as sign and implement the Additional Protocol as a voluntary, confidence-building measure. Iran also agreed to voluntarily and temporarily suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. In exchange, Tehran demanded the recognition of its right to peaceful nuclear technology in accordance with the NPT.

In February 2004, in the Brussels Agreement, Iran agreed to accept suspension of enrichment as defined by the IAEA. In exchange, Iran demanded the normalization of relations between Tehran and the Agency. The European negotiators pledged to do their best to close Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2004.

In November 2004, in the Paris Agreement, Iran agreed to ensure transparency and full cooperation with the Agency.

During March 2005 negotiations with the EU3, Iran agreed to allow the continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at its nuclear facilities.

In April 2005, Iran agreed with EU3 negotiators that it would allow the continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at the Esfahan Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF).

In July 2005, in negotiations with the EU3, Iran agreed to allow full-scope monitoring of IAEA inspectors at the Esfahan UCF and an “optimized” IAEA monitoring mechanism for the Natanz site.

On September 17th 2005, then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his address before the UN General Assembly, announced his country’s readiness to cooperate more with the IAEA as the centerpiece of Iran’s nuclear policy.

In September 2009, during talks with the P5+1, Iran offered to promote a “rule-based” and “equitable” IAEA oversight function.

One month later, Iran asked the IAEA for assistance with refuelling its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The Agency presented a draft agreement that called for a third country to further enrich a significant portion of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU). High-level discussions were held between Iran, the US, Russia, France and the IAEA to determine further details. Based on the final proposal, Iran was asked to ship out 1,200 kilograms of its LEU stockpile to Russia by the end of the year. The amount equalled some 70 percent of Iran’s LEU stockpile at the time. After further enrichment in Russia, it was suggested that France turn the enriched uranium into fuel rods. Tehran was promised that it would receive a supply of 120 kilograms of completed fuel for the TRR around a year after the export of most of its LEU stockpile.

Iran agreed “in principle” to the nuclear fuel swap. However, it argued that it needed “100 percent guarantees” that it would indeed receive the reactor fuel. On several occasions, Iran proposed that the two elements of the fuel exchange occur simultaneously on its soil or that the two sides carry out the exchange in smaller batches. In the end, the proposal collapsed as Iran’s suggestions were not accepted.

In April 2012, Iran agreed to continue cooperation with the IAEA within the framework of its legal and safeguards obligations.

“Structured Approach” Dispute

The “Structured Approach” is a document the IAEA submitted to Iran on February 20th 2012. The document identifies the kinds of actions that Iran needs to take to respond to the IAEA’s concerns. On February 26th 2012, Iran replied to the Agency by submitting an edited version of the document, proposing its preference for how the agency should proceed with its investigations of Iranian nuclear facilities.

Between February 2012 and September 2013, Iran and the IAEA met 11 times to negotiate the Structured Approach. However, they failed to reach an agreement, and talks still continue on the issue.

Since Hassan Rouhani took office as Iran’s new president in August 2013, Tehran and the Agency have met twice to discuss the document.

Following the IAEA’s August 2013 report on Iran’s nuclear energy program, Tehran submitted a document to the Agency regarding the Structured Approach on September 26th 2013. In the document, Tehran insisted that the IAEA provide access to the claimed evidence which functions as a basis for the allegations about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear energy program. Iran also objected to the Agency’s proposal for the sequence, scope, and allowance for follow-up activities as the investigation continues.

Sequencing: In the Agency’s proposal, the IAEA stated that the new areas identified during its investigation process “may also be dealt with in parallel.” Iran deleted the clause in the edited version of the document, adding that “after implementation of action on each topic, it will be considered concluded and then the work on the next topic will start.” The IAEA argues that Iran’s rejection of parallel investigations would prolong the process and delay its activities.

Scope: In 2012, Iran wanted to limit the scope of the Agency’s investigations to only those issues identified in the annex to the November 2011 report. But the IAEA says it cannot agree ahead of time not to pursue new areas of concern that might emerge during the process.

Follow Up: In the initial document proposed by the IAEA, the Agency stated that it would identify follow-up actions throughout the process as necessary to facilitate its investigations. But Iran raised objection to the issue saying it would not allow the IAEA to identify any further actions.

Other Criticisms of the IAEA

Tehran has objected to some of the IAEA’s policies and has made the following general observations on the Agency’s reports on the implementation of safeguards in Iran.

  1. The IAEA should not authorize the UNSC to adopt its role in implementing the Safeguards Agreements, should not allow the UNSC to impose new requirements, or modify the obligations of the parties to the Safeguards Agreements.
  2. Any requests by the Agency on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions are illegitimate, as the UNSC has adopted numerous politically motivated resolutions against Iran.
  3. The UNSC obligated the IAEA to cut technical support for Iran’s nuclear energy program, even while the Agency’s Board of Governors – based on Article XI of its Statute – should consider the request of a member state “desiring to set up any project for research on, or development or practical application of, atomic energy for peaceful purposes”; assist it to secure “special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, and facilities necessary for this purpose”; and help the state “make arrangements to secure necessary financing from outside sources to carry out such projects.”
  4. In its reports, the IAEA in many cases ignores the information and explanations that Tehran has provided.
  5. The Agency has gone beyond its statutory mandate in preparing its reports, assessments and comments about Iran without considering the relevant concrete obligations of a State.
  6. The IAEA has several times published technical details of Iranian nuclear activities that should have been kept confidential as previously agreed.
  7. In January 2007, the IAEA claimed that it had received documents that claimed to substantiate allegations against Iran from a member state. Over a year afterwards, the Agency only presented some of the documents at a meeting with Iranian officials according to an IAEA report. In opposition to legal norms, on no occasion did it ever provide a copy of the documents to Iran, nor did it ever attempt to prove the claims made in the documents.
  8. The Agency has spent a disproportionate amount of time and resources dealing with Iran’s nuclear energy program, which only has peaceful purposes. Based on Article IV of the NPT, the Agency should firstly facilitate the peaceful nuclear activities of the Parties to the Treaty – including Iran’s – and secondly, intensify a push for disarmament of nuclear-weapon States as set forth in articles VI and VII of the Treaty.
  9. Iran kept its enrichment activities suspended for a period of two and a half years: a move that negatively impacted the country’s economy in general, and its nuclear energy program in particular. However, the IAEA has not taken any measure to compensate the political and economic damage or loss.

Fatwa against Nuclear Weapons

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country has consistently expressed its opposition to the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction in any form.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – the founder of the Islamic Republic – issued a fatwa (religious edict) during the Iran-Iraq war prohibiting the production and use of chemical weapons in retaliation against Saddam Hussein’s forces.

The edict was issued even as Iraqi forces launched chemical attacks. The number of Iraqi chemical strikes during the war totaled more than 600, killing thousands of Iranians and injuring over 100,000 others, many of whom are still suffering from their injuries.

Nuclear Fatwa

Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as Iran’s Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also pronounced a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction, and specifically nuclear arms. He first issued the fatwa in October 2003 but has reiterated it several times ever since in an effort to underline the high significance of the issue.

On November 5th 2004, in a Friday prayers sermon, Ayatollah Khamenei is quoted as having said: “No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons,” and added that to “manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”

An article published by Xinhua News Service on November 6th 2004 quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as having said that “[w]e have often said, and even announced our jurisdiction decree on this issue, we are not manufacturing, stockpiling or taking partial advantage of any type of nuclear weapon.”

On the same day, The New York Times reported that Ayatollah Khamenei “took the unusual step of delivering the weekly prayer sermon in which he insisted that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons which he said were forbidden under Islam.”
Moreover, according to Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website, on September 9th 2007 he said: “Even though the Iranian nation does not have an atomic bomb and keeps no intention to possess the deadly weapon, the world acknowledges that it is a dignified nation because the dignity of the nation has emerged from its resolve, faith, good deed and bright goals.”

In another speech delivered in June 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated once again, “[t]he Iranian people and their officials have declared time and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden (Haram) in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the Western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”

Iran’s Leader has reiterated the fatwa on several other occasions, including in January 2006, April 2006, June 2006, September 2007, June 2009, April 2010, March 2012, August 2012, and September 2013.

In an August 2005 letter to the IAEA, the Iranian government referred to Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa in stating that “the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these Weapons.”

The fatwa was relayed to the UN General assembly in 2010 by Iran’s Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Khazaee.
In late 2012, Iran’s then-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi – now head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran – stated that Tehran was prepared to introduce the Leader’s fatwa as secular legislation as an assurance and a trust-building measure, testifying to the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear energy program. Indeed, as the ruling comes from the Vali-e Faqih (Guardian Jurist) – the head of the Islamic Republic – it ensures that it is binding on all Iranians – including politicians and military personnel.

Does a Fatwa Need to Be Written?

Some commentators have argued that Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa prohibiting nuclear weapons cannot be trusted, as it has not been codified as a written document.
In all schools of Islamic jurisprudence – including Twelver Shia Islam – a fatwa can be an oral ruling. There is no need for it to be written, especially when it comes from the Vali-e Faqih, whose rulings are mandatory for all Iranians based on Iran’s Constitution. A precedent for this is Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war. Though it was not written down, the fatwa’s credibility and applicability still persists. Hence, even though Ayatollah Khamenei has not written down his fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons, it is considered a binding religious edict.

Jurists’ books of legal opinions (Resal-e Tozih al-Massael) state that a fatwa may be written or may be an oral statement. This is a point of consensus among all Muslim jurists.

According to Ayatollah Khamenei’s website, a worshipper can learn about a mojtahed’s (Islamic jurist) fatwa from any of four sources:

  1. The mojtahed himself
  2. Two just worshippers (who have not been seen committing major sins)
  3. A person known to be reliable
  4. A mojtahed’s book of legal opinions

Other senior religious scholars have also testified to the authenticity of the Leader’s public decrees against the possession and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Sanctions against Iran

UN Sanctions

Since 2006, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has adopted six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend activities related to its uranium enrichment. The resolutions have resulted in the imposition of four rounds of sanctions targeting Iranian entities and individuals the Council believes to be involved in Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Despite all sanctions, Iran continues to expand its civilian nuclear activities, citing its rights as a signatory of the NPT to enrich uranium as part of its nuclear fuel cycle.

Security Council Resolution 1696

On July 31st 2006, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1696 under Article 40 of the UN Charter, which called on Tehran to suspend its enrichment program.
Resolution 1696 required that states use domestic and international law to “exercise vigilance and prevent the transfer of any items, materials, good and technology that could contribute to Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and ballistic missile programs.”
The resolution warned Iran that its failure to comply by August 31st 2006 could result in punitive Security Council measures, such as economic sanctions. UNSC-Iran-sanction

Security Council Resolution 1737

On December 23rd 2006, the UNSC adopted Resolution 1737 under Article 41 of the UN Charter, calling again on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. The resolution went further than the IAEA requests in requiring that Tehran suspend work on its heavy-water reactor projects, rather than only reconsider them. It also stipulated that Iran ratify the IAEA’s Additional Protocol.
The resolution imposed sanctions against both the state of Iran, and Iranian individuals and entities the Council claimed might be connected to Iran’s nuclear energy program.

Security Council Resolution 1747

On March 24th 2007, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1747 under Article 41 of the UN Charter, calling on Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors and outlined in Resolution 1737 to verify the peaceful nature of its nuclear energy program. Resolution 1747 also urged Iran to consider the June 2006 proposals to reach a long-term comprehensive agreement with the P5+1.
The resolution repeated and enhanced some of the key sanctions from Resolution 1737, as well as introduced some new measures.

On March 3rd 2008, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1803, reiterating the Council’s desire that Iran halt its enrichment program and comply with the IAEA.
The resolution repeated its call from Resolution 1747 on states to “exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals” who the Council claimed are engaged in” Iran’s nuclear energy program. It added more individuals to the list of people that states should report to the 1737 Committee if they enter their territory.
Moreover, for the first time, the resolution required states to “prevent the entry into or transit through their territories” of designated individuals the Council claimed were involved in Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Resolutions 1737 and 1747 both required states to freeze the funds, financial assets, and economic resources of certain individuals. Resolution 1803 increased the number of individuals subjected to this treatment.
Resolution 1803 also broadened the scope of restrictions on the supply, sale, or transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile-related items to Iran that were established in Resolution 1737 and set down new provisions to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear energy program.
The resolution also called on states to inspect cargo going to or from Iran on aircraft and vessels owned or operated by Iran Air Cargo and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line.

Security Council Resolution 1835

On September 27th 2008, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1835, but not under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The Resolution reaffirmed the four previous resolutions but did not impose new sanctions against Iran.

Security Council Resolution 1929

On June 9th 2010, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, reiterating the Council’s demands from previous resolutions that Iran should halt all enrichment activity.

Resolution 1929 banned Iran from investing in nuclear and missile technology abroad, including investment in uranium mining. It established a complete arms embargo on Iran and prohibited the country from undertaking any activities related to ballistic missiles. The resolution required states to take necessary measures to prevent ballistic missile technology from reaching Iran. It also updated the list of items banned for transfer to and from Iran.

Resolution 1929 also subjected Iran to a new inspection regime designed to detect and stop Iranian vessels suspected of carrying Iranian prohibited cargo.

The resolution included financial sanctions targeting some Iranian companies that the Council claimed were related to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines or Iran Revolution Guards Corps. States were also called upon to limit their interactions with Iranian financial institutions.

Iran’s Criticism of the UNSC Resolutions

  1. The US and its European allies have pushed the UNSC to adopt a series of resolutions against Iran. The Council’s involvement in the Iranian nuclear case is illegitimate by virtue of its violation of articles 1, 2, 24, and 39 of the Charter. The Islamic Republic of Iran has not violated the terms of the NPT, nor has it been a threat to international security and peace. Therefore, there has been no legal basis whatsoever for the involvement of the Security Council in the Iranian nuclear issue.
  2. The resolutions adopted by the Council were originally aimed at solidifying the IAEA’s authority. However, the Council has gone further than the Agency’s requests by attempting, for instance, to reintroduce measures described by Board of Governors as “voluntary” as “binding.”
  3. Based on the NPT, the Iranian nation has a right to engage in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes. Any measure taken by states or international organizations, including the UNSC, to ignore or block this right would be considered as a violation of international law.
  4. The UNSC argues that if Tehran were to drop its uranium enrichment activities, this action would promote nuclear disarmament efforts in the Middle East. Yet the Council has turned a blind eye on certain actors having emerged as nuclear powers in the region, contrary to Article 1 of the NPT.
  5. The ratification of the Additional Protocol by Iran is a voluntary issue, and not a compulsory one. 121 other countries have not yet ratified the Protocol, and Iran is therefore not an exception in this instance.
  6. The Security Council urges Iran to ratify Subsidiary Arrangements (Code 3.1). Iran implemented these arrangements between 2003 and 2007, before the Council imposed illegitimate sanctions on Tehran. Additionally, the UNSC has neither the capacity nor authority to deal with such issues based on Article 39 of the Charter.
  7. The Council should not put forward preconditions, such as the suspension of enrichment activities, for future talks. 118 member countries at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have called on the UN to enter into nuclear talks with Iran without conditions.

US Sanctions

The United States has imposed an arms ban and an almost total economic embargo on Iran, which includes sanctions on companies doing business with Iran, a ban on all Iranian-origin imports, sanctions on Iranian financial institutions, and an almost total ban on selling aircraft or repair parts to Iranian aviation companies. A license from the US Treasury Department is required to do business with Iran.

Prior to Nuclear Dispute

From 1979-2001, the US government imposed nearly a dozen set of sanctions against Tehran which prohibited imports from Iran, certain transactions with respect to the development of Iranian petroleum resources, and other transactions.

After the Outset of the Nuclear Dispute

In June 2005, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13382 freezing the assets of individuals the US government claimed were connected with Iran’s nuclear energy program.

In September 2006, the US government imposed sanctions on Iran’s Bank Saderat, barring it from dealing with US financial institutions, even indirectly. The US accused the bank of transferring funds for certain groups, including Hezbollah.

In June 2007, the US state of Florida enacted a boycott on companies trading with Iran and Sudan, while New Jersey’s state legislature considered similar action.

AS of November 2007, other Iranian Banks – Bank Sepah, Bank Melli, Bank Kargoshai, and Arian bank – were prohibited from transferring money to or from United States banks.

In 2008, the US Treasury ordered Citigroup Inc. to freeze over $2 billion held for Iran in Citigroup accounts.
On June 24th 2010, the US Senate and House of Representatives passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), which President Barack Obama signed into law on July 1st 2010. CISADA extended US economic sanctions placed on Iran under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 and punishes companies and individuals aiding Iran’s petroleum sector.

In June 2011, the US imposed sanctions against Iran Air and Tidewater Middle East Co., claiming that Iran Air had provided material support to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which was already subject to UN sanctions.

In February 2012 the US froze all property of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions, as well as that of the Iranian government, within the United States.

On July 1st 2013, the US imposed additional financial sanctions against Iran, this time against the rial, the Iranian currency. Based on the new Executive Order, “significant transactions in the rial will expose anyone to sanctions,” forcing banks and exchanges to dump their rial holdings.

EU Sanctions

The European Union has imposed restrictions on cooperation with Iran in foreign trade, financial services, energy sectors and technologies, and banned the provision of insurance and reinsurance by insurers in member states to Iran and Iranian-owned companies.

On April 19th 2007, the Council of the European Union adopted Common Position 2007/140/CFSP which provided certain restrictive measures against Iran including restrictions on exports and imports of goods and technology which the EU said could contribute to Iran’s enrichment-related, reprocessing, or heavy water-related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems; a ban on the provision of related services; a ban on investment related to such goods and technology; a ban on procurement of relevant goods and technology from Iran; as well as the freezing of funds and economic resources of persons, entities and bodies the EU claimed were engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for such activities or development.

On July 26th 2010, the Council of the European Union introduced a new regime for economic sanctions against Iran when it adopted Council Decision 2010/413/CFSP and Council Implementing Regulation 668/2010. The new regime implemented UNSC Resolution 1929 (2010), in addition to accompanying measures that are specific to the EU, and therefore go beyond the UN sanctions regime.

On April 12th 2011, the Council of the European Union adopted Council Decision 2011/235/CFSP and Council Regulation 359/2011 which provided restrictive measures directed against certain Iranian persons, entities and bodies in view of the situation in Iran.

On January 23rd 2012, the EU agreed to an oil embargo on Iran, effective from July, and to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank.

On March 17th 2012, all Iranian banks identified as institutions in breach of EU sanctions were disconnected from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT): the world’s hub of electronic financial transactions.

On September 16th 2013, a top European court ruled that sanctions imposed by the EU against Iran’s biggest cargo carrier, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), and its 17 affiliated companies should be lifted. The Luxembourg-based General Court said the EU was failing to sufficiently justify the need to impose the sanctions.

Cyber-attacks and use of state-sponsored computer malware

NATO says cyber-attacks can be classified as “acts of cybercrime, cyber terror, or cyber warfare.” These attacks can according to NATO include “the spread of misinformation, electronic espionage that weakens a nation’s global competitive advantage, the clandestine modification of sensitive data on the battlefield, or the disabling of a country’s so-called critical infrastructure – power, water, fuel, communication, or commercial assets that are essential for the functioning of a society and economy. Such acts may be motivated by criminal gain, or for political advantage. They may be committed by criminals, state actors, or criminal elements with the hidden support of the state.” The US has also characterized cybercrime as an act of war. This comes at a time when more and more revelations are surfacing about advanced, state-sponsored malware used against Iranian industrial establishments. Two of these computer malware are Stuxnet and Flame.

The two sophisticated malware implicate both the US government and Israel in an active cyber war against Iran.


In mid-2010, the security company VirusBlokAda exposed malware intended to target the Natanz enrichment plant in central Iran. The virus, called Stuxnet, was discovered when it moved beyond its intended target due to a programming glitch. Unlike most malware, Stuxnet does little harm to computers and networks that do not meet certain specifications. The worm makes itself inert if Siemens software is not found. When it finds its target, Stuxnet fakes the industrial control process signals so an infected system does not shut down due to detected abnormalities. This is very complex and highly unusual for malware. The worm only attacks systems with variable-frequency drives from two specific vendors: Vacon based in Finland and Fararo Paya based in Iran. Stuxnet also monitors the frequency of the attached motors and only attacks systems that spin between 807Hz and 1210Hz. Applications with these types of parameters include pumps and gas centrifuges.
In the early days of the infection, Iran was reportedly the main country affected by Stuxnet. Nearly 60% of the infected computers were found in Iran. Following the Stuxnet attack, Iran stepped up its efforts in the area of cyber security.

Experts regard Stuxnet as the largest and most expensive development effort in the history of malware.

They argue that this type of undertaking requires a team of highly trained programmers with knowledge of industrial processes and a motivation to attack industrial infrastructure. Experts also claim that only a state could back such a complex project. Furthermore, the self-destruct and safeguards mechanisms used in Stuxnet implicate a Western state.

In June 2013, reports emerged which indicated that retired US General James Cartwright was the whistle-blower responsible for leaking secret information about the Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. Cartwright was once the second highest ranking officer in the US military. The retired four-star general was vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011 and was a crucial player in the cyber operation called ‘Olympic Games’, which began under the Bush Administration. Former President G W Bush reportedly advised President Barack Obama to preserve ‘Operation Olympic Games’. President Obama not only preserved the program, but also accelerated cyber-attacks. The New York Times published a detailed account of the Stuxnet program in June 2012. The revelation implicated European, Israeli and American officials in the development of the virus.

With specific regards to Stuxnet, NATO experts state that the cyber-attack was an illegal “act of force.”

According to the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, “acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force” and are likely to violate international law. This manual on rules of cyber warfare was put together by an independent group of legal scholars and lawyers assembled by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Estonia. Michael Schmitt, professor of international law at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island and lead author of the study, told the Washington Times that “according to the UN charter, the use of force is prohibited, except in self-defense.”


Flame is another modular computer malware which is being used for targeted cyber espionage. It was identified in 2012 with the overwhelming majority of infections reported in Iran. The malware is designed to collect locally stored information in the infected computer and send it to several servers stationed worldwide. It then awaits commands from these servers. The United Nations International Telecommunication Union asked the Kaspersky Lab to investigate reports of Flame affecting Iranian Oil Ministry computers in 2012. After its investigation, the lab described Flame as 20 times more complex than Stuxnet and said a full analysis of the malware would take as long as ten years.

On June 19th 2012, The Washington Post reported that Flame was jointly developed by the US National Security Agency, the CIA and Israel’s military at least since 2007 as part of ‘Olympic Games’. Kaspersky has reported a close relationship between the designs of Flame and Stuxnet.