Iran’s Nuclear Program & Western Sanctions



From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IAEA

Mains level : Irritants in the deal and threats posed by Iran's nuclear programme

The move by the US administration under Biden to revive the Iran nuclear deal has once again turned the spotlight on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which played a key role in enforcing the original nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018.

Try this question from CSP 2020:

Q.In India, why are some nuclear reactors kept under “IAEA Safeguards” while others are not?

(a) Some use Uranium and others use thorium.

(b) Some use imported uranium and others use domestic supplies.

(c) Some are operated by foreign enterprises and others are operated by domestic enterprises.

(d) Some are State- owned and others are privately-owned.

What is IAEA?

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
  • As the preeminent nuclear watchdog under the UN, the IAEA is entrusted with the task of upholding the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.
  • It was established as an autonomous organisation on July 29, 1957, at the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • Though established independently of the UN through its own international treaty, the agency reports to both the UN General Assembly and the UNSC.

What are its safeguards?

  • Safeguards are activities by which the IAEA can verify that a State is living up to its international commitments not to use nuclear programmes for nuclear-weapons purposes.
  • Safeguards are based on assessments of the correctness and completeness of a State’s declared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.
  • Verification measures include on-site inspections, visits, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

Basically, two sets of measures are carried out in accordance with the type of safeguards agreements in force with a State.

  1. One set relates to verifying State reports of declared nuclear material and activities.
  2. Another set enables the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.

Why in news again?

  • The IAEA and Iranian diplomats struck a “temporary” deal to continue inspection of Iran’s nuclear plants for three more months, which keeps at least the diplomatic path to revive the deal open.
  • However, there have always been questions about the Agency’s ability to work independently, without being drawn into big power rivalries.

IAEA success: Civil nuclear solution

  • The IAEA is active in championing civil nuclear solution to a number of areas like health, which is one of the main areas of peaceful application of nuclear know-how.
  • That apart, in recent years, the IAEA is also active in dealing with climate change, pandemic containment and in the prevention of Zoonotic diseases.
  • The IAEA was the first to announce that the North Korean nuclear programme was not peaceful.
  • North Korea finally expelled IAEA observers and as a result, there are no on-the-ground international inspectors in North Korea.
  • The world is reliant on ground sensors and satellite imageries to observe North Korea’s nuclear actions.

Issues with IAEA

  • What the IAEA missed in terms of real authority over sovereign states, it compensated for that by cultivating some tall leadership whose actions kept the issue of non-proliferation on the multilateral table.
  • It proved to be ineffective to prevent power politics from influencing nuclear negotiations.
  • This was particularly visible when Pakistan pursued a nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s and despite overwhelming evidence in possession of the American authorities.
  • They did not pursue the case effectively through the IAEA because of the cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan on the Afghan front.
  • IAEA does not have any power to override the sovereign rights of any member nation of the UN.
  • The uneven authority produced results when in the case of Iran when the Agency’s efforts were backed by big powers.
  • One major criticism of the IAEA is that it never challenges the nuclear dominance of the five permanent members of the UNSC, who themselves hold some of the biggest nuclear arsenals of the world.

IAEA and India

  • The IAEA-certified the nuclear power plant at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan in 2012, which drew criticism as the power plant had two incidents of leakage of nuclear material earlier that year.
  • The second incident affected at least four workers who worked in the nuclear power plant and had caused concern among the scientific community.

Iran challenge

  • The coming weeks will, however, test the 63-year old organisation as Iran remains suspicious of the exact intentions of the Biden administration.
  • The current episode, which involves regional political concerns like Saudi-Iran and Iran-Israel rivalries as well as the American interests in the region, will certainly test the IAEA.
  • It will also test the ability of the IAEA to deal with powerful states from its position of “uneven authority”.
  • The main negotiation on this front is dependent on Tehran’s demand for lifting American sanctions. Iran has said its compliance will depend on the lifting of sanctions.

Future prospects

  • The issues involved between Iran and the U.S. indicate that they are not part of the mandate of the IAEA.
  • Iran also requires assurance that once activated, the deal will not be abandoned in future by an American President in the way that Trump had done in 2018.
  • Tying all the loose ends of this difficult negotiation will be the biggest challenge for all parties.

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