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Q&A: Iran nuclear dispute

IAEA chief ElBaradei: Future breaches will
IAEA chief ElBaradei: Future breaches will "not be tolerated"

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(CNN) -- Iran has been condemned for breaking its agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, but has not been reported to the Security Council for possible sanctions, as Washington had wanted. CNN Correspondent Gaven Morris explains the background to the dispute.

Q. What has Iran done wrong?

A. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has kept secret its nuclear programs for 18 years. It has failed to meet international obligations on the reporting of the processing and use of nuclear materials and on the facilities where they have been stored and processed.

The IAEA says it has found evidence of Iran having enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium in undeclared facilities and without international safeguards. Enrichment of uranium and reprocessing plutonium are both required to create nuclear weapons, although inspectors have found no proof that such a weapons program exists.

Q. What does Iran say about the dispute?

A. Iran has now committed to the international non-proliferation processes governed by the IAEA. It is cooperating with the IAEA and allowing full disclosure of its programs and full access to its facilities by nuclear inspectors. Iran also denies ever having a nuclear weapons program and says its facilities and programs were used only for the generation of electricity. Iran has now agreed to suspend all of its uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing programs.

Q. Is the U.S. the main driving force behind the pressure on Iran?

A. Many countries are concerned about the nuclear programs operated by Iran. The United States elevated its concerns about Iran to the top of its international agenda after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks. In his State of the Union address of that year, U.S. President George W Bush labelled Iran one of the three "Axis of Evil" states that posed the greatest threat to world peace alongside Iraq and North Korea.

Within the 35-nation board of the IAEA, the U.S. has called for the most severe action against Iran for its nuclear program. The U.S. wanted Iran's violations referred to the United Nations Security Council which has the power to impose international sanctions. However the U.S. could only gather the support of three or four other nations to support its tough stance and so a compromise was reached which allowed the U.S. to toughen the language of the IAEA resolution while giving more time for inspectors to carry on their work in Iran before any referral to the U.N. Security Council.

Q. How is Iran likely to be punished?

A. For now, no immediate action will be taken against Iran. Intensive IAEA inspections will continue of Iran's facilities and programs including unannounced spot inspections at any time. Iran is also required to continue to disclose any additional information relating to its nuclear program. If the IAEA discovers anything not disclosed by Iran, a full report would be made instantly to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA Director General, has said the consequences of this for the country would be "very serious and ominous." If any further significant breaches of non-proliferation agreements were found, it is highly likely the board would recommend a swift referral of Iran's nuclear programs to the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council could then impose sanctions and possibly even authorize the use of force.

Q. Do they face military action like other "axis of evil" country Iraq?

A. It is possible but at present, highly unlikely. Many Security Council members have already voiced support for the recent moves by Iran to improve its transparency and co-operate with internation obligations. However, if a major breach of the non-proliferation agreements was discovered or hard evidence of a nuclear weapons programs was revealed, the Security Council would be asked to consider the full range of responses, including military action.

Q. Is Iran likely to back down?

A. Iran has already backed down significantly. By offering aparent full transparency to its programs and unfettered access to IAEA inspectors to its facilities, it is allowing scrutiny not possible for almost two decades.

Many analysts still believe Iran still has nuclear skeletons in its closet and has not been entirely honest with the IAEA but at the moment there is no proof of this. Iran contends that it has the right to a nuclear program for electricity generation so it not offering to shut down its facilities, indeed it has signed agreement for the construction of more but it has agreed to halt uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing.

The European members of the IAEA Board of Governors that were urging restraint on any action against Iran are worried that sanctions would alienate Iran and result in counter-productive responses. They argue accepting the progress Iran has made in joining the non-proliferation process while maintaining a strict inspection regime is the best way to find a permanent solution to the Iran dispute.

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