State of Iran's Nuclear Program

Sanna Ali
March 22, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2012


Recently, debate has stirred in regards to a potential Israeli pre-emptive strike to halt further development of Iran's nuclear weapons program. As the United States is a close ally of Israel's, Americans have likewise debated potential involvement of the US in Israeli operations in Iran. In light of this controversy, some context and understanding of the current state of Iran's nuclear program may be helpful.

Recent IAEA Report

On February 24, 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report to the UN Security Council based on evidence from an inspection to discuss Iran's adherence to an exclusively peaceful nuclear program. The report was derestricted and made available to the general public on March 8, 2012.

During the inspections, Iranian officials refused IAEA access to the nuclear site at Parchin and have continued enrichment activities at Natanz and Fordow contrary to past resolutions. Iran has increased the number of cascades to produce UF6 enriched to 5% U-235 and 20% U-235. Despite statements that reprocessing activities have been suspended, the IAEA was only able to confirm this in reference to two facilities (MIX and TRR). Iran has also not suspended its heavy water related projects contrary to past resolutions. Furthermore, IAEA reports a discrepancy of about 19.8 kg of nuclear material missing. Because of the increased enrichment activities, heavy water projects, and potentially reprocessing activities, IAEA urged Iran to cooperate fully and address the serious concerns of the military dimensions of its nuclear program. [1]

US Intelligence on Iranian Nuclear Weapons

According to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2007, "only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons." [2] The NIE also concluded in 2007 that Iran had halted its efforts to create a nuclear bomb in 2003. In 2010, the concerns were revisited, and intelligence officials maintained that Iran has not decided to pursue a nuclear weapon, in spite of Iranian research activity that may be weapons-related. [3] President Obama has stated that he is "determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon" and that he would do everything in his power to "resolve this diplomatically." [4] However, Obama did not rule out military options as a last resort to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. [3]

Ramifications of a Pre-Emptive Strike on Iran

The ramifications of a strike on Iran are wide-ranging. Simulations have shown the possibility of the strike escalating to a wider regional war, potentially involving the United States. On the other hand, Iranian responses may include the use of "proxies to set off car bombs in world capitals or funnel high explosives to insurgents in Afghanistan to attack American and NATO troops." [5] Furthermore, we may see an outpouring of Iranian domestic support for the current regime, at a time when the Iranian people are protesting the government. [6]

© Sanna Ali. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran," International Atomic Energy Agency, 24 Feb 12.

[2] "Iran: Nuclear Intentions," U.S. National Intelligence Council, November 2007.

[3] J. Risen, "U.S. Faces a Tricky Task in Assessment of Data on Iran," New York Times, 17 Mar 12.

[4] J. Mason and A. Bull, "Window For Diplomatic Solution With Iran Is Shrinking: Obama," Reuters, 14 Mar 12.

[5] M. Mazzetti and T. Shanker, "U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran," New York Times, 19 Mar 12.

[6] A. Nader and J. Dobbins, "Iran's Self-Destructive Gamble," New York Times, 5 Jan 12.