In his press conference statement at the conclusion of the Muskoka G8 meeting, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated mater-of-factly, but wrongly, that Iran has “chosen to acquire [nuclear] weapons to threaten its neighbours.[i]

Neither the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nor the UN Security Council claims that Iran has made a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Nor did the G8 itself make that claim in its Muskoka communiqué.

It is a distinction worth emphasizing. Iran is in serious violation of its transparency and accountability obligations toward the IAEA. It is in violation of the UN Security Council’s directive that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program. But neither the IAEA nor the UN has said directly that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.

There is evidence that points disturbingly to the possibility that Iran is pursuing a weapons capability, rather than a weapon itself, but that is still a matter of suspicion, not knowledge. What both the IAEA and the UN say is that in all of Iran’s known nuclear activity it can be confirmed that there has been no diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. The problem is that Iran has not been transparent enough to allow IAEA inspectors to go beyond officially declared sites to confirm that there are no longer any clandestine nuclear programs in place.

Both the IAEA and the Security Council therefore call on Iran to meet its transparency obligations, including implementation of the IAEA “Additional Protocol” which provides for a much more extensive inspection operation. The call to suspend uranium enrichment is a call for a temporary suspension as a confidence building measure – it is not a requirement that Iran permanently forego uranium because it is acknowledge that enrichment itself is not a violation of either IAEA safeguards or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran, like other states in the NPT, has the acknowledged right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, but in the context of openness and verifiability of its entire nuclear program.

Iran’s current enrichment is taking place under the watchful eye of the IAEA. But the IAEA lists a number of other actions taken and not taken by Iran that fall short of its transparency obligations and in some cases point toward possible military interest or involvement.

So all the international statements are careful to make the distinction – they do not say Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon; they say instead that Iran is not sufficiently open to confirm conclusively that it is not.

Hence the most recent UN Security Council resolution calls for transparency and the “clarification” of particular activities in order “to exclude the possibility of military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme.”[ii]

The most recent IAEA report puts it this way: “While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”[iii]

The G8 Communiqué itself does not claim or charge that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons capability.[iv] In paragraphs 32 and 33 of the communiqué, G8 leaders voice high concern about Iran’s lack of transparency and then “call upon Iran to heed the requirements of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and implement relevant resolutions to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.[v]

It is the formulation that the Prime Minister should follow in his public statements on Iran.

[email protected]


[i] Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking at his closing press conference of the G8, 26 June 2010, said the leaders “…discussed a further range of global challenges: nuclear proliferation, Iran, the implementation of sanctions foreseen by UN Resolution 1929…. The Governments of Iran and North Korea have chosen to acquire weapons to threaten their neighbors. The world must see to it that what they spend on these weapons will not be the only costs that they incur.”

[ii] Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010), Adopted by the Security Council at its 6335th meeting, on 9 June 2010.

[iii] “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008) and 1835 (2008) in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Report by the Director General (International Atomic Energy Agency: GOV/2010/28), 31 May 2010.



Para 32. “The adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1929 reflects the concerns of the international community on the Iranian nuclear issue, and we call on all states to implement it fully. While recognizing Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program, we note that this right comes with international obligations that all states, including Iran, must comply with.  We are profoundly concerned by Iran’s continued lack of transparency regarding its nuclear activities and its stated intention to continue and expand enriching uranium, including to nearly 20 percent, contrary to UN Security Council Resolutions and the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors. We call upon Iran to heed the requirements of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and implement relevant resolutions to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Our goal is to persuade Iran’s leaders to engage in a transparent dialogue about its nuclear activities and to meet Iran’s international obligations. We strongly support the ongoing efforts in this regard by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union High Representative, and we welcome their commitment to the resolution of all outstanding issues through negotiation. We also welcome and commend all diplomatic efforts in this regard, including those made recently by Brazil and Turkey on the specific issue of the Tehran Research Reactor.” 

Para 33. “Recalling the concerns we expressed at the 2009 L’Aquila Summit, we urge the Government of Iran to respect the rule of law and freedom of expression, as outlined in the international treaties to which Iran is a party.”

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.