Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu warning on Iranian nuclear progress

Benjamin Netanyahu stubbornly ignored warnings from the White House to tone down his rhetoric on Iran, warning that Tehran would be on the brink of nuclear weapons capability in six to seven months.

Netanyahu warning on Iranian nuclear progress
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Photo: Israel Sun/Rex Features 

Speaking on the most popular Sunday morning news show, Meet The Press, he repeated his demand for Washington to draw a "red line" over the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons ambiton.
"You have to place that red line before them [Iran] now, before it's too late," he said.
Earlier, Mr Netanyahu rejected as "completely groundless" the notion that he is wielding the Iranian nuclear threat as a political weapon to weaken President Obama ahead of the US elections, which has gained currency among some American commentators.
The Israeli prime minister also emphatically denied claims made by Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, that Israel's insistence on a "red line", after which the US would guarantee to attack Iranian nuclear installations, was mere "posturing".
Mr Panetta said that "red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner".  

 Dismissing Mr Panetta's damning analysis of his policy, he assumed a tone of long-suffering patience with his allies and their reluctance to issue Tehran with a genuine military threat.
"I started speaking about the Iranian threat 16 years ago. If I was not a lone voice then, I was one of the few, and then others joined… Now I speak about red lines for Iran. So far I am one of the few; I hope others will join," he told the Jerusalem Post paper in comments published yesterday.
"It takes time to persuade people of the wisdom of this policy."
As early as 1986, Mr Netanyahu, then Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, advocated decisive military action as the only way to deal with terror threats. In 'Terrorism: How the West Can Win' the burgeoning leader identified the Islamic Republic of Iran among the greatest threats to global security and criticised US reluctance to use its military might to thwart terrorism under what he termed the 'Western malaise'.
"The rules of engagement have become so rigid that governments often straightjacket themselves in the face of unambiguous aggression," he wrote. "The application of military force, or the prospect of such application, inhibits terrorist violence."
As prime minister, Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed frustration with American reluctance to condone military action in Iran. Only last week, he thundered that the international community had 'no moral right' to put 'red lines before Israel'.
But this bullish approach met a cool reception in Washington. President Obama is reported to have declined a request to meet with Mr Netanyahu during the United Nations general assembly later this month.
The consensus that Mr Netanyahu has deliberately used the Iran issue to insert himself in the American electoral race, to embarrass the president and boost the Republican ticket, is also gaining momentum in the US media.
The Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning Israeli newspaper, observed that this suggestion "annoys him [Netanyahu]" and concluded that the tough rhetoric he has used to assert Israel's right to take arms against the Iranian threat was for the benefit of his domestic- rather than the American - electorate. The prime minister did not refute the possibility that general elections could be called in Israel as early as March next year.
Mr Netanyahu did, however, promise the Jerusalem Post's readers that Iran's nuclear programme will be crushed, concluding that his main regret for the year was "we have not yet stopped Iran."
"When you interview me next year, I hope I can give you a different answer," he said.
The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard meanwhile warned that "nothing will remain" of Israel if it takes military action against Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari said Iran's response to any attack will begin near the Israeli border. The Islamic Republic has close ties with militants in Gaza and Lebanon, both of which border Israel. It was the latest of a series of apocalytpic threats by Iranian leaders directed at the Jewish state. 

 Inside Iran's Nuclear Program

Also available in العربية
September 6, 2012

 Inside Iran's Nuclear Program

Also available in العربية
September 6, 2012

On August 29, 2012, Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Mr. Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute. Mr. Heinonen, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, previously served as deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), inspecting nuclear facilities in Iran and other countries. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.


The new study Nuclear Iran: A Glossary of Terms is intended to inform the discussion regarding what should be done about Tehran's nuclear program. The result of many months of collaboration, the report explains the specific techniques and facilities involved in the program since its inception, as well as the physics of nuclear technology, the history of nuclear weapons, and the technical terms used in IAEA reports.
A nuclear bomb can be made from either plutonium or uranium. Plutonium must be obtained by reprocessing material from a power reactor, a rather dangerous but relatively simple chemical process. Yet a country's chances of building a power reactor and producing plutonium without the world noticing are quite small, which makes the uranium route far more attractive to rogue states like Iran.
A centrifuge is a carefully balanced, vertically spinning rotor used to enrich uranium. Natural uranium is mainly composed of the U-238 isotope, but the isotope required for a power reactor or a nuclear weapon is U-235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium. Once solid uranium is converted into a gas -- uranium hexafluoride -- it can be spun at high speeds in a centrifuge until the U-235 separates from the U-238. The material is enriched via many stages, steadily removing the excess uranium-238. Stopping at 3.5 percent U-235 is sufficient to fuel power reactors, while going as far as 90 percent produces material suitable for a nuclear submarine or an atomic bomb.
There are basically two forms of atomic bomb. In a "gun-type" device like the one dropped on Hiroshima, one small piece of U-235 is slammed into another, bringing both to critical mass. Simultaneously, extra neutrons are fired at the uranium, prompting a nuclear explosion. Many nuclear weapons designers consider this method crude and prefer the implosion-type bomb, which involves symmetrically compressing a grapefruit-size piece of U-235 into the size of an orange. The United States, Israel, and many other countries fear that Iran is pursuing this kind of device.
Finally, the fact that Iran has so far produced only 20 percent enriched uranium is no cause for comfort. By the time that enrichment level is reached, 90 percent of the physical separation work has been done, so producing weapons-grade material would take comparably little time.


If Iran did choose to pursue a nuclear weapon, it would likely do so in secrecy. Tehran has always been deeply committed to concealment regarding its nuclear program. For example, one recent IAEA report showed decontamination activities at the now-defunct Parchin plant, including placement of tarps over the building to conceal those efforts (read the agency's latest report on Iran [PDF]). Similar activities have been recorded at Natanz, where Iran has built a plant that is covered with many feet of concrete and rocks. Additionally, the most controversial site -- the facility in Fordow, located deep under a mountain -- was built entirely in secrecy.
It remains to be seen if the IAEA will ever discover what was at Parchin, which could be the missing link in Iran's nuclear process. Even if the facility no longer exists, explanations must still be pursued, whether by contacting the scientists who performed the experiments or through environmental sampling. At Syria's destroyed al-Kibar reactor, the IAEA was able to find particles of uranium despite the regime's decontamination efforts. Performing similar investigations at Parchin would be difficult but could yield information essential to understanding Iran's capabilities.
Currently, the United States can make several inferences about the Iranian nuclear program. For instance, Tehran is clearly pursuing enriched uranium as a priority rather than plutonium. Although the regime conducted simple plutonium experiments in the early 1990s, its interest in that route quickly waned. It still pursues plutonium production, but not at the same levels as uranium. For example, not much fuel has been produced for the heavy-water reactor in Arak, which would require at least two years to produce enough plutonium for a nuclear device. Processing spent fuel from the Bushehr plant would likewise be an untenable option; at least a year or two must pass before such messy radioactive material can even be handled, and the processing facility would have to be so large that it would be clearly visible in satellite imagery.
Accordingly, Iran is much more likely to stick with uranium enrichment as its path to a nuclear device. If it does achieve 90 percent enrichment, it would still need to convert gaseous uranium hexafluoride into the uranium metal required to build a nuclear weapon. This would not be particularly difficult; the details of that process are in the public domain, and Iran has conducted it before. By next summer, Iran could have enough material, if further enriched, for two nuclear weapons.
Iran uses several kinds of centrifuges to enrich uranium, including the IR-1 and IR-2, and has continually increased its stock of IR-1s. Years ago, the regime announced that it wanted to produce every centrifuge component locally. Most of the necessary high-strength aluminum is likely produced in Iranian factories, though it could also be purchased abroad. At the moment, Iran's stockpile of the raw material required to manufacture IR-1s is unknown.
The regime's other centrifuge type comes in two varieties: the standard IR-2 and the larger IR-2m. Both have been in operation for several years, though Iran has not always been able to feed uranium hexafluoride into IR-2 cascades, perhaps due to faulty designs. The IR-2 is not overly difficult to manufacture, but the raw materials (e.g., the carbon fiber in the rotors) are difficult to acquire in large quantities. These centrifuges must also be subjected to rigorous quality assurance testing to ensure they operate properly, without leaking uranium hexafluoride gas.
In light of these complexities, centrifuge production is a potential weak spot in Iran's nuclear program, one that was targeted by the Stuxnet computer worm in 2010. Yet carrying out another cyber attack on Iranian nuclear facilities seems challenging. Stuxnet's success was based on inside information and access; Tehran has since put systems in place to prevent such an attack, so any new cyber sabotage would have to be done quite differently. The military option is problematic as well. A surgically precise strike would not deter the regime from pursuing nuclear weapons; that would require a sledgehammer. Therefore, an economic solution -- namely, sanctions -- may be the most viable.
This rapporteur's summary was prepared by Katie Kiraly.

Iran, the United States and a Nuclear Seesaw

Far from a monolithic relationship, Iran and the United States have spent as many decades as friends as they have as enemies. And for most of the history, whatever the polarity, nuclear issues have played a role.

Arthur C. MillspaughHarris & Ewing

U.S. Sends Adviser to Fix Persian Finances

Arthur C. Millspaugh, an economic adviser to the United States government, is sent as a private citizen to Persia — as Iran was then known — to bring change to a country hampered by administrative inefficiency. The Persians viewed the adviser’s involvement as a way to bring in foreign investment and to counterbalance the influence of the European powers. The mission continued until 1928, when Mr. Millspaugh lost favor with the shah.

Aug. 20, 1953
Before the Coup Attempt W. Averell Harriman, left, President Harry S. Truman’s personal foreign policy adviser, conferring with Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1951. An interpreter sits between them.Associated Press

Prime Minister Ousted in Coup

The Central Intelligence Agency backs a plan, coordinated with British intelligence, to overthrow the Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The plan has the approval of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and is conceived because of British concerns over petroleum exports and the relationship of the prime minister with the Soviets. The coup, orchestrated by an American  agent, leads to the ouster of Mr. Mossadegh, and the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, becomes an authoritarian monarch.
March 5, 1957

U.S. and Iran Sign Nuclear Agreement

Iran signs the Iran-United States Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy as part of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The accord allows the United States to lease several kilograms of enriched uranium to Iran and calls for cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

April 11, 1962
The shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, center left, and his wife, Empress Farah, center right, with President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy.Associated Press

On State Visit, Shah Warns of Communism

On an official state visit to the United States, the shah tells Congress that he will not surrender to communism, but that the United States must continue its foreign aid. “I recognize that it is a burden, and I sympathize with the desire to lay down,” he said. “But the need for it is not yet finished. The threat has not ended.” President John F. Kennedy praises the shah: “Occupying as you do in Iran a most important strategic area, surrounded as you are by vital and powerful people, your country has been able to maintain its national independence century after century, until we come to the present date where, under great challenges you, Your Majesty, lead that historic fight.”
July 1968

Iran Signs On to Nonproliferation Treaty

Iran is one of 51 nations to sign the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons on July 1, 1968. Iran’s Parliament ratifies it in February 1970.
May 15, 1975

Ford Opens U.S. Nuclear Technologies to Iran

President Gerald R. Ford published a directive, explained in a memorandum circulated by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, that would “permit U.S. material to be fabricated into fuel in Iran for use in its own reactors.” The directive also would allow the Iranians to buy and operate an American-built nuclear reprocessing plant for extracting plutonium from reactor fuel. Interviewed by The Washington Post in 2005, Mr. Kissinger said of the deal: “They were an allied country, and this was a commercial transaction. We didn’t address the question of them one day moving toward nuclear weapons.”
Dec. 31, 1977

Carter Visits Iran

On New Year’s Eve, President Jimmy Carter stands beside the shah and toasts him, saying, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the shah, is an island of stability.”
Jan. 16, 1979
The deposed shah, with Empress Farah and two of their children, dodged questions from photographers in Nassau, the Bahamas.  Associated Press

Shah Flees Iran

The shah is overthrown in what becomes known as the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Three days later, R.W. Apple Jr., writing for The New York Times, tells of a “river of humanity” flowing down Tehran’s main street to show support for Ayotollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an exiled cleric.  President Carter, speaking at a news conference in the days after the revolution, says of the shah: “He’s now in Egypt, and he will later come to our own country. But we would anticipate, and would certainly hope, that our good relationships with Iran will continue in the future.”
Jan. 29

Iran Cancels Nuclear Plants Under Construction

A post-revolution government led by Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar cancels a $6.2 billion contract for the construction of two nuclear power plants. Iran had made a down payment of $240 million on the plants, which were to be built at Darkhoein in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini descends from the Air France plane that brought him to Tehran after 15 years in exile.United Press International

Khomeini Returns to Iran

Ayatollah Khomeini, who became a symbol of the Islamic Revolution, arrives in Tehran and immediately calls for the expulsion of all foreigners. “I beg God to cut off the the hands of all evil foreigners and their helpers,” he says.  The State Department evacuates 1,350 Americans on the day of the ayatollah’s return. Khomeini would go on to take control of the country in March, installing a quasi theocracy that remains in power.
Nov. 4
Source: NBC

Iranian Militants Storm American Embassy

Young Iranian militants, referred to as students at the time, storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, vowing to occupy the building and hold the employees hostage until the Shah, then a cancer patient in a New York hospital, is returned to Iran to face trial. Their actions have the support of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Nov. 11
Family members of hostages held captive in Iran joined President Jimmy Carter at National Cathedral for prayer service three days after he suspended Iranian oil imports.The New York Times

Carter Bans Iranian Oil

President Jimmy Carter orders a suspension of oil imports from Iran, declaring that the United States will not yield to “unacceptable demands” for the return of the deposed shah made by Iranians holding American citizens hostage in the American Embassy in Tehran.
Nov. 19
Ayotollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s son, Syed Ahmad, right, at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran with five of the American hostages just before they were allowed to leave the country.United Press International

Iranians Release 10 Hostages

Six black men and four women are released from the American Embassy. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini says the 10 were freed because Islam respects women and because he considers American blacks to be oppressed. The ayatollah threatens the remaining hostages with trial in an Islamic court.
April 24, 1980

Rescue Attempt Fails

President Carter’s covert mission to rescue the hostages, code-named Desert One, ends in failure and the deaths of eight American commandos. The aborted rescue attempt, the failure of the mission and the hostages’ continuing captivity seriously hurt his prospects for re-election.
July 27

Shah Dies in Egypt

The deposed Iranian leader — an embittered international outcast 18 months after being driven from his throne — is suffering from lymphatic cancer when he dies in an Egyptian military hospital. He has a state funeral in Egypt, which sheltered him at the end of his life.  His death does little to change the American hostage crisis. “For us, he has been dead for years,” a spokesman for the Iranian president, Abul-hassan Bani-Sadr, says.  Ayotollah Khomeini later delivers a message during the time of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage of Muslims make to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, demanding the return of all the shah’s assets to Iran. Khomeini also asked the United States to release frozen Iranian assets and to promise not to intervene in Iran politically or militarily.
Sept. 21
Iraqi gunners used a Soviet 130-milllimeter field gun to shell the Iranian cities of Abadan and Khurramshahr.United Press International

Iraq Invades Iran, Beginning 8-Year War

Limited clashes along the 270-mile Iran-Iraq border widen into war. Iraq ends a border pact and claims responsibility for sinking Iranian gunboats and downing an F-4 Phantom jet fighter — which are part of a Iranian attack on Iraqi positions near the port of Basra, Iraq. The fighting centers around Shatt al-Arab, the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein seizes. The area is a strategic bottleneck, surrounded by significant oil resources and close to important shipping lanes.
Dec. 25
Screen captures, made from an NBC News television monitor in New York, show some of the American hostages sending messages to loved ones from Tehran on the day after Christmas in 1980. Associated Press

Papal Nuncio Visits Hostages

The Vatican’s representative in Tehran, Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, celebrates Christmas with the hostages. It is the second Christmas that they have spent in captivity. Monsignor Bugnini says the hostages received cards and gifts from the United States, including warm winter clothing and exercising devices called “chest expanders.”
Jan. 19, 1981

U.S. and Iran Reach Deal on Hostage Release

Deputy Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher signs an agreement where the United States agrees to release frozen Iranian assets and property, settle monetary claims and agree not to interfere, politically or militarily, in Iran in exchange for the delivery of the American hostages. The agreement includes a substantial portion of the demands made by Ayotollah Khomeini in September 1980.
Jan. 21
Source: NBC

Hostages Released

After 444 days in captivity, the Americans held hostage in Tehran are released. John Chancellor of NBC News reports in this newscast from the day.

Reagan Inaugurated

As Ronald Reagan makes his inaugural address after taking the oath of office in Washington, two Boeing 727 airplanes take off from Tehran with the American hostages. Surprisingly, their release does not come up in President Reagan’s inaugural address, which instead emphasizes the need to limit the powers of the federal government and to lower unemployment and inflation.
Jan. 24

Freed Hostages Arrive in U.S.

An Air Force VC-137, dubbed Freedom One, carries the former hostages home from Wiesbaden, West Germany, and lands at Stewart International Airport in upstate New York. Thousands of people line the back roads and main streets of the Hudson Valley, cheering and waving flags, hoping for a glimpse of the now freed men and women.
Nov. 12, 1986
Lieut. Col. Oliver North, left, and his attorney Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. testifying before Congressional Iran-Contra committee.Jose R. Lopez/The New York Times

The Iran-Contra Scheme

At a meeting with Congressional leaders, President Ronald Reagan for the first time personally acknowledges sending military supplies to Iran. He defends the action as necessary to establish ties to moderate elements there. In a speech from the Oval Office the next day, Mr. Reagan defends his ”secret diplomatic initiative to Iran,” saying he wanted to press Tehran to ”use its influence in Lebanon to secure the release of all hostages held there.” He says he authorized the transfer of ”small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts” to Iran. A senior administration official says it was no more than one cargo planeload, or about 260,000 pounds, and comprised purely defensive parts.  On Nov. 22, officials in the attorney general’s office uncover information in the office of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, an aide to the national security adviser, pointing to the diversion of millions of dollars from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels known as contras. Mr. Reagan and Vice President George Bush say they had no knowledge of the diversion of funds.  Mr. Reagan later announces the resignation of Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, the national security adviser, who he says knew of the operation, and the dismissal of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, a National Security Council aide who directed the program.  Congress begins an investigation into the scandal in May 1987 and eventually hears more than 250 hours of testimony from 28 public witnesses.

Late 1980s: Iran Gets Nuclear Help From Pakistani Scientist

Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani metallurgist and the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, shares his research with Iran and other countries, including China, North Korea and Libya, although that information does not become public until years later.  In 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency is on the verge of reviewing Tehran’s nuclear program when Iranian officials admit to a 1987 meeting with Dr. Khan’s representatives.  But Tehran tells the International Atomic Energy Agency that it turned down the chance to buy the sensitive equipment required to build the core of a bomb.
May 10

Late 1980s: Nuclear Transfers Reported

Late 1980s: Dr. Khan and a network of international suppliers are reported to begin nuclear transfers to Iran. The period of cooperation is thought to continue through 1995, when P-2 centrifuge components are transferred. The Pakistani government claims no transfers occurred after the shipments of P-1 components and subassemblies from 1989 to 1991. 1987: Dr. Khan is believed to make a centrifuge deal with Iran to help build a cascade of 50,000 P-1 centrifuges. 1988: Iranian scientists are suspected of having received nuclear training in Pakistan. 1989: Iran is suspected of receiving its first centrifuge assemblies and components. The components were likely older P-1 centrifuge components that Dr. Khan no longer used in Pakistan. Dr. Khan is reported to have shipped over 2000 components and sub-assemblies for P-1, and later P-2, centrifuges to Iran.
July 21

U.S. Intervenes in Iran-Iraq War

In July 1987, the United States begins protecting Arab shipping in the Persian Gulf, an effort that results in the near total destruction of the Iranian Navy. From 1981 to 1984, the first phase of the so-called Tanker War, Iraq uses low-flying helicopters to attack Iranian ships. In the second phase, beginning in March 1984, Iraqi aircraft begin firing on neutral ships headed to Iranian ports.  Iran retaliated in April and May 1984 by attacking oil tankers belonging to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which support Iraq in the war.  In 1984, Kuwait asks for international protection, and the Soviet Union agrees to escort Kuwaiti vessels after the United States initially declines.  On May 17, Iraq fires on the American missile frigate the Stark, killing 37 Navy personnel. The Stark is on a routine patrol in international waters northeast of Bahrain when the attack occurs. It had been in the region for two months, and was looking for underwater mines.President Reagan announces he will take action to protect oil being shipped in the Persian Gulf against “threats by Iran or anyone else.”
April 18, 1988

U.S. Forces Attack Iranian Oil Platforms and Ships

In retaliation for the mining of the Samuel B. Roberts, a Navy ship, in 1984, United States forces destroy two Iranian oil platforms and sink or damage six Iranian naval vessels.
July 2
Mourners carried coffins in a mass funeral in Tehran for victims of the Iran Air flight that was shot down by the United States Navy.Associated Press

U.S. Downs Iranian Airliner, Killing 290

During a skirmish with a group of Iranian gunboats in the Strait of Hormuz, the Navy cruiser Vincennes accidentally shoots down an Iran Air commercial flight that is on its way to Dubai. All 290 passengers and crew are killed. The New York Times reports that the entire episode took 11 minutes.
July 18

Cease-Fire Brings Iran-Iraq War to a Close

After almost eight years of a war that claims an estimated one million lives, a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq appears to end the hostilities.  The United Nations brokered the ceasefire with U. N. Security Council Resolution 598, which was accepted by both sides.   Over the next several weeks, Iranian armed forces evacuate Iraqi territory. The UN had also called for a full exchange of prisoners of war, but the last ones were not exchanged until 2003.   The Security Council had called for a ceasefire in 1986, but neither country would comply.
June 3, 1989
The body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was displayed to hundreds of thousands of Iranians at his funeral.Agence France-Presse

Ayatollah Khomeini Dies

The ayatollah, who died at age 89, “felt a holy mission to rid Iran of what he saw as Western corruption and degeneracy and to return the country, under an Islamic theocracy, to religious purity,” The  Times reports.
Aug. 2, 1990

Saddam Hussein Invades Kuwait

The Iraqi Army crosses the Kuwaiti border with tank-led troops, seizing the emir’s palace and other government buildings and strategic installations.The invasion follows more than a month of recriminations between the two countries.   Before the attack, Kuwaiti officials suggested that Iraq was trying to bully its creditors — including Kuwait — into writing off billions of dollars in debts it incurred during its eight-year war with Iran.  Kuwait’s support of Iraq during the conflict was a sore point in its relations with Iran.
Jan. 16, 1991
A destroyed Iraqi tank burns as an allied vehicle passes by it.Associated Press/DOD Pool Photo by Ken Jarecke

U.S. Begins Its First War With Iraq

The United States and its allies open a long-threatened war to drive Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait, striking Baghdad and other targets in Iraq and Kuwait with waves of bombers and cruise missiles.
Feb. 4

Washington Declines Iran’s Offer to Mediate

President Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran offers to serve as a mediator between the United States and Iraq to seek an end to the Persian Gulf war.  Iraq has no immediate public reaction, and the overture is received coolly by the administration of the first President George Bush.
Feb. 28

Bush Halts the Fighting

A tank battle between allied armored units and Iraq’s Republican Guard help bring the seven months of war in Kuwait to a close.   Hours later, President Bush orders allied forces to suspend offensive military operations against Hussein’s isolated and battered army. In an address from the Oval Office that is televised around the world, the president calls on Hussein to send his commanders to meet with allied officers in the war zone within 48 hours to settle the military terms of a permanent cease-fire.
Jan. 9, 1995

Iran and Russia Sign Nuclear Contract

Iran announces that it will sign a contract with Russia to complete a nuclear power plant on the Persian Gulf coast, but it denies a report that it may be less than five years away from producing nuclear weapons. The site is at Bushehr, Iran, which is thought to be the nation’s most active center for nuclear weapons research and production.
Aug. 6, 1996

Clinton Approves New Sanctions Against Iran and Libya

President Bill Clinton signs a bill imposing sanctions on foreign companies with investments in Iran and Libya. Such rules are already in place for American companies. Mr. Clinton calls the measure part of“the common commitment to strengthen our fight against terrorism.” “Terrorism has many faces, to be sure,” he says, “but Iran and Libya are two of the most dangerous supporters of terrorism in the world. The Iran and Libya sanctions bill I sign today will help to deny those countries the money they need to finance international terrorism. It will limit the flow of resources necessary to obtain weapons of mass destruction.”
Jan. 8, 1998

Iranian President Promises a ‘Dialogue’ With the World

President Mohammed Khatami makes his pledge during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on CNN. Mr. Khatami also conveys his respect for “American civilization” and expresses his wish to begin “a new century of humanity, understanding and durable peace.”  “When I speak of dialogue,” he adds, “I intend dialogue between civilizations and cultures. Such discourse should be centered around thinkers and intellectuals. I believe that all doors should now be opened for such dialogue and understanding and possibilities for contact.”
March 12

Iran Is Sued Using a U.S. Antiterrorism Law

A Federal District Court judge orders the Iranian government to pay $247.5 million in damages to the family of a 20-year-old New Jersey exchange student who was killed in a terrorist bombing in 1995. The decision is the second under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996, which allows American citizens to sue foreign governments for criminal acts committed outside the United States. The settlement is never paid.
April 19, 2002
Rob Harris

Hostages Prohibited From Suing Iran

A federal judge rules that despite winning a case  in 2001 against Iran, the Americans held there for 444 days beginning in 1979 cannot receive damages from Tehran because the agreement that freed them barred such lawsuits. The surviving hostages would continue to fight for compensation despite the decision.

Discovery of Secret Iranian Nuclear Facilities

The People’s Muhajeddin of Iran, a group of leftist Iranian exiles also known as the M.E.K., obtain and share documents revealing a clandestine nuclear program previously unknown to the United Nations. The facilities include a vast uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak. In December, satellite photographs of Natanz and Arak are shown on television in the United States. The United States accuses Tehran of an “across-the-board pursuit of weapons of mass destruction” and suggests that Russia helped build the facilities.  Iran agrees to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Authority. It also signs an accord with Russia to speed up completion of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr.
Nov. 23

Iran Seems to Have Curbed Nuclear Work, U.N. Official Says

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says the Iranian effort appears to be an attempt to persuade the world that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs.   “I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now, so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped,”  he says.   Mr. ElBaradei adds that operations at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility in Iran have ended, and that the agency is in the process of applying seals to shut down operations at other nuclear facilities in Iran. U.N. Official Says Iranians Seem to Curb Atom Activity
Nov. 30

Atomic Agency Calls for Nuclear Safeguards in Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board adopts a resolution to carry out its agreement with Iran on nuclear safeguards. Mr. ElBaradei says the agency has been able to verify Iran’s suspension of its enrichment activities — with one exception: its request to use up to 20 sets of centrifuge components for research and development.
Aug. 3, 2005
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Viktor Drachev/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Ahmadinejad Elected President

To many Iranians at the time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known only as a secular conservative and a former mayor of Tehran.  His campaign promises include distributing the country’s growing oil income among the poor, and he appeals to a large rural constituency who vote for him in hopes of economic change. His campaign is also buoyed by the support of the country’s religious and military elite, who have been frustrated with President Khatami, a moderate.  When Mr. Ahmadinejad takes office, several of the American who were held hostage in Tehran in 1979 and 1980 say they recognize him as one of their captors.

Natanz Resumes Production; U.S. Develops Secret Cyberwarfare to Counter Plant

ran resumes uranium enrichment at Natanz after negotiations with European and American officials stall. United States military and intelligence officials propose a top-secret cyberwar program against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Seeing few good options in dealing with Iran, President George W. Bush approves developing a computer code for investigators.
Feb. 4

Atomic Agency Acts Against Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agencyapproves a resolution to report Iran’s nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution calls for the immediate suspension of all activities related to the enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make electricity or weapons. It also reports on Iran’s “many failures and breaches of its obligations” under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and cites “the absence of confidence” among the agency’s members “that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” The resolution passes 27 to 3, with 5 abstentions, and opens the door for the first time to possible punishment by the Security Council.  The administration of President George W. Bush says that the accusations are so serious that the Security Council must look into them.
Dec. 24

First Round of U.N.  Sanctions

The Security Council unanimously approves sanctions intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program.The sanctions ban the import and export of materials and technology used in uranium enrichment and reprocessing and in the production of ballistic missiles. The resolution, prepared by Germany and the Security Council’s five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — is the result of months of negotiations. Alejandro D. Wolff, the acting American ambassador, hails the measure as an “unambiguous message that there are serious repercussions” for Iran’s pursuit of its nuclear ambitions. He adds, however, that it is “only a first step,” saying, “If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body for further action if Iran fails to take steps to comply.”

Israel Joins U.S. to Develop Computer Worm to Attack Natanz

The cyberwar program begins in earnest, eventually known by the code name Olympic Games. A virtual replica of the Natanz plant is built at American national laboratories. The United States and Israel work together to develop a sophisticated computer worm.
April 5

Iran Seizes 15 British Marines

The crisis begins on March 23, when the Britons were seized in the disputed waters of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, just north of the Persian Gulf. They are released in early April. In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair suggests that the resolution of the crisis is a vindication of Britain’s two-pronged strategy of conciliation and toughness.“Throughout, we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating but not confronting either,” Mr. Blair says. Britain bears no ill will toward the Iranian people, he tells reporters, and respects Iran’s “proud and dignified history.”

U.S.-Israeli Computer Worm Attacks Iran’s Plant Undetected

The program is introduced into a controller computer at Natanz, the crown jewel of the Iranian nuclear program. Centrifuges begin crashing and engineers at the plant have no clue that the facility is under attack. The initial breakdowns are designed to seem like small random accidents, with code variations that prompt different problems.
August 2009
Detained US hikers Shane Bauer (2nd-L), Sarah Shourd (C-L) and Josh Fattal (2nd-R) sit with their mothers in Tehran in May 2010.Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iran Arrests 3 U.S. Hikers as Spies

Three American hikers are arrested and accused of crossing the border with Iraq.The Americans — Sarah E. Shourd, Josh F. Fattal and Shane M. Bauer — are accused of espionage. Family members report that the three have been taken to Iran’s infamous Evin prison. Swiss diplomats visit them and say they are in good physical shape. News of the spying accusations draws a quick rebuke from the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. “We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever,” Mrs. Clinton says. “And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home.”Ms. Shourd is freed in September 2010. A year later, Mr. Fattal and Mr. Bauer are also allowed to return home.   The three hikers say they spent their days in custody running laps, lifting makeshift weights made from water bottles, discussing literature and quizzing each other in an effort to stay physically and mentally fit. Occasionally, they say, they heard the screams of other prisoners. “It didn’t happen often,” Ms. Shourd says, “but it doesn’t have to happen often to leave an indelible mark on your soul.”

Sept. 29
Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Obama accused Iran of building a secret nuclear fuel plant at the Pittsburgh Convention Center on Sept. 29.

U.S. and Allies Warn Iran Over Nuclear ‘Deception’

The Obama administration uses the revelation of a secret Iranian nuclear enrichment plant as leverage, demanding that Iran allow international inspections.
May 2010

U.S. and Israel Step Up Cyberwar Efforts; Aim for Critical Centrifuges in Natanz

President Obama continues the cyberwar program. The National Security Agency and Israel’s secretive Unit 8200 decide to swing for the fences this time. They target a critical array of centrifuges composed of nearly 1,000 machines, whose failure would be a huge setback to Iran. A special version of the computer worm is developed, with the Israelis putting the finishing touches on the program.

Computer Worms Leak Online; Destroy One Fifth of Centrifuges

The United States and Israel realize that copies of the worm have escaped Natanz and are available on the Internet, where they are replicating quickly. In a few weeks, articles appear in the technical press, and then in mainstream newspapers, about a mysterious new computer worm carried on USB keys that exploits a hole in the Windows operating system.  The worm is named Stuxnet. Obama decides not to kill the program, and a subsequent attack takes out nearly 1,000 Iranian centrifuges, nearly a fifth of those operating.
June 10
Ambassadors Susan E. Rice of the United States, Mark Lyall Grant of Britain and Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda voted in favor of the Iranian sanctions. The Turkish ambassador, Ertugrul Apakan, voted against them.Mario Tama/Getty Images

U.N. Approves New Sanctions

The United Nations Security Council levels its fourth round of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.   The sanctions curtail military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program. The Security Council also requires countries to inspect ships or planes headed to or from Iran if they suspect banned cargo is aboard.   In addition, Iran is barred from investing in other countries’ nuclear enrichment plants, uranium mines and related technologies, and the Security Council sets up a committee to monitor enforcement.

Nov. 29, 2011
Police officers chased protesters on the British Embassy grounds.Reuters

Iranians Storm British Embassy in Tehran

Iranian state television shows student protesters breaking into the British Embassy in Tehran and hurling rocks and gasoline bombs. The protesters also briefly detained six of the embassy’s staff members. Press TV, Iran’s official English-language satellite channel,reports that militant students pulled down the British flag at the compound, which is about a mile from the former American Embassy seized by students in 1979. The attack occurs a day after Iran’s government enacts legislation to downgrade diplomatic ties between the two countries, in retaliation for British sanctions on Iranian banks accused of helping the country’s nuclear program. The new law calls for Britain’s ambassador to be expelled.

Natanz Plant Recovers

After a dip in 2010, Iranian production recovers. The United States estimates that Olympic Games delayed Iran’s progress toward a weapons capability by a year and a half or two years. Others dispute the estimate, saying it overstates the effect.

U.S. and Israel Continue Cyberwar Tactics Against Iran’s Nuclear Efforts

With the program still running, intelligence agencies in the United States and Israel seek out new targets that could further slow Iran’s progress.
Jan. 11, 2012
Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency supplied this photo of what it said was Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan’s car after the bombing.Meghdad Madadi/Fars News Agency, via Associated Press

Bomb Kills Iranian Nuclear Scientist in Tehran

A bomber on a motorcycle kills a scientist from Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site and his bodyguard. The killings stoke the country’s anti-Western belligerence.  The scientist is identified as Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, a professor at a technical university in Tehran and a supervisor at the Natanz plant — one of two sites where Iranian scientists are suspected of working on the creation of a nuclear weapon.  Iran blames Israel and the United States for the attack. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, says: “The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this. We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like what is being reported today.”In Israel, which regards Iran as its most significant security threat, the denial is much more vague. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military spokesman, writes a response on his Facebook page: “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear.”

Iran's Nuclear Program (Nuclear Talks, 2012)

AP Photo/GeoEye/SIME
Updated: Sept. 25, 2012

Iran’s nuclear program is one of the most polarizing issues in one of the world’s most volatile regions. While American and European officials believe Tehran is planning to build nuclear weapons, Iran’s leadership says that its goal in developing a nuclear program is to generate electricity without dipping into the oil supply it prefers to sell abroad, and to provide fuel for medical reactors.
Iran and the West have been at odds over its nuclear program for years. But the dispute has picked up steam since November 2011, with new findings by international inspectors, tougher sanctions by the United States and Europe against Iran’s oil exports, threats by Iran to shut the Strait of Hormuz and threats from Israel signaling increasing readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In late August 2012, international nuclear inspectors reported that Iran had already installed three-quarters of the nuclear centrifuges it needs to complete a deep-underground site for the production of nuclear fuel.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed how Iran used the summer to double the number of centrifuges installed deep under a mountain near the holy city of Qum, while cleansing another site where the agency has said it suspects that the country has conducted explosive experiments that could be “relevant” to the production of a nuclear weapon.
The report was followed by new efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to step up pressure on the Obama administration to establish “red lines” of intolerance for Iran’s nuclear activities. Mr. Netanyahu said in September that Iran was only six or seven months away from having the fuel to make a quick dash for a nuclear weapon, a clear reference to the activity at Fordow, the underground site near the holy city of Qum.
Israel has been pushing the United States to take military action to damage Iran’s program before it reaches the point at which it has the capability to make an atomic bomb, or to give Israel a green light to launch its own airstrike. 
President Obama has rejected the Israeli call for a red line at that point. But in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 25, he repeated his position that the United States would work to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. “Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Mr. Obama said.
 While the president said that he still wants to resolve the issue through diplomacy, and believes that there is “still time and space to do so,” Mr. Obama also warned that “time is not unlimited.”
Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has been sharply critical of the president for not taking a tough enough line on Iran, and for not supporting Israel strongly enough.

Also in September, Iran’s most senior atomic energy official revealed that separate explosions, which he attributed to sabotage, had targeted power supplies to the country’s two main uranium enrichment facilities, including the one at Fordow, the site that American and Israeli officials say is the most invulnerable to bombing.
The statements by Iran and Israel come after a summer in which the Obama administration and its European allies imposed sweeping new sanctions meant to cut Iran off from the global oil market, leading Tehran to threaten to mine the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Background: Iran’s Nuclear History
Iran’s first nuclear program began in the 1960s under the shah. It made little progress, and was abandoned after the 1979 revolution, which brought to power the hard-line Islamic regime. In the mid-1990s, a new effort began, raising suspicions in Washington and elsewhere. Iran insisted that it was living up to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but in 2002, an exile group obtained documents revealing a clandestine program. Faced with the likelihood of international sanctions, the government of Mohammad Khatami agreed in 2003 to suspend work on uranium enrichment and allow a stepped-up level of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency while continuing negotiations with Britain, France and Germany.
In August 2005, Mr. Khatami, a relative moderate, was succeeded as president by Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative. The following January, Iran announced that it would resume enrichment work, leading the three European nations to break off their long-running talks. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to enrich uranium, but the atomic energy association called for the program to be halted until questions about the earlier, secret program were resolved.

The Bush Response
The United Nations Security Council voted in December 2006 to impose sanctions on Iran for failing to heed calls for a suspension. In Washington, administration hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, were reported to favor consideration of more aggressive measures, including possible air strikes, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for more diplomacy.
President George W. Bush sided with Ms. Rice, but declared that the United States would not negotiate directly with Iran until it suspended the nuclear research program. Months of inconclusive talks about talks followed.
The situation was muddied in December 2007 when American intelligence agencies issued a new National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the weapons portion of the Iranian nuclear program remained on hold. That document said that Iran would probably be able to produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015, while cautioning that there was no evidence that the Iranian government had decided to do so, contradicting the assessment made in 2005. The estimates given by American military officials in April 2010 are roughly in line with the 2007 estimate. But in June, in the run up to a Security Council vote on sanctions, American officials made clear to their diplomatic counterparts that they now think that Iran has revived elements of its program to design nuclear weapons that the 2007 assessment concluded had gone dormant.
In 2008, President Bush deflected a secret request by Israel for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran’s main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran’s suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.
The White House denied Israel’s request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

The Obama Response
After years of conflict between Iran and President George W. Bush, President Obama spent his first years in office trying to engage Iran diplomatically, only to see Tehran back away from a tentative agreement to ship some uranium out of the country for enrichment.
On Sept. 9, 2009, American intelligence agencies concluded that Iran had created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon. But new intelligence reports delivered to the White House said that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.
In late September 2009, Mr. Obama, along with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, revealed the existence of a secret underground plant near Qom. American officials said they had been tracking the project for years, but that the president decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered that the secrecy surrounding the project had been breached.
Talks were then held between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Germany, and led by the European Union‘s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. At the talks, Iran agreed in principle to export most of its enriched uranium for processing, a step that would have bought more time for negotiations by reducing the amount of potential bomb-making material in Iran’s hands for up to a year.
The news raised a tumult in Iran, with conservative politicians arguing that the West could not be trusted to return the uranium. Shortly after the accord was announced, Iran began raising objections and backtracking. On Oct. 29, Iran told the U.N.’s chief nuclear inspector that it was rejecting the deal.

A 2010 Report Raises Questions
In February 2010, the United Nations’ nuclear inspectors declared for the first time that they had extensive evidence of “past or current undisclosed activities” by Iran’s military to develop a nuclear warhead, an unusually strongly worded conclusion likely to accelerate Iran’s confrontation with the United States and other Western countries.
The report, the first under the new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, also concluded that the nation’s weapons-related activity apparently continued “beyond 2004.”
Following the agency’s announcement, Russia said that it was “very alarmed” by Iran’s unwillingness to cooperate with the I.A.E.A. And in late March, a Russian official disclosed that Russian and Chinese envoys had pressed Iran’s government to accept a United Nations plan on uranium enrichment during meetings in Tehran earlier in the month but that Iran had refused, leaving “less and less room for diplomatic maneuvering.”
Questions of Iran’s sincerity were again raised by its announcement on May 17 of an agreement negotiated by Turkey and Brazil that could offer a short-term solution to its ongoing nuclear standoff with the West, or prove to be a tactic aimed at derailing efforts to bring new sanctions against Tehran.
The deal called for Iran to ship 2,640 pounds of low enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, after one year, Iran would have the right to receive about 265 pounds of material enriched to 20 percent from Russia and France.
The next day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that a deal had been struck with other major powers, including Russia and China, to impose new sanctions on Iran, a sharp repudiation of the agreement between Iran and Turkey.

A New Round of Sanctions
In June 2010, after months of lobbying by the Obama administration and Europe, the U.N. Security council voted to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran, the fourth such move. But the measures did little to overcome widespread doubts that they — or even the additional steps pledged by American and European officials — would accomplish the Council’s longstanding goal: halting Iran’s production of nuclear fuel.
The new resolution, hailed by President Obama as delivering “the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government,” took months to negotiate and major concessions by American officials, but still failed to carry the symbolic weight of a unanimous decision. Twelve of the 15 nations on the council voted for the measure, while Turkey and Brazil voted against it and Lebanon abstained.
After the Obama administration imposed additional sanctions on more than a dozen Iranian companies and individuals with links to the country’s nuclear and missile programs, the European Union followed suit with what it called “inevitable” new measures against Tehran.
The main thrust of the sanctions is against military purchases, trade and financial transactions carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls the nuclear program and has taken a more central role in running the country and the economy.
The United States had sought broader measures against Iran’s banks, insurance industry and other trade, but China and Russia were adamant that the sanctions not affect Iran’s day-to-day economy.
In late November, a trove of diplomatic documents obtained by Wikileaks showed deep concern among Iran’s neighbors over its nuclear program and revealed that American officials believed Tehran had obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow. It also provided a detailed look at how President Obama had assembled support for tough sanctions that had eluded President George W. Bush.
In January 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that international sanctions had slowed Iran’s nuclear program, and the restrictions seem to have disrupted sectors of the economy, particularly banking and export-related industries.

A Nuclear ‘Trigger’
An I.A.E.A. report issued in February 2011 listed seven outstanding questions about work Iran apparently conducted on warhead design. The documents in the hands of the agency raise questions about work on how to turn uranium into bomb fuel, how to cast conventional explosives in a shape that can trigger a nuclear blast, how to make detonators, generate neutrons to spur a chain reaction, measure detonation waves and make nose-cones for missiles.
The May report gave new details for all seven of the categories of allegations. The disclosure about the atomic trigger centered on a rare material — uranium deuteride, a form of the element made with deuterium, or heavy hydrogen. Nuclear experts say China and Pakistan appear to have used the material as a kind of atomic sparkplug.
The report said it had asked Iran about evidence of “experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons” — the speeding particles that split atoms in two in a surge of nuclear energy. In a bomb, an initial burst of neutrons is needed to help initiate a rapid chain reaction.
Harold M. Agnew, a former director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory, said the compression of uranium deuteride suggested work on an atomic trigger.
The agency’s disclosure about Iran’s alleged use of uranium deuteride also suggests another possible connection between Tehran’s program and Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue Pakistani engineer who sold nuclear information.
A famous photograph of Dr. Khan, whom Pakistan has released from house arrest in Islamabad, shows him in front of the schematic diagram of an atom bomb on a blackboard. A pointer to the bomb’s center is labeled uranium deuteride.
The May report also gave fresh charges on the design of missile warheads. Documentary evidence, it said, suggested that Iran had conducted “studies involving the removal of the conventional high explosive payload from the warhead of the Shahab-3 missile and replace it with a spherical nuclear payload.”
The Shahab-3 is one of Iran’s deadliest weapons, standing 56 feet tall. In parades, Iran has draped them with banners reading, “Wipe Israel off the map.”

A U.N. Report Rekindles the Nuclear Debate 
In November 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency released a trove of evidence that they said makes a “credible” case that “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device” at Parchin and that the project may still be under way. 
The report, the harshest judgment that United Nations weapons inspectors had ever issued in their decade-long struggle to pierce the secrecy surrounding the Iranian program, rekindled a debate among the Western allies and Israel about whether increased diplomatic pressure, sanctions, sabotage or military action could stop Iran’s program.
In an effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and the European Union took significant steps to cut Iran off from the international financial system, announcing coordinated sanctions aimed at its central bank and commercial banks. In addition, the United States also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iran’s nuclear industry, as well as on its petrochemical and oil industries, adding to existing measures that seek to weaken the Iranian government by depriving it of its ability to refine gasoline or invest in its petroleum industry.
In retaliation for the sanctions, Iran vowed to block the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil transit point. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the United States would “take action and reopen the strait,” which could be accomplished only by military means, including minesweepers, warship escorts and potentially airstrikes.
By February 2012, the sanctions imposed by the West appeared to be taking a toll. Iran’s economy was showing further signs of strain, with the government looking for ways to avoid the use of dollars in international oil trade, new reports of problems importing food, and a Gallup poll suggesting a majority of Iranians were worried about financial pain from the penalties already imposed. In addition, a flurry of aggressive gestures — attacks on Israelis attributed to Iran; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s renewed posturing over Iran’s latest nuclear advance; and the threats of cutting off oil sales from six European countries — suggested that Iranian leaders were responding frantically, and with increasing unpredictability, to the sanctions.

Another Report Says Iran Close to Producing Nuclear Fuel
On Feb. 24, United Nations nuclear inspectors reported that Iran was moving rapidly to produce nuclear fuel at a deep underground site that Israel and the United States have said is virtually invulnerable to attack.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated that for the first time Iran had begun producing fuel inside the new facility in a mountain near the holy city of Qum. The agency’s inspectors found in their visits over the past three months that Iran has tripled its production capacity for a type of fuel that is far closer to what is needed to make the core of a nuclear weapon.
American officials insist that Iran’s progress has been halting at best, and the report also shows that despite Iran’s repeated boasts, it is still having trouble deploying significant amounts of next-generation equipment to make fuel. The United States also argues that Iran’s program has a number of vulnerabilities should it decide to develop a bomb. American intelligence officials say they do not believe Iranian leaders have made that decision, though Israeli and British intelligence disagree.
On Feb. 28, Iran called for negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons and condemned their production or possession as “a great sin.
Speculation Rises About an Israeli Attack
Speculation that Israel might attack Iran intensified in early 2012 as tensions between the countries escalated.
Tensions flared in February when Israeli officials blamed Iran in two separate attacks. On Feb. 13, Israeli Embassy personnel were targeted by bombers in the capitals of Georgia and India, injuring four people, including an Israeli diplomat’s wife. The embassy blasts used methods that were similar to attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, for which Iran has blamed Israel. The next day, a series of explosions rocked a residential neighborhood in Bangkok, wounding several people. Thai authorities found a cache of bombs in a rented house and captured two men who carried Iranian passports. Evidence was accumulating that the bombings were part of a single plot, for which Israel has blamed Iran. Iranian officials have denied any involvement.
Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously — and use at least 100 planes.
That was the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon, who said that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation. They described it as far different from Israel’s “surgical” strikes on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981.
In a sign of rising American concern, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Jerusalem on Feb. 19, and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey warned on CNN that an Israeli strike on Iran right now would be “destabilizing.” Similarly, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, told the BBC that attacking Iran would not be “the wise thing” for Israel to do “at this moment.”

Enforcing Sanctions Amid Threats of Retaliation
In late January 2012, the 27 nations of the European Union increased pressure on Iran over its nuclear program by agreeing to ban oil imports. Under the deal, E.U. members agreed not to sign new oil contracts with Iran and to end existing ones by July 1, according to a statement from European foreign ministers. The embargo covered imports of crude oil, petroleum products and petrochemical products. It also covered the export of key equipment and technology for the sector. The assets of the Iranian central bank within the E.U. were frozen with limited exemptions to permit the continuation of legitimate trade.
In early February, the Obama administration moved to enforce tightened sanctions, freezing all property of the Central Bank of Iran, other Iranian financial institutions and the Iranian government in the United States. The new restrictions also raised new warnings to financial institutions in other nations that they could face big penalties in the United States if they did business with Iran’s central bank. In addition, the Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved a new regimen of anti-Iran sanctions that would for the first time threaten to punish the global financial telecommunications network that nearly all banks rely on to conduct their daily business. Expulsion from the network — the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication — would deny to Iran many billions of dollars in revenue from abroad that is routinely routed into its domestic banking system.
In response to the sanctions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, vowed to retaliate, warning that the United States in particular would face severe damage to its interests if any strike were carried out against its nuclear sites.
The pointed remarks by Mr. Khamenei were the most public response by him to mounting tension between Western powers and Iran. They came amid increasing concern among American officials that Israel may soon strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. In early February, The Washington Post reported that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta believed there was a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike Iran in April, May or June.

A Scientist’s Death Deepens Fury at Israel and the U.S.
In January 2012, as tensions increased over Iran’s nuclear program and belligerence toward the West mounted, Iran reported that an Iranian nuclear scientist died in what was termed a “terrorist bomb blast” in northern Tehran when an unidentified motorcyclist attached a magnetic explosive device to the scientist’s car. It was the fourth such attack reported in two years and, as after the previous incidents, Iranian officials indicated that they believed the United States and Israel were responsible.
The next day, Iran expressed deepening fury at Israel and the United States over the scientist’s death, and signaled that its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps might carry out revenge assassinations.
Israeli officials, who regard Iran as their country’s main enemy, have not categorically denied any role in the killing, which came against a backdrop of growing pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

A Second Uranium Enrichment Site
Also in January 2012, Iran’s top nuclear official announced defiantly that the country was on the verge of starting production at its second major uranium enrichment site. The new facility is buried deep underground on a well-defended military site and is considered far more resistant to airstrikes than the existing enrichment site at Natanz, limiting what Israeli officials, in particular, consider an important deterrent to Iran’s nuclear aims
The opening of the plant does not significantly affect estimates of how long it could take Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, if that is its true intention. The new facility has been inspected regularly, and unless the Iranians barred inspectors or managed to deceive them, any effort to produce uranium at bomb-grade levels would most likely be detected. American officials have estimated that they would have six months to a year to react, if needed, before the enrichment was completed.
But if it came to that, satellite photographs showed that the new plant is surrounded by anti-aircraft guns, and the mountainous setting was designed to make a bombing campaign nearly impossible.
The C.I.A., according to current and former officials, has repeatedly tried to derail Iran’s uranium enrichment program by covert means, including introducing sabotaged parts into Iran’s supply chain.
In addition, the agency is believed to have encouraged some Iranian nuclear scientists to defect, an effort that came to light in 2010 when a scientist, Shahram Amiri, who had come to the United States, claimed to have been kidnapped by the C.I.A. and returned to Iran. (Press reports say he has since been arrested and tried for treason.) A former deputy defense minister, Ali-Reza Asgari, disappeared while visiting Turkey in 2006 and is widely believed to have defected, possibly to the United States.

After Rounds of Talks, Little Progress
In March 2012, the United States and other global powers announced that they had accepted an offer to resume talks about Iran’s nuclear program that broke off in stalemate more than a year before.
In mid-April, diplomats from Iran, the United States and other world powers met in Istanbul. The talks went surprisingly well and were something of a turning point in the American thinking about Iran. At the meeting, Iranian negotiators seemed more flexible and open to resolving the crisis, even though no agreement was reached.
In May, a round of talks was held in Baghdad, but they ended with no clear signs of progress. During the talks, Iran was known to be unhappy about proposals to address urgent concerns, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranians suggested was an insufficient easing of punishing sanctions.
The Baghdad talks began a day after Tehran signaled willingness to allow potentially intrusive international inspections of secret military facilities, raising expectations that it was searching for a diplomatic solution to the standoff, although Western officials discounted the likelihood of an imminent breakthrough. And in fact, after followup talks, the International Atomic Energy Agency expressed disappointment at what it said were new hurdles raised by Iran.
In June, diplomats from Iran and six world powers met in Moscow. After two days of fruitless talks, negotiators for the United States and other major powers did not even schedule another high-level meeting with Iran, committing only to a lower-level session in July to go over the technical details of a proposal to suspend the enrichment of uranium that Iran has already rejected in principle. 
Dennis B. Ross, a former senior White House adviser on Iran, said he believed the negotiations had become a trap, allowing Iran to continue enriching nuclear fuel while the two sides failed to agree on even interim measures to slow the Iranian program. The major powers, he said, should scrap the step-by-step approach in favor of a comprehensive deal that would test Iran’s sincerity, but could also hasten a military confrontation.
Other critics were even blunter, labeling the talks a “charade” and demanding that Congress pass another round of sanctions against Iran. Before the talks, 44 Republican and Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to abandon the negotiations if the Moscow meeting failed to produce any concessions from Iran.

Hoping That New Sanctions Will Change Iran’s Course
In the summer of 2012, the Obama administration and its European allies imposed sweeping new sanctions meant to cut Iran off from the global oil market. Many experts regard it as the best hope for forcing Iran to change its course.
In late June, the United States imposed sanctions that could punish any foreign country that buys Iranian oil. However, it issued six-month exemptions to 20 importers of Iranian oil who had significantly cut their purchases, including China, which has openly opposed the pressure on Iran.
On July 1, the European Union put in place a complete embargo of oil imports from Iran, which was the Continent’s sixth-biggest supplier of crude in 2011.
Even before these steps, Iran conceded that its oil exports were down 20 to 30 percent. Its currency had plunged more than 40 percent against the dollar since 2011. But so far the escalating sanctions, which the Bush administration started and the Obama administration has intensified, have failed in their central goal of forcing Iran’s mullahs to stop enriching uranium.
Iran responded to the new sanctions with a series of defiant steps, announcing legislation intended to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Persian Gulf shipping lane, and testing missiles in a desert drill clearly intended as a warning to Israel and the United States.

A Target of Cyberattacks
Over the last few years, Iran has become the target of a series of notable cyberattacks, some of which were linked to its nuclear program. According to an article in The New York Times in June 2012, during President Obama‘s first few months in office, he secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on Iran’s computer systems at its nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.
The best known of the cyberweapons was Stuxnet, a computer worm, or malicious computer program, that turned up in industrial programs around the world in 2009. Stuxnet, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, appears to have wiped out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.
In May 2012, a data-mining virus called Flame had penetrated the computers of high-ranking Iranian officials, sweeping up information from their machines. In a message posted on its Web site, Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center warned that the virus was potentially more harmful than Stuxnet. In contrast to Stuxnet, Flame appeared to be designed not to do damage but to secretly collect information from a wide variety of sources.
For more on Stuxnet and Flame, click here.

Inspectors Report New Centrifuges
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the last to be issued before the American presidential election, lays out in detail how Iran has used the summer to double the number of centrifuges installed deep under a mountain near the holy city of Qum, while cleansing another site where the agency has said it suspects that the country has conducted explosive experiments that could be “relevant” to the production of a nuclear weapon. Based on satellite photographs, the I.A.E.A. said the cleanup has been so extensive that it would “significantly hamper” the ability of inspectors to understand what kind of work took place there.
The report confirmed that a recent boast by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that Iran had added nearly 1,000 centrifuges to the underground site was accurate. But it left open the question of what, exactly, Mr. Khamenei and other Iranian leaders intended to do with those machines, and whether, by racing ahead with construction, they were seeking negotiating advantage or trying to gain the capability to build a bomb before sanctions, sabotage or military action could stop them.
On Aug. 30, Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated his position that Iran is not seeking an atomic bomb, and he criticized what he called the hypocrisy of the American-Israeli campaign against Iran. In a speech to the 120-member Nonaligned Movement meeting in Tehran, the ayatollah also reminded the delegates that the United States is the only country that has ever used a nuclear weapon and that Israel has its own unacknowledged stockpile of nuclear weapons.
With senior Obama administration officials warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites would be counterproductive, the report offers arguments for both sides in the debate.
The Israelis in favor of military action, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the most outspoken proponent of moving quickly against the Iranian program, will point to evidence that Iran has now installed over 2,100 of the roughly 2,800 centrifuges destined for the underground site, called Fordow. For Mr. Barak, that is evidence that the “zone of immunity” he has warned about — the point at which Iran will be able to produce nuclear fuel from a site invulnerable to attack — will be reached in a matter of weeks.
But American officials urging caution will find plenty in the report to bolster their view as well. Only a third of the centrifuges at Fordow are actually operating, the inspectors reported, leaving open the question of whether Iran has run into technical difficulties or has made a political decision not to tempt its adversaries by rushing ahead in moving production of fuel to its best-protected facility. And while the agency’s statistics show that Iran has, since February, doubled its stockpile of fuel enriched to 20 percent purity — a level that bomb experts say could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months — it still does not possess enough of that fuel to produce a complete nuclear weapon. Most of its stockpile is composed of a lower-enriched fuel that would take considerably longer to make useful in a weapon.
The progress cited in the report could make it harder to win a diplomatic deal. Under an offer that the United States and its Western allies, along with Russia, presented to Iran privately in late spring 2012, Tehran would be allowed to retain some enrichment capability if it turned over its entire stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium and answered the questions posed by international inspectors about evidence that it has worked on a weapon. Though Iranian officials have privately expressed some interest in the plan, the deal has gone nowhere, and no new negotiating sessions are scheduled, American officials say.