Iran and the IAEA have had a prickly relationship since 2002, when a dissident group – believed to have been fed information from Israeli intelligence – revealed that Iran had been secretly working for years to build a 50,000-centrifuge uranium enrichment plant.
Technically, Iran was not required to declare that Natanz site until six months before nuclear material was introduced. But the IAEA in late 2004 derided Iran’s “policy of concealment” and “many breaches” of its NPT Safeguard Agreement, which spells out terms under which nuclear work and material is monitored and controlled.
Iran agreed to a 2003 update that requires it to declare any new nuclear facility from the moment building is authorized.
Still, it was only after years of work that Iran declared the 3,000-centrifuge Fordow site near Qom in September 2009. IAEA inspectors found it in “an advanced state of construction.” That prompted the IAEA Board of Governors, in a rare direct censure, to vote 26 to 3 against Iran in November.
That IAEA resolution noted “serious concern” that Iran “continues to defy the requirements and obligations” of IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions – three of which impose sanctions and require Iran to halt uranium enrichment.
While the NPT grants every nation the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear energy, the UN Security Council – which in Iran’s case is the enforcement mechanism for the NPT – has suspended that right until Iran resolves IAEA concerns about possible weapons efforts.
The November censure also said that Iran's new plant was “in breach” of Iran’s “obligation to suspend all enrichment activities,” and the tardy declaration “inconsistent with its obligations” under Iran’s updated NPT Safeguard Agreement.