Top Nuclear Negotiator

Posted in Hassan Rouhani

Rouhani was appointed the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team on October 6, 2003, several weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report, stating Iran was concealing nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Under IAEA rules, the findings of the report should have been referred to the UN Security Council for consideration of sanctions. Instead, the IAEA issued a series of demands to rectify Iran’s breaches.

Rouhani, then Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), the top decision-making body on security issues, stepped into the breach and took over negotiations with the IAEA. He remained at this post until August 15, 2005, when he resigned, following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran. Below is an overview of Iran’s nuclear events during Rouhani’s tenure as head nuclear negotiator.

Deceptions & Violations

The PMOI disclosed Iran's secret nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz, triggering an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that concluded Iran had failed to disclose its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.In August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed at a press conference in Washington, D.C. the existence of two secret facilities under construction in Iran that were involved in the production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.1  One facility was located in the desert town of Natanz and the other was a heavy water production plant in Arak.

Based on this information, the IAEA conducted inspections of nuclear facilities in Iran. In a 30-page report, it concluded Iran had:

1. Secretly conducted plutonium reprocessing experiments using spent nuclear fuel at two facilities in Tehran in 1988 and 1992. (Iran claimed the experiments were just to learn about the nuclear fuel cycle.

2. For 12 years it had operated a secret uranium enrichment program that utilized lasers.

3. Had imported uranium hexafluoride from China to test centrifuges for its uranium enrichment program.  The tests were conducted from 1998-02.  The centrifuges were later moved to an underground complex near Natanz.

IAEA inspectors sought to examine the Kalaye Electric Company in March 2003, but were refused access.  Iran claimed the facility was a watch factory.  In reality, it was Iran’s primary centrifuge R&D pilot enrichment facility between 1995-2002.

When inspectors finally gained access to the site in August 2003 they found walls had recently been removed, floors were covered with new concrete, and a significant portion of the complex had been repainted.

Iran admitted it had conducted enrichment experiments at the facility, but claimed the tests were only simulations and did not involve nuclear material. IAEA conducted tests at the site using sophisticated technology and found trace amounts of uranium that had been enriched to a level usable in weapons.

Given the evidence, Iran admitted it had conducted tests involving small amounts of uranium gas imported from China in 1991.  (Trace amounts were also detected on centrifuges at the Natanz plant.  Iran claimed the centrifuges were contaminated with weapons-grade uranium when they were purchased on the black market.) 

According to a European diplomat, Iran’s actions were an “attempt to prevent inspectors from successfully discovering what had happened there previously."2

As a signatory to the NPT, Iran is required to disclose information on nuclear material, its processing, and its use.  The IAEA concluded:

"Based on all information currently available to the agency, it is clear that Iran has failed in a number of instances over an extended period of time to meet its obligations under its safeguard agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material and its processing and use."3

Having determined Iran had concealed enrichment experiments in breach of its obligations, under IAEA rules, the violations “should have been reported to the Security Council,” according to the IAEA.4  Instead, the Agency demanded that Iran:

1. Fully disclose its nuclear program 
2. Agree to tougher inspections
3. Suspend enrichment of uranium

The IAEA set a deadline of October 31, 2003 for Iran to turn over the information on its nuclear program.  If Iran failed to provide the data, it would be declared in breach of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the case would be referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

On October 6, 2003, Supreme Leader Ayatolah Ali Khamenei directed Rouhani to take over Iran’s negotiations with the IAEA.  President Khatami and his cabinet were pushed aside and thereafter were largely excluded from negotiations.5

On October 21, 2003, Iran agreed to the IAEA demands, including signing an additional protocol to allow inspectors unfettered access to nuclear sites.  Rouhani also announced Iran would suspend its production of enriched uranium to calm worries that it was embarked on a nuclear weapons program.  He described this action as an attempt to show "good will and build confidence."6

"We have accepted the protocol and we will precisely work within its contents," Rouhani said.7  But then later he sent a letter to the IAEA that stated the inspectors would not be permitted to enter sites that are not linked to Iran’s nuclear activities.”8  Rouhani claimed the government had concerns about allowing inspectors access to military facilities and the implications for Iranian sovereignty.9

In January 2004, the IAEA announced Iran was still acquiring materials to build centrifuges.  Tehran claimed its pledge to suspend uranium enrichment applied to its nuclear fuel-making plant in Natanz, but not to assembling centrifuges in case it decides to resume the production of enriched uranium.

IAEA reports in February and March 2004 said additional omissions by Iran had been discovered, including:

1. A more advanced centrifuge design (P-2 centrifuges) than previously declared.
2. Associated research, manufacturing, and testing activities.
3. The production of polonium-210, which can be used in the design of nuclear weapons
4. Two mass spectrometers used in the laser enrichment program
5. Designs for the construction of hot cells at the Arak heavy water research reactor.

Iran also had failed to provide information to the IAEA on the "full scope of Iranian nuclear activities" and a "complete centrifuge R&D chronology."10

Rouhani reiterated Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment was only “voluntary” and it would “one day resume enriching uranium.”11

Rouhani also warned that the protocol signed by Iran could be reversed.  “The protocol has to go through its legal procedure.  It has to be debated and approved by the parliament."12  A week later, Rouhani said Iran would accept inspectors on March 27 without condition.

At the end of his tenure as top negotiator, Iran began to enrich uranium at the Isfahan facility, which it had refused to stop work on.  Yellowcake was injected into equipment for making uranium tetrafluoride or UF4.  The next step in the enrichment process is to convert the gas to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which then is fed into centrifuges.

In a July 2005 interview with Kayhan, an Iranian daily newspaper, Rouhani acknowledged that Iran, while negotiating with Europe the previous two years, had improved its nuclear technology.13

Duping the West

Rouhani meeting European leaders in early 2005. While conducting talks with the European leaders, Rouhani kept Iran's nuclear weapons development program moving forward and avoided referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.Several months after stepping down as Iran's nuclear negotiator, Rouhani disclosed in a speech how he had duped the west during nuclear negotiations, keeping Iran’s nuclear program on track while avoiding referral to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Rouhani’s speech was published in the fall of 2005 by Rahbord. At the time, Rouhani was managing editor of Rahbord, published by the Center for Strategic Research.

As explained by Mohammad Mohaddessin, head the NCRI’s Foreign Affair Committee, Rouhani’s remarks reveal that Iran’s mullahs clearly sought to deceive the international community from the onset of negotiations and that they were fully aware if they were completely forthcoming and transparent, they would be referred to the UN Security Council for violations of the NPT.

Rouhani “boasted that while talks were taking place in Tehran, Iran was able to complete the installation of equipment for conversion of yellowcake – a key stage in the nuclear fuel process – at its Isfahan plant but at the same time convince European diplomats that nothing was afoot.”14

Below are excerpts from Rouhani’s speech.  Click here for a copy of his full remarks.

The Dilemma

"In a meeting of the state's leaders at 2003, it was discussed that according to the IAEA resolution of September 2003, we had to provide a complete picture of our nuclear activities of previous years to the IAEA….The dilemma was if we offered a complete picture, the picture itself could lead us to the UN Security Council. And not providing a complete picture would also be a violation of the resolution and we could have been referred to the Security Council for not implementing the resolution.”

Partners Informed IAEA

"Most of the activities that we had carried out and had not informed the IAEA about them were reported to the IAEA by countries that were our partners in those activities. For instance we had implemented some plans with the Chinese and according to the safeguard regulations we had to report them to the IAEA and we had not done so. These were reported to the IAEA by the Chinese and they told us that they had informed the IAEA. In addition, the Russians had also already informed the IAEA of some of the equipment that we had purchased from them.”

Suspensions and Technical Difficulties

"Another issue that was raised was the fact that the Europeans gradually realized that we did not accept suspension in the areas that we had technical difficulties and only agreed to suspension in the areas that we faced no technical problems. This is a point that they point out to in the talks recently. For instance, we completed Isfahan that is the section for U.C.F. and the factory that converts yellow cake to UF4 and UF6 was completed during the suspension period. When we were negotiating with Europeans in Tehran, we were still installing some of the equipments in Isfahan site and there was plenty of work to be done to complete this site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan.”


"I should tell you that we need some time to implement our capabilities. I mean if we could complete the fuel cycle and make it fait- accompli for the world, then the whole situation would be different." 

After Rouhani’s speech was published, Ali Akbari, a regime strategist close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, accused Rouhani of divulging state secrets that would lead to its referral to the UN Security Council.


August 2002 - The NCRI announced at a press conference the existence of two undisclosed nuclear facilities that could be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel.  One facility in Natanz and a heavy water production plant in Arak.

2003 - The IAEA conducted a series of inspections, finding Iran in breach of its obligations on reporting of nuclear material and its processing and use.  The IAEA announced a deadline of October 31, 2003 for Iran to disclose information on its nuclear program, agree to tougher inspections, and suspend its nuclear enrichment program and reprocessing activities.

October 6, 2003 - Rouhani was placed in charge of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team.  Two weeks later, he agreed to IAEA’s demands. 

December 18, 2003 - Iran signed the additional Protocol.

March 2004 - The IAEA passed a resolution on Iran’s continuing failure to disclose details on its enrichment and reprocessing efforts.

August 2005 - Iran resumed its enrichment program at Isfahan, in breach of IAEA Resolutions and commitments required in Paris Agreement of November 2004.  Iran formally found to be in non-compliance.  Still IAEA did not report the violation to the Security Council.


Below are selected statements by Rouhani on Iran’s nuclear program:

* "Iran is prepared to be transparent in its cooperation with IAEA to clarify all ambiguities on Iran's nuclear program.”15

* "We will never abandon nuclear technology.”16 

* "We will pursue enrichment, but to reassure the world we have agreed to suspend our uranium enrichment activities for a certain time."17 

* "When we deem it necessary, we will resume.”18

* "We will suspend our activities for as long as we deem necessary, and we will resume our activities if we judge it necessary.   This could be for one day, one year or longer. The decision is ours."19

* "In order to enhance our credibility, we have made a decision to sign a supplementary agreement.”20

* Rouhani said Iran had made a decision to "eliminate all concerns and fears and carry out all of its future nuclear programs within the framework of international rules and regulations."21

* "We have said clearly that any phrase in a resolution aimed at transforming the voluntary pledge by Iran to suspend uranium enrichment into a legal obligation will be unacceptable to us."22

* "We must arrive at a stage where the (IAEA) board of governors totally close the file on Iran's peaceful nuclear activities and take this off the agenda.”  Additionally, he asserted, “the international community has to accept Iran in the world nuclear club” and “the Islamic republic has the inalienable right to master its own enrichment cycle.”23


1) "Iran Accused of Secret Nuclear Plants,” UPI, August 14, 2002.

2) "Are Iran's Nuclear Promises Real?" Los Angles Times, November 21, 2003.

3) "Iran Failed to Disclose Its Atomic Steps, Agency Says," Los Angles Times, November 11, 2003.

4) "E3/EU Statment on the Iran Nuclear Issues," IAEA, Berlin, January 12, 2006.

5) “Conservative Election Victory Will Simplify Engagement with Iran: Diplomats,” Agence France Presse, February 18, 2004.

6) "Iran Determined to Take Measures for Joining NPT Additional Protocol: Official," Xinhua General News Service, October 21, 2003.

7) “Top Iranian Official Insists Iran Is Respecting Nuclear Safeguards,” Agence France Presse, January 15, 2004.

8) “IAEA Inspectors Denied Access to Non-Nuclear Sites: Iranian Official,” Agence France Presse, November 9, 2003.

9) “Iran Expresses “Readiness” to Allow Tougher Nuke Probes, Answer Suspicious,” Agence France Presse, October 16, 2003.

10) “The Test of the Iran Resolution Passed by the IAEA Board of Governors,” Associated Press, March 13, 2004.

11) "Iran Warns it Will 'Not Accept' Being Branded in Violation of NPT," Agence France Presse, March 9, 2004.

12) "Iran Wants UN Nuclear Agency to Wrap Up Its Look into Iranian Program," Associated Press, March 7, 2004.

13) "Iran Warns Europeans to Respect Its Rights on Nuclear Program," New York Times, July 24, 2005.

14) "How We Duped the West, by Iran's Nuclear Negotiator," Sunday Telegraph, March 5, 2006.

15) "Iran Voices Readiness to Cooperate with IAEA on Nuclear Treaty," Xinhua General News Service, October 16, 2003.

16) "Iran Will Not Abandon Enrichment Activities for Good: Top Official," Agence France Presse, October 23, 2003.

17) Ibid.

18) "Conservative Election Victory Will Simplify Engagement With Iran: Diplomats," Agence France Presse, February 18, 2004.

19) "Iran Reserves Right to Resume Uranium Enrichment: Official," Agence France Presse, October 21, 2003.

20) "Iran to Suspend Uranium Enrichment Program, Agrees to Sign IAEA Protocol," Xinhua General News Service, November 10, 2003.

21) Ibid.

22) "Russia, Iran Again Put Off Pact on Nuclear Power Reactor," Agence France Presse, November 19, 2003.

23) "Iran Seeking Full Closure of Nuclear Dossier at IAEA," Agence France Presse, March 7, 2004.